Conservative Colloquium

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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

Earliest Interpretations of Peter as the “Rock” in Mt 16:18

Posted by Tony Listi on March 22, 2014

Protestants offer a slew of rationalizations for why Peter is not the “rock” upon which Jesus built His Church in Matthew 16:18.

But how did the earliest Christians and Christian leaders (East and West) interpret this verse of Scripture? They interpreted it the way Catholics do. Peter is the Rock.

Tertullian (c. 160-c. 225)
“Was anything withheld from the knowledge of Peter, who is called ‘the rock on which the church should be built,’ who also obtained ‘the keys of the kingdom of heaven’….” (On the Prescription Against the Heretics, 22; ANF, Vol. III, 253)

“If, because the Lord has said to Peter, ‘Upon this rock will I build My Church,’ ‘to you have I given the keys of the heavenly kingdom;’ or, ‘Whatsoever you shall have bound or loosed in earth, shall be bound or loosed in the heavens,’ you therefore presume that the power of binding and loosing has derived to you, that is, to every Church akin to Peter, what sort of man are you, subverting and wholly changing the manifest intention of the Lord, conferring (as that intention did) this (gift) personally upon Peter? ‘On you,’ He says, ‘will I build My Church;’ and, ‘I will give to you the keys,’ not to the Church; and, ‘Whatsoever you shall have loosed or bound,’ not what they shall have loosed or bound. For so withal the result teaches. In (Peter) himself the Church was reared; that is, through (Peter) himself; (Peter) himself essayed the key; you see what (key): ‘Men of Israel, let what I say sink into your ears: Jesus the Nazarene, a man destined by God for you,’ and so forth. (Peter) himself, therefore, was the first to unbar, in Christ’s baptism, the entrance to the heavenly kingdom, in which (kingdom) are ‘loosed’ the sins that were beforetime ‘bound;’ and those which have not been ‘loosed’ are ‘bound,’ in accordance with true salvation; and Ananias he ‘bound’ with the bond of death, and the weak in his feet he ‘absolved’ from his defect of health. Moreover, in that dispute about the observance or non-observance of the Law, Peter was the first of all to be endued with the Spirit, and, after making preface touching the calling of the nations, to say, ‘And now why are you tempting the Lord, concerning the imposition upon the brethren of a yoke which neither we nor our fathers were able to support? But however, through the grace of Jesus we believe that we shall be saved in the same way as they.’ This sentence both ‘loosed’ those parts of the law which were abandoned, and ‘bound’ those which were reserved. Hence the power of loosing and of binding committed to Peter….” (On Modesty, 21; ANF, Vol. IV)

Hippolytus (d.c. 236)
By this Spirit, Peter spoke that blessed word, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ By this Spirit, the rock of the Church was established.” (Discourse on the Holy Theophany, 9, ANF, Vol. V, 237)

Origen (c. 185-c. 254)
“And Peter, on whom the Church of Christ is built, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail.” (Commentary on John, 5:3; ANF, Vol. X, 347; cf. Jurgens, I, 202)
“Look at [Peter] the great foundation of the Church, that most solid of rocks, upon whom Christ built the Church. And what does our Lord say to him? ‘O you of little faith,’ he says, ‘why do you doubt?’ [Mt 14:31]” (Homilies on Exodus, 5, 4; Jurgens, I, 205)

Cyprian (210-258)
“The Lord speaks to Peter, saying, ‘I say unto thee, that thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ And again to the same He says, after His resurrection, ‘Feed my sheep.’ And although to all the apostles, after His resurrection, He gives an equal power, and says, ‘As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you: Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they shall be remitted unto him; and whose soever sins ye retain, they shall be retained;’ yet, that He might set forth unity, He arranged by His authority the origin of that unity, as beginning from one. Assuredly the rest of the apostles were also the same as was Peter, endowed with a like partnership both of honour and power; but the beginning proceeds from unity.” (The Unity of the Church [Treatise IV]; ANF, Vol. V)

“The Lord speaks to Peter, saying, ‘I say unto thee, that thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ Upon one He builds His Church, and to the same He says after His resurrection, ‘feed My sheep’. And though to all His Apostles He gave an equal power yet did He set up one chair, and disposed the origin and manner of unity by his authority. The other Apostles were indeed what Peter was, but the primacy is given to Peter, and the Church and the chair is shown to be one. And all are pastors, but the flock is shown to be one, which is fed by all the Apostles with one mind and heart. He that holds not this unity of the Church, does he think that he holds the faith? He who deserts the chair of Peter, upon whom the Church is founded, is he confident that he is in the Church?” (The Unity of the Church [Treatise IV]; ANF, Vol. V) (Click here for discussion of two different versions of Treatise IV.)

“Nevertheless, Peter, upon whom by the same Lord the Church had been built, speaking one for all, and answering with the voice of the Church, says, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life; and we believe, and are sure that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God:’ signifying, doubtless, and showing that those who departed from Christ perished by their own fault, yet that the Church which believes on Christ, and holds that which it has once learned, never departs from Him at all, and that those are the Church who remain in the house of God…. After such things as these, moreover, they still dare—a false bishop having been appointed for them by heretics—to set sail and to bear letters from schismatic and profane persons to the throne of Peter, and to the chief church whence priestly unity takes its source; and not to consider that these were the Romans whose faith was praised in the preaching of the apostle, to whom faithlessness could have no access.” (Epistle LIV [LIX], To Cornelius, Concerning Fortunatus and Felicissimus, 7, 14; ANF, Vol. V)

“They who have not peace themselves now offer peace to others. They who have withdrawn from the Church promise to lead back and to recall the lapsed to the Church. There is one God and one Christ, and one Church, and one Chair founded on Peter by the word of the Lord. It is not possible to set up another altar or for there to be another priesthood besides that one altar and that one priesthood. Whoever has gathered elsewhere is scattering.” (Letter 43 [40], To All His People, 5; Jurgens, I, 229)

“There speaks Peter, upon whom the Church would be built, teaching in the name of the Church and showing that even if a stubborn and proud multitude withdraws because it does not wish to obey, yet the Church does not withdraw from Christ. The people joined to the priest and the flock clinging to their shepherd are the Church. You ought to know, then, that the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishop, and if someone is not with the bishop, he is not in the Church. They vainly flatter themselves who creep up, not having peace with the priests of God, believing that they are secretly in communion with certain individuals. For the Church, which is One and Catholic, is not split nor divided, but is indeed united and joined by the cement of priests who adhere one to another.” (Letter 66 [69], 8; To Florentius Pupianus; Jurgens, I, 233-234)

Firmilian of Caesarea (c. 255)
“But what is the greatness of his error, and what the depth of his blindness, who says…and does not abide on the foundation of the one Church which was once based by Christ upon the rock, may be perceived from this, that Christ said to Peter alone, ‘Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’… Stephen…boasts of the place of his episcopate, and contends that he holds the succession from Peter, on whom the foundations of the Church were laid…. Stephen, who announces that he holds by succession the throne of Peter….” (quoted in St. Cyprian’s letters 74:16-17)

Eusebius of Caesaria [Church historian] (c. 265-c. 340)
“And Peter, on whom the Church of Christ is built, ‘against which the gates of hell shall not prevail’….” (Ecclesiastical History, 6, 25; NPNF 2, Vol. I, 273)

Aphraates (c. 280-c. 345)
“[T]he chief of the disciples…the Lord accepted him, set him up as the foundation, called him the rock and structure of the church.” (De Paenitentibus, Homily 7:15; Winter, 58)

Letter of Clement to James (c. 290)
“Be it known to you, my lord, that Simon, who for the sake of the truth faith, and the sure foundation of his doctrine, was set apart to be the foundation of the Church, and for this end was, by Jesus himself, with his truthful mouth, named Peter.” (2)

Clementine Homilies (c. 290)
“[Simon Peter to Simon Magus:] For in direct opposition to me, who am a firm rock, the foundation of the Church, you now stand.” (17:19)

Hilary of Poitiers (c. 315-368)
“[B]lessed Simon, who after his confession of the mystery, was set to be the foundation-stone of the Church, and received the keys of the kingdom….” (On the Trinity, 6, 20; NPNF 2, Vol. IX, 105)

Ephraem (c. 306-373)
Simon, My follower, I have made you the foundation of the holy Church. I betimes called you Peter, because you will support all its buildings. You are the inspector of those who will build on earth a Church for Me. If they should wish to build what is false, you, the foundation, will condemn them. You are the head of the fountain from which My teaching flows, you are the chief of My disciples. Through you I will give drink to all peoples…. I have chosen you to be, as it were, the first-born in My institution, and so that, as the heir, you may be executor of my treasures. I have given you the keys of my kingdom. Behold, I have given you authority over all my treasures!” (Homilies, 4, 1; Jurgens, I, 311)

Basil the Great (c. 330-379)
Peter upon which rock the Lord promised that he would build his church.” (In Isaias, 2, 66; Winter, 55)

Gregory Nazianzen (c. 330-c. 390)
“Seest thou that of the disciples of Christ, all of whom were exalted and deserving of choice, one is called rock, and is entrusted with the foundations of the church.” (Oration 32, 18; Winter, 56)

Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-c. 394)
“Peter, who is the head of the apostles…he is the firm and most solid rock, on which the savior built his Church. (Panegyric on St. Stephen, 3; Winter, 56)

Epiphanius (c. 315-403)
“[T]he first of the apostles, the solid rock on which the Church was built. (In Ancorato, 9, 6; Winter, 57)

John Chrysostom (c. 345-407)
“[H]e [Peter] became a foundation of the Church.” (Homily 3 on Matthew; NPNF 1, Vol. X, 19)
“[T]o exhibit a man that is a fisher more solid than any rock, while all the world is at war with him….” (Homily 54 on Matthew; NPNF 1, Vol. X, 334)
Peter, the coryphaeus of the choir of apostles, the mouth of the disciples, the foundation of the faith, the base of the confession, the fisherman of the world, who brought back our race from the depth of error to heaven….” (Hom. de decem mille talentis; Chapman, 74)
“Peter, that the head of the Apostles, the first in the Church, the friend of Christ, who received the revelation not from man but from the Father…this Peter, and when I say Peter, I mean the unbroken rock, the unshaken foundation, the great apostle, the first of the disciples, the first called, the first to obey.” (Almsgiving 3:4; Chapman, 74)

Optatus of Milevis (c.367)
“You cannot then deny that you do know that upon Peter first in the city of Rome was bestowed the episcopal cathedra, on which sat Peter, the head of all the apostles (for which reason he was called Cephas), that, in this one cathedra, unity should be preserved by all.” (Schism of the Donatists 2:2)

Posted in Catholicism vs. Protestantism, Church Fathers, Church History, Religion and Theology, The Papacy, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Christianity is Historically Reasonable

Posted by Tony Listi on January 1, 2011

It seems lately that there has been a resurgence of atheism and agnosticism in American youth culture. With this in mind, it is necessary for young Christians to be able to explain and defend their faith through reason rather than mere appeals to authorities that non-Christians do not accept (i.e. the Bible, Church authority, Holy Tradition). Using inductive reasoning and the historical record, Christians can demonstrate that their faith is reasonable.

In my experience, most atheists and agnostics reject Christianity on the basis of a dogmatic and irrational rejection of miracles and Christian morality. Let me address this briefly before turning to the historical data.

Miracles are philosophically possible for the reasons the skeptic philosopher David Hume lucidly explained with regard to causation: past chronological experience in itself is no guarantee that physical phenomena will always occur in the future exactly like in that past experience. Philosophical skepticism undermines the dogmatic scientism and rationalism that say miracles can’t happen. I also suggest reading C. S. Lewis’ Miracles which explores precisely this topic and asserts that the reality of reason itself is miraculous. To summarize the argument in the book, Lewis quotes J. B. S. Haldane who appeals to a similar line of reasoning. Haldane states “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true … and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.”

Morality, if it is to have any real and signficant meaning apart from human opinion and preference, is a matter of faith. Morality is beyond reason. Reason and logic can never provide foundational moral principles; reason can only expound upon such unprovable principles. You can’t reason your way to unselfishness as a moral principle. Whether egoism or love is moral can be determined only by appeal to a faith, a religion. Atheists and agnostics have no reason on principle to embrace love and altruism. Because God is excluded, any atheist or agnostic “morality” has to be man-made and thus inherently arbitrary. For who is any man to say his morality is better than any other man’s? Moreover, a willful refusal to obey Christian morality says more about the disobedient person than it does about Christian morality; such a willful refusal certainly doesn’t say anything about the truth or reasonableness of Christianity one way or another.

Alright, now on to the historical evidence. 

What we know about Jesus and early Christianity as a matter of history comes from Christian, Roman (Tacitus and Pliny the Younger), and Jewish (Josephus and the Talmud) primary sources. The Christian sources are eye-witness testimonies. They tell us four historical facts that are accepted by sincere and mainstream scholarship and have to be accounted for by the atheist, agnostic, or non-Christian:

  1. Jesus was tried, convicted, and crucified by the Jewish and Roman authorities.
  2. The tomb of Jesus was guarded and yet found empty. Neither the Jewish nor the Roman authorities could produce His body.
  3. Afterward, many of His followers, former skeptics among them, claim to have to have seen Jesus alive in the flesh (not a ghost) and to have interacted with Him.
  4. His followers then, in the face of harsh persecution and martrydom, created a revolutionary worldwide movement that converted millions of people to a new way of life based on the life and teachings of Jesus. They achieved this without any significant economic, political, or military power.

The second and fourth facts are particularly significant. 

The Christian explanation for these historical facts (the resurrection) is far more reasonable than all the other theories that non-Christians have come up with over the centuries. It passes historical scrutiny. Let’s take a look at these other theories one by one:

 1. Jesus’ followers created a myth; they lied.

  • The gospels tells us that Jesus’ followers were amazed at the sight of the risen Jesus; they did not expect Him to rise from the dead. Some refused to believe it even after others told them that He was alive in the flesh.
  • It is one thing to create a myth or lie; it is quite another to endure persecution and death for the sake of beliefs that one knows or even suspects to be untrue. Such behavior is highly unlikely. Who would behave like this? (See theory #4 too.)

2. Jesus’ followers stole the body of Jesus. (A very early accusation made against Christianity by Jewish authorities.)

  • The gospels and Jewish sources tell us that the tomb of Jesus was closed with a stone and guarded. It is highly unlikely that the poor, weak followers of Jesus could have overcome the guards nor do Jewish sources make this claim.
  • If the followers of Jesus had stolen the body, then they would have known that Christianity was false. That would bring us back to the previous theory (#1) which has already been rebutted.

3.  Jesus didn’t really die. (This theory is held by Muslims in particular and other non-Christian theorists.)

  • This theory requires us to believe that Roman soldiers didn’t know how to kill people. How reasonable is that?
  • Even if Jesus somehow managed to survive the scourging, crucifixion, and spear in His side. How reasonable is it to believe a man in such a state could have rolled the stone away from his tomb, overcome Roman guards, and made his way to his followers in various locations?

4. Jesus’ followers hallucinated or were insane.

  • Insanity and hallucinations are private, not public. If many people report seeing something that is highly unlikely, it is not reasonable to say they are all merely dreaming, imagining things, or insane.
  • Insanity and hallucination in themselves are very rare statistically. Hallucinations are usually caused by drugs or bodily deprivation.
  • The gospels tells us that Jesus appeared to and interacted with many of his disciples, as many as 500 of them on one occasion according to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. The Bible also give us insight into the character and state of mind of those whom Jesus appeared to: the disciples were fearful, doubtful, despairing, skeptical, etc., hardly fertile ground for hallucination.
  • Paul, a Pharisaic Jew, Roman citizen, and persecutor of Christians, according to his own letters claims to have encountered the risen Jesus. How likely is it that such a person would hallucinate such things and radically change his life?

Ultimately, each and every one of us has to come up with a reasonable answer to the question that Jesus posed to His disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” The most reasonable answer is the Christian answer. In this way, reason calls us to faith.

This post is indebted to Dinesh D’Souza’s Life After Death: The Evidence and Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, both of which I recommend for further reading in Christian apologetics.

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Commentary on Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians

Posted by Tony Listi on October 17, 2010

St. Polycarp was Bishop of Smyrna and a very early Church father and martyr who lived from 69 to 155 AD. From the writings of St. Irenaeus (b. ca. 115-142), we know that Polycarp was taught by the original Apostles (John in particular), had talked with those who had seen Jesus, and received his episcopate from the Apostles.

In his letter to the Philippians, he rejects sola fide, upholds the necessity of obedience for salvation/heaven, undermines the rationale behind sola Scriptura, affirms the divine authority of Church officials (deacons and presbyters), confirms the presence of virgins in the early Church, commands fear of God, says to avoid heretics who bear the name “Christian” in falsehood and hypocrisy, upholds apostolic tradition, exhorts perseverance in the faith in order to be saved, and quotes from the so-called “apocrypha.”
He also fills the letter with verses from the New Testament.

I have greatly rejoiced with you in our Lord Jesus Christ…because the strong root of your faith, spoken of in days (Philippians 1:5) long gone by, endures even until now, and brings forth fruit to our Lord Jesus Christ…. knowing that “by grace you are saved, not of works,” (Ephesians 2:8-9) but by the will of God through Jesus Christ.

The “strong root” Polycarp refers to is St. Paul. Yes, we are saved by grace because we are forgiven through grace. Grace is at work in the beginning, during, and at the end of the process of salvation. We cannot earn our salvation because we cannot earn forgiveness. But we do have to bear fruit in proportion to our ability and talents, even if the fruit is not the cause of forgiveness. Polycarp has more to say on the issue of salvation:

But He who raised Him up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do His will, and walk in His commandments, and love what He loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness, covetousness, love of money, evil speaking, false witness; “not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing,” (1 Peter 3:9) or blow for blow, or cursing for cursing, but being mindful of what the Lord said in His teaching….

Notice that obedience to God’s law and avoidance of sin are conditions for being raised up to heaven.

 For neither I, nor any other such one, can come up to the wisdom (2 Peter 3:15) of the blessed and glorified Paul. He, when among you, accurately and steadfastly taught the word of truth in the presence of those who were then alive. And when absent from you, he wrote you a letter….

Polycarp explains how the early churches were taught: primarily in person by Paul and only by letter when he was absent from them. Why on earth then should Christian doctrine be limited to letters that were driven by random circumstances? Why do Protestants reject the Word of God taught by the apostles in person to the early churches and passed down in the writings of the leaders of these early churches?

… let us teach, first of all, ourselves to walk in the commandments of the Lord. Next, [teach] your wives [to walk] in the faith given to them, and in love and purity tenderly loving their own husbands in all truth, and loving all [others] equally in all chastity; and to train up their children in the knowledge and fear of God.

Polycarp implicitly affirms the authority of husband over wife. He also implies that mothers have a responsibility to train their children to be holy (not that fathers don’t too).

Knowing, then, that “God is not mocked,” (Galatians 6:7) we ought to walk worthy of His commandment and glory. In like manner should the deacons be blameless before the face of His righteousness, as being the servants of God and Christ, and not of men.

Again, we mock God if we say we have faith and yet transgress his commandments. The Christian (especially a leader of the Church) must be obedient. Also, he mentions a specific office in the Church: the diaconate. He will go on to mention the other office of presbyter.

If we please Him in this present world, we shall receive also the future world, according as He has promised to us that He will raise us again from the dead, and that if we live worthily of Him, “we shall also reign together with Him,” (2 Timothy 2:12) provided only we believe…. they should be cut off from the lusts that are in the world, since “every lust wars against the spirit” (1 Peter 2:11); and “neither fornicators, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, shall inherit the kingdom of God,”  (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) nor those who do things inconsistent and unbecoming.

Again, he emphasizes the necessity of both belief andliving worthily if we wish to reign in heaven with Jesus. He then emphasizes the necessity of avoiding sin and of behavior consistent with belief in order to inherit the kingdom of God.

Wherefore, it is needful to abstain from all these things, being subject to the presbyters and deacons, as unto God and Christ. The virgins also must walk in a blameless and pure conscience.

Notice what great authority these Church officials have: they are to be obeyed as one would obey God and Jesus. And notice that virginity is not at all foreign to Christianity and the early Church.

Let us then serve Him in fear, and with all reverence, even as He Himself has commanded us, and as the apostles who preached the Gospel unto us, and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the Lord [have alike taught us].

We are to fear God always. He is our Lord. There is no contradiction between fear and love. Those we love we fear; those we fear we love. How is this? Because it is a fear of falling short of the love the other deserves.

Let us be zealous in the pursuit of that which is good, keeping ourselves from causes of offense, from false brethren, and from those who in hypocrisy bear the name of the Lord, and draw away vain men into error.

If you do not have a zeal for the good and the true, then you are not living the Christian life. The Christian is to avoid heretics who fancy themselves to be Christians but who are not.

…whosoever perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts, and says that there is neither a resurrection nor a judgment, he is the first-born of Satan. Wherefore, forsaking the vanity of many, and their false doctrines, let us return to the word which has been handed down to us from the beginning (Jude 3); “watching unto prayer” (1 Peter 4:7), and persevering in fasting; beseeching in our supplications the all-seeing God “not to lead us into temptation” (Matthew 6:13; Matthew 26:41), as the Lord has said: “The spirit truly is willing, but the flesh is weak”  (Matthew 26:41; Mark 14:38).

Heresy is typically the result of lusts of some kind. How do we know for certain what is true doctrine? By embracing the Word that has been handed down from the beginning to the saints by the apostles.

Let us then continually persevere in our hope, and the earnest of our righteousness, which is Jesus Christ….

The Christian must be “earnest” about the faith. We must “continually persevere in our hope” if we wish to enter the kingdom of God.

I exhort you all, therefore, to yield obedience to the word of righteousness, and to exercise all patience, such as you have seen [set] before your eyes, not only in the case of the blessed Ignatius, and Zosimus, and Rufus, but also in others among yourselves, and in Paul himself, and the rest of the apostles. [This do] in the assurance that all these have not run in vain (Philippians 2:16; Galatians 2:2), but in faith and righteousness, and that they are [now] in their due place in the presence of the Lord, with whom also they suffered.

Polycarp urges the Philippians to be obedient to the Word that they received from the apostles and their successors and ministers. Christians can be assured that the apostles are in heaven and did not run in vain. But Christians should not be overly confident to the point of certainty about their own eternal fate. If the apostles, especially Paul, did not express such certainty about his own fate, neither should we.

Stand fast, therefore, in these things, and follow the example of the Lord, being firm and unchangeable in the faith, loving the brotherhood (1 Peter 2:17), and being attached to one another, joined together in the truth….

Therefore, because we have no certainty of our faith, we must willfully “stand fast” and be “firm and unchangeable in the faith.” Only in this way will we be worthy of entering heaven. Also, Christian are to be one, “joined together in the truth,” not separated by schisms.

When you can do good, defer it not, because “alms delivers from death” (Tobit 4:10, Tobit 12:9).

Polycarp quotes from the misnamed “apocrypha.” Moreover, he quotes verses that would surely make the Protestant very uncomfortable. Though faith has primacy, alms-giving, which is a good work, can contribute to salvation as well. In fact, the false Protestant dichotomy between faith and good works is what this entire letter rejects. It is impossible to separate the two theologically when it comes to salvation.

For if a man cannot govern himself in such matters, how shall he enjoin them on others? If a man does not keep himself from covetousness, he shall be defiled by idolatry, and shall be judged as one of the heathen. But who of us are ignorant of the judgment of the Lord?

The “Christian” who does not obey God’s commandments will be judged among those who have no faith, among the heathens, those who have rejected the faith.

I am greatly grieved for Valens, who was once a presbyter among you, because he so little understands the place that was given him [in the Church]…. to whom may the Lord grant true repentance! And be then moderate in regard to this matter, and “do not count such as enemies” (2 Thessalonians 3:15), but call them back as suffering and straying members, that you may save your whole body. For by so acting you shall edify yourselves (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Even priests can fall into heresy and sin. All Christians who fall into sin must be truly repentant to gain forgiveness and regain the state of grace. Catholics should call upon all who stray from the Body of Christ to return.

…and may He bestow on you a lot and portion among His saints….

Again, heaven is not assured with certainty.

Posted in Catholicism vs. Protestantism, Church Fathers, Religion and Theology, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

A Catholic Reading of the Letter to the Romans

Posted by Tony Listi on October 12, 2010

Often in theological debates, Christians start throwing Scripture verses around from all parts of the Bible. While all Scripture is the Word of God and thus must be consistent in such a way that a coherent, non-contradictory message is present, I think this haphazard cafeteria/smorgasbord style of using Scripture can be very unhelpful, even dangerous at times. This practice also makes it easier for Christians to cherry-pick the verses that they like and that support their denominational beliefs and to avoid verses that they don’t like and that contradict their denominational beliefs.

We Christians cannot forget or deny that human beings, with their own human stylistic traits, emphases, and paradigms, did indeed write the Bible. Thus it seems certain that Christians can more fully understand the written Word by digesting it book by book, carefully examining and taking into account the unique context, tradition, and perspective contained within and historically surrounding each book and author. This method also seems to me an eminently, though perhaps not distinctly, Catholic approach to Scripture and its interpretation.

Thus I’d like to present how a traditional, conservative Catholic reads and interprets Scripture on a book by book basis. In this way, a Protestant may come to know what exactly a Catholic sees, thinks, and feels when he reads the Bible. Perhaps in this way and on this basis of what is our common ground, our common tradition, namely certain books of Scripture, the Body may be made one and whole again as Jesus prayed it would be and intended it to be…. Plus I’m tired of Protestants telling me that I’ve never read the Bible (when I have) and that they are the “champions” of Scripture (when they aren’t).

St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans

Romans is probably the book of the Bible that is most “Protestant-friendly.” And so I’ve decided to take this book on next after my last post on the gospel of Matthew, which I consider to be plainly and overwhelmingly anti-Protestant. If I can successfully explain Romans from the Catholic perspective, then every other book will likely be a piece of cake.

Now I’ve never said that Protestant interpretations have no plausibility. They do; all heresies have plausibility to some extent. The fact that Protestantism hasn’t gone the way of past heresies (extinction) is a testament to the plausibility of its interpretations, though still erroneous. (Protestantism heavily resembles many past heresies in both its method and beliefs though.) Perhaps no other book gives more plausibility to Protestantism than Romans. But as I will show, it too is a Catholic book, ultimately, and repudiates man-made Protestant traditions (i.e. traditional Protestant interpretations of Scripture).

This letter of St. Paul’s is the longest and most systematic exposition of his salvation theology. However, like all his letters, this one arose out of a specific situation and historical context. Thus it was not intended to be a comprehensive and exclusive explanation of salvation. At this point, Paul has never been to Rome. The church there was not established by him; its origin is unknown but likely grew out of the Jewish community there. Thus Paul is eager to distinguish between Judaism and Christianity by emphasizing the principle of faith. That is the crucial context one has to keep in mind. He is not writing to people who are ignorant of the moral precepts of the Law. He also is writing to introduce himself to this church and to enlist support for future missionary work in Spain (which he never gets to do).

Protestants like chapters 3-5 but ignore or dismiss 1-2 and 6. Chapters 6 in particular seems to be very anti-Protestant.

The heart of the letter is St. Paul’s explanation about how Christians are forgiven and justified by faith alone, but not, as we’ll see, saved by faith alone as Luther conceived of it. Here is an ordered outline of the basic points of the letter on this topic:

  1. The law gives knowledge of sin, which is disobedience to the law (moral law). (2:20; 4:15; 5:13, 20; 7:7-9, 13)
  2. Sin condemns everyone because everyone sins. (2:1-3, 21-23; 3:7, 9-12, 23; 5:12, 18)
  3. The just sentence for sin is death. Thus everyone is under a death sentence because everyone sins. (1:32; 3:23; 4:15; 5:12; 7:10-11)
  4. The law itself and obedience to the law cannot forgive sins. Only one who has no original sin, has never sinned, and observes the law perfectly can be justified by the law alone (which is no one; the law condemns all to death). No human will or exertion can achieve the mercy of forgiveness. (2:12-13; 3:19-20; 4:2-8; 8:3; 9:16, 30-32)
  5. Faith alone in Jesus Christ forgives sins. This faith/forgiveness for disobedience is a free gift of God’s grace and (combined with obedience to the law) justifies, saves, and gives eternal life. (2:13; 3:24-28; 4:2-8, 13-14, 20-25; 5:1-2, 17, 21; 7:4-6)
  6. Works of the law, i.e. Mosaic/Jewish rituals with regard to cleanness, animal sacrifices, and circumcision, do not forgive and thus do not save. (2:25-29; 3:28)
  7. Forgiveness through faith comes through the sacraments of baptism and reconcilation, through the ministry of the Church. (2:4-5; 3:25; 5:5; 6:3-4)
  8. But faith, a free gift of God, requires, as one is able to, the willful response of action, of the fruit of good works and obedience to the moral law (e.g. the Decalogue) as given by Jesus, of participation in the life and love of Christ and the Spirit. Faith and obedience/works are inseparable. (1:5, 8-12, 17-18; 2:2-10, 13, 16, 25-29; 3:31; 4:16; 5:10; 6:1-23; 7:1, 4-6, 12; 8:5-13, 15-17; 10:4-6; 11:30-32; 12:1-2; 13:2, 8-14; 15:18-19)
  9. Salvation is not instantaneous, guaranteed, or unlosable the moment one first believes. It requires perseverance in faithful obedience. Grave sins after baptism void/destroy one’s justification gained through faith and baptism. (1:6-7, 18; 2:8, 25-26; 3:25; 5:3-5; 6:2-6, 16, 21-23; 8:9-25, 35-39; 11:21-22; 13:2, 11-14; 15:4)
  10. Every such sin requires repentance and reconciliation to renew one’s faith and justification before God. (2:4-5)
  11. Faith cannot be used as an excuse to sin. Faith is not a spiritual contraceptive that allows one to sin without consequences for one’s fate after death. It ceases to be faith then. That is a diabolical mockery of faith, one that Protestantism promotes on principle if not in practice (“sin boldly“). (3:8; 6:1-2, 15)

God will judge us according to our works and justify/forgive us according to our faith (2:6). Good works/obedience do not obtain forgiveness, but they, along with forgiveness through faith, obtain salvation. Salvation comes through 1) obedience and 2) forgiveness of disobedience.

The Church and its authority is also evidenced in several passages. (1:2, 5; 3:2-4; 9:1-2; 10:8; 11:16-18; 12:3-8; 15:15-16)

I’m not going to comment on every single verse but rather on the ones relevant to the Protestant-Catholic divide or general conservative Christian doctrine. Very often, I will supplement my commentary with that of St. John Chrysostom (347-407). His was the earliest publicly available complete commentary on Romans that I could find. All emphases are mine. All verses are taken from the Revised Standard Version.

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Catholic Baptism in Scripture

Posted by Tony Listi on August 13, 2010

“Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Jn 3:5

“Baptism which saves you now” 1 Peter 3:21

“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” Mark 16:16

“Then Peter declared, ‘Can any one forbid water for baptizing these peoplewho have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”Acts 10:47-48

“And I will pour upon you clean water, and you shall be cleansed from all your filthiness….” Ezk 36:25

“Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins….” Acts 2:38

“Rise up and be baptized and wash away your sins….” Acts 22:16

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church and delivered himself up for it: That he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life….” Eph 5:25-26

“Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them” Lk 18:15

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me…. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” Mt 18:5, 14

“And they were bringing children to him, that he might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it he was indignant, and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God.'” Mk 10:13-14

Whole households and families are baptized: Acts 16:15, Acts 16:30-33, Acts 18:8, 1 Corinthians 1:16

Scripture is quite clear that baptism replaced circumcision (Colossians 2:11-12). And circumcision was given to male children eight days after birth, i.e. before the age of speech and reason.

The faith of some can effect grace for others: Matthew 8:5-13, Matthew 15:21-28, Luke 5:18-20, Luke 7:7, 1 Cor. 7:14

“Going therefore, teach all nations: baptizing them….” Mt 28:19

Do Protestants base ALL their doctrines on that stupid thief on the cross? Even supposing “paradise” really means heaven, is the extraordinary to be the standard for the ordinary? But there is very good reason to believe that “paradise” doesn’t necessarily mean heaven at all.

For more comprehensive citations and explanations of Scripture about baptism, see here and here.

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A Catholic Reading of the Book of Matthew

Posted by Tony Listi on June 10, 2010

Often in theological debates, Christians start throwing Scripture verses around from all parts of the Bible. While all Scripture is the Word of God and thus must be consistent in such a way that a coherent, non-contradictory message is present, I think this haphazard cafeteria/smorgasbord style of using Scripture can be very unhelpful, even dangerous at times.

For we Christians cannot forget or deny that human beings, with their own human stylistic traits, emphases, and paradigms, did indeed write the Bible. Thus it seems certain that Christians can more fully understand the written Word by digesting it book by book, carefully examining and taking into account the unique context, tradition, and perspective contained within and historically surrounding each book. This method also seems to me an eminently, though perhaps not distinctly, Catholic approach to Scripture and its interpretation.

Thus I’d like to present how a traditional, conservative Catholic reads and interprets Scripture on a book by book basis. In this way, a Protestant may come to know what exactly a Catholic sees, thinks, and feels when he reads the Bible. Perhaps in this way and on this basis of what is our common ground, our common tradition, namely certain books of Scripture, the Body may be made one and whole again as Jesus prayed it would be and intended it to be…. Plus I’m tired of Protestants telling me I’ve never read the Bible (when I have) and that they are the “champions” of Scripture (when they aren’t).

The Book of Matthew

I can’t help but think that, of the four gospels, the Gospel according to Matthew is the least favorite version of Protestants. In fact, it may be the book of the Bible that Protestants ignore the most. I think they’d rather read St. Paul’s emphasis on faith rather than Our Lord’s emphasis on obedience to God and His Church.

Why? Because it is probably the most Jewish and Catholic of the gospels. More specifically:

  1. It is the gospel in which Peter is given the keys of the kingdom and named the Rock of the Church, a title of power and Scriptural significance, facts that Protestants fail to adequately account for in their own doctrine and practice. This gospel also features Peter prominently, evidencing his primacy. (4:18; 7:24-27; 14:28-31; 15:15; 16:12, 16-19, 22-23; 17:1, 4, 24-27; 19:27; 23:1-3, 13; 26:31-37, 40-41, 56-58, 69-75) Click here for 50 Scriptural citations throughout the Bible that evidence Peter’s pre-eminence.
  2. It is the gospel that perhaps most supports the notion of the Church as necessarily a unified, visible, hierarchical, authoritative, indefectible, and even sacramental institution. (4:5-7; 5:17-18; 7:28-29; 9:6-8; 10:1-5, 20, 40; 11:1; 13:11, 16-17, 36, 52; 14:22; 15:3-9; 16:12; 17:1; 18:2-4, 7, 15-18; 19:28; 20:17, 25-28; 21:23-24; 23:1-3; 26:14, 20, 26-28; 26:36-37, 47; 28:16, 19-20)
  3. It contradicts sola Scriptura by invoking Judaic prophecies and doctrines that can’t be found in the Old Testament. (2:23; 7:12; 23:1-3)
  4. Over and over again, the need for perseverance in obedience and good works (in and through faith) are emphasized as necessary for salvation and that salvation is not certainly assured through mental assent. There are different levels of faith. The Church is composed of both the saved and the damned. (3:8-10; 4:17; 5:16-44; 6:1-18, 30; 7:12-27, 30-33; 8:5-13, 26; 9:20-22, 27-29; 10:22, 42; 11:19; 12:33-37, 50; 13:3-8, 19-23, 20-30, 41-42, 47-50; 14:31; 15:23-28; 16:27; 17:19-20; 18:8-9, 34-35; 19:16-17; 21:19-21, 41-43; 22:10-14; 23:23; 24:10-13, 24, 44-51; 25:1-46; 26:31-35)
  5. It affirms the Catholic sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation/Confession. (9:6-8)
  6. Jesus is presented as a new Moses, a new lawgiver, not an abolitionist of the law or the founder of a lawless religion. He fulfills the law. He makes certain laws of the Decalogue more strict. (5:17-44; 7:12; 19:3-9; 23:23)
  7. The Jesus of Matthew is also more harsh and demanding in character than the Jesus portrayed in other gospels. He is the Judge on the Last Day. (7:21-23; 12:36-37; 13:41-42; 16:27; 25:1-46)
  8. The Catholic view of sexuality, marriage, divorce, and celibacy is demonstrated in this gospel. (1:18-19; 4:22; 5:31-32; 19:3-12, 27; 22:29-30)

Moreover, this gospel was the most highly esteemed in the early church. This is indicated by:

  1. The early view that it was written first
  2. Its placement in the Bible as the first gospel before the other three
  3. The fact that it is quoted more frequently than the other three in the noncanonical literature of early Christianity

Additionally, scholars believe that the material for Matthew’s gospel was drawn from both written and oral traditions, including Mark’s gospel, Q, and M (a collection of other distinct sources known only to the author).

I’m not going to comment on every single verse but rather on the ones relevant to the Protestant-Catholic divide or general conservative Christian doctrine. Emphases are mine.

1:18-19 “When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.'” This verse brings to mind the issues of pre-marital sex and cohabitation. The former is clearly condemned. The second is implicitly condemned; a man takes a woman into his home only when she is his wife.

2:16 “When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.” This brings to mind the issue of abortion/infanticide. The USA is not the first nation to be the enemy of very young, innocent human life.

2:23 “And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.'” This prophecy cannot be found in the Old Testament. It is an oral tradition, an oral prophecy. With respect to the Old Testament, it is an unbiblical tradition. St. Matthew here demonstrates that he doesn’t believe in sola Scriptura (which in itself is nonsensical seeing as the Bible didn’t exist at the time this gospel was written).

3:8-10 “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance…. Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire…. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” What does this say about the Protestant doctrine of sola fide? Seems to me that John the Baptist says good deeds, “good fruit,” are necessary for repentance and thus salvation. They are not merely evidence of salvation but required evidence of salvation, insofar as one is able to (spare me the thief on the cross nonsense). True repentance requires a change of conduct/behavior. And what else could the “fire” here mean but hell? Well, the Catholic may propose Purgatory as an alternative meaning, but of course, the Protestant rejects that belief too. Do Protestants live their lives as if “the ax” is at their “root”? I don’t think so.

4:4 “He [Jesus] said in reply, ‘It is written: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”‘” Jesus is the living Word come forth from God. The Eucharist by which Catholics live spiritually is not “bread alone” but the Word, Jesus himself. Scripture is not the only Word of God; it is the written Word.

4:5-7 “Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you” and “with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus answered him, ‘Again it is written, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”‘” The devil quotes Scripture. Jesus quotes Scripture back. We can all quote Scripture. It is the right interpretation, the authoritative one, that matters! Also, Jesus is ever obedient to the Father. So should we be to enter the kingdom. And we must continually turn back to him when we stumble and fall from grace.

4:17 “From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'” Repentance is necessary before one can receive Christ’s forgiveness. Repentance is a complete change of heart and conduct, not mere mental assent. Moreover, because we struggle with sin our entire earthly lives, repentance never ends. One does not merely repent once and for all. One cannot repent of sins one has not even committed yet. It is through continual repentance that we demonstrate a living and saving faith and that we are able to receive forgiveness for each sin that ruptures our faith, our relationship with God.

4:18 “As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen.” Peter is the first disciple to be mentioned in the gospel and the first to be called. His Christ-given name of “Rock” is cited before the gospel narrative tells of it.

4:22 “…and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.” The disciples left everything, including family, to follow Jesus. This is indirect support for the vows of povery and celibacy that Catholic clergy take upon themselves.

5:16 “Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” Jesus says good deeds that affect others are a “must.”

5:17-18 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law….” Some prescriptions of the Mosaic law will “pass away” with the new age that Jesus’ death and resurrection will usher in. But some will stay in force. Who determines which will pass away and which will stay? Jesus (as the following verses show) and his chosen apostles who have authority to “bind and loose.” But we’ll get to that….

5:20 “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Considering the way the scribes and Pharisees are condemned in this gospel and others, I can’t help but wonder if Jesus is setting the bar kind of low, haha. Just kidding, but it really is a somewhat puzzling verse. Regardless though, “righteousness” for Matthew is not merely a matter of faith but also one of deeds. In fact, Jesus then goes on to make the law for Christians even stricter and harder to obey:

5:22, 27-28, 33-34, 38-44 “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna…. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart…. Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all…. You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you….” Here Jesus deepens and extends certain precepts of the Mosaic law. Jesus doesn’t do this so that we can ignore him and “sin boldly.”

5:29-30 “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.” Just as good deeds are necessary to enter the kingdom, sin leads to damnation. Sin is a serious issue for the disciple of Christ: no sacrifice is too large to avoid sin and thus avoid hell. And remember, Jesus says all this to not just the crowds but also his followers (5:1) whom many Protestants consider to be already saved.

5:31-32 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.’ But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Again, Jesus deepens the law. The Mosaic law recognized divorce as legitimate, but He asserts an absolute prohibition of divorce. Infidelity is no excuse for divorce. The “unlawful” marriage referred to is incest of various kinds, which did happen among Gentiles of the time.

6:1-4, 6, 18 “(But) take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,  so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you…. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you…. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” God repays/rewards us according to our deeds. It is a very interesting economic and even capitalist analogy. Of course, no number of good deeds can take away/atone for even the smallest sin, the recompense for which is death and the remedy for which is Christ’s death. We cannot buy our way to heaven with good deeds, and yet Scripture is clear that they are necessary and taken into account by God. How mysterious but true…. It is not enough to avoid sin (which no one does perfectly anyway); we must do good as we are able to.

6:9-13 “This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name….” The prayer goes on. Jesus gives us the very words we should use when praying. The traditional Catholic prayer the “Our Father” comes right out of this Scripture passage. Why is it then that I hardly ever hear Protestants use these words of our Lord when they pray? Indeed, in my experience, they don’t even use a couple of key elements from the prayer: asking for forgiveness and asking for deliverance from evil (In their minds, many Protestants have already been forgiven and delivered, I guess.) I can understand wanting to use words that come from the heart, and I’m not saying new or spontaneous prayers should never be used. But the words of a traditional prayer can come from the heart, and shouldn’t there be at least some sort of balance between using one’s own words and those our Lord taught us? There is something disturbing in the notion that one would or should never use the exact words, more or less, that Jesus told us to use.

6:30, 33 “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?… But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.”” Little faith? What can such a phrase mean to the Protestant? Apparently, there are different degrees of faithfulness to God because one can obey Him in different degrees. Also, these verses must make no sense to the Protestant: “I have faith already, so why do I need to seek the kingdom and God’s righteousness? The kingdom is already here because of my faith, and I don’t have to seek righteousness because Jesus has imputed all righteousness to me already in his death.” Protestantism thus contradicts Scripture.

7:1-6 “Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces.” This is not a prohibition against recognizing the faults of others, which would be hardly compatible with verses 5 and 6 but against passing judgment in a spirit of arrogance, forgetful of one’s own faults.

7:12 “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.” Another Jewish law that is still in force.
Also, the Golden Rule cannot be found in the Old Testament. Thus it too is an unbiblical tradition with respect to the Old Testament. Matthew here demonstrates that he doesn not believe in sola Scriptura.

7:13-14 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” If only a few will enter the kingdom, does it make sense that mere mental assent to the idea that Jesus is Lord and Savior rather than an all-encompassing life that sincerely strives to live out that idea is the source of salvation?

7:15-20 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them.” How are we to distinguish between true and false teachers of the faith? By the consequences or fruits of their teachings. What have been the consequences of Protestantism’s doctrine of Sola Interpretatio Scripturae Privata Mea (“My Personal Interpretation of Scripture Alone,” aka sola Scriptura)?  Schism after schism after schism and an ever-increasing dilution and corruption of the Christian faith by individual egos that reject the original apostolic teaching and authority. Moreover, the doctrine has led to a de facto theological relativism that has necessarily given birth to moral relativism and political atrocities in the modern time. What have been the consequences of Protestantism’s sola fide? Some “Christians” who think they can “sin boldly” (Luther’s phrase) because they know with “certainty” that they are “already saved.” And again, Jesus says that those disciples of his who do not “bear good fruit” will be cast into the “fire.”

7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name? Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.'” Again, “evildoers” will not enter the kingdom of heaven, even though they call upon and acknowledge Jesus as “Lord, Lord” with their mouths. Supposing these verses and Rom 10:9 do contradict each other (they don’t), who are you going to believe: Jesus or Paul?
God knows beforehand who will run the race to the end and persevere. So of course, God “never knew” those whom He knew would choose to reject Him. From the God’s eye-view, of course no one “falls from grace” because God is timeless and eternal. From the God’s eye-view, each of us are either the saved or the damned because there is no time sequence, because God knows already what the state of our soul is at death. But from the human perspective, we fall from grace mortally, repent, and receive grace again and then fall from grace again, over and over again (unless we develop a strong saintly spiritual life).

7:24-27 “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.” Jesus uses an analogy to illustrate his point. Again, those who do not put Jesus’ words into practice will be swept away and perish. Actions count. Do Protestants not believe that actions speak louder than words? Moreover, what does this parable tell us about Peter, the Rock of the Church? The church founded upon Peter will not be swept away by the waves of evil, confusion, heresy, and uncertainty that flood this world.

7:28-29 “When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” Indeed, the Judeo-Christian tradition with regard to correct teaching is that certain religious leaders have authority and some do not. Yet Protestantism nonsensically makes every believer the ultimate authority. The result is theological and moral chaos.

8:5, 8, 10, 13  “When he entered Capernaum, a centurion approached him and appealed to him…. Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed…. Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith…. You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.” I have pulled out these verses to make a point about the intimate and necessary relationship between a true, living faith and action/obedience/works. Yes, the centurion had faith, but he had a certain kind of faith. It was a faith so strong that he acted, that he approached and appealed to Jesus. Faith in the sense of mere mental belief did not save the servant from sickness but rather a faith combined with an actual deed.

8:26 “He said to them, ‘Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?’ Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm.” Again, this reiterates my previous point that there are different kinds of faith. There are those of “little faith” who do not act according to their faith, and it is not at all certain that they will be saved. For a faith without fruit is dead (James 2:20)

9:6-8 “‘But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins‘ –he then said to the paralytic, ‘Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.’ He rose and went home. When the crowds saw this they were struck with awe and glorified God who had given such authority to human beings.” What are Protestants to make of this? This verse clearly states that God gave men the authority to forgive sins on earth. If you doubt my translation, it is the same in the KJV. This verse is Scriptural evidence, if not proof, for the validity of the Catholic sacrament of penance/reconciliation in which the priest has the authority to forgive sins in the name of and by the power of Jesus Christ.

9:13 “Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'” I examine this verse because of its potential use by Protestants against the sacrifice of the Catholic mass. But Jesus is quoting Old Testament Scripture (Hos 6:6) in which the term “sacrifice” has a very specific meaning, namely the ritual blood sacrifice of animals on the altar.  Thus Jesus is telling the Pharisees that if mercy and love are greater than these animal sacrifices, how much more then are they greater than the laws of ritual purification (avoidance of sinners and Gentiles)? Much greater. The Catholic mass does NOT continue the blood sacrifices of the Old Testament. Rather it commemorates the Last Supper and actually makes present the one and only effective merciful “blood sacrifice” for Christians: the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus calls it a sacrifice (Mt 26:28). St. Paul calls the mass a sacrifice (1 Cor 10:16-20).

9:20, 22 “A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak…. Jesus turned around and saw her, and said, ‘Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you.'” Again, as with 8:5-13, my point is that this woman had a certain kind of faith, a faith that was matched by action, in this case coming up behind Jesus and touching his tassel.

9:27-29 “And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed (him), crying out, ‘Son of David, have pity on us!’ When he entered the house, the blind men approached him and Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe that I can do this’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ they said to him. Then he touched their eyes and said, ‘Let it be done for you according to your faith.'” Again, as with 8:5-13 and 9:20-22, my point is that these blind men had a certain kind of faith, a faith that was matched by action, in this case their following Jesus, crying out to him, and approaching him.

10:1-2, 5 “Then he summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon called Peter…. Jesus sent out these twelve….” Jesus did not give authority to all of his followers/disciples; he gave it only to twelve of them alone whom he chose and sent out (thus the name “apostle” which means “one who is sent”). The importance and authority of these twelve as opposed to Jesus’ other followers is highlighted by the fact that St. Matthew and other gospel writers actually list their names. Moreover, the primacy of Peter is noted in that he is mentioned first, as in all the other lists of the Twelve. What good is authority if one does not know who has it? Notice that the Twelve are to engage in the same activities as Jesus. When one combines the fact of the exclusivity of authority with that of apostolic succession attested to elsewhere in Scripture (choice of Matthias to replace Judas, Act 1:21-26; Timothy as Paul’s successor, 2 Tim 2:2), one can see the authority of the Catholic Church is derived from the apostles, on whom Paul says the Church is founded (Eph 2:20). It is important to note that while Luke (6:13) and probably Mark (4:10) explicitly distinguish between the Twelve and the rest of Jesus’ followers, Matthew seems to use the term “disciples” throughout to refer to the Twelve.

10:20 “For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” The apostles speak with the authority and truth of the Spirit, as do their successors whom they have chosen and their successors up until the present day in the Catholic Church. For with the laying on of hands, the apostles give this Spirit to another.

10:22 “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.” Again, one is not saved instantly and forever through a vocal confession of faith. Rather, one must persevere in the faith and endure its trials until the end of one’s life to achieve salvation.

10:34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.” This is a wonderful reminder to all Christians out there who have a “live and let live” approach to their faith. That is the wrong approach. The Christian faith is and always has been a source of division, conflict, and confrontation. Peace comes through an acceptance of Jesus Christ, not of worldly and neo-pagan evils like abortion and homosexual behavior. Christians are called to confront the evils of this world but prudently without creating worse evils in the process. And sometimes things do reach a tragic point at which violence must be used. Otherwise, the Muslim Empire would have crushed and subjugated the whole of Christendom, extinguishing the one true faith.

10:40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” We are still in Chapter 10 and Jesus is still speaking to the Twelve. Again, as with 10:20, the Twelve are distinguished with a special dignity as God’s representatives on earth, as intermediaries between the people and God. Thus whoever receives the apostolic commands in obedience also receives Jesus and the Father in obedience.

10:42 “And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple–amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.” Another puzzle for Protestants because many think it is impossible for them to lose their reward, namely assured salvation. And yet this verse clearly implies that salvation can indeed be lost in some sense.

11:1 “When Jesus finished giving these commands to his twelve disciples, he went away from that place to teach and to preach in their towns.” Again, this verse eliminates all doubt about who exactly Jesus was talking to throughout Ch. 10.

11:19 “But wisdom is vindicated by her works.” Protestants have an instinctual, theological distaste for any mention of “works.” And thus I quote this verse in which works are presented very positively. Let’s not forget that Jesus (divine, personified Wisdom) did indeed perform good works and that they were an integral part of his mission because they vindicated him from false accusations.

12:29 “How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and steal his property, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.” For all you leftist “Christians” out there: Jesus recognizes the validity of private property and that theft is evil. Indeed the left uses the power of government and the abuse of the law to “tie up” the American people before plundering them of their property.

12:30 “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Again, like 10:34, let this dispel any delusions that Jesus just wants to get along with everybody and that we should do the same. Jesus draws a line in the sand. Christianity is absolutist. Interestingly but not surprisingly, this is reminiscent of George W. Bush’s speech before Congress after 9/11 warning the world, “You’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror.” No, I’m not comparing Bush to Jesus, but this may be where Bush’s line came from.

12:33, 35 “Either declare the tree good and its fruit is good, or declare the tree rotten and its fruit is rotten, for a tree is known by its fruit…. A good person brings forth good out of a store of goodness, but an evil person brings forth evil out of a store of evil” Again, an emphasis on good works brought forth, the fruit of real faith. See my comments on 7:15-20.

12:36-37 “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak. By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Youch, sounds harsh. But the actions, including what we say, of both the saved and damned will be judged by Christ. We are called to be perfect and holy, as God is, even in our speech.

12:39 “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.” This verse calls to mind all the atheists, agnostics, and “rationalists” of all sorts who demand a sign from God before they will believe. Yet they will not examine and test the signs that have already been given (i.e. the historical documents of Scripture and the testimony therein and of other historical sources, the empirical consequences of the authentic Christian faith). No, it is not that God does not give signs, but that evil people ignore and dismiss the signs already given because they prefer their evil to the will of God. They have no humility and no reverence for anything but their own egos and thus they are unable to understand.

12:50 “For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” Again, one must do the will of the Father to join the family of the saved in heaven.

13:3-8 (Parable of the Sower) See my comments below on the verses in which Jesus explains the parable. This parable is a refutation of sola fide.

13:11 “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.” Jesus is speaking to the twelve disciples. And again, Jesus treats them differently from everyone else. He is preparing them for their unique mission and authority with regard to the Church.

13:12 “To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Again, for all you “Christians” who hold Marxist views: this saying of Jesus is contrary to the Marxist dictum of “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” True, Jesus is not talking specifically about material possessions here, but he is affirming and approving of a fact that applies to both the material and spiritual world: the fact of inequality and hierarchy. Just as the industrious/productive are not equal to the lazy/unproductive, the saints are not equal to the damned. Those who know and practice how to create wealth will get wealthier; those who know and practice holiness will become holier. Likewise, the individual Christian does not have equal religious authority as that of the bishop and pope.

13:16-17 “But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” Again, the twelve disciples are privileged, not of their own merit but through God’s gift of grace.

13:19-23 “The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away. The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” Here Jesus explains the parable. The point is that it is not enough to hear the gospel and mentally accept it in an abstract way. That is not true faith, and yet that is what many Protestants call “faith.” In fact, the Christian who does not understand the faith can have his “faith” stolen away by the devil. The Christian who does not have a deep faith can lose it and “fall away” when suffering inevitably comes. The Christian who does not have a faith strong enough to resist worldly idols will have a sterile/dead “faith” that “bears no fruit” in good works (cf. Jam 2:26). In each of the three cases, the so-called “Christian” does not really have faith and thus does not really have salvation. What kind of faith do you have?

13:29-30 “He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.”‘” These verses illustrate two lessons. First, God exercises the virtue of prudence in allowing evil “weeds” to exist. He does it for the benefit of the elect. Thus we too should exercise prudence in all our activities in our attempts to promote charity and oppose evil. Also, for those of you who think everyone is going to heaven, this passage refutes that notion. Weeds don’t go to heaven. Moreover, the apostles are warned not to anticipate the final judgment by the definitive exclusion of sinners from the kingdom. There are to be patient, preach repentance, and leave judgment to God.

13:36 “Then, dismissing the crowds, he went into the house. His disciples approached him and said, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.'” Jesus speaks to the crowds in parables but only explains the parables to the Twelve. Again, the Twelve are set apart for a special mission and unique authority.

13:41-42 “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” Again, not everyone is making it to heaven. Evildoers do not have salvation, regardless of their claims to “faith.”

13:47-50 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind…. What is bad they throw away. Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace….” The Church has people “of every kind.” The Church IS catholic, universal, a church of all races. There are also sinners who are in some sense members of the Church in that they claim membership and may go through the motions. If they do not truly repent and have a change of heart, they will not attain salvation despite their superficial membership in the Church. And again, the wicked will not see salvation, regardless of their claims to “faith” and membership in the Church.

13:52 “Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” Remember, Jesus dismissed the crowds and is only talking to the twelve disciples here. The Twelve were uniquely “instructed in the kingdom” by Jesus and thus have authority over the Church just as the husband, “the head of the household,” does over the family. Moreover, the apostles are indeed given authority to bring forth “new” teachings as warranted by the circumstances of the Christian family (e.g. prohibiting embryonic stem cell research and cloning), teachings that are faithful to Christ’s original teaching.

14:19-20 “Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over.” Catholics see the feeding(s) of the large crowds as an anticipation and foreshadowing of the Last Supper and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The word “fragments” (Greek klasmata) is used, in the singular, of the broken bread of the Eucharist in Didache 9:3-4. This episode also recalls God’s feeding of Israel in the desert with manna. See the Bread of Life Discourse in the gospel of John (Ch. 6).

14:22 “Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.” Again, further evidence of a distinction between the twelve disciples and other crowds of followers. Church governance is not a democracy.

14:28-31 “Peter said to him in reply, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how (strong) the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?'” A story featuring Peter is highlighted by Matthew. Again, this is evidence of the primacy of Peter. What other apostle is mentioned by name in the gospels more than Peter? No one. It is not a particularly flattering story for Peter, but it is symbolic of the Catholic faith that Jesus will not allow the Church built on the Rock of Peter to sink. And of course, there’s that phrase again “little faith” (see previous comments).

15:3, 6, 9 “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?… You have nullified the word of God for the sake of your tradition. ‘…in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.'” Protestants like to say that Catholic sacraments and traditions are of man and not of God, but they are actually attested to, more or less, in Scripture and very compatible with Scripture. Moreover, the historical record demonstrates that Catholic beliefs and practices go back to the early Church while distinctly Protestant doctrines go back only five centuries or so (or pop up here and there among wildly errant heretics who even Protestants would recognize as such). So these verses have much more sting for Protestantism than for Catholicism. The former’s doctrines of Sola Interpretatio Mea Privata Scripturae, assured salvation, sola fide, and the rejection of apostolic traditions are actually all man-made traditions that the apostles would not recognize as Christian.

15:15 “Then Peter said to him in reply, ‘Explain (this) parable to us.'” Here, as in other places in the New Testament, Peter speaks on behalf of all the Twelve. Another piece of evidence for his primacy.

15:23, 25, 27-28 “His disciples came and asked him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.’… But the woman came and did him homage, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’… She said, ‘Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.’ Then Jesus said to her in reply, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.'” Again, as with 8:5-13 and 9:20-22 and 9:27-29, my point is that this woman had a certain kind of faith, a faith that was matched by action, in this case her persistent calling out to Jesus and the apostles, doing him homage, and her prescient reply to Jesus.

15:36 “Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, gave thanks, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.” See my comment for 14:19-20.

16:4 “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” See my comments for 12:39.

16:12 “Then they understood that he was not telling them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Jesus asserts his own authority to rescind traditional Jewish laws. Interestingly, this warning comes right before Jesus confers great authority upon St. Peter.

16:16-19 “Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.'” This is the key Catholic passage that stymies Protestants. The first thing to notice is that Jesus confers upon Simon a new name, Peter, which literally means “rock.”  So Jesus is actually using a play on words: “you are Rock, and upon this rock….” “Rock” is a highly significant title in Scripture and no other apostle receives a new name or title from Jesus. Next, Jesus says that His church is built upon the rock that is Peter. Protestants have desperately tried to deny that Peter is the rock either by ignoring the literal translation or by gender gymnastics, saying the gender of rock and Peter don’t match. This is such a flimsy exegetical route because Jesus spoke Aramaic in which the gender “problem” disappears. Moreover, this church will not succumb to death; it will prevail over death. Combine Peter’s title with Jesus’ parable at 7:24-27 and then you have a church that will not be swept away by the raging rain, floods, and winds of time, space, and fallen human nature. Then Jesus, still talking to Peter, says He will give him alone the “keys to the kingdom of heaven.” Thus there is an intimate connection between, but not an identification of, the Church and the kingdom of heaven. Now at that time and place in history, keys were strong symbols of power and authority that belonged to great rulers. In fact, it probably refers back to Isaiah 22:15-25 where Eliakim is given “the key of the house of David” which he authoritative “opens and shuts” (22:22), keys which are passed down as with the succession of popes. Lastly, Jesus confers upon Peter (and later on the other eleven) the authority to “bind and loose.” Again, the Christian has to consider the cultural context of such a phrase to truly understand what this verse of Scripture is saying. That phrase, “bind and loose,” is found often in rabbinical literature. It refers to the giving of binding, authoritative teaching and also to excommunication from the religious community. All of this is strong, if not conclusive, Scriptural support for papal primacy and authority.

16:26 “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” Spiritual/moral needs and obligations take precedence over material needs. Alleviating poverty through state-enforced plunder and violence (among other immoral things) is not Christian.

16:27 “For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct.” Again, both faith and works are necessary.

16:22-23 “Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, ‘God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you. ‘He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.'” Ironically, right after he is given authority in Scripture, Peter shows himself to be ignorant of the importance of the mission of Jesus. This episode does not have any bearing on the authority Peter was given by Christ. Jesus doesn’t take the authority back of anything. Peter just doesn’t fully understand yet what Jesus has to do. Keep in mind this is the first time in the gospel that Jesus predicts His own passion and death. None of the disciples understood then.

17:1 “After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.” Jesus established a hierarchy among the Twelve during his earthly ministry. Peter, James, and John were part of an inner circle. As with the transfiguration here, Jesus again sets these three apart in the Garden of Gethsemane (26:37). Peter is mentioned first, as usual, and is always part of the inner circle. This is more evidence of his primacy. There was a hierarchy among the Twelve, apparently three-tiered. There’s a three-tiered system now: bishop, cardinal, pope.

17:4 “Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.'” As is typical in Scripture, Peter then speaks on behalf of all the disciples, or the three of them in this instance. This is more evidence of his primacy.

17:19-20 “Then the disciples approached Jesus in private and said, ‘Why could we not drive it out?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.'” Again, as with 6:30, 8:26, and 15:28, there are different degrees of faithfulness to God. The faith of one Christian is not just as good as the faith of any other Christian.

17:24-25 “When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said, ‘Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?‘Yes,’ he said. Again, it is Peter mentioned in Scripture. The collectors approach him, not another disciple. And he speaks on behalf of Jesus. This is more evidence of his primacy.

17:25-27 “When he came into the house, before he had time to speak, Jesus asked him, ‘What is your opinion, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their subjects or from foreigners?’ When he said, ‘From foreigners,’ Jesus said to him, ‘Then the subjects are exempt. But that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and for you.'” Here we have one of many private conversations and episodes between Peter and Jesus. How many private conversations does Jesus have with other disciples in Scripture? Few to none, I believe. Moreover, Jesus miraculously pays the tax for Peter, not for any other disciple. This is more evidence of his primacy. It should also be noted that Jesus pays the tax not because he has to but to keep the peace temporarily. That seems to be the same situation of conservatives right now paying unfair taxes to D.C.

18:2-4 “He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'” What? The greatest is not the one who most cleverly and talentedly interprets Scripture according to his or her private reason?! Yep, that’s right. Child-like humility and obedience to the legitimate authority of the Church is necessary. In fact, it is the first step in responsibly using one’s reason to understand traditional Catholic doctrines.

18:7 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!” False teachers  and abusive Church leaders will receive great punishment, if not damnation. Note that such abuses “must come” according to Jesus. But sinful conduct by clergy cannot undermine the Church that Jesus promised would prevail. And the fact that it has prevailed for almost 2000 yrs despite some heinous historical abuses by its leaders is evidence of this promise.

18:8-9 “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life maimed or crippled than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into fiery Gehenna.” As with 5:29-30, just as good deeds are necessary to enter the kingdom, sin leads to damnation. Sin is a serious issue for the disciple of Christ: no sacrifice is too large to avoid sin and thus avoid hell.

18:10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” Scriptural evidence, if not proof, for guardian angels.

18:15, 17-18 “”If your brother sins (against you)…. If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The bracketed words “against you” are widely attested but they are not in the important codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus or in some other textual witnesses. This broadens the potential sin in question, including heresy.  The “church” referred to here is the local church. Now what is the point of Jesus saying “tell the church” unless the church actually has real authority as a visible, unified, identifiable institution? The judgment of the local church (which we know from elsewhere in Scripture and from history was headed by a presbyter/bishop) is binding, ratified in heaven. These verses also justify the Catholic doctrine of excommunication, the expulsion of a defiant, unrepentant sinner/heretic from the community. The important point here is that individual Christians, though obligated to forgive, do not bind and loose. What was previously granted to Peter alone is granted to the other eleven. All of Chapter 18 seems to be addressed to the Twelve alone (verse 1: “At that time the disciples approached Jesus….”). This is the original, traditional interpretation of these verses.

18:34-35 “Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.” Forgiveness for the Christian depends not merely on faith but also on obedience to the will of God. One element of that obedience is forgiving everyone who sins against you. We must forgive to be forgiven. The Father’s forgiveness, already given, will be withdrawn at the final judgment for those who have not imitated His forgiveness by forgiving others. No one can “pay back the whole debt” without God.

19:3-6, 9 “Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?’ He said in reply, ‘Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator “made them male and female” and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate…. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.’ As in 5:31-32, Jesus deepens the law. The Mosaic law recognized divorce as legitimate, but he asserts an absolute prohibition of divorce. Infidelity is no excuse for divorce. The “unlawful” marriage referred to is incest of various kinds, which did happen among Gentiles of the time.

19:10-12 “[His] disciples said to him, ‘If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.’ He answered, ‘Not all can accept [this] word, but only those to whom that is granted.’ Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.'” This must be a very puzzling passage for the Protestant, who rejects vocational celibacy. Protestantism ignores these verses and this command from Jesus, for there are no Protestants who renounce marriage and take vows of celibacy. The religious life which includes a vow of celibacy is a calling, a vocation, something “that is granted” to a person. If Protestant hostility to celibacy can’t be Scriptural, it has to derive from perverted modern notions about sexuality and self-indulgence.

19:14 “Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'” See note for 18:2-4. Also, this account is understood by some as intended to justify the practice of infant baptism. That interpretation is based principally on the command not to prevent the children from coming, since that word sometimes has a baptismal connotation in the New Testament (Acts 8:36). I think the many Scriptural attestations to whole households being baptized is a much stronger justification though (e.g. 1 Cor 1:16).

19:16-17 “Now someone approached him and said, ‘Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?’ He answered him, ‘Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.'” Again, obedience to the commandments of God, esp. the 10 foundational ones, is necessary to have eternal life, i.e. salvation. Notice Jesus does NOT say: “You don’t have to do anything at all, let alone anything good. Just believe in me and sin boldly all you want.”

19:21 “Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'” Every self-proclaimed biblical literalist/fundamentalist should be a naked, wandering beggar who doesn’t even possess a Bible. Protestants arbitrarily and unauthoritatively pick and choose when they want to take a certain passage literally and when they want to take it figuratively. Jesus gave this command only to this man who approached him; it is a command for one who seeks extraordinary perfection. The fundamental lesson is that Christians must be willing to let go of any superfluous personal possessions to help the poor in their community. We must not be possessed by our own possessions. This verse is justification for the vow of poverty that Catholic clergy take.

19:22-24 “When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.'” The rich are under heavy scrutiny by God because they have the most to give to the poor in charitable compassion and are often too attached to their wealth. Moreover, in those ancient times, the rich usually did not obtain their wealth by moral means (i.e. providing goods and services in the marketplace) but through coercion and inheritance. Actual renunciation of all riches is not demanded of all; Matthew counts the rich Joseph of Arimathea to be a disciple of Jesus. The “poor in spirit” will enter the kingdom (5:3).

19:27 “Then Peter said to him in reply, ‘We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?'” Again, Peter is mentioned and speaks on behalf of the Twelve. This is more evidence of his primacy. This is also Scriptural support for priestly celibacy. The apostles gave up their wives or at least marital relations with them.

19:28 “Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.'” The Twelve are set apart from all other followers of Jesus. They were given governing authority over the New Israel that did not end with their deaths. And they will participate in the authority of Christ apparently at the Last Judgment. (This verse also helps confirm that when Matthew says “disciples,” he means the Twelve.)

20:14-15 “Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? (Or) am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?” This parable of the workers in the vineyard teaches Christians that salvation doesn’t depend on when someone becomes a Christian. We cannot be jealous or bitter toward such people like the older son in the parable of the prodigal son. One could convert on one’s deathbed or maybe even after death perhaps if one had never had a chance to hear the gospel. But such a conversion must be sincere to be saving, and a life full of wickedness may preclude such last minute sincerity.

20:17 “As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve (disciples) aside by themselves, and said to them on the way….” Again, in Matthew, “disciples” refers to the Twelve, who are given special attention and authority by Jesus among all his followers. That the Twelve seem to grumble among themselves in Scripture about who is the greatest is also evidence that they were treated differently by Jesus relative to the rest of his followers.

20:25-28 “But Jesus summoned them and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.'” Jesus does not deny that some have authority and that some do not. Rather, he explains how the Twelve are to exercise the authority that he has conferred upon them. This verse is the inspiration for Pope Gregory the Great’s (and all subsequent popes’) title: Servus Servorum Dei. Also the last line indicates that “many,” but not all, will accept the grace, salvation, service, and ransom that Jesus offers all mankind. Also, what implications do you think this verse has for slavery as an institution?

21:12-13 “Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all those engaged in selling and buying there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And he said to them, ‘It is written: “My house shall be a house of prayer,” but you are making it a den of thieves.'” Buying, selling, and money-changing in themselves are not evil. These market activities were not secular in nature but directly related to Jewish worship in the temple. Thus Jesus is actually asserting is authority over the Jewish authorities in this episode.

21:19 “Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went over to it, but found nothing on it except leaves. And he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again.’ And immediately the fig tree withered.” This cursing of the fig tree is not random but means something symbolically. It is a sign of the judgment that is to come upon Israel who, with all its apparent piety, lacks the fruit of good deeds (Matthew 3:10) and will soon bear the punishment of its fruitlessness (Matthew 21:43). Some scholars propose that this story is the development in tradition of a parable of Jesus about the destiny of a fruitless tree, such as Luke 13:6-9. Again, one MUST bear fruit to achieve salvation.

21:21 “Jesus said to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, if you have faith and do not waver, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, “Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,” it will be done.'” It is possible to waver from the faith. Thus one can indeed lose one’s faith and fall from grace through willful disobedience.

21:23-24 “When he had come into the temple area, the chief priests and the elders of the people approached him as he was teaching and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?’ Jesus said to them in reply, ‘I shall ask you one question, and if you answer it for me, then I shall tell you by what authority I do these things.'” Jesus does not deny that religious authority exists, for often he appeals to his own authority apart from Scripture. Religious truth is dependent on legitimately established authority. By what authority do Protestants believe what they do? None. They have no authority and never have, going all the way back to Luther. They have no authority to interpret Scripture definitively and to live by their own interpretations. Scripture is secondary but complementary to legitimate authority, whether it be Jesus or the Church, which established Scripture’s Table of Contents (an unbiblical tradition of Protestants).

21:41 “They answered him, ‘He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.'” Again, this parable teaches that the Christian must “give God the produce” if he really believes. Action is necessary.

21:43 “Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” The kingdom of God will be taken away from any Protestant (and any Christian) who does not produce fruit worthy of the kingdom.

22:10-14 “The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Many are invited, but few are chosen.” The parable of the wedding feast (salvation in Isaiah 25:6) is also indicative of Catholic doctrine. The first to be invited into God’s kingdom are the Jews, but they reject the invitation. Then God invites the Gentiles, but not everyone who nominally accepts the Lord’s invitation in “faith” is chosen to stay. The true Christian wears the “wedding garment” of good deeds. Those who do not are cast out into hell and receive the same punishment as those who refused to believe to begin with. One cannot merely waltz into heaven because one wants to; one must prepare oneself for the occasion through obedience.

22:20-21 “He said to them, ‘Whose image is this and whose inscription?’ They replied, ‘Caesar’s.’ At that he said to them, ‘Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.'” Here Jesus establishes the principle of the institutional separation of church and state. He side-steps the trap of the Pharisees by merely restating the classical definition of justice. He is silent on what exactly does belong to the state. It is implied apparently that we must pay taxes for legitimate government functions, but this verse is not a blank check for tyranny/socialism.

22:29-30 “Jesus said to them in reply, ‘You are misled because you do not know the scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven.'” The sexual relationships of this world will be transcended; the risen body will be the work of the creative power of God. Sex is a sacred instrument of love and procreation, but, contrary to modern sexolatry, it is NOT essential for happiness, fulfillment, or salvation of any kind. There will be no sexuality in heaven.

23:1-3 “Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.'” The authoritative “chair of Moses” was replaced by the authoritative “chair of St. Peter.” Jesus tells his disciples to temporarily observe the Mosaic law for now, but the context of the rest of Scripture makes it clear that the early Church had to and did break off from Jewish authority with regard to what laws and practices were binding.
Also, the “chair of Moses” cannot be found in Old Testament Scripture, making it an unbiblical tradition with respect to the Old Testament. This further undermines the heretical notion of sola Scriptura.

23:13 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.” The locking by the Pharisees is in stark contrast to the opening by St. Peter who was given the keys to the kingdom by Jesus (Mt 16:19). The purpose of the authority expressed by that metaphor is to give entrance into the kingdom (the kingdom is closed only to those who reject the authority); here the charge is made by Jesus that the authority of the scribes and Pharisees is exercised in such a way as to be an obstacle to entrance. Also cf. Lk 11:52 where the accusation against the “scholars of the law” (Matthew’s scribes) is that they “have taken away the key of knowledge.” The keys of St. Peter restore Christian truth.

23:23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. (But) these you should have done, without neglecting the others.” Besides rejecting Jesus and participating in his murder, the sin of the Pharisees was not that they had the law or observed the law. It is that they perverted the law in some cases and ignored the most important laws, especially with regard to inner moral purity. And Jesus isn’t denouncing tithes here either; He is merely pointing out their relative value morally.

23:37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling!” Just like the Jews of old, we all have a choice. God yearns to save all, but we must willfully choose to believe and obey to take advantage of the free offer of grace. The coexistence of grace and free will is a mystery, but both must be accepted.

24:10-13 “And then many will be led into sin; they will betray and hate one another.Many false prophets will arise and deceive many; and because of the increase of evildoing, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved.” I think there have been many apostates and false prophets, esp. within the more liberal Christian churches, but these churches are the children of the Protestant Revolution and its heresy of Sola Interpretatio Mea Privata Scripturae. And thus there has been an increase in evildoing in America over time. But he who perseveres in the true faith to the end will be saved. That’s right: it doesn’t matter if you once professed Jesus to be your Lord and Savior sometime in the past. Who we are, what we believe, and what we have done by the time of our death is what matters most for our salvation, not some long gone instant of a profession of faith.

24:24 “False messiahs and false prophets will arise, and they will perform signs and wonders so great as to deceive, if that were possible, even the elect.” Notice that this verse seems to contradict certainty of assured salvation.

24:44-46, 48-51 “So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come. Who, then, is the faithful and prudent servant, whom the master has put in charge of his household to distribute to them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master on his arrival finds doing so…. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is long delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eat and drink with drunkards, the servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” Wicked, hypocritical servants will be punished, even clergy. Now tell me, what is it in Protestantism that demands preparedness in any sense of the word? Nothing. One merely “believes” and then goes about one’s merry way in life. Sure, many Protestants strive to be and even achieve great holiness here on earth, but that is not for the purpose of preparation in the urgent and dire Scriptural sense. Such obedience is apparently optional to the Protestant. “Faith” has prepared all for them, which is silly. One mere mental assent to Jesus as Lord and Savior is not preparation nor faith. Preparation is a process over time and requires action and discipline. Husband and wife are faithful over time, not merely because they said “I do” on their wedding day that began their unique relationship.

All of Chapter 25 is about salvation and the Final Judgment.

25:1-13 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps. Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight, there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise ones replied, ‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’ While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked. Afterwards the other virgins came and said, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” This is another parable stressing preparedness to enter the kingdom of heaven. See me previous comment. Again, it is not enough to merely want to enter the kingdom, acknowledging the Bridegroom; one must be ready for it in obedience. To fall asleep is to sin and fall away from grace and the faith.

25:14-30 “It will be as when a man who was going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one–to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two. But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money. After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ (Then) the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.’ His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.'” God is “a demanding person.” He demands obedience, though He will mercifully forgive sins that we sincerely repent. The “wicked, lazy servant” was punished for what he did NOT do; this would be sins of omission. If we do not return an “interest” to God in the form of obedience and good works “each according to his ability,” then we will be thrown “into the darkness outside,” i.e. hell. Also, again, Jesus uses a very capitalist parable that mentions a kind of “usury.” Interesting….

25:31-46 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Jesus cites actions for why the sheep are let into the kingdom of heaven. The goats are damned for what they did not do, as with the “wicked, lazy servant.” Again, not everyone gets into heaven.

26:6-11 “Now when Jesus was in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster jar of costly perfumed oil, and poured it on his head while he was reclining at table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant and said, ‘Why this waste? It could have been sold for much, and the money given to the poor.’ Since Jesus knew this, he said to them, ‘Why do you make trouble for the woman? She has done a good thing for me. The poor you will always have with you; but you will not always have me.'” This passage supports the Catholic practice of “costly” church buildings, chalices, statues, stain glass, organs, and other material objects that glorify God. Helping the poor is NOT the first commandment.

26:14 “Then one of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests….” Again, there is something special about “the Twelve” as opposed to all the followers of Jesus.

26:20 “When it was evening, he reclined at table with the Twelve.” Again, there is something special about “the Twelve” as opposed to all the followers of Jesus. Only they were at the Last Supper.

26:26-28 “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.'” Here Jesus institutes the sacrament of the Eucharist. Jesus is very short and to the point, according to Matthew. There is no indication whatsoever that Jesus is speaking figuratively, which wouldn’t make any sense really. Plus this literal interpretation is the original, traditional interpretation of the early Church which believed in transustantiation. Ireneaus, early father transub

26:31-35 “Then Jesus said to them, ‘This night all of you will have your faith in me shaken, for it is written: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed”; but after I have been raised up, I shall go before you to Galilee.’ Peter said to him in reply, ‘Though all may have their faith in you shaken, mine will never be.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Amen, I say to you, this very night before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.’ And all the disciples spoke likewise.” Faith in Jesus can be shaken, despite what we presently say and think. Again, Peter is highlighted from among the Twelve. This is more evidence of his primacy.

26:36-37 “Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress.” As with the transfiguration scene (17:1),  the inner circle of three disciples with Peter alone mentioned first and by name.

26:40-41 “He said to Peter, ‘So you could not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.'” Again, only Peter is addressed.

26:47 “While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived….” Again, “the Twelve” is distinguished among Jesus’ followers.

26:52-54 “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels? But then how would the scriptures be fulfilled which say that it must come to pass in this way?'” I note this passage only to combat notions of pacifism that infect some Christian denominations. Jesus doesn’t say throw the sword away but to put it “back into its sheath.” Then was not the time to act heroically on behalf of a friend. Jesus could have defended Himself if He wanted to. But He was obedient to the Father, so that the Scripture prophecies could be fulfilled.

26:56, 58 “Then all the disciples left him and fled…. Peter was following him at a distance as far as the high priest’s courtyard, and going inside he sat down with the servants to see the outcome.” Peter alone, according to Matthew, did not leave and flee. More evidence of primacy.

26:69-70 “Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. One of the maids came over to him and said, ‘You too were with Jesus the Galilean.’ But he denied it in front of everyone….” Again, an episode that highlights Peter alone. There are few such gospel stories that focus on other individual disciples; there are many of just Peter.

27:57-60 “When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph, who was himself a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be handed over. Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it (in) clean linen and laid it in his new tomb that he had hewn in the rock.” The reason I note this passage is because it shows a rich man who is deemed a follower of Jesus, even though he is rich. He uses his riches in the service of God, for a tomb for Jesus. Remember, we’re still looking at the same gospel where Jesus told the young man to sell all his possessions. Obviously, one doesn’t have to be completely destitute to be a disciple. In fact, Scripture gives hints that relatively wealthy women supported the ministry of Jesus and his disciples (Lk 8:5)

28:16 “The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.” This is more confirmation that when Matthew says “disciples” elsewhere, he means the Twelve.

28:19-20 “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.” Jesus tells the apostles to go make the Church catholic, i.e. universal. This is also the only verse in Scripture that even comes close to supporting the doctrine of the Trinity, the tradition of the Triune God. The verse does not explicitly and comprehensively lay out the doctrine of the Trinity, yet Protestants still believe it. One might say this is an “unbiblical” tradition that Protestants still choose to believe. Jesus is only speaking to the 11 here. While we are all called to evangelize and teach others, only the apostles and their successors may teach with binding authority. Lastly, Jesus is ever -present in the Church until He comes again, esp. in the Eucharist and through the Holy Spirit.

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St. Irenaeus’ Confirmation All Catholic Doctrines (2nd c. AD)

Posted by Tony Listi on May 23, 2010

St. Irenaeus (b. ca. 115-142), in his Against Heresies, confirms almost every core Catholic doctrine: Roman/papal supremacy, the sacrifice of the Mass, transubstantiation in the Eucharist, the continuation of the earthly priesthood, the crucial mission and authority of the institutional Church, Church authority over Scriptural interpretations, the existence and authority of unchangeable and unbroken apostolic Tradition and succession through bishops, the necessity of obedience (as well as repentance and forgiveness) for salvation, denunciations of schismatics, Mary as the new Eve and as a cause of our salvation, prayers for the dead, the activity of the saints, etc.

Moreover, his work is filled with citations of Scripture.

He begins the work by acknowledging the plausibility of the heresies:

Inasmuch as certain men have set the truth aside, and bring in lying words and vain genealogies, which, as the apostle says, “minister questions rather than godly edifying which is in faith,” and by means of their craftily-constructed plausibilities draw away the minds of the inexperienced and take them captive, [I have felt constrained, my dear friend, to compose the following treatise in order to expose and counteract their machinations.] These men falsify the oracles of God, and prove themselves evil interpreters of the good word of revelation…. By means of specious and plausible words, they cunningly allure the simple-minded to inquire into their system; but they nevertheless clumsily destroy them, while they initiate them into their blasphemous and impious opinions respecting the Demiurge; and these simple ones are unable, even in such a matter, to distinguish falsehood from truth.

How do these heretics rationalize their heresy? Like all heretics, they use Scripture and claim superior understanding or mystical assistance in its interpretation:

They tell us, however, that this knowledge has not been openly divulged, because all are not capable of receiving it, but has been mystically revealed by the Saviour through means of parables to those qualified for understanding it.

Protestants have all these “experts” in exegesis for rationalizing their interpretations. When “reason” fails (as it always does, for there are endless plausible interpretations in isolation from Church tradition/history), the mystical and arbitrary support of the “Holy Spirit” supplies certainty for them.

Such, then, is the account which they all give of their Pleroma, and of the formation of the universe, striving, as they do, to adapt the good words of revelation to their own wicked inventions. And it is not only from the writings of the evangelists and the apostles that they endeavour to derive proofs for their opinions by means of perverse interpretations and deceitful expositions: they deal in the same way with the law and the prophets, which contain many parables and allegories that can frequently be drawn into various senses, according to the kind of exegesis to which they are subjected. And others of them, with great craftiness, adapted such parts of Scripture to their own figments, lead away captive from the truth those who do not retain a steadfast faith in one God, the Father Almighty, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Heretics by no means avoid or flee from Scripture. They are eager to make Scripture fit within their preconceived, dogmatic, heretical theology and worldview. And it’s easily done by those of creative imagination and “craftiness.” For Scripture passages “can frequently be drawn into various senses, according to the kind of exegesis to which they are subjected.”

How does St. Irenaeus know with certainty that the doctrines in question are heresy? He tells us the apostles did not “deliver” such doctrines to the Church:

Such, then, is their system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which they boast that beyond all others they have a perfect knowledge. They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures; and, to use a common proverb, they strive to weave ropes of sand, while they endeavour to adapt with an air of probability to their own peculiar assertions the parables of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets, and the words of the apostles, in order that their scheme may not seem altogether without support. In doing so, however, they disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lies, dismember and destroy the truth. By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wicked art in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions…. In like manner do these persons patch together old wives’ fables, and then endeavour, by violently drawing away from their proper connection, words, expressions, and parables whenever found, to adapt the oracles of God to their baseless fictions.

All heretics know they have to find support within Scripture, otherwise they would have no support whatsoever for their errors and/or lies, for the authority and unchanging tradition of the Church always stand firmly against them.

Irenaeus condemns the heretics and offers a conclusive coup de grace which proves they are heretics:

You see, my friend, the method which these men employ to deceive themselves, while they abuse the Scriptures by endeavouring to support their own system out of them. For this reason, I have brought forward their modes of expressing themselves, that thus you might understand the deceitfulness of their procedure, and the wickedness of their error….

But since what may prove a finishing-stroke to this exhibition is wanting, so that any one, on following out their farce to the end, may then at once append an argument which shall overthrow it, we have judged it well to point out, first of all, in what respects the very fathers of this fable differ among themselves, as if they were inspired by different spirits of error. For this very fact forms an a priori proof that the truth proclaimed by the Church is immoveable, and that the theories of these men are but a tissue of falsehoods.

The clearest indication that a certain denomination is heretical is that their leaders keep dividing and schisming among themselves. At first there was only Luther; then came Calvin, Zwingli, and a horde of others. Now there are innumerable heretical sects that have sprung from the seed of Luther’s Revolution. There are now many different synods or conventions within mainstream Protestant lines. In many cases, Christianity has been degraded into a private, individual religion, cut off from any resemblance to the original apostolic faith that proclaims the true Church is of one Mind and one Body.

So how is the Christian to know which exegesis of and approach to Scripture is correct? Irenaus tells us that Holy Tradition, handed down unchanged historically from the apostles and universally throughout the world, is our assurance:

The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: … [Irenaeus gives a creed]

…but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory. 

The true faith is received from the Church, not mystically or rationally divined from Scripture by individual believers. Notice also that immortality and salvation are given to those who are obedient to God’s commandments, which is perseverance in His love. “Faith alone” in some purely abstract/mental sense is not enough.

As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shines everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it.

Truth does not change. The Christian faith could not change in the 2nd century AD. It was already complete and perfect. Moreover, the true Church preserves the faith in its purity and hands it on, nothing more or less. Thus any later deviations from the Holy Tradition of the Church are by definition heretical, including the man-made traditions of the Protestant Revolution which popped into existence in the 16th century.

It does not follow because men are endowed with greater and less degrees of intelligence, that they should therefore change the subject-matter [of the faith] itself, and should conceive of some other God besides Him who is the Framer, Maker, and Preserver of this universe, (as if He were not sufficient for them), or of another Christ, or another Only-begotten. But the fact referred to simply implies this, that one may [more accurately than another] bring out the meaning of those things which have been spoken in parables, and accommodate them to the general scheme of the faith….

God never intended for individual intelligence or reason in and of itself to determine doctrine authoritatively, not to mention change it.

…as these teachers who are destitute of truly divine wisdom maintain; while the Catholic Church possesses one and the same faith throughout the whole world, as we have already said.

It is the catholic, the universal, Church that possesses the true faith.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Pope Clement, Papal Exhortation & Authority, and Catholic Doctrines (1st c. AD!)

Posted by Tony Listi on April 11, 2010

Pope St. Clement I (d. ca. 100 AD) wrote a letter to the Church at Corinth, which had fallen into grave sin and disarray (not heresy specifically), despite its original planting and cultivation by St. Paul. 

Though it is mostly an exhortatory letter, one must keep in mind that no specific doctrinal issue is being disputed. It was not an occasion for doctrinal correction and denunciation of heresy. Rather, Pope Clement fulfills the duty that he received from St. Peter and that St. Peter received from Our Lord: “Strengthen your brothers” and “Feed and tend my sheep” (Lk 22:32; Jn 21:15-17). Nevertheless, the letter has an overall tone of authority, especially toward the end.

Owing, dear brethren, to the sudden and successive calamitous events which have happened to ourselves, we feel that we have been somewhat tardy in turning our attention to the points respecting which you consulted us….

Notice that the Church at Corinth went to the Roman Church for help to address its problems.

… For you did all things without respect of persons, and walked in the commandments of God, being obedient to those who had the rule over you, and giving all fitting honour to the presbyters among you….

Pope Clement praises the church for its previous obedience to God, to its earthly rulers, and to its presbyters (priests).

… Every kind of faction and schism was abominable in your sight. You mourned over the transgressions of your neighbours: their deficiencies you deemed your own…. Adorned by a thoroughly virtuous and religious life, you did all things in the fear of God. The commandments and ordinances of the Lord were written upon the tablets of your hearts….

Pope Clement continues his praise for the previous beliefs and practices of the Corinthian Christians. Notice the implicit denunciation of “every kind of faction and schism.” Notice there’s a common sense of transgression when one person sins, with the implication of a common work of penance and salvation. Also, fear of God was expected even among the baptized, for salvation was not assured with certainty in the sense that many Protestants today erroneously have.

… For this reason righteousness and peace are now far departed from you, inasmuch as every one abandons the fear of God, and has become blind in His faith, neither walks in the ordinances of His appointment, nor acts a part becoming a Christian, but walks after his own wicked lusts, resuming the practice of an unrighteous and ungodly envy, by which death itself entered into the world….

Pope Clement then turns to criticize the then current sins of the Christians at Corinth. He says they abandoned the “fear of God,” became “blind” to the faith they had, disobeyed the “ordinances” of God, acted like a non-Christian, followed their “own wicked lusts,” and generally resumed their former ungodly and envious practices that claimed them for death instead of eternal life.

… Let us take the noble examples furnished in our own generation. Through envy and jealousy the greatest and most righteous pillars [of the church] have been persecuted and put to death. Let us set before our eyes the illustrious apostles. Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labours; and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him. Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned….

After having related the various instances of envy in the Old Testament, Pope Clement turns to the evil that envy unleashed upon St. Peter and St. Paul, who were martyred in Rome and of whom Clement is heir in authority as the bishop of Rome.

… Through envy, those women, the Danaids and Dircæ, being persecuted, after they had suffered terrible and unspeakable torments, finished the course of their faith with steadfastness, and though weak in body, received a noble reward….

Pope Clement goes on to praise other martyrs, victims of envy. Salvation comes from steadfastness in the faith, running “the course” to the end with perseverance. Read the rest of this entry »

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Commentary on St. Ignatius’ Letter to the Ephesians

Posted by Tony Listi on February 28, 2010

St. Ignatius (d. circa. 98-117 AD) was the bishop of Syria and perhaps the earliest Church father whose writings we have. His letter to the Ephesians is one of the earliest and most explicitly Catholic writings of the fathers that I’ve ever read.

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which is at Ephesus, in Asia….

As with virtually all letters of Scripture and the early fathers, only one Church is affirmed; it just happens to be at different places physically on the earth.

I received, therefore, your whole multitude in the name of God, through Onesimus, a man of inexpressible love, and your bishop in the flesh, whom I pray you by Jesus Christ to love, and that you would all seek to be like him.

This is perhaps the same Onesimus who was a slave of Philemon and whom St. Paul converted. Ignatius prays that the Ephesians will love and imitate Onesimus.

After praise for Onesimus and his subordinate ministers, he continues:

It is therefore befitting that you should in every way glorify Jesus Christ, who has glorified you, that by a unanimous obedience “you may be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment, and may all speak the same thing concerning the same thing” (1 Corinthians 1:10), and that, being subject to the bishop and the presbytery, you may in all respects be sanctified…. But inasmuch as love suffers me not to be silent in regard to you, I have therefore taken upon me first to exhort you that you would all run together in accordance with the will of God. For even Jesus Christ, our inseparable life, is the [manifested] will of the Father; as also bishops, settled everywhere to the utmost bounds [of the earth], are so by the will of Jesus Christ. Wherefore it is fitting that you should run together in accordance with the will of your bishop, which thing also you do.

Ignatius exhorts the Ephesians to “unanimous obedience” to the doctrinal teachings of their bishop, not to rely on Scripture alone (there was no New Testament anyway then). Through this obedience to the bishop and his ministers, the flock is sanctified in all respects. It is not up to the individual believer to decide what true, correct doctrine is. Unity of mind, judgment, action, and speech are necessary. Moreover and strikingly, the will of the bishop is identified with the will of God. The necessity and authority of the bishops is “so by the will of Jesus Christ.”

It is profitable, therefore, that you should live in an unblameable unity, that thus you may always enjoy communion with God. For if I in this brief space of time, have enjoyed such fellowship with your bishop — I mean not of a mere human, but of a spiritual nature— how much more do I reckon you happy who are so joined to him as the Church is to Jesus Christ, and as Jesus Christ is to the Father, that so all things may agree in unity!

Unity, unity, unity. This is a constant theme of this letter and other letters by Ignatius.

Let no man deceive himself: if any one be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God.

This is a reference to the Eucharist. Those outside of the Church are not part of the Body of Christ and thus do not receive the Body of Christ at the altar.

For if the prayer of one or two possesses (Matthew 18:19) such power, how much more that of the bishop and the whole Church! He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. For it is written, “God resists the proud.” Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God.

Again, authority and power rests with the bishop and the Church universal (the catholic Church). Those who separate themselves from the catholic Church out of pride condemn themselves. Again, the will of the bishop is identified with the will of God.

For we ought to receive every one whom the Master of the house sends to be over His household, (Matthew 24:25) as we would do Him that sent him. It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself. And indeed Onesimus himself greatly commends your good order in God, that you all live according to the truth, and that no sect has any dwelling-place among you. Nor, indeed, do you hearken to any one rather than to Jesus Christ speaking in truth.

Again, the bishop is identified with “the Lord Himself,” as an overseer designated by “the Master” who must be obeyed. The bishop creates “good order in God” so that Christians may “live according to the truth” and that no denomination/sect disobedient to the bishop is tolerated among them. Sects do not arise if there is “unanimous obedience” to the bishop, but when the disobedient cannot be reconciled, they must be expelled from the communion in which the one, true Church dwells. Thus Martin Luther and other heretics sealed their own fate with regard to the Church.

For some are in the habit of carrying about the name [of Jesus Christ] in wicked guile, while yet they practise things unworthy of God, whom you must flee as you would wild beasts. For they are ravening dogs, who bite secretly, against whom you must be on your guard, inasmuch as they are men who can scarcely be cured.

There are many wicked people who call themselves “Christian” but who are not worthy of the Name. The true Christian must be on guard against them and avoid them.

Let not then any one deceive you, as indeed you are not deceived, inasmuch as you are wholly devoted to God. For since there is no strife raging among you which might distress you, you are certainly living in accordance with God’s will. I am far inferior to you, and require to be sanctified by your Church of Ephesus, so renowned throughout the world. They that are carnal cannot do those things which are spiritual, nor they that are spiritual the things which are carnal; even as faith cannot do the works of unbelief, nor unbelief the works of faith. But even those things which you do according to the flesh are spiritual; for you do all things in Jesus Christ.

The faithful can be deceived and fall away. Strife in a church is caused by false, deceitful teachers and is a sign that God’s will is not being done. Ignatius also powerfully expresses the Catholic position that faith and works are intimately and inseparably joined together. If you “do the works of  unbelief,” then you do not have faith or salvation.

The last times have come upon us. Let us therefore be of a reverent spirit, and fear the long-suffering of God, that it tend not to our condemnation. For let us either stand in awe of the wrath to come, or show regard for the grace which is at present displayed— one of two things. Only [in one way or another] let us be found in Christ Jesus unto the true life. Apart from Him, let nothing attract you, for whom I bear about these bonds, these spiritual jewels, by which may I arise through your prayers, of which I entreat I may always be a partaker, that I may be found in the lot of the Christians of Ephesus, who have always been of the same mind with the apostles through the power of Jesus Christ.

We should fear God. Notice that Ignatius does not discount the possibility of any Christian’s condemnation by God. He does not speak as one assured of his own salvation. One does not “get saved”; one is “found in Christ Jesus unto the true life.” Salvation comes from always being “of the same mind with the apostles.”

Take heed, then, often to come together to give thanks to God, and show forth His praise. For when you assemble frequently in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and the destruction at which he aims is prevented by the unity of your faith.

This is a reference to the Eucharist (Greek eucharistia, thanksgiving). Again, “unity of faith” destroys the powers of Satan. Schisms empower Satan.

No man [truly] making a profession of faith sins; (1 John 3:7) nor does he that possesses love hate any one. The tree is made manifest by its fruit; (Matthew 12:33) so those that profess themselves to be Christians shall be recognised by their conduct. For there is not now a demand for mere profession, but that a man be found continuing in the power of faith to the end.

Real faith is evident from sinlessness, obedience, and good works. “Mere profession” is not enough to be saved; one must continue “in the power of faith to the end.” And the power of faith is the power to avoid all mortal sin and bear good fruit.

Do not err, my brethren (James 1:16). Those that corrupt families shall not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). If, then, those who do this as respects the flesh have suffered death, how much more shall this be the case with any one who corrupts by wicked doctrine the faith of God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified! Such an one becoming defiled [in this way], shall go away into everlasting fire, and so shall every one that hearkens unto him.

Error and consequent sin effect death, not salvation. Just as those who corrupt their bodies in sins of the flesh (and don’t receive forgiveness) suffer death in hell, so those who wickedly corrupt the “faith of God” and listen to these corrupters “shall go away into everlasting fire.”

Be not anointed with the bad odour of the doctrine of the prince of this world; let him not lead you away captive from the life which is set before you. And why are we not all prudent, since we have received the knowledge of God, which is Jesus Christ? Why do we foolishly perish, not recognising the gift which the Lord has of a truth sent to us?

Again, Christians can fall away from the faith and be damned; they can be led away from the Christian life like a captive in war. Knowledge of the truth is not enough to keep the Christian from perishing foolishly; discipline of the will is necessary to tame the body and evil desires of the heart.

Especially [will I do this ] if the Lord make known to me that you come together man by man in common through grace, individually, in one faith, and in Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David according to the flesh, being both the Son of man and the Son of God, so that you obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ.

Again and in conclusion, another reemphasis that there is only “one faith,” that one must “obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind,” and that one must break “one and the same bread.” The faith (body of true doctrines), the Church leadership, and the Eucharist together all proclaim the oneness and unity of the Body of Christ. Moreover, the Eucharistic “bread” is not merely memorial but effective as “the medicine of immortality,” “the antidote” to death, and the cause of eternal life in Jesus.

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Commentary on St. Ignatius’ Letter to the Romans

Posted by Tony Listi on February 16, 2010

St. Ignatius (d. circa. 98-117 AD) was the bishop of Syria and perhaps the earliest Church father whose writings we have. It appears that he was arrested and taken to Rome for a trial and/or his execution. He writes the following letter “to the Church.”

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which has obtained mercy, through the majesty of the Most High Father, and Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son; the Church which is beloved and enlightened by the will of Him that wills all things which are according to the love of Jesus Christ our God, which also presides in the place of the region of the Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of the highest happiness, worthy of praise, worthy of obtaining her every desire, worthy of being deemed holy, and which presides over love, is named from Christ, and from the Father, which I also salute in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father: to those who are united, both according to the flesh and spirit, to every one of His commandments; who are filled inseparably with the grace of God, and are purified from every strange taint, [I wish] abundance of happiness unblameably, in Jesus Christ our God.

Ignatius gives an extraordinary amount of praise to this 6-times “worthy” Church, which seemingly only parenthetically “also presides  in the place of the region of the Romans.” This Church is also “beloved and enlightened by the will of [God].” Very interesting. He does not pour out such praise in his letters to other churches. He speaks as if it were the entire universal Church itself. I see this as evidence for the primacy of the Church of Rome even by the late 1st or early 2nd century AD.

Through prayer to God I have obtained the privilege of seeing your most worthy faces, and have even been granted more than I requested; for I hope as a prisoner in Christ Jesus to salute you, if indeed it be the will of God that I be thought worthy of attaining unto the end. For the beginning has been well ordered, if I may obtain grace to cling to my lot without hindrance unto the end. For I am afraid of your love, lest it should do me an injury. For it is easy for you to accomplish what you please; but it is difficult for me to attain to God, if you spare me. For it is not my desire to act towards you as a man-pleaser, but as pleasing God, even as also you please Him. For neither shall I ever have such [another] opportunity of attaining to God; nor will you, if you shall now be silent, ever be entitled to the honour of a better work. For if you are silent concerning me, I shall become God’s; but if you show your love to my flesh, I shall again have to run my race. Pray, then, do not seek to confer any greater favour upon me than that I be sacrificed to God while the altar is still prepared….

In general, it seems that Ignatius is afraid that the Church of Rome will save him from martyrdom and perhaps make less certain his eternal salvation. He hopes for the grace to cling to his path of martyrdom until the end. Such uncertainty about his eternal fate is very un-Protestant.

You have never envied any one; you have taught others. Now I desire that those things may be confirmed [by your conduct], which in your instructions you enjoin [on others].

Ignatius says that this Church at Rome teaches, instructs, and enjoins others. He implies that this Church has authority.

Only request in my behalf both inward and outward strength, that I may not only speak, but [truly] will; and that I may not merely be called a Christian, but really be found to be one. For if I be truly found [a Christian], I may also be called one, and be then deemed faithful, when I shall no longer appear to the world.

He also asks for the prayers of this Church for himself, prayers for strength to continue down the path to martyrdom. Notice that he does not believe mere faith, mental assent, to be sufficient to be “deemed faithful” or to “really be found to be [a Christian].” To be a Christian is not something one claims for oneself verbally but rather is something another judges and finds.

I write to the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless you hinder me. I beseech of you not to show an unseasonable good-will towards me. Allow me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God.

Here Ignatius distinguishes between “[all] the Churches” and the Church of Rome, which apparently has either the authority to “hinder” him from writing to every individual church or the ability to “hinder” him from going through with his martyrdom. The context suggests the latter is meant.

I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.

How very interesting that he compares his body to “wheat” that when ground in martyrdom becomes “the pure bread of Christ.” This is a Eucharistic reference. Through the death of Jesus, ordinary bread becomes the Body of Christ, “the pure bread of Christ.” So also, the deaths of the martyrs unite them to Christ, once and for all.

Then shall I truly be a disciple of Christ, when the world shall not see so much as my body.

Again, martyrdom seals and confirm his discipleship and thus his salvation.

Entreat Christ for me, that by these instruments I may be found a sacrifice [to God].

Christians are called to sacrifice, to be a living sacrifice but also a literal sacrifice for the faith if need be. Sacrifices do not end with Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross; our sacrifices are united to His.

I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles; I am but a condemned man: they were free, while I am, even until now, a servant. But when I suffer, I shall be the freed-man of Jesus, and shall rise again emancipated in Him.

Apparently, St. Peter and St. Paul issued commandments to those to whom Ignatius is writing. Ignatius implicitly recognizes the authority of Peter and Paul and their successors to whom he now writes (one does not give commandments to a superior). He makes it crystal clear that he is not commanding the Church but making a request.

But I am the more instructed by their injuries [to act as a disciple of Christ]; “yet am I not thereby justified.” [1 Corinthians 4:4]… Now I begin to be a disciple.

Ignatius quotes Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, implying that he has not yet attained salvation, even under the abuse of his Roman captors. Only now does he feel that he is truly a disciple of Jesus.

Pardon me, brethren: do not hinder me from living, do not wish to keep me in a state of death; and while I desire to belong to God, do not give me over to the world. Allow me to obtain pure light: when I have gone there, I shall indeed be a man of God. Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of my God. If any one has Him within himself, let him consider what I desire, and let him have sympathy with me, as knowing how I am straitened.

Again, a plea to the Church of Rome not to prevent his martrydom and asking pardon perhaps for the boldness of his strong request. Ignatius wants to imitate Christ in suffering. He says he is “straitened,” meaning he is under some difficulty or distress. The next line explains further:

The prince of this world would fain carry me away, and corrupt my disposition towards God. Let none of you, therefore, who are [in Rome] help him; rather be on my side, that is, on the side of God. Do not speak of Jesus Christ, and yet set your desires on the world.

Ignatius fears the Devil and his attacks to foil Ignatius’ salvation.

I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.

Another Eucharistic reference. Of course, he’s talking specifically about the Eucharist of heaven, not of earth, though the two are united as one. The Eucharist in heaven has no and needs no transformation of bread and wine, for the Body and Blood itself is present in heaven in the most literal, direct, and real sense possible.

I no longer wish to live after the manner of men, and my desire shall be fulfilled if you consent. Be willing, then, that you also may have your desires fulfilled. I entreat you in this brief letter; give credit to me. Jesus Christ will reveal these things to you, [so that you shall know] that I speak truly. He is the mouth altogether free from falsehood, by which the Father has truly spoken. Pray for me, that I may attain [the object of my desire]. I have not written to you according to the flesh, but according to the will of God. If I shall suffer, you have wished [well] to me; but if I am rejected, you have hated me.

Again, Ignatius seeks the “consent,” prayers, and well-wishes of the Church of Rome for his forthcoming martyrdom. He claims to speak “according to the will of God.” And that last line seems to imply that the Church is intimately involved in his fate.

Remember in your prayers the Church in Syria, which now has God for its shepherd, instead of me. Jesus Christ alone will oversee it, and your love [will also regard it].

St. Ignatius, who will die soon, seems to leave responsibility for his church congregation in the hands of Jesus and the Church of Rome.

Posted in Catholicism vs. Protestantism, Church Fathers, Church History, Religion and Theology, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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