Plurality of Persons (Brief Post)

Throughout history there have been many attempts made to understand the Trinity. Some of these attempts were good and helped us advance our knowledge of the divine, but some fell to heresy in an effort to explain. Yes, the Trinity is a plurality of persons, but this does not contradict divine Oneness. The three persons of the Trinity have different operations as it is the Father who creates, the Son redeems, and the Holy Spirit sanctifies (CCC 235). Some try to explain this away with the heresy of Modalism which states that God operates under different modes, or manifestations, throughout history.

We can look into the pages of sacred scripture to show the plurality and Oneness on full display. At the baptism of Christ, we read of the newly baptized Christ, the voice of the Father speaking from heaven, and the Holy Spirit descending like a dove (Matthew 3:13-17). Neither is the Trinity three gods, but tradition from the earliest days of Christianity, and scripture, teach Oneness. These heresies popped up to understand, and in some cases, to undermine divine revelation regarding the Trinity. As previously stated, the persons of the Trinity are united in purpose, have functions, and the ultimate goal of our redemption. They are the same substance, and as such each is wholly and truly God.

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Mary the Mother of God?

On my journey into the Catholic church there were three things that had the potential to derail me.  Mary, Mary, and Mary.  One of the objections I had, which sprang from my Baptist days, was the title of Mother of God for Mary.

After all God is eternal and has always existed.  That title, at least in my mind back then, meant that somehow Mary was exalted to a deified state in which she surely didn’t belong. and one she would surely object to herself.  How can a mere mortal be the Mother of God?  Thsi objection is one that is till quite prominent.  If you don’t believe me feel free to visit a Protestant/Catholic discussion forum on Facebook.  Simply ask if Mary is the Mother of God and watch the sparks fly.

This issue was settled by the church in the 400’s at the Council of Ephesus.  Nestorius, the Bishop of Constantinople, objected to the long revered title of Mary known as Theotokos.  This is a Greek term that simply means “God-bearer”.  Nestorius decided to use a different term known as Christokos, or “Christ-bearer”.  This term is problematic for a couple reasons.  First and foremost Nestorius used this term in an attempt to maintain the two natures of Christ, but he failed, because by using this term, he separated the human and divine nature of Christ from the person of Christ.  His attempt to be Orthodox led him into heresy because Jesus had a human and divine nature while in the womb of Mary.

To say that Mary only gave birth the to human Jesus would deny the teaching of scripture that states he is human and divine.  Secondly, if Mary only gave birth to the human Jesus when did his divine nature arrive?  Do you see the Christological dilemma?  Either Jesus had both natures since conception or he did not.  To say he did not is to fall into error.  Adoptionism is one result that can come from this line of thinking, the other is one that denies the hypostatic union.  The latter is what would become known as Nestorianism.

The fact of Jesus having a human and divine nature coexisting in the one person of Jesus was upheld by the Council of Ephesus in 431.  As a result the Greek term for Mary known as Theotokos was upheld.  In short calling Mary the Mother of God has everything to do with understanding Jesus properly, and even less to do with Mary.  Regarding this para 495 of the Catechis states, “Called in the Gospels ‘the mother of Jesus, Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as “the mother of my Lord”. In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father’s eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly “Mother of God” (Theotokos)”.

As stated a few sentences ago, Jesus was fully God and fully man from the time of his conception.  Mary gave birth to the second person of the Trinity, not a boy who would latter take on a divine nature.  The divine nature was already there.  Since Mary gave birth to Jesus, who we affirm to be God incarnate, she gave birth to God.  Yes my friends, it really is that simple.  Nestorianism is the logical consequence for those who deny the Theotokos.

Works Cited

Catechism of the Catholic Church, http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p122a3p2.htm

A Matter of Intent: Abortion and Moral Theology

It happens every day in our communities.  Every day women make a very difficult decision about whether to keep their babies or not.  However, instead of adoption many are choosing abortion.  According to data from the Centers of Disease Control, every day approximately 1,788 pregnancies are ended by abortion (www.cdc.gov).  What is abortion?  What is the official Catholic Church teaching on abortion?  Are there any circumstances where an abortion may be needed to save the life of the mother?  These questions will be explored over the course of this paper, but one thing is certain.  Life is precious, and it is something that must be protected from the beginning of life to natural death (Ostrowski 123).

In layman’s terms an abortion is the termination of a pregnancy before the time of gestation is complete.  The medical definition varies little and is states an “An abortion is a procedure to end a pregnancy. It uses medicine or surgery to remove the embryo or fetus and placenta from the uterus. The procedure is done by a licensed health care professional” (www.medline.gov).  The question of life is one that is central to the topic.  When does life begin?  If life begins at conception, then life is there and must be protected.  If life begins at some further point, then it stands to reason that terminating the pregnancy before that stated period is morally permissible.  Then there are those who are just unsure when the fetus becomes a living being (Kreeft 329).

With abortion defined, that leads to the next question.  What does the Catholic Church have to say about abortion?  It may come as a surprise to some to learn that church has a lot to say about the topic.  The church has defended life from its infancy.  Regarding this the Didache states, “you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is begotten” (newadvent.org).  The Didache is an ancient catechism in the church that dates back to the first century.  The issue of abortion is nothing new, but an ongoing battle for the unborn.  Also regarding abortion, the catechism states “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law” (CCC para 2271).

The church gets its teaching on the subject from sacred scripture as well as sacred tradition.  Many places in scripture speak of God molding and creating life in the womb.  What is conspicuous by its absence is any mention as to at how many weeks of gestation life begins.  Sacred scripture makes it clear that it begins immediately.  Life begins upon conception.  One such verse is Jeremiah 1:5 which states, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (NRSV).  If God knew us before the womb, it makes sense that he knew us when we were immediately placed into the womb.  To know is to imply a relationship, and one cannot have a relationship with something that is not alive.  Since the embryo is a person upon conception it must be defended as any person should be (CCC para 2274)

Church teaching holds that abortion is intrinsically evil, and as such is never justified.  The same can be said for many other things such as rape, torture, euthanasia, and kidnapping (Gaudiem et Spes para 27).  Though an individual may have the best intentions, it does not justify an act that moral law and revelation have deemed evil.  That is because absolute truth and morality are incapable of being changed.  Regarding this Saint Pope John Paul II writes, “If acts are intrinsically evil, a good intention or particular circumstances can diminish their evil, but they cannot remove it. They remain “irremediably” evil acts; per se and in themselves they are not capable of being ordered to God and to the good of the person” (Veritatis Splendor para 81).

Unfortunately, in today’s society, abortion is looked at like a basic human right.  Opponents of church teaching give a variety of scenarios to support the need for an abortion.  What if an abortion is needed to save the life of a mother?  What if the mother had uterine cancer and the only treatment was to remove the uterus, and thus, killing the child in the process?  These two examples may seem extreme, but they are ones often given by the pro-choice movement.  There are others, but these two questions will be the focus.  When it comes to the life of the mother there are many cases written about by world renowned doctors who say the opposite.  Dr. Collen Malloy wrote a letter to the editor of the Chicago Sun Times stating, “Abortion performed to “save” a mother’s life almost never — if ever — is necessary” (Malloy 2009).  This same article cites a statement by Ireland’s board of Obstetricians which states, “there are no medical circumstances justifying direct abortion, that is, no circumstances in which the life of a mother may only be saved by directly terminating the life of her unborn child” (Malloy 2009).

 

 

            The word that sticks out very prominently in the last quotation cited is the word “directly’.  This word is given in many church documents when they discuss abortion.  It comes down to a matter of intent.  Was it the intent to destroy the child in the womb, or was it the cause of something else?  In their book Life Issues, Medical Choices the writers state, “It is never moral to intentionally kill an innocent human being in order to lower the likelihood of adverse effects for someone else” (Smith & Kaczor 37).

This begs the question asked earlier.  What if a woman has uterine cancer and the only way to save her life is to remove the uterus?  To further complicate things imagine she has a husband and four other children at home.  This is truly a heart wrenching decision that must be made.  She can forgo treatment and die, and the child in the womb may possibly live.  Or she can have the treatment and live to take care of her four other children.  If she chooses to have the procedure it is not a direct attack on the child because it lacks intent.  In situations such as this the principle of double effect becomes relevant.  The reasoning for double effect requires the following four factors: “1.  The act itself is not evil.  2.  The evil is not a means to a good.  3.  The evil is not intended as an end.  4.  There is a proportionate reason for allowing the evil effect” (Smith & Kaczor 50).  The first step is satisfied because having a hysterectomy is not evil.  The second step is satisfied because the intent is not there.  The mother would much rather give birth to her child.  The third step is satisfied as the surgery is not intended to end the life of the child.  The forth step is satisfied because if she does not have the surgery she will die and leave her other four children without a mother.  The intent is not to have an abortion to live, but her uterus must be removed to destroy the cancer that will inevitably kill her if she does nothing.  There is an enormous difference between the two.  It is the intent that is intrinsically evil according to Humana Vitae (Pinckaers 53).

The above scenario is heartbreaking and does happen, but the moral teaching of the church deals with intent.  One should consult their physician and spiritual director or priest to get the best well rounded advice for the situation.  It is important to remember that these situations are highly emotional, and there is much pain and distress taking place.  The same goes for those who may have had an abortion in the past and they realize the mistake they made.

We live in a fallen world, and we have all sinned.  We all have some mortal sin that we have committed in the past.  It is vital to not judge and to show mercy.  In Matthew 5:7 our Lord says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (NRSV).  We have been forgiven much and have been shown limitless mercy.  It is important to reciprocate it to those who are hurting because of their past mistakes.  In the very beginning of sacred scripture we read, “So God created humankind  in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (NRSV).  Each person, no matter their past, was created in the image of God.  As such, we are called to show everyone the dignity and respect that being made in his image calls for.  To summarize we must do what the Lord says in the beatitudes.  We must show mercy.  In Hebrew, showing mercy is being compassionate (especially expressed by רחום): showing pity at another person’s sorrow or misfortune, with the desire to alleviate, or, on occasion, even to suffer in the other’s place.  This is exactly what the Lord did for us when he suffered on the cross.

 

WORKS CITED

 

Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Doubleday Books.  New York, NY:  1995.  Print.

Centers for Disease Control. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/data_stats/abortion.htm.  Accessed March 23, 2018.

Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version

Kreeft, Peter & Tacelli, Ronald K.  Handbook of Christian Apologetics.  IVP Academic.  Downers Grove, Il: 1994.  Print.

M.B. Riddle. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 7. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0714.htm&gt;.

Ostrowski, Thaddeus ed., Primary Source Readings in Christian Morality.  Winona, MN: Saint Mary’s Press, 2008, Print.

Pinckaers, Servais.  Morality:  The Catholic View.  St. Augustine’s Press.  South Bend, IN:  2001.  Print.

Pope John Paul II.  Veritatis Splendorhttp://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_06081993_veritatis-splendor.html.  Accessed March 24, 2018.

Smith, Janet E. & Kaczor, Christopher.  Life Issues, Medical Choices:  Questions and Answers for Catholics.  Servant.  Cincinatti, OH: 2016.  Print

Tanner, Norman ed.  Vatican II:  The Essential Texts.  New York:  Image Books, 2012.  Print.

Six Books Every Catholic Should Read

There are so many books out there about the faith. Some are excellent, and others…well, not so much. In this video I detail six book (There are many others) that every catholic should check out. Two of them are mandatory. Enjoy!

The Ten Commandments, Part 1

1.       You shall have no other gods beside me.

The first commandment forbids idolatry and polytheism.  It promotes putting God first in our lives and aligning our lives in such a way that nothing takes the place of God.  Regarding this commandment the catechism says, “The first commandment forbids honoring gods other than the one Lord who has revealed himself to his people” (CCC para 2110).  This commandment is important in moral decision making because it tells us what is important.  We have many things such as cell phones, social media, and television that can take the place of God.  This commandment tells us to make sure He stays in his proper place in our lives.

2.       You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

The second commandment is a prohibition against taking false oaths and debasing the holy name of YHWH.  The catechism states that “Rejection of false oaths is a duty to God” (CCC para 2151).  The second virtue that this commandment promotes is honestly before God and man.  There are many ways in which this commandment comes into play in regard to moral decision making.  One that comes to mind is our faith.  Christianity is under attack in many areas of the world, and it may be tempting deny that we are Christians depending on the situation.  That is a false oath, and this commandment encourages us to make the right choice and stand up for our faith.

3.       Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.

This command tells us to keep worship of God as a priority.  It is also a call to rest and remember everything the Lord has done for us.  It prohibits taking advantage of the poor in our employment, and worship of money.  Regarding this commandment the catechism states, “The sabbath brings everyday work to a halt and provides a respite. It is a day of protest against the servitude of work and the worship of money” (CCC para 2172).  Since worship is a priority it stands to reason that we should do everything possible to attend mass and receive the Eucharist if at all possible.  This assists our decision making by reminding us of what is important.  Though we may be exhausted by a hard work week, we must make the right choice and attend mass to worship with the community.

4.      Honor your father and mother.

This commandment implores us to honor our parents, but to also honor those whom God has given that authority to.  This includes teachers, police officers, and government officials. The commandment prohibits abuse of our parents in the latter stages of their lives, and manipulation of authority figures for personal gain.  Regarding this the catechism states, “This commandment includes and presupposes the duties of parents, instructors, teachers, leaders, magistrates, those who govern, all who exercise authority over others or over a community of persons” (CCC para 2199).  This commandment helps in moral decision making by helping us remember the great gift that has been given to us.  Though we may be experiencing hard financial times, it is never appropriate to take advantage of an elderly person for our own gain.  We must show them the respect that God tells us ins granted to them.

5.      You shall not murder.

Regarding this commandment the catechism states, “God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being” (CCC para 2258).  This commandment prohibits the taking of an innocent life or deliberately disrespecting those around us.  This commandment also tells us to protect life from the moment of conception to natural death.  Therefore, the commandment helps us virtuously protect life and to preserve peace among fellow humans.  This command assists in moral decision making by helping us remember that everyone is made in the image of God.  Though we may be disrespected by someone, we must show them grace because they are made in that image.  We must only resort to violence only if our own lives are threatened, and only as a last resort.

Works Cited

Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Doubleday Books.  New York, NY:  1995.  Print.

Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version

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