The Need For Grace

In the beginning of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans he lays out a case about the desire for people to know God.  He says that by nature they can know things about God and God has shown them.  The verse in question is from Romans 1:19 which states, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (NRSV).  We see that there is something else higher than ourselves, and we long to know what it is.  In contrast with this desire to know something higher than ourselves, there is a desire to sin.

The “something higher” that I am referencing is God.  Many of us have heard of God from an early age, and in different Christian assemblies.  Though many have heard of God they fall into the error of thinking that Heaven is within reach simply by doing good.  This is part of the equation.  There is a synergy between us and God.  Our natures are wounded from the fall, not totally destroyed as the Protestant reformers taught (Lubac 122).  We realize in ourselves that we do things that we do not want to do.  This is also echoed by St. Paul in Romans 7:15 where he writes, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (NRSV).  We know that we are unable to do it on our own and that eventually brings us to the knowledge that we need God.  We need his grace, his mercy, and his forgiveness.  Without his supernatural grace it is impossible to enter the beatific vision.  This grace is a gift that we need from God to enter into eternal life (STII, Q114, A2).

In a way the position I hold follows along with Henri De Lubac.  This position was arrived at through my journey through a few Christian denominations and reinforced through study of church teaching.  Man is not capable of heaven strictly on his own merit.  Man is wounded, not depraved, and able to see that he needs the help of God.  He uses his will to accept the grace needed to get to Heaven and live the Christian life.

 

Works Cited

Aquinas, Thomas.  Summa Theologia. Trans. Thomas Gornall.  Blackfriars, St. Joseph, IN:  Ave Maria Press, 1981.  Accessed September 28, 2018.

Lubac, Henri De.  A Brief Catechesis on Nature & Grace.  San Francisco, CA:  Ignatius Press, 1984.

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The Jewishness of Christ

Within theology there are many different topics.  One such topic is known as Christology, and it deals with who Jesus is.  It deals with his nature, divinity, and how it is portrayed within the New Testament.  There are many views of Christology that have been debunked over the years, and some are still taught today.  Who was Jesus, and how does his Jewish heritage affect our understanding of the New Testament? 

When we read the New Testament, we tend to read it through modern eyes.  We read the Gospel accounts and see the divinity of Christ, but we often overlook key aspects that assist us in understanding him in a deeper way.  We may have a good understanding of the doctrines that Christ preached, but pay little attention to his relationships and social interactions (Carter 150).  In fact, understanding the Jewishness of Christ will have a big impact on our exegesis of the New Testament.  By viewing the Jewishness of Christ, we are removing the presuppositions of western culture, and placing the New Testament back into its cultural and societal context.

One thing that many see Jesus as doing is abolishing the law, but is this really accurate?  Certainly, there are some things a that are no longer applicable under the New Covenant, but Jesus tells us himself that he came to fulfill the law in Matthew 5:17.  This seems to indicate that He recognized his Jewishness and embraced it.  Regarding this Gerald Collins writes, “We throw away any right to comment on the way Jesus perceived reality, if we ignore the earthly particularity of his language (Collins 47).

Jesus spoke in a manner in which his Jewish audience would understand.  Like other Rabbis of the time, he taught lessons by telling a story.  One example is His example of putting new wine into old wineskins in Luke 5:36. A surface reading of the text suggests a disagreement between Jesus and the Pharisees in regard to Jewish dietary laws.  These parables give us peeks into Jewish culture, and a proper understanding of them assists us in understanding the New Testament in a fuller way.

As previously stated, we tend to read these parables within the context of our western culture, but to do so is to miss the point.  By reading scripture in this manner we run the risk of coming to a conclusion that in totally foreign to the intention of the text.  That has ramifications for how we engage the rest of the New Testament. 

Jesus was Jewish, and the first Christians were Jewish.  The worshipped in the synagogue, kept kosher dietary laws, and strove to keep other aspects of the law.  Most Christians are gentiles, and as a result it becomes hard to imagine Jesus as a Jewish man.  We say it, but it is something that comes from our mouth with little understanding of the ramifications.  This means that the Gospels should be seen as a conflict between Jesus and the Jewish leaders of his day, particularly in regard to the interpretation of the law.  It also means that we measure what Jesus said with the understanding that he was a Jewish Rabbi in 1st century Palestine.  These two things may be difficult for us to grasp, but when we do so we see the New Testament in its proper context, and the message of scripture become more fully alive.

Image result for jewishness of christ

 

Works Cited

Carter, Warren. “Proclaiming (in/against) Empire Then and Now,” Word & World 25/2 (2005) 149-158.

O’ Collins, Gerald. Jesus: A Portrait. New York: Maryknoll, 2013

Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version

Moral Relativism, Moral Code, and Human Freedom

In modern times it has been increasing popular to say that truth may vary by person. One person may say that murder is wrong, while another may say it is wrong depending on the scenario. Though the example given may seem outlandish is denotes a trend of moral relativism among our culture. The power to decide what is truth, and what is right of wrong is the domain of God. In the great encyclical, Veritatis Splendor, Saint Pope John Paul II writes, “Revelation teaches that the power to decide what is good and what is evil does not belong to man, but to God alone” (Veritatis Splendor para 35). The ideas taught within nominalism have manifested themselves twofold within moral relativism. Furthermore, God has revealed through reason and natural law certain moral principles that man is to uphold. Sin undermines this by destroying what God had established, and in a sense, man has become their own god.

Image result for veritatis splendor an moral relativism

As previously stated God has revealed in natural law, and the scriptures the moral code in which man is supposed to act. Concerning morality, or the moral order, natural law helps us discern universal and binding moral principles and precepts. God gave this gift to man to show us how to love him and how to love each other. Natural law implies that there is a moral realism, or a defined moral order that we called to uphold. When we follow natural law, seek to know the truth about God, and seek to do good we echo the words of scripture “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39 NRSV). These appetites worked together to help man have happiness.

However, man wanted to be happy at all costs, and that would eventually mean transgressing moral law. Man wanted freedom, but what man does not understand is that the moral code leads to freedom. Saint Pope John Paul II writes, “God’s law does not reduce, much less do away with human freedom; rather, it protects and promotes that freedom” (Veritatis Splendor para 35). Sin destroys that freedom, and man becomes a slave to sin. Man tried to change morality was, and in the 14th century William Ockham said that universal ideas like truth and love were ideas and not reality . This would eventually give way to moral relativism which says that there is no objective truth. Truth is in the eye of the beholder and can change from one person to another. Through sin, man lost sight of what truth is and what would make him happy. Regarding this Servais Pinckaers writes, “With the advent of nominalism we witness the formation of the first morality obligation: The moral life will henceforth be circumscribed to obligations. The desire for happiness will be systematically set aside” (Pinckaers 72). Truth is not a concept or an abstract idea. Truth is embodied in the person of Jesus Christ.

Works Cited

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

Pope John Paul II. Veritatis Splendor. http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_06081993_veritatis-splendor.html. Accessed February 27, 2018.

Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version

Why 27 Books of the New Testament?

There are many things that may come to an individual’s mind when it comes to sacred scripture.  Some may ask why there are so many translations.  Some may wonder if the Bible as we know it fell from the sky at Pentecost.  However many have questions on how we have the books we have.  For sure it was long and arduous process, but it was one guided by the Holy Spirit and the church.
One rule that was used to determine inclusion of the twenty seven books was linkage to an Apostle, or apostolic origin.  In the first three centuries after the church started there were many books bearing the name of various Apostles.  As an example there was the Gospel of Thomas, Luke, Peter, and the proto gospel of James.  In addition to these there were several hundred Acts and Apocalypses.  Some of these writings were spurious and contradicted the Gospel being preached by the church.
Apostolic origin does not mean that it has to be written by an apostle, but that an Apostle “stands behind writing in such a way that the essential teaching is preserved within it (Nichols, page 104).”  This would explain why the Gospel of Luke was included in the canon.  Great care was made to ensure that writings had apostolic backing, and if they did not they were denied canonical status.
Another rule that was used in determining if a book was worthy of the canon was its conformity to the faith of the church.  Would a collection of Holy writings from any religion be deemed authoritative if they contradicted each other?  The answer to the question is obvious.  The church used great care in determining that the twenty seven books in the canon were in compliance with what the church taught.
The church was able to do this by utilizing the oral tradition that was handed down from the Apostles.  As a Nichols documents “around 190 a bishop in Antioch stopped people from using the Gospel of Peter on the grounds that its author did not regard the human body of Jesus as real (Nichols, page 104).”  The church teaches that Christ was a real person, divine, and bled on the cross.  This writing taught that Christ was a spirit that entered into a man that was being crucified.  There were many writings like this floating around, and since they did not pass the test of orthodoxy they were not included in the canon.
Thirdly the writing had to be valued by the church that was respected for its own Apostolic origin (Nichols, page 104).  Perfect examples of this are the Epistles of Saint Paul.  There is little doubt that these writings are his for he states at the end of letters that he wrote them with his own hand.  Also he wrote them to churches that he started and they knew him very well.  These churches preserved these letters and read them in their liturgies.
Using these three criteria, the fathers of the church started to develop the New Testament.  The letters of Paul were among the first to be recognized in 90 ad and were being assembled in small collections.  The four Gospels were decided on around the year 200.  There were various canons proposed, but the Pauline letters and the four gospels seemed to have staying power.  Other books such as Revelation and Hebrews were battled over.  Some areas of the church accepted them and others did not.  There were also books with no apostolic link that were considered such as the Shepherd of Hermas and Clements letter to the Corinthians.  However they did not meet the criteria previously discussed and were denied canonical status. Through many debates and hefty quarrels we know that the canon was final by the end of the fourth century (Nichols, Page 105).
References
Nichols, Aiden. The Shape of Catholic Theology: An Introduction to Its Sources, Principles, and History. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.

St. Paul and the Eucharist

One of the central themes in all of Christendom is that of unity. Though there are many denominations, Christians everywhere consider themselves to be in the family of God. However, within the Catholic Church we have something that the other ecclesial bodies do not. We have the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ present with us in the Eucharist. In the Catholic Church, we are a family, and in that family there are disagreements. However, when we receive the Eucharist, we are submitting to our Lord and we become one with Him and with each other. This unity is important in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

During the course of St. Paul’s missionary journeys, he founded the Church in Corinth. The community seemed to have a problem with individuality, but it is not what we think individuality to be. This was not someone expressing their personality, but individuals who were selfish and put themselves before the welfare of the community. Laurance states “Many of the Corinthian Christians believe that all that is important is to know the fact of their salvation, and that this fact liberates them from duties of love to their fellow Christians or even to Christ (Laurence, Page 71). There was an individual who was fornicating with his stepmother (1 Corinthians 5:1). This is bad enough, but the Church did nothing to correct the issue. This vital issue had the potential of ending the young Church. They were taking each other to court instead of working things out internally (1 Corinthians 6:1-6). How does this look to the unbelievers around them? They were not setting themselves about and living the example of Christ and their beloved Apostle Paul. There were many other things wrong with the Church, but when it came to the Eucharis, many within the Church strayed from what they believed, and received in an unworthy manner.

Paul begins his lesson by reminding the Corinthians of Christ. Laurance states “Contrary to all worldly wisdom and all expectations, God’s power is manifested in Christ’s humbling of himself and finally acceptance of death (Laurance, page 71).” As previously stated, the Corinthians were worrying about their own desires and seemed to forget about the fundamentals of the Gospel. We are to act like Christ, and they were doing everything but that.

Christ loved us so much that He humbled Himself and died for our sin. Paul was reminding the Corinthians of this and the duty to love others more than yourself. This is important in preparation to receive the Eucharist. In Mass we offer each other a sign of peace and we pray for each other. It is in these prayers and offerings of peace that we humble ourselves and place ourselves at the service of others. Paul was trying to emphasize the importance of this in proper Christian living.

To go along with this, the Corinthians were not coming together properly to celebrate the Eucharist. 1 Corinthians 11:20, 21 says “When you meet in one place, then it is not to eat the Lord’s supper, and one goes hungry while another gets drunk.” Those that were well off in the world were flaunting it in the faces of those that had nothing. This had the effect of making those less fortunate feel ashamed and it brought disgrace on the Church (1 Corinthians 11:22). Paul, as a disappointed father, tells them he is ashamed. Laurence states in plainly “To celebrate it (Eucharist) in a context of selfishness and division is to violate its very nature, to reject Christ who at the Last Supper and in his death shared himself completely. Such a violation results in condemnation rather than blessing (Laurance, page 72).”

One could get the feeling from reading Paul’s letter that the community was in peril. Someone was concerned enough to leak this information to Paul, and he swiftly wrote this epistle condemning their behavior. Paul does this is a way that a father corrects a child. He does it with love and he is trying to teach them by example.

Paul is telling the Corinthians, and us, that the Eucharistic meal is one which is firmly rooted in family. In 1 Corinthians 11:26 Paul writes “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.” After performing the first Mass at the Last Supper, our Lord was betrayed. He was whipped, beaten, and had nails driven through His hands and feet. To take this lightly one may as well be at the scene of the crucifixion with a hammer in hand. We gather to remember that the Lord gave Himself for us and we are to follow His example by giving ourselves to each other. If a member of the Church lost a loved one, then we all did. If a member of the Church is sick, we are to all pray. We are to help each other get to heaven, not step all over each other so we can get there first.

Paul reiterates the point of the Eucharist as a means of bringing the community together in 1 Corinthians 11:33, 34. These verses read “Therefore, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so your meetings may not result in judgment. The other matters I shall set in order when I come.” Remember that there were certain members of the congregation that were using the Church meeting as their own personal buffet. This passage is not saying that one should not feed someone who is hungry, but is saying that everyone should get a portion of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is the high point of the Church meeting. We recall how unworthy we are to receive the Blessed Sacrament, and ask God to forgive us of our shortcoming and fill us with His grace. We ask for the prayers of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and they ask the same of us. Paul is trying to tell the Corinthians that we are in this race together, and is beneficial and necessary that we help each other as a family.

Reference

1 Corinthians 11:20, 21 New American Bible

1 Corinthians 11:26 New American Bible

1 Corinthians 11:33, 34 New American Bible

Laurance, John D., S.J., ED. Introduction to Theology. (Revised Second Edition) Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2008.

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