Church History

She Wrote that She is Worried about the Church…

by Steve Ray on November 10, 2018

In response to a concerned convert to the Catholic Faith.  What to think about all the scandals and the confusion and the divisions in the Church under the current Vatican? Here is my short response…

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You’re not the only one distressed by what’s going on in the Church today all the way up to the pope. There is confusion and division swirling everywhere, much of it instigated up to the highest levels and that is not a good thing. Plus we have Cardinals, bishops and priests who are acting scandalously — although in the big picture, I must say — there are only a very few in relation to the great ones that predominate in the Church.

This is a time where knowing church history is a big benefit. When you study the history of the Church you find out that there have been times much worse than now, many more scandals and awful popes. Discovering the lives of some of the popes of the past is enough to curl your hair.

But at this time, as a convert, I love being Catholic and I know this is the Church and I know that it has always been filled with sinners and often with some leaders who care more about their own well-being, agendas, and desires (even lusts) than they care about the sheep. That’s why God is always warning the shepherds because he knows their propensity towards self-interest.

But this is a great time to be a Catholic because we have a battle to fight and as far as I’m concerned, I feel I was born for a time like this. Yes, it often makes evangelism difficult but at the same time, it gives us a chance to talk with people about the Church that we may not have had before. People may want to bring up the issues and I always say, “Great, let’s talk!”.

The first one to sit on the Chair of Peter denied our Lord and of the other 11 “bishops” one of them betrayed Jesus and the rest of them fled. Later St. Paul confronted the first Pope Peter for being a hypocrite (Gal 2:11). We were never promised perfect leaders (nor perfect fellow sheep). From beginning to end Scripture warns us that many of our leaders will be problems and some even “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” So we should not be surprised.

Should we leave? Where else can we go?  Peter said to Jesus, “You’re the one who has the words of eternal life.”  Jesus is the one building his Church (not “churches”) and we know the end of the story already because the Bible tells us. In the end, we win and the Church will be triumphant. Those who have remained faithful will be rewarded, and those who have caused little ones to stumble will be punished severely.

If one thinks a pope or prelate is above criticism, read that section in my new book The Papacy: What the Pope Does and Why It Matters (released this month by Ignatius Press).

So, don’t be too discouraged but just pray and keep living out your Catholic life in a faithful way. Remember it’s not our job to fix it — though we pray and work toward that end. This is Jesus’ Church  — it’s built on him and he is building it. The pope is simply the successor of Peter. They come and go, good ones and bad ones, but the Church continues to march forward. Onward Christian soldiers!

God bless you!

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As a Protestant, I went to an Evangelical church that changed an important and historical word in the  Apostles Creed. Instead of the “holy, catholic Church,” we were the “holy, Christian church.” At the time, I thought nothing of it. There was certainly no evil intent, just a loathing of the Catholic Church and a distinct desire to distance ourself from its heresy and man-made traditions. 

 I assumed that early on Catholics deviated from “biblical Christianity” so they simply invented a new word to describe their new society. Since we Evangelicals were supposedly the ones faithful to the Bible we had no interest in the word catholic since it was found nowhere between the covers of the Bible. It was a biased word loaded with negative baggage so we removed it from the Creed. 

 I should have asked myself “Where did the word catholic come from, and what does it mean?” Was I right to assume that Roman Catholics invented the word to set themselves apart from biblical Christianity? 

 A short and interesting investigation will turn up some valuable information. Let’s start with an understanding of doctrinal development and the definition of catholic, then  let’s “interview” the very first Christians to see what they thought of the Church and the word catholic and then we will study the Bible itself. 

 How Doctrines and Words Develop
The development of doctrine is not just a Catholic phenomenon. It is also a fact among Protestants and all religions or theological traditions. Over time, theological words develop to help explain the deeper understanding of the faith. As Christians ponder the revelation passed on by the apostles and deposited in his Church the Church mulls over God’s Word, thinking deeper and deeper. It is not unlike peeling the layers away from an onion as one goes deeper to the heart. 

 Development of doctrine defines, sharpens, and interprets the deposit of faith. The Bible is not a theological textbook or a detailed church manual, such as say a catechism or study guide. The Bible’s meaning is not always clear as St. Peter tells us (2 Pet 3:15?16). Thirty-three thousand competing Protestant denominations also make this fact apparent as they fail to agree on what the Bible says. It takes the authority of a universal Church and the successors of the apostles to formulate the doctrines of the faith. As an Evangelical, I was naïve enough to think I could recreate the “theological” wheel for myself.

  To illustrate doctrinal development, let’s look at the word trinity. The word trinity never appears in the Bible, nor does the Bible give explicit formulas for the nature of the Trinity as commonly used today, such as “one God is three persons,” or “three persons, one nature.”  Yet, the word Trinity, as developed within the Catholic Church, is an essential belief for nearly every Protestant denomination. The first recorded use of the word trinity (trias) was in the writings of Theophilus of Antioch around the year a.d. 180.  Although not found in the Bible, the early Church developed words such as Trinity, which are used to define and explain basic, essential Christian doctrines. 

Interestingly, while many Protestants object to the idea of development of doctrine within the Catholic Church, they seem to have no problem with developments in their own camp—even novelties and inventions. Take for example the Rapture, another word not found in the Bible and not used in any theological circles until the mid-19th century. After a prophetic utterance from two women at a Scottish revival meeting, the new doctrine of the Rapture spread like wildfire through England and America.

 It was the Catholic Church that defined the Blessed Trinity, the divinity and humanity of Christ—the hypostatic union of two natures in the one divine person of Jesus—, salvation, baptism, the Blessed Eucharist, and all the other doctrines that have been the bedrock of the Christian faith. It is also the Catholic Church that gave birth to the New Testament—collecting, canonizing, preserving, distributing, and interpreting them. 

As a Protestant I was quite willing to unknowingly accept the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the closed canon of the  New Testament, etc., but I willfully rejected the full teaching of the Catholic Church. I now realize that it is in the Catholic Church that we find the fulness of the faith and the visible, universal body of Christ.

 The Word “Catholic” Defined
However, we have yet to define the word catholic. It comes from the Greek katholikos, the combination of two words: kata- concerning, and holos- whole. Thus, concerning the whole. According to the Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, the word catholic comes from a Greek word meaning “regarding the whole,” or more simply, “universal” or “general.” Universal comes from two Greek words: uni- one, and vertere- turning. In other words, a “one turning”, “revolving around one,” or “turned into one”. The word church comes from the Greek ecclesia which means “those called out,” as in those summoned out of the world at large to form a distinct society. So the Catholic Church is made up of those called out and gathered into the universal visible society founded by Christ.

In its early years, the Church was small, both in geographically and numerically. For roughly the first decade the Church was made up exclusively of Jews in the area of Jerusalem. The word catholic hardly seemed to apply. But as the Church grew and spread across the Roman Empire, it incorporated Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, Romans, freemen, and even slaves—men and women from every tribe and tongue. But by the third century, oneout of ten people in the Roman Empire was a Catholic. Just as the word Trinity was appropriated to describe the nature of God, so the term catholic was appropriated to describe the nature of Christ’s body, the Church. 

But let’s get back to the history of the word catholic. The first recorded use of the word is found very early in Christian literature. We find the first instance the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch who was a young man during the time of the apostles and the second bishop of Antioch following Peter. Ignatius was immersed in the living tradition of the local church in Antioch where the believers in Christ were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). He was alive early enough to know the apostles and was taught and ordained directly by the apostles. 

From the apostles St. Ignatius learned what the church was from the apostles themselves. From them he learned how it was to function, grow, and be governed. History informs us that St. Peter was the Bishop of Antioch at the time; in fact, Church Fathers claim that St. Ignatiuis was ordained by St. Peter himself.Ignatius must have worshiped with Peter and Paul and John. He lived with or near them, and was an understudy of these special apostles. St. Ignatius of Antioch is known and revered as an authentic witness to the tradition and practice of the apostles. 

 In the existing  documents that have come down to us, St. Ignatius is the first to use the word catholic in reference to the Church. On his way to Rome, under military escort to the Coliseum where he would be devoured by lions for his faith, he wrote, “You must all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbytery as you would the Apostles. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church” (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, 8).  

 Another early instance of the word catholic is associated with St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, who used the word many times. Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John just as St. John was a disciple of Jesus. Like Ignatius, Polycarp also suffered the martyr’s death in a coliseum in a.d. 155. In the Martyrdom of Polycarp, written at the time of Polycarp’s death, we read, “The Church of God which sojourns in Smyrna, to the Church of God which sojourns in Philomelium, and to all the dioceses of the holy and Catholic Church in every place” (Encyclical Epistle of the Church at Smyrnam, Preface)  

 Later in the same book it says, “When Polycarp had finished his prayer, in which he remembered everyone with whom he had ever been acquainted . . . and the whole Catholic Church throughout the world.” They then gave him up to wild beasts, fire and finally, the sword. The epistle then concludes, “Now with the Apostles and all the just [Polycarp] is glorifying God and the Father Almighty, and he is blessing our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of our souls, and the Shepherd of the Catholic Church throughout the world” (8).

 So we clearly see that early in the second century Christians regularly use the word catholic as an established description of the Church.  From the second century on we see the term catholic being used consistently by the theologians and writers. One can easily conclude that catholic was a very early description of the Church, probably used by the apostles themselves

 St. Augustine in the  fourth century, relaying the tradition of the early Church, minces no words asserting the importance and wide-spread use of the term catholic. He writes, “We must hold to the Christian religion and to communication in her Church which is Catholic, and which is called Catholic not only by her own members but even by all her enemies” (The True Religion, 7, 12). And again, “[T]he very name of Catholic, which, not without reason, belongs to this Church alone, in the face of so many heretics, so much so that, although all heretics want to be called Catholic, when a stranger inquires where the Catholic Church meets, none of the heretics would dare to point out his own basilica or house” (Against the Letter of Mani called “The Foundation”, 4, 5).

 The early usage and importance of the word can also be seen by its use in both the Apostles and the Nicene Creeds. If you were a Christian in the first mellenia you were a Catholic, and if you were a Catholic you recited the Creeds affirming the “one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” Unhappily, some people today try to make a distinction between Catholic with a capital “C” and catholic with a small “c”, but such a distinction is a recent development and unheard of in the early Church.

 Biblical Understanding of the word “Catholic”
Jesus commissioned his apostles with the words “Go therefore, 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” (Mt 28:19, 20). As Frank Sheed reminds us, “Notice first the threefold ‘all’—all nations, all things, all days. Catholic, we say, means ‘universal.’ Examining the word ‘universal,’ we see that it contains two ideas, the idea of all, the idea of one. But all what? All nations, all teachings, all times. So our Lord says. It is not an exaggerated description of the Catholic Church. Not by the wildest exaggeration could it be advanced as a description of any other” (Theology and Sanity [San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1993], 284).

 Jesus used the word church twice in the gospels, both in Matthew. He said, “I will build my Church” (Mt 16:18). He didn’t say churches as though he were building a subdivision; nor did he imply it would be an invisible church made up of competing groups. He was going to build a visible, recognizable church. And in Matthew 18:17 Jesus said that if one brother offends another they were to take it to “the Church”. Notice the article “the” referring to a specific entity. Not “churches” but one visible, recognizable church that can be expected to have a recognizable leadership with universal authority. 

 One can see the sad state of “Christendom” today by comparing Jesus’ words about “the Church” with the current situation. If a Methodist offends a Baptist, or a Presbyterian offends a Pentecostal, which “church” do they take it to for adjudication? This alone demonstrates the problem when 33,000 plus denominations exist outside the physical bounds of the “one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” Jesus expected there to be one universal, authoritative, visible and Catholic Church to represent him on earth until his return.

 Just before he was crucified, Jesus prayed not only for the universality and catholicity of the Church, but for her visible unity:

 “[T]hat they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that  You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me” Jn 17:21?23 NASB).

 The early Church understood Jesus’ words. What good was an invisible, theoretical, impractical unity? For the world to see a catholic unity, the oneness of the Church must be a visible, real, physical, and visible reality. All of this the Catholic Church is. Since the earliest centuries Christians have confessed that the Church is “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” One because there is only one, visible, organic, and unified Church; holy because she is called out of the world to be the Bride of Christ, righteous and sanctified; catholic because she is universal, unified, and covers the whole world; apostolic because Christ founded her (Mt. 16:18) through his apostles, and the apostles’ authority are carried on through the bishops. Through the centuries, this creed has been the statement of the Church. 

 In these last days, Christians need to stand confident and obedient in heart of the Catholic Church. She has been our faithful Mother, steadfastly carrying out the mandate of Jesus Christ for 2,000 years. As an Evangelical Protestant I thought I could ignore the creeds and councils of our Mother, the Church. I was sadly mistaken. I now understand that Jesus requires us to listen to His Church, the Church to which he gave the authority to bind and to loose (Mt 16:19; 18:17)—the Catholic Church, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Tim 3:15).

 Steve Ray is the author of Crossing the Tiber, Upon this Rock, and St. John’s Gospel. You can contact him at his website at www.CatholicConvert.com

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SIGN OF THE CROSS
By Steve Ray

The Sign of the Cross is a ritual gesture by which we confess two important mysteries: the Trinity and the centrality of the Cross. It is the most common and visible means by which we confess our faith. The Sign of the Cross is made by touching the forehead with the fingers of the right hand, then the breast and then the left and right shoulders.

The sign was originally placed upon the forehead with the thumb and later extended to the whole upper body. This is not only a personal gesture, as a form of prayer but also a public witness and a sign of participation in the life of Christ and the Church. It is used as an integral part of many actions (e.g., at Baptism, Confirmation, prayer, to begin and end Mass, etc.).

 The Church has given us wonderful customs and traditions to mark ourselves and to acknowledge our participation in the whole continuity of the Church and the work of Christ. Miracles have been performed with this simple gesture and parliaments and councils have opened under its sign. Though Protestantism jettisoned this practice, along with the crucifix during the Reformation, the Catholic and Orthodox traditions faithfully continue this age old practice handed down from the age of the Apostles.

The Catholic Church has always seen outward gestures as means of expressing and actuating internal spiritual realities. Sacramentals, such as the Sign of the Cross, are not superstitious practices but are sacred signs by which various things in life are rendered holy through the effectual and sacramental grace of God. By the Sign of the Cross we pledge allegiance to Christ and invite the Holy Spirit to apply the cross to our lives—to take up our cross and follow Christ.

Though the NT does not specifically mention the “Sign of the Cross”, there is scriptural warrant for such a gesture. St. Paul writes, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2), and “may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6:14).

Ezekiel provides precedence for a sign upon the forehead of believers (Ezek 9:4; 17:9–14) as does Revelation (Rev 7:3; 9:4; 14:1). Ezekiel provided a support for the early Christians to use it as a “sacramental” (CCC 1235, 1668) to display their devotion to Christ and His Cross. There is reason to believe that the Jewish Christians used the Sign of the Cross prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in ad 70.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we learn: “The Christian begins his day, his prayers and his activities with the Sign of the Cross: ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’ The baptized person dedicates the day to the glory of God and calls on the Savior’s grace which lets him act in the Spirit as a child of the Father. The Sign of the Cross strengthens us in temptations and difficulties” (CCC, no. 2157; see also CCC, no. 786).

The writings of the Fathers, as authentic witnesses to the apostolic teaching in the early Church, are replete with references to the Sign of the Cross. The practice is already well established in the 2nd century as attested to by Tertullian (ad c. 160-c. 225). He writes of the wife who “signs” her bed and body (To His Wife 5).

He also writes, “At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign. If, for these and other such rules, you insist upon having positive Scripture injunction, you will find none. Tradition will be held forth to you as the originator of them, custom as their strengthener, and faith as their observer” (The Chaplet 3, 4).

Origen (ad c. 185-c. 284) wrote, “This [letter Tau] bears a resemblance to the figure of the cross; and this prophecy [Ezek 9:4] is said to regard the sign made by Christians on the forehead, which all believers make whatsoever work they begin upon, and especially at the beginning of prayers, or of holy readings” (Selections in Ezekiel. c. ix).

St. Augustine (354–430 AD) wrote: “What else is the sign of Christ but the cross of Christ? For unless that sign be applied, whether it be to the foreheads of believers, or to the very water out of which they are regenerated, or to the oil with which they receive the anointing chrism, or to the sacrifice that nourishes them, none of them is properly administered” (Tractates on John 118).

There has never been a time in the flow of historic Christianity that the Sign of the Cross has not been devoutly practiced. Only recently, since the Reformation, has the Sign of the Cross (along with the Crucifix, holy water and other visible signs) been rejected as idolatrous by many Protestant traditions. However, even Martin Luther in his Taufbuechlein retained the Sign of the Cross in the baptismal service and used the Sign of the Cross as one of his last gestures before death (H. Grizar, Luther, 3:435).

 Quotations:

Tertullian: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff, ed., Eerdmans, 1980, vol. 3, p. 94–95.

Origen: The Faith of Catholics, Rev. Chapel, ed., Fr. Pustet & Co., 1885, vol. 3, p. 424.

St. Augustine: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1st series, Philip Schaff, ed., Eerdmans, 1983, vol. 7, p. 432.

Grizar citation: Luther, Hartmann Grizar, B. Herder Book Co., 1919, vol. 3, p. 435.

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Free Timeline of the 1st Century

October 22, 2018

The past is shrouded in a fog for most people. What was really going on in the 1st century during and after the live of Christ and the birth of the Catholic Church? Here is a simple Timeline of First Century Christianity. I created this to give you an overview on one page. I created the […]

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Who Says the Mass is a Sacrifice?

October 9, 2018

Who Says the Mass is a Sacrifice? Jimmy Swaggart (making a foolish and unhistorical claim): “The Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation is, without question, one of the most absurd doctrines ever imposed on a trusting public…  Roman Catholic errors are inevitably human innovations that were inserted into the church during the early centuries. This teaching on […]

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The Eucharist and the Fathers of the Church: Article by Steve Ray

August 12, 2018

The Eucharist and the Fathers of the Church, by Steve Ray The word “Eucharist” was used early in the Church to describe the Body and Blood of Christ under the forms of bread and wine. Eucharist comes from the Greek word for “thanks” (eucharistia), describing Christ’s actions: “And when he had given thanks, he broke […]

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Mega-church Mania: One Mom’s Observations (she’s a good writer) and Observations from the Early Church

August 10, 2018

Mr. Ray, My eldest daughter invited me to my grandson’s ‘dedication’ at her new place of worship.  Worship? Sorry. Her new place of…..well, the giant Olympic-sized structure that, after being directed in by police/traffic officers, upon entering, reminded me of a mall.  Oh and by the way, I didn’t witness any worship. My 1st thoughts were…”Wow! […]

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Great Pictures, Charts and Info on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

June 25, 2018

Since we are experiencing the amazing and rare Solemn Entry into the Holy Sepulchre to visit the tomb today ushered in by the Franciscans, I wanted to share these many beautiful and helpful pictures, diagrams, charts and more about the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. See all this wealth of information written and visual. For me […]

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Dear Protestant: Where Did You Get Your Bible?

May 20, 2018

From Little Catholic Bubble website Leila@LittleCatholicBubble Dear Protestant: Where did you get your New Testament? At least a couple of times every week, Protestants use New Testament verses to show me where the Catholic Church is wrong about something. I always make them take the necessary step back by asking the following: “Where did you get your […]

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Quiz: Did Jesus Found a Church on Pentecost and If So, Where Is It?

May 19, 2018

I am sharing this from John Martignoni’s e-mail and website at www.BibleChristianSociety.com. Thanks for your good work John! 1) Did Jesus found a church?  A) Yes; Matt 16:18  2) How many churches did Jesus found?  A) One; the church is the Body of Christ and there is only one body of Christ – Rom 12:5, […]

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Pentecost: The Birth of the Catholic Church

May 9, 2018

                You can also purchase this talk here.                  

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The Technology of Scripture Study: The Middle Ages (and a hilarious video at the end)

April 16, 2018

“I am an ecclesiastical historian by training and a Bible software guy by trade. Which, I think, puts me in the unique position to write about the history of the intersection of technology and Scripture study in a series of posts.” Written by my friend Andrew Jones PhD: “We might start with a description of […]

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Short Thought on If or When it’s OK to Break from the Church

March 19, 2018

We must admit that the Catholic Church today is the same organization with unbroken continuity with that organization (Church) started in the 1st century. A reading of the Apostolic Fathers, the hinge figures between the Apostles and the later 1st and  2nd century, makes that clear. The question is whether at some point the one […]

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Does God Pick the Pope? [implied, Did God Pick Pope Francis]? by Jimmy Akin

March 14, 2018

Does God Pick the Pope? by Jimmy Akin “When Pope Benedict was elected in 2005, I was overjoyed.As much as I loved John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger spoke to me in a special way, and I was thrilled when he became pope. I was puzzled, though, by the way people began announcing him as “God’s choice” and […]

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What to Think About Bad Popes

February 16, 2018

Written by Dave Armstrong and used with permission: BAD POPES: REPLIES TO A SINCERE INQUIRER, February 15, 2018, by Dave Armstrong God made an everlasting covenant with King David, even though he was an adulterer and murderer. Dave writes: “As this was originally private correspondence, my correspondent’s exact words will be paraphrased, not cited. Her […]

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Did the Church Ever Support Slavery?

January 25, 2018

By Steve Weidenkopf   September 18, 2017 Many years ago I attended a conference organized by a national Catholic organization on the topics of marriage and human sexuality. One of the speakers was a professor from Creighton University who, in the middle of his talk on contraception, launched into a long tangent about how the Church had […]

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