May 2009

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” – Matthew 19.19 (ESV)

St. PeterThe keys to the kingdom that Jesus gives Peter in Matthew 16.19 is certainly a puzzling passage, but it is by no means a nail in the coffin for those who want to question the papacy. The strongest argument I have seen attached to it is that the keys are a reference back to Isaiah 22.15-25, in which Eliakim is given the keys to the house of David — but that’s a theologically creative stretch at best, no matter how emphatically the apologist says it.

Even supposing the keys do note succession (as the mantle of Eliakim supposedly does), they why the See of Rome? Peter also helped found the Church of Antioch, and his successors are still there as well.

If the keys are to be interpreted solely as denoting the power to bind and loose, then the other disciples were given those keys as well. See John 20.22-23:

And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,  “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

On an aside: I like Pope Benedict XVI, for what that is worth, even if my heart does lie with Orthodoxy.

Icon of the Ascension

O Christ,
you ascended in glory on the Mount of Olives
in the presence of your disciples.
O you who penetrate all things with your divinity,
you were enthroned at the right hand of your Father
and sent down upon your disciples the Holy Spirit
who enlightens, strengthens, and saves our souls
. Amen.

(A day late but better than never.)

My application to become a Thomas Nelson book review blogger was accepted, so from time to time I’ll be posting book reviews for them on here.

I signed up mostly so I could get review copies of new study bibles, but I’ll probably pick up a few non-fiction titles every once in a while. Free books, hooray!

A few final thoughts about Scott Hahn’s Answering Common Objections series, which I have been listening to on my .mp3 player for the last week-and-a-half while driving around for work. (The first part of this can be read here.)

In the last session, about the Eucharist, Hahn opens with a brief history of sacrifice types for which Christ is the antitype  from the Old Testament, and then plunges headfirst into an examination of passover images in St. John’s account of the crucifixion. I thought his connections there were interesting, if nothing else. In the second part of the session, he makes the standard case for real presence with the usual Roman flavor — nothing too striking, and he doesn’t really address Trent’s exact dogmatic definition.

The last part of the session is where he derails. It starts with the observation that Melchizedek presented Abram with bread and wine. From there, he attempts to build a case that the fact that the Eucharist is not explicitly mentioned in the epistle to the Hebrews demands that you should read the Eucharist into every mention of the word “covenant” in the epistle. I paraphrase, but he says in essence the once-for-all sacrifice that Christ made is the Eucharist, and it is because of the Eucharist that we can approach the throne of God with confidence. Sigh.

Hahn’s intended audience is those who are already Catholic, and he approaches them as those who are already convinced of what he is trying to teach.

He also uses a trick many Catholic apologists use that drives me bananas — he quotes a protestant scholar who agrees with his position, and then says, “Hey, even honest Protestants admit this!” But as a former protestant, he should know that evangelicals will shrug their shoulders and say, “Huh, how about that? Well, everyone is entitled to be wrong.” Non-Catholics don’t have the magisterium, and don’t treat scholars — or even protestant forefathers such as Luther and Calvin — as such. (Well, some Reformed folks treat the Westminster Confession like it’s scripture, or at least Holy Tradition, but I’ll leave that alone…)

Hahn’s a good public speaker, and he speaks as one who is honestly, truly convinced of what he is saying. But, alas, finesse is not enough. I give the entire thing a B for effort, B for presentation (I thought about a B-minus for the annoying theme music, but I let that slide) and a C-minus for actual content.

I admit I have all sorts of authority issues, though perhaps not in the usual way. Whereas most people tend to reject authority (especially ecclesiastical authority), for the last year or so I’ve been increasingly attracted to it, at least within a certain apostolic context.

That means that I’ve had to address the issue of the Papacy, and all that follows from its current dogmatic definitions.

But here’s the question I have for [Roman] Catholics: If the Orthodox claim that the Church as a whole is protected by a charism of infallibility (something the RCC affirms), then why does the Church need a universal, infallible bishop of final appeal in matters of faith and morals? It seems like the office is redundant if the Church already has a special protection via the Holy Spirit.

A few years ago, my roommate transitioned from Evangelicalism to full communion to Rome. In the process, he told me I should check out Scott Hahn, because Hahn was a Presbyterian convert and at the time I was a Presbyterian. I watched Hahn once on EWTN, and read two pages from his memoir Rome, Sweet Home, and swore him off. If you’re not aware, he’s the poster boy and apologist for Protestants-turned-Catholic.

Somewhere along the way, I swore I would have nothing to do with him because of the triumphalism with which Catholics paraded Hahn around, and for the last five years I held to that.

But I heard him speak on Radio Maria a few months ago, and when I recently found a free .mp3 copy of his five-part “Answering Common Objections” series (which normally runs about $35), I decided to listen to it. (You can listen to it in Real Audio here.)

The series looks at the papacy, purgatory, Mary, the Saints and the Eucharist. I’ve listened to all but the Eucharist sessions. The speeches were apparently delivered to a Catholic audience over the course of a number of days, and each session is broken into three 30-minute segments.

During the papacy session, Hahn does a decent job arguing for a Petrine supremacy, though I think his Peter-centric reading of Acts is a bit of a stretch. The question that lingered after this session — at least for me — is do the keys really denote succession?

The purgatory session was the best presentation of the idea that I’ve ever heard, and finally helped me understand just what is actually supposedly achieved by purgatory in the light of Christ’s finished work. Plusses include that Hahn admits that the idea purgatory can only be inferred from scripture with the support of Tradition, and minuses include when he gets a little distracted by trying to prove that the story of Lazarus and the rich man is about purgatory, an interpretation that I think is well beyond any kind of honest reading.

I’ll be honest: I have no idea what Hahn was driving at during the Mary presentation. Hahn mentions the traditional idea of Mary as the true Ark of the Covenant, and then spends far too long talking about ancient near east Queen Mother traditions and the roles they played in Israelite history. He talks a bit about the nativity and the rosary, tries to read Mary into Revelation 12, and recommends a bunch of books about the marian dogmas. FAIL.

The first two segments of the saints presentation was OK, very similar to an Orthodox apology for the cult of the saints, very heavy with proof-texts from Revelation. In the last segment, Hahn remembered that he didn’t really address many of the actual Marian objections, so he touches on them briefly in the context of Mary as a saint. I left this session with one question, the same question I have had for years — OK, so how do we know the saints hear us? Sure, everything that you’ve said may be true, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not talking to the air when I address anyone other than members of the Trinity.

So, has it answered many of my objections? It’s answered — though not necessarily assuaged — some, and perhaps opened a few more.

I’ll finish up with a few thoughts after I finish the Eucharist session.

Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and is in itself abundantly sufficient, what need is there to join to it the interpretation of the Church? The answer is that because of the very depth of Scripture all men do not place one identical interpretation upon it. The statements of the same writer are explained by different men in different ways, so much so that it seems almost possible to extract from it as many opinions as there are men. Novatian expounds in one way, Sabellius in another, Donatus in another, Arius, Eunomius and Macedonius in another, Photinus, Apollinaris and Priscillian in another, Jovinian, Pelagius and Caelestius in another, and latterly Nestorius in another. Therefore, because of the intricacies of error, which is so multiform, there is great need for the laying down of a rule for the exposition of Prophets and Apostles in accordance with the standard of the interpretation of the Church Catholic.

-From The Vincentian Canon of St. Vincent of Lerins, written circa 434

Sometimes, I think St. Vincent has a point. I look around, and I see a lot of interpretive malfeasance going on in the Christian world. But if Holy Tradition plays an interpretive role, how do we define Tradition? Councils? There were anti-Councils with plenty of bishops in attendance; heck, Nestorianism was affirmed in council.

This is not to say that I reject the idea of or dogmas promulgated at the ecumenical councils, or  St. Vincent’s advice about cleaving back to antiquity. But there’s a saying I heard from some Orthodox guys that stays in the back of my mind — 100 percent of the early church fathers are in agreement 85 percent of the time.

Understanding the church’s history is important, but I’m just not comfortable granting a charism of infallibility to anyone (even a collective anyone). Fifteen percent is a lot of wiggle room.

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