Conservative Colloquium

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Posts Tagged ‘authority’

Scripture: Jesus Gave the 12 Apostles & Their Successors Authority to Forgive Sins

Posted by Tony Listi on May 7, 2014

“Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?‘ And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them…’For which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Rise and walk?” But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’–he then said to the paralytic–‘Rise, take up your bed and go home.’ And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.” Mark 2:6-8/Matthew 9:5-8/Luke 5:24

 

“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them…. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples….” Matthew 28:16, 18-19

 

“Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.” John 20:20-24

 

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the Church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, 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.” Matthew 18:16-18

 

“Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.” James 5:14-16

 

 

 

And this authority of the apostolic office (including to forgive sins) was passed on to others by the laying on of hands:

“‘Brethren, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David, concerning Judas who was guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us, and was allotted his share in this ministry…. For it is written in the book of Psalms, “Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it;” and “His office let another take.” So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us–one of these men must be ordained a witness with us to his resurrection.’ And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, ‘Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside, to go to his own place.’ And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles.” Acts 1:16-26

 

Command and teach these things. Let no one despise your youth…. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the council of elders laid their hands upon you.” 1 Tim 4:14

 

“Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control.” 2 Tim 1:6

 

“Declare these things; exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” Titus 2:15

 

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the divine office which was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints.” Col 1:24-26

 

“If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task.” 1 Tim 3:1

 

“This is why I left you in Crete, that you might amend what was defective, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you….” Titus 1:5

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A Catholic Reading of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians

Posted by Tony Listi on March 8, 2014

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 (often out of context) 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 (or letter by letter in this case), 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. None of the books were written by their authors with the Bible’s compilation in mind.

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.

St. Paul’s  Letter to the Ephesians

St. John Chrysostom says that St. Paul wrote this letter while imprisoned in Rome. The letter is addressed to the Church at Ephesus, a city located in modern-day Turkey.

While there are various doctrines that Paul touches on indirectly, this relatively short letter is very simple in what it wants to get across directly:

  1. Remember your past sinfulness, the sins you committed before your becoming a Christian. (2:1-3, 11-12)
  2. Be strong, persevere, and do NOT fall back into those past sins (or new ones)! (4:1, 17, 22-24; 6:10-13, 18)
  3. God has given a special measure of grace to his apostles and other ministers to ensure the unity of the Church and the purity of the faith. (4:7, 11-16)
  4. Do these good things; avoid these evil things. (Chapters 4, 5, and 6)

That’s it. The end.

Specifically with regard to Catholic doctrines, the letter to the Ephesians does the following:

  • Contradicts the heresy of sola Scriptura and upholds the authority of oral apostolic preaching and discipline in person (1:17; 4:7-15, 21; 6:19-20)
  • Affirms apostolic/Church authority over lay believers (1:1; 3:4-5; 4:7-15)
  • Affirms apostolic succession (4:11-16)
  • Contradicts the fallibilistic tendency of Protestantism (1:9; 2:19; 3:18; 4:14-15; 5:5-6)
  • Affirms the Catholic view of the Church as one, holy, apostolic, and sacramental in nature (1:22-23; 2:19-22; 3:2-3, 6, 10; 4:3-6)
  • Affirms the necessity of perseverance in obedience, works of love, continual repentance, and maintenance of holiness for salvation/to enter heaven (1:4, 13-15; 2:1-12; 4:17-19, 22-24; 5:5-6; 6:11)
  • Contradicts certainty of knowledge of others’ or one’s own salvation (1:18; 2:15-16; 4:27; 5:15; 6:11, 13)

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 the homilies of St. John Chrysostom (347-407) to Christians. His was the earliest publicly available complete commentary on this letter that I could find. All emphases are mine. All verses are taken from the Revised Standard Version.

1:1 “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God….”
Paul is an apostle, one who has been sent out by those with authority (namely, Peter and James) to spread the gospel. Click here to learn more about the difference between a disciple and an apostle.

1:2 “To the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus….”
The “saints” are the saved, the holy ones. What does St. Paul mean by “faithful”? Merely one who mentally assents to the faith, or one who actually lives and practices the faith?
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Observe that he calls saints, men with wives, and children, and domestics. For that these are they whom he calls by this name is plain from the end of the Epistle…. Think how great is the indolence that possesses us now, how rare is any thing like virtue now and how great the abundance of virtuous men must have been then, when even secular men could be called ‘saints and faithful.'”

1:3-8 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us.”
Before we choose God, God chooses us. In a certain sense, God has chosen everyone because He has given everyone sufficient grace for salvation. So God has chosen everyone, but not everyone chooses God. To reject God is damnation. Free will is not nonexistent or destroyed because God chooses us; we have to cooperate with His choice. God will not save us against our will, if we willfully reject Him through our disobedient behavior. And of course, His grace of forgiveness is freely bestowed, not earned, but we have to freely accept it.
Within the context of the whole letter (1:18; 2:15-16; 4:27; 5:15; 6:11, 13), it’s clear Paul is not telling the Ephesians that they have nothing to fear, that they should have absolute certainty about their eternal fate.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “And He, then, it is that shall bestow upon us all those rewards hereafter. He is the very Judge that shall say, Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34). And again, I will that where I am they will also be with Me (John 17:24). And this is a point which he is anxious to prove in almost all his Epistles, that ours is no novel system, but that it had thus been figured from the very first, that it is not the result of any change of purpose, but had been in fact a divine dispensation and fore-ordained…. What is meant by, ‘He chose us in Him?’ By means of the faith which is in Him, Christ, he means, happily ordered this for us before we were born; nay more, before the foundation of the world…. But wherefore has He chosen us? ‘That we should be holy and without a blemish before Him.’ That you may not then, when you hear that ‘He has chosen us,’ imagine that faith alone is sufficient, he proceeds to add life and conduct. To this end, says he, has He chosen us, and on this condition, ‘that we should be holy and without blemish.’… He has Himself rendered us holy, but then we must continue holy. A holy man is he who is a partaker of faith; a blameless man is he who leads an irreproachable life. It is not however simply holiness and irreproachableness that He requires, but that we should appear such ‘before Him.’ For there are holy and blameless characters, who yet are esteemed as such only by men, those who are like whited sepulchres, and like such as wear sheep’s clothing. It is not such, however, He requires, but such as the Prophet speaks of; ‘And according to the cleanness of my hands’ (Psalm 18:24). What cleanness? That which is so ‘in His eyesight.’ He requires that holiness on which the eye of God may look…. Because this comes not of any pains, nor of any good works of ours, but of love; and yet not of love alone, but of our virtue also. For if indeed of love alone, it would follow that all must be saved; whereas again were it the result of our virtue alone, then were His coming needless, and the whole dispensation. But it is the result neither of His love alone, nor yet of our virtue, but of both…. Because our being rendered virtuous, and believing, and coming near unto Him, even this again was the work of Him that called us Himself, and yet, notwithstanding, it is ours also…. As for example, the first will is that sinners should not perish; the second will is, that, if men become wicked, they shall perish. For surely it is not by necessity that He punishes them, but because He wills it…. Now then if for this He has shown grace to us, to the praise of the glory of His grace, and that He may display His grace, let us abide therein…. That is to say, He has not only released us from our sins, but has also made us meet objects of His love. It is as though one were to take a leper, wasted by distemper, and disease, by age, and poverty, and famine, and were to turn him all at once into a graceful youth, surpassing all mankind in beauty, shedding a bright lustre from his cheeks, and eclipsing the sun-beams with the glances of his eyes; and then were to set him in the very flower of his age, and after that array him in purple and a diadem and all the attire of royalty. It is thus that God has arrayed and adorned this soul of ours, and clothed it with beauty, and rendered it an object of His delight and love…. Look, what words the initiated utter! What can be more beautiful than that mouth that breathes those wondrous words, and with a pure heart and pure lips, and beaming with cheerful confidence, partakes of such a mystical table? What more beautiful than the words, with which we renounce the service of the Devil, and enlist in the service of Christ? Than both that confession which is before the Baptismal laver, and that which is after it? Let us reflect as many of us as have defiled our Baptism, and weep that we may be able again to repair it.”

1:9-10 “For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
Paul is not at all uncertain of what he is speaking about. His words of revelation of the mystery of God’s will are said “in all wisdom and insight.”

1:11-12 “In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory.”
Again, God’s predestination and appointments do not override human free will. God can call and appoint, but we have to listen and accept. See commentary on 1:3-8.
Again, within the context of the whole letter (1:18; 2:15-16; 4:27; 5:15; 6:11, 13), Paul is not telling the Ephesians that they have nothing to fear, that they should have absolute certainty about their eternal fate.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Having first used the expression, ‘to them that are called according to a purpose,’ and at the same time wishing to declare their privilege compared with the rest of mankind, he speaks also of inheritance by lot, yet so as not to divest them of free will. That point then, which more properly belongs to happy fortune, is the very point he insists upon. For this inheritance by lot depends not on virtue, but, as one might say, on fortuitous circumstances. It is as though he had said, lots were cast, and He has chosen us; but the whole is of deliberate choice. Men predestinated, that is to say, having chosen them to Himself, He has separated. He saw us, as it were, chosen by lot before we were born. For marvellous is the foreknowledge of God, and acquainted with all things before their beginning.”

1:13-15 “In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints….”
Yes, those who believe are sealed with the Spirit and guaranteed the inheritance of eternal life. But what does Paul mean by saying the Ephesians “have believed”? Does he mean mere mental assent or does he mean a living faith working through love? It’s clear from verse 15 that Paul means the latter.
Several times in his letters, Paul tells Christian communities that if they fall back into various kinds of sins, they cannot inherit the kingdom. To sin is to show one’s unbelief. Sure, sins that occur after we’ve entered the Church (through baptism) can be forgiven too after repentance. But we are not “sealed” or “guaranteed” eternal life regardless of our actions. To give mental assent to the faith, yet unrepentantly act contrary to the faith, and still believe one is saved and destined for heaven is to delude oneself and mock God, who will not be mocked. Again, within the context of the whole letter (1:18; 2:15-16; 4:27; 5:15; 6:11, 13), Paul is not telling the Ephesians that they have nothing to fear, that they should have absolute certainty about their eternal fate.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Thus here also he makes the things already bestowed a sure token of the promise of those which are yet to come. For this reason he further calls it an ‘earnest,’ (Cf. also 2 Corinthians 1:22) for an earnest is a part of the whole. He has purchased what we are most concerned in, our salvation; and has given us an earnest in the mean while. Why then did He not give the whole at once? Because neither have we, on our part, done the whole of our work. We have believed. This is a beginning; and He too on His part has given an earnest. When we show our faith by our works, then He will add the rest…. For our absolute redemption takes place then. For now we have our life in the world, we are liable to many human accidents, and are living among ungodly men. But our absolute redemption will be then, when there shall be no sins, no human sufferings, when we shall not be indiscriminately mixed with all kinds of people…. Let not the hearing, however, make us too much at our ease; for although He does it for His own sake, yet notwithstanding He requires a duty on our part. If He says, ‘Them that honor Me I will honor, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed,’ (1 Samuel 2:30) let us reflect that there is that which He requires of us also. True, it is the praise of His glory to save those that are enemies, but those who, after being made friends, continue His friends. So that if they were to return back to their former state of enmity, all were vain and to no purpose. There is not another Baptism, nor is there a second reconciliation again, but ‘a certain fearful expectation of judgment which shall devour the adversaries’ (Hebrews 10:27). If we intend at the same time to be always at enmity with Him and yet to claim forgiveness at His hand, we shall never cease to be at enmity, and to be wanton, to grow in depravity, and to be blind to the Sun of Righteousness which has risen…. He has showed you the true light; if you shun it, and runnest back again into the darkness, what shall be your excuse? What sort of allowance shall be made for you? None from that moment. For this is a mark of unspeakable enmity. When indeed you knew not God, then if you were at enmity with Him, you had, be it how it might, some excuse. But when you have tasted the goodness and the honey, if you again abandonest them, and turnest to your own vomit, what else are you doing but bringing forward evidence of excessive hatred and contempt?… Again, what is stealing? Is it matter of necessity? Yes, a man will say, because poverty causes this. Poverty, however, rather compels us to work, not to steal. Poverty, therefore, has in fact the contrary effect. Theft is the effect of idleness; whereas poverty produces usually not idleness, but a love of labor. So that this sin is the effect of indolence…. We have anger given us, not that we may commit acts of violence on our neighbors, but that we may correct those that are in sin, that we may bestir ourselves, that we may not be sluggish. Anger is implanted in us as a sort of sting, to make us gnash with our teeth against the devil, to make us vehement against him, not to set us in array against each other. We have arms, not to make us at war among ourselves, but that we may employ our whole armor against the enemy. Are you prone to anger? Be so against your own sins: chastise your soul, scourge your conscience, be a severe judge, and merciless in your sentence against your own sins. This is the way to turn anger to account. It was for this that God implanted it within us…. But again, is plunder a matter of necessity? No, in no wise. Tell me, what manner of necessity is there to be grasping: what manner of compulsion? Poverty, a man will say, causes it, and the fear of being without common necessaries. Now this is the very reason why you ought not to be grasping. Wealth so gotten has no security in it. You are doing the very same thing as a man would do, who, if he were asked why he laid the foundation of his house in the sand, should say, he did it because of the frost and rain. Whereas this would be the very reason why he should not lay it in the sand. They are the very foundations which the rain, and blasts, and wind, most quickly overturn. So that if you would be wealthy, never be rapacious; if you would transmit wealth to your children, get righteous wealth, at least, if any there be that is such. Because this abides, and remains firm, whereas that which is not such, quickly wastes and perishes. Tell me, have you a mind to be rich, and do you take the goods of others? Surely this is not wealth: wealth consists in possessing what is your own. He that is in possession of the goods of others, never can be a wealthy man; since at that rate even your very silk venders, who receive their goods as a consignment from others, would be the wealthiest and the richest of men. Though for the time, indeed, it is theirs, still we do not call them wealthy. And why forsooth? Because they are in possession of what belongs to others.”

1:16-20 “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe, according to the working of his great might which he accomplished in Christ when he raised him from the dead….”
One should not presume that merely because one calls Jesus “Lord and Savior” that one is filled with “wisdom and revelation.” The supremacy of private judgment and interpretation is false.
Eternal life in heaven is a hope that God calls us to, a hope not merely for non-Christians but for Christians too. One cannot have a certain possession or hold on something that one is hoping for. Christians must hope, not merely wait. What Paul is saying here and throughout chapter 1 is based on the context of Christian obedience provided in chapter 2. Paul is speaking to presumably obedient Christians.

1:20-22 “…and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come; and he has put all things under his feet….”
Jesus is the King of the world, above all nations and states. Some so-called Christians need a reminder of this, that there is a difference between God and Caesar.

1:22-23 “…and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all.”
Make no mistake: the Church and the Body of Christ are one and the same. This metaphor of the body is crucial to understanding which church is the one, true Church. The Church is the perpetuation of the Incarnation, the bodily presence, of Jesus on earth. Those within whom Christ literally dwells are the Church, the Body of Christ. It is no coincidence that the Catholic Church believes that its members truly have Jesus’ body within their own bodies through the Eucharist and also claims to be the true Body of Christ, the true Church.
And notice that the Church does indeed “contribute” something to Christ in a certain sense: the Church is the “fullness” of Christ because it is Christ made present physically in the world. The implication is that if Christ did not continue to be present in the world in some bodily form, something in Christ would be incomplete in some sense.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Amazing again, whither has He raised the Church? As though he were lifting it up by some engine, he has raised it up to a vast height, and set it on yonder throne; for where the Head is, there is the body also. There is no interval to separate between the Head and the body; for were there a separation, then were it no longer a body, then were it no longer a head…. In order then that when you hear of the Head you may not conceive the notion of supremacy only, but also of consolidation, and that you may behold Him not as supreme Ruler only, but as Head of a body…. As though this were not sufficient to show the close connection and relationship, what does he add? ‘The fullness of Christ is the Church.’ And rightly, for the complement of the head is the body, and the complement of the body is the head. Mark what great arrangement Paul observes, how he spares not a single word, that he may represent the glory of God. “The, complement,” he says, i.e., the head is, as it were, filled up by the body, because the body is composed and made up of all its several parts, and he introduces Him as having need of each single one and not only of all in common and together; for unless we be many, and one be the hand, and another the foot, and another some other member, the whole body is not filled up. It is by all then that His body is filled up. Then is the head filled up, then is the body rendered perfect, when we are all knit together and united…. Let us feel awed at the closeness of our relation, let us dread lest any one should be cut off from this body, lest any one should fall from it, lest any one should appear unworthy of it…. Yet is the body of this Head trampled on by the very devils. Nay, God forbid it should be thus; for were it thus, such a body could be His body no longer. Your own head the more respectable of your servants reverence, and do you subject your body to be the sport of them that insult it? How sore punishment then shall you not deserve?… Further, our discourse is concerning this Body, and as many of us as partake of that Body and taste of that Blood, are partaking of that which is in no wise different from that Body, nor separate. Consider that we taste of that Body that sits above, that is adored by Angels, that is next to the Power that is incorruptible. Alas! How many ways to salvation are open to us! He has made us His own body, He has imparted to us His own body, and yet not one of these things turns us away from what is evil. Oh the darkness, the depth of the abyss, the apathy!… Do you not see, that even in our own body, when any part is superfluous and useless, it is cut off, is cut away? It is of no use that it has belonged to the body, when it is mutilated, when it is mortified, when it is decayed, when it is detrimental to the rest. Let us not then be too confident, because we have been once made members of this body. If this body of ours, though but a natural body, nevertheless suffers amputation, what dreadful evil shall it not undergo, if the moral principle should fail? When the body partakes not of this natural food, when the pores are stopped up, then it mortifies; when the ducts are closed, then it is palsied. So is it with us also, when we stop our ears, our soul becomes palsied; when we partake not of the spiritual food, when, instead of corrupt bodily humors, evil dispositions impair us, all these things engender disease, dangerous disease, disease that wastes. And then there will be need of that fire, there will be need of that cutting asunder. For Christ cannot endure that we should enter into the bride-chamber with such a body as this. If He led away, and cast out the man that was clothed in filthy garments, what will He not do unto the man who attaches filth to the body; how will He not dispose of him? I observe many partaking of Christ’s Body lightly and just as it happens, and rather from custom and form, than consideration and understanding…. And yet it is not the Epiphany, nor is it Lent, that makes a fit time for approaching, but it is sincerity and purity of soul. With this, approach at all times; without it, never. ‘For as often,’ (1 Corinthians 11:26) says he, ‘as you do this, you proclaim the Lord’s death,’ i.e., ‘you make a remembrance of the salvation that has been wrought for you, and of the benefits which I have bestowed.’ Consider those who partook of the sacrifices under the old Covenant, how great abstinence did they practise? How did they not conduct themselves? What did they not perform? They were always purifying themselves…. And how shall you present yourself before the judgment-seat of Christ, thou who presumest upon His body with polluted hands and lips? You would not presume to kiss a king with an unclean mouth, and the King of heaven do you kiss with an unclean soul? It is an outrage. Tell me, would you choose to come to the Sacrifice with unwashen hands? No, I suppose, not. But you would rather choose not to come at all, than come with soiled hands. And then, thus scrupulous as you are in this little matter, do you come with soiled soul, and thus dare to touch it? And yet the hands hold it but for a time, whereas into the soul it is dissolved entirely. What, do you not see the holy vessels so thoroughly cleansed all over, so resplendent? Our souls ought to be purer than they, more holy, more brilliant. And why so? Because those vessels are made so for our sakes. They partake not of Him that is in them, they perceive Him not. But we do—yes, verily. Now then, you would not choose to make use of a soiled vessel, and do you approach with a soiled soul? Observe the vast inconsistency of the thing…. In vain is the daily Sacrifice, in vain do we stand before the Altar; there is no one to partake. These things I am saying, not to induce you to partake any how, but that you should render yourselves worthy to partake. Are you not worthy of the Sacrifice, nor of the participation? If so, then neither are you of the prayer. You hear the herald, standing, and saying, ‘As many as are in penitence, all pray.’ As many as do not partake, are in penitence. If you are one of those that are in penitence, you ought not to partake; for he that partakes not, is one of those that are in penitence…. Look, I entreat: a royal table is set before you, Angels minister at that table, the King Himself is there, and do you stand gaping? Are your garments defiled, and yet do you make no account of it?— or are they clean? Then fall down and partake. Every day He comes in to see the guests, and converses with them all. Yes, at this moment is he speaking to your conscience; ‘Friends, how are you standing here, not having on a wedding garment?’ He said not, Why did you sit down? No, before he sat down, He declared him to be unworthy, so much as to come in. He says not, ‘Why did you sit down to eat,’ but, ‘Why did you come in?’ And these are the words that He is at this very moment addressing to one and all of us that stand here with such shameless effrontery. For every one, that partakes not of the mysteries, is standing here in shameless effrontery. It is for this reason, that they which are in sins are first of all put forth; for just as when a master is present at his table, it is not right that those servants who have offended him should be present, but they are sent out of the way: just so also here when the sacrifice is brought forth, and Christ, the Lord’s sheep, is sacrificed; when you hear the words, ‘Let us pray together,’ when you behold the curtains drawn up, then imagine that the Heavens are let down from above, and that the Angels are descending! As then it is not meet that any one of the uninitiated be present, so neither is it that one of them that are initiated, and yet at the same time defiled…. And you may, afterwards, come near, and behold: when, however, He is present, depart. You are no more allowed to be here than the Catechumen is. For it is not at all the same thing never to have reached the mysteries, and when you have reached them, to stumble at them and despise them, and to make yourself unworthy of this thing…. That I may not then be the means of increasing your condemnation, I entreat you, not to forbear coming, but to render yourselves worthy both of being present, and of approaching…. But may He that pricks the heart, He that gives the Spirit of compunction, pierce your hearts, and plant the seeds in the depth of them, that so through His fear ye may conceive, and bring forth the spirit of salvation, and come near with boldness.”

2:1-3 “And you he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
St. Paul begins talking about the sins that he and the Ephesians (all of us, really) had in the past. Notice the past tense all the way through. Before baptism (and confession of deadly/mortal sins), we are dead in our sins. But St. Paul isn’t saying that Christians can’t return to being “sons of disobedience” and “children of wrath” through rejecting God’s grace and returning to our former sins like a dog returns to his own vomit (Prov 26:11; 2 Pet 2:22).
These verses are very important context for what Paul says next.

2:4-10 “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God — not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
This is a very important passage because Protestants love to quote verse 8 ad nauseam but without regard for the context of the entire chapter or letter.
Paul is saying that we were saved from our former sins (Eph 2:1-3) by God’s grace; we obtain the forgiveness of God by virtue of His free gift, not by our works. No works can ever merit forgiveness of our sins. Forgiveness comes from the work of faith alone; faith is the only thing we contribute to Christ’s work and gift of forgiveness. No man can boast that he saves himself, for without Christ there is no forgiveness and salvation from sin. Faith alone saves us from sin, but it does not save us from hell. Paul does not say that faith alone gets us into the kingdom of heaven; it merely gets us forgiveness. Again, the context here is past sins, not heaven and hell.
Notice that there is a future element to what Paul is saying about forgiveness and salvation. God forgives our past sins so that “in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness.” The “immeasurable riches” of the future is heaven. God forgives our past sins, so that we may never sin again, do good works, and, in the end, obtain the immeasurable riches of heaven. There is a process to salvation here.
Why can’t we get into heaven by faith alone without works? Because, as Paul says next, the Christian who is saved from sin must walk in the good works that God has prepared and preordained for him or her to freely choose to do. If the Christian, though forgiven for past sins, refuses to do the good works that God has prepared for him or her, then that refusal itself is a sin, a disobedience against God, which merits death and needs forgiveness itself. Our Lord and Savior Himself echoes this interpretation of Paul’s letter when He says, according to the gospel of Matthew, that no one can enter the kingdom of God without a wedding garment of good works (22:10-14; see also 21:41-43). By the way, the thief on the cross probably didn’t have any good works prepared for him by God; God ordained that he would die and yet enter paradise without any good works.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Or again, if it means, not this, it means that by the laver of Baptism He has ‘raised us up with Him.’… ‘Through faith;’ Then, that, on the other hand, our free-will be not impaired, he adds also our part in the work, and yet again cancels it, and adds, ‘And that not of ourselves.’ Neither is faith, he means, ‘of ourselves.’ Because had He not come, had He not called us, how had we been able to believe? For ‘how,’ says he, ‘shall they believe, unless they hear?’ (Romans 10:14) So that the work of faith itself is not our own…. Was faith then, you will say, enough to save us? No; but God, says he, has required this, lest He should save us, barren and without work at all. His expression is, that faith saves, but it is because God so wills, that faith saves. Since, how, tell me, does faith save, without works? This itself is the gift of God…. That he may excite in us proper feeling touching this gift of grace. ‘What then?’ says a man, ‘Hath He Himself hindered our being justified by works?’ By no means. But no one, he says, is justified by works, in order that the grace and loving-kindness of God may be shown. He did not reject us as having works, but as abandoned of works He has saved us by grace; so that no man henceforth may have whereof to boast. And then, lest when you hear that the whole work is accomplished not of works but by faith, you should become idle, observe how he continues…. Not merely that we should begin, but that we should walk in them, for we need a virtue which shall last throughout, and be extended on to our dying day. If we had to travel a road leading to a royal city, and then when we had passed over the greater part of it, were to flag and sit down near the very close, it were of no use to us. This is the hope of our calling; for ‘for good works’ he says. Otherwise it would profit us nothing…. For a single virtue alone is not enough to present us with boldness before the judgment-seat of Christ; no, we require it to be great, and various, and universal, and entire. Hear what Christ says to the disciples, ‘Go, you and make disciples of all the nations—teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you’ (Matthew 28:19). And again, ‘Whosoever shall break one of these least commandments, shall be called least in the kingdom of Heaven,’ (Matthew 5:19) that is, in the resurrection; nay, he shall not enter into the kingdom…. And observe how it is not possible to enter without works of mercy; but if even this alone be wanting, we shall depart into the fire. For, says He, ‘Depart, you cursed, into the eternal fire, which is prepared for the Devil and his angels.’ Why and wherefore? ‘For I was an hungered, and you gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink’ (Matthew 25:42). Beholdest thou, how without any other charge laid against them, for this one alone they perished. And for this reason alone too were the virgins also excluded from the bride-chamber, though sobriety surely they did possess. As the Apostle says ‘and the sanctification, without which no man shall see the Lord’ (Hebrews 12:14). Consider then, that without sobriety, it is impossible to see the Lord; yet it does not necessarily follow that with sobriety it is possible to see Him, because often-times something else stands in the way. Again, if we do all things ever so rightly, and yet do our neighbor no service, neither in that case shall we enter into the kingdom. Whence is this evident? From the parable of the servants entrusted with the talents. For, in that instance, the man’s virtue was in every point unimpaired, and there had been nothing lacking, but forasmuch as he was slothful in his business, he was rightly cast out. Nay, it is possible, even by railing only, to fall into Hell. ‘For whosoever’ says Christ, ‘shall say to his brother, You fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire’ (Matthew 5:22). And if a man be ever so right in all things, and yet be injurious, he shall not enter…. And let no one impute cruelty to God, in that he excludes those who fail in this matter, from the kingdom of Heaven. For even with men, if any one do any thing whatsoever contrary to the law, he is banished from the king’s presence. And if he transgresses so much as one of the established laws, if he lays a false accusation against another, he forfeits his office. And if he commits adultery, and is detected, he is disgraced, and even though he have done ten thousand right acts, he is undone; and if he commits murder, and is convicted, this again is enough to destroy him. Now if the laws of men are so carefully guarded, how much more should those of God be. ‘But He is good,’ a man says. How long are we to be uttering this foolish talk? Foolish, I say, not because He is not good, but in that we keep thinking that His goodness will be available to us for these purposes….For it is with this object that I too discourse so much concerning His goodness, not that we may presume upon it, and do any thing we choose, because in that way this goodness will be to the prejudice of our salvation; but that we may not despair in our sins, but may repent. For ‘the goodness of God leads you to repentance,’ (Romans 2:4) not to greater wickedness. And if you become depraved, because of His goodness, you are rather belying Him before men. I see many persons thus impugning the long-suffering of God; so that if you use it not aright, you shall pay the penalty. Is God a God of loving-kindness? Yes, but He is also a righteous Judge. Is He one who makes allowance for sins? True, yet renders He to every man according to his works. Does He pass by iniquity and blot out transgressions? True, yet makes He inquisition also. How then is it, that these things are not contradictions? Contradictions they are not, if we distinguish them by their times. He does away iniquity here, both by the laver of Baptism, and by penitence. There He makes inquisition of what we have done by fire and torment…. He puts this before all terrible things; for if it is our duty to love our enemies, of what punishment shall not he be worthy, who turns away even from them that love him, and is in this respect worse than the heathen? So that in this case the greatness of the sin will make such an one go away with the devil. Woe to him, it is said, who does not give alms; and if this was the case under the Old Covenant, much more is it under the New…. Let us not, I pray and entreat you, let us not vainly deceive ourselves and comfort ourselves with arguments like these; no, let us practise those virtues, which shall avail to save us…. [L]et us have a regard for our own salvation, let us make virtue our care, let us rouse ourselves to the practice of good works, that we may be counted worthy to attain to this exceeding glory….”

2:11-12 “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands — remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”
Again, Paul returns to the theme of past sins like at the beginning of this chapter. Past sins is the clear context for Eph 2:5-8. He uses the past tense.
Paul wants the Ephesians to remember their past sinfulness. Why? Because he wants the Ephesians to be obedient to God! Because obedience is actually important to their salvation and admission into heaven! Because he doesn’t want them to fall back into their former sins, to fall from grace!
It isn’t until chapter 4 that Paul finally explicitly spits out his reason for urging the Ephesians to remember their past sinfulness (all of chapter 3 is one big aside or digression with Paul talking about himself): “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called…. Now this I affirm and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds…. Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (4:1, 17, 22-24). The rest of this letter (chapters 4, 5, and 6) is one big exhortation to obedience, or else the Ephesians will once again fall back into sin and death.

2:13-16 “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end.”
Again, Paul says that Christ’s blood brought forgiveness for our past sins, thus reconciling us to God and establishing peace and communion among the saints. One should not gloss over the strong declaration of communion that Paul makes: “made us both one” and “one new man” (the “one body” of Jesus Christ).
It is also important to clarify that Paul is not saying that the death and resurrection of Jesus literally abolished the moral law and its obligations upon Christians. Paul is saying that Christ abolished the enmity between man and God that the law produced and that He abolished the Jewish ritual laws (though really, they have been transformed, fulfilled, and then perpetuated in some sense through the sacraments). If Paul really meant to say that Christians are no longer bound to obey the moral commandments of God, then why the heck would he dedicate the rest of his letter, the last three chapters of the letter (out of 6 total chapters and thus half of the entire letter) to moral commands and injuctions on a variety of topics?
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Oh! amazing loving-kindness! He gave us a law that we should keep it, and when we kept it not, and ought to have been punished, He even abrogated the law itself. As if a man, who, having committed a child to a schoolmaster, if he should turn out disobedient, should set him at liberty even from the schoolmaster, and take him away. How great loving-kindness were this!”

2:18 “… for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” The Holy Spirit is given to all members of the Church but through mediation, according to God’s will. Jesus confers the Spirit on the apostles at Pentecost as we know from the book of Acts. Through apostolic ministry, through the ministry of the apostles and their successors,  the Spirit is conferred upon the rest of the members of the Church through the sacraments of Baptism and especially Confirmation. It is through this mediation of the Church (the Body of the Son) and the Spirit that we know and have access to the Father.

2:19-22 “So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
The one, true Church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles.” Any church that is not built upon the apostles is a heretical sect. To be “built upon the foundation of the apostles” means that the one, true Church can actually trace its institutional existence and its doctrines from the present day all the way back in history to the time of Jesus and the apostles.
Those who are part of this one, true Church are “no longer strangers and sojourners” but are home with family. Again, the communion of saints is alive and real, here and now even. The Christian here on earth, as long as he or she is truly a member of the Church in both faith and action (in a state of grace), is already “joined together” in communion with the saints. The Catholic has one and only one home and knows with certainty where home is; the Catholic is at peace. Protestants, if they are consistent and faithful in their doctrinal fallibilism and scientific approach, can never be settled and at home in their church, for they can never really be certain that they know the truth and are following the Truth. Thus the Protestant cannot truly be at peace intellectually and spiritually.
It is also very possible that Paul is referring specifically to Gentiles and Jews respectively in saying “strangers and sojourners.”

3:2-3 “…assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.”
Notice that Paul is acknowledging the possibility that the Ephesian Christians have already heard about Paul by word of mouth from other Christian apostles.
Paul and the rest of the apostles are stewards of God’s grace. A Protestant would never put it that way, but a Catholic would. Priests, bishops, and popes, as the successors of the apostles, are stewards of God’s grace. A steward is more than someone who parrots or speaks on  behalf of the owner/master; a steward is intimately involved and responsible in managing the affairs of the owner/master’s property or enterprise.
The truth of Christianity and its mysteries were not made known to Paul by the apostles and their preaching. He is a special and exceptional case because he received the truth by revelation, by a direct encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. This is NOT the ordinary means of coming to faith and the truth. Protestants should not think that every interpretation they have of a Bible verse is a revelation from God. The Church and its authoritative ministry and teaching are the ordinary means of coming to the one faith and one truth.
Paul says that he has written briefly about how God revealed Himself to Paul on the road to Damascus and afterward was given stewardship of God’s grace like the other apostles. He may be referring to certain passages in his letter to the Galatians or maybe previous letters to the Ephesians which we do not possess today.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Perhaps he had informed them of it by some persons, or had not long before been writing to them.”

3:4-5 “When you read this you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit….”
The Holy Spirit uniquely revealed the fullness of truth about the mystery of Jesus Christ to the apostles, not to every disciple of Jesus. It is crucial then that a Christian be able to trace back historically his beliefs and doctrines through the successors of the apostles to the apostles themselves. For that is how we will know that a certain doctrine is true and inspired by the Spirit.

3:6 “… that is, how the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
Again, the Church, the Body of Christ, is one, is unified in communion. There is only one Church, and it cannot be divided or destroyed; people can only refuse to join its communion or remove themselves from its communion by their free choice.

3:7-10 “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.”
St. Paul was made a minister by extraordinary means, as we are told in Acts, chapter 9. The ordinary means of becoming a minister is “through the Church,” through the laying on of hands by the apostles and their successors. Protestants err in taking St. Paul as the ordinary example for how faith, authority, and ministry are confirmed and sustained in the Church.
However, notice that even though Paul was called to faith and ministry in an extraordinary way apart from the Church militant on earth, Paul does not despise or rebuff the Church but rather sees himself as a leader of the Church. It is also good to remember that Paul also visited with Peter for 15 days and got his gospel approved by the apostles with the most authority (Gal 1:18, 2:1-2).

3:11-12 “This was according to the eternal purpose which he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confidence of access through our faith in him.”
Boldness and confidence are what faith should give us. It should not give us certain assurance of our getting to heaven, but it should give us confidence and great hope that we will, if we love God, if we humbly ask Him forgiveness for our past sins and obey His commandments. Moreover, we should have boldness and confidence in speaking about God, Jesus, the faith, and the Church. We should never be shy or ashamed of speaking about these things and living out the faith.
Again, within the context of the whole letter (1:18; 2:15-16; 4:27; 5:15; 6:11, 13), Paul is not telling the Ephesians that they have nothing to fear, that they should have absolute certainty about their eternal fate.

3:14-19 “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.”
Notice that St. Paul expects the fruit of faith to be rootedness and grounding in love, which is active, not passive.
Also, notice that full comprehension of God is in fact possible, contrary to the fallibilistic and scientific approach to theological truth that Protestantism has. Fullness of godly knowledge is possible.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “However, he does not ask the whole of God, but demands of them also faith and love, and not simply love, but love ‘rooted and grounded,’ so that neither any blasts can shake it, nor any thing else overturn it.”

3:20-21 “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.”
If we truly have faith and love God, then He and His power will be at work in us.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “‘The glory in the Church.’ Well might he say this, forasmuch as the Church alone can last on to eternity.”

4:1 “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called….”
It is now clear why Paul started off talking about past sins, about life before faith in Christ, and urged the Ephesians to remember their past sins: because the misery of that former life should be motivation not to fall back into it. And the contrast of that with their present life in Christ, in grace, should motivate them to lead a life worthy of that grace they have received.
All Christians are called to perfect holiness, to sainthood. We are called to be holy as God is holy. If we repent, embrace Jesus’ forgiveness in faith, and continue in obedience and charity after being forgiven, we will be worthy of the promise of eternal life.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “It is the virtue of teachers to aim not at praise, nor at esteem from those under their authority, but at their salvation, and to do every thing with this object; since the man who should make the other end his aim, would not be a teacher but a tyrant. Surely it is not for this that God set you over them… ‘Now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord’ (1 Thessalonians 3:8); for he ever earnestly desired the salvation of those whom he was instructing…. [W]ith great fervency, he was both himself baptized, and all his house. Yes, not like most men now-a-days, who suffer both servants and wives and children to go unbaptized.”

4:3-6 “…eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.”
The one, true Church founded by Jesus Christ and upon the apostles is one and must remain one. The unity of the Church must be something that all Christians strive for. It is completely unbiblical to be satisfied with countless divisions and sects of Christianity all with different doctrines on a variety of major issues.
The following verses explain how this unity is to be maintained in practice (i.e. through aposotolic authority).
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “The body is composed of members both honorable and dishonorable. Only, the greater is not to rise up even against the meanest, nor this latter to envy the other…. Some indeed there are, which are more especially principal members, others less so…. There are great numbers in the Church; there are those who, like the head, are raised up to a height…. Now this house is not of equal honor throughout, but of the stones which contribute to it, some are bright and shining, while others are smaller and more dull than they, and yet superior again to others.”
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “He then beautifully adds, ‘and one Spirit,’ showing that from the one body there will be one Spirit: or, that it is possible that there may be indeed one body, and yet not one Spirit; as, for instance, if any member of it should be a friend of heretics: or else he is, by this expression, shaming them into unanimity, saying, as it were, ‘You who have received one Spirit, and have been made to drink at one fountain, ought not to be divided in mind….’ For can it be, that you are called by the name of a greater God, another, of a lesser God? That you are saved by faith, and another by works? That you have received remission in baptism, while another has not?”

4:7, 11-16 “But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift…. And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.”
Some are given more grace, greater gifts, than others by God, and such people are to use these greater God-given gifts to serve, build up, and secure the Church, their fellow members of the Body.
Hierarchy and authority are fundamental to Christianity, to the Church, the Body of Christ. They are the means by which “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son” is maintained, Christians are secured from “every wind of doctrine,” and Christians attain “mature manhood” and “the fulness of Christ.” Thus the Catholic doctrines regarding the superior authority of bishops and popes.
Hierarchy and authority have been given to bishops and popes by Christ’s grace for the purpose of unifying His Body and of speaking the truth with authority and certainty. It is the Church and her clergy who ensure that Christians attain the “fulness of Christ,” who is the Truth, and thus attain the fullness of Truth.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “If then this or that man possesses any superiority in any spiritual gift, grieve not at it; since his labor also is greater. He that had received the five talents, had five required of him; while he that had received the two, brought only two, and yet received no less a reward than the other. And therefore the Apostle here also encourages the hearer on the same ground, showing that gifts are bestowed not for the honor of one above another, but for the work of the church…. And by this too he shows, that it is not of his own intrinsic merit that one has received more and another less, but that it is for the sake of others, as God Himself has measured it…. Yes, surely; those who were settled and employed about one spot, as Timothy and Titus, were inferior to those who went about the world and preached the Gospel…. That is, until we shall be shown to have all one faith: for this is unity of faith, when we all are one, when we shall all alike acknowledge the common bond. …and some He has appointed to one office, and others to another. For example, the Apostle is the most vital vessel of the whole body, receiving everything from Him; so that He makes eternal life to run through them to all, as through veins and arteries, I mean through their discourse…. For there are two kinds of separation from the body of the Church; the one, when we wax cold in love, the other, when we dare commit things unworthy of our belonging to that body; for in either way we cut ourselves off from the ‘fullness of Christ.’ But if we are appointed to build up others also, what shall not be done to them who are first to make division? Nothing will so avail to divide the Church as love of power. Nothing so provokes God’s anger as the division of the Church. Yea, though we have achieved ten thousand glorious acts, yet shall we, if we cut to pieces the fullness of the Church, suffer punishment no less sore than they who mangled His body…. [N]ot even the blood of martyrdom can wash out this sin. For tell me for what do you suffer as a martyr? Is it not for the glory of Christ? Thou then that yieldest up your life for Christ’s sake, how do you lay waste the Church, for whose sake Christ yielded up His life?… I mean these remarks for those who give themselves up indiscriminately to the men who are dividing the Church. For if on the one hand those men have doctrines also contrary to ours, then on that account further it is not right to mix with them: if, on the other hand, they hold the same opinions, the reason for not mixing with them is greater still. And why so? Because then the disease is from lust of authority. Do you not know what was the fate of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16:1-35)?… Tell me, do you think this is enough, to say that they are orthodox? Is then the ordination of clergy past and done away? And what is the advantage of other things, if this be not strictly observed? For as we must needs contend for the faith; so must we for this also. For if it is lawful for any one, according to the phrase of them of old, ‘to fill his hands,’ and to become a priest, let all approach to minister. In vain has this altar been raised, in vain the fullness of the Church, in vain the number of the priests…. Therefore I assert and protest, that to make a schism in the Church is no less an evil than to fall into heresy. Tell me, suppose a subject of some king, though he did not join himself to another king, nor give himself to any other, yet should take and keep hold of his king’s royal purple, and should tear it all from its clasp, and rend it into many shreds; would he suffer less punishment than those who join themselves to the service of another? And what, if withal he were to seize the king himself by the throat and slay him, and tear his body limb from limb, what punishment could he undergo, that should be equal to his deserts? Now if in doing this toward a king, his fellow-servant, he would be committing an act too great for any punishment to reach; of what hell shall not he be worthy who slays Christ, and plucks Him limb from limb?… The Church is our Father’s house. ‘There is one body, and one Spirit.’… I speak not of you that are present, but of those who are deserting from us. The act is adultery. And if you bear not to hear these things of them, neither should ye of us. There must be breach of the law either on the one side or the other. If then you have these suspicions concerning me, I am ready to retire from my office, and resign it to whomsoever ye may choose. Only let the Church be one. But if I have been lawfully made and consecrated, entreat those who have contrary to the law mounted the episcopal throne to resign it.”

4:17-19 “Now this I affirm and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; they are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart; they have become callous and have given themselves up to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of uncleanness.”
Having reminded the Ephesians of their past sins, commanded them to lead lives worthy of their call to eternal life, and explained the necessity of apostolic authority over doctrine, with full apostolic authority “in the Lord,”  Paul commands them not to live like the Gentiles, who live sinful lives. Such sins alienate one from the life of God and thus deprive one of eternal life.

4:20-21 “You did not so learn Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus.”
Notice that Paul does not say “assuming you have read about him.” The early Christians were taught primarily by personal oral preaching.

4:22-24 “Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
For the third time now, Paul tells the Ephesians to avoid sin and practice righteousness and holiness. Thus begins a long section of Paul giving commandments by which the Ephesians should live.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “He is now speaking of that clothing which is from life and good works. Before, the clothing was from Baptism, whereas now it is from the daily life and from works…. Our part then is, never to put off the garment of righteousness, which also the Prophet calls, ‘the garment of salvation’ (Isaiah 61:10), that so we may be made like God…. Seest not those beggars whom we are wont to call strollers, how they roam about, how we pity even them? And yet nevertheless they are without excuse. We do not excuse them when they have lost their clothes by gaming; and how then, if we lose this garment, shall God pardon us?… Perceive ye how great is the power of Christ’s coming? How He dissolved the curse? For indeed there are more virgins than before among women, there is more modesty in those virgins, and there are more widows.”

4:26-27 “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”
There is a kind of anger that is not sinful, but such anger should be temporary and give the devil no opportunity to lead your anger into sinful anger or other sins. Moral outrage at immorality is not sinful.
What does Paul mean by “opportunity to the devil”? Opportunity to do what? To tempt you to abandon the new Christian life, to return to sin, to lose one’s salvation and eternal life.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Would you be revengeful and be at enmity? Be at enmity, but be so with the devil, and not with a member of your own. For this purpose it is that God has armed us with anger, not that we should thrust the sword against our own bodies, but that we should baptize the whole blade in the devil’s breast. There bury the sword up to the hilt; yea, if you will, hilt and all, and never draw it out again, but add yet another and another. And this actually comes to pass when we are merciful to those of our own spiritual family and peaceably disposed one towards another.”

4:28 “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need.”
Notice that Paul upholds the right of private property (otherwise theft would be incomprehensible). Thieves should abandon theft and seek honest work. And why should they work? So that they may be able to give to those in need. Notice that Paul implicitly says that one cannot be charitable with another’s property and wealth; one must work oneself and give to others from one’s own property and wealth.

4:30 “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
Again, within the context of the whole letter (1:18; 2:15-16; 4:27; 5:15; 6:11, 13), Paul is not telling the Ephesians that they have nothing to fear, that they should have absolute certainty about their eternal fate. Rather he’s telling them that they have nothing to fear on the part of the Holy Spirit. We are not to doubt the Spirit or blame the Spirit for when we sin. But we should fear our own sinfulness, for by our own free will, we can break the seal we received in Baptism and Confirmation and choose hell.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “If we are to attain to the kingdom of Heaven, it is not enough to abandon wickedness, but there must be abundant practice of that which is good also. To be delivered indeed from hell we must abstain from wickedness; but to attain to the kingdom we must cleave fast to virtue…. For as I was saying that the departure from evil is sufficient to prevent our falling into hell, while I was speaking, there stole upon me a certain awful sentence, which does not merely bring down vengeance on them that dare to commit evil, but which also punishes those who omit any opportunity of doing good. What sentence then is this? When the day, the dreadful day, He says, was arrived, and the set time had come, the Judge, seated on the judgment seat, set the sheep on the right hand and the goats on the left; and to the sheep He said, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungered, and you gave me meat’ (Matthew 25:34). So far, well. For it was meet that for such compassion they should receive this reward. That those, however, who did not communicate of their own possessions to them that were in need, that they should be punished, not merely by the loss of blessings, but by being also sent to hell-fire, what just reason, I say, can there be in this? Most certainly this too will have a fair show of reason, no less than the other case: for we are hence instructed, that they that have done good shall enjoy those good things that are in heaven, but they, who, though they have no evil indeed to be charged with, yet have omitted to do good, will be hurried away with them that have done evil into hell-fire. Unless one might indeed say this, that the very not doing good is a part of wickedness, inasmuch as it comes of indolence, and indolence is a part of vice, or rather, not a part, but a source and baneful root of it. For idleness is the teacher of all vice. Let us not then foolishly ask such questions as these, what place shall he occupy, who has done neither any evil nor any good? For the very not doing good, is in itself doing evil. Tell me, if you had a servant, who should neither steal, nor insult, nor contradict you, who moreover should keep from drunkenness and every other kind of vice, and yet should sit perpetually in idleness, and not doing one of those duties which a servant owes to his master, would you not chastise him, would you not put him to the rack? Tell me. And yet forsooth he has done no evil. No, but this is in itself doing evil….. If therefore both in the case of servants, and of mechanics, and of the whole body, not only the commission of evil, but also the omission of what is good, is great unrighteousness, much more will this be the case in regard to the body of Christ…. For where, tell me, is the advantage of all the thorns being cut out, if the good seeds be not sown? For our labor, remaining unfinished, will come round and end in the same mischief…. And our abandonment of the one thing is not sufficient to settle us in the habitual practice of the other, but there is need again of some fresh impulse, and of an effort not less than that made in our avoidance of evil dispositions, in order to our acquiring good ones.”

5:2 “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Love is about sacrifice. Love and sacrifice cannot be separated. If you are not giving of yourself and sacrificing for a person, then you aren’t really loving that person.

5:5-6 “Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”
Notice that Paul is speaking with absolute certainty. With full apostolic authority, he is telling the Ephesian Christians not to be deceived, not to think that they can engage in sexual immorality/impurity (and in disobedience generally to God’s commands) and still inherit the kingdom and escape God’s wrath. A Christian who returns to grave sins forfeits his previous inheritance in the kingdom of God.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “There were, it is likely, in the time of our forefathers also, some who ‘weakened the hands of the people’ (Jeremiah 38:4), and brought into practice that which is mentioned by Ezekiel,— or rather who did the works of the false prophets, who ‘profaned God among His people for handfuls of barley’ (Ezekiel 13:19); a thing, by the way, done methinks by some even at this day. When, for example, we say that he who calls his brother a fool shall depart into hell-fire, others say, ‘What? Is he that calls his brother a fool to depart into hell-fire? Impossible,’ say they. And again, when we say that ‘the covetous man is an idolater,’ in this too again they make abatements, and say the expression is hyperbolical. And in this manner they underrate and explain away all the commandments. It was in allusion then to these that the blessed Paul, at this time when he wrote to the Ephesians, spoke thus… ‘Sons of disobedience’; he thus calls those who are utterly disobedient, those who disobey Him…. Observe how wisely he urges them forward; first, from the thought of Christ, that you love one another, and do injury to no man; then, on the other hand, from the thought of punishment and hell-fire…. That is to say, thinking what ye once were, and what you are now become, do not run back into your former wickedness, nor do ‘despite to the grace’ (Hebrews 10:29) of God.”

5:11 “…for once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret; but when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.”
Christians are called to be Christ, to be light for the world. To fulfill that calling Christians must expose evil as evil, though prudently. Christians must be courageous in confronting evil, though prudently.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Now he is not saying this with reference to the unbelievers only, for many of the faithful, no less than unbelievers, hold fast by wickedness; nay, some far more.”

5:15-16, 18 “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil…. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit….”
Caution and care are necessary for the Christian; otherwise, he or she will fall into the evil of the world.
Drunkenness is immoral and not Christian. It is a sin to drink to the point of drunkenness. But drinking alcohol in and of itself is not a sin; it’s the intemperance which is the sin.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “For indeed intemperance in this renders men passionate and violent, and hot-headed, and irritable and savage. Wine has been given us for cheerfulness, not for drunkenness. Whereas now it appears to be an unmanly and contemptible thing for a man not to get drunk. And what sort of hope then is there of salvation? What? Contemptible, tell me, not to get drunk, where to get drunk ought of all things in the world to be most contemptible?… Would you know where wine is good? Hear what the Scripture says, ‘Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto the bitter in soul’ (Proverbs 31:6). And justly, because it can mitigate asperity and gloominess, and drive away clouds from the brow. ‘Wine makes glad the heart of man’ (Psalm 104:15), says the Psalmist. How then does wine produce drunkenness? For it cannot be that one and the same thing should work opposite effects. Drunkenness then surely does not arise from wine, but from intemperance. Wine is bestowed upon us for no other purpose than for bodily health; but this purpose also is thwarted by immoderate use. But hear moreover what our blessed Apostle writes and says to Timothy, ‘Use a little wine for your stomach’s sake, and your frequent infirmities.'”

5:21-24 “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands.”
Notice that these verses, unpopular to modern egalitarian ears, are preceded by a general command that everyone “be subject” to one another. Christians are called to serve and love one another, regardless of sex, but according to the truth.
But with respect to marriage and family specifically, the wife is morally obligated to obey her husband, as long as her husband is not commanding evil. Why is she obligated so? Because this is the nature of the feminine as God created it in the female person, body and soul.
Now, contrary to modern thought, authority and dignity are not equivalent or proportional. The fact that the husband has more authority than the wife does not mean he has any greater dignity as a human being . The fact that the wife must obey does not lower her dignity. To be under authority is not in itself to be of lower dignity.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “And why so? Because when they are in harmony, the children are well brought up, and the domestics are in good order, and neighbors, and friends, and relations enjoy the fragrance. But if it be otherwise, all is turned upside down, and thrown into confusion. And just as when the generals of an army are at peace one with another, all things are in due subordination, whereas on the other hand, if they are at variance, everything is turned upside down; so, I say, is it also here…. Let us take as our fundamental position then that the husband occupies the place of the ‘head,’ and the wife the place of the ‘body.’… For indeed the head is the saving health of the body. He had already laid down beforehand for man and wife, the ground and provision of their love, assigning to each their proper place, to the one that of authority and forethought, to the other that of submission.”

5:25-31 “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.'”
The world would be transformed if men, if husbands, took these verses seriously and lived them.
The love of Christ for the Church is fruitful, sacrificial, and joyful. That means the sexual act must be open to procreation, to the creation of a new human life, the primary fruit of marriage. And to deliberarely bring a child into the world is indeed to make a sacrifice of future time, attention, energy, and resources for the sake of the child and the spouse. Lastly, the sexual act should be one of joyful celebration. It should celebrate (and consummate) the love that should already exist between husband and wife. Yes, sex should be pleasurable (otherwise, you’re doing something wrong, haha). But love is a cause for joy, not mere pleasure. The natural physical pleasure of sex should complement the joyful celebration of marital love. But to have pleasure without joy is worse than pain itself. And to take joy in the wrong things is to be a miserable creature.
A husband is also called to sanctify his wife through his love of her, so that she, like the Church, may be “holy and without blemish.” In fact, husband and wife are to sanctify and save each other (1 Cor 7:16).
Jesus washes His Bride the Church through Baptism and thus cleanses her from her sins and saves her.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “You have seen the measure of obedience, hear also the measure of love. Would you have your wife obedient unto you, as the Church is to Christ? Take then yourself the same provident care for her, as Christ takes for the Church. Yea, even if it shall be needful for you to give your life for her, yea, and to be cut into pieces ten thousand times, yea, and to endure and undergo any suffering whatever—refuse it not. Though you should undergo all this, yet will you not, no, not even then, have done anything like Christ. For thou indeed art doing it for one to whom you are already knit; but He for one who turned her back on Him and hated Him. In the same way then as He laid at His feet her who turned her back on Him, who hated, and spurned, and disdained Him, not by menaces, nor by violence, nor by terror, nor by anything else of the kind, but by his unwearied affection; so also do thou behave yourself toward your wife. Yea, though thou see her looking down upon you, and disdaining, and scorning you, yet by your great thoughtfulness for her, by affection, by kindness, you will be able to lay her at your feet. For there is nothing more powerful to sway than these bonds, and especially for husband and wife. A servant, indeed, one will be able, perhaps, to bind down by fear; nay not even him, for he will soon start away and be gone. But the partner of one’s life, the mother of one’s children, the foundation of one’s every joy, one ought never to chain down by fear and menaces, but with love and good temper. For what sort of union is that, where the wife trembles at her husband? And what sort of pleasure will the husband himself enjoy, if he dwells with his wife as with a slave, and not as with a free-woman? Yea, though you should suffer anything on her account, do not upbraid her; for neither did Christ do this…. Praise her not for her beauty. Praise and hatred and love based on personal beauty belong to unchastened souls. Seek thou for beauty of soul. Imitate the Bridegroom of the Church. Outward beauty is full of conceit and great license, and throws men into jealousy, and the thing often makes you suspect monstrous things. But has it any pleasure? For the first or second month, perhaps, or at most for the year: but then no longer; the admiration by familiarity wastes away. Meanwhile the evils which arose from the beauty still abide, the pride, the folly, the contemptuousness. Whereas in one who is not such, there is nothing of this kind. But the love having begun on just grounds, still continues ardent, since its object is beauty of soul, and not of body…. And if moreover disease come too, all is at once fled. Let us seek in a wife affectionateness, modest-mindedness, gentleness; these are the characteristics of beauty. But loveliness of person let us not seek, nor upbraid her upon these points, over which she has no power, nay, rather, let us not upbraid at all, (it were rudeness,) nor let us be impatient, nor sullen. Do ye not see how many, after living with beautiful wives, have ended their lives pitiably, and how many, who have lived with those of no great beauty, have run on to extreme old age with great enjoyment. Let us wipe off the “spot” that is within, let us smooth the “wrinkles” that are within, let us do away the “blemishes” that are on the soul. Such is the beauty God requires. Let us make her fair in God’s sight, not in our own. Let us not look for wealth, nor for that high-birth which is outward, but for that true nobility which is in the soul. Let no one endure to get rich by a wife; for such riches are base and disgraceful; no, by no means let any one seek to get rich from this source…. As great love as each entertains towards himself, so great he would have us entertain towards a wife. Not because we partake of the same nature; no, this ground of duty towards a wife is far greater than that; it is that there are not two bodies but one; he the head, she the body.”

5:32-33 “This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
The comparison of Christ and the Church to the husband and wife, and vice versa, is so very important for both theology and marriage. Blessed Pope John Paul II delved deeper into this profound mystery with his Theology of the Body discourses.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “The wife is a second authority; let not her then demand equality, for she is under the head; nor let him despise her as being in subjection, for she is the body; and if the head despise the body, it will itself also perish. But let him bring in love on his part as a counterpoise to obedience on her part. For example, let the hands and the feet, and all the rest of the members be given up for service to the head, but let the head provide for the body, seeing it contains every sense in itself. Nothing can be better than this union. And yet how can there ever be love, one may say, where there is fear? It will exist there, I say, preëminently. For she that fears and reverences, loves also; and she that loves, fears and reverences him as being the head, and loves him as being a member, since the head itself is a member of the body at large. Hence he places the one in subjection, and the other in authority, that there may be peace; for where there is equal authority there can never be peace; neither where a house is a democracy, nor where all are rulers; but the ruling power must of necessity be one. And this is universally the case with matters referring to the body, inasmuch as when men are spiritual, there will be peace…. Because he would rather that this principle prevail, this, namely, of love; for where this exists, everything else follows of course, but where the other exists [i.e. fear], not necessarily. For the man who loves his wife, even though she be not a very obedient one, still will bear with everything. So difficult and impracticable is unanimity, where persons are not bound together by that love which is founded in supreme authority; at all events, fear will not necessarily effect this. Accordingly, he dwells the more upon this, which is the strong tie. And the wife though seeming to be the loser in that she was charged to fear, is the gainer, because the principal duty, love, is charged upon the husband. ‘But what,’ one may say, ‘if a wife reverence me not?’ Never mind, you are to love, fulfill your own duty. For though that which is due from others may not follow, we ought of course to do our duty. This is an example of what I mean. He says, ‘submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ.’ And what then if another submit not himself? Still obey thou the law of God. Just so, I say, is it also here. Let the wife at least, though she be not loved, still reverence notwithstanding, that nothing may lie at her door; and let the husband, though his wife reverence him not, still show her love notwithstanding, that he himself be not wanting in any point. For each has received his own…. For the man that leaves his father for the sake of his wife, and then again, leaves this very wife herself and abandons her, what forbearance can he deserve?… However, when you hear of ‘fear,’ demand that fear which becomes a free woman, not as though thou were exacting it of a slave. For she is your own body; and if you do this, you reproach yourself in dishonoring your own body…. Supply her with everything. Do everything and endure trouble for her sake. Necessity is laid upon you…. She is a second authority, possessing indeed an authority, and a considerable equality of dignity; but at the same time the husband has somewhat of superiority. In this consists most chiefly the well-being of the house…. If we thus regulate our own houses, we shall be also fit for the management of the Church. For indeed a house is a little Church. Thus it is possible for us by becoming good husbands and wives, to surpass all others. Consider Abraham, and Sarah, and Isaac, and the three hundred and eighteen born in his house…. And he again so loved her, that in all things he obeyed her commands…. If any marry thus, with these views, he will be but little inferior to monks; the married but little below the unmarried…. If thus we regulate ourselves, and attentively study the Scriptures, in most things we shall derive instruction from them.”

6:4 “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
A father must rule wisely and lovingly over his wife and children. If he abuses his authority, the entire family suffers. He is obligated to ensure and participate in the bringing up of his children in the faith and discipline them accordingly.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “He has spoken of the husband, he has spoken of the wife, who is second in authority, he now goes on by gradual advances to the third rank— which is that of children…. How is it not absurd to send children out to trades, and to school, and to do all you can for these objects, and yet, not to ‘bring them up in the chastening and admonition of the Lord’?… Tempers are wanted, not talking; character, not cleverness; deeds, not words. These gain a man the kingdom…. Otherwise with what sort of boldness shall we stand before the judgment-seat of Christ? If a man who has unruly children is unworthy to be a Bishop (Titus 1:6), much more is he unworthy of the kingdom of Heaven. What do you say? If we have an unruly wife, or unruly children, shall we have to render account? Yes, we shall, if we do not with exactness bring in that which is due from ourselves; for our own individual virtue is not enough in order to salvation. If the man who laid aside the one talent gained nothing, but was punished even in such a manner, it is plain that one’s own individual virtue is not enough in order to salvation, but there is need of that of another also. Let us therefore entertain great solicitude for our wives, and take great care of our children, and of our servants, and of ourselves…. For He does not vouchsafe us His assistance when we sleep, but when we labor also ourselves. For a helper, (as the name implies,) is not a helper of one that is inactive, but of one who works also himself. But the good God is able of Himself to bring the work to perfection, that we may be all counted worthy to attain to the blessings promised us, through the grace and compassions of His only begotten Son….”

6:5-9 “Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as to Christ; not in the way of eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that whatever good any one does, he will receive the same again from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. Masters, do the same to them, and forbear threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.”
Though St. Paul does not call for the outright abolition of slavery and servitude in his letter, he challenges and undermines the institution. Slaves are not to obey their masters because of any quality of their masters but because in serving their masters they can serve Christ, sacrificing as Christ sacrificed. And masters are serve their servants and to remember that God shows no partiality to the free versus the enslaved; all people have equal dignity in His eyes because all are His creation, His children. For a good explanation of how Christianity historically weakened and paved the way for abolition, click here.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Slavery is nothing but a name. The mastership is ‘according to the flesh,’ brief and temporary; for whatever is of the flesh, is transitory…. He is a brother, or rather he has become a brother, he enjoys the same privileges, he belongs to the same body. Yea, more, he is the brother, not of his own master only, but also of the Son of God, he is partaker of all the same privileges; yet do you say, ‘obey your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling’? Yes, for this very reason, he would say, I say it. For if I charge free men to submit themselves one to another in the fear of God—as he said above, ‘submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ’;— if I charge moreover the wife to fear and reverence her husband, although she is his equal; much more must I so speak to the servant. It is no sign of low birth, rather it is the truest nobility, to understand how to lower ourselves, to be modest and unassuming, and to give way to our neighbor…. For inasmuch as it was probable that many masters, as being unbelievers, would have no sense of shame, and would make no return to their slaves for their obedience, observe how he has given them encouragement, so that they may have no misgiving about the remuneration, but may have full confidence respecting the recompense. For as they who receive a benefit, when they make no return, make God a debtor to their benefactors; so, I say, do masters also, if, when well-treated by you, they fail to requite you, requite you the more, by rendering God your debtor…. For the master himself is a servant. ‘Not as men-pleasers,’ he means, ‘and with fear and trembling’: that is, toward God, fearing lest He one day accuse you for your negligence toward your slaves. ‘And forbear threatening;’ be not irritating, he means, nor oppressive. Ah! How mighty a Master does he hint at here! How startling the suggestion! It is this. ‘With what measure you measure, it shall be measured unto you again’ (Matthew 7:2); lest you hear the sentence, ‘Thou wicked servant. I forgave you all that debt’ (Matthew 18:32).’… Think not, he would say, that what is done towards a servant, He will therefore forgive, because done to a servant. Heathen laws indeed as being the laws of men, recognize a difference between these kinds of offenses. But the law of the common Lord and Master of all, as doing good to all alike, and dispensing the same rights to all, knows no such difference. But should any one ask, whence is slavery, and why it has found entrance into human life, (and many I know are both glad to ask such questions, and desirous to be informed of them,) I will tell you. Slavery is the fruit of covetousness, of degradation, of savagery; since Noah, we know, had no servant, nor had Abel, nor Seth, no, nor they who came after them. The thing was the fruit of sin, of rebellion against parents. Let children hearken to this, that whenever they are undutiful to their parents, they deserve to be servants. Such a child strips himself of his nobility of birth; for he who rebels against his father is no longer a son; and if he who rebels against his father is not a son, how shall he be a son who rebels against our true Father? He has departed from his nobility of birth, he has done outrage to nature. Then come also wars, and battles, and take their prisoners. Well, but Abraham, you will say, had servants. Yes, but he used them not as servants. Observe how everything depends upon the head; the wife, by telling him ‘to love her’; the children, by telling him ‘to bring them up in the chastening and admonition of the Lord’; the servants, by the words, ‘knowing that both their Master and yours is in Heaven.’ So, says he, you also in like manner, as being yourselves servants, shall be kind and indulgent…. But I say that the house of the poor also is a city. Because here too there are offices of authority; for instance, the husband has authority over the wife, the wife over the servants, the servants again over their own wives; again the wives and the husbands over the children.”

6:10-13 “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
God has given His people many weapons and defenses against evil. The whole array of God’s armor is in the Catholic faith. The Catholic faith is so rich and comprehensive; it is not limited merely to the Bible and abstract faith. It appeals to habit and the senses to provide a more thorough defense against the devil. Catholicism has Mary and the rosary and a wide variety of sacramentals, blessings, prayers, icons, cards, saints, etc. to draw upon for strength and defense. It is amazing how few Catholics take advantage of the arsenal available to them and how well less-armored Christians fight the good fight.
St. Paul clearly implies here that it is possible that some Ephesian Christians may not “be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” and thus wander away from the path of salvation that they started along.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “He speaks not merely of doing the deed, but of completing it, so as not only to slay, but to stand also after we have slain. For many who have gained this victory, have fallen again. ‘Having done,’ says he, ‘all’; not having done one, but not the other. For even after the victory, we must stand. An enemy may be struck, but things that are struck revive again if we do not stand. But if after having fallen they rise up again, so long as we stand, they are fallen. So long as we waver not, the adversary rises not again…. For many there are who are united forsooth to Christ, and who yet love Him not…. If we were not able to trample down one who had fallen, who had been disgraced, who had been despised, who was lying beneath our feet, how shall the Father give us a Father’s rewards? If we subdue not one so placed in subjection to us, what confidence shall we have to enter into our Father’s house? For, tell me, suppose you had a son, and, that he, disregarding the well-disposed part of your household, should associate with them that have distressed you, with them that have been expelled his father’s house, with them that spend their time at the gaming table, and that he should go on so doing to the very last; will he not be disinherited? It is plain enough he will. And so too shall we; if, disregarding the Angels who have well pleased our Father and whom He has set over us, we have our conversation with the devil, inevitably we shall be disinherited, which God forbid; but let us engage in the war we have to wage with him.”

6:18 “Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints….”
Perseverance in the faith is necessary for salvation.

6:19-22 “…and also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. Now that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tych’icus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.”
The apostles spread the gospel by word of mouth, from person to person. And then they wrote letters to churches that had already been established in person by an apostle. Script and letters were not held in higher esteem or authority than in-person apostolic preaching, teaching, and governing.

Posted in Biblical Exegesis, Catholicism vs. Protestantism, Religion and Theology, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

The Most Catholic Quotes of the Early Church Fathers on Correct Scriptural Interpretation & Authority

Posted by Tony Listi on November 13, 2013

The early Church fathers rebuked many misinterpretations of Scripture and saw Church/episcopal/conciliar authority, apostolic succession, and Holy Apostolic Tradition to be essential in interpreting Scripture correctly and determining correct doctrine.

Irenaeus (130-202)

“Where, therefore, the gifts of the Lord have been placed, there it behooves us to learn the truth, [namely,] from those who possess that succession of the Church which is from the apostles and among whom exists that which is sound and blameless in conduct, as well as that which is unadulterated and incorrupt in speech. For these also preserve this faith of ours in one God who created all things; and they increase that love [which we have] for the Son of God, who accomplished such marvellous dispensations for our sake: and they expound the Scriptures to us without danger, neither blaspheming God, nor dishonouring the patriarchs, nor despising the prophets.” (Against Heresies, 4, 26, 2, 5; Ch. 26 is entitled “THE TRUE EXPOSITION OF THE SCRIPTURES IS TO BE FOUND IN THE CHURCH ALONE“)

“And then shall every word also seem consistent to him, if he for his part diligently read the Scriptures in company with those who are presbyters in the Church, among whom is the apostolic doctrine, as I have pointed out.” (Against Heresies, 4, 32, 1)

“Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?” (Against Heresies 3,4, 1)

“These things, too, were preached to the Gentiles by word, without [the aid of] the Scriptures: wherefore, also, they who preached among the Gentiles underwent greater labour. But, on the other hand, the faith of the Gentiles is proved to be of a more noble description, since they followed the word of God without the instruction [derived] from the [sacred] writings (sine instructione literarum).” (Against Heresies, 4, 24, 2)

“[W]e refute them out of these Scriptures, and shut them up to a belief in the advent of the Son of God. But our faith is steadfast, unfeigned, and the only true one, having clear proof from these Scriptures, which were interpreted in the way I have related; and the preaching of the Church is without interpolation. For the apostles, since they are of more ancient date than all these [heretics], agree with this aforesaid translation; and the translation harmonizes with the tradition of the apostles. For Peter, and John, and Matthew, and Paul, and the rest successively, as well as their followers, did set forth all prophetical [announcements], just as the interpretation of the elders contains them.” (Against Heresies, 3, 21, 3)

True knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy….” (Against Heresies, 4, 33, 8; Chapter 33 is entitled “WHOSOEVER…DILIGENTLY READS THE SCRIPTURES IN COMPANY WITH THE PRESBYTERS OF THE CHURCH, IS A TRUE SPIRITUAL DISCIPLE; AND HE WILL RIGHTLY UNDERSTAND AND INTERPRET ALL THAT THE PROPHETS HAVE DECLARED RESPECTING CHRIST AND THE LIBERTY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT”)

“When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition. For [they allege] that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but vivâ voce…. But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth…. It comes to this, therefore, that these men [heretics] do now consent neither to Scripture or tradition” (Against Heresies 3, 2, 1-2)

Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-c. 215)

“Now all men, having the same judgment, some, following the Word speaking, frame for themselves proofs; while others, giving themselves up to pleasures, wrest Scripture, in accordance with their lusts…. But such people, in consequence of falling away from the right path, err in most individual points; as you might expect from not having the faculty for judging of what is true and false, strictly trained to select what is essential. For if they had, they would have obeyed the Scriptures. As, then, if a man should, similarly to those drugged by Circe, become a beast; so he, who has spurned the ecclesiastical tradition, and darted off to the opinions of heretical men, has ceased to be a man of God and to remain faithful to the Lord. But he who has returned from this deception, on hearing the Scriptures, and turned his life to the truth, is, as it were, from being a man made a god…. And if those also who follow heresies venture to avail themselves of the prophetic Scriptures; in the first place they will not make use of all the Scriptures, and then they will not quote them entire, nor as the body and texture of prophecy prescribe. But, selecting ambiguous expressions, they wrest them to their own opinions, gathering a few expressions here and there; not looking to the sense, but making use of the mere words. For in almost all the quotations they make, you will find that they attend to the names alone, while they alter the meanings; neither knowing, as they affirm, nor using the quotations they adduce, according to their true nature…. For, in consequence of not learning the mysteries of ecclesiastical knowledge, and not having capacity for the grandeur of the truth, too indolent to descend to the bottom of things, reading superficially, they have dismissed the Scriptures…. [S]o also we call those heretics empty, who are destitute of the counsels of God and the traditions of Christ…. For those are slothful who, having it in their power to provide themselves with proper proofs for the divine Scriptures from the Scriptures themselves, select only what contributes to their own pleasures. And those have a craving for glory who voluntarily evade, by arguments of a diverse sort, the things delivered by the blessed apostles and teachers, which are wedded to inspired words; opposing the divine tradition by human teachings, in order to establish the heresy. For, in truth, what remained to be said— in ecclesiastical knowledge I mean— by such men, Marcion, for example, or Prodicus, and such like, who did not walk in the right way? For they could not have surpassed their predecessors in wisdom, so as to discover anything in addition to what had been uttered by them; for they would have been satisfied had they been able to learn the things laid down before. Our Gnostic [sincere seeker of truth and knowledge] then alone, having grown old in the Scriptures, and maintaining apostolic and ecclesiastic orthodoxy in doctrines, lives most correctly in accordance with the Gospel, and discovers the proofs, for which he may have made search (sent forth as he is by the Lord), from the law and the prophets. For the life of the Gnostic, in my view, is nothing but deeds and words corresponding to the tradition of the Lord.” (Stromata, Bk 7, Ch. 16)

“The liars, then, in reality are not those who for the sake of the scheme of salvation conform, nor those who err in minute points, but those who are wrong in essentials, and reject the Lord, and as far as in them lies deprive the Lord of the true teaching; who do not quote or deliver the Scriptures in a manner worthy of God and of the Lord; for the deposit rendered to God, according to the teaching of the Lord by His apostles, is the understanding and the practice of the godly tradition.” (The Stromata, Book VI, Chapter XV: “Different Degrees of Knowledge”; cf. ANF II, 509)

Tertullian (c. 160-c. 225)

Our appeal, therefore, must not be made to the Scriptures; nor must controversy be admitted on points in which victory will either be impossible, or uncertain, or not certain enough. But even if a discussion from the Scriptures should not turn out in such a way as to place both sides on a par, (yet) the natural order of things would require that this point should be first proposed, which is now the only one which we must discuss: ‘With whom lies that very faith to which the Scriptures belong. From what and through whom, and when, and to whom, has been handed down that rule, by which men become Christians?’ For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian traditions…. [A]ll doctrine which agrees with the apostolic churches— those moulds and original sources of the faith must be reckoned for truth, as undoubtedly containing that which the (said) churches received from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, Christ from God. Whereas all doctrine must be prejudged as false which savours of contrariety to the truth of the churches and apostles of Christ and God…. But if there be any (heresies) which are bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs ] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men,— a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter. In exactly the same way the other churches likewise exhibit (their several worthies), whom, as having been appointed to their episcopal places by apostles, they regard as transmitters of the apostolic seed.” (The Prescription Against Heretics, chapters 19, 21, 32; ANF, Vol. III)

“Since this is the case, in order that the truth may be adjudged to belong to us, ‘as many as walk according to the rule,’ which the church has handed down from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, and Christ from God, the reason of our position is clear, when it determines that heretics ought not to be allowed to challenge an appeal to the Scriptures, since we, without the Scriptures, prove that they have nothing to do with the Scriptures. For as they are heretics, they cannot be true Christians, because it is not from Christ that they get that which they pursue of their own mere choice, and from the pursuit incur and admit the name of heretics. Thus, not being Christians, they have acquired no right to the Christian Scriptures; and it may be very fairly said to them, ‘Who are you? When and whence did you come? As you are none of mine, what have you to do with that which is mine?'” (The Prescription Against Heretics, chapters 37; ANF, Vol. III)

Origen (c. 185-c. 254)

“Now the cause, in all the points previously enumerated, of the false opinions, and of the impious statements or ignorant assertions about God, appears to be nothing else than the not understanding the Scripture according to its spiritual meaning, but the interpretation of it agreeably to the mere letter. And therefore, to those who believe that the sacred books are not the compositions of men, but that they were composed by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, agreeably to the will of the Father of all things through Jesus Christ, and that they have come down to us, we must point out the ways (of interpreting them) which appear (correct) to us, who cling to the standard of the heavenly Church of Jesus Christ according to the succession of the apostles.” (First Principles, 4,1:9)

“When heretics show us the canonical Scriptures, in which every Christian believes and trusts, they seem to be saying: ‘Lo, he is in the inner rooms [the word of truth]’ (Matt 24.6). But we must not believe them, nor leave the original tradition of the Church, nor believe otherwise than we have been taught by the succession in the Church of God.” (Homilies on Matthew, Homily 46, PG 13:1667)

 Lactantius (c. 240-c. 320)

“[T]hey were perverted from the right path, and corrupted the sacred writings, so that they composed for themselves a new doctrine without any root and stability. But some, enticed by the prediction of false prophets, concerning whom both the true prophets and he himself had foretold, fell away from the knowledge of God, and left the true tradition.” (The Divine Institutes, Book IV, Chapter 30; ANF, Vol. VII)

Hilary of Poitiers (c. 315-368)

“For there is brought forward against us the declaration of Wisdom concerning itself, when it taught that it was created in these words: ‘The Lord created Me for the beginning of His ways’ (Prov 8:22). And, O wretched heretic! You turn the weapons granted to the Church against the Synagogue, against belief in the Church’s preaching, and distort against the common salvation of all the sure meaning of a saving doctrine. For you maintain by these words that Christ is a creature….” (On the Trinity, 12:36)

Athanasius (c. 297-373)

“But, beyond these sayings [of Scripture], let us look at the very tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, the Apostles preached and the Fathers kept.” (To Serapion 1:28; after citing biblical passages concerning the deity of the Holy Spirit)

“But after him and with him are all inventors of unlawful heresies, who indeed refer to the Scriptures, but do not hold such opinions as the saints have handed down, and receiving them as the traditions of men, err, because they do not rightly know them nor their power.” (Festal Letter 2:6)

“But since they allege the divine oracles [Scripture] and force on them a misinterpretation, according to their private sense, it becomes necessary to meet them just so far as to vindicate these passages, and to show that they bear an orthodox sense, and that our opponents are in error…. This then I consider the sense of this passage, and that, a very ecclesiastical sense.” (Discourse Against the Arians 1:37, 44)

“Now what has been briefly said above may suffice to show their misunderstanding of the passages they then alleged; and that of what they now allege from the Gospels they certainly give an unsound interpretation, we may easily see, if we now consider the scope of that faith which we Christians hold, and using it as a rule, apply ourselves, as the Apostle teaches, to the reading of inspired Scripture. For Christ’s enemies, being ignorant of this scope, have wandered from the way of truth, and have stumbled (Romans 9:32) on a stone of stumbling, thinking otherwise than they should think…. Had Christ’s enemies thus dwelt on these thoughts, and recognized the ecclesiastical scope as an anchor for the faith, they would not have made shipwreck of the faith, nor been so shameless as to resist those who would fain recover them from their fall, and to deem those as enemies who are admonishing them to be religious.” (Discourse Against the Arians 3:28, 58)

[H]old fast, every one, the faith we have received from the Fathers, which they who assembled at Nicæa recorded in writing, and endure not those who endeavor to innovate thereon. And however they may write phrases out of the Scripture, endure not their writings; however they may speak the language of the orthodox, yet attend not to what they say; for they speak not with an upright mind, but putting on such language like sheeps’ clothing, in their hearts they think with Arius, after the manner of the devil, who is the author of all heresies. For he too made use of the words of Scripture, but was put to silence by our Savior. For if he had indeed meant them as he used them, he would not have fallen from heaven; but now having fallen through his pride, he artfully dissembles in his speech, and oftentimes maliciously endeavours to lead men astray by the subtleties and sophistries of the Gentiles. Had these expositions of theirs proceeded from the orthodox, from such as the great Confessor Hosius, and Maximinus of Gaul, or his successor , or from such as Philogonius and Eustathius , Bishops of the East , or Julius and Liberius of Rome, or Cyriacus of Mœsia , or Pistus and Aristæus of Greece, or Silvester and Protogenes of Dacia, or Leontius and Eupsychius of Cappadocia, or Cæcilianus of Africa, or Eustorgius of Italy, or Capito of Sicily, or Macarius of Jerusalem, or Alexander of Constantinople, or Pæderos of Heraclea, or those great Bishops Meletius, Basil, and Longianus, and the rest from Armenia and Pontus, or Lupus and Amphion from Cilicia, or James and the rest from Mesopotamia, or our own blessed Alexander, with others of the same opinions as these—there would then have been nothing to suspect in their statements….” (Circular to Bishops of Egypt and Libya 8; NPNF 2, Vol. IV)

“I thought that all vain talk of all heretics, many as they may be, had been stopped by the Synod which was held at Nicæa. For the Faith there confessed by the Fathers according to the divine Scriptures is enough by itself at once to overthrow all impiety, and to establish the religious belief in Christ. For this reason at the present time, at the assembling of diverse synods, both in Gaul and Spain, and great Rome , all who came together, as though moved by one spirit, unanimously anathematised those who still were secretly holding with Arius, namely Auxentius of Milan, Ursacius, Valens, and Gaius of Pannonia. And they wrote everywhere, that, whereas the above-said were devising the names of synods to cite on their side, no synod should be cited in the Catholic Church save only that which was held at Nicæa, which was a monument of victory over all heresy, but especially the Arian, which was the main reason of the synod assembling when it did. How then, after all this, are some attempting to raise doubts or questions?… It is enough merely to answer such things as follows: we are content with the fact that this is not the teaching of the Catholic Church, nor did the fathers hold this. But lest the ‘inventors of evil things’ (Romans 1:30) make entire silence on our part a pretext for shamelessness, it will be well to mention a few points from Holy Scripture, in case they may even thus be put to shame, and cease from these foul devices…. Now from the divine Scriptures we discover nothing of the kind. For they say that God came in a human body. But the fathers who also assembled at Nicæa say that, not the body, but the Son Himself is co-essential with the Father, and that while He is of the Essence of the Father, the body, as they admitted according to the Scriptures, is of Mary. Either then deny the Synod of Nicæa, and as heretics bring in your doctrine from the side; or, if you wish to be children of the fathers, do not hold the contrary of what they wrote.” (Letter LIX to Epictetus, 1, 3; NPNF 2, Vol. IV)

Ephraem (c. 306-373)

All the heretics acknowledge that there is a true Scripture. Had they all falsely believed that none existed, some one might reply that such Scripture was unknown to them. But now that have themselves taken away the force of such plea, from the fact that they have mutilated the very Scriptures. For they have corrupted the sacred copies; and words which ought to have but one interpretation, they have wrested to strange significations. Whilst, when one of them attempts this, and cuts off a member of his own body, the rest demand and claim back the severed limb…. It is the church which perfect truth perfects. The church of believers is great, and its bosom most ample; it embraces the fulness (or, the whole) of the two Testaments.” (Hymns Against Heresies)

Basil the Great (c. 330-379)

“The one aim of the whole band of opponents and enemies of ‘sound doctrine’ (1 Timothy 1:10) is to shake down the foundation of the faith of Christ by levelling apostolic tradition with the ground, and utterly destroying it. So like the debtors,— of course bona fide debtors— they clamor for written proof, and reject as worthless the unwritten tradition of the Fathers. But we will not slacken in our defence of the truth. We will not cowardly abandon the cause. The Lord has delivered to us as a necessary and saving doctrine that the Holy Spirit is to be ranked with the Father. Our opponents think differently, and see fit to divide and rend asunder, and relegate Him to the nature of a ministering spirit. Is it not then indisputable that they make their own blasphemy more authoritative than the law prescribed by the Lord? Come, then, set aside mere contention.” (The Holy Spirit, 10:25; NPNF 2, Vol. VIII)

Time will fail me if I attempt to recount the unwritten mysteries of the Church. Of the rest I say nothing; but of the very confession of our faith in Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, what is the written source? If it be granted that, as we are baptized, so also under the obligation to believe, we make our confession in like terms as our baptism, in accordance with the tradition of our baptism and in conformity with the principles of true religion, let our opponents grant us too the right to be as consistent in our ascription of glory as in our confession of faith. If they deprecate our doxology on the ground that it lacks written authority, let them give us the written evidence for the confession of our faith and the other matters which we have enumerated. While the unwritten traditions are so many, and their bearing on ‘the mystery of godliness’ (1 Timothy 3:16) is so importantcan they refuse to allow us a single word which has come down to us from the Fathers;— which we found, derived from untutored custom, abiding in unperverted churches;— a word for which the arguments are strong, and which contributes in no small degree to the completeness of the force of the mystery?” (The Holy Spirit, 27:67; NPNF 2, Vol. VIII)

“In answer to the objection that the doxology in the form ‘with the Spirit’ has no written authority, we maintain that if there is no other instance of that which is unwritten, then this must not be received. But if the greater number of our mysteries are admitted into our constitution without written authority, then, in company with the many others, let us receive this one. For I hold it apostolic to abide also by the unwritten traditions. ‘I praise you,’ it is said, ‘that you remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances as I delivered them to you’ (1 Corinthians 11:2); and ‘Hold fast the traditions which you have been taught whether by word, or our Epistle’ (2 Thessalonians 2:15). One of these traditions is the practice which is now before us, which they who ordained from the beginning, rooted firmly in the churches, delivering it to their successors, and its use through long custom advances pace by pace with time.” (The Holy Spirit, 27:71; NPNF 2, Vol. VIII)

“Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us “in a mystery” by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force. And these no one will gainsay—no one, at all events, who is even moderately versed in the institutions of the Church. For were we to attempt to reject such customs as have no written authority, on the ground that the importance they possess is small, we should unintentionally injure the Gospel in its very vitals; or, rather, should make our public definition a mere phrase and nothing more..” (The Holy Spirit 27:66)

“[T]here has appeared among you yet another innovation, throwing the brotherhood into great dejection, because, as you have informed me, certain persons are uttering, in the hearing of the faithful, novel and unfamiliar doctrines which they allege to be deduced from the teaching of Scripture…. But who has the hardihood now once again to renew by the help of sophistical arguments and, of course, by scriptural evidence, that old dogma of Valentinus, now long ago silenced?… These, brethren, are the mysteries of the Church; these are the traditions of the Fathers. Every man who fears the Lord, and is awaiting God’s judgment, I charge not to be carried away by various doctrines. If any one teaches a different doctrine, and refuses to accede to the sound words of the faith, rejecting the oracles of the Spirit, and making his own teaching of more authority than the lessons of the Gospels, of such an one beware.” (Letter 261; NPNF 2, Vol. VIII)

“But we do not rest only on the fact that such is the tradition of the Fathers; for they too followed the sense of Scripture, and started from the evidence which, a few sentences back, I deduced from Scripture and laid before you.” (The Holy Spirit, 9:22; NPNF 2, Vol. VIII)

“Let us now investigate what are our common conceptions concerning the Spirit, as well those which have been gathered by us from Holy Scripture concerning It as those which we have received from the unwritten tradition of the Fathers.” (The Holy Spirit, 9:22; NPNF 2, Vol. VIII)

Let no one be misled by the fact of the apostle’s frequently omitting the name of the Father and of the Holy Spirit when making mention of baptism, or on this account imagine that the invocation of the names is not observed. ‘As many of you,’ he says, ‘as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ;’ and again, ‘As many of you as were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death.’ For the naming of Christ is the confession of the whole, showing forth as it does the God who gave, the Son who received, and the Spirit who is, the unction. So we have learned from Peter, in the Acts, of ‘Jesus of Nazareth whom God anointed with the Holy Ghost’ (Acts 10:38); and in Isaiah, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me’ (Isaiah 60:1) and the Psalmist, ‘Therefore God, even your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows.’ Scripture, however, in the case of baptism, sometimes plainly mentions the Spirit alone. ‘For into one Spirit,’ it says, ‘we were all baptized in one body.’ And in harmony with this are the passages: ‘You shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost’ (Acts 1:5) and ‘He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost’ (Luke 3:16). But no one on this account would be justified in calling that baptism a perfect baptism wherein only the name of the Spirit was invoked. For the tradition that has been given us by the quickening grace must remain for ever inviolate.” (The Holy Spirit, 12:28; NPNF 2, Vol. VIII)

“On the one hand are they who confound the Persons and are carried away into Judaism; on the other hand are they that, through the opposition of the natures, pass into heathenism. Between these opposite parties inspired Scripture is powerless to mediate; the traditions of the apostles cannot suggest terms of arbitration.” (The Holy Spirit, 30:77; NPNF 2, Vol. VIII)

 Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315-387)

Learn also diligently, and from the Church, what are the books of the Old Testament, and what those of the New. And, pray, read none of the apocryphal writings….”(Catechetical Lectures, IV, 33; NPNF 2, Vol. VII)

“Now these things we teach, not of our own invention, but having learned them out of the divine Scriptures used in the Church, and chiefly from the prophecy of Daniel just now read; as Gabriel also the Archangel interpreted it, speaking thus: The fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall surpass all kingdoms. And that this kingdom is that of the Romans, has been the tradition of the Church’s interpreters.” (Catechetical Lectures, XV, 13; NPNF 2, Vol. VII)

“But in learning the Faith and in professing it, acquire and keep that only, which is now delivered to you by the Church, and which has been built up strongly out of all the Scriptures. For since all cannot read the Scriptures, some being hindered as to the knowledge of them by want of learning, and others by a want of leisure, in order that the soul may not perish from ignorance, we comprise the whole doctrine of the Faith in a few lines. This summary I wish you both to commit to memory when I recite it, and to rehearse it with all diligence among yourselves, not writing it out on paper, but engraving it by the memory upon your heart , taking care while you rehearse it that no Catechumen chance to overhear the things which have been delivered to you. I wish you also to keep this as a provision through the whole course of your life, and beside this to receive no other, neither if we ourselves should change and contradict our present teaching, nor if an adverse angel, transformed into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) should wish to lead you astray. For though we or an angel from heaven preach to you any other gospel than that you have received, let him be to you anathema. (Galatians 1:8-9) So for the present listen while I simply say the Creed , and commit it to memory; but at the proper season expect the confirmation out of Holy Scripture of each part of the contents. For the articles of the Faith were not composed as seemed good to men; but the most important points collected out of all the Scripture make up one complete teaching of the Faith. And just as the mustard seed in one small grain contains many branches, so also this Faith has embraced in few words all the knowledge of godliness in the Old and New Testaments. Take heed then, brethren, and hold fast the traditions which you now receive, and write them on the table of your heart. Guard them with reverence, lest per chance the enemy despoil any who have grown slack; or lest some heretic pervert any of the truths delivered to you.” (Catechetical Lectures, V, 12-13; NPNF 2, Vol. VII)

“Now then let me finish what still remains to be said for the Article, ‘In one Holy Catholic Church,’ on which, though one might say many things, we will speak but briefly. It is called Catholic then because it extends over all the world, from one end of the earth to the other; and because it teaches universally and completely one and all the doctrines which ought to come to men’s knowledge, concerning things both visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly ; and because it brings into subjection to godliness the whole race of mankind, governors and governed, learned and unlearned; and because it universally treats and heals the whole class of sins, which are committed by soul or body, and possesses in itself every form of virtue which is named, both in deeds and words, and in every kind of spiritual gifts…. Concerning this Holy Catholic Church Paul writes to Timothy, ‘That you may know how you ought to behave yourself in the House of God, which is the Church of the Living God, the pillar and ground of the truth‘ (1 Timothy 3:15)…. And while the kings of particular nations have bounds set to their authority, the Holy Church Catholic alone extends her power without limit over the whole world…. In this Holy Catholic Church receiving instruction and behaving ourselves virtuously, we shall attain the kingdom of heaven, and inherit eternal life; for which also we endure all toils, that we may be made partakers thereof from the Lord.” (Catechetical Lectures, XVIII, 23, 25, 27, 28; NPNF 2, Vol. VII)

Epiphanius (c. 315-403)

“[N]ot everything can be gotten from Sacred Scripture.” (Panacea Against All Heresies, 61,6; Jurgens, II, 73)

John Chrysostom (c. 345-407)

“[T]here was much also that was not written. Like that which is written, the unwritten too is worthy of belief. So let us regard the Tradition of the Church also as worthy of belief. It is a tradition, seek no farther. Here he shows that there were many who were shaken.” (Homilies on 2 Thess 4:2; commenting on 2 Thess 2:15; Jurgens II, 124)

“[I]t was no object with them to be writers of books: in fact, there are many things which they have delivered by unwritten tradition.” (On Acts of the Apostles, Homily 1; NPNF 1, Vol. XI)

“‘That ye remember me in all things, and hold fast the traditions, even as I delivered them to you.’ It appears then that he used at that time to deliver many things also not in writing, which he shows too in many other places. But at that time he only delivered them, whereas now he adds an explanation of their reason: thus both rendering the one sort, the obedient, more steadfast, and pulling down the others’ pride, who oppose themselves.” (Homily XXVI on 1 Corinthians; commenting on 1 Cor 11:2; NPNF 1, Vol. XII)

Not by letters alone did Paul instruct his disciple in his duty, but before by words also which he shows, both in many other passages, as where he says, ‘whether by word or our Epistle’ (2 Thessalonians 2:15), and especially here. Let us not therefore suppose that anything relating to doctrine was spoken imperfectly. For many things he delivered to him without writing. Of these therefore he reminds him, when he says, ‘Hold fast the form of sound words, which you have heard of me.'” (Homily III on 2 Timothy – on 2 Tim 1:13-18; NPNF 1, Vol. XIII)

“Ver. 8. ‘Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth.’ Who are these? The magicians in the time of Moses. But how is it their names are nowhere else introduced? Either they were handed down by tradition, or it is probable that Paul knew them by inspiration.” (Homily VIII on 2 Timothy; NPNF 1, Vol. XIII)

“For, ‘remember,’ he says, ‘the words of the Lord which he spake: It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (v. 35.) And where said He this? Perhaps the Apostles delivered it by unwritten tradition; or else it is plain from (recorded sayings, from) which one could infer it.” (Homily XLV on Acts 20:32; NPNF 1, Vol. XIII)

Jerome (c. 343-420)

“Don’t you know that the laying on of hands after baptism and then the invocation of the Holy Spirit is a custom of the Churches? Do you demand Scripture proof? You may find it in the Acts of the Apostles. And even if it did not rest on the authority of Scripture the consensus of the whole world in this respect would have the force of a command. For many other observances of the Churches, which are due to tradition, have acquired the authority of the written law, as for instance the practice of dipping the head three times in the laver, and then, after leaving the water, of tasting mingled milk and honey in representation of infancy; and, again, the practices of standing up in worship on the Lord’s day, and ceasing from fasting every Pentecost; and there are many other unwritten practices which have won their place through reason and custom. So you see we follow the practice of the Church, although it may be clear that a person was baptized before the Spirit was invoked.” (The Dialogue Against the Luciferians, 8; NPNF 2, Vol. VI)

“I might spend the day in speaking to the same effect, and dry up all the streams of argument with the single Sun of the Church. But as we have already had a long discussion and the protracted controversy has wearied out the attention of our audience, I will tell you my opinion briefly and without reserve. We ought to remain in that Church which was founded by the Apostles and continues to this day. If ever you hear of any that are called Christians taking their name not from the Lord Jesus Christ, but from some other, for instance, Marcionites, Valentinians, Men of the mountain or the plain, you may be sure that you have there not the Church of Christ, but the synagogue of Antichrist. For the fact that they took their rise after the foundation of the Church is proof that they are those whose coming the Apostle foretold. And let them not flatter themselves if they think they have Scripture authority for their assertions, since the devil himself quoted Scripture, and the essence of the Scriptures is not the letter, but the meaning. Otherwise, if we follow the letter, we too can concoct a new dogma and assert that such persons as wear shoes and have two coats must not be received into the Church.”  (The Dialogue Against the Luciferians, 28; NPNF 2, Vol. VI)

Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

“To be sure, although on this matter, we cannot quote a clear example taken from the canonical Scriptures, at any rate, on this question, we are following the true thought of Scriptures when we observe what has appeared good to the universal Church which the authority of these same Scriptures recommends to you; thus, since Holy Scripture cannot be mistaken, anyone fearing to be misled by the obscurity of this question has only to consult on this same subject this very Church which the Holy Scriptures point out without ambiguity.” (Against Cresconius I:33; in Eno, 134)

[L]et the reader consult the rule of faith which he has gathered from the plainer passages of Scripture, and from the authority of the Church….” (On Christian Doctrine, 3,2:2; NPNF 1, Vol. II, 557)

“And thus a man who is resting upon faith, hope, and love, and who keeps a firm hold upon these, does not need the Scriptures except for the purpose of instructing others. Accordingly, many live without copies of the Scriptures, even in solitude, on the strength of these three graces.” (On Christian Doctrine, I, 39:43; NPNF 1, Vol. II, 534)

[I]f you acknowledge the supreme authority of Scripture, you should recognize that authority which from the time of Christ Himself, through the ministry of His apostles, and through a regular succession of bishops in the seats of the apostles, has been preserved to our own day throughout the whole world, with a reputation known to all.” (Reply to Faustus the Manichaean, 33:9; NPNF 1, Vol. IV, 345)

The authority of our books [Scriptures], which is confirmed by agreement of so many nations, supported by a succession of apostles, bishops, and councils, is against you.” (Reply to Faustus the Manichaean, 13:5; NPNF 1, Vol. IV, 201)

“As to those other things which we hold on the authority, not of Scripture, but of tradition, and which are observed throughout the whole world, it may be understood that they are held as approved and instituted either by the apostles themselves, or by plenary Councils, whose authority in the Church is most useful, e.g. the annual commemoration, by special solemnities, of the Lord’s passion, resurrection, and ascension, and of the descent of the Holy Spirit from heaven, and whatever else is in like manner observed by the whole Church wherever it has been established…. For often have I perceived, with extreme sorrow, many disquietudes caused to weak brethren by the contentious pertinacity or superstitious vacillation of some who, in matters of this kind, which do not admit of final decision by the authority of Holy Scripture, or by the tradition of the universal Church….” (Letter to Januarius, 54, 1, 1; 54, 2, 3; cf. NPNF 1, I, 301)

“For this question of baptism had not been as yet completely worked out, but yet the Church observed the most wholesome custom of correcting what was wrong, not repeating what was already given, even in the case of schismatics and heretics: she healed the wounded part, but did not meddle with what was whole. And this custom [of not re-baptizing heretics], coming, I suppose, from tradition (like many other things which are held to have been handed down under their actual sanction, because they are preserved throughout the whole Church, though they are not found either in their letters, or in the Councils of their successors),— this most wholesome custom, I say, according to the holy Cyprian, began to be what is called amended by his predecessor Agrippinus. But, according to the teaching which springs from a more careful investigation into the truth, which, after great doubt and fluctuation, was brought at last to the decision of a plenary Council….” (On Baptism, 2, 7, 12)

“[T]he custom, which is opposed to Cyprian, may be supposed to have had its origin in apostolic tradition, just as there are many things which are observed by the whole Church, and therefore are fairly held to have been enjoined by the apostles, which yet are not mentioned in their writings.” (On Baptism, 5, 23, 31)

“As to the first man, the father of mankind, it is agreed by almost the entire Church that the Lord loosed him from that prison; a tenet which must be believed to have been accepted not without reason,— from whatever source it was handed down to the Churchalthough the authority of the canonical Scriptures cannot be brought forward as speaking expressly in its support, though this seems to be the opinion which is more than any other borne out by these words in the book of Wisdom (Wisdom 10:1-2).” (Letter to Evodius of Uzalis, Epistle 164:6; NPNF 1, Vol. I, 516)

“God has placed this authority first of all in his Church.” (Explanations of the Psalms, Tract 103:8, PL 37:520-521; in Congar, 392)

“But those reasons which I have here given, I have either gathered from the authority of the church, according to the tradition of our forefathers, or from the testimony of the divine Scriptures, or from the nature itself of numbers and of similitudes. No sober person will decide against reason, no Christian against the Scriptures, no peaceable person against the church.” (On the Trinity, 4,6:10; NPNF 1, Vol. III, 75)

“It is obvious; the faith allows it; the Catholic Church approves; it is true.” (Sermon 117, 6)

Theodoret of Cyr (c. 393-c. 466)

I have ever kept the faith of the apostles undefiled, and on this account alone I have cherished the hope that I shall meet with mercy on the day of the Lord’s appearing. On behalf of this faith I continue to contend against every kind of heresy; this faith I am ever giving to the nurslings of piety; by means of this faith I have metamorphosed countless wolves into sheep, and have brought them to the Savior who is the Arch-shepherd of us all. So have I learned not only from the apostles and prophets but also from the interpreters of their writings, Ignatius, Eustathius, Athanasius, Basil, Gregory, John, and the rest of the lights of the world; and before these from the holy Fathers in council at Nicæa, whose confession of the faith I preserve in its integrity, like an ancestral inheritance, styling corrupt and enemies of the truth all who dare to transgress its decrees. I invoke your greatness, now that you have heard from me in these terms, to shut the mouths of my calumniators.” (To Florentius, Epistle 89; NPNF 2, Vol. III: 283)

Vincent of Lerins (d.c. 450)

“But it will be said, If the words, the sentiments, the promises of Scripture, are appealed to by the Devil and his disciples, of whom some are false apostles, some false prophets and false teachers, and all without exception heretics, what are Catholics and the sons of Mother Church to do? How are they to distinguish truth from falsehood in the sacred Scriptures? They must be very careful to pursue that course which, in the beginning of this Commonitory, we said that holy and learned men had commended to us, that is to say, they must interpret the sacred Canon according to the traditions of the Universal Church and in keeping with the rules of Catholic doctrine, in which Catholic and Universal Church, moreover, they must follow universality, antiquity, consent. And if at any time a part opposes itself to the whole, novelty to antiquity, the dissent of one or a few who are in error to the consent of all or at all events of the great majority of Catholics, then they must prefer the soundness of the whole to the corruption of a part; in which same whole they must prefer the religion of antiquity to the profaneness of novelty; and in antiquity itself in like manner, to the temerity of one or of a very few they must prefer, first of all, the general decrees, if such there be, of a Universal Council, or if there be no such, then, what is next best, they must follow the consentient belief of many and great masters. Which rule having been faithfully, soberly, and scrupulously observed, we shall with little difficulty detect the noxious errors of heretics as they arise.” (Commonitory of the Antinquity and Universality of the Catholic Faith, 70)

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Popes Acknowledge Economic Fallibility & Independence of Economics

Posted by Tony Listi on November 1, 2012

The Catholic Church has always said that, though politics and economics should have moral goals, prudence is necessary to ensure those goals are actually met. The Church cannot infallibly demand certain economic-political policies be put in place.

The Church has always said there is a lawful diversity of opinion on economic-political matters:

“If I were to pronounce on any single matter of a prevailing economic problem, I should be interfering with the freedom of men to work out their own affairs. Certain cases must be solved in the domain of facts, case by case as they occur…. Men must realize in deeds those things, the principles of which have been placed beyond dispute….These things one must leave to the solution of time and experience.” -Pope Leo XIII

“It goes without saying that part of the responsibility of pastors is to give careful consideration to current events in order to discern the new requirements of evangelization. However, such an analysis is not meant to pass definitive judgments, since this does not fall per se within the Magisterium’s specific domain…. The Church has no models to present; models that are real and truly effective can only arise within the framework of different historical situations, through the efforts of all those who responsibly confront concrete problems in all their social, economic, political and cultural aspects, as these interact with one another. For such a task the Church offers her social teaching as an indispensable and ideal orientation….” -Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus

“Indeed ‘the Church holds that it is unlawful for her to mix without cause in these temporal concerns;’ however, she can in no wise renounce the duty God entrusted to her to interpose her authority, not of course in matters of technique for which she is neither suitably equipped nor endowed by office….” -Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno

“[E]conomics and moral science employs each its own principles in its own sphere….” -Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno

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Dance and Theology of the Body

Posted by Tony Listi on June 12, 2011

Traditional dancing between men and women (i.e. ballroom dancing) is a great way to teach and illustrate Theology of the Body. Such dancing reveals visually with the male and female body what God wants men and women to be as men and women in erotic love.

1) Consent: The man should not try to force the woman to dance with him; he should ask for and have her consent. She shouldn’t have to dance if she doesn’t want to. Of course, it goes both ways; the man shouldn’t have to dance with anyone he doesn’t want to either.

Likewise, a man should not try to force a woman to date him, to be in an exclusive relationship with him, or to marry him. The man must ask her and respect her decision. And no woman should try to force a man into such things either. Love cannot be coerced.

2) Male Initiative: Traditionally, the man should ask the woman to dance. Yes, sometimes women do ask men to dance with them, but it is not the norm. The woman taking the initiative to ask in itself may not necessarily impair the dancing, but it could reflect an underlying predisposition of the man being unable or unwilling to assume proper leadership of the dance (see section on Male Leadership below), which would be a problem.

Likewise, the man should take the initiative to ask the woman out, to ask to be in an exclusive relationship, and to ask her hand in marriage. The man should prove his interest, love, and commitment. If the man doesn’t care enough to ask or can’t even muster up enough courage to ask, then he doesn’t really love her. Cowardice is self-centered and unloving, regardless of whether she says “yes” or “no.” It’s not good if the man is more worried about himself and his pride than about the woman, her well-being, and what he wants to do for her. If a sincere and loving man asks, and the woman says “no” haughtily and cruelly rather than compassionately and gracefully, then the man should realize that he is better off without such a woman, who is unworthy of his love and incapable of loving.

Yes, sometimes women take the initiative to ask men out, but again, it’s not the norm and could cause problems down the road, though not necessarily, for the same reasons as stated above for dance. At the higher and more serious level of marriage, I’ve never heard of a woman asking a man. There’s a reason for that spiritually: the man should lead and prove his love.

3) Male Leadership, Activity, & Responsibility: Once she agrees to dance, the woman follows and the man leads. The man actively chooses what dance moves will be done and where the dance will go on the floor. If both try to lead and neither follow, no dancing really occurs. In fact, in the extreme case, they hurt each other and/or part ways. If the man leads terribly, both suffer. Such leadership thus carries with it very important responsibilities. For example, the man must take pains not to lead the woman in such a way that she (or both of them) runs into other dancers on the dance floor.

Why can’t the woman lead the dance? In theory, I guess she could, but have you ever seen a dance where the woman is leading the man, spinning him, dipping him, holding him in her arms, etc.? Does it work? Does it look good? No, it doesn’t because such a dance is not in accord with the natural qualities of the male and female bodies and character (which I will discuss further in later sections). Such is the reality of dancing; different natures must be taken into account and obeyed.

Likewise, in a marriage, the husband is the natural leader, the head of the household, and thus has important responsibilities, including providing for his wife and children. Dating and courtship should be a process of the man gradually learning how to lead his girlfriend in love and service of her.

It is important to point out that Christian leadership is servant leadership. The greatest in the kingdom are the servants of others, using their power and authority to serve others rather than themselves. A leader who abuses his power and authority, lording it over others, is abhorrent. But contrary to modern thought, authority in and of itself is not evil or oppressive.

I think it is also important to point out that, despite the contrary case in dance perhaps, a good leader knows when to follow and let others take the lead, if only temporarily. A good husband has humility and knowledge of both his own and his wife’s strengths and weaknesses. He knows when to follow his wife’s lead and never dismisses or stifles her strengths. Such a good husband never really surrenders his authority but rather exercises it wisely and prudently.

So in a certain sense the man too is called to surrender, to surrender his self-interest for the sake of love and “surrender” his direct and explicit leadership role. These are the kinds of surrender that men must make if they wish to lead well.

4) Female Obedience, Surrender, & Receptivity: Again, the woman’s role in the dance is to follow. She is supposed to let the man lead her. If she doesn’t, both dancers are going to have problems dancing. This follower role doesn’t make her any less of a partner, dancer, or human being. Following is not a role of lesser dignity in dancing; it is merely different.

When a woman is a good follower of a man in dance, she is surrendering herself, especially her body, to that man. If she follows him obediently in more intimate dancing and dance moves, she surrenders her body, herself, to him even more. The more intimate the body movement the more complete her surrender.

Likewise, once married, the role of the wife is to obediently follow her husband’s lead. Admittedly though, a good husband who will lead lovingly and humbly like I described above can be hard to find these days. A woman would be better off avoiding marriage if she cannot find a man who will love her as Jesus loves the Church, eager to serve her and willing to sacrifice himself and suffer for her sake even unto death, despite her flaws, weaknesses, and imperfections.

Dating and courtship should be a process of the woman gradually learning how to trust, how to surrender herself to her boyfriend. Of course, the man has to gradually earn this trust of his girlfriend through acts of love. And the ultimate physical, emotional, and spiritual surrender and act of trust is the sexual act, which is properly reserved only for marriage because the life-long, total fidelity of marriage is a stable foundation for the total trust necessary in the sexual act.

If the woman refuses to surrender like a female dancer who refuses to be led, or if a woman never learns to surrender like a female dancer who never learns from her male lead’s physical signals what he wants her to do, the relationship will have problems, if not collapse.

Contrary to modern thought, authority and dignity are not equivalent or proportional. The fact that the husband has more authority than the wife does not mean he has any greater dignity as a human being (the same could be said about the authority of the pope and bishops in relation to Catholics and non-Catholics). So when St. Paul says a wife should be subordinate to her husband’s authority, he is not saying women have any lower dignity; he’s merely stating their specific role in the marriage dance.

5) Male Height, Size, & Strength: The male body is naturally taller, bigger, and stronger than the female’s on average. It is the man’s height and strength that makes him the natural leader of the dance, for he is able to easily spin, dip, and hold the woman. She typically cannot do the same with him. If the man is not tall enough, it will be difficult or impossible for him to spin the woman. If he is not strong enough, it will be difficult or impossible for him to dip her, hold her, and do other moves requiring strength. If the man is not tall and strong enough, both suffer.

Likewise, men should put the height, size, and strength of their bodies at the service of women and thus love the women in their lives. A man should open doors, carry things (especially if they are heavy), fix things, and provide other services to women that require strength. This principle is true generally apart from erotic love but finds greater focus and deeper expression in erotic love.  A man should use his strength and size to protect his date, girlfriend, or wife from harm, even to the point of sacrificing his bodily health or life for her sake.

Indeed, men should seek to be physically stronger for the sake of serving their girlfriend or wife. Lifting weights should not be motivated by ego (as hard as that is for us to avoid) but rather by a desire to be prepared for loving service to our girlfriends or wives, to strive for ideal masculinity. This kind of striving for strength should continue even after one has gotten married. Sometimes married men or even men in a serious relationship think they don’t have to work at being strong for their girlfriends or wives because they think strength is merely for attracting and getting women rather than also serving the one woman who is yours.

With all this in mind, it is quite natural that women desire and seek out men who are taller, bigger, and stronger than themselves. Just as naturally, men desire and seek out women who are shorter, smaller, and weaker than themselves. Despite the best of intentions, disharmony is more likely to arise where these physical inequalities are the opposite of these natural desires. Physical characteristics of the body naturally have psychological and spiritual consequences.

However, physical strength is not enough; a man in a relationship should have emotional, psychological, and spiritual strength to protect the woman’s emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being. Indeed, this kind of protection is even more important than physical protection, so cultivating emotional, psychological,and spiritual strength is more important than lifting weights. A boyfriend or husband should be the protector of the body, mind, and soul of his girlfriend or wife.

6) Mysterious and Unveiled Female Grace, Elegance, & Beauty: The female body is naturally more graceful, elegant, and (in some sense) beautiful than the male body (perhaps I’m biased, being a man, but I don’t think so). When the female body is spun, dipped, and held, the natural grace, elegance, and beauty of the female body shine through. It’s very hard to put these mysterious qualities into words, to articulate this mystery of the female body…. But perhaps a man is in a better position than a woman to delve into this mystery.

It seems as if the male body’s leading movements in dance enhance or unveil the grace, elegance, and beauty of the female body that was hidden or not as manifest in the stillness or unrhythmic movement before the dancing. Sometimes the female body seems like it radiates a graceful, elegant, and beautiful energy and dynamism all its own that the male body merely tries to direct and contain like a nuclear reactor directs and contains enormous atomic energy.

Likewise, I’ve always observed that women seem to become more graceful, elegant, and beautiful when they are dating or in a relationship. Sure, one might say that such women have someone to be more graceful, elegant, and beautiful for, and so they take more pains to be so. Indeed, women should seek to be more graceful, elegant, and beautiful for the sake of their boyfriend or husband. Make-up, skin care, hair care, etc. should not be motivated by vanity (as hard as that is to avoid for some women) but rather by a desire to look one’s best for and thus please and serve one’s boyfriend or husband, to strive for ideal femininity.

But I think this phenomenon goes or should go beyond merely what the woman does in response to having a partner; the man who she is in a relationship with can and should draw out and unveil her grace, elegance, and beauty by means of his relationship with her, by means of his loving service of her.

Sometimes married women or even women in a serious relationship think they don’t have to work at being beautiful for their boyfriends or husbands because they think beauty is merely for attracting and getting men rather than also pleasing and serving the one man who is yours.

Of course, it is true that grace, elegance, and beauty are more than skin deep. It is more important for women to cultivate a spiritual kind of grace, elegance, and beauty that infuses the personality than for women to spend hours in front of a mirror. But the body should not be wholly neglected, for the body is who we are too.

As for marriage specifically, the ultimate unveiling of the feminine by the man happens in the sexual act and the consequent motherhood that follows. The grace, elegance, and beauty of the feminine is nakedly exposed in the marital act. The nurturing love of motherhood from development in the womb to nursing at the uncovered breast also has a mysterious grace, elegance, and beauty to it.

7) Only One Partner: A man can only ballroom dance with one woman at a time. He only has one body with two arms and two legs and can only look in one direction. The human body itself places natural limits on what the man can do in the act of dancing. Same goes for the woman.

Yes, it is possible to dance in groups, but that kind of dancing involves little to no intimacy with other human beings. Either no physical touch is involved or the physical interaction is very limited with regard to intimacy because one’s body and attention is divided between two or more other people.

Likewise, a man can only be in a serious relationship with or married to one woman. Sure, it is perfectly fine to date many people at once, to search for a partner who deserves your exclusive focus and attention. But dating is a means to an end, not an end in itself; it is a means to finding an exclusive partner. Treating dating as if it were merely a recreational activity rather than a search of love will cause harm and pain and make it even harder to obtain a stable, loving relationship or marriage.

Marriage is a “dance” in which the “song” doesn’t end until one partner dies and in which we cannot “switch” partners in the middle of the “song” without hurting ourselves, our partner, and others “on and off the dance floor.”

Just as in dance, the human body itself naturally places limits on erotic love. God designed our bodies in a very specific way sexually. Abnormalities of fallen physical nature aside, the body of each and every physiologically normal man and woman has only one set of sexual organs, of genitalia. Thus only one man and one woman can engage in the sexual act at any one time (any attempts to contradict this is a perversion). This act is the climax and consummation of the marriage and is exclusive by nature. If God had designed the male and/or female body in a sexually different way, then we Christians (Catholics) would have a different Theology of the Body. Monogamy is thus natural and right because of the exclusivity of the sexual act itself.

8 ) Focus on One’s Own Partner: Not only does the body place limits on dancing, but so does the mind. While dancing, a man must focus on his own female partner, her body, and leading her well. If the man’s attention wanders, he, his partner, and their dancing will suffer for it. The same goes for the woman. If she is not focusing on him and his leadership, problems will occur.

Likewise, dates, relationships, and marriages are going to have problems if the man or woman isn’t focusing enough on the other and is getting too distracted by others. Obviously though, erotic relationships should not consume our entire lives. Family and friends deserve our love and attention too.

But ultimately, once one is married, one’s spouse should come first before all other men and women, and one’s actions should demonstrate that. And serious boyfriends and girlfriends that could become our husbands and wives naturally deserve a degree of priority. However, good partners allow their significant others to spend quality time with their family and friends and take the time to steadily incorporate them into their own circle of friends and family.

9) Union & Intimacy: Ultimately, the goal of good dancing is union. If both the leading and following are done well enough, the dancers achieve a unity of mind and movement virtually to the point of becoming one dancing body rather than two. But unless the two dancers are of one mind first, agreeing on whether to dance and on who will lead and follow, and actually agree on such things according to their own natures, there will be no unity of body movement.

This may seem kind of obvious, but for the purposes of Theology of the Body it’s worth pointing out that you can’t really dance with someone while they’re all the way across the room or if you can’t even see them. Too much distance makes dancing impossible or, at the very least, much less intimate and hardly dancing at all.

It does not matter really whether the man and/or woman intend intimacy or not when they dance; intimate dancing creates intimacy between the man and woman. Sure, some dancing moves are inherently more intimate than others. Holding hands, standard practice in traditional dancing, is not quite as intimate as moves where the man is actually holding the woman in his arms or close to his own body, however momentarily. Yet the very fact of the man leading and initiating and of the woman following and surrendering, this reality in itself, is intimacy of some sort. So in this sense, dancing is inherently intimate. 

A man should not lead a woman into dancing moves that are too intimate relative to his actual relationship with the woman (one time acquaintance, friend, family member, girlfriend, wife?). And a woman should not surrender her body to dancing moves that are too intimate relative to her relationship with the man (one time acquaintance, friend, family member, boyfriend, husband?). Men and women who are in a serious relationship or married should discipline and guard themselves against too much intimacy when they are dancing with someone other than their boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse.

Likewise, as with dancing, erotic relationships of various levels will succeed if the man and woman are fulfilling their natural roles well and thus achieve unity of belief and action. Dating and relationships should be a process of ascertaining whether such unity is possible and of working to establish such unity where possible. Marriage should be the end goal when one has found and established sufficient unity.

With this fact in mind, it is easy to see that erotic relationships between people of radically different religions, politics, and worldviews generally are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to be truly loving because these differences prevent union. Couples have to be “on the same page” on a lot of important issues to achieve a loving union.

And of course, the obvious and ultimate union of the bodies of man and woman is the sexual act. But this bodily union cannot be loving unless an emotional and spiritual (sacramental) union precedes it. Without this previous kind of union, the physical union will merely bring pain, disharmony, and separation.

Just as with “long distance dancing,” long distance relationships are kind of an oxymoron. You can’t be in an intimate relationship with someone if you aren’t physically present to them on a regular basis (cf. the Eucharist). It is possible for relationships to endure long distance strain only if intimacy and depth to the relationship have already been built up by prior personal interaction. A marriage, if entered into seriously, should be able to withstand a short period of time of long distance (strictly speaking, a marriage should be able to survive anything with God’s grace, except the death of one spouse).

As with dancing intimacy, it doesn’t really matter whether a man and woman intend commitment or intimacy when they have sex or engage in very intimate touching. The very acts in themselves are the language of commitment and intimacy. To speak this bodily language of commitment and intimacy and yet to will and act otherwise is to lie and harm the person of the opposite sex.

Dancing of any and all kinds has always been something of a spiritual exercise, not merely physical. It is not mere motion but rather an expression of the soul. And thus dancing between men and women is naturally going to reflect the sexual spirituality of the dancers, not mere body movement.

Ballroom dancing and the ettiquete surrounding it were developed during an earlier time when the sexual spirituality of the Western world was much more Christian and thus much more grounded in truth. It is no coincidence that as ballroom dancing has declined and been superceded by unchaste grinding and more individualistic and autonomous dancing, true Christian erotic love has also declined. There is a correlation and probably a symbiotic causation involved. A lack of love leads to unloving dancing and vice versa.

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A Catholic Reading of 2 Corinthians

Posted by Tony Listi on December 17, 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 (often out of context) 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. None of the books were written by their authors with the Bible’s compilation in mind.

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  Second Letter to the Corinthians

This is a short and a bit of an odd letter. It primarily focuses upon the relationship between Paul and the Corinthians, not doctrinal teachings. This fact should give pause to Protestants who claim exclusive authority for Scripture, which includes such letters by Paul, rather than the writings of the Church fathers which claim apostolic authority for their teachings. The specifics of the relationship between Paul and the Corinthians are of limited relevance today, but the general character is of great importance.

There are two overarching Catholic doctrinal themes in this letter: apostolic authority and the necessity and ministry of reconciliation. In the face of doubters and false apostles, Paul is forced to reassert his apostolic authority. In dealing with a repentant sinner, Paul exercises his apostolic authority to forgive sins in the person of Christ and to indulge the repentant sinner in comfort rather than require more penance of him, demonstrating the ministry of reconciliation he mentions in the letter.

Paul’s letter does the following things with regard to the Protestant-Catholic divide:

  • Contradicts the heresy of sola Scriptura and upholds the authority of oral apostolic preaching and discipline in person (1:19, 23-24; 2:1, 3-4, 17; 3:2-6; 4:5-7; 5:5; 10:5, 9-11, 16; 12:19; 13:10-11)
  • Affirms apostolic/Church authority over lay believers (1:1, 21-24; 2:1; 6:11-13; 7:15; 10:8; 11:17; 12:14, 19; 13:2-4, 10-11)
  • Contradicts the fallibilism of Protestantism (2:17; 3:4-6, 12; 4:5-7; 5:5, 18-20; 10:5; 11:5-6, 10; 13:3)
  • Affirms the Catholic sacrament of reconciliation (2:5-11; 5:17-20; 13:2)
  • Affirms the necessity of perseverance in obedience and repentance for salvation/to obtain heaven (1:24; 2:11, 15-16; 5:20; 6:1; 7:8-13; 11:3-4; 12:21; 13:2-5)
  • Contradicts certainty of knowledge of others’ or one’s own salvation (1:6-7; 5:20; 6:1; 7:13; 11:3-4; 12:20-21; 13:5)
  • Contradicts sola fide (5:10-11, 15; 7:1, 15; 10:15)
  • Affirms the necessity of the institutional and doctrinal unity of the Church (1:1; 11:2-4, 12-15)
  • Affirms the Catholic view of suffering (1:5-7; 4:9-11; 12:7-9)
  • Affirms the Catholic custom of referring to priests as father (6:13; 12:14)
  • Supports the Catholic doctrine of praying to dead saints (1:11)
  • Supports the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory (12:2-4)

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 this letter that I could find. All emphases are mine. All verses are taken from the Revised Standard Version.

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A Catholic Reading of 1 Corinthians

Posted by Tony Listi on November 21, 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 (often out of context) 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  First Letter to the Corinthians

Paul wrote this letter because he had heard disturbing reports about what was happening in the Church at Corinth and because the church had written a letter to him. These are the specific, chance circumstances that drove him to write this letter. He in no way intended this letter alone or together with his other letters and the writings of others to be the comprehensive and sole source of correct doctrine.

He addresses several specific issues:

  • divisions and factions within the Church at Corinth
  • the questions of the Corinthians regarding marriage, virginity, and food offered to idols
  • liturgical problems and disgraces regarding women’s headcoverings, the Eucharist, and various spiritual gifts like tongues
  • the theology of the Resurrection

Paul’s letter does the following things with regard to the Protestant-Catholic divide:

  • Contradicts the heresy of sola Scriptura and upholds the authority of oral apostolic preaching and tradition (1:5-7, 17, 19-21; 2:1, 4-5; 3:1-4; 5:1, 9-11; 7:1; 10:4; 11:2, 34; 15:3, 11; 16:5-7)
  • Affirms apostolic/Church authority over lay believers (1:1; 3:1-4; 4:14-15, 17-21; 5:2-5; 9:1-18; 11:16; 12:28-31; 16:1, 15-16)
  • Contradicts the fallibilism of Protestantism (2:4-5, 10-13)
  • Affirms the necessity of the institutional and doctrinal unity of the Church (1:1, 10-13; 4:17; 7:17; 10:17; 11:17-19; 12:12-14, 20, 24-25)
  • Contradicts sola fide (3:5-9, 12-15; 6:8-11; 7:19; 9:23-27; 10:5-14; 15:1-2, 58)
  • Contradicts certainty of knowledge of others’ or one’s own salvation (4:1-5; 9:23-27; 10:5-14; 15:1-2; 16:13)
  • Affirms the necessity of perseverance for salvation/to obtain heaven (1:8-9, 18; 9:23-27; 10:12-13; 15:2, 58; 16:13)
  • Affirms Catholics doctrines about the Eucharist (10:1-3, 16-21; 11:20-30)
  • Affirms the Catholic practice of excommunication by apostolic authority (5:2-5)
  • Affirms the Catholic belief that God uses human beings for salvific purposes (7:12-16)
  • Affirms the Catholic discipline of priestly celibacy (7:5, 25-40)
  • Affirms Catholic teaching on husband’s headship of the family (11:3; 14:33-37)
  • Affirms the absolute Catholic prohibition of divorce (7:10-11, 39)
  • Supports the primacy of Peter (9:5; 15:5)
  • Supports the authority of apostolic succession (3:10-11; 4:17-21)
  • Supports the doctrine of Purgatory and perhaps praying for the dead (3:12-15; 15:28-29)
  • Supports the Catholic belief that the saints in heaven are not mere spectators (6:1-3)
  • Supports the practice of infant baptism (1:16; 7:14)
  • Supports Catholic doctrine on the purpose of baptism (12:13)
  • Supports the Catholic practice of indulgences (5:2-5)

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 this letter that I could find. All emphases are mine. All verses are taken from the Revised Standard Version.

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Origen: More 2nd/3rd Century Confirmation of Catholicism

Posted by Tony Listi on November 6, 2010

Origen (185-254) was a very early catechetical teacher. In his work De Principiis, he demonstrates that the truths of Catholicism have deep and early roots, whereas Protestantism does not. He upholds Church tradition and authority as the fundamental rule of faith for the teaching of correct doctrine and confirms the necessity of obedience for salvation.

All emphases are mine.

Before Origen proceeds to state the content of the Christian faith, he notes that their are differences of belief among people who call themselves Christians and thus sees it necessary to lay out an overarching rule for how to distinguish true from false doctrines:

Since many, however, of those who profess to believe in Christ differ from each other, not only in small and trifling matters, but also on subjects of the highest importance, as, e.g., regarding God, or the Lord Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit; and not only regarding these, but also regarding others which are created existences, viz., the powers and the holy virtues; it seems on that account necessary first of all to fix a definite limit and to lay down an unmistakable rule regarding each one of these, and then to pass to the investigation of other points…. [S]eeing there are many who think they hold the opinions of Christ, and yet some of these think differently from their predecessors, yet as the teaching of the Church, transmitted in orderly succession from the apostles, and remaining in the Churches to the present day, is still preserved, that alone is to be accepted as truth which differs in no respect from ecclesiastical and tradition.

Origen then, in Catholic creed-like fashion, says what the Christian faith holds to be true, careful to claim apostolic/Church authority for these doctrines:

Now it ought to be known that the holy apostles, in preaching the faith of Christ, delivered themselves with the utmost clearness on certain points which they believed to be necessary to every one…. The particular points clearly delivered in the teaching of the apostles are as follow…. Then, Thirdly, the apostles related that the Holy Spirit was associated in honour and dignity with the Father and the Son…. And that this Spirit inspired each one of the saints, whether prophets or apostles; and that there was not one Spirit in the men of the old dispensation, and another in those who were inspired at the advent of Christ, is most clearly taught throughout the Churches…. After these points, also, the apostolic teaching is that the soul, having a substance and life of its own, shall, after its departure from the world, be rewarded according to its deserts…. This also is clearly defined in the teaching of the Church, that every rational soul is possessed of free-will and volition…. [T]his beginning, itself, whether it be by birth or not, or whether bestowed upon the body from without or no, is not distinguished with sufficient clearness in the teaching of the Church…. Regarding the devil and his angels, and the opposing influences, the teaching of the Church has laid down that these beings exist indeed…. This also is a part of the Church’s teaching, that the world was made and took its beginning at a certain time, and is to be destroyed on account of its wickedness. But what existed before this world, or what will exist after it, has not become certainly known to the many, for there is no clear statement regarding it in the teaching of the Church…. Respecting which there is one opinion throughout the whole Church, that the whole law is indeed spiritual…. This also is a part of the teaching of the Church, that there are certain angels of God, and certain good influences, which are His servants in accomplishing the salvation of men…. Every one, therefore, must make use of elements and foundations of this sort…if he would desire to form a connected series and body of truths agreeably to the reason of all these things, that by clear and necessary statements he may ascertain the truth regarding each individual topic, and form, as we have said, one body of doctrine, by means of illustrations and arguments….

Notice at the end how Origen assumes the necessity of unity of true doctrine.

In talking of the end of the world, Origen also assumes the unity and authority of Church:

…if his mind be full of preconceptions and prejudices on other points, he may judge these to be heretical and opposed to the faith of the Church, yielding in so doing not so much to the convictions of reason as to the dogmatism of prejudice…. And in keeping with this is the declaration of the same apostle, when he exhorts us, who even in the present life are placed in the Church, in which is the form of that kingdom which is to come, to this same similitude of unity: “That you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

He again upholds the authority of the Church when discussing corporeal and incorporeal beings:

We have now to ascertain what those matters are which it is proper to treat in the following pages according to our dogmatic belief, i.e., in agreement with the creed of the Church.

He again upholds the authority of the Church when discussing judgment and hell:

But since the discourse has reminded us of the subjects of a future judgment and of retribution, and of the punishments of sinners, according to the threatenings of holy Scripture and the contents of the Church’s teaching…. But now, also, for the sake of logical order in our treatise, there will be no absurdity in restating a few points from such works, especially since some take offense at the creed of the Church, as if our belief in the resurrection were foolish, and altogether devoid of sense; and these are principally heretics, who, I think, are to be answered in the following manner.

He again upholds the authority of the Church when discussing free will:

But as the preaching of the Church includes a belief in a future and just judgment of God, which belief incites and persuades men to a good and virtuous life, and to an avoidance of sin by all possible means; and as by this it is undoubtedly indicated that it is within our own power to devote ourselves either to a life that is worthy of praise, or to one that is worthy of censure…. Since in the preaching of the Church there is included the doctrine respecting a just judgment of God, which, when believed to be true, incites those who hear it to live virtuously, and to shun sin by all means, inasmuch as they manifestly acknowledge that things worthy of praise and blame are within our own power, come and let us discuss by themselves a few points regarding the freedom of the will

Origen also says that God demands fruit and labor from us, though He alone gives salvation:

So also in the race of our life we ourselves must expend labour, and bring diligence and zeal to bear; but it is from God that salvation is to be hoped for as the fruit of our labour. Otherwise, if God demand none of our labour, His commandments will appear to be superfluous. In vain, also, does Paul blame some for having fallen from the truth, and praise others for abiding in the faith; and to no purpose does he deliver certain precepts and institutions to the Churches: in vain, also, do we ourselves either desire or run after what is good. But it is certain that these things are not done in vain; and it is certain that neither do the apostles give instructions in vain, nor the Lord enact laws without a reason. It follows, therefore, that we declare it to be in vain, rather, for the heretics to speak evil of these good declarations.

He again upholds the authority of the Church and its complementarity with Scripture when discussing the human body:

For the faith of the Church does not admit the view of certain Grecian philosophers, that there is besides the body, composed of four elements, another fifth body, which is different in all its parts, and diverse from this our present body; since neither out of sacred Scripture can any produce the slightest suspicion of evidence for such an opinion, nor can any rational inference from things allow the reception of it, especially when the holy apostle manifestly declares, that it is not new bodies which are given to those who rise from the dead, but that they receive those identical ones which they had possessed when living, transformed from an inferior into a better condition.

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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.

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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.

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