The Jesus-event

From the General Audience: 3 September 2008 (with emphases and comment).

Today’s catechesis focuses on Saint Paul’s conversion. In the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Luke recounts for us the dramatic episode on the road to Damascus which transformed Paul from a fierce persecutor of the Church into a zealous evangelizer. In his own letters, Paul describes his experience not so much in terms of a conversion, but as a call to apostleship and a commission to preach the Gospel. In the first instance, this was an encounter not with concepts or ideas but with the person of Jesus himself [Or, an encounter with the Jesus-event]. In fact, Paul met not only the historical Jesus of the past, but the living Christ who revealed himself as the one Saviour and Lord. Similarly, the ultimate source of our own conversion lies neither in esoteric philosophical theories nor abstract moral codes, but in Christ and his Gospel. He alone [NB!!] defines our identity as Christians, since in him we discover the ultimate meaning of our lives. Paul, because Christ had made him his own (cf. Phil 3:12), could not help but preach the Good News he had received (cf. 1 Cor 9:16). So it is with us. Transfixed by the greatness of our Saviour, we – like Saint Paul – cannot help but speak of him to others. May we always do so with joyful conviction!

Christianity is an encounter with the Jesus-event that is life-giving and life-changing.


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At the heart of catechesis: Christ

From Catechism of the Catholic Church:

426At the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son from the Father. . .who suffered and died for us and who now, after rising, is living with us forever.” To catechize is “to reveal in the Person of Christ the whole of God’s eternal design reaching fulfillment in that Person. It is to seek to understand the meaning of Christ’s actions and words and of the signs worked by him.”‘ Catechesis aims at putting “people . . . in communion . . . with Jesus Christ: only he can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity.

427 In catechesis “Christ, the Incarnate Word and Son of God,. . . is taught – everything else is taught with reference to him – and it is Christ alone who teaches – anyone else teaches to the extent that he is Christ’s spokesman, enabling Christ to teach with his lips. . . Every catechist should be able to apply to himself the mysterious words of Jesus: ‘My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.’

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Evangelism, apologetics, catechesis??

Q: What is the difference between evangelism, apologetics, and catechesis?
A: Not method but CONTEXT! The context sets the intended end.

The same discourse can be evangelistic, apologetic, or catechetical depending on the context.

  1. When addressed to someone who has no relationship with Jesus, it is evangelistic.
  2. When addressed to someone outside of the Church but with a relationship with Jesus, it is apologetic.
  3. When addressed to someone inside the Church, it is catechetical.

So the end of the discourse is:

  1. Faith in Jesus
  2. Full communion with the Church
  3. Full intimacy and communion with Jesus in the Church

The methods may be slightly different. Yet the context establishes the intended end of the discourse and, hence, the terminology used.

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Analogy: Obedience

Obedience (to the Church) is like medicine.

One does not take medicine for the pleasure but for the effect. The medicine is not an end in itself but a means to an end. The act of taking is an expression of the believe that the medicine can have the desired effect.

Obedience is not an end in itself but the expression of a deeper reality. Obedience is the outward expression of the believe that the Holy Spirit works through the Church.

Not perfect, I know, but what analogy is. So the post is more personal but I thought I would throw it out there.

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Christianity lite

There is an extremely interesting analysis of the seeker-sensitive movement, typified by Rick Warren‘s book The Purpose Driven Life, on the American Thinker website: ‘Seeker-Sensitive’ Conservatism by Alan Roebuck

I’ll just highlight a couple of points:

One result is that the deep and challenging teachings of traditional Christianity must never be presented in the Sunday morning worship service that has traditionally been the cornerstone of Christian fellowship. Not only will non-Christian seekers probably not want to hear that God regards them as sinners, but they will have no interest in what Warren (and theological liberals) dismissively call “doctrine,” that is, the actual content of the religion preached by Christ and the Apostles. The result is a Christianity that retains the rituals and some of the language of traditional Protestant Christianity, but is effectively stripped of its content.

Of course, there is a Catholic equivalent: Catholic-lite – pretty on the outside but nothing on the inside.

But this is what really scared me:

For example, seeker-sensitive clergy will allude to the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation, but they will describe this “salvation” primarily in terms of personal life-enhancement. They will rarely mention, and certainly not elaborate on, the traditional Christian doctrines that salvation is necessary because God punishes unforgiven sinners by sending them to Hell, that forgiveness was achieved by the death of Christ on the Cross, and that all this is made possible because of the sovereign and supernatural work of God. These teachings would be too challenging to the seeker, so they are removed, resulting in a desiccated Christianity.

Oprah with a bit of religion??

What sort of God is this proclaiming?? A god who asks nothing of me?? Or a god who helps me to think more positively and act in my own best interest?


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Traditionalism defined??

Terra has an interesting post about Traditionalism: What is a traditionalist? Last part!. Terra is to be congratulated for wrestling with the question of identity for traditionalists (something, btw, I have raised before). I am no theologian, nor am I a philosopher, but my simple reading of the post leaves me a little unimpressed. I somehow feel the answer raises more questions. Allow me to ask a couple:

A traditionalist is loyal to the Pope but believes that (1) Tradition is a quite distinct concept from the Magisterium, and (2) there are limits, prescribed by the Church, to papal infallibility.

The problem remains: who says? Is separation of Tradition from Magisterium traditional? Is it not, in fact, the opposite?? Without a doubt there are limits but who decides where these are??

Tradition has content that is distinct from Scripture and to the Magisterium.

This begs the question: which is? Jesus is the Word of God that is transmitted through Tradition, Scripture, and the Church. Jesus communicated himself to the apostles and this communication continues in the Church through the line of bishops in communion with the successor of Saint Peter. What exactly is the content that is distinctive from the Magistrium?

I wonder how the above stands with Dei Verbum?

My issues with the above is the flip-side of my argument with Protestantism: why the absolutes? Protestantism absolutizes the Word of God in Scripture, Traditionalism the Word of God in Tradition. Both separate the Word of God from the Church and have no choice but to elevate private judgement. Further, I wonder where the starting point is: what has led these people to adopt this position within the Church?

The constant name-calling and triumphalism does not help endear me to it. (Okay, I will now be called a neo-con or a Magisterialist!) Maybe work with people rather than against everyone who does not conform to your ideas. There are many faithful Catholics who happily attend the Ordinary Usage who would be more than happy to help their fellow Catholics who are attached to the Traditional forms of the liturgy but are put-off by the negativity and name-calling.

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Reference Point: a suggestion

I have recently discussed the use of Sola Scriptura as a reference point for ecumenical apologetics. I do not think that a narrow Biblicistic attitude is helpful in exploring the differences that still separate us. I also think that it is most unhelpful to accuse each other of all sorts of heresies and prophesy eternal calamities. So it falls to me to suggest another Reference Point.

So my suggestion as a Reference Point are the three commonly accepted symbols of the Faith:

  1. The Apostles’ Creed
  2. The Nicene Creed
  3. The Athanasian Creed

There are some issues (filique etc) but these are commonly accepted statements of faith that have a continuity of use.

What do you think?

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Continuity in the community

In the original Greek text the central statement in the third section of the Creed runs simply: “I believe in Holy Spirit.” The definite article to which we are accustomed in our translation is thus missing. This is very important for the interpretation of the original meaning, for it means that this article was at first really understood in terms of salvation history, not of the Trinity. In other words, the third section of the Creed refers in the first place, not to the Holy Spirit as the third Person in the Godhead, but to the Holy Spirit as God’s gift to history in the community of those who believe in Christ.

Introduction to Christianity, 331.

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In search of a reference point.

Discussions with self-appointed-Protestant-apologists are often sidelined (salvation, the papacy, Mary, etc) from the real issue: theological method. The simple truth is that a bad tree (method) cannot produce good fruit (doctrine and morals).

Wikipedia (if Wikipedia says it, it must be true) states that Sola scriptura was (is??) a foundational doctrinal principle of the Protestant Reformation. So, to continue a bad metaphor, the Protestant tree stands or falls by this one principle. Wikipedia gives us a good working definition for Sola Scriptura:

Sola scriptura (Latin ablative, “by scripture alone”) is the assertion that the Bible as God’s written word is self-authenticating, clear (perspicuous) to the rational reader, its own interpreter (“Scripture interprets Scripture”), and sufficient of itself to be the final authority of Christian doctrine.

Assuming the above to be semi-correct (and I am very happy for someone to float a different definition), allow me to ask two simple questions of our separated brethren:

Is Sola Scriptura scriptural?
The definition above illustrates the major problem with the idea of Sola Scriptura in one word: self-authenticating. For this to be true the Bible must claim for itself the place given to it in Reformed Protestant Theology. It must, in other words, state that it is the final authority for all issues of Christian doctrine. If, however, it is held as an assumption, room is given for a higher authority.

Yet, this issue goes further. The Bible must be explicit (in the words of the definition, clear) on all issues and not tacit since the latter requires an interpretive agent. This issue is central: what is clear? Who is a rational reader? For example, are the words of Jesus clear when he says This is my Body? How is the doctrine of the Trinity scriptural?

Is Sola Scriptura historical?
The above defines the Bible as the written word. How did this written word come into existence? Was there a time when this written word was not but there was a group of people who dedicated their lives completely to Jesus? Further, taking the assumption that the Bible self-authenticating, where is the list of the canonical books to be found in the Bible?

The issue is further clouded when one asks whether there is a historical continuity to this idea. How does novelty make for good theology?

BTW: There is a Star Trek movie (is it The Search for Spock?) where Spock and Bones discuss Spock’s death. Spock simply says that unless they find a referrence point they cannot start the discussion. Well, Mr Self-Appointed-Internet-Protestant-Apologist, unless we find a reference point there is no discussion!

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Catholic by choice since 2007!

Dear Mr Self-appointed-internet-Protestant-Apologist,

Thank you for flooding my Inbox with your emails. I was completely unaware of the numerous Biblical texts that you quote. Where were you when I struggled and wrestled with these questions for years, reading and studying? Where were you when I struggled with my identity and was looking for answers? Yet I am so grateful to you for finally pointing out the error of my ways.

So I became a Catholic by conviction because I believed that theology, logic and history all pointed one way. But no! You showed me that 2000 years of history must give way to novelty. That the collected experience of those who have offered their life in faith to Jesus must give way to the newest evangelism programme that strives to be relevant. All by accepting your way of looking at the world. My education and reading have been null and void until you explained the plain truth to me. I really enjoyed that you set all the rules for our discussion and then changed them mid-sentence.

You finally showed me what Roman Catholics really believe without ever stepping inside the Church or looking at the Catechism. You showed me the error of my ways without ever wrestling with your own identity and the open contradictions within your thoughts. But I now realize that I was too hung up on the gift that God gave me – my sanctified common-sense.

The straw-man you set up was easily burned by your slogans. Your misunderstandings and historical inaccuracies really didn’t lessen your point that much. Making fun of my devotional life, especially the parody of the Mass you entertained me with, really opened my eyes.

But above all, I thank you for not talking to me but rather at me. After all I am only an ignorant Roman Catholic. Monologue is so much fun! Without a doubt your ideas are so new and indisputable that I have no choice but to surrender the faith of all the great Saints and adopt your interpretation of Christianity. I look forward to the next Apologist who visits my Inbox to tell me that all the other apologists have got it wrong and I need to accept his interpretation.

Yours sincerely,

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