Thursday, February 26, 2015

Are Coptic 'Christians' Really Christians?



The Italian news agency ANSA reported on February 17, 2015 that Pope Francis offered up a Mass for the 21 Coptic Christians beheaded by ISIS militants on the weekend. At the end of his address to Scottish Bishops on the Pope gave this comment about the men who were so brutally killed:
“I would now like to turn to my native tongue to express feelings of profound sorrow. Today I read about the execution of those twenty-one or twenty-two Coptic Christians. Their only words were: “Jesus, help me!” They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians. You, my brother, in your words referred to what is happening in the land of Jesus. The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard. It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ. As we recall these brothers and sisters who died only because they confessed Christ, I ask that we encourage each another to go forward with this ecumenism which is giving us strength, the ecumenism of blood. The martyrs belong to all Christians”.
From an article on Catholic World Report by Catherine Harmon

Christians of all denominations from many countries tweeted their outrage at the actions of ISIS and their support of those fellow Christians who were suffering.
Then comments by a Southern Baptist (or was it many) surfaced. He (or they) said that it is fine to sympathize with and pray for the families of those killed but the men who were killed could not be considered Christian because the Coptic Church believes (along with Roman Catholics) in salvation by works and not by faith in Christ. I don’t know the origin of this claim but this article about it can be read at Pen and Pulpit. (see http://pulpitandpen.org/2015/02/16/coptic-christians-not-christians-southern-baptist-leaders-need-reminded/) .
Just a minute here - you mean to say that someone who dies rather than denounce his faith in Jesus Christ is not a Christian? Someone who dies with ‘Jesus, help me’ on this lips is not a Christian?
Some lone individual has the audacity to say what a Christian is? Just what is his authority? He, of course, would answer, that Scripture is his sole authority. And so probably would those members from any of the 33,000 denominations of Christianity that exist today- all affirming that the Holy Spirit has led them to the truth in Scripture! How then do we know who is right? What does Scripture give as the criteria for salvation? And what does the Bible say about who and who is not a Christian?
There are many references that do say ‘faith’ is what has saved a person. Most of these passages are those in which Jesus (or one of the Apostles) has healed someone. For example, Jesus says to the woman who touched the hem of his garment ‘Courage, my daughter, your faith has saved you.” (Matthew 9:22) The healing or forgiveness of sins has come about because of the individual’s faith. In most cases, their faith is outwardly expressed by an act (or a work?) such as the woman touching the hem of Jesus’ garment or the crippled man taking up his bed and walking.
Here are some other similar passages:
"They brought a paralyzed man to him, lying on a bed. Jesus saw their faith and said to the paralytic, ‘Courage, my son! Your sins are forgiven.’" Matthew 9,2

In this case, Jesus sees not the faith of the paralyzed man himself but of his friends who have brought him. Can the faith of our friends save us?

"Then Jesus said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace and be free of this illness.’"
Mark 5,34

Many well-known passages about faith are in the letter from St. Paul to the Romans:

"God makes us righteous by means of faith in Jesus Christ, and this is applied to all who believe, without distinction of persons." Romans 3,22
"By believing from the heart, you obtain true righteousness; by confessing the faith with your lips you are saved." Romans 10,10
"By faith we have received true righteousness, and we are at peace with God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord." Romans 5,1

There are even passages which say that it is faith that saves but not our ‘works’:

“...he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.” Titus 3:5

But there are other passages that seem to give other criteria for salvation (belief in Jesus, calling on the name of the Lord, washing of regeneration, enduring to the end, obedience).
And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Acts 2:21 (Peter speaking on the Day of Pentecost)
“...he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.” Titus 3:5
Some would say that ‘the washing of regeneration’ refers to baptism.
Acts 16:31 “’What must I do to be saved?’ And they (Paul and Silas) said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’”
Does this mean that they must believe that Jesus is God? Or just that he has been sent by God? Ot that he was the Messiah for whom the Jews waited.
Matt 10:22 “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake, But he who endures till the end will be saved.”
We must ‘endure till the end’ - it is not automatic.
Hebrews 5:8 “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered, and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him”.
And there is a dire warning for those who say, ‘Lord, Lord’, perhaps those who are smug about their salvation but are not doing God’s will
Matthew 7:21 “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
There are passages of Scripture that indicate the role of baptism: it goes along with belief and with repentance.
The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; the one who refuses to believe will be condemned."
Mark 16,16

Peter answered: "Each of you must repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins may be forgiven. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Acts 2,38

“And now, why delay? Get up and be baptized and have your sins washed away by calling upon his Name." Acts 22,16

We see that there is a relationship between faith or belief and obedience or works. It is in the letter of James that we especially read about this relationship. We cannot ‘see’ or ‘know’ the faith of someone - we only know it by the outward things he or she does. Jesus could see into the soul of a person to see if he had faith in God or not but we can’t. And so James, said that faith without works is dead. The ‘works’ or ‘deeds’ a person does are proof of his faith.
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” James 1: 22
“So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But some will say, “You have faith and I have works’. Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith....Do you want to be shown, you foolish fellow, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled, which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness; and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.” James 2: 17ff
Martin Luther did not want to include the letter of James in the Bible because it did not ‘agree’ with his interpretation of Romans and the emphasis on faith.
But it is not only in James that we read about this relationship. We also see the relationship between obedience or works with faith in the Epistles of John.
“He who says, ‘I know him’ but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps his words, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him; he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” I John 1:4
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God ... By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” I John 5:1


And there are other passages in the New Testament that refer to ‘works’ and ‘good works’ and their role in our salvation.

"Our people must learn to be outstanding in good works and to face urgent needs, instead of remaining idle and useless." Titus 3,14

"Do not neglect good works and common life, for these are sacrifices pleasing to God." Hebrews 13,16

“I know your works, your difficulties and your patient suffering. I know you cannot tolerate evildoers but have tested those who call themselves apostles and have proved them to be liars."
Revelation 2,2

"I know your works: your love, faith, service, patient endurance and your later works, greater than the first." Revelation 2,19

"Wake up and strengthen that which is not already dead. For I have found your works to be imperfect in the sight of my God." Revelation 3,2

"I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot!" Revelation 3,15

"Fine linen, bright and clean, is given her to wear. This linen stands for the good works of the holy ones."
Revelation 19,8


The Italian news agency ANSA reported on February 17, 2015 that Pope Francis offered up a Mass for the 21 Coptic Christians beheaded by ISIS militants on the weekend. At the end of his address to Scottish Bishops on the Pope gave this comment about the men who were so brutally killed:
“I would now like to turn to my native tongue to express feelings of profound sorrow. Today I read about the execution of those twenty-one or twenty-two Coptic Christians. Their only words were: “Jesus, help me!” They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians. You, my brother, in your words referred to what is happening in the land of Jesus. The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard. It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ. As we recall these brothers and sisters who died only because they confessed Christ, I ask that we encourage each another to go forward with this ecumenism which is giving us strength, the ecumenism of blood. The martyrs belong to all Christians”.
From an article on Catholic World Report by Catherine Harmon

Christians of all denominations from many countries tweeted their outrage at the actions of ISIS and their support of those fellow Christians who were suffering.
Then comments by a Southern Baptist (or was it many) surfaced. He (or they) said that it is fine to sympathize with and pray for the families of those killed but the men who were killed could not be considered Christian because the Coptic Church believes (along with Roman Catholics) in salvation by works and not by faith in Christ. I don’t know the origin of this claim but this article about it can be read at Pen and Pulpit. (see http://pulpitandpen.org/2015/02/16/coptic-christians-not-christians-southern-baptist-leaders-need-reminded/) .
Just a minute here - you mean to say that someone who dies rather than denounce his faith in Jesus Christ is not a Christian? Someone who dies with ‘Jesus, help me’ on this lips is not a Christian?
Some lone individual has the audacity to say what a Christian is? Just what is his authority? He, of course, would answer, that Scripture is his sole authority. And so probably would those members from any of the 33,000 denominations of Christianity that exist today- all affirming that the Holy Spirit has led them to the truth in Scripture! How then do we know who is right? What does Scripture give as the criteria for salvation? And what does the Bible say about who and who is not a Christian?
There are many references that do say ‘faith’ is what has saved a person. Most of these passages are those in which Jesus (or one of the Apostles) has healed someone. For example, Jesus says to the woman who touched the hem of his garment ‘Courage, my daughter, your faith has saved you.” (Matthew 9:22) The healing or forgiveness of sins has come about because of the individual’s faith. In most cases, their faith is outwardly expressed by an act (or a work?) such as the woman touching the hem of Jesus’ garment or the crippled man taking up his bed and walking.
Here are some other similar passages:
"They brought a paralyzed man to him, lying on a bed. Jesus saw their faith and said to the paralytic, ‘Courage, my son! Your sins are forgiven.’" Matthew 9,2

In this case, Jesus sees not the faith of the paralyzed man himself but of his friends who have brought him. Can the faith of our friends save us?

"Then Jesus said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace and be free of this illness.’"
Mark 5,34

Many well-known passages about faith are in the letter from St. Paul to the Romans:

"God makes us righteous by means of faith in Jesus Christ, and this is applied to all who believe, without distinction of persons." Romans 3,22
"By believing from the heart, you obtain true righteousness; by confessing the faith with your lips you are saved." Romans 10,10
"By faith we have received true righteousness, and we are at peace with God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord." Romans 5,1

There are even passages which say that it is faith that saves but not our ‘works’:

...he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.” Titus 3:5

But there are other passages that seem to give other criteria for salvation (belief in Jesus, calling on the name of the Lord, washing of regeneration, enduring to the end, obedience).
"And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Acts 2:21 (Peter speaking on the Day of Pentecost)
“...he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.” Titus 3:5
Some would say that ‘the washing of regeneration’ refers to baptism.
Acts 16:31 “’What must I do to be saved?’ And they (Paul and Silas) said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’”
Does this mean that they must believe that Jesus is God? Or just that he has been sent by God? Ot that he was the Messiah for whom the Jews waited.
Matt 10:22 “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake, But he who endures till the end will be saved.
We must ‘endure till the end’ - it is not automatic.
Hebrews 5:8 “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered, and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him”.
And there is a dire warning for those who say, ‘Lord, Lord’, perhaps those who are smug about their salvation but are not doing God’s will
Matthew 7:21 “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
There are passages of Scripture that indicate the role of baptism: it goes along with belief and with repentance.
"The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; the one who refuses to believe will be condemned."
Mark 16,16

Peter answered: "Each of you must repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins may be forgiven. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Acts 2,38

“And now, why delay? Get up and be baptized and have your sins washed away by calling upon his Name." Acts 22,16

We see that there is a relationship between faith or belief and obedience or works. It is in the letter of James that we especially read about this relationship. We cannot ‘see’ or ‘know’ the faith of someone - we only know it by the outward things he or she does. Jesus could see into the soul of a person to see if he had faith in God or not but we can’t. And so James, said that faith without works is dead. The ‘works’ or ‘deeds’ a person does are proof of his faith.
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” James 1: 22
“So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But some will say, “You have faith and I have works’. Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith....Do you want to be shown, you foolish fellow, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled, which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness; and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.” James 2: 17ff
Martin Luther did not want to include the letter of James in the Bible because it did not ‘agree’ with his interpretation of Romans and the emphasis on faith.
But it is not only in James that we read about this relationship. We also see the relationship between obedience or works with faith in the Epistles of John.
“He who says, ‘I know him’ but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps his words, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him; he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” I John 1:4
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God ... By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” I John 5:1


And there are other passages in the New Testament that refer to ‘works’ and ‘good works’ and their role in our salvation.

"Our people must learn to be outstanding in good works and to face urgent needs, instead of remaining idle and useless." Titus 3,14

"Do not neglect good works and common life, for these are sacrifices pleasing to God." Hebrews 13,16

“I know your works, your difficulties and your patient suffering. I know you cannot tolerate evildoers but have tested those who call themselves apostles and have proved them to be liars."
Revelation 2,2

"I know your works: your love, faith, service, patient endurance and your later works, greater than the first." Revelation 2,19

"Wake up and strengthen that which is not already dead. For I have found your works to be imperfect in the sight of my God." Revelation 3,2

"I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot!" Revelation 3,15

"Fine linen, bright and clean, is given her to wear. This linen stands for the good works of the holy ones."
Revelation 19,8


Of course, someone could be very good at doing ‘good works’ and not really know God or even belief that Jesus is truly God. Atheists claim that they also do good works but these good works will not save them it they do not believe that Jesus is God. And those who merely do good works but do not know and obey Jesus will hear Jesus say, “I never knew you.”

“Not every one who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not cast out demons and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you: depart from me, you evildoers.’" Matthew 7:22

Here Jesus is not condemning all works done in his name but only those that were done by those who had no relationship with him or did not know him.

The writer of the article being discussed claims that the Coptic Church and the Roman Catholic Church do not believe that salvation is through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

“Is it embracing a meritorious, works-based salvation nearly identical to that of the Roman Catholic church? Is it in aggressively denying salvation by a personal, saving relationship with Jesus Christ? We ask because that’s what Coptic ‘Christians’ believe. This really isn’t new, and we have to wonder why our leaders don’t know what Coptics believe and if they do, what on Earth makes them think they should be categorized as Christians”. (Pulpit and Pen.org see link above).

Perhaps the writer of the article doesn’t know what the Roman Catholic Church believes about salvation. All he would have to do is pick up the Catechism of the Catholic Church and read what it says.

“Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. Since ‘without faith it is impossible to please God and to attain to the fellowship of his sons, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone attain eternal life ‘but he who endures to the end.’” C of the CC 161

“Faith is necessary for salvation. The Lord himself affirms: ‘He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” ( Matthew 16:16) C of the CC 183.

There is a Coptic Orthodox Church and a Coptic Catholic Church in Egypt. The Coptic Catholic Church believes the same as that expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church quoted above. The Coptic Orthodox Church would be similar if not identical.

The 21 men who were killed by ISIS were members of the Coptic Orthodox Church which traces its origin to St, Mark whom they believe went to Egypt to evangelize. We do not know the personal lives of the men. What we do know is that rather than change their faith to Islam they did not deny that Jesus is truly God. Muslims believe that Jesus is only a prophet but is not divine.

In any case, it is not for us to judge for only God knows the condition of their souls. Since they, like the early martyrs, were killed for their faith rather than deny Christ, I think we can safely say that the men were Christians. They died calling out for Jesus to help them and I’m sure he met them at the gate of heaven. Instead of putting our own spin on who is a Christian and who is not perhaps we should pray to God that in the same circumstances we would make the right choice, too.












Thursday, February 12, 2015

What is Ash Wednesay? What is Lent?

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Christian Lenten season. On Ash Wednesday, Christians go to church to have the priest or minister make the sign of the cross in ashes on their foreheads. In the Catholic tradition, ashes used are made from burning the palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday and they are mixed with Holy Water and then blessed. The ashes signify the impermanence of life, reminding us that someday we will all die. In Genesis, God tells Adam and Eve to “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:19
Significance of Ashes
Ashes are also a sign of mourning and repentance. People in Old Testament times would show their grief and mourning by tearing their garments and putting ashes on their heads (e.g. a soldier -2 Sam 1:20, Tamar-2 Samuel 13:19, Mordecai - Esther 4:1). The Anglo-Saxon homilist, Ælfric (c.955–c.1010), writes: “We read in the books both in the Old Law and in the New that the men who repented of their sins bestrewed themselves with ashes and clothed their bodies with sackcloth. Now let us do a little at the beginning of our Lent that we strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during the Lenten fast.”
Significance of Forty Days
The word Lent is from Teutonic and originally meant only ‘the spring season’. In Latin the term used is quadragesima and this is retained the Romance languages: French carême, Italian quaresima, and Spanish cuaresma. Forty is a significant number in Scripture. God sent rain in the flood of Noah for forty days and nights (Genesis 7:4), Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:18), the Hebrew people wandered in the desert for forty years (Numbers 14:33), Jonah gave the city of Nineveh forty days to repent (Jonah 3:4) and Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan (Matthew 4:1-2, Luke 4:1-2). In traditional belief, Jesus is said to have been in the tomb for forty hours (Friday afternoon to early Sunday morning). The six weeks of Lent are calculated as follows: Ash Wednesday to Good Friday =46 days -6 Sundays=40 days. The colour of the vestments during Lent is violet, signifying mourning and penance. In the Roman Catholic Mass, Lutheran Divine Service and Anglican Eucharist, the Gloria in Excelsis Deo (Glory to God) is not sung from Ash Wednesday until the Easter Vigil.
Purpose of Lent
Lent is meant to be the time for preparation of Christians. Through increased prayer, penitence, almsgiving (ie all charitable works) and fasting, the Christian deepens his or her relationship with Jesus. A custom is to ‘give up a vice or habit’ during the time of Lent but this should not be ‘just something one is supposed to do for Lent’ without any real desire to change one’s life permanently. In fact, one does not have to ‘give something up’ but could add something such as going to daily mass, reading Scripture daily or praying the Rosary daily. One could read a devotional book during lent. Pope Emeritus Benedict’s books on the life of Jesus would be good ones to read.
In the Roman Catholic Church it is traditional to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and every Friday of Lent. The Greek Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches abstain from all animal products, including fish, eggs, and milk.
Growing Popularity
Lent was universally practiced until the Reformation when some Protestant denominations did away with the Lent practices. Lutherans and Anglicans (the Church of England) retained Lent. Now other Protestant churches are beginning to observe Lent once again thus uniting Christians in this meaningful event.
Lent is a time of reflection which culminates in the great joy of the Resurrection during the Easter Vigil (Saturday night before Easter Sunday).

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Book Review: How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization by Thomas E. Woods Jr., PhD


Woods, Thomas E. Jr. PhD. How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc. 2005. 280 pp

“Philip Jenkins, distinguished professor of history and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University, has called anti-Catholicism the one remaining acceptable prejudice in America. His assessment is difficult to dispute. ... My own students, to the extent that they know anything at all about the Church, are typically familiar only with alleged Church “corruption,” of which they heard ceaseless tales of varying credibility from their high school teachers. The story of Catholicism, as far as they know, is one of ignorance, repression, and stagnation.” So Thomas E. Woods, himself an historian, economist, professor and noted author, begins his book on ‘How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization’. (page 1)
In contrast to these biases, Woods proceeds to demonstrate that in the areas of science, economics, education, art, philosophy, law and charity it is the Catholic Church that has been their most important source in the Western world.
Scientific Achievements
In the area of Science, Woods makes the claim that those who worship creation itself cannot investigate it in a scientific way. This idea was put forth by Stanley Jaki, a Catholic priest who has doctorates in physics and theology, in his book, The Saviour of Science (2000). For example, someone who worships a tree cannot look into what elements make up the tree or what causes it to grow. The Jewish Scriptures, on the other hand, show creation to be rational and orderly and a reflection of God’s wisdom, goodness and beauty. God has ordered all things by measure, number and weight (Wisdom 11:21). Creation, not treated as something ‘divine’ itself, can then be investigated. Jaki does not deny that other cultures made contributions to science but says that “sustained scientific inquiry” (Woods, p. 77) and the scientific method emerged from Catholic thought.
Woods dismantles the ‘Galileo case’ as it has been misrepresented to the public demonstrating that science, itself, was not what the Church found problematic. In fact, Jesuits were involved in the study of astronomy at that time and still are. The misrepresentations are widespread: one of my former students in Grade 5 had learned somewhere that Galileo was tortured to death by the Catholic Church. He was surprised to hear from me that Galileo had only been put under house arrest, had all his needs cared for and died a natural death at the age of 77.
Triumphs in Education
Education is another area in which the Catholic Church has made a significant contribution, Woods claims. The great universities of Europe began as Cathedral schools or gatherings of Masters and students under the patrimony of the Church. It was during the Middle Ages that the universities of Bologna, Paris and Oxford were instituted and the papacy played an important role in their establishment. For example, Pope Innocent IV granted the privilege of awarding degrees to Oxford in 1254.
Charity and Hospitals
Woods also shows how charitable acts, although not unknown in early Greek and Roman cultures, were unique in Christianity. He shows this by quotations from writers such as the Stoic, Seneca and others. Even though the Stoics taught that man should do good to his fellow-man without expecting anything in return, they also taught that they were to remain indifferent to everything and everyone. A problem in some the teaching of some world religions is that illness and other misfortunes are the results of the individual’s sin (in this life or in a previous one) and any help given to the individual interferes with his future re-incarnations. If this is true, people reasoned, it is better not to give charity.
Others religions believe that individuals have no free-will and God is the only cause of everything. This God does not act with ‘reason’ and no matter what happens, it is ‘God’s will’. Even that which we would ordinarily call ‘evil’ is caused by God. With this kind of ‘unreasonable’ God, science and education do not advance but stagnate.
In Alexandria, in the third century, pagans were said to ‘thrust aside anyone who began to be sick, and kept aloof even from dearest friends’, whereas Christians ‘visited the sick without thought of their own peril ... drawing upon themselves their neighbours’ diseases’ (page 175). He demonstrates how hospitals were established in the major cities by the fourth century. Fabiola, a Christian matron, established the first large, public hospital in Rome and St. Basil the Great established a hospital in Caeserea. Also mentioned are the military Orders, established during the Crusades, such as the Knights of St. John.
International Law
It has become popular in recent years to show Christopher Columbus, and the Spanish who came with him, as those who invaded peaceful places and forced the native people to accept Christianity all the while mistreating them. Although these stories are often exaggerated, Woods points out that reports of the mistreatment of peoples in the New World caused a ‘crisis of conscience’ amongst Spanish theologians and philosophers at that time as well. This, he says, is unusual in history and wonders if Attila the Hun had any moral qualms about his conquests. Or did the human sacrifices of the Aztecs themselves cause any ‘philosophical reflection’ on their part? Woods says that the outcries of such Spaniards as Dominican friar, Antonio de Montesinos, and Father Francisco de Vitoria were the beginnings of international law. In fact, Father de Vitoria is called the ‘father of international law’ but how many of us have ever heard of him? Another Spaniard, a bishop, Bartolome de Las Casas, suggested that the natives “... be attracted gently, in accordance with Christ’s doctrine” and said that Aristotle’s views on slavery as being natural to some should be rejected because “... we have in our favour Christ’s mandate: love your neighbour as yourself.” (quoted on page 143).
Legal Tradition of the Western World
Regarding law, Woods shows that Rome introduced systemized law in their Empire and the so-called ‘barbarians’ had laws of their own that dealt with ownership, dowries, rights and crime. The laws of these ‘barbarians’ sometimes based guilt and innocence on superstition, such as the ‘floating or sinking test’ to prove guilt of a crime. It was Canon or Church Law that many of our best and fairest laws today have as their basis. For example, the Church stated that marriage could take place only with the consent of both parties. This is significant since people in earlier centuries did not consider that women should have a voice in important matters, even those that affected them greatly. Some pre-Christian cultures approved of arranged marriages between infants and the will of the individuals was not considered, only that of their parents. Many cultures today do not take into consideration the consent of women. In contrast the Church will still annul a marriage if one or both parties of the couple did not give their free consent to the marriage.
Summary
These are just a few examples of how Woods defends his thesis that the Catholic Church built Western civilization. He cites numerous examples in economy, law, agriculture and in science (which is often the thought to be at odds with the Church) where Catholic philosophers, monks, priests and Bishops have made important contributions to modern Western society. For those who think that he has not given enough credibility to other cultures (for example, the inventions of the Chinese and the mathematics of the Arabs), remember, that Woods has used ‘Western Civilization’ in the title.
The book is easy and interesting to read and is not just a gathering of facts. Woods tell the stories of the people who shaped our modern society, many of whom most of us have never heard. He manages to do this with honesty, truth and good writing style. I have to admit it is my favourite non-fiction book and I recommend it as a book for your `must read`list.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity


The history of Bethlehem goes back to the time of Jacob and Rachel. The town is important to Jews, Muslims and Christians.

Bethlehem is situated eight kilometers (five miles) south of Jerusalem in the Judean hills and is 2361 feet above sea level. Today it is a Palestinian territory with both Muslims and Christians seeing themselves as Palestinians.
Bethlehem means ‘house of bread,’ in Hebrew and ‘house of meat,’ in Arabic. ‘House of Bread’ is meaningful to Christians who believe that Jesus is the Bread of Life. For Catholics and Orthodox Christians, the Eucharist (the bread shared in Communion) after consecration is the real body of Jesus.
'I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh' John 6:51

Not far away is Rachel’s Tomb, revered by Jews, Muslims and Christians. Rachel was Jacob’s most beloved wife and the mother of Joseph and Benjamin.
“So Rachel died and was buried on the road to Ephrath, at Bethlehem.” Gen 35:19

Ruth, the Moabite Woman
We also read of Bethlehem in Scripture in the Book of Ruth, a story that takes place during the time of the Judges. Ruth, a Moabite woman, was the daughter-in-law of Naomi. Naomi and her husband had fled Bethlehem in the land of Judah during a famine. After her husband and sons died, Naomi returned to Bethlehem and Ruth went with her, accepting her mother-in-law’s country and God as her own. Ruth married again, this time to an important landowner of Bethlehem, Boaz, and they became the ancestors of King David and eventually, Jesus.
“So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife ... and she bore a son ... and they named him Obed. This was the father of David’s father, Jesse.” Ruth 4:13 ff
The City of David
Bethlehem was King David’s birthplace and is called ‘The city of David’. David was the second King of Israel in c.1000 BC.
“David was the son of an Ephrathite from Bethlehem of Judah whose name was Jesse.” I Sam 17:12

Years later, the prophet Micah, who lived in the 8th century BC, prophesied that a ruler would be born in the small, and by then, unimportant town of Bethlehem.
“But you Bethlehem, Ephrath, the least of all the clans of Judah, out of you will be born for me the one who is to rule over Israel.” Micah 5:2

Birthplace of Jesus
The Gospel writers, Matthew and Luke, report that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, even though Joseph and Mary were from Nazareth in Galilee, in the north. The Romans had called for a census and everyone was to travel to his ancestral city to be registered.
“So Joseph set out from the town of Nazareth in Galilee and traveled up to Judea, to the town of David called Bethlehem, since he was of David’s House and line in order to be registered together with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.” Luke 2:3
Two Church Fathers attest to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, Justin Martyr (c. 100- 165 AD) and Origen (185-c.254).
“Joseph took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village; and while they were there Mary brought forth Christ and placed Him in a manger and here the Magi who came from Arabia found Him.” Justin Martyr. Dialogue with Trypho. chapter LXXVIII)
“In Bethlehem the cave is pointed out where He was born, and the manger in the cave where He was wrapped in swaddling clothes. And the rumor is in those places, and among foreigners of the Faith, that indeed Jesus was born in this cave who is worshipped and reverenced by the Christians.” (Origen Contra Celsum. book I, chapter LI)

The Church of the Holy Nativity
St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, travelled to the Holy Land to find places which had been significant in the life of Jesus. She had the grotto, where people said Jesus had been born, made into a chapel and in AD 333 construction was completed on the basilica. This structure was destroyed by fire in AD529 during the Samaritan Revolt and the present Basilica was built in AD565. The entrance to the Basilica is a very low doorway known as the Door of Humility. Some say that the real purpose of the low door was to prevent enemies riding their horses into the sacred place,
The actual place that is believed to be the site of Jesus' birth is marked by a 14-point silver star set in marble on which are written the words Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus est (Here the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ). The Church is now administered by Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic (Franciscans) and Armenian Apostolic authorities and is visited by thousands of pilgrims each year from all over the world.
Bethlehem Today
Today the town of Bethlehem is under the control of The Palestinian Authority and has been since 1995. The present mayor is a Christian woman, Vera Baboun. Both Christians and Muslims count themselves as Palestinian but the majority are Arab Muslims. Many of the Christian Arabs have left in the past few years depleting the population of Christians. The total population of Bethlehem is 27,000.
Citizens of Bethlehem, including Muslims, depend on tourism and Christian pilgrimages for their livelihood.

Sources
The New Jerusalem Bible New York: Doubleday & company, Inc. 1970.
The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version.
Website of BBC News Church with a Turbulent History. 4 April 2002. Accessed December 14, 2010.
Website of New Advent – Catholic Encyclopedia. article on Bethlehem accessed December 15, 2010.
Website of Wikipedia – article on Bethlehem. accessed December 15, 2010.
Terra Sancta, Documentary (2009) by the Franciscan Media Centre aired on Salt and Light Television, December 17, 2013.
Photos by L. Shelstad

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Immaculate Conception: what does it mean?


Meeting at the Golden Gate, Giotto.

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated on December 8, is often confused with the Virgin Birth. What does it mean?
Some think that the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception refers to Jesus’ conception by the Holy Spirit. Jesus being conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary without a human father is known as the Virgin Birth, not the Immaculate Conception.
Neither does the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception mean that Mary was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit or that her own birth was a ‘virgin birth’. In the 4th century there was a popular belief that Mary’s birth was a virgin birth and in the 16th century the belief that she was born of the Holy Spirit circulated. The Church condemned both of these beliefs as error in 1677.
The famous painting, “The Meeting at the Golden Gate”, by Giotto, depicts Joachim kissing his wife, Anna as they celebrate the knowledge that they will be parents. Some interpreted the kiss as the moment of conception. The actual Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception does not say anything about the generative act of Mary’s mother and father. Most theologians, today, believe that Mary was conceived in the usual manner.

In the proclamation, Ineffabilis Deus of December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX defined the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception as follows: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was from the first moment of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted of almighty God, and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved immune from all stain of original sin.”

Some object to the doctrine because it seems to contradict St. Paul who says, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). Did Paul mean that everyone actually commits sins - even infants? Or could he have meant that everyone is subject to original sin, which then does not contradict the fact of Mary’s being preserved from original sin.
Examining the doctrine of the Catholic Church more closely, we see that like all descendants of Adam, Mary by her humanity, was subject to original sin. Because she was to be the mother of the Christ, God intervened in a special way and preserved her soul from the stain of that sin and its consequences. This intervention was ‘in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race”. Mary was then, saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus, as are all believers, but in ‘anticipation’ of those events. She said, ‘yes’ to God and accepted His will for her life. Because she was redeemed by Christ, she could declare in her Magnificat, “My spirit rejoices in Christ, my Saviour” (Luke 1:47).

The angel Gabriel's greeting to Mary, "Hail, Mary, full of grace", (Luke 1:26) is said to point to her sinlessness ie fullness of grace.

Others point out that this is a doctrine that sprang up out of nowhere when it was declared in 1854 and was not believed by the early church. An examination of the writings of the Church Fathers in the very early years of the Church will show:
- that the Church Fathers spoke of the Virgin Mary’s “exemption from defilement” (Hippolytus, “Ontt. in illud, Dominus pascit me”) Hippolytus ?-AD236
-that she was “worthy of God, immaculate of the immaculate” (Origen, “Homily i, in diversa”) Origen AD185-254
-that she was “immune through grace from every stain of sin (Ambrose, “Sermon xxii in Psalm cxviii). Ambrose c. AD337-397.
The theologian, Duns Scotus, developed the idea: "Decuit, potuit, ergo fecit, it was becoming that the Mother of the Redeemer should have been free from the power of sin and from the first moment of her existence; God could give her this privilege, therefore He gave it to her".
We see from this small sample of early theologians, that the doctrine of Mary’s preservation from sin was believed very early in the Church.
Early writers also referred to Mary as the ‘Second Eve’. Eve was created without original sin but sinned when she disobeyed God. Like Eve, Mary was without original sin, but unlike Eve, Mary agreed to do God’s will. She is the fulfillment of the proto-evangelium in Genesis 3:15 -16 “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head while you strike at his heel.”


In the Catholic Church, Dogmas are defined when there is a controversy over them or when emphasis of a belief already in existence will help the faithful. In other words the belief is not new but is ‘defined’. In the case of the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, there was no controversy at the time it was defined, but Pius IX felt it would help the faithful by inspiring devotion to the Virgin.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Brother Andre: The Humble Doorman


St. Joseph's Oratory Montreal, Quebec.

In Montreal's district of Côte-des-Neiges, The Oratory of St. Joseph rises on the north slope of Mount Royal. Its construction began in 1924, but it was not inaugurated until March 19, 1955.
At 124 m., it is higher than both St. Paul's in London (111 m) and Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (90 m). In 2005 the Oratory was added to the List of National Historic Sites of Canada on the occasion of its 100th anniversary. But the story of the man behind the Oratory is even more amazing.
Alfred Bessette's Early Life
Alfred Bessette was born August 9, 1845 in Saint-Grégoire d'Iberville, a small town southeast of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He was the eighth child in a family of twelve and both his parents died when he was still a child. Little Alfred, now an orphan, found work in villages nearby and later went to work in the mills of New England.
After returning to Canada in 1867 (the year of Canada's Confederation) he joined the Congregation of the Holy Cross. At first, the Congregation, a teaching order, was somewhat reluctant to accept the frail and uneducated Alfred but in the end they did. He took the name of Brother André and was given the job of doorman (or porter) at Notre Dame College. He also rang the school bells and helped in the laundry and the infirmary. Throughout his life he suffered from stomach pains and was unable to eat much of the food served at the school but he never complained.
A Doorman at Notre Dame College
As a doorman he had the opportunity to meet many people and when talking to them they often gave him prayer requests. He would lay these prayers before St. Joseph, the Virgin Mary's husband, and many were cured of their illnesses. Brother André became well-known because of these cures even though he insisted, "It is not me, God is responsible, Saint Joseph is responsible."
The Chapel is Built
In 1904 Brother André and his friends built a small chapel across the street from the College in honour of St. Joseph. For twenty-five years Brother André received visitors in his tiny office connected to the chapel. The chapel and Brother André's room nearby are still there and are visited by over two million people each year.
Construction of the Basilica
Eventually the chapel was too small for the daily stream of sick and needy people coming to see the doorman for prayer. After several expansions of the chapel, work on a crypt was begun and in 1924 workers began to construct the basilica.
When the Depression hit in 1936, many felt the work should be stopped. Brother André, however, declared that, since it was not his work but that of St. Joseph, they should place the statue of St. Joseph in the unfinished shrine. "If he wishes to be covered, he'll take care of it." In two months people had given enough money to continue construction.
Brother Andre's Death
Brother André died two months later on January 6, 1937 and nearly a million people lined up to pay respects to the little doorman of Notre Dame College.
Canonization
In 1978, Brother André was declared venerable and in 1982, Pope John Paul II declared him blessed. On October 17, 2010 the 'humble doorman' was canonized (the final step of sainthood) by Pope Benedict XVI in Rome.
Sources
Dubuc, Jean-Guy Brother André and Saint Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal. Strasboug, France: Editions du Signe. 1995.
Turcotte, Jean-Claude Cardinal. Montreal's Porter and Heaven's Gatekeeper. in Lampstand. Toronto: Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation. Fall, 2010.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Woman's Right to Her Own Body

If a woman has a right to her own body, which of the actions below does a woman have a right to do? Is it legal (in your country)? Does it only affect the woman herself or does it harm others?


- use heroin?




- not use a seatbelt when driving?


- wear a hijab?




- abort her baby?





Using heroin is destructive to your body but does it hurt anyone else? It can be harmful to others if you encourage others to use heroin or sell it to others, you steal to support the habit or you drive when you are high and kill someone. But most of all you hurt yourself. However, in most countries, using heroin is illegal and rightly so.

Not wearing a seatbelt when you are driving is also illegal in many countries. It is illegal in Canada to drive a car and not have your seatbelt on. But if you are in an accident and you aren't wearing a seatbelt and you get hurt or are killed - you only did damage to yourself. No one else (except those who love you) was hurt by you not wearing a seatbelt. And yet it is illegal to do so and rightly so.

What about wearing a hijab or scarf? It seems many people get very upset about women wearing a hijab even though it harms no one. If a woman covers her face and cannot be seen it could be argued that this is a security risk - she could not be identified after a crime, for example. The argument that a weapon could be hidden while wearing a hijab does not hold water because you could hide a weapon under a cap or hat more easily than a light scarf. And non-Muslim women wear scarves that are not the hjiab. Covering one's head is something that both women and men do in cold weather and there is no uproar about it. Some argue that women may not want to wear a hijab and are forced to do so by their father or husband. They should be free not to wear a hijab but we would have to admit that there are women who do want to wear it. There are also women who are forced to do other culturally based actions by other people that they may not choose to do on their own. If women can wear a hijab it should follow that women for whom this is not part of their faith should be free of not having to cover their heads - even in countries where they are a minority.
What about having an abortion? It is true that women should be free to do what they want with their own bodies. However a baby in utero is not part of a woman's body. The baby is dependent on the mother's body but it is not part of the mother's body. The baby may have a different blood type than the mother and the baby has a unique DNA. Having an abortion is, in many countries, legal. Of all these examples it is the only one that does harm to another. And yet it is legal.



Strange, isn't it?