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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Do Catholics believe in the Rapture?

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

Question:  Do Catholics believe in the Rapture?
The Rapture is the false belief that a period of time is close at hand in which Christians will be gathered together to secretly and silently vanish, meeting Christ "in the air' (i.e. be "raptured") before His Second Coming.  Those who are unbelievers will be left behind to suffer violently in a time of Tribulation. Christ will then return, a third time, years later (some say after seven years, some say after a thousand) in order to slay the anti-Christ.  These verses in Scripture are used to support the Rapture:

For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord.--1 Thess 4:16-17
For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
In (those) days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark.
They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be (also) at the coming of the Son of Man.
Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left.--Matt 24:37-40
as well as a multitude of verses in Revelation.
Prior to the 19th century, this question (do we believe in The Rapture?) would have puzzled Christians, for the idea of "The Rapture" was non-existent. Historically, you will not find any church father, theologian, pope, saint or ecumenical council mention The Rapture.   It became a novelty in the 19th century. 

(Note:  this should be contrasted with the objection posed to Catholics that, like the Rapture, the Immaculate Conception was only proclaimed in 1854
(see previous discussion on this here).  These are 2 very different ideas:  the IC was believed from the time of the Apostles--and mentioned by church fathers, theologians, saints, popes, etc throughout history, but only formally defined in 1854.  The idea of the Rapture was virtually non-existent until the 19th century.)
That people are making "end time speculations" is not new.  This, of course, has been going on for millenia.   However, the concept that we will be caught up in the air or left behind is a new innovation. 
In the 1990's the wildly popular (and very anti-Catholic) series of books called the "Left Behind" series re-vitalized this concept, selling over 10 million books.  It received more legitimacy when actor and Christian evangelist Kirk Cameron became a convert to this belief and starred in a series of movies proclaiming that Christians will be Raptured.

Catholicism rejects this interpretation of Scripture.  There will be no Rapture as understood by Evangelicals and Fundamentalists.  "Though it does not use the term rapture, the Church does acknowledge that there will be an event where the elect are gathered to be with Christ.  The point of contention is the timing of this event: It occurs at the Second Coming, not several years before it. This is indicated by Paul’s reference to it taking place when Christ descends from heaven: the Second Coming. Scripture does not envision the Second Coming accomplishing the Rapture, followed by a "Third Coming" inaugurating the eternal order or the Millennium." source.  In other words, the Church proclaims that Scripture tells us that Christians who are alive at the parousia (the end of the world) and who are living in the state of grace will witness the Second Coming and will live eternally with Jesus in His kingdom. 

Incidentally, the Left Behind series posits that those who are "left behind" are the un-saved.  However, if one looks at the verse in Matthew cited above we see that, as in the days of Noah, the ones who were "left behind" were the good guys, not the bad guys!  That is, during the flood, Noah and his family (the good guys) were left behind, not raptured.

Finally, I'd like to point out this irony: Evangelical supporters of The Rapture object, in different discussions, to the Catholic Church's teaching on Mary's Assumption.  I find this ironic, as is it not essentially a "Rapture" that is happening to Mary?  Why do Evangelical Christians believe in The Rapture for every other Christian, except for Jesus' mother?  Just sayin'.

For more in-depth study visit these websites:

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15

Saturday, February 19, 2011

What about the Crusades?

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

What about the Crusades?  It seems that in any discussion on religion the "ace in the sleeve" of the non-Catholic is: "Well, you Catholics went around slaughtering millions of non-Catholic folks during the Crusades, didn't you?"  Silence often is the embarrassed response. You know, as I was researching this topic, I remembered why history class made my eyes glaze over:  because it's boring. 

After reading one too many mind-numbing articles about "feudal systems" and phrases like "the states remained vulnerable, and in 1144 the northern state of Edessa was captured by Muslim forces" I decided that rather than tackle this subject of the Crusades I will simply quote apologist Jimmy Akin, from this article:

"Christians today certainly should deplore evil acts committed during the Crusades, such as the massacres of innocent Muslims and Jews that periodically occurred, as well as the entire debacle of the Fourth Crusade. However, the enterprise of the Crusades themselves had two important goals at its core: the defense of Christian civilization against outside aggression (making the Crusades as a whole wars of self-defense) and securing access to the holy sites that commemorate to the most important events in world history."

Also, for those interested, there's a discussion on the Catholic Answers forums, here, on the Crusades.

More interesting to me, and somewhat on the same topic, is a discussion on the Church and Galileo.  The perception is that the Church persecuted Galileo, and in doing so this proves that the Church cannot be infallible, and that that she (the Church) is an enemy of science and intellectual pursuits.

In response to the latter criticism, please see this list of the great number of Catholic physicists, scientists, astronomers, etc in history who contributed to western civilization--all through the patronage of the Catholic Church.  The CC is not the enemy of science, but, rather, its biggest enthusiast.

And the Catholic Church has been the champion of faith and reason, together, as a means of discerning truth.  There can be no contradiction between religion and science, for both are truth and both find its authorship in the same Being--God.

As for Galileo, where he made his error was in proclaiming that his scientific theory of heloiocentrism (the sun is the center of the solar system) was a theological truth that trumped Scripture.  Scripture has a few verses which seem to indicate that the sun does not move: 
And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed--Josh 10:13.  Galileo proposed that Scripture, then,  was in error.  The Church objected to this, for the Church has always proclaimed that Scripture is inerrant.  To be sure, as we have stated earlier, Scripture is about truth, not about facts.  So even when Scripture states that the sun rises and sets (Malachi 1:11), it is not proclaiming a fact of cosmic motion, but rather proclaiming a truth about eternity.

Regarding infallibility:  "The Church has never claimed ordinary tribunals, such as the one that judged Galileo, to be infallible. Church tribunals have disciplinary and juridical authority only; neither they nor their decisions are infallible.

No ecumenical council met concerning Galileo, and the pope was not at the center of the discussions, which were handled by the Holy Office. When the Holy Office finished its work, Urban VIII ratified its verdict, but did not attempt to engage infallibility." source

The judgments and consequences imposed upon Galileo were disciplinary and procedural, and not related to theological dogma or doctrine (see previous discussions on discipline vs dogma/doctrine).  If the Church had proclaimed anything regarding Galileo with regard to dogma, it could not have reversed itself.  However, on
October 31, 1992, Pope John Paul II proferred an acknowledgment of the errors committed by the Church tribunal that judged the scientific positions of Galileo.
One other comment:  despite secular sources which claim that Galileo was tortured for challenging the Church, history shows that he was not tortured, nor even imprisoned.

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15

Monday, February 14, 2011

What about the Inquisition?

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

What about the Inquisition?  Often, in a discussion on religion all that's needed is for someone to say "Well, you Catholics had the Inquisition", and that seems to be enough to put the Catholic down for the count.  How does a Catholic respond to this?  

The usual response is either an awkward silence (or a snicker from you menfolk fans of Monty Python or Mel Brooks; these apparently humorous sketches of "The Inquisition" are puzzling to us womenfolk.  Maybe my sense of humor is not sophisticated enough--I dunno.)

But, back to the question.
  This is indeed an objection that is often posed to Catholics:  how could the Catholic Church, which proclaims it cannot teach error in the areas of faith and morals, be part of this infamous period of history in which the "Church killed millions"?

While even one death "at the hands of the CC" is troubling and ought not be dismissed, one ought to be quite suspicious of the wild figures that have been thrown about regarding the number of deaths. 

Case in point:  a few years ago I received an email
advertisement from a Catholic friend.  As an aside, the advertisement said, "It is estimated that close to 9 million women died during the Inquisition." 

This is absurd.  9 million deaths in medieval Europe would have depopulated Europe. 

Some facts: 
  • There were a few different Inquisitions. 
  • The most notorious was the Spanish Inquisition.
  •  Most historians agree that the number of deaths totaled no more than a few thousand, over several centuries. 
  • Protestants also had Inquisitions in order to extinguish Catholic "heretics".
  • There was no formal "Inquisition", run by the Vatican.  Rather, there were local "ecclesial investigations" managed by local officials.
  • While these local church officials conducted the trials, the punishment was left to the secular officials.
That sinners exist in the Church, that the authority of the Church has used poor judgment, that sometimes over-zealous Catholics misunderstand the teachings of Christ--these should be acknowledged.  No one can deny that the Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.  As Pope JPII professed, "Men of the church, in the name of faith and morals, have sometimes used methods not in keeping with the Gospels in the solemn duty of defending truth."

What Catholics in authority erroneously did was to wrongly destroy heretics when it was attempting to rightly destroy heresy.

This does not change the fact that the Catholic Church is the church established by Christ to proclaim the Truth of God's revelation.

What the Church proclaims (its orthodoxy--literally, "right teaching") should not be confused with how some of its members act (its orthopraxy--literally "right practice").  That is, the Church did not ever teach that it was good to burn dissenters at the stake.  That was never part of its orthodoxy.  That Catholics did this (its orthopraxy) is a testament to the fact that the church is comprised of sinners.  And when Catholics become enmeshed with the cultural norms and ethics of society (rather than being cleaved to Christ), sin abounds in the Church.

"The crucial thing for Catholics, once they have obtained some appreciation of the history of the Inquisition, is to explain how such an institution could have been associated with a divinely established Church and why it is not proper to conclude, from the existence of the Inquisition, that the Catholic Church is not the Church of Christ. This is the real point at issue, and this is where any discussion should focus.

To that end, it is helpful to point out that it is easy to see how those who led the Inquisitions could think their actions were justified. The Bible itself records instances where God commanded that formal, legal inquiries—that is, inquisitions—be carried out to expose secret believers in false religions. In Deuteronomy 17:2–5 God said: "If there is found among you, within any of your towns which the Lord your God gives you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, and it is told you and you hear of it; then you shall inquire diligently [note that phrase: "inquire diligently"], and if it is true and certain that such an abominable thing has been done in Israel, then you shall bring forth to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones."

So as such, Catholics in the church sin. Even the pope.  Every day.  But it remains true that the Holy Spirit has protected the Catholic Church (the Magisterium) from ever teaching error. 

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Why pray if God is omnipotent and omniscient?

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

Question: Why pray if God is omnipotent and omniscient? 
In other words, what's the point of prayer of petition, especially if God's will is going to be done anyway?
I've heard it said that the reason we pray is not because it changes God, but that it changes us.  I think this is a good and appropriate answer, but I also think it is incomplete.

This is from Peter Kreeft's book, "The God Who Loves Us" and I think wiser words were never written to answer this question.  He states: 
"Why pray?  Because we are commanded to.  Pascal answers, “God instituted prayer to communicate to his creatures the dignity of causality.”  If you say that we should not pray because God already knows our needs, then you must say that we should not farm or eat or read for the same reason.  God lets us really cause events and really lets us make a difference not only by physical work but also by spiritual work."

That is, in giving us the "dignity of causality" God has allowed us the supreme privilege of being able to actually cause a change in events. We are given the dignity of working (spiritually as it were, through prayer) to effect (or cause) a result, just as it is indeed a privilege to be able to do physical work (Monday mornings notwithstanding .  (Think of the spoiled and obnoxious adult who has had every single thing handed to him, never having to lift a finger.  This type of "inability to work" corrodes our humanity.  Thus, it is indeed a supreme privilege to be able to work/labor. And God has given us the dignity of being allowed to do spiritual work (i.e pray) for an effect.)

Thus, God does not miraculously produce wheat in our fields.  We must farm them in order to get our food.  And God does not miraculously produce cures in our ill.  We must pray these healings into existence and by our prayers contribute to causing a change.  "If it is foolish and impudent to ask for victory in a war (on the ground that God might be expected to know best), it would be equally foolish and impudent to put on a mackintosh - does not God know best whether you ought to be wet or dry?  The two methods by which we are allowed to produce events may be called work and prayer. Both are alike in this respect – that in both we try to produce a state of affairs which God has not (or at any rate not yet) seen fit to provide 'on HIS own'. And from this point of view the old maxim laborare est orare (work is prayer) takes on a new meaning. “What we do when we weed a field is not quite different from what we do when we pray for a good harvest."source.

An interesting corollary to this discussion arises about what God's will is and if we can "change" it through our prayer.  God, in one sense, does not and cannot "change". And all that occurs is part of His Will.  However, there's a difference between God's antecedent will, and God's consequent will.  The antecedent will is, essentially and inevitably, fulfilled.  The consequent will, however, is that which has its origins in our choices. 

For more in-depth study visit these websites:

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15