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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Did God pour out His wrath on His Son at the crucifixion?


Question:  Did God pour out His wrath on His Son at the crucifixion?

Response:  No.

Catholicism, in general, doesn't speak of God as wrathful, or "pouring out His anger" on Jesus in our stead. 

One can search the Catechism of the Catholic Church in its entirety for the word "wrath", and the only thing that pops up is a reference to wrath as a human sin.

Wrath, as applied to God, never once appears in our Catechism. 

However, the Bible clearly speaks of God's wrath, so one cannot deny that there is a way of speaking of God's wrath that is, indeed, part of the Christian paradigm.

Catholics simply approach these Scriptural references to a "wrathful" God with the lens of the entirety of the Christian gospel.   This view that puts the wrath of God in a place of prominence was not part of Christianity from its inception. And this rejection of a "wrathful God" has been the consistent approach for 2000 years.

However, 500 years ago a novel interpretation of these Scriptures appeared.  During the Protestant Reformation there arose a way of interpreting the Scriptures that spoke of "God pouring out His wrath, full strength and undiluted, on Jesus on the cross".  One of the leaders this view was a French theologian named John Calvin.  Today, the fruit of this paradigm, referred to as "Calvinism", can be found in the Presbyterian churches, or "Reformed Christian" churches. But because there is no magisterium to speak for this type of theology, the borders of who identifies with Calvinism can be quite fluid.  There are Reformed Baptist churches, Reformed Anglican churches, Orthodox Reformed Presbyterian churches, Calvin Synod of the United Church of Christ, etc etc etc, which all promote the doctrines of John Calvin--he asserted that God's wrath was appeased when Jesus, His Divine Son, was put to death on the cross for our sins.  That is, God was pacified when Jesus was punished for the sins of humanity.

Calvin also asserted that man is totally depraved.  That is, we are evil. Calvinism professes that fallen man can do nothing good, and that our every action is sinful. Calvinists even proclaim that human nature, while originally created in the image and likeness of God, ceased to be in His image due to original sin. "On the other hand, when original sin took them once captive the image of God was entirety blotted out."--source

Catholicism rejects these teachings of Calvin.

God does not punish His Son for the sins of humanity.  This view that God was appeased by the torture of His Son is called "Penal Substitution Theory" and is rejected by the Catholic Church.

Rather, Christ offered His life in sacrifice out of love.  It is an atonement, but not a punishment.

"The Catholic view of atonement is called the Satisfaction view. Instead of taking our punishment on Himself, Christ offered up something else that God would accept instead: Himself, a holy, perfect, blameless sacrifice, freely offered for all sinners. This offering was worth so much more than our punishment, and in offering this sacrifice, Christ appeased God’s wrath.

Unlike penal substitution, satisfaction is certainly found in Scripture. One of the most obvious accounts comes from the incident of the golden calf at Mount Sinai (Exodus 32 / Deuteronomy 9:15-21). While Moses is with God on Mount Sinai, Aaron and the Israelites make a golden calf to worship. God sees this and is angry, intending to destroy them. Moses asks the Lord to have mercy, and goes down the mountain. After dealing with the situation, Moses says to the people, “You yourselves have committed a great sin; and now I am going up to the LORD, perhaps I can make atonement for your sin” (Ex 32:30). Later, he says, “I fell down before the LORD, as at the first, forty days and nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all your sin which you had committed in doing what was evil in the sight of the LORD to provoke Him to anger” (Deut 9:18). Moses tried to make atonement, and was successful. Many died, but God did not destroy the nation of Israel.

There are other examples of this satisfaction, such as Phinehas (Psalm 106:29-30 / Numbers 25:1-13). Israel began to worship the false god Baal, again stirring the Lord’s wrath against Israel. Phinehas, in his zeal, killed an Israelite and his Midianite wife, and thereby “turned back” God’s wrath (Numbers 25:11). Though all Israel sinned, Israel was not destroyed. Like Phinehas and Moses, Jesus offered up something else to God so that we wouldn’t be punished. He offered Himself.

Also unlike penal substitution, satisfaction and forgiveness are compatible. Something that wasn’t owed to God was given so that what was owed would not be demanded (compared to penal substitution saying that something that was owed to God was given by someone else). Thus, God’s justice is satisfied, but forgiveness still occurs." source

Regarding John Calvin's "Total Depravity":  Catholicism professes that we are not evil and "totally depraved" but rather we are "flawed" and "weakened".  

While we will never become a "new creation", holy and fit for residing in the Presence of the Godhead, except through grace and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, it is a mistaken notion to declare us depraved and evil.

"We are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them"--Ephesians 2:10

Catholicism proclaims the essential goodness of human nature, despite our being weakened and harmed by original sin.  

Friday, April 22, 2016

Why so many rituals in the Catholic Church? Or "I want to join a church that's not so ritualistic!"

Question:  Why is the Catholic Church so ritualistic? There's just too many rituals!   I prefer a church that isn't so caught up in rituals and rules!

Response:  This objection prompts the response:  how many is the exact number of rituals that would be permissible?  3?  7?  21?

In fact, all churches have some form or ritual, so even if one leaves the "overly-ritualistic" Catholic Church and joins a different church, he's going to find some rituals there. The reading of Scripture, the sermon by the pastor, the greeting of the congregation, the praise and worship led by the music ministers, the closing song--all rituals. And the celebration of the Lord's Supper ("Do this in memory of me") is observed in some form by all Christian churches.

Scripture commands the observance of rituals.  God, especially in the Old Testament, actually designed and ordained His worship around rituals.  So it's impossible to be a member of a church and not participate in some sort of ritual.  

When we reject rituals, we reject our inheritance from those who have gone before us.

However, if we take a closer look at the question, I can see what prompts the dismissal of rituals.  There is, indeed, a valid objection to those who may observe Catholics doing rituals in a rote or meaningless manner.  

On the other hand, I think that the human person desires rituals--it is comforting to us to have some rituals in our lives--whether it is how we observe wedding ceremonies or how we celebrate birthdays or even how we brush our teeth every morning--rituals are comforting and familiar.  And, I think, necessary.  It is a basic human activity.

"Ritual often gives the laity an opportunity to participate in an authentic way in worship.  Ritual gives the Catholic...an opportunity to self-express reverence for the divine while uniting him with the larger Sacrifice.  For example, a simple genuflection is an authentic participation because it expresses reverence for the real presence of Christ in the tabernacle while uniting the Catholic to the sacrifice on the altar."--source

Our Catholic rituals enrich our experience of worship and unite us in a profound way to all of our Catholic brothers and sisters, past and present, throughout the planet.  Catholics in, say, the 15th century were devoted to some of the very same rituals we engage in today.  And Catholics in Benin, Bali, Botswana, Belize, Bulgaria are all united in participation in so many of the very same rituals we embrace.  


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As the Dalai Lama is purported to have said regarding (Jewish) tradition:  "[Ritual] at the same time links people through a shared set of practices and a language ... to a powerful lineage of memory and tradition."

"Of course, ritual is dead and meaningless if it is not an expression of love for Christ.  Love is the essence of what drives and perfects rituals.  Love is the very thing that gives them reason for existing in the first place.  The root of all Catholic ritual should be the authentic love of Christ.  The Catholic...embraces the opportunity ritual provides to show Christ reverence and in doing so provides an example to others."--ibid

Incidentally, I think most folks who claim to dislike the ritualistic Church would object vociferously were he to go to a Cardinals baseball game and it was a "free for all", with no order to the play, no repetition.  They like them their (sports) rituals.  And their family rituals. And their morning rituals.  But for some reason, liturgical rituals, not so much.

Finally, here is a wonderful quote from CS Lewis' Letters to Malcolm

Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best--if you like, it "works" best--when, through long familiarity, we don't have to think about it. As long as you notice and have to count the steps, you are not yet dancing, but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don't notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes or light or print or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping.

A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question "What on earth is he up to now?" will intrude. It lays one's devotion waste.

Thus my whole liturgiological position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity. I can make do with almost any kind of service whatever, if only it will stay put. But if each form is snatched away just when I am beginning to feel at home in it, then I can never make any progress in the art of worship. 

Already our liturgy is one of the very few remaining elements of unity in our hideously divided Church.

I love how insightful Lewis is:  when there is novelty in the service, our focus adverts to the activity, rather than to God.  "Wow!  What's he going to do next?", where "He" = the worship leader, rather than "He" being God.  

Rituals permit us to spotlight where our focus should be:  on God.  Not the activity.

So I think even the non-Catholic objector would agree:  there's nothing wrong with rituals.  We all have them.  It's just meaningless rituals, or rituals done thoughtlessly that we all should discard.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Overpopulation is a myth!

There is a very popular narrative that asserts that the Catholic Church, due to her restrictive, antiquated, anti-scientific, anti-feminist teachings on birth control and abortion, is contributing to the demise of Mother Earth.  

"The planet is bursting with people!  It's unsustainable!  Our children and our grandchildren will be starving in the near future!  And the Catholic Church is oppressing not only women, but the planet, but denying her members the right to use birth control and abortion stop making more people!"  (This presupposes that abortions stop "making" people; in actuality abortion kills an already-made person, but more on that later.)

It turns out that this is, frankly, just nonsense.  Not just the overpopulation part, but also the restrictive part, and the antiquated part, and the anti-scientific part, and the anti-feminist/oppression of women part.  :)

The earth is well able to support a growing population.

There is plenty of room--one estimate maintains that every family on earth could have a house with a yard and all live together on a land mass the size of Texas.  source: https://overpopulationisamyth.com/

There is also plenty of food--according to the World Food Programme, "There is enough food in the world today for everyone to have the nourishment necessary for a healthy and productive life."

So where did the idea of this ominous, dangerous, "the sky is falling" concept of overpopulation come from?
I think the credit goes to a 19th century British cleric named Thomas Malthus, who observed that while population was growing exponentially, food production increased only incrementally.  He predicted that the world world would not be able to sustain and feed its population by 1890.

It turns out Mathus was wrong.  He failed to account for human ingenuity and resourcefulness.

In the 1970's a biologist named Paul Ehrlich announced that by 1985 65 million Americans would die of starvation. Because of his prediction he advocated unlimited access to birth control and abortion.

It turns out Ehrlich was wrong, too.

Planned Parenthood also joined the alarmist bandwagon in the 1980s and distributed a pamphlet entitled, ""The Human Race Has 35 Years Left: After that, People will Start Eating Plankton. Or People."



However, let's disregard the idea of overpopulation being a myth.  Let's say that it's actually a reality that the planet is overpopulated and is indeed the biggest menace to society....

shouldn't we consider moral ways to deal with overpopulation?

As Pope John Paul II so eloquently said, regarding population growth:  "But such interventions must always take into account and respect the primary and inalienable responsibility of married couples and families, and cannot employ methods which fail to respect the person and fundamental human rights, beginning with the right to life of every innocent human being. It is therefore morally unacceptable to encourage, let alone impose, the use of methods such as contraception, sterilization and abortion in order to regulate births."--The Gospel of Life

Thus, abortion as a solution to the threat of an overpopulated world is indefensible.

We wouldn't embrace the idea of killing a bunch of born people because, hey, we need the room on the planet, right?

Similarly, we shouldn't embrace the idea of killing a bunch of un-born people either, as a means of addressing the alleged overpopulation of the earth.

I think the best answer to the question of what to do with an overpopulated world (if it even is a fact) was asserted by GK Chesterton:  "The answer to anyone who talks about the surplus population is to ask him, whether he is part of the surplus population; or if not, how he knows he is not" (Introduction to A Christmas Carol).