Part 2: A Poet's Expression of His Religion
"Art has to reveal to us ideas, formless spiritual essences.
The supreme question about a work of art
is out of how deep a life does it spring?”
— James Joyce
I Am Christian
There were three major Protestant movements in the 16th century. All movements were started by former Catholics — one by a German priest, Martin Luther; another by an English king, Henry VIII; and a third by a French lawyer, Jean Calvin. The tragedy of Othello is instructive as a warning for Catholics to understand this third movement of Protestantism known as Calvinism.
As we saw in the previous section on Othello, Iago is an anti-Christ. In watching the play, audiences see how a demi-devil causes the fall of a man, and the death and destruction which accompanies one man’s fall. Othello is Iago’s easily-duped victim. In this section, we will discuss why Catholics must always be aware of the risk of becoming like Othello. The Catholic church, especially, must guard and protect the people of God, who are always at risk to be plucked away from true communion with our Lord and Savior, like Othello was plucked away from helpful service to Venice. Othello, a great war hero and general, became a jealous murderer, enticed by the villainy of a person under his own command to kill his own young bride. Shakespeare’s play functions as a great warning to guide practicing Catholics to maintain a healthy relationship with the bride of Christ, the household of God, and the communion of saints. Let us consider Othello’s mistakes which made him, despite his greatness, especially vulnerable to become a killer fooled by a false reality.
At the heart of Othello’s fall is trust. He trusts the wrong person, Iago, and he doesn’t trust the right people, first and foremost his wife, Desdemona, and secondly his lieutenant and second in command, Cassio. Iago plants seeds of doubt regarding the faithfulness of Desdemona and Cassio, and Othello believes Iago rather than asking his wife or lieutenant their side of the story. As Solomon warns, “the one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him”. Othello never cross-examined, he only heard Iago and never heard his own wife or trusted lieutenant because of Iago’s influence.
One wonders while watching Othello, if all of this could have been averted if Othello had simply honored the traditions of Venice. The husband (Othello) and bride (Desdemona) eloped, causing shock to the bride’s father, a distinguished senator of Venice. The bride’s father, Brabantio, overlooks this slight, and with fatherly love notes, “God be with you. I had rather to adopt a child than get it. Come hither, Moor. I here do give thee that with all my heart thou hast already”. Brabantio, Othello’s father-in-law, accepts the marriage noting he would rather adopt a child (that is, Othello) at this stage in his life than give birth to a new child. Even though he accepts the marriage, Barbantio warns Othello, “Look at her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see. She has deceived her father, and may thee”.
Now the elopement in and of itself is not a big deal. It’s too early in the play, where we don’t know the characters and therefore cannot make a good judgement on the situation. Similar to Christians in 16th century Europe, there was a lot of turmoil, and sometimes history is best judged not by those who make it but by their grandchildren. Time sometimes helps truth surface. Shakespeare gives us his testimony through his plays, but it is up to us, the later generations, to gather all the testimonies of our forefathers in order to make an accurate and good judgement about what truly happened in the 16th century. The hope is to understand our forefathers and our history in order to build a better future for ourselves and our descendants. Shakespeare is one voice of many, but an important voice for his firsthand perspective and creative talents in passing it along his testimony to others. But we have to make a good judgement, and in the case of Othello and Desdemona, their elopement is too early for us to draw definitive conclusions. We do not have enough information to make a good judgement. We have to wait and see how the play progresses.
If the elopement was the first scene in one of Shakespeare’s comedies, the rest of the play would have been drastically different to the tragedy we know. Othello might have been like 12th Night, or What You Will, and written as a romantic comedy about clashing cultures and twin images of love. In the comedic version of our alternate version of Othello, we would have had Shakespearean hilarity as audiences watch the culture clashes between a Moor warrior and a Venetian beauty. Or, if Shakespeare had made Othello as part of a heroic tetralogy, like the plays focused on Henry V, we might have seen Othello’s transformation into greatness. In this version of Othello, the audience would have seen how a foreign mercenary comes to become a respected member of Venetian society. We’d have seen a “pre-napoleon” Napoleon, and instead of a Corsican Island-boy becoming a French Emperor, we have Othello, a Moor warrior becoming a Venetian hero and legend. There are too many maybes to make a judgement about the elopement so early on, so we must wait and see how the story plays out.
Maybe Desdemona knows her father would not have accepted marriage to a foreigner, even though she loves Othello — and so they elope. Maybe her father would have preferred another suitor, a Venetian with strong prospects to build wealth and provide a good life in Venice, not a mercenary of war constantly at the service of other nation-states and the highest bidder — and so they elope. Desdemona knows her father, we do not. At this stage, we know not whether Desdemona’s love is genuine, we only have lots of maybes. Decisions cannot be made by maybes. Good decisions should be made on facts, hope, trust, and love. We can’t read into maybe’s, we must decide on principles (or values) and facts. We cannot read too much into small and isolated aspects of life or this play, but sometimes small and isolated incidences fit into a much larger pattern or framework. And so we do take small and isolated instances as evidence, and have to determine at some point if this evidence is part of a pattern or simply outliers.
With Shakespeare, the details always matter. In Othello, Shakespeare gives us a play which is a character study, and all the details in the context of the whole play represent a pattern to learn from and understand. We need to see the whole in order to understand the pattern. We need to know the whole in order to understand the early parts. History is often best understood by the grandchildren who study what happened because they hear the firsthand testimonies of what happened and yet also know the outcomes. In Othello’s case, we recognize the pattern of making decisions in isolation, which only continues as the play progresses. We find out later, Othello’s isolation causes much destruction. Othello’s isolation becomes the main weakness which Iago masterfully uses to weave his web of deceit and ensnare Othello, his commander and leader.
Because Othello takes his wife in a manner not consistent with Venetian traditions, thereafter, Iago is able to paint her as adulterous despite the fact that she is faithful. We find out as the play progresses, her love for Othello is pure. Iago is magnificently maleficent, and he plants a seed of doubt in Othello’s mind, claiming Desdemona is unfaithful with Othello’s Lieutenant, Cassio, the man chosen over Iago for promotion. For the most part, Iago does not change reality by his own actions, he does affects reality mostly through his influence on others and his insinuations about other people. By coloring reality, Iago affects Othello’s ability to see reality, and ultimately Othello acts based on Iago’s insinuations rather than on truth.
An innocent situation where Cassio begs Desdemona to put in a good word for him with Othello, Iago is able to twist into whispers between lovers desperate to hide their love from Othello. Iago insinuates Othello is being cuckolded by his wife and lieutenant. Othello reads situations wrong because he sees things not as they are, but how they appear to be through what Iago wants him to see. Othello sees through Iago’s eyes. Othello reads what happens based on how Iago influences him, what Iago influence and insinuates, and not based on truth.
Iago’s ability to influence how Othello sees (or perceives) reality reaches its height with the handkerchief. The handkerchief is a symbol, an image, of Othello’s love for Desdemona. When she loses it, Iago is able to take it and hide it and then place it in Cassio’s hand. In all this, Othello is blind to Iago’s manipulation and Iago’s influence leads Othello into a murderous rage, where he listens not to the true and innocent claims of his own wife, but instead hears the voice of Iago, a man who the audience knows from the very first scene has claimed, “I am not what I am”. The audience knows from the beginning what Othello is blind to — Iago is dedicated to destroying Othello. Almost like the book of Job, where the wager between Satan and God starts the whole affair of Job’s suffering for righteousness’s sake, here in Othello the audience knows Iago desires the downfall of Othello. The whole play is a study on how the downfall occurs. Whereas Job receives blessing, Othello walks the path of destruction. Whereas Job grows closer to his Creator through tempestuous times and his own righteous suffering, Othello becomes a tool of the devil and manifests evil.
Othello’s path of destruction leads to the death of his beloved wife. Desdemona claims to Othello “I am a Christian” as Shakespeare masterfully examines the claim of “I am” from various characters and various instances throughout this play — it’s one of the major themes in Othello. And Desdemona dies professing “A guiltless death I die”. Othello has been so thoroughly brainwashed by Iago — so thoroughly deceived — that he commits murder not because of hate for Desdemona but for the sake of honoring his own reputation. He is more concerned with appearing to be a cuckold than being a killer. In Othello’s own words, he commits a murder that he considers a sacrifice. Othello is willing to kill his wife in order to save his reputation. He sacrifices her life for his “good” name. Othello believes not the ancient motto taught by the carpenter’s son and caravanning rabbi, “you must lose your life in order to find it”. Instead, Othello inverts this wise phrase from wisdom incarnate, and Othello kills another to save his own. In the end, Othello loses his life. For he who seeks to save his life will lose it.
In the end, Othello finds out he has been ensnared as he utters to himself, “O fool! fool! fool!”. Cassio is exalted into Othello’s place in the Venetian army, and Othello asks forgiveness from Cassio. Cassio readily forgives Othello, but sadly, Cassio cannot raise Desdemona from the dead. She dies a willing martyr for Othello’s honor. Desdemona dies a guiltless death, falsely accused and falsely killed. Like Job, Othello never finds out why he suffered these torments from Iago. But whereas Job was willing to suffer righteously, Othello causes others to suffer. Othello inflicts suffering and brings about death. Othello causes others to suffer for his own sins.
In this life, at times, God allows evil to be veiled. Sometimes we never know why evil things happen, why evil manifests itself. But we do have ancient stories to guide us in the path of peace, love, and truth. Job tells us that not all suffering is for our own sins, sometimes we suffer for the sake that the devil hates the righteous and wants to accuse them of evil. The story of Joseph communicates a similar truth, always return evil with good. Unfortunately for Shakespeare’s Othello, Othello is a tool of devils. Othello’s life is an instructive warning for us rather than an exemplary hero to be modeled.
Although the play Othello might not be overtly about Calvin, the parallels are too instructive for Catholics to ignore. I do not know to what extent Shakespeare had this particular Protestant movement in mind while he crafted Othello, nonetheless, this play is wonderfully educational for Catholics because of four key factors. The four factors are —
traditions (honor the traditions handed down to us)
how to perceive reality (what filters do we use to see reality?)
images (how they can be used to help or hinder our understanding of God and reality)
it is more blessed to give than to receive (when in doubt, be like God who gives to others abundantly more than he receives. For when we give to God, it is simply out of what we’ve already received from him)
Let’s look at these four factors — traditions, reality, images, and giving — briefly in the context of Jean Calvin, the third great Protestant reformer of 16th century Europe. In understanding these four key parallels, we can protect other Catholics from falling from grace like Othello and also guide Calvinists towards divine grace, the communion of saints, and the fullness of truth. Let us be like Job or Joseph who suffer righteously rather than Othello who is duped and fooled and cries out ineffectively “Will you, I pray, demand that semi-devil why he hath thus ensnared my soul and body?” Thankfully, Shakespeare’s Othello is written for our instruction as Othello advises us, “When you shall these unlucky deeds relate, speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate”. Let wise men learn from fools.
This look of thine will hurl my soul from heaven,
And fiends will snatch at it. Cold, cold, my girl?
Even like thy chastity. O cursed, cursed slave!
Whip me, ye devils,
from the possession of this heavenly sight!
Blow me about in winds, roast me in sulphur,
Wash me in steep-down gulfs of liquid
O Desdemon! Dead Desdemon! Dead! O! O!
Jean Calvin was a contemporary of Martin Luther, King Henry VIII, and also Shakespeare’s father. Calvin is the spiritual leader of the Puritans in England, Presbyterians in Scotland, Huguenots in France, and various other Protestant congregations throughout the world in Shakespeare’s time and even until today. Calvin’s masterpiece, The Institutes of Christian Religion, has been one of the most influential books in the history of Europe and the world. Calvin’s Institutes provides Protestants with a framework to explain their version of Christian Religion. To this day, there are Christians who call themselves “Calvinists” for their adherence to the principles taught by Calvin.
Calvin was raised Catholic. He took his legal training as a lawyer and codified what he called “Christian Religion”. He created a new religion based off Catholic scriptures, Catholic creeds, Catholic traditions, and many Catholic teachings. But rather than maintain communion with the Catholic church, he broke from her, taking many of her traditions and scriptures, teachings and creeds, and ripped them apart to create his own man-made religion. Whereas the Catholic church is founded by Christ, Calvinists attempt to follow Jesus outside of communion with the Church Christ founded. Rather than recognizing, honoring, or even giving thanks for the great effect the Catholic church had on Calvin — for example preserving teachings, scriptures, creeds over fifteen centuries for Calvin to mix with his own man-made teachings! — Calvin frequently wrote with disdain against the Catholic church and showed his lack of good theology in the process. We will address Calvin’s immature theology in a few paragraphs with specific details. But for now, let us simply be aware of Calvin’s attitude of entitlement — rather than thanksgiving — towards the profound influence the Catholic church had on teaching Calvin about Jesus Christ. Many Calvinists likewise inherit Calvin’s disdain for Catholic faith through their spiritual father, showing that yes, some sins are generational, passed along from fathers to their children, from teachers to their students.
This is an important point to understand. All Christians learn about Jesus through the lens of their particular church traditions. For Catholics, this lens comes from the traditions taught and passed along by the apostles of Jesus Christ. For Calvinists, the lens of understanding comes from a mixture of Catholic teachings mixed with Calvin’s misunderstanding of good Catholic theology. Calvin had a tremendous influence on solidifying Protestant religion, but the Protestantism he helped solidify is a mix of divine truth with human misunderstanding. Calvin had great skill in preaching, teaching, and writing. But he removed himself from the Catholic church and the communion of saints, and this resulted in a profound limit to his growth as a theologian and Christian. Let us take a brief moment to show the immaturity of Calvin’s theology (Calvin's ideas about God) to demonstrate why the Catholic church recognizes Calvin as a theologically immature preacher who fell far short of his potential.
Taking a brief moment and a few examples from his Institutes of Christian Religion will help us better understand the immaturity of Calvin’s theology. In this instance, Calvin represents both Iago and Othello. Othello because he fell from grace of God and relationship with God’s holy church. Iago because after his fall from grace he caused others to see the holy Catholic church through his eyes, and not through God’s eyes. The comparison of Calvin, Iago, and Othello is instructive to help Catholics avoid Othello’s errors. Let us be wise as serpents and innocent as doves because wolves do creep in amongst the sheep. Let us understand how to identify wolves like Calvin so that we sheep can be aware not to follow wolves. Only Christ lays down his life for his sheep, and his followers do the same. Thieves come into to steal and slaughter and destroy. A hired Calvin, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, plays a shepherd while scattering and destroying the flock. And if a hired Calvin sees another wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and runs away.
How can Catholics claim Calvin is a wolf separating sheep from our Lord’s fold? Calvin’s Institutes are filled with theological errors, and these errors contribute to people having a false understanding of the true Church instituted by Christ. Calvin’s explanation of Christian religion, Christian faith through his eyes, is full of mistakes. Page after page is replete with immature theology. Rather than point them all out, which is not the purpose of this book, let us limit ourselves to one small chapter of his Institutes and spend simply twelve paragraphs of this book deconstructing his errors. Taking a small sample of his Institutes is representative of the whole of his work.
Calvinism is a double danger. First, because Calvin worked in isolation, largely alone, the result was he had limited communion with saints who could correct his errors. There was no process for purification of his faults and sins. Yes, the Spirit is infinite and can be almost everywhere, but the plan from ancient of days was always for the Spirit to dwell amongst God’s people. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit. As Calvin broke himself free from the household of God, he also broke himself free from people carrying the Holy Spirit. Thereafter, he was never again in a large enough communion of saints through which the Holy Spirit was able to work in relationship with others to purify his errors.
The second danger with Calvin is his false teachings. Because there was no process to help him weed out his errors, his errors became the very filter through which future Calvinists use to view God and his holy Catholic church. Calvin’s followers began to take on Calvin’s worldview, replete with Calvin’s errors, and it become the lens through which they viewed the world. This lens filters out much wisdom, even though it may have increased human knowledge about particular scriptures and verses. But, as Saint Paul notes, “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom” and elsewhere “my message and my proclamation was not with persuasive words of wisdom so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God”. Saint Paul also warns “we realize all of us have knowledge; knowledge puffs up with pride, but love builds up. If anyone supposes he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if one loves God, one is known by him”.
Again, the goal is not to identify all of Calvin’s errors or belittle Calvin, the point is to take a small sampling of his errors and identify the pattern of his errors in theology so we do not fall into them. Othello’s own words are similar, “When you shall these unlucky deeds relate, Speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice”. Christ alone judges Jean Calvin. We do not. But the Catholic church must learn from past errors, including errors of heretics, so that we can learn how Calvinism went wrong in order to help Calvinists and Christendom heal in the love and forgiveness of our heavenly Father. As the brother of our Lord says with his last written words, “My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins”.
The goal is to show through one small sample of Calvin’s writings the pattern of how a Catholic can identify Calvin’s immature understanding of Christian religion and see his subtle powers of persuasion, tempting Christians away from the only divinely revealed and universal religion. Movements based off Calvin’s theological insights can never rise above the level of a “Catholic gone bad” because they are made in the image of their founder, Jean Calvin, a Catholic who had not the grace of God to persist in divine faith. The only hope for Calvinists to progress into the fullness of truth is not to walk in fellowship with other Calvinists, but to be united in communion with the Catholic church and all her saints.
In the first book of Calvin’s Institutes (Of the Knowledge of God the Creator), the seventh chapter is titled “The Testimony of the Spirit necessary to give full authority to Scripture. The impiety of pretending that the Credibility of Scripture depends on the Judgement of the Church”. Let’s focus on the title of this chapter. The testimony of the Spirit, how does that occur? Would you think the Spirit testifies best through one person or through the whole church? Paul in his first letter to the Corinthian church focuses how we are one body, united, and that each is given gifts complementary and for the benefit of the body. In his second letter to the Corinthians, where he warns them to remain in simplicity and sincerity in their devotion to Christ, Paul says, “On the testimony of two or three witnesses a fact shall be established”. So, would the Spirit be best discerned through one person — a toe perhaps? — or through a community of people — the whole body, including the heart, mind, and soul? Jean Calvin’s position is the individual — a pinky finger perhaps — best interprets scripture. The Catholic church’s position is scripture is best interpreted through the communion of saints. Dear reader, you can decide which position is more biblical, simply read Peter and Paul in context and decide. Dear reader, you can decide which position has safeguards which best protects divine truth.
The second sentence of the chapter title shows Calvin’s pattern of disdain and arrogance for those seeking truth or that those who have questions. It’s why Nathaniel Hawthorne, the great American author and child of Puritan (Calvinist) ancestors, can describe his forefathers as having that “persecuting spirit”. Calvin says things like “The impiety of pretending …”, but why is it impious to pretend the credibility of Scripture depends on the judgement of the Church? Why is that thought disrespectful? What else would the credibility of scripture otherwise depend on? If not the church, then the judgement of those outside the church? Or if not the church, then the judgement of a single lawyer within the church? But judgement by a single person is tyranny whereas judgement by the church is the divine design.
When Paul rebukes Peter for misunderstanding the gospel and reverting to old behavioral patterns of racism and separation from Gentiles, it is a demonstration of how the communion of saints purifies each other. Peter was the first pope not for being perfect in every way, but because he followed Christ and gave himself over to be perfected, by God and God working through his household of saints. Hence, Peter can write to us in the first papal encyclical “to be wary of personal interpretation of scripture for by this many are lead astray”.
Catholics struggle to understand Calvin’s logic and find ourselves called “impious” for a lack of understanding. But the reality is Calvin’s name-calling becomes the way he can divert focus from his immature theology. This is how he propagates his biases rather than learns truth to align himself to it. Calvin puts others on the defensive with dismissive remarks about their intelligence, but could you imagine if God acted that way? It’s almost like saying, “you guys will never get it so I’ll never try to explain it”. The effect is Calvin stifles thoughts, questions, and the pursuit of truth. Would not scripture be best interpreted by many people rather than by one person? Do we not demand evidence or testimony from many sources before we seek to proclaim the true story or establish the facts? Are not ideas best communicated in many forms and shared by a community, not an individual? Please note, dear reader, at this point we have only dealt with the title of Calvin’s chapter. Let us take two sentences from this chapter to show how his sly sentences subtly institute bad Christian religion among his followers.
Skipping a few paragraphs and various errors for the sake of brevity, we come upon a phrase by Calvin, “Paul testifies that the Church is ‘built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets’ (Eph 2:20). If the doctrine of the apostles and prophets is the foundation of the Church, the former must have had its certainty before the latter began to exist”.
Do you notice Calvin’s error? It is subtle. I had to re-read this phrase many times before I spotted it. I don’t know the official term, but Winnie the Pooh calls it “the old switcheroo”. Calvin, like all great heretics, quotes scripture. But then he creates a clause which goes beyond scripture. So he says “If the doctrine of the apostles and prophets is the foundation of the church” and goes on to interpret scripture and proclaim his own theology. Did you see it? All he did was insert three simple words, “the doctrine of”. But any Catholic will tell you, and as Peter clearly teaches in the second chapter of his first encyclical (1 Peter 2), the foundation of the Church is people, not doctrines. Christ is our cornerstone, with Peter and the apostles as the foundation, and the people as “living stones who let ourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”. The foundation of the church is people, not doctrines.
But Calvin needs the church to be based on doctrines or scriptures (and not people) for his purposes — but this is bad theology to suit his own purposes and proclaim and pass along his theological errors. The church is the people of God and scripture was only written to help the church preserve and pass along traditions divinely instituted by God. So Calvin inserts “the doctrine of” and this goes to sum up, from my perspective, the root of Calvin’s errors. When convenient for his purposes, Calvin thinks and teaches the church is composed of doctrines. But if that were so, God would have given us a legal code of doctrines rather than the person of Christ. He would have given us a legal code of doctrines rather than a bible full of stories, letters, history, myths, prose, poetry, songs, biographies, novels, and more. He would have given us a legal code of doctrines rather than the people of God.
And so, when Calvin continues on his clause and says “the former (meaning doctrine) must have had its certainty before the latter (meaning the Church) began to exist”, he fails to recognize divine religion is not based on doctrine but on God, and finds its fulfillment in the person of Christ, and not a doctrine of either Calvin or the Church. When Calvin continues and writes in the same paragraph, “For if the Christian Church was founded at first on the writings of the prophets and the preaching of the apostles, that doctrine, wheresoever it may be found, was certainly ascertained and sanctioned antecedently to the Church, since, but for this, the Church herself never could have existed. Nothing therefore can be more absurd than the fiction, that the power of judging Scripture is in the Church, and that on her nod its certainty depends”. Can you spot the errors through Catholic eyes? For one, the church wasn’t founded on writings. Writings were composed by people of the Church. In fact, the Church wrote not only the new testament scriptures, but compiled the the old and new testament writings into the bible and passed it along to future generations. In fact, the Catholic Church even composes catechisms to teach true Christian religion. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is much bigger now in order to clarify and explain misunderstandings of many heretics throughout the ages. One thing Calvin failed to understand, like many religious people of Christ’s time, including the Pharisees and priests, the Church is founded on Christ, the word of God, not scriptures which reveal Christ.
And so, if we are to compare Calvin’s Institutes and the Catholic church’s Catechism (note: the Catholic Catechism is a summary of Christian principles in order to teach Catholic Christian faith), we are able to determine some highlights of how Catholics and Protestants think and work. Catholics work as one body. Our Catechism is not written by one person (like the Institutes are written by Calvin), but it is written by the whole church — modified, combined, and living. The first Catechisms appeared in the first century, and can be summarized by the Apostle’s creed (the same creed Calvin used to structure his Institutes). Future catechisms were written, compiled, and edited by a living Church, and each generation has the Catechism adapted to answer the questions of their times, which is needed as cultures evolve and new heresies take root and new questions about divine religion arise. The Catechism is written by a living Catholic church commanded by God to be “a pillar and fortress of the truth”. Calvin’s Institutes were only written during his lifetime, and still have yet to be revised and purified from their errors after nearly 500 years of publication. The Institutes of Christian Religion contain many of Calvin’s theological errors and glaring personal deficiencies, including his hatred for other Christians simply for being Catholic or not understanding his man-made teachings. Enough on the Institutes of Christian Religion, hopefully this is sufficient to show in one small way why and how Catholics view Calvinism as immature Christian theology.
Let us take a moment to dispel some common Calvinist misconceptions and popular stories. Calvinists claim their reform was necessary because, among other things, “the Catholic church kept the bible in chains, away from the people, and in Latin, which was not the language of the people”. Briefly, the bible was in chains because they were so expensive, it was a precaution to keep thieves from temptation. It was a kindness, for one, to deter thieves from stealing, and secondly, but more importantly, to preserve the bible for the people so that it could be read to all people in the liturgy of every mass. The bible was both in Latin and local languages. Calvin’s own Institutes were first written in Latin because it was the language of commerce, scholarship, and learning throughout Western Europe for over fifteen hundred years. English kids today still learn Latin in government schools because of its importance in English history and European learning. Even the great Irish writer, James Joyce, frequently slips into Latin like the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky slips into French or current American writers slip into Spanish. It’s part of the interconnection of societies. As Americans, we are often so mono-cultural, especially Protestants, that these biases against community and interaction are furthered and Catholics are slandered by these falsehoods or mono-cultural understanding of our world. The Catholic church had bibles in local languages, and the liturgy was in local languages in other countries, but Western Europe was so connected with a common language — Latin — it helped to have prayers in Latin so traveling priests could say mass throughout Europe and speak a common language. We do the same today, throughout the world English is spoken because people need a common language to communicate. Because of various factors, thanks to the British Empire and the United States of America, English has become the worldwide language to facilitate communication across cultures. Likewise, Latin was the language of Western Europe in Calvin’s time and the previous two thousand years. Hence, Calvin wrote often in Latin and published his Institutes in Latin before he reworked it into his native French.
Aside from the Institutes, how did Calvinism spread? One, by destroying art and images. The “persecuting spirit” of Calvinists which Nathaniel Hawthorne — a great American novelist of the 19th century — wrote about regarding his Calvinist ancestors is still felt today, there has never been a church building built by Calvinists which is an architectural marvel or a world heritage site. But many Catholic and Orthodox churches are. There are no great Calvinist scientists, politicians, writers, or artists. Great calvinists start man-made religions, that’s about it. There are a lot of great ex-Calvinists or men descended from Calvinists, including many founding fathers of the United States of America. When people claim our founding fathers were not Christians, often they equate Christian faith with Calvinist religion. But this is not true. Yes, they were not Calvinists although many were descended from Calvinist ancestors, but with the illogic taught by Calvinists as religion, it is hard to be a practicing Calvinist and at the same time a thinker, artist, scientist, lawyer, or politician. There are too many illogical leaps in Calvinist use of scripture, it bleeds into practice in poor logic in other endeavors. The only hope for a Calvinist to be good at their trade is to be either a Calvinist preacher (the standard is lower) or a rich man. In both scenarios, they can use their personal interpretation of scripture and their personal charm to justify their own opinions, whether about God, slavery, or anything else. But even Calvinist preachers pale in comparison to Catholic priests because while Calvinists might have knowledge and great use of rhetoric, they lack wisdom and truth.
Therefore, Calvinists misunderstand simple passages and therefore teach poorly on clear words of Christ like “Truly, truly, I say unto you, I am the bread of life. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world”. A Calvinist preacher will do grammar gymnastics to convince someone that the living bread is something other than our Savior, the true Word of God, the person of Christ. Calvinists read into scriptures while Catholics read from scriptures. And the difference in the last sentence between ‘into’ and ‘from’ is huge. It is the difference between Calvinism and Catholicism. More so, it is the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism.
The depravity of Calvinist theology is furthered because they are so adverse to stories and art and images to teach the truth about God. Notice how many Protestants protest Hollywood movies, including biblical epics, simply because it does not align perfectly with their theology? They barely protest comic book movies or comedies or pornography or action adventures, but the moment an interesting movie on Noah is made, they call for boycotts rather than create their own outstanding bible-based movies. They protest because it is easier to protest and destroy than build up. They protest simply because they cannot grasp the purpose or delivery of good stories. And in their protests, they ignore the example of our beloved Paul who wrote, “the Lord has given me to build up and not to tear down”.
Hawthorne notes the “persecuting spirit” of his ancestors meant their only preoccupation was with money and God, similar to the Pharisees of Jesus’s time. The Pharisees were a sect of Judaism focused on ritual purity and money above love and mercy. When Jesus says in the gospel of Luke “No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money”, this is in the middle of a large section where Jesus is warning his disciples against the teachings of the Pharisees, the respected religious leaders of Jesus’s time. (If so interested, read from Luke, between 9:51 through 19:27, noting sections surrounding verses like 11:37, 11:53, 12:1, 14:1, 15:1-2 and the following four parables: 16:14, 17:20-21, and 18:9-14).
The Pharisees were an uptight religious group focused on the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law. The very next line from Luke after Jesus’s quote is “The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all these things and sneered at Jesus”. Now, not all Pharisees were bad, but many had hiccups in their theology which limited the fullness of joy in communion with Christ. Hence, many Pharisees hosted dinners for Jesus and his apostles, but it was always tax collectors and sinners who rejoiced at Christ’s coming and therefore they were praised by Christ, and not the Pharisees. Jesus told Pharisees stories of audacious faith to help all of us Pharisees understand the phrase written long before Christ’s time, the prophet Hosea who told us God said “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”. God knew, in his mercy, he would provide the sacrifice. Since we are shown so great a mercy, we can be merciful. We can be thankful. We can be doers of the spirit of the law, not just the letter. Christ offers the sacrifice of himself. We offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise. And like Christ tells Peter, because of this great mercy we can forgive an infinite number of times. Letters are measurable, but the Spirit is infinite.
Oh thou Calvinist, if thou hast eyes to see, you would see Calvin was himself deceived, and may deceive thee. May thou see and perceive. May thou not be deceived. May thou find communion with the saints and with our loving Father forever be. Speak with me the ancient creed, “I believe the one, holy Catholic church” — Yes, that is the Apostle’s creed. The apostles whom Calvin used and misused, the apostles whom Calvin did not believe, the apostles whose religion Calvin chose to leave for Calvin had not the grace to believe: Christ founded one universal Church and it is holy. Calvin did not believe.
Pharisee State of Mind
Whereas Calvin was raised Catholic and fell from grace by walking away from Catholic faith, the scriptures tell a story of a Pharisee and lawyer-like man, Saint Paul — whom Calvin often quoted and regularly misunderstood — who had a profound transformation toward divine grace. Paul started by persecuting Christians, had a profound transformation when he met the persecuted Christ, and then became a persecuted Christian. Paul’s transformation from Pharisee to Christian is an amazing story told in our scriptures. The same four factors discussed about Othello as a warning to keep us from falling from grace can be inverted to help us understand how to be drawn towards divine grace. Paul is a perfect example of this inversion and journey to our Lord. Let us understand how.
Paul’s self-description to the Philippians is “If anyone else thinks he can be confident in flesh, all the more can I. Circumcised on the eighth day, of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, in observance of the law a Pharisee, in zeal I persecuted the church, in righteousness based on the law I was blameless”. Paul has the perfect pedigree for religious people. In modern day terms, Paul is the Harvard and Oxford educated lawyer who had nothing but earned success in life. And yet, the very next line Paul states, “But whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ. More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my lord”. For Paul, nothing matters outside of Christ. In Christ, he is a new creation and an ambassador of Christ in a dying world. In Christ, he is no longer a Pharisee but a follower of Jesus.
Let us be careful, being a Pharisee is a state of mind, legalism being another name for it. Remember, the scriptures are eternal, so types in scripture can be understood in context of all cultures and in all times. The Jewish religion of the time had Pharisees, but every religion has Pharisees, including the Catholic religion, only we call them something different. Today we call them legalists. The Pharisee state of mind is simply summed up as “someone who observes the letter of the law while forgetting the spirit of it”. Observing the letter of the law while forgetting the spirit of it is legalism. Jesus hilariously told us Pharisees “strain out the smallest gnat and in doing so swallow a whole camel”. The divine prophets of the Jewish faith were sent time and time again to the people to remind them of the spirit of the law, not the letter of the law. Hence one prophet says “Let justice surge like waters, and righteousness like an unfailing stream”. Another prophet says, “You have been told, O mortal, what is good and what Yahweh requires of you: Only to do justice, and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God”. While another prophet says, “Seek Yahweh, all you humble of the land, who have observed his law; seek justice, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of Yahweh’s anger.” and finally an oft-quoted prophet says “I desire mercy not sacrifice”. God cares about the spirit of the law more than the letter because the letter of the law was only given for a time to guide the people of God into his Spirit. And the spirit of the law can be summarized in a variety of ways, but the prophets all agree it consists of loving God, and this love manifests in mankind by those who do justice, love goodness, and serve others.
But the letter of the law is attractive to so many people. The letter of the law is much easier to perform than the spirit, that’s the nature of comparing the finite (the letter) with the infinite (the spirit). The letter of the law is easier because it is a checklist you can measure, and you can cross out things and feel good for tithing your earnings and observing your fasts and coming to church services. But you cannot measure things of the Spirit — things like love, mercy, grace, thanksgiving, and forgiveness are never ending. When it comes to the infinite, you can never say you’ve done your spiritual duty, instead you rely on God’s infinite mercy and grace and love to do more. The Spirit will always be poured out. Hence David while in the Spirit can sing “For as the heavens tower over the earth, so his mercy towers over those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so Yahweh has compassion on those who fear him for he knows how we are formed, remembers that we are dust”. David knows God’s infinite love will overwhelm all finite things and attempts to create mental pictures that examine God’s infinite love — mental images of a high tower or a vast distance. For God’s children, this is how far our Father will separate us from sin. If not now, surely by the end of time.
Jesus does the same as David in creating great pictures and stories to highlight divine love and forgiveness. In parables told to Pharisees, Jesus creates stories which describe instances of radical love, whether a good samaritan or the father of a prodigal son. Jesus even describes our Father searching for sinners like a widow who tears apart her house to find one missing coin or a shepherd who leaves his sheep to find the one lost one. Both come home and throw a party because they are made in the image of God who searches far and wide for sinners to love and forgive. “I tell you, in just the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need for repentance”. Yes! “There is rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents”.
Our life is not about religious perfection, it’s about coming to know our Maker. It’s a relationship with our Creator — and falling in love with him. Paul fell in love with Christ and gave his life to serve his Lord. He transformed from a Pharisee into a follower of Jesus, and rather than being zealous for the law was zealous for the love of God. And that conversion changed the world. One result of this great love of Paul for our Lord and his church is the many beautiful letters of Paul that the church faithfully preserved.
Paul was committed to tradition. He built on the Jewish faith to explain how it applies to universally to believers, Jew and Gentile alike. He was a key person in the plan of God, taking Jewish faith and making it catholic. Paul searched the ancient Jewish stories to communicate God’s truth. Paul also searched for Gentile stories and authors to communicate God’s truth. For example, Philippians includes quotes from Plato and strong allusions to Socrates. Paul was willing to become all things to all people in order to save some. He knew, in order to share the good news about Jesus, he had to learn local cultures well enough so that they would hear the good news God has for them. Paul learned people’s cultures and traditions in order to find the common grounds from which he could build on in teaching them about our great God. God himself gave us a created world to teach about himself. He also gave us human cultures — Jewish and Gentile — to have more pointers to himself. Paul understood the importance of preserving and passing along traditions. But above all, he understood the importance of teaching truth.
Hence, Paul writes to the Corinthians, “I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you” (1 Corinthians 11:2). He tells the Thessalonians, “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). More so, if we read the scriptures closely, we realize they often speak of hearing the gospel and responding as a family of God, not reading it on our own. The gospel is best shared by word of mouth, not by reading. Rare is the person who believes because they miraculously find a bible, most people are given a bible by a friend or by one as a result of hearing the good news. Hence Paul’s focus on preaching, writing was simply a part of his overall preaching ministry, and so Paul says to the Romans, “How can they believe in him of whom they have not hears? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And can people preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:14-15). Over and over, throughout scripture, we see the importance of passing along traditions. Not scriptures. Scriptures were only written to pass along the most important traditions.
The whole letter of Jude is written not to tell people about their common salvation but to contend for the faith that was “once and for all handed down to the holy ones”. Jude had the intent of writing about salvation, but found preserving tradition was more important. Oddly, Jude uses stories that cannot be found in hebrew, catholic, or protestant scriptures, relying on the book of Enoch and an apocryphal story about Moses. The letter by Jude does not fit a Protestant paradigm where sola scriptora is a doctrine of religion. So Protestants either ignore the main message of Jude and the scriptures, or are imprecise in expounding their own theological doctrines. Catholics do not have the luxury to be ignorant or imprecise when it comes to the main meaning of the scriptures. As Paul told Timothy, the church of the living God is “the pillar and foundation of truth”. Catholics are tasked with the privilege and responsibility of protecting the fullness off truth. Because Catholics understand scriptures are written to aide preserving the traditions handed down by the apostles, the letter Jude is an important part of the bible, not to be ignored but understood. Jude fits in the Catholic context and Catholic worldview. But not Calvin’s, for Calvin sought to separate himself from sacred tradition.
Paul valued tradition and understood the stories of scripture. Calvin did not value tradition and instead misunderstands and misquotes Paul. Through his Pauline misunderstanding, Calvin views the rest of scripture and creates a lens which is flawed. Calvin creates for himself a legalistic lens to view the whole of scripture and falls into the common symptoms and illnesses of all legalists, where doctrine is stressed above persons. For Pharisees, observing religious doctrine is more important than helping people. Doctrine is predictable, it has no freewill, people are complicated because they have freewill. Hence legalism relies on measurable laws rather than the infinite and immeasurable person of God. Pharisees and all types of religious legalists may gain much information about God, but little relationship. Hence the legalists of Jesus’s day, after seeing a miracle on the sabbath begin to plot his death rather than rejoice at such a great manifestation of the love of God through Jesus (Mark 3:6; or John 11 for another important example during the Maccabean festival). Rather than rejoice at healing, legalists would rather kill the healer. Jesus challenges our conception of God to the point we are willing to kill Jesus rather than repent. Jesus’s presence is such an affront to a legalist’s mind, that legalists are willing to destroy, whether a crucifix or Christ himself, legalists need to destroy images of God in order to not have to face the truth of genuine relationship with God. Let us not remain in this state of mind. Like Pharisee of Pharisees tells us, let us repent, believe, and confess “Jesus is Lord”.
Why would legalism turn to murder? How can people who worship a God who proclaims “Thou Shalt Not Kill” come to think it is okay to kill for the sake of religious ideas about God? How is it that legalism becomes so engrained in our hearts that we kill for an idea rather than die for another person? Jesus is important as a savior for many reasons, but one of the most important ideas his life communicates is that it is better to give one’s own life than take another’s life. It is better to lay down your own life rather than to kill another. It is better to be a martyr than to kill a martyr or infidel. It is better to be persecuted and die for truth rather than kill for an idea. Rejoice and be glad, for this is how the prophets of God are frequently treated. From Able east of the garden of Eden, to Zechariah in the Sanctuary, from Lincoln in the theater to Dr. King on the balcony, the prophets of God are often killed, whether in ancient or modern times, this truth remains.
Our brains are limited, and somehow legalism filters out mercy and obedience for sake of false knowledge. Our minds are peculiar and marvelously designed. We have to process so much information in performing even simple tasks, we have to filter all that knowledge and information and some how process it in order to make good decisions. For example, driving down a road, not only do you have to know how to drive a car, but your body has to perform a series of actions while your mind is attuned to the dynamic and changing environment around you. How are other drivers driving? Any dangers ahead? Where do you have to go? Our minds and bodies do this so seamlessly we often take for granted the many pieces of information that our mind has to process in order to drive. Let alone those who complicate this process of information by multi-tasking, like texting and driving or even drinking and driving. We have laws to deter poor drivers, hence minimum age requirements for driver’s licenses and other laws to encourage better and safer driving such as speed limits and sobriety levels.
Religion, likewise, has many indicators to process in relating to the invisible God. Somehow our brain has to process lots of information and recognize what is important to act on. The prophets tell us it is to do justice, love goodness, and walk humbly with our Maker — these are the fundamentals. Rabbis tell us it is to love God and love our neighbor, if we do this we will be fulfill the law because love fulfills the law. Our mind has to process everything, but in order to not become overwhelmed with information, somehow we have to filter out what is unimportant in order to see what is important.
Do you ever notice how you never noticed something before a particular instance, and then begin noticing it everywhere? For example, when deciding to buy a car, and you happen to fall in love with a particular car, and then are surprised at how much you start noticing that particular car everywhere you go? Once your mind is tuned to a particular car, it then understands what to look for in the environment. It’s not that type of car is suddenly everywhere, it’s simply that you know no how to recognize it. You recognize the car in places where before the car might have previously passed by unnoticed. It is how we are designed. It happens with any endeavor, hence Christ can say “Seek the Lord and ye shall find”. Once we start seeking him, we will begin to tune our minds to see him in our environment and we will begin to see him. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God”.
Another example is to walk in a forest with friends. Walk a forest with friends who have different hobbies and passions, for example, a hunter, bird-watcher, and botanist. See the forest through their eyes. It will be the same forest, but a very different perception of reality. The details that each friends sees will be different based on how they’ve trained their minds through their hobbies and passions. The hunter will notice particular foods, tracks, animals. The bird-watcher will notice nests and birds and particular trees frequented by specific birds. The botanist will notice the wide variety of fauna. And you, the friend of such diverse friends will learn to see a little bit through each one of their eyes. You will learn to take upon yourself their filters.
Christ understood this design of our brains, which is why he could make the promise, “seek and ye shall find”. A problem with man-made religion is we are especially vulnerable at becoming enamored with religion above the God who gives us religion. The spirit is invisible, eternal, hidden from our eyes. We need to develop eyes of faith to see God and eternity. This is difficult. To see with eyes of faith is so hard, many people prefer to rely on performing the letter of the law. It satisfies us because the letter is measurable. Who cares if you swallow a camel? You were able to strain out a gnat. There is a feeling of accomplishment in straining out gnats — not everybody can strain out gnats, it takes a certain level of expertise and knowledge. The unfortunate side is God doesn’t care about gnats as much as camels, metaphorically speaking. In straining gnats but ignoring camels we create an idol of our religion, even if it based on true religion. In stringing gangs and swallowing camels we’ve elevated the practice of religion above relationship with God. Yes, we can create idols of good things. We begin to become puffed up with our knowledge, not humbled by God’s grace. Better to look down, beat our chests, and say, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner”.
Otherwise, we begin to think ourselves special and chosen, and this arrogance actually makes us hard-hearted towards our fellow human beings in their suffering. The hard-hearted are the types of people who call for Christ to be crucified for performing miracles like raising the dead. The hard-hearted are the types of people who call for Christ to be stoned for teaching truth. The hard-hearted are the types who complain Christ heals on a Sabbath (or in modern terms, on a Sunday) because there are other days healing could be done. The hard-hearted are the types of people who call for the prophets to be killed for performing divine deeds. The hard hearted can be pharaohs or pharisees, but all need to become followers of Jesus. We must place priority on people over doctrines. Our religion doesn’t save us, Christ does.
Thankfully, Christ died so that our hearts of stone, cold and indifferent and hard to the world and other people, could transform into hearts of fire, warm with love and kindness for our fellow human beings. Christ forgives all us sinners, including the Pharisees and legalists among us. We tax collectors and sinners know we need God, there is no hope outside of divine love and mercy. The letter of the law is impossible; the spirit of the law is immeasurable. And what is impossible for man is possible for God, what is immeasurable for man is measured and known by God. For Pharisees, the hard part is, when we become good at observing the letter of the law, the temptation is to ignore the spirit of it and this is when we are found wanting. Relationship with people is hard enough, but relationship with an invisible God is so difficult that the divine Creator had to descend to his creation and his creatures. He had to end our misconceptions about him. God had to appear to us in the form of human flesh to give us the true image of himself. We needed a true image of God, not an invisible reality. We had flawed his living image so much that he mercifully sent us the true living image. Hence, Christ comes as the last man, the perfect man and true picture of God.
Thankfully, Christ appeared to Paul personally when Paul was a Pharisee, a legalist. Paul, the religious zealot, had to be re-programed. To take a computer analogy, Paul needed to upgrade his brain’s software and download a new version. Paul’s operating program for religion had to be modified, adapted, and changed. In order to do this, Christ appeared to Paul. Paul saw Christ, not because of his amazing knowledge of holy scriptures, but because Christ appeared to him and said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” At this point, Paul had only persecuted Christians not Christ, yet Christ so intimately identifies himself with his followers, that whatever is done to the least of his people is done to him. Once Paul saw the son of God, it was as if he had stared at the sun, Paul went blind. He who thought he knew so much about religion — a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee, blameless under the law, with a mind filled with the knowledge of scripture — this man found out that though he had eyes he did not see. Only when he was blind did he finally learn to see Christ. Christ reprogrammed him through a miraculous sign, and thanks to the person of Christ — and not scripture! — did Paul finally learn to see Christ in holy scripture. Was Paul’s knowledge of scripture in vain? By no means! But his Pharisee filter was flawed and he needed a knew filter as a follower of Jesus. Once his filter was changed, only then were his ideas about God purified as he came to know the person of Christ. Because he knew the person of Christ, he was able to write Catholic scriptures about Christ.
More than write church scriptures, Saint Paul becomes a great hope for all us legalists. His story humbles us. We need to realize the letter of the law is for a time while the spirit is for all time. The spirit is eternal. We must learn to see God. We must learn to see what God does. He gives us everything — the sun, moon, and stars to monitor the seasons and gives light to the earth; plants and animals to care for and give us energy for our lives; family to teach us love and service; communities to guide us in learning to do justice, love goodness, and walk with our Maker; sunshine and rain in their due times; clouds and wind as a shelter from the sun and heat; fire to warm our bones and bodies; all this God gives to the righteous and unrighteous. But more so, God gave us himself in Jesus. While we were lost in our errors, forgetting truth and wisdom, in the appointed time, Jesus came to give his life as a ransom for many. In an unfathomable mystery, a mystery that can only be understood once revealed, the good shepherd came to give his life for his sheep. He suffered that we might live. He died that he could justly forgive. He carried a cross that we might have a wedding feast. He gave all things, including his sinless flesh and covenantal blood. Christ shows us it is more blessed to give than to receive. And as Scott Hahn teaches, Jesus gave us “the new testament as a eucharistic sacrament long before we received the new testament as written documents”. And as people who live in relationship with Jesus learn to become like Christ, let us be imitators of Paul as he imitated Christ.
Oh holy Paul, e’en though thou hast killed, thou hast been forgiven and art holy thanks be to God. God’s grace was not in vain, for thou hast toiled well to proclaim Christ’s name. Thou boasts in our Lord and like Desdemona may utter amidst last breaths “I am a Christian” and “A guiltless death I die”. Thou has been washed clean. Though thy bones are at rest, thy spirit is alive. Thou hast fulfilled thy calling and faithfully proclaimed “Christ is king!”
Bread of Life Parable
Our parables about Papist Global and LifeBlood International aim to understand the role of the Catholic church and the fissures the Church experienced in the sixteenth century by using modern examples. The Church has a unique role in society, the care and nourishment of human souls. This is a difficult role, to communicate supernatural realities beyond the natural world. But Jesus himself used natural images to communicate supernatural insights, like mustard seed and leaven to describe the kingdom of heaven, and so likewise, we must attempt to describe supernatural realities using images from everyday life. For the modern man, the best option is to create various pictures that highlight some role of the church in a particular and modern context. The hope is these various pictures shed light on the Catholic church’s wholistic function for society, souls, and holiness.
Banking is a useful metaphor because banks dispense tangible materials — like monetary notes or bank receipts — which communicate a different invisible reality. For example, Ben Franklin’s image on a piece of paper officially dispensed by the U.S. Federal Government may only cost a few cents to produce, relatively without value on a material level — it’s just ink and paper — but it’s value in society is much more, it has a value of one hundred dollars, which may buy usable things like groceries, gas, or shoes. This piece of paper is guaranteed by an authority — the government of the United States of America — and this guarantee ensures the value of a one hundred dollar bill in the global marketplace is much more than the mere aggregate cost to produce that piece of paper. The U.S. government (and it’s reputation in the global marketplace) determines its value significantly beyond the value of the raw materials used in producing the hundred dollar bill.
Similarly, bread and wine offered in the Lord’s Supper through the prayers of Catholic priests and laypeople has a value much more significant than the outward appearance of bread and wine. The invisible reality is it is the flesh and blood of our Lord and Savior. Similarly, the chemical composition of our bodies, as described by scientific analysis, are relatively without value. Our human bodies are simply elements of our universe like carbon, water, hydrogen, and so on. But the invisible reality is that every human life is sacred and mankind is made in the image of God and given his holy breath in order to live.
The increased value of dollar bills, bread and wine, or human bodies fashioned from common chemicals in our universe, is thanks to governing authorities proclaiming its true value. In the case of the U.S. government, any valid bill with Ben Franklin’s image is valued as one hundred dollars. In the case of the the Church instituted by Christ, bread and wine consecrated at mass is valued as the flesh and blood of our savior, given to us on the cross at calvary and through his resurrection. In the case of our Creator, every human is valued as being made in the image of God. And so, we trust in the proclamations of governing authorities to state that mere paper and ink is worth more than a few cents, or that living flesh and blood is more than the value of the chemicals that comprise it. In each case, we trust the word of the governing authority to communicate the true value. Oscar Wilde, a marvelous catholic writer, flirted with the contrast between cost and value when he wrote, “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing”. And so a bank’s role in society can be used to highlight aspects of the church’s role.
Likewise, a hospital is a useful metaphor because of the service it provides: health and healing. A proactive person may visit hospitals periodically to check that their bodily systems are functioning and healthy in the hope of preventing sicknesses and illnesses. But the reality is, the vast majority of patients who go to hospitals do so in order to be healed of various ailments or sicknesses. But whereas a hospital often focuses on bodily sicknesses, the Church exists to focus on soul sicknesses. We all die. Whereas hospitals aim to help our earthly journeys in our bodies be as long and as healthy as humanly possible, the Church exists to help lift our bodies and souls into the heavenly reality. The earth exists in time and space and is limited and dying, but heaven is the home of God and therefore is eternal and everlasting. The church exists to help as many people enter the everlasting home of our heavenly father. For this, our souls must be forgiven and healed of the devils and dust we accumulate on our God-given souls. The earthly journey is important, hence Church has been a consistent patron of healthcare throughout its history, but the earthly journey is important inasmuch as it points us to our heavenly father and guides us into an authentic relationship with him. Better for our flesh to perish and our soul saved than for our bodies to live on denying God’s grace. Christ came for the purpose of saving sinners. And he himself used the metaphor of physicians when he said “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but the sinners”. In essence, Jesus was telling the religious people of his time, “Let’s go and save sinners! People are hurting and God can heal them”. And so, a hospital can be used as a metaphor for the church’s role in healing and saving souls, but a church is so much more.
Ultimately, these are just partial pictures of the role of the church. These parables give us just small slices of the whole story. While each metaphor is of itself inadequate, together, they do help paint a fuller picture of the Church’s purpose in society. And so we are able to use Papist Global and bank tellers to give a brief picture of Martin Luther’s impact on the Catholic church. We are also able to use LifeBlood International and the nationalization of an international hospital to give a picture of Henry VIII’s impact on the Catholic church. Let us now use a metaphor about an international restaurant chain, “Bread of Life” to understand Jean Calvin’s story and his impact on the Catholic church. Again, these stories do not tell the whole story, they simply share glimpses of what happened in a modern context. Let those with ears to hear, hear; and eyes to see, see.
Johnny Calvin grew up going to his favorite restaurant with his father. It was their Sunday morning routine, and they even went throughout the week as they felt inclined. In fact, his father knew one of the key managers of many restaurants in the large, international corporation. And so, with these connections, Johnny had a special relationship and greater insight into the inner workings of Bread of Life. As Johnny got older, this favorite restaurant of his youth began getting on his nerves. Over meals of great bread and wine, the favorite staples of Bread of Life, Johnny began to think to himself, “I can do better than this”.
Bread of Life had a rigorous process to be an employee, and even more rigorous to be a branch manager or franchise owner. Johnny didn’t want to put in the time to rise to the top. He knew this. Instead, Johnny began dreaming of the day he’d open his own restaurant. He thought he’d like to run restaurants similar to Bread of Life, but correct the many traditions he thought took away from authentic food. “Food does not need to be luxurious or rich”, he’d complain to his friends. Johnny told them, “All you need is the basics, Bread of Life is wasting valuable financial resources in all their pretty pictures, beautiful buildings, and expensive silverware. You don’t need it to serve food. Food is just sustenance, it’s just energy we need to live. It doesn’t need to be beautiful or tasty. In fact, what you really need is to read the menu, eating food is not nearly as important as reading about it”.
And so, Johnny found himself a wealthy Swiss banker willing to finance his dreams of starting his own restaurant. Rather than call it Bread of Life, they decided on Christian Fare. One of their first decisions early on was small but significant in understanding their philosophy and mindset. They hated any symbols that were not simply letters, and so no pictures or symbols, not even dollar signs ($) or numbers. They wanted to communicate their utilitarian reliance on letters as the only symbols and images they cared about. And so, $17 could be expressed in the more “pure”, as Johnny stated it, version of “Seventeen dollars”. Why use any other symbols than letters? All of it was a waste. “It was all vanity of vanities” as Johnny would say.
And so, Johnny’s restaurants began to spread. Christian Fare were very utilitarian, simple box shaped buildings. No air conditioning, no images, no pretty pictures. Nothing but words. That’s it. The menus didn’t have pictures, only words. The walls didn’t have any images other than letters, Johnny only wanted a couple of quotes from Bread of Life’s employee manuals. In fact, he stole sixty-six of their world-famous seventy-three quotes, and he chose to interpret these quotes as he desired for making his own restaurant. The decoration was the bare minimum. No motivational posters showing happy customers or workers, no company stories about history before them, nothing was allowed except the menu of sixty-six of Bread of Life’s famous seventy-three quotes. The bare necessities are all that is needed, “back to basics” as Johnny would say. And so the restaurant would have only a couple of tables, a few chairs, and just the basics. Also, Johnny was against wine, and so he only served grape juice at Christian Fare.
Christian Fare became an alternative in certain places to Bread of Life. Christian Fare was devoid of the rich beauty, the great taste, the amazing nourishment that Bread of Life provided, but many people were happy to simply enjoy reading about the basics and tasting it periodically. Their was no need for beauty or substantial nourishment. The customers of Christian Fare were satisfied with the basics and reading the menu was almost always enough. People are sometimes easily satisfied.
Johnny took a lot of ideas from Bread of Life, but stripped away everything he felt was superfluous. The result was an alternative to Bread of Life, but it was almost a stepping stone away from true nourishment. It was could never be a place of true nourishment, for so much was missing that Bread and Life had. But it seemed so many people were satisfied with the limited fair of Christian Fare that they never looked for anything better. They didn’t realize, Christian Fare only took ideas from Bread of Life, but never offered anything substantial other than a couple insights on the basics. The basics are ok, but Bread of Life was so much more rich, beautiful, and nourishing. Let those with eyes to see, see.
Ultimately, the reason we create metaphors is because they help us see things in a new perspective. Art helps lift us out of the doldrums of life in order to see life with the wonder and awe that a child sees the world. The Catholic church has been a protector of the arts because the stories of our traditions, scriptures, heroes, and saints help us see true faith and true religion. Religious stories help lift us above the tedium of religious laws and help us see the laws that supersede everything — love for God and love for one another. The Catholic church aims not at simply telling us stories about God but engaging its people in living a life consecrated to God through the sacramental life. The Catholic life is about preaching the good news of the kingdom of Christ and the forgiveness of sins in word and action.
The Catholic church is about living a life consecrated to God through the Church Christ founded. The protestant churches of the 16th century were founded by ex-catholics moving away from the true church and leaving the body of Christ to start their own man-made religions. They called this “Christian” religion and refer to it as Christianity. But what is the suffix “-ity” mean? Insanity is a temporary state of being insane. Is Christianity a temporary state of being Christian? But Christians are part of a kingdom, and that kingdom is Christendom. And Christendom has an official earthly authority, and that is the universal church in communion with the office of Peter. This authority was installed by Christ until he comes again. It is a temporary state, but this temporary state is here until the end of time. With the coming of Christ, the Jewish religion has transitioned into the Catholic (‘universal’) religion under the new covenant. The way humans relate to God is no longer limited to one tribe of this earth, but to all tribes. Religion is now universal; authentic religion is catholic. And great art helps us see what true religion, authentic relationship to God, can be. And true religion is not simply obeying man-made laws; true religion is living in the God who is love. Let us love one another.
Good image, Heaven me such usage send,
for an upstart Frenchman named Jean Calvin,
began preaching his own thoughts which were quite odd
Calvin diluted the truth about our great God
and tore Christ’s body which we must now mend
let us preach truth about the kingdom of heaven.
Art as Antidote
Art is a great antidote to cure all legalism because art assaults our senses and breaks man-made boundaries. Yes, there are rules in art, but the greatest rule of art is all rules may be surpassed for the sake of beauty. Beauty — like love — knows no bounds. And so, it is right and just that scientists create rules and laws to classify animals. For example, mammals have fur, give natural birth, and ween their young. On the other hand, birds have beaks, feathers, and their young hatch from eggs. But, when, for the sake of beauty, a duck-billed platypus appears in Australia, we simply acknowledge that for beauty God exceeds man-made rules and categories. The immeasurable God surpasses finite laws. God is an artist who will not be constrained by rules but will supersede and exceed and surpass our rules. For rules are measurable whereas the greatness of God is immeasurable. God is infinite. And so, mankind and scientists arbitrarily say “fur and weening young takes priority over beaks and hatching eggs” and classify this duck-billed creature as a mammal, rather than a bird, and move on in awe of God’s artistry. With one duck-billed creature God surpasses our man-made categories. Artistry surpasses rules, hence the only three rules that matter are love God, love your neighbor, and the golden rule, treat others how you want to be treated. It is the rule of God’s love that reigns in this world.
A common misconception is to think art as simply a medium pertaining to the fine arts like music, painting, drama, and the like. But artists exist in any and every field. Artists are simply masters of their areas of expertise. Einstein was an artist; Leonel Messi and Luis Suarez, Steph Curry and Lebron James, they are artists; renowned chefs are artists; great doctors are artists; there are artists in every field. The Catholic church has been a great patron and protector of art from its inception, especially fine art.
To protect and encourage great art is to follow the pattern of God who reveals himself in poetry and psalms, who tells stories to teach his people, who commands priests to construct tabernacles and temples for his presence, who encourages artists to make images of cherubim and a serpent on a stick to remind people of divine glory and godly healing. God even takes for himself human flesh so that humanity has the perfect and living image of God, an unfathomable artistic moment, for the artist dwelled in his living creation. And so, all these arts, all these actions, whether storytelling and music, architecture and sculpting, drama and pottery, all these forms and more are able to be used in order to communicate truth about God. Every artistic medium, every piece of art can be used to communicate some truth about God, to express some aspect of who he is.
In fact, Jesus often responded to questions about religious doctrines with stories. Rather than explain “love your neighbor” with legalistic codes, laws, and instructions, he told extravagant stories to transcend any rules about loving our neighbor. Nothing fleshes out the extent to which we are to love our neighbor like stories about Good Samaritans. Nothing communicates the extent of God’s love for people like stories about lost sheep and lost coins and prodigal sons. Nothing reminds people on the beauty of marriage like the story about the first man and woman. Stories shatter legalism.
In fact, the more numerous the stories, the more varied the art forms, and the more we know about nature, the better we can provide many insights on God. The better we provide a fuller picture of the eternal one, and how we are to relate to our Creator. We have more to draw from to teach about God. Images help our imagination.
Many great images about God help us imagine better who and how he is. Hence, a great father helps people see better our heavenly father loves his children. Likewise, a great shepherd helps people see better how our good shepherd cares for his sheep. A good samaritan helps people see the lengths people are to go to in order to love our neighbor. And so, great stories and images come to help cure ourselves from the religious sickness of legalism by giving us a clearer and better picture of our God, the one who desires mercy not sacrifice, the one who gives us stories full of ideals. Laws are only the lower levels of acceptable human behavior. Laws are meant to be transcended, surpassed, shattered in the light of the infinite. The one who gives us the person of Christ surpassed all possible rules. For the person of Christ gives us love in its fullness. Love covers all errors. In great love alone resides forgiveness.
In fact, the Catholic liturgy used images extensively — whether water, bread, wine, oil, artwork, nature, people, Jesus — all sorts of images are used to teach about God. More over, the rituals of the priest and the people help us learn about God. When we kneel, make the sign of the cross, hold the word of God in the air in honor and adoration, all these rituals help contribute to understanding how we are to love and honor and worship God. Religious laws and rituals help us honor and love God, for they contribute to the many ways God reveals himself, in nature, in Israel, in our neighbor, in the liturgy, and in Jesus — the perfect image of God.
In fact, the devil has lost the war over images, in the sense that nature and religious images have been perfected in Jesus. The devil has lost the war, but he still wages battles. The remaining battlefield is in ruining images, whether by destroying created images or killing living images. The world is at war over images. Just think what a nation’s flag or a company’s trademark means. Many people are rightly dedicated to protecting images. Images are powerful. Anybody involved with advertising understands the subtle effects of images, which is why companies guard trademarks so strongly in the Western world. Whether a bitten apple on phones, or initials like “BMW” on cars, or golden arches at a restaurant, these visuals mean something and communicate something. Images communicate meaning. The old saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words”.
The devil knows how much Christ on the cross — the crucifix — can communicate, and so he wants to destroy the crucifix. After removing as many crucifixes as possible, he will attempt to remove crosses. Iconoclast controversies arise periodically throughout history as the devil needs to destroy all good images, especially religious images, especially mankind, the living image of the true God. Iconoclasm (literally, “image breaking”) will always be used by the devil to fight the understanding of God in truth. And if the devil cannot rid the world of good images, he will flood the world with false and flawed images. He will flood the world with so many false images that people will struggle discerning good and evil.
The Catholic liturgy is a feast for the senses because it helps people perceive what is good. Every sense gifted to mankind to perceive information — taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing — is utilized in the liturgy to teach about God. Reading alone is such a small part of perception, and very weak and imprecise when compared to hearing or sight. Reading is a two-step perception, for one sees the images in the form of letters and symbols and must learn to interpret these letters and symbols to the appropriate language of sounds and understand what these combined images mean. But a picture is a one step understanding, for a picture of a tree represents a tree, but letters spelling out “tree” need to be read and understood. Hence, kids can identify pictures of trees long before they learn to read the word. There is much room for error in reading. Interestingly, dyslexic people are often very visual, yet they have trouble reading. They don’t confuse images of trees but might be confused in how letters are used to write the word “tree”. Hence, they may write “TR33” when they mean “TREE”. If reading was a condition for knowing the word of God, large groups of humanity would be excluded. For reading has only become commonplace in recent history. Sola scriptora proves difficult, the God of calvinists truly is limited. But the Catholic faith is not. We are free to communicate truth in any way that a human may understand. Hence, we become all things to all people, so that some may be saved, including the illiterate and dyslexic among us.
Hence, the Catholic liturgy includes the hearing of scripture as well as the prayers of the faithful, recitation of ancient creeds, visual cues like images, windows, statues, rituals, and also the participation in the new covenant through eating and drinking the flesh and blood of our savior. If Adam and Eve’s disobedience came through eating fruit of the tree, wouldn’t it make sense that part of the remedy and healing would come through eating the flesh of the man who hung from a tree? Everything about the liturgy — actions, visuals, sounds, bible reading and hearing, creeds, prayers, Lord’s supper, and more — is rooted in the good news of Jesus Christ and the coming kingdom of God. It is a thorough overwhelming of the senses with good and godly images. Everything about the liturgy is to teach the faithful Christian about how to relate to God. The liturgy is a fundamental bedrock in preserving Christian faith across the seas and centuries in many divinely given images.
Ultimately, we participate in the liturgy to remember and conform ourselves to the image of Jesus. He is the perfect image of his Father, who is a truly great artist. Good artists might create something out of existing materials, but God creates out of nothing. Also, God restores flawed images and makes them beautiful. God proves to be a truly great artist, not only in creating a world and creating it “very good”, but when enemies attempt to destroy what he created, our heavenly father is able to renew and restore. He began the process of renewal by calling Abraham, and he sealed the work of his restoration by sending the son of Abraham as a sacrifice for our flaws. By the wounds of God’s son, we are healed. By the work of the spirit we are restored and redeemed. What remains is to carry the good news of this redemption to the world.
And so, remember, those who look to Jesus on the cross with belief will be healed of our sins and gifted with eternal life, a much greater work than Moses lifting the serpent in the desert. While many then perished in the wilderness, we will not taste death without having seen the power and the glory of the kingdom of God. Great art helps us see God. As Catholics, the world is created to communicate truth about God. And ultimately, the great truth of Catholic faith is that Jesus went to the cross to complete the work of forgiving sins. As Paul wrote, “He brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross; despoiling the principalities and the powers, he made a public spectacle of them, leading them away in triumph by it”.
Let us carry our cross and follow Christ. Let us not destroy the crucifix. These images are not to be worshipped. But these images do communicate truth. One image evokes much more than a thousand words. And images may aide in worship. But it is God alone who is worshiped, not living or dead images of God. Crucifixes are nothing more than an aide for remembrance. Let us remember, God has wounds and by them we are healed.
Good image, Heaven me such usage send,
not to pick from bad but by bad mend
Oh tell what God has done to restore men
through the flesh of the one from heaven.
Authority to Forgive Sin
God is holy. He, as creator of the world, is perfect; his will is perfect. And any of us who deviate from his will, we fall into imperfection. The ancient name for this fall is sin. Since the fall, God has promised to deal with sin and its effects, the most important of which is death. To bring about this process of restoration, God has made outlandish promises to certain people for the benefit of all mankind, and kept these promises! God called Abraham and promised him a land flowing with milk and honey and descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky. To Judah, one of Abraham’s great grandsons, he promised his descendants an everlasting kingdom. To David, a descendent of Judah, he gave the kingdom of Israel and promised him a son who would build his temple and reign forever. David had many sons, but only two direct sons reigned as king of Israel, though neither reigned forever. One, Absalom, took the kingdom in a coup and died hanging from a tree with a spear thrust in his side. The other, Solomon, was given the kingship as desired by David and built the temple and reigned at the height of Israel’s prosperity. Let us not mention the meaning of the names of the sons of David, the fact that ‘the father of peace’ dies hanging on a tree while the son named ‘peace’ builds the temple. Let us simply not that after Solomon’s death the kingdom was split in two and only the kings of the Southern Kingdom of Israel, where the temple was located, were sons of David (in the Jewish mindset, all descendants may be referred to as sons, even if they are further down the family line). Why was the temple so important for the ancient Jews?
Because it was the place of God’s holy presence on this earth. God cannot dwell where there is sin. And so, he either has to preserve his people from sin, which is virtually impossible. Or, he has to purify them of sin. And this is done through blood sacrifice. Blood purifies. As the bible says, “the life of the flesh is in the blood”. So, the ancient Israelites were not allowed to consume blood. They sacrificed animals and used the blood to cover themselves to atone for sins. Their journey from slavery to nationhood started by covering the blood of the passover lamb on their doors so that the angel of death would “pass over” their families. Before they took the promised land as their own, God had instituted a system of sacrifices and festivals so that they could remain “holy” before their Lord as they dwelled in the promised land. Every year they were to celebrate the “Day of Atonement”, where the high priest was to sacrifice on behalf of himself and the nation to purge “all of the Israelite’s impurities and trespasses, including all their sins” so that God could dwell with his people. As Leviticus states, “Thus he shall purify it and sanctify it from the impurities of the Israelites…This atonement is to be made by the priest who has been anointed and ordained to the priesthood in succession to his father”.
The ancient Jewish faith centered on God’s promises, chief among them dealing with sin and death. The forgiveness of sins is a vital part of relationship with God because it allows God to dwell with his people. God is holy, he cannot descend into our sin but must lift us out of it. Jesus, like prophets before him, went around proclaiming “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand”. That’s what Matthew writes for us. Mark says, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel”. The forgiveness of sins plays an important role in establishing God’s kingdom and is key to communicating the basics of the gospel. John the Baptist himself pointed at Jesus and said, “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”.
As Jesus walked this world, he did a peculiar thing. He went around and forgave sin. But who is Jesus, a man, think he is to go around forgiving sin? Like the Pharisees noted, “who can forgive sin but God alone”? Ultimately, even when we sin against each other we still sin against God. Hence David can steal another man’s wife, commit adultery, and kill the true husband, and still claim “against you and you alone, O Yahweh, have I sinned”. Even when we sin against creatures, the greater sin is against the Creator of those creatures.
More so, the Jews were given an ancient law, the books of Moses, and in this law were written the processes to forgiven sin. Who is Jesus to go around forgiving sin directly rather than through the temple sacrificial system as commanded in the law of Moses? Ultimately, when we sin it is because we fall out of God’s will, so only God can forgive sin, not men. But this is part of the trinitarian mystery that made sense to the apostles only after the resurrection. At the time though, Jesus understood this profound question on the hearts and minds of people and addresses it by healing the paralytic. As he heals the lame man, he addresses their doubts, “Which is easier to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth”, and at this moment he looked to the paralytic and said, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat and go home”. When the paralytic was healed and walked home, the people began to realize forgiveness of sins was coming to them. Jesus has that authority to forgive sins. He proved it through signs and wonders. This is part of the trinitarian mystery, that Jesus is not simply the son of Man but also the son of God. He does have authority to forgive sins and does so.
The good news is that our sins are forgiven through the work of Christ crucified and resurrected. The good news is not, as Calvinists often teach, the system of doctrines called “Tulip” which stands for “Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints”, also known as “once saved always saved” — the core tenants of Calvinist faith. This “Tulip” doctrine of Calvinists is not good news, it’s false teaching. It’s rooted in truth in the sense that they speak of God and Jesus Christ, but they make many errors. Their errors can be purified only by walking in closer communion with the office of Peter, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. The apostolic churches are unique in that they are the only churches founded by God himself. They have the authority to forgive sin through a valid priesthood (the priests make the people holy before God according to God’s process of making people holy). Jesus transferred his authority to forgive sins to the apostles, who then transferred this authority to bishops who ordain priests. This succession of transferring authority and sending out people to forgiven sins in the name of God has occurred for roughly two thousand years.
The Catholic church was founded by Jesus and built on the foundation of eye witnesses to the glory of God in Christ Jesus. Jesus himself sent his apostles throughout the world telling them “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age”. Those words were written for the church and by the church to communicate to the church the mandate given to us, almost like a modern day employee handbook. And, you can find another company’s employee handbook, and read it, but that doesn’t make you an employee of that company. It just makes you someone who can read a handbook.
The Catholic church is built on Jewish men teaching the whole world what’s important for the universal (that is, catholic) faith. As Peter, our first pope, writes, “we did not follow clearly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitness of his majesty”. The apostles were eye witnesses of our Lord and Savior. Again, the Catholic church was founded in order to take a tribal (that is, Jewish) religion and make it universal (that is, Catholic).
And so, the Catholic church has processes in place to forgive sins. So, when a Catholic is baptized, they are forgiven their sin nature in order to become children of God through grace. Just like Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day, long before he had knowledge to express his belief in God, Catholics likewise baptize children. For Catholics who are baptized, all they need to do to be forgiven of their sins is “repent, believe, and confess”. James, a scripture writer, told us, “confess your sins to one another, the prayer of a righteous man is effective”. The Catholic church, in order to obey the word of Christ, our founder, has processes to forgive sins through baptism and confession.
Now, the protestant churches do not have this direct authority to forgive sins. Calvin was not sent out by the church. He took church scriptures and appointed himself pastor and writer. Calvin, along with Martin Luther, King Henry VIII and other Protestants are men who create their own man-made religions using many catholic scriptures. Each was the founder of a religion. Calvin is a lawyer, raised Catholic, who did not appreciate nor understand his own Catholic faith and attempted to create his own religion based of various catholic scriptures. With Calvin, you have an ex-Catholic trying to teach the world “Christian” religion. But Calvin’s “Christian” religion is a man-made religion whereas the Catholic church is a divinely instituted gifted. Calvinists follow a tradition started by a man leaving the Church founded by Christ. Why not be a part of the Church founded by Christ? One reason, its easier to become a Calvinist than to become a saint. It’s easier to learn a man-made religion than maintain communion with the saints — relationships with laws are easier than relationships with people. Laws don’t have freewill, people do. So it’s easier to learn a man-made religion rather than divine obedience. It’s easier to follow a man-made religion than have divine faith. It’s easier to follow the laws of men rather than the Spirit of God.
Just because the oldest protestant religions on this earth were all started by ex-catholics does not mean that they have valid authority to forgive sins. Just becomes someone finds a police badge does not make them a police officer. Just because a Chinaman can print out a few american documents like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and Paine’s Common Sense among other american writings, does not mean he can demand his government to respect American ideals and American rights. Now, God is much more merciful than the police force and Chinese government. But let us not presume on his mercy, for he has also established ancient processes for making his people holy through the forgiveness of sins.
A Protestant might say, “Yes, our sins were forgiven by the sacrifice of Christ at Calvary”. Yes, that is true. But there are processes for communicating that forgiveness given by Christ to his people. One is through the sacrament of baptism. The other is the sacrament of confession. Baptism, like the old testament circumcision identifies us as entering into the family of God. But even when the Jews were “baptized into Moses” as they crossed the Red Sea — after their firstborns were freed from the angel of death by the blood of the lamb and before their families found the fullness of freedom as a nation under God — this covenantal family under the promises of God was still given a system of laws which required daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly offerings and sacrifices to keep them holy. And yes, the blood of animals could never satisfy like Christ’s blood. But, does it make sense that these profoundly Jewish apostles would go around the world and simply give people scriptures and say “once saved always saved”? Or, would they attempt to make the tribes of the world holy before God in the new covenant building off the jewish faith revealed under the new covenant? The new testament was a sacrament long before it became a document.
Let’s consider this, what makes more sense? That Jewish men would take their religious faith to the ends of the earth for all tribes and tongues and completely rid themselves of everything — the altars, the tabernacles, the temple, offerings, sacrifices, feasts, pilgrimages, reading of scriptures and hearing of the word of God, exhortations by prophets and priests, love of family and community and simply preach from a bare pulpit under dim lights personal opinions like Protestants do when they say things like “once saved always saved” or “irresistible grace”. If God’s grace was irresistible, why does evil abound? Calvinists distort God into a moral monster who condemns people to hell which is a very resistible grace. The tenants of calvinism does not make sense on a biblical or logical level. And it helps that they remove whole books from the bible because those books have long sections on the freewill of men that they can conveniently ignore. Books Christ quoted from no less! But Catholics can acknowledge both the sovereignty of God (like Calvinists) and the freewill of men (unlike Calvinists). Hell is the final answer to purge the new world of sin, not by God’s will for scriptures are clear, God desires for all men to be saved, but as a last resort because he has promised his children that sin will be dealt with forever. He gives us what we desire. If we desire to live without sin, he gives us baptism and confession as promises and processes to deal with sin until the end of time when it is permanently cast from the presence of the children of God. For those people who desire life without God, the giver of every good and perfect gift, at the end of time he gives them what they desire — and that is hell.
Or, would Jewish apostles understand Christ as a fulfillment of their wonderfully and divinely instituted religion — with all its stories, types, scriptures, traditions, pilgrimages, feasts, and history — updated in the context of a universal faith once and for all handed down to God’s holy ones through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the one whom all of Jewish history and world history longed for and eagerly awaited to come? Jude, one of the apostles, the brother of our Lord, did write “Beloved, although I was making every effort to write to you about our common salvation, I now feel a need to write to encourage you to contend for the faith that was once for all handed down to the holy ones”. The moment a calvinist takes an honest look at Christian history, taking in multiple sides of the story, not just Protestant propaganda sponsored by the English state, they will find themselves with clear evidence that the church is catholic from the beginning. As Cardinal Newman said, “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant”.
Furthermore, let us consider the prophet Jeremiah who wrote wonderfully of the new covenant hundreds of years before it was enacted. In the central section of his book of oracles, Jeremiah prophecies, “The day are coming when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days, at that time, I will make a just shoot spring up for David; he shall do what is right and just in the land. In those days Judah shall be saved and Jerusalem shall dwell safely; this is the name they shall call her: “Yahweh our justice”. For thus says Yahweh: David shall never lack a successor on the throne of the house of Israel, nor shall the priests of Levi ever be lacking before me, to sacrifice burnt offerings, to burn cereal offerings, and to make sacrifices”. A king and priests will exist in the new covenant. Under the new covenant, the people of God will have a king to rule and priests attached (‘Levi’ in Hebrew) to offer sacrifices.
Since the world tells time by the life of the king of the Jews, we understand Zion’s God, Jesus, reigns. But since the destruction of the temple in the first century, the Jewish religion transformed into rabbinical religion and Catholic religion. Rabbis do not have a theology of the temple being the body of Christ like Catholics do, hence rabbis teach but do not offer sacrifices like priests do. Rabbinical Jews do not offer sacrifices in accord to the old testament. Rabbis attempting to live under the old covenant do not find it possible to offer sacrifices as the old covenant dictates under the law of Moses. Catholics on the other hand, understand the old testament was simply pointing forward to the new covenant spoken of by the prophets, including Jeremiah. Hence, catholics have a priesthood that offers sacrifices daily, hence the Lord’s prayer “give us this our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Daily bread and forgiveness of trespasses are fundamental points to our daily prayer taught to us by Jesus, in addition to his kingdom come. But what about Protestants?
This is an important issue. Protestants do not have a valid priesthood. Protestants have either (1) an illegitimate priesthood of self-proclaimed and self-appointed priests (like the Anglicans and Episcopalians) or (2) they have pastors, reverends, and presbyters which govern their communities (like Presbyterians and Baptists). But Protestants do not offer sacrifice. They are unable to live fully in the new covenant. In order to do so, they must come into communion with an apostolic church with a valid priesthood. For a people so focused on scripture, as Protestants claim to be, they have lots of explaining to do. Jeremiah spoke clearly, there would be a king to rule and priests to minister the sacrifices. And when David prophesies about what Yahweh said to his lord, he wrote, “Yahweh has sworn and will not waver: You are a priest forever in the manner of Melchizedek”. What did Melchizedek offer? Bread and wine.
The Catholic church is the universal fulfillment of Jewish faith under the new covenant. On the other hand, protestant churches are a reversion from true universal faith. Protestants are simply a people of the book, like Muslims. On the other hand, Catholics are a people of the word of God. To echo a point made by Chesterton, I can understand that someone would look at magnificent cathedrals, religious images and statues, great processions with incense and songs, priests with robes and gold silverware, tabernacles and incense, water and oil, bread and wine, scrolls, parchments, and books, people singing and hearing attentively to the words of a book, and say “This is all baloney. What a waste of time”. I can understand people looking these rich traditions and claiming, “You fools. Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. I can see why someone would look at all the people crossing themselves, kneeling in worship, standing in victory, sitting in contemplation, worshiping a savior present in the form of bread and wine, lifted up in adoration by a priest with a crucifix in the background, in buildings with stain-glass windows telling stories in image and light, with painted pictures and ornate statues, and scrolls with ancient words, and simply say “You fools, eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die”. I can understand how someone would look at all this and say, “I prefer to enjoy my revelry and woman and care not for all this god baloney”. What I really struggle to understand is that someone would say, “That is all bullshit. All of it. Hold on a second…all of it except those words on scrolls. Give me those words. I can make something out of the words on parchment. The rest of it is baloney but there’s something to the words. Let me worship letters on parchment! That alone has the hint of something divine”.
The simplest way, that I’m aware of, to understand the differences between people of the bible (Protestants) and people of the Word made flesh (Catholics) is to look at the relationship between Tradition and Scripture in their respective communities. Protestant communities start with Catholic scriptures to create their traditions. The Catholic church, on the other hand, wrote and compiled the church scriptures in order to preserve the traditions given by God through his people, the ancient Israelites, and ultimately through his son, Jesus Christ. So, the Catholic church, as we’ve said, is built on the word of God as the cornerstone with a foundation of the twelve Jewish apostles in order to teach the world about our Savior. Hence, it is a universal (that is, ‘Catholic’) faith. Protestant communities are created by men, hence, Protestant religions are often called by names derivative of either the name of their founder, their country of origin, or their founding principles and beliefs. So Protestant movements became known as Lutheran (Martin Luther), Anglican (Church of England under English monarchs), Calvinist (Jean Calvin), Puritan (attempting to purify Christian religion), Presbyterian (congregations grouped under and run by presbyters), Baptist (a non-traditional focus on baptism), Methodist (how to study scripture), and so forth. Modern-day versions of Protestant congregations have names like Village Church or Mars Hill or Redeemer or Christ Fellowship. All these movements are known by a lose affiliation of Protestant groups, and are known according to their different denominations (denomination means ‘of a name’). You will not be better than the image of the founder of your church? Do you want your founder to be Jesus Christ (the Catholic church) or other men (Protestant organizations)?
And now, today, in the early 21st century, there are over thirty thousand Protestant denominations which totals nearly a billion people. On the other hand, there is one, holy, Catholic church which totals over a billion people. The difference is, when you start with scripture to create your own traditions, personal interpretations abound. But when you start with a divinely revealed teaching given to people through Jesus Christ, you have a community of followers in one universal Church entrusted to preserve the fullness of divinely revealed truth. In order to preserve tradition, they may write church scriptures to preserve the most important traditions, but there is a reliance on much more than scripture. The result is you have the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
Ultimately, it is only the apostolic churches (whether Catholic or Orthodox) that have authority to forgive sins, for you require a valid priesthood, in order to sacrifice to God and to make people right in relationship with God. Now, God can work outside the system he creates, but that is out of his abundant grace and mercy, but let us be like Paul and in communion with the office of Peter and sent out by the church of God.
God can save outside of the normal means, the example of Paul is just that. Christ appeared directly. But, even Paul with his mystical experience of seeing the risen Christ directly, still went to find communion with the office of Peter and the bishop of Jerusalem, James the brother of our Lord. Paul was obedient to the Holy Spirit working through his church, whether in Jerusalem, Antioch, or Rome. Apollos is another example, Priscilla and Aquila recognized he knew only the baptism of John and went to instruct him more thoroughly in the baptism of the spirit.
Nowadays, with Protestant religions abounding, Catholics rejoice that the name of Jesus is proclaimed. Our role is simply to instruct our Protestant brothers more thoroughly in the family of God and in our Christ’s kingdom. Let us be faithful in engaging our Protestant brothers and instruct them more thoroughly in the beauty of Jesus Christ through the Catholic church, focusing on the eucharist, the liturgy, the fullness of divine truth, the origins of the church scriptures, the purity of catholic teaching and the biblical basis, and ultimately the importance of apostolic succession in defending the faith and forgiving sin. Let us teach our Protestant brothers and sisters history, and not simply the history told by Protestant propaganda sponsored by State churches antagonistic towards Catholic faith, but a balanced and true understanding of history. As the holy scriptures say, “Before investigating, do not find fault; examine first, then criticize”.
God is merciful. But we cannot align his mercy to our misunderstandings. Instead, we need to align ourselves to his mercy. He’s given the apostles the authority to forgive sins, let us not separate ourselves from the apostolic tradition. God is merciful, but it does not mean we should presume his mercy. We should follow the example of Paul, who given a great mystical experience encountering Christ still found the need to come into communion with the office of Peter.
God gave the authority to Jesus who proved it through signs and wonders…Christ transferred the authority to his apostles who likewise proved it through signs and wonders, to show that it was not Christ alone but also his apostles who had this authority. And so, when the apostles transfer the authority to the succeeding bishops, …we have apostolic succession.
Ultimately, the protestants do not have the ability to forgive sins. So instead, many protestant churches condone extreme sins that are unbiblical (like not taking a stand against abortion, for even in extreme cases of rape, is it right to kill a child for the sins of their father? As Americans like to say, “Two wrongs do not make a right”) or become legalistic to the point that they forbid simple pleasures like drinking and dancing (which are profoundly biblical). It’s only the Catholic church that walks the narrow way, taking clear stands in honoring all life as sacred while still enjoying life and all its gifts like drinking wine in gratitude to our Creator who turns water into wine at wedding feasts so that the party could go on and wine into his blood so that we could drink of eternal life.
Let us not condone sin. But let us recognize, if Noah got drunk after coming off the ark, we too will make mistakes. We need to have a process to ask for and receive God’s forgiveness. God is merciful, but let us not presume his mercy. Let us ask forgiveness directly. Be baptized or go to confession.
Perplexed in the extreme. Of one whose hand,
Like the base Jean Calvin, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe. Of one with sad eyes,
Without forgiveness to rest in but presumption
That he was chosen to rip Christ’s body
And let the children of God wallow in our sins.
True, Calvin must teach atonement is limited,
For he knows not divine grace in the sacraments.
Oh God, restore the church and grant us confession
Restore sacraments to teach us we’re forgiven.
Thankfully, Christendom is the body of Christ and this body is not limited to one particular church. Christendom is bigger than one church. Like the Ancient Kingdom of Israel, it was under divine providence for the Northern Kingdom to separate from the Southern Kingdom. Yet, even though there was a separation, God still loved both kingdoms. God still guided the Northern Kingdom even though the temple and the fullness of the promises remained in the Southern Kingdom. For a time, God continued to raise up great prophets like Elijah and Elisha who were dedicated to preaching truth to the Northern Kingdom.
As American Catholics, we too can celebrate and honor both our protestant heritage as a nation as well as being a part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church founded by Jesus. We have a higher calling as Catholic Christians to preserve the fullness of divinely revealed truth. And even though the world has suffered greatly due to the heresy of Protestantism, God has still remained lord of lords and king of the universe. Protestantism as a heresy, a man-made religion which picks and choses what it believes of divine religion, forces the Catholic church to specify and declare important theological doctrines for all Christians.
One small example is the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is a profoundly Christological teaching rooted in the deep understanding of God and the ancient Jewish religion that the Catholic faith is built upon. If Mary is with sin then Jesus is simply human, not divine. The old testament scriptures are clear, “the Holy Spirit does not dwell in a body under debt of sin”. This means Mary had to be either preserved from sin or purified from sin for the God-child to dwell in her womb. But not even the blood of millions of animals will adequately purify human flesh from sin. Hence, the mother of our Lord must be miraculously preserved from sin like Eve before the fall. Hence, the importance of the angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary, “Hail, full of grace”. It was a proclamation, it was a statement of who she is in God’s eyes. She that is full of grace is without sin. Mary is preserved from sin as an act of God’s grace in preparing the dwelling place for the son of God, whose blood would purify our human bodies as a suitable dwelling place for God’s holy Spirit. We too one day hope to be like Mary, so full of God’s grace that we are without sin. Truly, let us “Behold our Mother” as Christ tells his beloved disciples, for we are to be like her in sharing Christ with the world. Some might ask, why from conception? Because humans can dwell in sinful flesh, but not God. So, Mary could dwell sinless in her mother’s womb even if her mother had sin. But Mary must be pure from conception for Jesus to dwell in her. Plus, practically, if you could preserve your mother from sin, wouldn’t you? I would. I might not have the power to preserve my mother but I believe the Eternal One does have that power.
But the day is coming for Christendom to unite once again. Our savior said “love your enemy”, are we not also mandated to love our brothers and friends, irrespective of their religion? And as American Catholics, we have particular reasons to honor our nation as well as uphold our Catholic traditions and teach our separated brothers the fullness of divine truth. For our nation’s history has the example of many great Protestant Christians who we unite in honoring. Let us not forget that our nation celebrates the publicly the birthdays of only four men, two presidents and two kings. President’s day in February honors President Washington — our great revolutionary general and freedom fighter — as well as President Lincoln — our great Civil War leader and slave liberator. We also celebrate Dr. King’s birthday in January for his prophetic role in urging our country to remove unjust laws and truly live up to the spirit of our professed beliefs that “all men are created equal, endowed with our Creator with inalienable rights, among these the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Lastly, in December, we celebrate the birthday of the king of Kings, Jesus of Nazareth. Let us not forget our traditions.
Our own Father Abraham, a storytelling lawyer, is particularly important for us to honor. He was president over a multitude of nations, for the Southern States did form their own confederacy. But more than that, he was our New Moses, a slave liberator who helped warring brothers heal together as a nation.
As American Catholics, we must honor that it was Lincoln’s reading of the Protestant bible filled with many Catholic scriptures and the attendance of a Presbyterian (calvinistic) church which helped give him the wisdom and insight on the divine will to eradicate slavery in our land. But unlike Calvin, Lincoln was lawyer who used good logic. His legal mind was greatly enhanced by his artistic side, including his poetic verse and great appreciation for the art of storytelling. He was both a lawyer and a storyteller.
With the rise of Protestantism and the settling of the new world, the evil of slavery previously eradicated in Catholic Europe rose again in Christ-proclaiming nations. During Lincoln’s time, many books were being published about the “economic benefits of the system of slavery” and the like. These books expounded the darwinian thoughts on the evolution of the species and the natural rights of man to enslave one another for each other’s good. Even self-proclaimed Christians were arguing for the moral benefits of slavery conveniently forgetting the only reason they had the scriptures in the first place which they used to justify slavery was because God decided to free a bunch of slaves and turn them into a nation. It’s very out of context to use the writings of the God who frees slaves as justification for men keeping slaves.
Lincoln saw through these false arguments because of his reliance on objective truth (divine will as revealed through scripture), his understanding of American ideals (our declaration of independence), and also his great abilities to tell stories (he’d share anecdotes). Through these three foundations, Lincoln took a strong stand against the illogic of the pro-slavery arguments regarding the benefits of slavery.
The scripture he often used was a “house divided cannot stand”. He understood Christ’s words about the kingdom of heaven to contain an applicable moral truth for our nation. The nation cannot be divided on the issue of slavery. The nation either needs to accept slavery in whole or rid ourselves of this awful scourge on the soul of our society. Lincoln was dedicated to eradicating slavery and thus guided the nation through a civil war in order to free all slaves. Any who disagree on this statement would be wise to review Lincoln’s own second inaugural address at the conclusion of the war. In this important speech Lincoln highlights the central importance of slavery in the Civil War between the northern and southern states.
The Declaration of Independence stated “all men are created equal endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights, among these the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Lincoln realized the objective truth that in God’s eyes we have equal rights, we are all made in the image of our Maker. The distinction between black and white was simply an arbitrary and man-made line. Our tribal heritage creating all shades of people, from the almost translucent shade of snow white Northern Europeans to the dark shades of black as night skin of certain Africans, Indians, and Papua New Guineans was simply the diversity of a great Creator who is not content in creating all men as identical and matching twins of each other. Skin color is simply be a happenstance of our heritage, not a determining factor of our station in life.
The practical anecdote Lincoln used was to remind people that irregardless of all these great books and publications justifying the benefits of slavery, the fact remained that not one of the authors ever volunteered to be a slave. In fact, the opposite was true. Many slaves were escaping slavery in order to try and find freedom as free men. More so, the great african-american heritage was filled with songs remembering Moses, the great slave liberator. This one piece of practical evidence was of great use to convince fellow Americans that the arguments for slavery were devoid of practical realities, men do not want to be slaves but free. Who cares if the world continues to publish books and make arguments to enslave others? People yearn to be free, not slaves.
Ultimately, Lincoln was not only a new Moses, but also an image of Christ. Lincoln himself was sacrificed on Good Friday, like our true passover lamb, as the final atonement for the sin of slavery which arose in our nation. Let those with eyes to see, see. At the end of the Civil War, Lincoln addressed the nation saying, “Yet, if God wills that every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’” As Americans — whether Protestant, Catholic, Atheist, Agnostic, Deist, Muslim, or Jew, whether black or white or every shade in between — we are all sons of our Father Abraham. Let us live like he encouraged us, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations”.
’Twill out, ‘twill out. I peace?
No, I will speak as liberal as the north.
Let heaven and men and devils, let them all,
All, all, cry shame against me, yet I’ll speak.
Know first of all, Peter our first pope said
That “There is no prophecy of scripture
That is a matter of personal interpretation,
For no prophecy ever came through human will;
But rather human beings moved by the holy Spirit
Spoke under the influence of God”.
Know second of all, Peter in his last letter
Gave a warning about misinterpreting Paul,
“Our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom
given to him, also wrote to you, speaking of these things
as he does in all his letters. In them there are some things
hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable
distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures.
Therefore beloved, since you are forewarned,
be on your guard not to be led into the error of the unprincipled
and to fall from your own stability. But grow in grace
and in the knowledge of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.
To him be glory now and to the day of eternity. Amen”.
Hear this, all you peoples!
Give ear, all who inhabit the world,
You of lowly birth or high estate,
Rich and poor together.
My mouth shall speak words of wisdom,
My heart shall offer insights.
I will turn my ear to a riddle,
I expound my question on a lyre.
Why should I fear in evil days,
With the iniquity of my assailants surrounding me,
Of those who trust in their wealth and wisdom
And boast of their abundant riches and man’s doctrines?
No one can ransom even a brother,
Or pay to God his own ransom.
The redemption of his soul is costly,
And he will pass away forever.
Will he live on forever, then,
And never see the Pit of Corruption?
Indeed, he will see that the wise die,
And the fool will perish together with the senseless,
And they leave their wealth to others.
Their tombs are their homes forever,
Their dwellings through all generations,
“They named Christians and religions after themselves”
But man does not abide in splendor.
He is like the beasts — they perish.
This is the way of those who trust in themselves,
And the end of those who take pleasure in their own thoughts.
Like a herd of sheep they will be put into Sheol,
And Death will shepherd them.
Straight to the grave they descend,
Where their form will waste away,
Sheol will be there place and palace.
But God will redeem my life,
Will take me from the hand of Sheol.
Do not fear when a man becomes rich,
When the wealth of his house or church grows great.
At his death he will not take along anything,
His glory will not go down after him.
During his life his soul uttered blessings;
“They will praise you for you do well for yourself;
They will praise you for you have Christian Institutes.”
But he will join the company of his fathers,
Never again to see the light,
Except in some by gone memory of an old heresy.
In his prime, man does not understand.
He is like the beasts — they perish.