Monday, May 29, 2017

Answering a Common Argument Against "Theotokos"

Theotokos of Vladimir Icon
The assertion of the Marian title "Theotokos" or "Mother of God" is established on the following grounds:
  1. Jesus Christ is God
  2. Mary is the mother of Jesus Christ
  3. Ergo, Mary is the Mother of God
This is the historic understanding of the Christian faith; it is inferred from the teaching of Scripture (cf. Is 7:14; Lk. 1:43), and the title's usage is well-established in the Church Fathers (Athanasius, Ephraim, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory Nazianzen, Ambrose, Jerome, Epiphanius)

There are some who nevertheless oppose this assertion, even should they acknowledge its truth, replying that it the assertion is, at least, misleading, if not actually erroneous. They demonstrate the basis for their rejection of the term by offering the following syllogism which intends to employ the reductio ad absurdum, the syllogism being so obviously false in its conclusion that it demonstrates the beginning premise must be false.
  1. Mary is the Mother of God
  2. God is a Trinity
  3. Therefore, Mary is Mother of the Trinity
The argument based upon this syllogism is itself fallacious, on account of its presuppositions being removed from the context of the Christian Faith. It makes an erroneous assessment of the word "God", one that is too limited and too narrow.

It is important to remember what exactly the doctrine of the MOST HOLY TRINITY is. Each person of the MOST HOLY TRINITY are fully God. The Three Persons do not each constitute 1/3 of God -- rather, each Person is wholly, 100% God. (To believe otherwise is to adhere to the heresy of Partialism.) The title "God" can refer not only to the Godhead in its Three Persons, but can apply to any of Its individual Persons as well. The Father is Divinity in its fullness; the Son is Divinity in its fullness; the Spirit is Divinity in its fullness.

The Blessed Virgin Mary gave birth only one of the Divine Persons, yet that Person was and is "the fullness of deity dwelling in bodily form." (cf. Colossians 2:9) The Person whom Mary birthed was not merely partly God, or part of God, but was wholly God. The error in this counter-syllogism is its presupposition that the term "God" is exclusively applied to the Triune Godhead, and not also to any of the individual Persons which compose it.

Neither can, if one holds to proper Trinitarian theology, this doctrine be misunderstood as Jesus also being the other members of the Holy Trinity as well (for this is the heresy of Modalism.) Mary was but the human mother to the Second Person of the Trinity made Incarnate, the Word made flesh, as it was only this Person of the Godhead who became man. The same cannot be said for God the Father or God the Holy Spirit. The term "Mother of God" is but reference to the Incarnate Christ, and neither of the other two Members of the MOST HOLY TRINITY.

All in all, in order for any objection to the Marian title "Mother of God" to be a valid criticism, it must either assume or prove that he who uses the title and professes it to be true has a heretical understanding of the person of Christ or of the Holy Trimity. Ergo, let no Christian be criticized for using the title, because if they understand it in a way which contradicts proper Christology or Trinitarian theology, they don't qualify as an orthodox Christian to begin with. Far from being unorthodox or heretical, the validity of this title, Theotokos, is actually demanded on the grounds of proper Christology.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Ancient Christian Thought on Mary's Spiritual Motherhood

Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
John 19:27
Contrary to certain assertions, there was in fact an understanding in the early Church of Mary being a spiritual mother to Christians, albeit, they do not convey the full blossoming of Marian devotion as we have it today. What they do convey, however, is the idea that Mary, by virtue of having birthed the Redeemer, has by extension, also birthed all the redeemed.

For the most part, it is conveyed in a formal, theological sense, and not in the personal, devotional sense of "Mama Mary." But this is somewhat expected: the earliest writings of the Church are almost all focused either on apologetics against heresy and paganism, or on church discipline. Theology for theology's sake was not the standard for most of the ancient saints, and any purely sentimental expression of devotion was all the more infrequent. So the fact that this concept of the Blessed Virgin being a universal mother to the members of Christ's body is present at all is noteworthy, and in my mind, can be argued to supply enough substance for adequate development of later ages.



Second Century:
Again, there are those who say, He is a man, and who shall know him? and, I came unto the prophetess, and she bore a son, and His name is called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God; and those [of them] who proclaimed Him as Immanuel, [born] of the Virgin, exhibited the union of the Word of God with His own workmanship, [declaring] that the Word should become flesh, and the Son of God the Son of man (the pure One opening purely that pure womb which regenerates men unto God, and which He Himself made pure)
-St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies IV:33:11
Third Century:
We may therefore make bold to say that the Gospels are the first fruits of all the Scriptures, but that of the Gospels that of John is the first fruits. No one can apprehend the meaning of it except he have lain on Jesus' breast and received from Jesus Mary to be his mother also. Such an one must he become who is to be another John, and to have shown to him, like John, by Jesus Himself Jesus as He is. For if Mary, as those declare who with sound mind extol her, had no other son but Jesus, and yet Jesus says to His mother, "Woman, behold your son,"(John 19:26) and not "Behold you have this son also", then He virtually said to her, "Lo, this is Jesus, whom you bore." Is it not the case that every one who is perfect lives himself no longer, (Galatians 2:20) but Christ lives in him; and if Christ lives in him, then it is said of him to Mary, "Behold your son Christ."
-Origen of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of John, I:6
Fourth Century: 
Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28). This is she who was prefigured by Eve and who symbolically received the title of mother of the living (cf. Gen 3:20). For Eve was called mother of the living after she had heard the words, “You are dust and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19), in other words, after the fall. It seems odd that she should receive such a grand title after having sinned. Looking at the matter from the outside, one notices that Eve is the one from whom the entire human race took its origin on this earth. Mary, on the contrary, truly introduced life itself into the world by giving birth to the Living One, so that Mary has become the Mother of the living.
-St. Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion (Against Heresies) 78:18 (emphasis mine)
Fifth Century:
His mother is [a figure of] the whole Church, because she herself assuredly gives birth to His members, that is, His faithful ones... that one female, not only in the Spirit, but also in the flesh, is both a mother and a virgin. And a mother indeed in the Spirit, not of our Head, Which is the Saviour Himself, of Whom rather she was born after the Spirit: forasmuch as all, who have believed in Him, among whom is herself also, are rightly called children of the Bridegroom: but clearly the mother of His members, which are we: in that she wrought together by charity, that faithful ones should be born in the Church, who are members of That Head: but in the flesh, the mother of the Head Himself.
-St. Augustine of Hippo, On Holy Virginity 5, 6

Notable in all these expressions, they carry a Christological significance. Something it is healthy and good for all Christians to keep in mind is that Jesus Christ is the connection between Mary and all those who think of her as their mother, and that any Marian devotion practiced by Christians will be depraved if devotion to Christ is not its means and its end.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Perpetuator of "Two Babylons" Falsehoods Sets Record Straight

[In a sense, this might be considered "old news", but as these falsehoods are still firmly embedded in the minds of so many, it is thus still relevant, and "news" nonetheless.]

BABYLON MYSTERY RELIGION, by
Ralph Woodrow
Ralph Woodrow, author of BABYLON MYSTERY RELIGION, has acknowledged the misinformation extant in his book, and has stopped distributing it. As well as publishing another book in which he addresses and critiques these errors, entitled THE BABYLON CONNECTION?, he has also posted a public message on his website, admitting that the former work contains items which are in fact falsehoods.

[You can read the whole statement here: Message from Ralph Woodrow regarding the book BABYLON MYSTERY  RELIGION]

BABYLON MYSTERY RELIGION perpetuates an historical theory, first proposed by Alexander Hislop in his work TWO BABYLONS, that the modern Roman Catholic religion is ultimately a repackaged continuation of the ancient and unchristian pagan religion of Babylon, and that several of its heathen religious practices has infected much of Christianity as a whole.

Woodrow demonstrates that much of this theory is largely established upon what amounts to pseudo-science and historical fiction; in other words, its claims are unfounded. Supposed connections between Catholicism and the ancient paganism are no true connections at all, as the claims result from a shallow assessment of supposed similarities between the two in their external features.

Belief in the false ideas proposed by this book has sometimes led to a needless hostility against Catholicism from otherwise well-meaning Christians, deeming its adherents to be no better than pagans (I partially speak from personal experience.) I believe actively sharing this information will go a long way in clearing up misunderstandings and in promoting a deeper sense of charity between Catholic and non-Catholic Christians.

Here are what I deem as some highlights from Mr. Woodrow's public message:
. . . It puzzles me how some can be so fanatical against one set of errors—or what they perceive to be errors—only to develop greater errors: becoming judgmental, hateful, and dishonest.

My original book... contained certain teachings that were made popular in a book many years ago, THE TWO BABYLONS, by Alexander Hislop. This book claims that the very religion of ancient Babylon... was later disguised with Christian-sounding names, becoming the Roman Catholic Church... Proof for this is sought by citing numerous similarities in paganism. The problem with this method is this: in many cases there is no connection.

. . . By this method, atheists have long sought to discredit the Bible and Christianity altogether—not just the Roman Catholic Church . . . Basic things like prayer, and kneeling in prayer, would have to be rejected, because pagans knelt and prayed to their gods. Water baptism would have to be rejected, for pagans had numerous rites involving water, etc.

. . . It is amazing how unsubstantiated teachings like these circulate—and are believed. One can go to any library, check any history book about ancient Babylon, none of these things will be found. They are not historically accurate, but are based on an arbitrary piecing together of bits and pieces of mythology.

. . . Some claim that round objects, such as round communion wafers, are symbols of the Sun-god. But they fail to mention that the very manna given by God was round! (Exod. 16:14). Some are ready to condemn all pillars and historical monuments as pagan. But they fail to take into account that the Lord himself appeared as a pillar of fire; and, in front of his temple, there were two large pillars (Exod. 13:21,22; 2 Chron. 3:17).

. . . Claims that imply “all these things started in Babylon,” are not only divisive and fruitless, they are untrue.
I would like to personally commend and warmly applaud Mr. Ralph Woodrow for his integrity and honesty in this matter: he is a good man. May God grant him many years.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Praying Eastward: Is it Pagan?


There's a rumor that circulates around the internet that Catholics and other Christians unwittingly engage in sun worship. This claim is "substantiated" on account that Catholics and Orthodox pray towards the east (and then also on account of worshiping on Sunday, but that's also a different issue.) The issue of facing east is especially heavy on certain people's sensitivities, because it seems even more overtly pagan. This apprehension is generally held by a certain sort of people who hold that the early Church apostatized into a semi-Christian semi-Pagan religion (known as Roman Catholicism) by incorporating Pagan practices and superstitions, which was largely the doing of the first "Christian" emperor, Constantine the Great. They will treat anything not discernible from a face value reading of Scripture as an impure pagan accretion into the purity of faith in Christ.

This post will thus attempt to show how genuinely Christian the practice is, by showing how early the practice is and pointing to the Scriptural support given for it.

Tertullian, from his Apology, says the following.
Others certainly, with greater semblance of nature and of truth, believe the sun to be our God. [But] If this be so, we ought be ranked with the Persians; though we worship not the sun painted on a piece of linen... this suspicion arises from hence, because it is well known that we pray towards the quarter of the east... In a like manner, if we give up to rejoicing [on] the day of the sun, for a cause far different from the worship of the sun, we are only next to those who set apart the day of Saturn for resting and feasting, deflecting themselves also from Jewish customs, of which they are ignorant. (Apology, chapter 16, c. A.D. 197)

Turns out, Tertullian and the other Christians of his day were accused of "sun-worship" just like Catholics and other Christians are by certain outlier groups. Tertullian, however, highlights just how arbitrary such notions are; Christians worshipping on Sunday has as little to do with the sun as those who take their rest on Saturday have to do with the god Saturn.

Tertullian's testimony has an added dimension of significance. Most of the Church Fathers, though they consistently repudiate the false pagan worship of the surrounding Greco-Roman culture, nevertheless respected certain elements found within the culture, namely philosophy. Tertullian, however, was NOT one of them. Being a purist, he famously said "What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem?" (On the Prescription of Heretics, chp 7) The fact that he, out of all people, would admit that Christians pray facing east without giving even a second thought makes for a good argument that, as a Christian practice, it did not originate out of paganism.

Going on to a different early Christian writer, Clement of Alexandria writes in Book Seven of the Stromata
And since the dawn is an image of the day of birth, and from that point the light which has shone forth at first from the darkness increases, there has also downed on those involved in darkness a day of knowledge of truth. In correspondence with the manner of the sun's rising, prayers are made looking towards the sunrise in the east. Whence also the most ancient temples looked towards the west, that people might be taught to turn to the east when facing the images. Let my prayer be directed before You as incense, the uplifting of my hands as the evening sacrifice, say the Psalms. (The Stomata, Book VII, 7, 43, c. AD 198)

Clement explains that praying towards the east carries a symbolic meaning: Those who have lived in darkness have seen a great light (Is. 9:2) so to speak, as the truth of Christ's Gospel has illuminated those whose minds and souls were darkened by false worship. This ties in well with any of the Scriptural concepts which might be brought forth as the foundation of the practice: that Jesus Christ is the Light of the World (Jn 8:12), a Sun of Righteousness (Mal 4:2) to banish the dark night of immorality.

Clement then actually bases the practice on the tradition of the ancient Jews. Jewish worship of old (as well as contemporary) was done facing the east. The tabernacle on Mt. Sinai faced east, the images referred to by Clement being those such as the cherubim woven into the curtains (Ex. 25-26). He's pointing back to it as something which was originally employed by the Hebrews in the Old Covenant.

These are the two earliest testimonies to Christians praying eastward that I have been able to find. They are both written within years of each other, right before the close of the second century AD (long before Constantine or the Council of Nicaea.) Tertullian is writing from the Latin West, while Clement is writing in the Greek-speaking East, meaning the tradition is widespread and existing in multiple churches. They both mention the practice but do not devote a lot of time to it, as John Damascene would later on book four in his Exposition on the Orthodox Faith in the 7th Century, which might imply that the practice is actually rather fixed.

So, there's pretty good evidence that the Christian practice of facing east in prayer stemmed from the Jewish equivalent, and, in a word, is definitely NOT of  Pagan origin! Yes, different Pagan cultures practiced it as well, but that does not mean it can't exist in a Judeo-Christian context -- after all, if being Holy depended on being unique in every external respect, then things like temples, incense, circumcision and baptism -- all things the Jews and Pagans used alike -- would have to be dismissed and thrown away.

UPDATE: 6-1-17

One other early source, the Didascalia (based off of the earlier Didache) has a section where it touches on the liturgical facing east. This document is usually dated to the year 230, and is most commonly believed to have originated in Syria, perhaps Antioch. From its twelfth chapter, the Didascalia Apostolorum reads thus:
And in your congregations in the holy churches hold your assemblies with all decent order, and appoint the places for the brethren with care and gravity. And for the presbyters let there be assigned a place in the eastern part of the house; and let the bishop's throne be set in their midst, and let the presbyters sit with him. And again, let the lay men sit in another part of the house toward the east. For so it should be, that in the eastern part of the house the presbyters sit with the bishops, and next the lay men, and then the women that when you stand up to pray, the rulers may stand first, and after them the lay men, and then the women also. For it is required that you pray toward the east, as knowing that which is written: Give ye glory to God, who rideth upon the heaven of heavens toward the east [Ps 67.34 LXX]

So, Tertullian in Carthage (very Northern Africa, within Rome's vicinity), and Clement of Alexandria (in Egypt) both write around the same time that Christians pray East, and roughly thirty-five years later we observe that Christians in Syria do the same thing. This doesn't mean they adopted it only by that time, but it is only by these times that we see the practice documented at all. The fact that it's so early and so widespread, I personally believe, says quite a bit!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Biblical Practice of Praying for the Dead

All Souls Day, Jakub Shikaneder, 1888

This post seeks to present the biblical evidences behind the custom of offering prayer to God on behalf of the departed. The evidence that the early Christian Church practiced it is old indeed, direct historical and archaeological testimony existent by the mid second century (see: here), hence the Catholic and Orthodox Churches have maintained it. Yet, the idea became controversial in light of the Protestant Reformation, with most churches descending from the tradition of the reformers dismissing it as anti-biblical. Therefore, presenting a Scriptural framework to reference in establishing and developing the concept proves useful. This post will provide positive, even if sometimes implicit, evidence which supports the ancient custom.


THE OLD TESTAMENT

The first verses which demonstrate any sort of prayer for the dead go as far back into the Bible as the first and second books of Samuel, where David and his company can be seen fasting on account of death of Saul and his household.

1 Samuel 31:11-13
But when the inhabitants of Ja’besh-gil’ead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men arose, and went all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan; and they came to Jabesh and burnt them there. And they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh, and fasted seven days.
2 Samuel 1:11-12
Then David took hold of his clothes, and rent them; and so did all the men who were with him; and they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son and for the people of the LORD and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.
From what we know about fasting as a Biblical practice, it can be a means of prayer and petition to God. This is demonstrable from many passages and does not need to be proved (cf. 2 Sam 12:16; Daniel 10:3; Esther 4:16; Ezra 8:21; Acts 14:23). These words from Samuel clearly say that the fasting done by David was done for those who had been slain. Ergo, David is praying for the dead. Admittedly, these passages do not extrapolate as to what are the benefits the deceased might receive through fasting, but that any sort of religious action is taken up on their account is certainly present.

2 Maccabees 12:29-45

The passages from Samuel observe a practice of praying for the dead, but they do not describe as to what end. The most obvious and clearest instance of it is from 2nd Maccabees.
On the next day, as had now become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kindred in the sepulchres of their ancestors. Then under the tunic of each one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was the reason these men had fallen. So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; and they turned to supplication, praying that the sin that had been committed might be wholly blotted out. The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened as the result of the sin of those who had fallen. He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin.
Upon discovering that slain soldiers were in possession of idolatrous items, Judas Maccabeus and his army explicitly do two things on behalf of the dead: [1] they made supplication in prayer to God and [2] they actually collect silver as to provide for a sin offering to be sacrificed in Jerusalem on account of their sin. The intentions of these actions were that God would remit and forgive the sin of those who had fallen, so that, in view of the resurrection of the dead, they might share in the reward of godliness. In other words, the living pray and make sacrifice on behalf the dead, so that the sin of those who died would not be reckoned unto them at the resurrection, and thus not prevented them from experiencing the bliss of the afterlife.

[Albeit, Protestants don't formally recognize 2nd Maccabees as inspired Scripture. If one does not wish to receive this as Holy Writ, one can at least receive it as historical witness to prayer for the dead, as it demonstrates the custom existed in ancient Judaism. It is potentially able to shed light and give meaning to the practices which precede it and follow it.]


THE NEW TESTAMENT

1 Corinthians 15:29

In this passage, Paul weighs in on the issue is in his observance of a strange case in the early church.
Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?
Whether or not Paul was actually condoning the peculiar practice of being baptized on behalf of the dead (traditional church discipline would testify that he's not), the principle behind such an action is easily identifiable; it is a form of prayer for those who have departed from this life. And Paul points to the practice as a mean of validating that there is in fact a resurrection -- if there were not, the hope of those being baptized on behalf of the dead is unfounded, as there will be nothing for the dead towards which the baptism will avail them.

Also, notice how this phrasing somewhat mirrors that of the passage from 2nd Maccabees:

  • "For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead." (2 Mac 12:43)
  • "If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?" (1 Cor 15:29)


2 Timothy 1:16-18

In this second Pauline passage which is relevant to the subject, Paul is not commenting on prayers made for the dead; rather, he is making them himself.
May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiph’orus, for he often refreshed me; he was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me eagerly and found me — may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day — and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.
Pay attention to the details of Paul's words concerning Onesiph'orus:
  1. Paul recalls the man's good deeds as past events: ("...he often refreshed me, he was not ashamed of my chains... all the service he rendered at Ephesus.")
  2. Paul wishes peace upon the family in the present ("grant mercy to the household of Onesiph'orus...")
  3. Paul prays that Onesiph'orus would find mercy on the Day of Judgment ("may the Lord grant him to find mercy.. on that Day.")
As the data suggests, the most natural reading of the passage indicates that the father of the household, Onesiph'orus, had passed away (as is remarked and acknowledged by several learned Protestant commentators.) Is it not natural to remember the good a man has done in his lifetime? Is it not customary to send peace and good wishes upon those who've lost someone in their family? And as Paul solemnly writes, "May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on the day" he is thus praying for one numbered among the dead.

What does this practice of praying for the dead imply? If the soul of the deceased person prayed for is already at rest in paradise, there is certainly no need of any intercession from the living. If their soul is already sentenced to eternal punishment, there is no good able to be granted to them. Thus, the ancient Christian custom of praying for God's mercy upon the departed implicitly acknowledges something of a purgatory; not merely assuming one's purity before God and that one has no need of mercy or pardon upon exiting this life, prayers are made for the dead, that any hindrance not yet wholly blotted out in this life might be done away with before the Resurrection and the Last Judgment. If there is any remittance, any refinement, any purification, any chastisement which takes place after death but before the consummation of the age, then the basic principles of a purgatory are admitted and prayers for such souls are quite the justifiable, and the charitable, practice. (This is also a large reason as to why Protestant Christians tend to reject the practice.)