How Catholics Read Scripture

Strange Notions (the place to be online for Catholic-Atheist dialogue) is running a super series on how Catholics approach Sacred Scripture. I’ve written on this briefly before, but if you want more detail but not a whole book, Mark Shea is your man.  Continue reading


BXVI: The Narrative of the Inclusive Kingdom

I thought I’d share this tidbit from Pope Benedict’s first volume of Jesus of Nazareth that I read this morning, regarding the secularist reinterpretation of the Kingdom (p. 53)(paraphrased). It tells the narrative of how the evolution of the notions of “tolerance”, “unity” and “inclusiveness”, given ever-wider definitions, have led to the climate of religious and political ideas that we see today amongst certain academic circles in Catholic Theology specifically, but that obviously coincides a great deal with ideas prevalent in wider society as well.

It was claimed that prior to Vatican II the dominant position was “Ecclesiocentrism“, where the Church was presented as the centre of Christianity, interpreted as being somehow in place of Christ, or Christ and His Church as being in competition. This kept us separate from other Christians, for as long as we claim to be the True Church, it implies others are not, and thus is divisive.

Then post-Vatican II there was a shift to “Christocentrism“, yet this did not solve the question of division, for Christ belongs exclusively to Christians.

‘Jesus of Nazareth’ by Pope Benedict XVI

Hence the next transition to “Theocentrism“, which allegedly brought us closer to other religions (which is apparently our goal). However, even God can be a cause of division between religions and people.

Therefore, the move was made (or is in the process of being made) to “Regnocentrism“, the centrality of the Kingdom. Apparently we have finally gotten to the heart of Christ’s message, and it is this position that will help us finally harness mankind’s positive energies and direct them toward the world’s future. Here the “Kingdom” simply means a world governed by peace, justice and the conservation of creation. Working together to attain such a world is the true goal of religions. They are free to live in their respective traditions, each bringing them to bear on the common task of building the “Kingdom”, where peace, justice and respect for creation are the dominant values.

This sounds good, but it leaves a number of questions: how do we figure out what justice actually means, and how we acheive it?

Furthermore, in this “Kingdom”, God has disappeared. “Man is the only actor left on stage.” Religion now matters only insofar as it can be directed towards to political goals of the organisation of the world.

Sound familiar?


Sydney Anglicans and Reformation Sunday

As I mentioned earlier, Reformation Sunday just occurred. Although I knew there would be some who would herald it as a great day to remember, it’s still amazing to me that on the Sydney Anglican Archdiocese website they can so readily publish an article with the following quotes: (Don’t Let the Reformation Become History, by Phillip Jensen)

While the Reformation involved political movements, nationalism and even warfare, it was at heart a spiritual and theological reform of people and churches. The gospel had become lost over the centuries of European history.Corrupted by power, the church no longer preached Christ with clarity.

Martin Luther, “Reformer” [oooh ouch ;)]

Claiming that the gospel had been lost completely is a huge claim, and one for which I am yet to see real evidence for, particularly that the Reformed conception of the gospel is the one preached by the early Church. Behind all of the article is the implicit blame laid on the Catholic Church for all the “problems”, although it isn’t mentioned.

The Reformers returned to preaching five great themes: Scripture alone; faith alone; grace alone; Christ alone; and Glory to God alone. The emphasis on “alone” was the removal of the many church traditions that had come to obscure the gospel.

Even a brief perusal of an understanding of Sacred Tradition and “small-t” traditions would reveal that they did not, and do not, in fact obscure the gospel.

 It was one of the struggles of the Reformation to establish the freedom of the Christian’s conscience.

I’m not sure what this even means, but it sounds like another “oppressive Church” claim. The irony is that many of the Reformers’ doctrines actually did away with free will.

The Reformation did more than reform the abuses of organized religion. It was a recovery of the gospel that transformed the very nature of the church.

Again, reference to the “recovery” of a “lost” gospel. Also a dig at any kind of “organised” religion as inherently bad.

Through the work of Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin and many more, the great doctrines of salvation were once more hammered out and explained to the people. Their hymns and prayers, books and translations taught their own and subsequent generations the great doctrines of God’s grace in saving us through the death and resurrection of His Son, and of the Spirit’s work in regenerating us to repent and put our faith solely in him.

This insinuates that the Catholic Church wasn’t explaining salvation to people. Every single thing that the Church is, does, and teaches is about salvation. While there’s no denying that there were problems in the Church at the time, the problems were fundamentally in certain practices, in particular clerics abusing their positions. Developing a fundamentally different understanding of the Church and salvation as won for us by Christ, and how it is applied to us and lived out, is completely different to reforming wayward practices. But this is what the “reformers” did.

The fundamental problem with all of this is that what actually happened in the Reformation was not reform, but schism. If real reform had taken place, it would have taken place within the one Church. What happened instead was a protesting breakaway, which has now developed into a plethora of denominations, completely lacking in unity.

One is forced to invent a radically different understanding of Church and sacraments, in fact of most doctrines, in order to disagree with Church teaching. One has to assume that the Church cannot teach with Christ’s authority in order to disagree with her, for if she does speak with the voice of Christ, who could possibly contradict her in any serious way? Thus we have an essentially circular argument happening, wherein the Reformers assume that the teaching of the Church about herself and her authority is wrong, in order to claim that much of the rest of her teaching is wrong. Meanwhile, the Reformers have somehow gotten everything right all of a sudden after all these centuries, despite them not even agreeing amongst each other… :S

It was a gospel understanding that freed us from priestcraft and religiosity, from false doctrine and authoritarianism. During the 16th century a new flowering of Christian understanding, scholarship, evangelism and conversion reformed the church.

More digs at religion, and particularly the priesthood, and therefore, by extension, the sacraments, and ritual, all as inherently bad, and restrictive.

It all came at a dreadful cost as people were persecuted and martyred for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We owe it to the memory of those who died for our freedoms to never lose sight of the Reformation.

The overall tone of this article is holding up the Reformation as a grand thing, where Christians were saved from the oppressive and oppressively wrong Catholic Church. This a.) doesn’t hold up to historical scrutiny, and b.) basically says schism is justified. (Which it’s not. Ever.)

It was because of martyrs like William Tyndale and Thomas Cranmer that we have our Bible in English, as well as our Prayer Book and Articles of religion. They, together with many others, died to bring these privileges to us. We forget them at our peril.

Actually, I’m pretty sure the bible was translated into English well before these guys… with the support of the Catholic Church. 

In the centuries that have followed the tribalism and sectarianism even became detached from the great beliefs that lay at the heart of the Reformation.  People took sides because of their family tradition with little understanding of what the Reformation stood for, or against. This has been a sad feature of Australian history. Yet, we will not resolve the differences by ignorance of our background. 

This part, however, I thoroughly agree with. We should be striving to resolve our differences, which requires that we are aware of them. I find all too often that people are not aware, and don’t even care. I think Protestants should be so aware that they should still be actually actively “protesting”, by which I mean, I think they should have thought through and have good reason for not being Catholic.

I haven’t really said much by way of substantial argument, I just wanted to pour out my thoughts on the mistaken assumptions behind this, and to lament the fact that after nearly 500 years, they’re still floating around, and obstructing the path to reunification.


From Rome to Home: The Church in my Backyard

My friend wrote this! Go Anna!
“When I reflected on this, I could see that I was missing the point. If the Pope were to say something to me now, it would surely run along the lines of “Go home and share the gospel with your friends! I cannot do it. You have been inspired and equipped, now go!” I realise I have a new backyard, new neighbours; it’s the surrounding community. It is my call as a Catholic to bring the heart and message of the Church everywhere, I do not want it to stay in the Vatican.”

Evangelise Australia (NOE)

It’s been a month since I returned from a year in the Eternal City.  Let’s be honest, Sydney is not Rome.  No St Peter’s, rather than a Catholic Church every few metres, it’s every few kilometres and the Pope is not in my backyard.  So, with Pope Francis on the other side of the world, I am back home with my Parish Priest celebrating Mass in my humble parish church.  So I hope you will forgive me when at Mass I had this dispirited thought, “I could be in the Vatican with the Pope!  What am I going to do away from the heart of the Church?”

When I reflected on this, I could see that I was missing the point.  If the Pope were to say something to me now, it would surely run along the lines of “Go home and share the gospel with your friends!  I cannot…

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