Sunday, June 26, 2016

Dear Protestant: Where did you get your New Testament?

Greek Manuscript New Testament

At least a couple of times every week, Protestants use New Testament verses to show me where the Catholic Church is wrong about something. I always make them take the necessary step back by asking the following:

"Where did you get your New Testament?"

When they answers that it came from God (as indeed it did), I say, "Yes, but what was the mechanism God used to bring it to you today? How did it come to you, historically and in real time, since it did not drop out of Heaven into your hands, leather-bound?"

Nine times out of ten, they have no answer because they have never considered the question.

The quick answer:

The Catholic Church officially determined and set the canon of of the New Testament approximately 400 years after Christianity began. The canon was declared by the body of Catholic bishops at the Council of Carthage (397 A.D.) and confirmed by Pope Boniface (419 A.D.).  

This is historical fact.

Let me flesh out a few more of the details, which very few Christians (Protestant or Catholic) know.

After Christ's ascension into Heaven, and after the Holy Spirit descended upon the first Christians at Pentecost, the Church thrived and grew exponentially for years before even one line of the New Testament was written. Let that sink in: Baptisms, catechesis, communal worship, conversions of thousands of sinners, Apostles and their companions traveling to other lands and risking imprisonment, torture, and death to evangelize the world with zeal -- all went on for over a decade before the New Testament was even begun, much less completed.

Without having written a word, the Church was teaching, preaching, growing, and flourishing for many years.

Eventually, a very few Apostles and their disciples starting writing down some of the Church's oral Tradition: The Gospels, which recorded the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and also the Epistles (letters) of St. Paul and others, which gave encouragement and instruction to local churches being established throughout the world. The young Church cherished those gospels and letters, and began to incorporate them into her liturgies and masses.

More and more written accounts and testimonies materialized as the Church grew, but contrary to today's popular belief, it was not obvious to the early Christians which of these writings were truly God-inspired.

As brutal persecution of the Church continued in those first centuries, clarity about Christian writings became important. After all, Christians were being martyred routinely, and it was necessary to know which books were worth dying for.

Three categories of writings existed at that time:

1. Those writings that were universally acknowledged/accepted
2. Those writings that were disputed or controverted
3. Those writings that were known to be spurious or false

The first group included divinely-inspired books that we have in our Bible today, such as the four Gospels, the Epistles of St. Paul, and the Acts of the Apostles.

The second group included books that were simultaneously accepted in some Christian regions, rejected in others, and disputed in others. Some of these were indeed divinely-inspired, such the Epistles of James and Jude, one of Peter's, two of John's, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the Book of Revelation, even as many Christians did not believe they were. Some were books that never made it into the final canon of the New Testament, but which several Christian communities considered inspired (and even used for catechizing and in the liturgy), such as the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas, Apostolic Constitutions, the Epistle of St. Clement, St. Paul's Epistle to the Laodiceans, etc.

The third group consisted of the fakes floating around, spurious works which were never acknowledged or claimed by the Church, such as about 50 false gospels including the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of James, a couple dozen "Acts" (Acts of Pilate, Acts of Paul and Thecla, etc.), and some epistles and apocalypses.

Under the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit and after a long series of historical events, a gathering of Catholic bishops went through the process of authoritatively and infallibly setting the books of the Christian canon, using the following criteria: a) The book in question must have been written in apostolic times by an Apostle or one close to an Apostle, and b) The book in question had to be doctrinally sound, completely conforming to Catholic Church teaching.

Several books met those criteria, and so it happened that some four centuries and 20 generations after Christ's Resurrection, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church authoritatively set the canon of the New Testament, ending all confusion and doubt among the faithful.

Rome had spoken, and the canon was closed.

Which leaves us with some takeaways:

-- If the Catholic Church (bishops and pope) had the authority from God to set the New Testament canon, then she cannot be the corrupt and un-Christian "Whore of Babylon" as is claimed by many Protestants.

-- If one accepts the canon of the New Testament, one must also accept the authority of the entity who gave it to us, i.e., the Catholic Church.

-- If one rejects the authority of the Catholic Church, one should and must also reject the canon of the New Testament that came to us through the authority of the Catholic Church. (It makes sense that Martin Luther, the rebel behind the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s, wanted to throw out several of the New Testament books that he despised.)

-- The New Testament cannot be "personally interpreted" by each individual Christian, because it was never meant to be taken outside of the Church from which it came.

-- The New Testament cannot and does not contradict Catholic doctrine, as it was Catholic doctrine that was used as a criterion for its authenticity and authority.

-- The New Testament was discerned and canonized by men who had divine authority to do so -- men who believed explicitly in the Mass, the Eucharist, the ministerial priesthood, Confession, Purgatory, veneration of Mary, infant baptism and infused grace, justification by faith and works, the Communion of Saints, etc., etc.

-- The Bible came from the Church. In other words, the Bible is Church-based, not the other way around. If you get this paradigm wrong, you get some messed-up theology.

-- If a Protestant uses Scripture to attack the Catholic Church, it's like ripping off a man's arm to beat him with it. Using a Catholic Book to beat up the Catholic Church makes no sense.

-- If you believe that your eternal salvation is based entirely on a Book, isn't it important to know where the Book came from and who was given authority to proclaim it? Who meticulously copied, preserved, protected, and guarded it with their lives, and who ultimately vouched for the fact that it is indeed the written Word of God?

There is so much more to discuss, and I would love to do so in the comments. Meanwhile, one of the best books on the subject, which I devoured when I came back to the Church, is Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church, by Henry G. Graham.

**Note: I did not include the Old Testament canon in this post, because I wanted to work with something that both Protestants and Catholics agree on, namely, the 27 books of the New Testament.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

From the Register: "Are Many Marriages Today Invalid?"

In light of Pope Francis' recent off-the-cuff remarks about marriage validity (and subsequent walk-back), a heated discussion has ensued among many Catholics about just how hard or easy it is to confect a legitimate marriage.

Thankfully, and contrary to what we might hear, it's not all that difficult to confect a valid and/or sacramental marriage! This article from the National Catholic Register, lays it all out beautifully:

This fantastic piece is written by Benedict Nguyen, M.T.S., J.C.L./J.D., D.Min (ABD), who is canonical counsel and theological advisor for the Diocese of Corpus Christi and an adjunct professor for the Avila Institute.

I have bookmarked the article for myself and I hope each of you will take the time to read it through. It's clearly written and easy to understand, and many of my own questions were answered.

Friday, June 10, 2016


Some things stick in our minds and never leave us. When in the midst of my panic attack, my friend Nikki Westby, a cognitive behavioral therapist, said something that had never occurred to me, and which hit me like a ton of bricks:

"From the moment we are born, we begin to experience loss."

Blink. Blink.

I've pondered those words for almost two years now, and the fruit has been profound.

It now makes perfect sense to me that every pain in life, every suffering we endure whether physical or mental or emotional, is connected to some kind of loss.

Loss of childhood.
Loss of youth.
Loss of innocence.
Loss of friendship.
Loss of a romance.
Loss of companionship.
Loss of a loved one.
Loss of a parent.
Loss of a sibling.
Loss of a spouse.
Loss of a child.
Loss of a job.
Loss of a community.
Loss of prosperity.
Loss of security.
Loss of health.
Loss of abilities.
Loss of pets.
Loss of homes.
Loss of expectations.
Loss of an intact family.
Loss of good looks and beauty.
Loss of memories.
Loss of material possessions.
Loss of autonomy.
Loss of one's good reputation.
Loss of identity.
Loss of homeland.
Loss of physical comfort.
Loss of mental acuity.
Loss of dreams. 

And on and on and on.

Ultimately and inevitably, it all culminates in the loss of life itself.

In the western world, we tend to live as if death will never come for us, and we blot it out of our minds by seeking as much pleasure and material comfort as we can. We avoid suffering at all costs. But when we train so hard and condition ourselves so thoroughly for a pain-free existence, we are unprepared, shocked, and even indignant when loss does come our way. It was not, after all, a part of our carefully laid plans.

But no matter how fiercely committed we are to maintaining strict control of our lives, the losses will keep coming, and they will never let up. The more we fight and claw to hold on to the things that cannot ultimately stay in our grasp, the more we compound our pain, suffering, confusion, and angst. The longer we live, the more losses we will endure, and if we have not understood and accepted what God is doing for us, we risk becoming more and more anxious and fearful, perhaps even falling into despair.

What, then, do we do?

The way I see it, we should view every loss for what it is: Our loving Father detaching us from the things of this world, a world which is passing away, so that we might attach to Him. He only allows us to lose something in order to gain something greater. 

Detachment from the world = Attachment to God. 

For a while now, I've been all about the concept of total surrender, abandonment to a God who loves us and can be trusted. Surrender does not mean passivity, as of course we may and should fight disease, disaster, injustice, sin, corruption, and every kind of moral and physical evil while we are here. Fight the good fight every day, for sure, but do so with a proper understanding of holy detachment, and the realization that every earthly loss really is a step toward Heaven. 

When we truly trust the Lord, we no longer live in fear of losses that are beyond our control. The pain of the loss will still be felt, even searingly, but the fear and anxiety that precede and accompany that loss will be replaced with an interior peace, and yes, as the saints tell us, even supernatural, unimaginable joy. 

Back to Nikki's words, then: The image of a newborn baby beginning a lifetime of loss is no longer jarring or tragic, but hopeful. Each loss is a detachment that marks a human life's journey all the way to the Beatific Vision, the end for which we were made. 

From the perspective of Heaven, our loss is gain. And all is well. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Professor Robert P. George on what's happening to religious liberty

It's been a bazillion years (give or take) since I've blogged, and while I have several things in the pipeline, my life at home has been incredibly busy, and I have not been able to complete a thing!

However, in the meantime, I urge you to watch this talk that I had the privilege of seeing in person, when Princeton Professor Robert P. George (one of my heroes) spoke locally at the invitation of Catholic Phoenix.

This talk is brilliant.

This talk left my own holy and courageous Bishop Olmsted nodding his head in agreement.

This talk outlines what has happened in this culture for the last few years, why our heads are spinning, why we are disoriented and bewildered, and what to expect next.

There is so much clarity here for anyone confused about the growing LGBT frenzy-obsession and the fallout for Christians and those who are concerned for religious liberty.

Get some tea, find some quiet time, and watch.

(If you have no time to watch the video, click here for the audio version.)