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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Why do Catholics proclaim Mary is the mother of GOD?

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

Question: Why do Catholics proclaim Mary is the mother of GOD?  How in the world could GOD have a MOTHER?  Catholics must believe, then, that Mary pre-existed Jesus.
"Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners!"

One thought that all Catholics ought to keep in their minds whenever they are questioned about Mary is, "We believe _____ about Mary because we believe _________ about Jesus."

In other words, any dogma/doctrine/belief about Mary somehow confirms, enhances and re-affirms a teaching on Jesus (or His Body, the Church) rather than serving to exalt Mary.

Thus, our profession that Mary is the Mother of God confirms our understanding that Jesus is God.   Otherwise, if Mary is not the Mother of God, then who do we declare Jesus to be?  A mere man?  NOT God? 

It is interesting to note that this dogma of Mary as mother of God (or theotokos, which means, literally, God-bearer) was proclaimed during the 5th century, just when a heresy was being promoted that there were 2 separate persons, conjoined in Jesus Christ; a divine person and a human person.  Mary as the theotokos (or Mother of God) was declared a dogma of the Church at the Council of Ephesus.  This proclamation served to condemn any thought which questioned the divinity of Christ.

Devotion to Mary as the Mother of God in the early Church grew as the early Christians grew to understand more fully the nature of Jesus' humanity and divinity.  The theological term "hypostatic union" was used to profess the belief "that in Christ one person subsists in two natures, the Divine and the human."  While the phrase "hypostatic union" is not found in Scripture, this understanding of the nature of Christ is accepted by all mainline Christians, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

(This provides an interesting segue into the topic on the development of doctrine.  While, as stated in last week's post, the Christian faith was whole and complete before a single word of the New Testament was ever written down; however, it is also true that doctrine develops. Our understanding of God's revelation has progressed throughout our 2000 year history.  Thus, the 1st century understanding of the nature of Christ was elemental and fundamental, but not fully understood. It's likely that the first century bishops would have been unfamiliar with the term "hypostatic union" yet would have concurred with the concept.  Indeed, God chose to enrich and cultivate our understanding of this through His Church, not through the Scriptures.)

Contrary to what some Protestants may believe about Catholicism (see this anti-Catholic website:
) we do not elevate Mary to the level of a goddess or a deity.  She is NOT divine. 

So, do Catholics believe Mary pre-existed Jesus, or is co-eternal with the Trinity?  The argument is presented in this way:  "Since Catholics say Mary is the "Mother of God", and Jesus is Eternal, in order to be his mother, Mary would have to be equally Eternal." However, in calling Mary "Mother of God" we do not proclaim that Mary is the source of Jesus' divine nature (just like mothers are not the source of their children's immortal souls).  We simply say that Mary gave birth to a Person, a Person with both a divine nature and a human nature--but she is not the source of His divine nature (nor is she, in fact, the source of His human nature).

Finally, the term "Mother of God" can indeed be found in Scripture, contrary to what some Fundamentalists may maintain. In
Luke 1:43, Elizabeth exults that Mary is the "Mother of my Lord!" (i.e. the Mother of God). While it is true that there are many places in Scripture in which the title "lord" does not refer to God (as in "the owner was the lord of the vineyard"), it is clear that Elizabeth is referring to Mary as the Mother of God (her LORD) because just 2 verses prior Scripture states that Elizabeth was "filled with the Holy Spirit". If Elizabeth called Jesus "Lord" under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who could doubt that this is a proclamation of Jesus' DIVINITY? 

As Pope Benedict wrote in 2007:  “All the other titles with which the Church honours Our Lady then derive from the title "Mother of God", but this one is fundamental.”

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

Sunday, March 20, 2011

What does it mean to say that Scripture is materially sufficient but not formally sufficient?

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

Question:  What does it mean to say that Scripture is materially sufficient but not formally sufficient?      

Here is a question that lies at the heart of the disagreement between Catholicism and the rest of Christendom and that which fueled the Protestant Reformation:  Does Scripture contain ALL that is necessary for our salvation?

The Catholic can answer:  yes, Scripture contains all the truths necessary for our salvation. On this we can agree with our Protestant brothers and sisters.

But this must be understood with some nuance.

The Catholic may proclaim:  "Scripture is materially sufficient, but not formally sufficient."

"For Scripture to be materially sufficient, it would have to contain or imply all that is needed for salvation. For it to be formally sufficient, it would not only have to contain all of this data, but it would have to be so clear that it does not need any outside information to interpret it.

Protestants call the idea that Scripture is clear the perspicuity of Scripture. Their doctrine of sola scriptura combines the perspicuity of Scripture with the claim that Scripture contains all the theological data we need.

It is important to make these distinctions because, while a Catholic cannot assert the formal sufficiency (perspicuity) of Scripture, he can assert its material sufficiency, as has been done by such well-known Catholic theologians
."  source  One such theologian who supports this view is Pope Benedict XVI.   However, it must be noted that this "material sufficiency of Scripture" paradigm is not THE "official" Catholic position, only a position that a Catholic may hold.  So while this view is supported by our pope, since he is speaking as a theologian, and not as pope, this position is not binding on all Catholics.

However, one area in which this "material sufficiency of Scripture" position is problematic is in several truths which we (Catholics and non-Catholics alike) believe which are not found in Scripture, either explicitly or implicitly, namely:
  • the canon of Scripture (that is, the list of books which belong in the Bible).  The Bible did not come with a table of contents.  This was discerned by the Catholic Church in the 4th century.
  • the belief that public revelation has ended.  Not stated explicitly or implicitly in Scripture.
  • the belief that there will be no more apostles.  Not stated explicitly or implicitly in Scripture.
While we are permitted to hold the "material sufficiency of Scripture" position, we must also assert that some theological truths must be drawn from Sacred Tradition, the oral proclamation of God's Word.  Indeed, the entire Catholic faith was complete and entire before a single word of the New Testament was ever written down.  It subsisted, fully and completely, in the Word of God--Jesus Christ, and was delivered, once for all, to the Apostles.  Thus, the kerygma, or the proclamation of the Gospel, existed before the New Testament was ever committed to a manuscript.  

Therefore,  Scripture AND Tradition are 2 modes of God's revelation. That is, Totum in scriptura, totum in traditione ("All is in Scripture, all is in Tradition")--not either/or but both/and.

Finally, a bit more on the Protestant dogma of sola scriptura--the belief that the Scriptures alone are materially sufficient for theological truths.  Sola Scriptura proclaims that there is no authority outside of Scripture required in interpreting or discerning its meaning.
(Here we echo some previous apologetics discussions.)

Clearly the paradigm of sola scriptura is untenable, for one needs a Church--an outside authority--to proclaim what actually IS Scripture.  Unless someone (that is, the Catholic Church) discerned that, say, the Gospel of Mark was inspired but that the Gospel of Thomas was not, Christians today would have no idea what was part of God's revelation and what was simply an early Christian manuscript. See
this list of the multitude of early Christian texts--some which the Church discerned to be inspired, and some which the Church rejected.  In other words, Scripture ALONE cannot be the sole authority, because someone else--not Scripture--had to proclaim what belonged in the canon (or list) of books of the Bible.

Again, this belief of sola scriptura is NOT found in the Bible, thus it is a self-contradictory, self-refuting proclamation.

Secondly, history has borne out the sad fruits of this sola scriptura paradigm--it simply doesn't work.

  • If the Bible alone is all that's required why are there over 30,000 different understandings of what this Bible proclaims?  How "perspicuous" (clear, lucid) could it be if one can't even agree on what 1 Peter 3:21 means?  (Does Baptism save you?  Is it a sacrament or an ordinance?  Must it be done as an infant or at the age of reason?  Must one be baptized in a river or at a font? By sprinkling or immersion?   These are just a few of the differing doctrines Christians hold on this one verse!)
  • If the Bible alone is all that's required, why are there Protestant seminaries?  Why are there Protestant Bible studies?  Wouldn't sola scriptura advocates simply need to pick up their Bible, and, guided by the Holy Spirit, come to an understanding of its meaning?  
  • And why doesn't the First Baptist Church on Main St have the same beliefs as the Church of the Nazarene on Maple Dr if they're both reading the very same Bible?
So, while a Catholic can say that Scripture contains references to all that is necessary for our salvation, Scripture alone (without Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium) fails as a theological truth.

"It is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws its certainty about everything that has been revealed. Therefore both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence"—Dei Verbum, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Vatican II, Pope Paul VI, 1965.

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

Monday, March 14, 2011

Why do Catholics baptize infants?

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

Question:  Why do Catholics baptize infants?  Where is that in the Bible?
Firstly, when Catholics are asked to show where in the Bible a particular teaching is, the first thing a Catholic should ask is, "Could you please show me where in the Bible it says that all Christian beliefs must be found there?"  (The Scriptures, in fact, do not proclaim this at all.  Rather, the Bible states that there are many things that the Bible could not contain (John 16:12-13) and that one must not look to the Bible as the pillar and foundation of Truth, but to the Church (1 Tim 3:15).

This is not to denigrate or dismiss the Scriptures, which are the Divine Word of God, but to say that the Scriptures do NOT state that all theological truths are found in totality in the Bible.  Scripture is NOT sufficient--and nowhere in Scripture does it proclaim this.  (Note:  while Scripture is materially sufficient, it is not formally sufficient--but this is discussion for another day).  Yet it remains that the Bible is the glorious, magnificent, sacred and inspired Word of God and must be treasured.  "
For this reason, the Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord's Body...In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, but as what it really is, the word of God." -- 103-104 Catechism of the Catholic Church

Secondly, we ought to ask the question to those who object to infant baptism, "Where does the Bible say that we can't baptize infants?"  (Answer:  nowhere! In fact, the Bible states that "entire households" (Acts 16:15 and Acts 16:33) were baptized, and one could assume that in ancient Israel "households" included infants.)
While many Christians see baptism as an "ordinance", in which an adult must proclaim belief in Christ as his Lord and savior prior to receiving baptism (something NOT found in Scripture, interestingly), Catholics view baptism as a sacrament (an outward sign, instituted by Christ to give grace), confirmed by the faith of the parents.
From Catholic convert Steve Ray:  "Infant Baptism is discussed and argued about quite a bit in some circles. I, of course, was raised Baptist and taught that Infant Baptism was a man-made tradition invented by the heretical Catholics who abandoned the Word of God to follow ill-advised tradition."  

So why do Catholics baptize infants? 
"Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called. The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth." --1250 Catechism

Again from Steve Ray (ibid) "To grasp the background and origins of Infant Baptism we must understand the original recipients of the New Covenant. During the first years, the members of the Church were exclusively Jewish. The Jews practiced infant circumcision, as mandated to Abraham (Gn 17:12), reaffirmed in the Mosaic Law (Lv 12:3), and demonstrated by the circumcision of Jesus on his eighth day (Luke 2:21). Without circumcision no male was allowed to participate in the cultural and religious life of Israel.

The rite of circumcision as the doorway into the Old Covenant was replaced in the New Covenant with the rite of Baptism—both applied to infants. St. Paul makes this correlation: “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; and you were buried with him in baptism” (Col 2:11–12)."

In other words, the OT ritual of circumcision of infants prefigured the NT sacrament of infant baptism.  Infants were circumcized; infants ought to be baptized. 

When we are born, we are born "in the flesh", with a fallen human nature, separated from God.  After Christ "made it right" through his atoning death on the cross, we can be brought into right relationship with God. This is accomplished through baptism, in which we are "born again" in the Spirit.  We become united again, as was originally intended, with God.  We become children of God, members of His Body, the Church. We receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  We become born again into a state of grace.

Why would we want to exclude infants from this? 

As was stated in a previous discussion, paraphrasing Fr. Vincent Serpa of Catholic Answers
If we could see the change that occurs in the soul of the newly baptized, nuclear fission would appear as child's play!  A sublime, profound change occurs, at our very essence, at the very moment we are baptized.  An indelible (unchangeable, immortal) mark has been placed on our soul--more powerful than any mere nuclear fission!
The Catholic Church is nothing if not consistent:  all our sacraments provide indelible, ontological (at our very essence) change to the universe!  That is, what happens at a priestly ordination, wedding, baptism, etc is a change so profound, so sublime, so wondrous, that the explosive power of nuclear fission pales in comparison!  We simply cannot fathom what power is unleashed via the sacraments! Crash helmets ought to be mandatory! 

Finally, many non-Catholics often point out that the Catholics believe we can work our way into heaven.  Infant baptism is proof that we believe that God's salvation is entirely a free gift unto humanity--that we can do nothing to "earn" our salvation--for what "work" does an infant do in order to receive baptism?  Absolutely nothing!  Salvation is offered to the infant, freely and through no deed of his own.

Baptism saves you now, as our first pope said in his first "encyclical", 1 Peter 3:21.  Infants ought not be denied this salvific gift.
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

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

30 second apologetics: What's the reason for the ashes?

What's the reason for the ashes?

Contrary to what some Fundamentalists may believe, the practice of marking one's forehead with ashes is not a pagan custom; rather, it has its roots in Old Testament practices in which  ashes were symbolic of mourning,  penance and humility.  

We mark the beginning of Lent with ashes, indicating we mourn and repent of our sins. The ashes serve as a humble reminder that we are humans, not God.  Creatures, not the Creator. 

"In Bible times the custom <for mourning> was to fast, wear sackcloth, sit in dust and ashes, and put dust and ashes on one's head"

A Benjaminite fled from the battlefield and reached Shiloh that same day, with his clothes torn and his head covered with dirt.--1 Sam 4:12

Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long tunic in which she was clothed.--2 Sam.13:19

Ashes also symbolize death and so remind us of our mortality. When the priest uses his thumb to sign one of the faithful with the ashes and says, "Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return," he is echoing God's address to Adam:

For you are dirt, and to dirt you shall return.--Gen. 3:19

This phrase also echoes the words at a Catholic burial, "Ashes to ashes; dust to dust," which is based on God's words to Adam in Genesis 3 and Abraham's confession,
"I am nothing but dust and ashes" --Gen. 18:27.

Catholics are not required to have their foreheads signed with ashes. It is, though, strongly advised as a visible spiritual reminder that encourages us to adopt an attitude of prayer, repentance, and humility." 

Interestingly, there are now a number of Protestant denominations that are adopting this custom of marking the beginning of Lent with ashes.  So don't assume that all ash-y folks today are Catholics! 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Why do Catholics fast during Lent?

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

Question:  Why do Catholics fast during Lent?  Doesn't the New Testament abolish fasting?  Doesn't the Bible tell us that God does not want us to fast, but rather to set captives free?

While it is true that Scripture does state that the fasting God wishes is for us to "set captives free"--it must be understood that it's not fasting itself that God condemns, but rather external works done without internal sincerity.

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke;--Isaiah 58:6
It is, however, NOT TRUE that the NT abolishes fasting.  In fact, the NT speaks often of fasting.

Whoever wishes to be my follower must deny his very self, take up his cross each day, and follow in my    steps.--Luke 9:23
    Then, completing their fasting and prayer, they laid hands on them and sent them off.--Acts     13:3
    But the days will come, and when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will         fast in those days.--Luke 5:35

    But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face--Matt 6:17

(note the "when you fast", not "if you fast"). 

Protestants seem to consider the Catholic practice of fasting during Lent at best a curiosity, and at worst a testament that Catholics really do believe that we can "work" our way into heaven.  In fact, on this anti-catholic website by an ex-Catholic, he states, "But we are never taught in Sacred Scripture that fasting and other personal sacrifices atone for sin."

Just to be clear:  the Catholic Church does NOT teach that our fasting will "atone for sin".  Only Christ atones for our sins.  (This is a sad testament that those who leave the Catholic Church, as the author of the above quote did, usually don't even know the teachings of the Church that they left.)

From Catholic convert Jimmy Akin:  "When I was a young Protestant and much opposed to any form of penance ("Hey, Jesus forgave our sins! Why do we need to do penance?"), my Episcopalian aunt pointed my attention to the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says: "And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Matt. 6:16–18; cf. Mark 2:18–20)."

So why do we fast?  Why do we practice self-denial and sacrifice? 

Because we love.

As anyone who's ever loved, (parent, spouse, child, sibling), we know that it's absolutely impossible to love someone without sacrifice and self-denial.  We get up at 3am to tend to a coughing child. That's sacrifice.  We sit vigil at our sibling's bedside at the hospital. That's self-denial. We drive an hour away to watch our spouse finish a marathon.  Sacrifice. 

There is no love without sacrifice. 
While our fasting does not atone for others' sins, it can produce good in others. It echoes what was mentioned in another apologetics discussion regarding the "dignity of causality".  God gives us the dignity of actually causing good, by our offering up a prayer/work/sacrifice for the sake of another's intention.  It is a supreme privilege we've been given as Christians to be able to change the course of someone's destiny by our actions/prayers/sacrifices.  Just like our physical efforts produce food on our table for our families--God does not simply magically make the food appear on our plates--our spiritual efforts also produce fruit in the world.

Our self-denial/sacrifices/penance during Lent also produces good in us.  For who can doubt that in our privileged, indulged, affluent society--where entertainment is nano-seconds away at our fingertips at every minute of the day--that a spiritual retreat from these things is good for our souls?  Our human natures do not thrive when over-indulged!  How wise of the Church to "mandate", so to speak, a spiritual "time-out" from our tendency to pamper ourselves.  It's just not healthy physically. And it's not healthy spiritually.  Who wonderful for us that Holy Mother Church is always looking after her children's health!

"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