May 22 – Wed of 5th Week of Easter – First Council

Lessons from the First Reading from Acts 15

The 1st Reading for May 22, Acts 15:1-6 , sets the stage for the 1st Council of the Church, presenting the sensitive issue at stake (circumcision), identifying the council participants (Apostles and presbyters), and introducing the meeting itself. To stick with the Lectionary, one has to wait till May 23rd to see what happened at the meeting, but, unlimited by that, we proceeded to discuss the action taken on whether the Christians were to be bound by terms of the covenant between God and Abraham. (Genesis 17:9-14)

Trouble-making activists were arguing that since the resurrection and arrival of the Holy Spirit, believers were following a different set of rules. Probably very familiar with the words of the Prophet Jeremiah(Jeremiah 4:4) council members made the right decision, even without the benefit of St. Paul’s much later letter to the Romans in which he discussed “circumcision of the heart.” 

Councils of the Catholic Church (22)

A second important issue resolved by this precedent in Acts 15 is the teaching authority of The Church, a precedent which has been followed 21 times down through the centuries. Wikipedia provides a very handy list of the Catholic Church Councils, The 1st Century Council of Jerusalem to the 20th Century Vatican 2, complete with hot links to more information about each. Here is the list copied from the article. I think the links should work.

Council List from Wikipedia

Circumcision Wrap Up

The 15th Century Council of Florence, by the way, according to this footnote in the Wikipedia article, soundly condemned those who “observe” or “practice” circumcision as a religious practice. Still, it raises an interesting trivia question: Is Michelangelo’s David, on display in Florence, circumcised?

Council of Florence

Law and Grace, Works and Faith, and Luther

The discussion about circumcision led deeper and deeper into discussion of law and grace and works vs. grace and Lutheran and Catholic theologies. As a student at a Lutheran seminary I was taught that Father Martin, in his younger years at least, free from any possible dementia, was a faithful Catholic, aligned with the teachings of the church fathers, and that it was actually Pope Leo X who had strayed into such as sale of indulgences to raise money for the church. Luther provided one written defense against the charges against him in the form of an essay, The Freedom of a Christian.

In 2002, nine years before being received into the Catholic Church, I wrote an “academic” paper on Luther’s essay. Then, a year or so after becoming Catholic, I reviewed the paper and published it with some introduction, on my Last of All.net blog on church and faith issues. I read it again just now and still believe it is sound theology consistent with Catholic teaching. If you are interested in such, take a look at it HERE and let me know what you think. I am always willing to listen and learn.

I have often quipped that if Pope Leo X, instead of excommunicating Luther, had just appointed him to a task force charged with organizing, for the Pope’s approval of course, reformation of the Church, the whole Protestant Reformation upheaval could have been avoided. But of course that is not true. The primary drivers of the Reformation were not the “reformers,” but the rise in literacy and the printing press, the beginnings of free enterprise replacement of feudalism, and the beginning of the ending of the unholy alliance of church and state which had allowed secular rulers to dictate the religion of all who lived in their domains regardless of what the citizens believed.

And of course such reform continues. I am personally very thankful for two particular Vatican II (1962-65) changes advocated 400 years earlier by Luther, Mass in the language of the people and increased participation of lay persons in the Mass. I was happily Southern Baptist at the time, preoccupied with college, Karen, and starting my first professional employment and had absolutely zero interest in the Catholic church. But without those two changes, I doubt I would have had the privilege of being received into the Catholic Church at Pentecost in 2011.

Extra: The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus

The Christians in the World is the title of an excerpt from this 1st or 2nd century epistle. The excerpt is included in the Office of Readings for 5/22/2019 and can be read at the Vatican website. If you don’t click any other link in this post, click this one and read very early and profound insights about living as a Christian.

Here is a teaser sentence: “They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law.

If you really get steamed about the Epistle to Diognetus, you can read the whole thing HERE.

 

Acts Facts – A Roadmap

Reading the short passages from Acts it is easy to miss the big picture, a captivating story easily read in a single sitting. Below is a brief summary of major events in each of the 28 chapters. It’s something I put together a few years ago and just thought it might be helpful. It is interesting that the first of the book (Chapters 1-12) is all about Peter and the remainder all about Paul.

In an earlier post, Luke/Acts Birth of the Church Luke and Acts are linked in a single narrative about the birth of the church. St. Luke was my confirmation saint, chosen because he wrote more than 25% of the New Testament.

St. Gregory of Nyssa

I fail to be inspired by many of the writings of the church fathers, but this beautiful writing from today’s Office of Readings, a sixteen hundred year old explanation of how everything changed with the Incarnation and Resurrection and presence of the Holy Spirit seems to be particularly clear and inspirational. I recommend the Office of Readings which often includes a short blurb from a church father. The Universalis app offers an expanded version of Morning Prayer which includes the selections for the Office of Readings.

 

Office of Readings – Revelation

For any of you struggling with Revelation in the Office of Readings, here is a link for a Catholic Answers article on the subject. The article focuses on Revelation 17-18, readings for yesterday and today. You will find this Imprimatur at the end of the article.

Nothing else in this post, my wonderings, is covered by the above Imprimatur.

Many have argued that, whether we understand Revelation or not, it is pretty sure that those 1st Century Christians to whom it was written understood it. Well, maybe, but the ancient Jews, the Children of Israel, had trouble understanding or at least obeying the Law and the Prophets.

Reading these chapters from Revelation makes me wonder if they were a warning to the Church against alignment with Rome (Babylon), the alignment that began with emperors Constantine and Theodosius, and resulted in church-state struggles and citizens being defined as Christian or not Christian based simply on who ruled. That didn’t end well.

It was Revelation 18:4-5 that made me think of that question:
Then I heard another voice from heaven say:“Depart from her,[d] my people, so as not to take part in her sins and receive a share in her plagues for her sins are piled up to the sky, and God remembers her crimes.

As I said, I’m just wondering, not teaching. Revelation has always been mysterious to me and to most people. I recall when a popular argument was that the locusts in Revelation were a prophecy of the helicopters in Vietnam. (Even now, Googling “revelation locusts helicopters” gets about 90,000 hits.)

May 15th, 2019 – Evangelization

Father Linsky led a discussion on evangelization beginning with these three Bible quotes.

Acts 12:24 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

24 But the word of God continued to spread and grow.

Romans 10:13-15 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 [a]But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? 15 And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring [the] good news!”[b

1 Peter 3:14-16 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

14 But even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, 16 but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.

Father also shared a quote from a new book by William E. Simon, Jr., Catholic layman who failed in a 2002 bid for governorship of California. It was the third quote in the clip below from the Good Reads website. Simon, son of former Treasury Secretary William E. Simon, Sr., is in the investment business, chairs his own foundation, and is a member of the Society of Emeritus Trustees of the Heritage Foundation. The book looks pertinent and interesting. The Kindle version is available at Amazon for $9.99.

Also referenced was the Pope Paul VI Encyclical, On Evangelization in the Modern World. That book also shows up on Good Reads (screen shot below) and can be purchased at amazon.com for $4.95.


It might be said that the keys to successful evangelization are personal experience of life in Jesus Christ, in the Church (His Body) and at least basic theological and Bible education, both essentials for ability to “bring the Good News” and to “give an explanation to anyone who asks for a reason for our hope.” So, we may be well advised to increase our worship, service, study, speech, and writing, always praying for wisdom and understanding and demonstrating love as we do so.

 

And, of course, there is always opportunity for advancement as well as temptation to regress. So, we must persevere, moving always in the right direction.

And, finally, a minority opinion on horn blowing which may be, not a sign of rage, but a gift to the person who is distracted and especially to the line of following drivers who are hoping to get through the light before it changes.

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.

May 1, 2019 – John 3:16

John 3:16 King James Version (KJV)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Importance of Context

Thanks to Father Linsky for putting these beautiful, encouraging, and famous words from the Gospel of St. John  in context, an essential step in correct interpretation and understanding of Sacred Scripture. It is important to remember that the writers of the various books of the Bible did not divide them up into chapters and verses. The divisions we commonly see in current English versions are only about 600 years old. So, St. John might be quite disturbed to find that Christians are going around quoting that one sentence from his theologically deep and profound story of Jesus’s encounter with Nicodemus, often not even knowing from whence the sentence came.

OT – NT Connections and Paragraphs

Speaking of verses and chapters, and the OT connections, some translations even go so far as to add paragraphs. I’m not a student of typology so have never given serious thought to those OT connections with Moses and with Abraham and Isaac, connections that were very important to first century Jewish understanding of who Jesus was and of the meaning of this encounter with Nicodemus. The online NABRE linked at this blog shows verses 14 and 15,  the reference to Moses and the serpent, at the end of a paragraph and John 3:16 as the beginning of a new paragraph. Given the discussion this morning, I would acknowledge the connection only son sacrifice connection between God/Jesus and Abraham/Isaac by beginning a new paragraph with verse 14. But, that is just an idea of course.

john 3 14 15 16

The Whole Story

We can be easily misled and even build heresies on single “verses” pulled out of context and perhaps even by single books pulled out of context. As Dan pointed out, John 3:16 is true, the Gospel in a nutshell, but doesn’t tell the whole story. Where are the Beatitudes and the Our Father? They are not in the Gospel According to St. John.  And with only John’s Gospel, we know nothing of the birth, baptism, temptation, or transfiguration of Jesus Christ, and find no mention of repentance. So, in seeking the whole truth, we have to consider the Sacred Scriptures in their entirety.

Translation Difficulties

Another issue, even with single verses, is difficulty in translation of ancient Greek and Hebrew into meaningful modern English language. Bill pointed out that the Greek word translated “believe” really means trust and goes far beyond mere intellectual belief. Below is what a Bible Greek dictionary says about the word and about the following little three-letter Greek word which is translated “in” or “into” and, according to the Greek Bible dictionary, “denotes purpose and sometimes result.” One could say that since the verb can be translated “believe in,” the verb plus the preposition gives double emphasis much as when Jesus proclaims “I Iam” or “Amen amen.” All three examples are characteristic of the Gospel of John.

definitions

And here is what the subject verse looks like in Greek, the two key words being highlighted in yellow. More information HERE.

pistueo eis

It is interesting to see how various translators of English versions have handled that little highlighted Greek phrase. Of fifty-six versions checked, fifty-two translate it as belief in or on. The Amplified Bible hedges the bet a bit by translating as “believes and trusts.” The Amplified Bible Classic Edition adds parenthetically “(trusts in, clings to, relies on).” The Contemporary English Version translates as “has faith in.” The New Life Version translates as “puts his trust in.” The Complete Jewish Bible translates as “trusts in.” So, even without looking at the Greek, insights can be gained from considering how different translators have handled the problem.

A Simple Example

To take a simple example to illustrate the difference between believing that and believing in or into, it is one thing to believe that global warming is real but something entirely different to “believe into” global warming which might result in getting off the grid and going 100% solar, giving up driving, beef, air conditioning, moving to higher ground further north, shutting down the churches as unjustified energy consumers, etc. In Bible Greek terms, in John’s Gospel, believing in or into something means a change in one’s life. (I’m not suggesting that we all “believe in” global warming. I think that is, or at least should be, more political than religious.)

Occurrences of That Two-Word Greek Phrase

An interesting fact about the two-word Greek phrase highlighted above is that it never occurs in Matthew, Mark, or Luke but occurs 14 times in John, once in 1st John, and once in Acts. For the really curious, here are all sixteen occurrences, NABRE English but based on a search of the Greek Phrase.

believe in verses

Skipping the Greek – Conclusion

This suggests that “belief in Jesus” is a key theme of the Gospel of John. Backing off from consideration of any Greek, we can search just the NABRE for instances of appearance of believe, believes, believer, believing, and believed. It is interesting that we find only one in Matthew, three in Mark, one in Luke, but twenty nine in John. That clearly supports belief in “belief” as a key theme of John and suggests value in paying especially close attention whenever forms of that word are encountered in John. And the general idea for John seems to be that “belief in” involves faith and trust and reliance and motivates and results in change and action. It is not just mental or intellectual.