Category Archives: Theology

Oct 16 – St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans

From now through Nov 5th Mass readings include selections from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, the longest and most theologically comprehensive of his works. Much of his writing was targeted at specific current issues in the churches he served, but Romans has a great deal to say about the theology of Salvation, the Big Idea, the Main Point. For a good introduction and improved understanding, read the section on Romans in the front of The Catholic Study Bible (sample snip below). If that is not readily available, the Wikipedia article on Romans is good and includes the outline below:

Romans

outline

St Paul was brilliant, sometimes inspired, inspirational, and positive, and sometimes crabby and defensive, a Jewish Pharisee well versed in and observant of The Law and The Prophets, a man singled out and confronted by the post-resurrection Jesus for persecuting Him (The Church), a missionary to the Gentiles and founder and Father of several Churches, a persistent servant of God who planned to visit Rome, perhaps on the way to establishing more churches in Spain. Well, he made it to Rome, but as a prisoner rather than as a traveling missionary. Wikipedia also has a very scholarly article about St. Paul.

On October 16th Father Linsky focused on Romans Chapter 2 from which the Mass readings for the day were taken. As can be seen in the outline above, it is in a section about the universal corruption of Gentiles and Jews, God’s judgment, and hypocrisy. Father mentioned the first word in Romans 2, therefore, which reminded me of a pastor of a few decades ago who liked to advise his flock, “Whenever you see “therefore” in the Bible, be sure to look to see what it is there for.

Well, in this case, it is there for the purpose of humbling those who think they are superior and can’t think of anything to confess, those “who are called to belong to Jesus Christ; to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy.” Paul has just completed a blistering critique, in Chapter 1, of those who had rejected God and now tells the people in the Church in Rome, Jews and Gentiles, that they are no better, that those who pass judgment on each other for perceived failures are without excuse, that they condemn themselves by doing the very same things.

The major current issue seems to have been mutual cross condemnation of the Jewish converts and the Gentile converts over whether circumcision was required of Christian Gentiles. It is informative and sobering to read these words from Paul in Romans 2:25-26: “Circumcision, to be sure, has value if you observe the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Again, if an uncircumcised man keeps the precepts of the law, will he not be considered circumcised?” It wasn’t just circumcision that divided the Church. There were also dietary and personal effort and behavior regulations.

The writings of St. Paul are challenging because apparent contradictions can be identified. For example, they contain one of the primary passages used to defend a Protestant position that we are saved by grace through faith (alone) and not by good works. (Ephesians 2:8-9  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. (Please note that the passage does not say saved by faith but by grace, through faith. And, there might be interesting discussion over whether the phrase, “and this is not from you; it is the gift of God,” refers just to “faith” or to having been saved by grace through faith.)

But, in Romans 2:16, St. Paul seemed to support a more Catholic emphasis on good works. He wrote that, “God will judge people’s hidden works through Christ Jesus.” St. James chimes in later with some clarification: James 2:14-17  What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (It is also worth considering how the Jewish “works of the law” are different from what we identify today as “corporal and spiritual works of mercy” aligned with the Two Greatest Commandments and other direct instructions of Jesus.)

And, by the way, the Wikipedia article on Romans has a section labeled Catholic Interpretation. Check it out and see if you agree.

Questions and issues such as these can be used to illustrate the difference between Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology. Here is an article with helpful discussion of the difference. I  love it because I always say that I enjoy looking at the Bible from 50,000 feet more than digging into short passages or verses. So, 15,000 feet is about the same. I recommend the entire article.

“…another way to imagine systematic theology is that it is a 15,000 ft view of the Bible. Imagine you are on top of a mountain, and below you is scripture laid out from beginning to end. You can make a lot of connections this way!”

“But biblical theology takes a different approach. This time, you are seeing the Bible from the ground. You traverse hills, wander in the desert, and cross rivers. Instead of plucking ideas from Genesis, Matthew, and Revelation to make one statement about God, you only make statements based on what is right in front of you at a given moment.”

I have clear memory of the instructions of the Greek/NT professor at the seminary explaining that when writing a paper on Romans Chapter 2, for example, don’t include references to anything but Romans 2 except perhaps parallel writings of the same author. Focus on what that text says, it’s literary form and structure, any translation or grammar issues, important words, the context within which it was written, and what the words meant to those who wrote and read them. So, looking at James while writing about Romans would be a violation of that principle and more Systematic rather than Biblical theology.

Both approaches have great value, but some of us are just big picture folks and some love digging into the details. I would point to the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a good example of Systematic Theology based on Sacred Scripture and other early traditions and teachings of the Church (which, by the way, do not violate Sacred Scripture).

It will be helpful when reading from Romans over the next few weeks to remember who Paul was and consider whatever we are reading in the context of the full Epistle and in the context of all of Sacred Scripture, the full revelation of God, the whole story from chaos through creation, the fall, the call of Abraham, the progress from polytheism through henotheism to monotheism, the Law and the Prophets, the Incarnation, the Passion and Resurrection, to The Church.

 

June 12, 2019 – Gifts, Fruits, Virtues, & Mystical Union

Gifts and Fruits

The Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit (From the Catechism) (http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P67.HTM)

CCC1830 The moral life of Christians is sustained by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are permanent dispositions which make man docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

CCC1831 The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David. They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations.

CCC1832 The fruits of the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory. the tradition of the Church lists twelve of them: “charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity.

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit (From the Bible)

Isaiah 11:1-3  But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.  The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, A spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD (piety in the Septuagint and Vulgate), and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD. Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide,

Below is an attempt to tie together the Capital Sins, Gifts and Fruits of the Spirit, Cardinal and Theological Virtues, and the ideal: Mystical Union with the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Quotes in boxes to the right are all from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The point is that the Gifts enable the journey.

Virtues

All the information about Virtues in the Catechism is found in Part Three (Life in Christ), Section One (Man’s Vocation Life in the Spirit), Chapter One (The Dignity of the Human Person), Article 7 (The Virtues). The introduction to Article 7 is this:

Article 7THE VIRTUES

1803 “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. the virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.

The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.

And the summary of Article 7 is this:  IN BRIEF
1833 Virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do good.
1834 The human virtues are stable dispositions of the intellect and the will that govern our acts, order our passions, and guide our conduct in accordance with reason and faith. They can be grouped around the four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.
1835 Prudence disposes the practical reason to discern, in every circumstance, our true good and to choose the right means for achieving it.
1836 Justice consists in the firm and constant will to give God and neighbor their due.
1837 Fortitude ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good.
1838 Temperance moderates the attraction of the pleasures of the senses and provides balance in the use of created goods.
1839 The moral virtues grow through education, deliberate acts, and perseverance in struggle. Divine grace purifies and elevates them.
1840 The theological virtues dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity. They have God for their origin, their motive, and their object – God known by faith, God hoped in and loved for his own sake.
1841 There are three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity. They inform all the moral virtues and give life to them.
1842 By faith, we believe in God and believe all that he has revealed to us and that Holy Church proposes for our belief.
1843 By hope we desire, and with steadfast trust await from God, eternal life and the graces to merit it.
1844 By charity, we love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves for love of God. Charity, the form of all the virtues, “binds everything together in perfect harmony” ( Col 3:14).
1845 The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon Christians are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.

Mystical Union

John 17:20-23 (NABRE) – “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.

May 8, 2019 – Prosperity and Good Health

Fr. Linsky began with the first Mass reading from Acts 8 about what happened in the very early church after the stoning of Deacon Stephen.

Acts 8:1b New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE) Persecution of the Church. On that day, there broke out a severe persecution[a]of the church in Jerusalem, and all were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.[b]

I think it is always a good idea to consider the footnotes when reading the Bible to get some idea of what Bible scholars are thinking. That is not to even suggest they are always right, but their comments, usually based on original languages and historical, theological, and literary context, are worthy of consideration and may be enlightening. Here is the text for footnotes (a) and (b) found at this LINK.

Fr. Linsky focused attention on the severe persecution, contrasting that with the way prosperity and good health are sometimes today presented as the major benefits of the Christian faith. Such slanting of the Gospel (Good News) is sometimes referred to as prosperity gospel or prosperity theology.

Catholic theology is more aligned with early Church teaching that the Christian faith empowers us to deal with adversity and suffering, offering them as sacrifices, even as we continue to think positively about the true good news we have heard and gifts we have received and the eternal abundant life we have been promised if we persevere.

A few of us have engaged in some online discussion about a couple of articles on the prosperity gospel. First was a blog post by Southern Baptist Convention President Dr. Albert Mohler, JR., Would You Trade Eternal Life for A Ferrari? The False Gospel of Prosperity Theology. You can read his blog post HERE.

I am not up-to-date with typical Southern Baptist theology of today, but what Dr. Mohler writes rings true with what I learned there in the middle of the last century and with what Southern Baptists I know today believe and practice.

The subject of Dr. Mohler’s post was an insightful article published, of all places, in the Financial Times. The article, by Edward Luce, is entitled A preacher for Trump’s America: Joel Osteen and the prosperity gospel. FT articles are usually available only to subscribers, but this one seems to be accessible HERE. It is all about Mr. Luce’s visits to Joel Osteen’s Houston TX Lakewood Church and his interview with Osteen. It’s worth your time (and money) even if you must do a $1.00 trial subscription.

All this made me think about a chart I created a few years ago about Gifts of the Holy Spirit, Fruits of the Holy Spirit, Virtues, and Vices. I have shared it before, but here it is again, all based on Sacred Scripture and the Catechism of the Church.

Here is the blog post in which I first published that chart, October 2010, while in the St. Peter’s RCIA class preparing for Confirmation at Pentecost 2011. Suffice it to say that neither prosperity nor good health shows up on the chart. There are, however, several items related to preparation for and dealing with whatever adversity we may face and with putting love of others ahead of concerns about ourselves.

PS: Special thanks to Steven for sharing his personal experience with prosperity theology and a clear explanation of it.

September 19th, 2018 – St. Januarius

St. Januarius

Here is information on St. Januarius. He is the patron saint of blood banks, and I am off this morning to the Red Cross Blood Center for my 111th blood donation since retirement.

Diocletian Persecution

St. Januarius lived, and was martyred, during the Diocletian persecution of the Church. Here is a somewhat difficult to read excerpt from Fox’s Book of Martyrs about that persecution.

Ecclesiology: Study of the Christian Church

As we think about the problems we, the Church, face today, consider the meaning of “ecclesiology. “Here is a document on The Ecclesiology of Vatican II  available at the EWTN website. Here is a quote from it: “If until that time (Vatican II) we had thought of the Church primarily as a structure or organization, now at last we began to realize that we ourselves were the Church.

Given that idea of us as the Church, here is my personal current interpretation. I’m not putting this forward as truth but just as testimony to encourage thinking about ecclesiology.

Added 9/21/18: Mass Readings today include this great passage on ecclesiology, St. Paul writing to the Christians in the Church at Ephesus: “So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” – Ephesians 2:19-22

Bishop Barron Q&A Online

And, finally, yesterday Bishop Barron went online on reddit.com for a Q&A with anyone wanting to ask him a question. Many prominent persons have done the same on a Reddit feature called “Ask me Anything.” I’m sure it wore the Bishop out. His responses to the questions are worth reading HERE.