Why is Religion Excluded from American Public Life?

Mayor Bloomberg recently prohibited clergy from publicly participating in New York City’s commemoration of the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  This event added flames to the already incendiary debate over the role of religion in American public life.

Some in the debate have said that religion has no place in civil affairs due to the separation clause.  Others have cleverly responded that to exclude religion from civil life is to make them atheistic, a religious belief in the nonexistence of God.

This discussion becomes quite shrill due to the fact that underneath the words and in the deep recesses of the collective soul of Americans stirs a malaise–a nameless uneasiness about how we live together as a civilization.

I resist the temptation to hubris by refusing to attempt to resolve this malaise here.  However, we can shine a light on it borrowing some thoughts from Father John Courtney Murray, S.J.

In his seminal work, We Hold These Truths, Fr. Murray describes the current forgetfulness or rejection of the roots of American values, particularly the value of individual freedom.

In chapter 9, he repeats the question that so many have posed before: Freedom – Are There Two or One?

It depends on who you ask.  Before the Church the answer would be “one there is.”  That would be the freedom of the State.  Indeed, the Roman Empire guarded its freedom to rule as iure civile and iure divina.

In other words, it ruled as the absolute civil and religious power.  The locus of this power centered in the emporer, the Pontifex Maximus and August Imperator.

As the Catholic Church took hold throughout the empire, for the first time we hear a religious authority refuse the presupposition that there is only one freedom, that of the State.  Gelasius I around 494 a.d. wrote to the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I:

“Two there are, august Emperor, by which this world is ruled on title of original and sovereign right–the consecrated authority of the priesthood and the royal power” (as quoted pg. 187, WHTT).

This dramatic shift of power and freedom between the Church and the State sparked a historical trend that checked the absolute claim of the State over humankind both in their political life and as an individual.

To be clear, the “consecrated authority” to which Gelasius refers is not political in itself but political in its assertion.  The Church asserts that she defends certain freedoms against which the State has no right to prevail.

This political assertion is both a limiting as well as a directive principle to the State.

One quick qualification: what we speak of here is in theory and not necessarily in concrete reality, which has more or less fleshed this theory throughout history.  Theory is what is most important here since the root of the current malaise is the dissonance of theory among postmodern people.

To return to our discussion, the freedom of the Church manifests in two ways.  The first is the freedom of the Church as a spiritual authority.  As a limiting principle for the State, the Church retains the right to exercise the tasks of governing, sanctifying, and teaching the faithful.

Central to her teaching is the res sacra homo, the sacred reality of humankind.  The Church stands as a corporate bulwark protecting this res from the State’s overreaching power.

Second, there is the freedom of the Church as a people.  The people freely receive the spiritual goods of the Church.

The Church works in alliance with the University to protect the res sacra homo from politicization.  As a continual function, the Church also identifies certain supra-political realities that extend from this sacredness that must remain untouched yet protected by the State.

Examples of such realities are marriage, family, and education.

So the Church as a people has the freedom to limit the State and to direct it to work for justice.

In the next article, we will look into how this understanding of “two freedoms” serves as the foundation for the American political experiment.

There Is No Heaven Or Afterlife – I Agree

If you have already read the original article, please scan below to read the replies that followed.

In this article Stephen Hawking said that there is no afterlife for us because our brains are essentially computers, and there is no afterlife for broken-down computers.

Let me preface my response by saying that I have great respect for Stephen Hawking and his work which has advanced astrophysics beyond what we could have possibly imagined.

His published works have also granted to millions of people access to concepts of the universe that would have remained in the obscurity of advanced academia.

After years of studying aerospace engineering I have come to appreciate at a deeper level the gift that is the naturalistic scientific method (which in current parlance is called ‘science’).

To respond to Hawking when he says there is no heaven or afterlife for broken-down computers: I agree.  If all that we are can be reduced to the material construct of the brain, then, indeed there cannot possibly be an afterlife, much less a heaven.

With respect and deference to Hawking, I would like to attempt to explain where Hawking is coming from and why his position is very reasonable.

Humanity has responded to reality in three ways: magical, metaphysical, and scientific.

The magical primarily followed the basic religious instinct engrained in human nature.  Included in this instinct was the desire and ability to connect cause and effect, and therein find meaning.

Out of this arose within the cultural and societal framework various spiritualities that sought to explain the universe as a whole, and to relate to it in order to master it or be at peace with it.

Within this net of interconnecting yet specialized religions evolved an altogether unique religion by virtue of its monotheistic and personal character: Judaism.

In the context of Judaism, and later Christianity, and especially in their contact with Greek philosophy, humanity reached a basic response to reality that can be summed up in the Scholastic articulation: verum est ens (being is truth).

This is the metaphysical response to reality.

However, this understanding was turned on its head as early as the 17th century.  Pope Benedict XVI points to Giambattista Vico, an Italian philosopher, for laying the ground work for this reversal with his own formula verum quia factum (we can only truly know what we have made for ourselves) (ITC, 59).

So, only that which is truly knowable is what we can do and make for ourselves.  All this talk about being grounded in essence and substance was purely indemonstrable and therefore meaningless.

We access meaning through that which we do, with mathematics (Descartes) and history (Hegel).

Yet, there were limitations even found here.  After all, the past is past and mathematics seems trapped in its own world.  Karl Marx showed the way to reach true knowledge…by doing!

Truth was found in the future and in shaping the world, verum quia faciendum.

Still more limitations were found in this way of knowing the truth.  The historical approach and the investigation of facts proved too vulnerable to the subjectivity of the human person.  We have all heard the phrase, “history is written by the winner.”

Greater weight was placed on the repeatable and verifiable in order to separate from human bias.

For this reason, the naturalistic scientific method has become for many, including Hawking, the exclusive means for accessing the truth of all that is.

To summarize: “We are inclined today as a matter of course to suppose that only what is palpably present, what is ‘demonstrable’, is truly real” (Benedict XVI, 57).

According to this presupposition, there is no possibility of heaven or an afterlife.

Yet, that is a major presupposition which, interestingly, is not proven by the naturalistic scientific method.  In other words, science does not demonstrate that only that which science demonstrates is real.

Where does that presupposition come from? I submit to you it comes from faith.

It is faith in the naturalistic scientific method as the only reliable means to access knowledge of what is real.

This leads to the presupposition that the naturalistic scientific method is the only reliable means to access knowledge of what is real.

It includes the corollary that if God exists, he must be scientifically demonstrable.

God has not been scientifically demonstrated, therefore we cannot say that God exists.

It includes the corollary that if the human person survives death, this fact must be scientifically demonstrable.

Human survival after death has not been scientifically demonstrated, therefore we cannot say that the human person survives death.

Therefore, there is no afterlife.

Notice the irony.

The very method that is supposed to ‘save’ us from human bias in order to get at the truth has been used as an instrument of the greatest human bias operable in the modern mind: nothing exists that cannot be materially observed.

As you can see, such a perspective is trapped in its own sandbox.

It denies other human senses of observation of the universe, notably, the human heart.

If one includes the human heart as an instrument of observation along with the other five, the universe breaks out of the the sandbox and suddenly we find another element not numbered on the periodic tables and not included in the star charts.

Yet this element speaks to us through the very things which the tables and charts display: love.  I propose that this element includes the loving relationship between God and his knowing creatures.

According to this perspective, there is an afterlife and there is a heaven.  But unlike the scientist who lacks self-awareness, we do not pretend to say this with certainty but with open faith.

Feel free to submit a comment. Please note that all submissions are moderated.

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May 24, 2011

Comment Submitted by George B.

There are 4 possible scenarios to answer this:

Yes, there is a Heaven and a hell and we live our lives like we believe this and hopefully get our reward.

Don’t believe that there is a Heaven, but still live our lives as God intended and at the end that’s it, it’s all over.

Don’t believe in Heaven and live our lives in evil ways and after we die find out that there is hell.

Believe in Heaven and hell, but still live our lives in evil ways until we die and at the end that’s it, nothing more.

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May 24, 2011

Comment Submitted by Beth C.

I would also comment on the relationship Abraham had with God.  For Abraham was opened to hearing God’s call and therefore was able to have a sincere relationship with Him.

“Out of this arose within the cultural and societal framework various spiritualities that sought to explain the universe as a whole, and to relate to it in order to master it or be at peace with it.

Within this net of interconnecting yet specialized religions evolved an altogether unique religion by virtue of its monotheistic and personal character: Judaism”

I see a corner science has painted itself in.  Without true self awareness, we find ourselves losing faith in anything other than what we can see and prove.

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May 24, 2011

Faith is certainly an attitude that is fundamental to every human being. Everyone who lives has faith in something, even if they don’t realize it.

FC

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June 06, 2011

The following comments came in on Facebook. With the author’s permission, Tom B. and Ramiro G., I have replicated the most essential here:

Reply submitted by Tom B.

The actual quote was, “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail……” HE regards.

I don’t know any scientist who will say something does not exist because they can’t prove that it exits. Science develops theories and disproves theories all the time.

Oh yeah, about that Church and Galileo thing……

Fr. Christopher Plant’s article seemed to me to be a somewhat mild attack in the ongoing battle between religion and science. Like clockwork-for the last 1500 years:
1) Science proclaims a new finding
2)Church attempts to crush heretic
3)As evidence grows, Church tries to find a compromise

4) The new finding is confirmed as a law of nature and the Church indulges in a field of study known as apologetics, saying there never was any conflict.

This has happened so many times, that the Church of 500 years ago and the Church of today are completely unrecognizable!

I’m just saying, “If the Church was truly the source of All Truth, then it would have been on the cutting edge of science, not the persecutors of it.”

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June 06, 2011

Reply submitted by Ramiro G.

Tom, the original post was solely in regard to the fallacy of “scientism”- the belief that science alone can explain all things.

I think your comments have created a divergence to this point—which is ok but I just want to point that out. Do you disagree?

Now regarding your last comment, I’m willing to acquiesce to your first 3 points as I see no real problem with them at all. I think they represent the proper role of science and church. Great points by the way!

However, regarding your 4th point, you obviously subscribe to the belief that science and religion are at odds because you use the words “ongoing battle.” Am I right?

If not, then never mind, but if so, I’d be very interested in reading specific examples from you that can backup your general statements in #4 and following.

In other words, if there are so many times that this has occurred, then can you please provide a few examples of what science has proven that directly contradicts the Christian religion? And specifically how did the Church persecute it in the examples you provide?

As for me, I accept the notion that the war between science and religion is a myth.  As Rev. Barron states:

This myth is so much nonsense. Leaving aside the complexities of the Galileo story (and there are complexities to it), we can see that the vast majority of the founding figures of modern science—Copernicus, Newton, Kepler, Descartes, Pascal, Tycho Brahe—were devoutly religious.

More to it, two of the most important physicists of the 19th century—Faraday and Maxwell—were extremely pious, and the formulator of the Big Bang theory was a priest!

If you want a contemporary embodiment of the coming-together of science and religion, look to John Polkinghorne, Cambridge particle physicist and Anglican priest and one of the best commentators on the non-competitive interface between scientific and religious paths to truth.

Indeed, as Polkinghorne and many others have pointed out, the modern physical sciences were, in fact, made possible by the religious milieu out of which they emerged.

It is no accident that modern science first appeared precisely in Christian Europe, where a doctrine of creation held sway…This is why thoughtful Christians must battle the myth of the eternal warfare of science and religion.

We must continually preach, as John Paul II did, that faith and reason are complementary and compatible paths toward the knowledge of truth. ”

Please tell me what you think about what I’ve said. I hope I’m making sense. I think this is a pretty good discussion. Thanks!

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June 06, 2011

Reply submitted by Tom B.

Sorry for the divergence but for those who embrace empiricism and reason above the supernatural and paranormal, Plant’s article was somewhat hurtful.

When someone puts forward a scientific theory that religious critics really don’t like, they just try to discredit it as ‘scientism’.

He has infered that scientism is a psychological form of belief and many would construe that as a religion itself.

Plant states that (concerning the metaphysical response to realilty) ” All this talk about being grounded in essence and substance was purely indemonstrable and therefore meaningless.”

Is the power of faith demonstrable without using feel-good stories, what you know or feel in your heart, the supernatural or the paranormal? (No, I am not an atheist!)

From what I have read over the last 30 years, there were several instances where the Church has persecuted those who have been at odds with them over things like flat earth, center of the universe and the existence of ether but I would prefer not to provide examples because it would be a waste of my time.

Anyone can google these issues and get a wealth of information on them. I would like to only address this subject from here on out from my personal observations and experiences.

It is not suprising to me that these famous scientists proclaimed their devotion and allegiance to the Church.

I’m sure they were trying their best to understand how their findings could be reconciled to their religious beliefs.

But I have seen first-hand what happens to someone’s personal life when they tell their family and friends that they do not believe in Jesus Christ or God.

Would you really be suprised at how quickly the are ostracized from family, friends and coworkers?

In 1600, to claim an emphirical (sid) scientific finding was contrary to church doctrine was worse, seeing how the power and influence of the church was so much more then (Look up the word “heretic”).

Although I have not checked on the facts concerning the statement that “modern science first appeared precisely in Christian Europe” I would seriously doubt that.

The Chinese had developed gunpowder, paper, printing and the compass while Europeans were just figuring out which end of the ox to hook the plow to!

I exaggerate of course, but this is common knowledge.

I would, however agree that science and religion arose together. I really like the way Plant presented human response to reality “… in three ways: magical, metaphysical, and scientific.”

I believe the points he makes are valid. But let’s not forget that science marches on. I have confidence that science will someday be able to explain the human soul.

(I know I’m going out on a limb here and it kind of scares me what some of the folks reading this will think of me. I realize I’m up against Phd’s and all I have under my belt is a few book reports in high school!)

Both religion and science have tried to explain why things are as they are but as science solves another mystery, religion loses ground.

I believe this is because many in the church are hung up on the historicity of the bible instead of the quality and meaning of its mythology.

(No, no,no…the word myth does not mean “lie”. I believe Rev. Barron has used the word quite improperly– a common mistake.)

I’m so sorry but I must end with a quote from Joseph Campbell

( I see you making a face, Mr. Plant!)

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June 06, 2011

Mr. Tom B. I only have an expression of excitement since finally the blog has accomplished its purpose – intelligent conversation among thoughtful people about things that ultimately matter.

You have said much and there is much to which I would like to reply.

I’m afraid I do not have the time to do the extensive historical research to give you an adequate response to that aspect of this conversation.

So, as for the historical aspect, allow me to indulge in some rough summaries, remembering that to summarize is ultimately to falsify.

First, a distinction about the word “church.”  For us Catholics, Church, like family, is a complex and mysterious reality.

We have the benefit, after a couple of millenia of theological reflection by many bright and faithful minds, of viewing our church with different models.

The Sacramental Model looks at the Church as an incarnation of Jesus Christ in the world through the visible sign of all that the Church is.

The Verbum Model looks at the Church as that which reveals God’s self-revelation to the world by teaching the Sacred Scriptures.

The Mystical Body Model looks at the Church as a reality that transcends the boundaries of life and death and unites all of its individual members into the Body of Christ.

The Institutional Model looks at the Church primarily as a visible institution hierarchically structured by Christ.

These are very crude summaries of these models, and there are more.  But I have displayed these models only to set the background for my concluding statements on the historical aspect of our conversation.

The Institutional Model, because it is indeed the most visible and obvious even to the non-believer, is often the exclusive view of what the Church is, even among believers.

As a result, I think so many of us Catholics can have a knee-jerk defensiveness when it comes to the imperfect history of the Catholic Church as an institution.

Yet, as my examples show above, this is certainly not the case.

As a matter of fact, if everything visible about the Church were destroyed except the people and the priests, the Church would still remain just as who she really is in this world:

Christ present in her sinful members through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Now for my final response to the historical aspect to this conversation: The Institutional Church has made mistakes in the past, and will most likely continue to do so.

If you don’t mind me saying so, it appears that none of us engaged in this dialogue are well-read concerning the history surrounding the relationship between science and religion.

I’m afraid a “Google” search on keywords can yield quite unedited and sometimes inaccurate representations of what has happened in the past.

In addition, even among academics, which ultimately produce what we read as textbooks, there exist controversies over the precise sequence of events surrounding the development of the relationship between Science and Religion.

As a result, cause and effect are even harder to discern.

So please allow me to refocus our conversation on its original aspect, which may produce more fruit: the theoretical.

Tom, you said that I seem to infer that scientism is some psychological form of belief that many would construe as a religion in itself.

Let me be quite clear, that is exactly what I am saying (setting aside the word “psychological” since I do not see how that qualifier adds or takes away from “form of belief”).

Scientism, understood as holding the naturalistic scientific method as that by which we can apprehend all of reality, is a religious belief.

It is religious because it is a view of what is ultimately real in this world and it provides a code for responding to that reality.

It is belief because it can only be adopted by human volition, if you will, the heart (the center of the human person, the preconscious according to Jaques Maritain in Degrees of Knowledge, the appetite of the contemplative soul according to St. Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologia).

Scientism can only be adopted by the human heart because of its very definition.  It is adopted with an intellectual attitude entirely different from that which we use when we apply the naturalistic scientific method.

The naturalistic scientific method employs only empirical methods of observation and inductive reasoning therefrom, although scientists rely on scientific tradition based on trust in various scientific institutions.

This method is a closed system that works very well within its own logic.  And it has helped us in so many ways.

With that last sentence I have already shown the limitation of this closed system.  The method does not show what is “helpful” and what isn’t, what “works” and what doesn’t.

Nor does it say what we should accept as proven or verified.

In other words, it is impossible to verify through the naturalistic scientific method that the naturalistic scientific method is that by which we should apprehend all of reality.

If anything other than the naturalistic scientific method is used to verify that the naturalistic scientific method is that by which we should apprehend all of reality, the conclusion is nonsense.

It is nonsense for two reasons.

First, there cannot be imagined any set of experiments or observations by which one can set out to prove the hypothesis that the naturalistic scientific method is that by which we should apprehend all of reality.

I would be very interested in hearing a proposal on how it can be done.

Second, no list of experiments or observations can prove or verify this because of the very nature of what it means for something to be “proven” or “verified.”

Let’s take the two words as synonymous for the sake of discussion.

When something is proven, it means that it is held before us as something that we cannot refuse to be true, at least not without violating other principles we have already held to be true.

So if I hold something to be true, I am making a choice (often without much effort or reflection) to accept it as reality and as my reality.
It’s not just the objective truth, it is also my truth.

And this choice is based on other truths that I have come to accept.

Example: I hold as true that my parents are trustworthy.  If my brother tells me that he called my mom yesterday, and I doubted him, I would ask my mother.  If she told me that he called her yesterday, that proves to me that he did.

Based on the first principle that my parents are trustworthy, I accept as proven that my brother called my mother because my mother told me she did.

Because what is acceptable as proven is subjective, that is, based on the person and their own first principles, what is proven for one may not be proven for others.

In that sense, neither the naturalistic scientific method nor the supernaturalistic scientific method (my term) necessarily prove anything.

Neither method cuts away the fundamental human experience of uncertainty.

Neither method cuts away the human need to make a decision to accept as true some fundamental principles by which all others may be “proven.”

In other words, neither method cuts away the human need to believe religiously.

Proof proceeds from belief, even if that proof was derived with the assistance of the naturalistic scientific method.

The naturalistic scientific method in itself is irreligious.  To accept it as a means by which all truth is proven is religious.

If I may say so, your very words give something away: “For those who embrace empiricism and reason above the supernatural and paranormal, Plant’s article was somewhat hurtful.”

What is it to embrace something but to believe in it?

-FC

P.S. The Christian Religion is reasonable because it reaches logical conclusions based on first principles.  Thus, faith and reason are both equally necessary for the Catholic Christian.

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Please feel free to submit a response.  All comments are moderated.

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Is The Catholic Church Holy?

Originally, this post was intended for the “Ask Father” section.  However, this question struck such a deep chord within me that I decided to think over what one might say in response. This was the question submitted by Esther K.:

My son heard on the radio that Good Friday was a holier day than Easter. We both thought Easter was holier–so which is it???

My initial response was to think about it.  The very next day, I encountered a chapter from the great work of Pope Benedict XVI, Introduction To Christianity.

He is asking the question, “how can we say that the Catholic Church is holy with all of its obvious sins?”

First, the Catholic Church is holy not because its members are holy, but because God’s gifts are holy.  The Father gives us his Son Jesus Christ in Baptism, Eucharist, Reconciliation, and in all the sacraments.  These sacraments are given through the workings of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

These gifts are given to sinful creatures.  So, within the Church sin and grace mingle together.

What is most fascinating about this aspect is that “precisely in her paradoxical combination of holiness and unholiness the Church is in fact the shape taken by grace in this world” (Ratzinger, 342).

Second, the word holiness has been twisted by the black-and-white perspective of broken humanity.  This perspective understands holiness as a perfect state of being untouched by sin and unchanged by evil.

Anything that is any way sinful or evil must be cut away and rejected in order to preserve holiness.

In other words, this form of holiness deals with sin by outright condemnation.

Pope Benedict expands on this so precisely and delicately, that I dare not fail to quote him directly for our benefit:

“That is why the aspect of Christ’s holiness that upset his contemporaries was the complete absence of this condemnatory note – fire did not fall on the unworthy, nor were the zealous allowed to pull up weeds that were growing luxuriantly on all sides.

On the contrary, this holiness expressed itself precisely as mingling with the sinners whom Jesus drew into his vicinity; as mingling to the point where he himself was made ‘to be sin’ and bore the curse of the law in execution as a criminal – complete community of fate with the lost (cf. 2 Cor 5:21; Gal 3:13).

He has drawn sin to himself, made it his lot, and so revealed what true ‘holiness’ is: not separation, but union; not judgment, but redeeming love.

Is the Church not simply the continuation of God’s deliberate plunge into human wretchedness; is she not simply the continuation of Jesus’ habit of sitting at table with sinners, of his mingling with the misery of sin to the point where he actually seems to sink under its weight?” (342, emphasis mine)

The Catholic Church is holy because Christ himself mingles with the sinners within her. The Catholic Church is holy also because Jesus gives himself to the world through sinners.

To be sure, this in no way excuses any of the sins of the Church as an institution nor as a body of believers. Rather, we cannot help but say to the world, “don’t believe us because we are holy, believe us because the one of whom we speak is holy.”

Anyone that cannot accept Jesus Christ through the unholy hands of his believers cannot accept Jesus Christ. For he is holiness as grace mingled with sin, and grace transforming sin into holiness by mingling.

Many who shut the door on the Church because of her sins shut the door on Christ because they secretly hold the pharisaic attitude of self-righteousness.

This attitude carries with it the dream of the holiness of perfect preservation, where human beings by their own power change from sinners to saints.

Yet such an attitude rejects the reality of the holiness of perfect love, where Christ mingles with sinners in the sacraments, and they absorb the holiness of Christ over time as cold water absorbs the heat of burning coal.

In a cursory way, this article attempts to answer Esther’s question: “Is Good Friday holier than Easter Sunday?”

Good Friday brings us to the crucifixion of Christ where Christ was made sin for us.

In so far as the crucifixion is the mingling of grace with sin, which is true holiness, we could say that Good Friday is holier than Easter Sunday.

Feel free to submit a comment. Please note that all submissions are moderated.

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Why “I Believe” and not “We Believe”?

Question:

Why do we want to change from “We believe” to “I believe?”

Does this not take away from the sense of community? -Sue R.

Response:

It seems that your question is prompted by the changes to the English translation of the Roman Missal that will begin implementation at the first Sunday of Advent this year (2011). There will be several changes to the words that the people will be praying during the Mass.

For example, our profession of the Nicene creed will no longer start by saying, “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty…”

Instead, we will say, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty…”

Now, a few important facts to note: The Latin translation to the Nicene Creed says “Credo in unum Deum, Patream omnipotentem…”

In Spanish the translation reads, “Creo en un solo Dios, Padre Todopoderoso…”

“Credo” (and “Creo”) means “I believe…”

A major tenet of the changes to the English Roman Missal included a more faithful adherence to the Latin Roman Missal. There are many reasons for doing this, which I will not get into now.

This change to the translation of the Creed is meant to lead us closer to the original intent of professing our faith liturgically. The Nicene Creed clarifies the dogmatic structure of Christian belief.

However, the act of professing the Creed liturgically (that is, within Baptism, the Mass, Viaticum, etc.) was not primarily for this purpose in its inception.

In its earliest form the credal profession took place within the context of baptismal dialogue. It was just as we hear it sometimes during the Easter season before everyone is sprinkled with holy water:

“Do you believe in one God the Father Almighty…?”

“I do.”

The earliest form of profession was in the form of a personal dialogue, a conversation. The person responded “I do” because they were making a personal choice of conversion, of turning away from the visible enticement of sin toward the invisible glory of God the Father and of his Son Jesus Christ.

Going back to Pope Benedict XVI in his work, Introduction to Christianity, we hear him say the following:

This form is also more suited to its purpose than the We-type of creed, which (unlike our I-creed) was developed in Christian Africa and then at the big Eastern Councils.

The latter kind represents a new type of creed, no longer rooted in the sacramental context of the ecclesiastical ceremony of conversion, in the execution of the about-turn, and thus in the real birthplace of faith, but proceeding from the striving of the bishops assembled at the Council for the right doctrine and thus clearly becoming the first step toward the future form of dogma” (89).

The future form of dogma to which Pope Benedict XVI refers is the kind used for greater clarity and understanding for the world and the Christian community, in addition to personal conversion.

To summarize this response, by using the translation “I believe” instead of “We believe” we actually maintain the communal integrity of the creed.

Now the communal structure is more in the form of a personal dialogue rather than a collective declaration. It returns to the conversation between one who asks and one who answers, even if it is not professed in the interrogatory form: “Do you?…I do.”

This form also seems to emphasize that I believe and not just what I believe.

Every time you and I say “I believe” you and I are in dialogue with each other. I am saying to you and you are saying to me, “I have made this personal choice to lay down my entire life on this foundation of truth.”

We are also proclaiming this in dialogue with the world, which continues to ask you and me in verbal and non-verbal ways, “do you really believe all that stuff…?” – Fr. Christopher Plant

Confession and Eucharist – Voodoo?

Question:

I was trying to explain to one of my non Catholic friends about Confession/Communion and the priests role in these two things.

I was telling him that during Confession and in the changing of the bread and wine to the body and blood, that the priest is working impersona cristae (not quite sure if that is the right terminology or spelling).

I felt that it came across to my friend as sounding kinda like voodoo and I feel like he thought we were crazy. Is there a better way you can tell me to explain this without us Catholics sounding crazy?

Response:

The short answer to your question is “no.”  We really cannot tell someone who has yet to enter into the faith about the Eucharist, Confession, and the reality of the Ordained Priesthood without sounding crazy.  After all, don’t we also believe that a carpenter executed on trumped-up criminal charges came back from the dead and he’s the one who is going to save us from otherwise certain self-destruction?

The longer answer begins with a question.  Where is your friend as regards to Christian belief?  Does he believe in Jesus Christ as God, as the Son of God, as risen from the dead, and as “seated at the right hand of the Father?”

For that matter, does he believe in God the Father – the God of Isaac, Abraham, and Jacob – the God who opened up the sea to free an insignificant segment of the human population?

These are pretty important questions that must come first. In particular, the question about Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father. This belief understands the risen Lord as one seated in the office of a king, who is active and involved in our daily lives.

But there is more to it. What is his understanding of the Holy Spirit? By the Holy Spirit dwelling within us Jesus continues his activity in bringing us to resurrection and everlasting life. By the power of the Holy Spirit the following happens:

The Scriptures are inspired, written, and understood in the Church community.

People come to believe in God’s self-revelation as individuals and as a community.

People are taken from the community of believers and made permanent ministers within and for the community for the dispensation of the many gifts of Jesus Christ.

The forgiveness of sins and reconciliation through the sacrament of Confession.

The consecration (setting-aside) of the bread and wine and the subsequent transformation of the substance of bread and wine into the substance of Jesus Christ Himself.

As you can see, it’s all about what your friend has accepted as true. If he were to think you were crazy, ask him respectfully about what he accepts as true already. If he believes any of the above, then he believes in something that others, particularly atheists, find crazy.

Ultimately, according to the broken standards of the world, what we believe is quite crazy.

It may be appropriate to reflect on the following from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 1):

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our
proclamation, to save those who believe.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom,
but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles…

In other words, our basic foundation is a foolish and crazy proclamation. So a believer in Jesus Christ cannot reject the reality of the Eucharist, Confession and the Ordained Priesthood simply on the grounds that it sounds crazy. Or he might have to reject everything else.

Christian Faith – How To Summarize It

To be Christian is to be excessive, according to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI). In Part Two of “Introduction to Christianity” Pope Benedict lays out principles of Christian Structures.

This, in a way, concerns the unique characteristics of Christian faith.

It is striking that he actually disassembles at some point the most common ways that Christians define themselves. If someone were to ask me, “you, Christian! Tell me a summary of what you believe. What is the center of your faith?”

My first inclination perhaps would be to mention the Creed—which is not a bad place to begin. After all, the Creed in its most original form was precisely a dialogue with the world upon the occasion of initiation in the Church and the life of Christian Faith.

However, Pope Benedict disassembles this way of proclaiming the faith to unbelievers showing that so much of the language of the Creed presupposes that any of that stuff is relevant and important to the one professing it.

Yet, there appears a complete disconnect between the language of the Creed and the language of the unbeliever. Indeed, most Americans have heard the Creed before, or even recited it themselves throughout the duration of their worship experience in childhood.

At the same time, the separation between the words of the Creed and what many Americans truly believe gapes large. Do we not hear as popular expressions the following?:

“It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you believe.”

“I don’t belong to any religion but I am very spiritual.”

“I don’t believe all that dogma but I believe in Jesus.”

“All Christians are pretty much the same.”

To say any one of these expressions is to categorically contradict what the Creed proclaims. I realize that I have said too much here since I will not attempt to explain what people seem to mean when they say such things and why such things contradict the Creed.

I mention them at the risk of being misunderstood only to bring home the point that the question about the Creed and what it means to be truly Christian is a real issue in our daily lives.

For this reason, Pope Benedict’s reflection on the characteristics of Christianity are so very important and I will be focusing on those for the next several weeks. Next week I will begin with a meditation on the first law of the Christian Structure: The Individual and the Whole.

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Responses

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At the heart of Christian Faith is our Creed. There isn’t just one part of the Creed that is to be believed. The whole Creed is interconnected, each part meaning something to the whole.

The entire Creed is the most important foundation of faith, it defines it, explains it, and most of all, it inspires. – Camille G.

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Amen to that, Camille.  My question is, how does someone “deliver” the gift that is the Creed – namely, Jesus Christ?  Naturally, the angle of this question is on the explanation of the Creed as a means to summarize very briefly what a Christian believes. – Fr. Christopher

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