H. L. Mencken Wasn't Roman Catholic and He Could Write

First Christian presidents and now Peter Leithart explores Christian writers. Why do Christians feel the need to describe human activities in the context of sanctification? Isn’t that a tad provincial?

Leithart’s argument is that because Roman Catholics rely more on sacraments than Protestants who treat them as merely symbols, Roman Catholicism produces better writers:

Marburg is important not so much for what it achieved but as a symbol of what it failed to achieve. It provides a symbolic marker not only for the parting of the ways between Lutheran and Zwinglian, but also, for Zwinglians, the final parting of the ways between symbol and reality. J. P. Singh Uberoi claimed that “Spirit, word and sign had finally parted company at Marburg in 1529. For centuries, Christian sacramental theology had held symbol and reality together in an unsteady tension, but that alliance was ruptured by the Zwinglian view of the real presence. For Zwingli, “myth or ritual . . . was no longer literally and symbolically real and true.” In short, “Zwingli was the chief architect of the new schism and . . . Europe and the world followed Zwingli in the event.”

For many post-Marburg Protestants, literal truth is over here, while symbols drift off in another direction. At best, they live in adjoining rooms; at worst, in widely separated neighborhoods, and they definitely inhabit different academic departments.

Here is a thesis, which I offer in a gleeful fit of reductionism: Modern Protestants can’t write because we have no sacramental theology. Protestants will learn to write when we have reckoned with the tragic results of Marburg, and have exorcised the ghost of Zwingli from our poetics. Protestants need not give up our Protestantism to do this, as there are abundant sacramental resources within our own tradition. But contemporary Protestants do need to give up the instinctive anti-sacramentalism that infects so much of Protestantism, especially American Protestantism.

And Reformed Protestantism is particularly lacking:

Many Protestant churches (often the didactic ones) celebrate the Eucharist infrequently; many are deliberately, self-consciously anti-sacramental. Their worship consists of teaching but not doing, word but not sign. When they do celebrate the Supper, many Protestant churches are informed that it is a sign rather than a reality.

This is a simplification of what goes on in many Protestant churches. It is not, I think, a caricature.

The argument, based on the assumption and the assertion, comes in several stages: Churches whose worship focuses on didactic, doctrinal teaching are going to shape minds, imaginations, and hearts in a particular way. Churches with infrequent communion, and churches that treat communion as “mere sign” are also shaping the imaginative lives of their members.

Churches with didactic preaching and unsacramental worship, I submit, do not produce poets.

A poetic imagination is cultivated in churches where the beauty of Scripture is as important as its truth. Poetic imagination is cultivated in churches that celebrate Eucharist regularly. Every week, their worship climaxes with a great sacramental metaphor, a metaphor that is more than metaphor, a metaphor that also states (in some fashion) what is the case: “This is my body. This is my blood.”

By this argument, some forms of Protestantism – Anglicans with their prayer books and Eucharistic piety, Lutherans with their ins-withs-unders – are more conducive to cultivating poetic imagination than others.

What Leithart doesn’t consider apparently is that the logocentric quality of Protestantism, attention to the meaning of Greek and Hebrew involved in the study of Scripture, consideration of different biblical genres, or even the oratory involved in preaching — all of these could fire the imagination and fascinate young boys and girls with words in a way that could create good writing every bit as much as looking at statues, paintings, a wafer, and a chalice from which you’re never served.

At the same time, what does Leithart do with all those good writers who have no dog in the hunt of Christianity, like H. L. Mencken, who somehow learned to write even without going to church:

. . . the people of New York do even worse; they eat Chesapeake soft crabs fried in batter! What is cannibalism after that? I’d as lief eat a stewed archdeacon. Think of immersing a delicate and sensitive soft crab, the noblest of decapods, in a foul mess of batter, drenching it and blinding it, defacing it and smothering it — and then frying it in a pan like some ignoble piece of Pennsylvania scrapple. As well boil a cocktail, or a smelt, or a canvasback duck.

There is, of course, but one civilized way to prepare soft crabs for the human esophagus, and it goes without saying that it is the one way never heard of by the Greek bootblacks who pass as chefs in New York. It is, like all the major processes of the bozart, quite simple in its essence. One rids the crab of its seaweed, removes the devil, and then spears it with a long, steel fork upon the prongs of which a piece of country bacon, perhaps three inches long, has already made fast. Then one holds the combination over a brazier of glowing charcoal or a fire of hickory . . ., say three or four minutes.

What happens belongs to the very elements of cookery. The bacon, melted by the heat, runs down over the crab, greasing it and salting it, and the crab, thus heated, greased and salted, takes on an almost indescribable crispness and flavor. Nothing imaginable by the mind of man could be more delicious. It is a flavor with body, delicacy and character. Slap the crab upon a square of hot toast and then have at it. (“Callinectes Hastatus,” from The Impossible Mencken, 449)

The man could write and eat.

Why Not Quote the Bible?

Tim Challies signs off many of his posts with some warm and fuzzy thought from a Reformed or evangelical person of standing. Today’s came from Burk Parson’s:

We should more quickly doubt our love for our own children than doubt God’s love for us.

Aside from lacking, as Mencken might say, bite and zowie, what are readers supposed to do with these? Isn’t Bible memorization a good thing? Don’t Bible verses express such sentiments without sentimentalism?

Let’s try this instead:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Paul of Tarsus

2 Paradigms and a 2K Wrinkle

Maura Jane Farrelly thinks the difference between the way Roman Catholics and Protestants know God also explains support for political freedom:

What is curious about this unwillingness of non-specialists in American Catholic history to entertain the possibility that nineteenth-century anti-Catholicism might have been rooted in something real is that historians who focus on the American Catholic experience have acknowledged for many years now that there was (and to some extent still is) a fundamental tension between “American” and “Catholic” values. Granted, polemicists like George Weigel and Michael Novak would have us believe that there is a seamless philosophical and even theological line running from “Thomas Aquinas to [the Italian Jesuit] Robert Bellarmine to the Anglican divine, Richard Hooker; then from Hooker to John Locke to Thomas Jefferson.” In an essay kicking off the American Catholic bishops’ campaign against the Affordable Care Act in 2012, Weigel insisted that the United States owes more to Catholics for its tradition of religious liberty “than the Sage of Monticello likely ever knew.”

But among those writers on Catholicism who have been motivated by a desire to engage with a faithful rendering of the past (rather than a desire to use history to dismantle the signature legislative achievement of a Democratic president), the consensus is that American Catholics have been animated, in historian Jay Dolan’s words, by “two very diverse traditions,” one exemplified by “Thomas Aquinas and Ignatius of Loyola,” and the other exemplified by “Jefferson and Lincoln.”

Dolan has been joined by John McGreevy, Jim O’Toole, Mark Massa, and others in acknowledging that—to quote Massa —”in the history of Western Christianity, there have been two distinctive (and to some extent, opposing) conceptual languages that have shaped how Christians understand God and themselves.” The first language—which shapes the world of people who have been raised as Catholics, American or otherwise—”utilizes things we know to understand things we don’t know, including and especially God.” The Church, in this language, becomes an incarnation of Jesus—its community and the doctrines and hierarchies that govern that community and can be known and experienced by the community’s members become a tangible (dare we even say “fleshy”?) way for Catholics to comprehend God and the salvation that God promises. The mindset that emerges from a language such as this, according to Mark Massa, is one that exhibits a “fundamental trust and confidence in the goodness of … human institutions.”

The second language, utilized by Protestant theologians from Martin Luther and Jean Calvin to Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich, emphasizes the “fact of human estrangement and distance from God.” In this language, it is the Word—the message of judgment and grace, embodied in Christ and found not in the institution of the Church, but in the sanctified lines of Scripture—that convicts the soul, convinces it of its sinfulness, and “prepares us for an internal conversion that makes us true children of God.” The mindset that emerges from language such as this is one that tends to be suspicious of institutions and sees them as distractions that stand between the individual and the Word. Doctrines and hierarchies are “potentially an idolatrous source of overweening pride,” Massa writes; the danger in them is that they are corruptible examples of human beings’ mistaken belief that they can save themselves.

(Parenthetically, if a difference does exist between American and Roman Catholic ideals, then Pope Francis’ encyclical may be another indication of such.)

Farrelly goes on to use this difference — between respect for institutions and hierarchy and promoting civil liberties — to conclude that the U.S. bishops Fortnight for Freedom is more American than Roman Catholic:

It is probably still true that the politicians and religious leaders who railed against Catholicism in the first half of the nineteenth century were motivated by a certain degree of status anxiety—some, perhaps, such as Lyman Beecher, more than others. But it is also true that these leaders were motivated by a real sense that the Catholic understanding of freedom was different from theirs, and they were right to see Catholics’ support of the institution of slavery as the embodiment of this difference. Freedom, for Catholics, was corporate; it was born of the “reciprocal duties” that one priest from colonial Maryland insisted all people had to one another. Freedom, for Catholics, was not “personal,” the way it was for Protestants like Theodore Parker.

It is no small irony, therefore, that modern-day Catholics like Bishop William Lori of Baltimore have been appealing to personal freedom in their attempt to protect the collective freedom of the Catholic Church from the mandates of a law that supporters say defines healthcare as a “requirement of a free life that the community has an obligation to provide.” In 2012, on the eve of the Church’s first “Fortnight for Freedom”—a now annual event that highlights “government coercions against conscience” such as the birth control provision in the Affordable Care Act—Lori made his reasons for opposing the healthcare overhaul clear: “If we fail to defend the rights of individuals,” he warned, “the freedom of institutions will be at risk.”

The problem with this analysis is — see what I’m doing here — two-fold.

Conceptually, a religious conviction need not — and here I duck because of the A2K blow back — require a political practice or ideal. At least for confessional Protestants who distinguish between the civil and spiritual realms, one can, for instance, advocate aristocracy (Presbyterianism) in the church while still supporting monarchy in the kingdom (most Scottish Presbyterians did this). And if Roman Catholics were 2k, you could conceivably support hierarchy and submission in the church (say hello to papal monarchy) and republicanism in society. Think Richard John Neuhaus.

Practically, Farrelly’s distinction also fails to make sense of American Protestants and the civil religion they have cultivated. If God is only known in Scripture, then why can his ways be discerned either in the “redeemer nation,” the United States, or in the God-and-country party, the GOP? If only Protestants were as wary of nation-states and political parties as Farrelly suggests they are.

The difference between Roman Catholics and Protestants is this. The former are conflicted about the United States. The options appear to be either a sloppy wet kiss of America and its ways, or an ultramontanist critique of the United States as a land of self-centered, imperialistic ambition (see Laudato Si). Protestants are also conflicted but not in the same way. Evangelical and liberal Protestants think of America as a Christian nation — either it is a beacon of truth and liberty and justice or it should be condemned for failing to be such. Confessional Protestants who reside in America think about the nation not redemptively but politically and so appear to be insufficiently patriotic.

Long Live the Church

The church giveth:

Catholics are not “Bible only” Christians. We believe the Sacred Scriptures are the inspired record of the acts of God in Christ as lived by his Church. The Scriptures come from the Church and are interpreted by the Church. Therefore it is to the Church’s magisterium that we turn for the final interpretation.

The church taketh away:

Very strictly speaking, your priest was breaking the rules by allowing even one eulogizer, your brother, to speak at your father’s funeral.

The Order of Christian Funerals could not be more clear: “A brief homily based on the readings is always given after the gospel reading at the funeral liturgy and may also be given after the readings at a vigil service; but there is never to be a eulogy.” Note the word “never.”

The Catholic funeral Mass is intended to focus the grieving family’s attention on the resurrection of Jesus and God’s victory over death and to pray for the soul of the deceased. It is not, as funerals so often are these days, a “celebration” of a person’s life, marked by a parade of make-you-laugh, make-you-cry intimate stories. The strictest observance requires such eulogizing to take place outside of church, perhaps at the wake or at the luncheon after the funeral.

Long live a mixed bag.

If only Protestants would hear Rome on funerals (though Protestants used to be silent on them because Protestants didn’t believe in funerals — just a burial service). And if only Roman Catholics would show a little deference to the work of the Holy Spirit in giving (writing and forming the canon) us Scripture. It’s like Yankees’ fans thinking that the Yankees invented baseball (when all they did was spend more money than any other franchise).

Is Scripture Like Sweetbreads or Broccoli?

Danny Hyde makes a case for reading Scripture in a way that will “inflame.” It could be (all about) my cold heart, but I’ve always been wary of getting close to fire. It may shed light, but it also consumes (as in our God is a consuming fire). Still, what struck me as curious about Hyde’s piece was his invoking the experimental Calvinist vocabulary of earnestness (see John Piper).

I should read the Word with earnestness: “with desire to know, believe, and obey the will of God revealed in them.” When Moses called the Israelites to assemble to hear the words of the Lord, it was so that they would “do them” (Deut. 4:1).

This is vital for us to meditate upon. It’s so easy for us to read the Word looking for doctrine, looking for the theological argument the Apostles make, and looking for the proofs we need to persuade others to believe in Christ. We so often focus on the word Word when we speak of the “Word of God.” But don’t forget that it is the Word of God. The Word is the means that God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. When you sit down to read it, then, you are coming not to an it, but to a Him. This should make us earnest and desirous to read because we are having fellowship with the Lord in the reading and in the doing.

Hyde is not wrong to call his readers to have fellowship with God, to do so through reading the word, or to combine doing with reading. But where does the Larger Catechism actually talk about earnestness? Or why can’t my reading Scripture or attending the ORDINARY means of grace be routine, as in weekly? Why should I feel like I have failed if my worship or Bible reading has been ordinary, lacking in earnestness?

If you do a word search on earnest in the Westminster Standards, you obtain curious results:

This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God, which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption. (CF 18.2)

The members of the invisible church have communicated to them in this life the first fruits of glory with Christ, as they are members of him their head, and so in him are interested in that glory which he is fully possessed of; and, as an earnest thereof, enjoy the sense of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, and hope of glory; as, on the contrary, sense of God’s revenging wrath, horror of conscience, and a fearful expectation of judgment, are to the wicked the beginning of their torments which they shall endure after death. (LC 83)

It is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, that, during the time of the administration of it, with all holy reverence and attention they wait upon God in that ordinance, diligently observe the sacramental elements and actions, heedfully discern the Lord’s body, and affectionately meditate on his death and sufferings, and thereby stir up themselves to a vigorous exercise of their graces; in judging themselves, and sorrowing for sin; in earnest hungering and thirsting after Christ, feeding on him by faith, receiving of his fullness, trusting in his merits, rejoicing in his love, giving thanks for his grace; in renewing of their covenant with God, and love to all the saints. (LC 174)

Oddly enough, the experimental Calvinists at the Assembly used the word earnest more in its monetary meaning than in its associations with intensity or enthusiasm (or hedonism?), and they used it in connection with the Lord’s Supper, an ordinance sadly missing in many Presbyterian and Reformed Lord’s Day services. At the same time, those same divines emphasized how ordinary the means of grace are. In fact, they used “ordinary” roughly four times more than they did “extraordinary,” and always to the detriment of the latter:

This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. (CF 18.3)

If this is in any way an ordinary reading of the Standards, I do wonder why Christian piety has to be intense, earnest, palpable, or (my least favorite word) robust? Why can’t Christian devotion be ordinary? I eat oatmeal most days for breakfast (TMI). It is not something I order off the menu when I go out to eat. When I enjoy a special meal, I order something unusual. But that doesn’t mean that oatmeal is bad, or that my modest enjoyment of it everyday is somehow inferior. Granted, the word of God is special (as in special revelation). But our feeding upon it can be ordinary (as in ordinary means of grace).

If serious Christians could remember that special can be ordinary — the way that manna in the wilderness was — then maybe we could be content with worship and devotion that is not trumped up to move worshipers but instead services that are word-saturated in the way that everyday breakfasts are dominated by hot, soupy grains.

Once A Bible Thumper . . .

News of the theft of John Paul II’s blood from a reliquary in Italy made me curious about what Jason and the Callers have said about relics. Turns out they aren’t shy in their religious affections for relics, veneration of the saints, and even magic. But the difference between the Callers and the bishops is that the latter chalk up reverence for things like vials of blood from deceased popes to popular piety. The Callers, as good logocentric former Protestants, claim biblical warrant.

For instance, here is the church’s catechism on relics (the only mention according to the accompanying search engine of “relics”):

Popular piety

1674 Besides sacramental liturgy and sacramentals, catechesis must take into account the forms of piety and popular devotions among the faithful. The religious sense of the Christian people has always found expression in various forms of piety surrounding the Church’s sacramental life, such as the veneration of relics, visits to sanctuaries, pilgrimages, processions, the stations of the cross, religious dances, the rosary, medals,180 etc. (2688, 2669, 2678)

1675 These expressions of piety extend the liturgical life of the Church, but do not replace it. They “should be so drawn up that they harmonize with the liturgical seasons, accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some way derived from it and lead the people to it, since in fact the liturgy by its very nature is far superior to any of them.”181

1676 Pastoral discernment is needed to sustain and support popular piety and, if necessary, to purify and correct the religious sense which underlies these devotions so that the faithful may advance in knowledge of the mystery of Christ.182 Their exercise is subject to the care and judgment of the bishops and to the general norms of the Church. (426)

At its core the piety of the people is a storehouse of values that offers answers of Christian wisdom to the great questions of life. The Catholic wisdom of the people is capable of fashioning a vital synthesis…. It creatively combines the divine and the human, Christ and Mary, spirit and body, communion and institution, person and community, faith and homeland, intelligence and emotion. This wisdom is a Christian humanism that radically affirms the dignity of every person as a child of God, establishes a basic fraternity, teaches people to encounter nature and understand work, provides reasons for joy and humor even in the midst of a very hard life. For the people this wisdom is also a principle of discernment and an evangelical instinct through which they spontaneously sense when the Gospel is served in the Church and when it is emptied of its content and stifled by other interests.183

Now, hear the Call:

In the worldview presented to us by Sacred Scripture, we frequently see material objects take power from and serve as a connection to the person they came from—even the remains of those who have died. We see frequent examples of the importance of where remains lie and of marking the sites where those remains are laid.

In Acts 19:11-12, we see the following:

And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.

And in Acts 5:12-16:

Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

And of course, miracles were also performed through Jesus’ own clothes, but lest foul be called on citing that this happened through the Godman uniquely, the examples above were performed through the agency of mere men and their clothes and shadows. So a biblical worldview must have room for inanimate objects as vessels of God’s power.

Now, my Protestant brothers may raise the objection that these examples happened through living persons, not dead ones as is often the case with Catholic relics. Not so fast.

In 2 Kings 13:20-21, we read:

So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. And as a man was being buried, behold, a marauding band was seen and the man was thrown into the grave of Elisha, and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet.

So now our Biblical worldview has to allow for healing through inanimate objects touched by holy people, as well as the healing power of the bones of the holy dead.

We do not live in a world that is qualitatively different than the world in which these things took place. In fact, you could support the idea that we should still expect these things to take place by the same logic as Reformed Christians rightly argue that it would be strange if 1st century Christians didn’t baptize their children. The truly odd occurrence would be if miracles through the agency of the bones and belongings of God’s people stopped happening.

And then there is this on the affinity between relics and the Mass:

It is one thing to dismiss something as peripheral to the faith of the ancient Church, but to dismiss something that was ubiquitous and central to devotion and even to liturgy? G.J.C. Snoek had made just this point in his monograph Medieval Piety from Relics to the Eucharist: A Process of Mutual Interaction. Snoek showed just how much the Christian liturgy itself had been influenced by the ancient cult of relics. I began to realize that dismissing saints and relics was to dismiss the same Church that gave us the Ecumenical councils, Augustine’s doctrines of grace and justification, and the canon of Scripture. I needed to look into this more carefully.

Saints and Relics as Biblical

As I explored this conundrum, the first thing I began to appreciate was just how biblical the practice really was. I realized that the veneration of relics, belief in their miraculous powers, and in the intercession of departed saints and angels was deeply Hebraic and Jewish. We find testimony to it in such places as 2 Kings 13:20-21, 2 Maccabees 15:12-16, and Tobit 12:12-15, considered especially in comparison to Revelation 5:8. (At this point, it was immaterial to me whether Maccabees and Tobit should be considered canonical texts. It was enough that they expressed a historic Jewish belief in these concepts.)

Of course, as Bryan Cross will surely remind me, nothing presented here disproves the truth of the Callers’ assertions. But it sure does make it hard to believe that they ever heard and meditated on Protestant Christianity:

Question 94. What does God enjoin in the first commandment?

Answer: That I, as sincerely as I desire the salvation of my own soul, avoid and flee from all idolatry, (a) sorcery, soothsaying, superstition, (b) invocation of saints, or any other creatures; (c) and learn rightly to know the only true God; (d) trust in him alone, (e) with humility (f) and patience submit to him; (g) expect all good things from him only; (h) love, (i) fear, (j) and glorify him with my whole heart; (k) so that I renounce and forsake all creatures, rather than commit even the least thing contrary to his will. (l)

(a) 1 John 5:21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen. 1 Cor.6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 1 Cor.6:10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Cor.10:7 Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. 1 Cor.10:14 Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry. (b) Lev.19:31 Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God. Deut.18:9 When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. Deut.18:10 There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, Deut.18:11 Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. Deut.18:12 For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee. (c) Matt.4:10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Rev.19:10 And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. Rev.22:8 And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which shewed me these things. Rev.22:9 Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God. (d) John 17:3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (e) Jer.17:5 Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD. Jer.17:7 Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. (f) 1 Pet.5:5 Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. 1 Pet.5:6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: (g) Heb.10:36 For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. Col.1:11 Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Rom.5:3 And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; Rom.5:4 And patience, experience; and experience, hope: 1 Cor.10:10 Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Philip.2:14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings: (h) Ps.104:27 These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season. Ps.104:28 That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good. Ps.104:29 Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. Ps.104:30 Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth. Isa.45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (i) Deut.6:5 And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. Matt.22:37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. (j) Deut.6:2 That thou mightest fear the LORD thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged. Ps.111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever. Prov.1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction. Prov.9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. Matt.10:28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (k) Matt.4:10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Deut.10:20 Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name. Deut.10:21 He is thy praise, and he is thy God, that hath done for thee these great and terrible things, which thine eyes have seen. (l) Matt.5:29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. Matt.5:30 And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. Matt.10:37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Acts 5:29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.

Question 95. What is idolatry?
Answer: Idolatry is, instead of, or besides that one true God, who has manifested himself in his word, to contrive, or have any other object, in which men place their trust. (a)

(a) Eph.5:5 For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 1 Chron.16:26 For all the gods of the people are idols: but the LORD made the heavens. Philip.3:19 Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) Gal.4:8 Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. Eph.2:12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: 1 John 2:23 Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also. 2 John 1:9 Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. John 5:23 That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him. (Heidelberg Catechism with proof texts)

Mother Church, Baby Bible, Grandpa Pentateuch

Peter Kreeft is writing a series of posts to defend Roman Catholicism against fundamentalism. I am not sure why fundamentalism is a threat but I am still getting up to speed on things Romish.

In his post on the Bible, he has this line:

It is a fault, of course, to ignore Mother Church. But it is a virtue to love Baby Bible, a virtue we should respect and imitate.

This is apparently a clever way of saying that the church gave birth to the canon of Scripture, a common point that Roman Catholics make against Protestants. But does this line implicitly and unintentionally contain an element of anti-Semitism?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I do believe the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures was well in place well before Peter allegedly became bishop of Rome or before Constantine started to convene ecumenical councils (without consulting the bishop of Rome, I might add). Peter himself, Paul, Christ, and all the authors of the New Testament recognized the Old Testament sacred books.

(And one other wrinkle, parenthetically, is why would high papalists back the idea that the early church councils gave us Scripture and then deny the councils authority later when they decree that popes need regularly to convene councils?)

So why write the priests and rabbis out of the formation of the canon? Or why show disrespect to the Hebrew Scriptures, as if they were not authoritative until the Council of Hippo? (Answer: it doesn’t fit the RC paradigm which may turn out to be as authoritative as the pontiff of Rome.) And why not recognize how much longer and agenda setting the Old Testament is for what happens with Jesus and the church? If we are going to play the genealogy game, as Kreeft wants, then lets include the Hebrew saints. Does that mean King Saul is a forerunner of the papacy?

Can You Imagine a Commentary on Peter's Epistles Written this Way?

I am suspicious of folks who draw up lists of things I need to know. Joe Carter does it for Protestants. Now in reporting on the new encyclical, Jimmy Aikin does it for Roman Catholics.

Aside from this annoyance, the striking aspect of Aikin’s post is the notion that an officer, the pope, who is supposed to resolve the confusions of the faithful (and even put an end to private opinions), actually increases speculation and the public expression of private opinion:

4. Does Lumen Fidei acknowledge Pope Benedict’s role in its composition?
Yes. In it, Pope Francis writes:

These considerations on faith — in continuity with all that the Church’s magisterium has pronounced on this theological virtue — are meant to supplement what Benedict XVI had written in his encyclical letters on charity and hope. He himself had almost completed a first draft of an encyclical on faith. For this I am deeply grateful to him, and as his brother in Christ I have taken up his fine work and added a few contributions of my own. [LF 7].

5. Does Lumen Fidei sound like Pope Benedict?
Much of it does. It includes many of the characteristic touches and themes of his writings.

For example, it contains many references to history, including early Christian history, Jewish history, and pagan history. It contains references to the thought of historical figures, including the Church Fathers Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. It also refers to the thought of recent intellectual figures, including the Catholic thinker Romano Guardini, the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, the agnostic philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, and the atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

6. Do particular passages sound like Pope Francis?
This is harder to judge. He is mostly known for his speaking style, and his own voice for a document of this nature may take time to emerge. One touch that is distinctly Pope Francis, though, is the way he signs the encyclical. Normally popes give their name in Latin, followed by “PP” (a Latin abbreviation for “pope”) and followed by their number. Pope Benedict, for example, signed Spe Salvi by writing “Benedictus PP XVI.” Pope Francis, being the first pope to use this name, does not have a number, so you wouldn’t expect that in his signature. He does, however, seem to prefer not to use the title “pope,” preferring “bishop of Rome,” instead. Thus he leaves out the “PP” in his signature and simply signs the encyclical Franciscus.”

Aikens also tries to read the tea leaves of Vatican politics:

14. Does this encyclical tell us much about how Pope Francis will govern the Church?
Not as much as you might think. Unlike Pope John Paul II’s first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, it does not appear to lay out a blueprint for his entire pontificate. This is largely due to the fact that he inherited an almost complete first draft of the encyclical from Pope Benedict. Thus Pope Francis’s second encyclical may actually shed more light on the agenda for his own pontificate. It does, however, contain some intriguing clues, including the emphasis on the role of faith in society, the allusion to marriage as the union of man and woman, and his own personal style, as illustrated by his signature.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a free country and Christian communions since the formation of free countries have had all sorts of trouble reigning in the flock, imposing uniformity, and achieving coherence. Roman Catholics in the U.S. have to try to make sense of their relationship with the Vatican just as Orthodox Presbyterians need to reckon with doings in the PCA and the Free Church Continuing.

But when Jason and the Callers are lauding the papacy as the balm to heal all Protestant wounds, they need to think how this sounds to anyone who is actually following what happens in the Roman Catholic press. (BTW, I wonder if Bryan has been avoiding Oldlife because I gave Jason top billing.)

Postscript: a way to out Jimmy-Aikin Jimmy Aikin is to speculate on Peter’s motives in writing of Paul’s letters that “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” Was this payback for Paul’s rebuke of Peter? Was it an expression of jealousy for Luke following Paul rather than Peter? Was it a form of writer’s envy? Who asks these questions?


Mel Gibson enthralled female movie-viewing audiences with his big blues and his down under twang when he starred in Gallipoli (1981), a film about a pivotal battle during the Great War (we didn’t count them then). Little did I know when I first saw the movie where in the world Gallipoli was – it’s in Turkey – or that I would some day visit it (twice so far).

The Allies decided in 1915 to try to break the stalemate on the Western Front by landing forces on Gallipoli, a peninsula along the Dardanelles of strategic significance, and sending them in from the East (along with Russia’s military). The reason the Australians made a movie about the battle is that Australians and New Zealanders made up the bulk of units to attempt to land at Gallipoli, and it was their first full-fledged service as part of the British Empire’s military (as I understand it).

But thanks to poor planning and Ottoman resourcefulness, the Allies experienced a bitter defeat in one of the most brutal series of battles – 100,000 soldiers died on both sides in eight months of fighting. (One irony is that the British won the rights to name bathrooms in Turkey – rule WC!) It was a pivotal event, not only in the larger war, but also in the history of Turkey and Australia. The war gave Australians, arguably for the first time, a sense of Australian nationalism – hence the movie. And for Turkey, Gallipoli produced a military leader – Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – who would become the father of the Turkish Republic. History runs on unintended consequences.

Each year Australian and New Zealand tourists flock back to Turkey to commemorate the dead and participate in ceremonies (April 25) that honor this war. The Turks welcome the Aussies and the Aussies in turn honor the Turks. The reason for the latter has something to do with the exceptional maintenance provided to the military cemeteries that hold the deceased Australian and New Zealand soldiers (some of whom could not be buried until after Armistice). Like many military cemeteries, the neat rows of white grave markers, surrounded by closely cut grass and war monuments of various kinds, are moving in themselves.

But the epitaphs we read yesterday were as touching as they were puzzling. They were curious, partly because the biblical references were small compared to what someone might expect from British colonial culture of the Victorian era. We did see one – had to be a Presbyterian – which spoke of justification by faith and peace with God. Another one invoked the second petition of the Lord’s prayer fittingly. But the one that was the most moving was also the one devoid of religion (an impossibility I know for the neo-Calvinist). It read “my only darling boy.”

Maybe a creative grad student has already done this, but a dissertation on gravestone epitaphs might be a useful way to measure biblical literacy and religious conviction. If the student compared wars, he or she might find ascending or descending rates of religiosity.

Are Protestants Logocentric? Proudly (in a humble way)

From Luther’s comments on John 3:

What should Christ do, and of what use is the Messiah? What kind of Messiah is He? . . . What does He do? He testifies. If He walks in such weakness and holds on His kingdship no more fimrly than that He testified, is there nothing else that He can do but preach and talk? If He is no soldier, possesses no land (not even the width of His palm) and no people, what does He do? Preach. Yes, such a Messiah are we bidden to accept.

How if it be God’s will that the Messiah should not come like a Caesar? Such an honour He will not grants unto them, that He should come arrayed with power like theirs. But that He comes so unadorned and does nothing but preach, that is unspeakable wisdom and strength, yes, the treasure of wisdom and knowledge, for whosoever believes in Him shall live eternally. But who sees this? You are not meant to see it. His reign and His preaching are a testimony. It is a preaching which testifies to things which no man can hear, see, or read in books of the law or anywhere else in the world. To witness means to speak of what the hearer has not seen. A judge does not judge what he sees. He must hear witnesses. But here He must preach and witness to something which men do not see, and that is how the Lord Christ is a witness to the Father in heaven, high uplifted above all men. He shall do nothing but preach, and His preaching shall be His testimony to the Father, how He is inclined, how He desires to make men blessed and to redeem them from their sins, and from the power of death and the devil. That is His testimony.

Luther might explain why Protestants have stressed sermons as the center piece of worship.

This would explain why Roman Catholics emphasize the Mass:

The Tridentine Decree on Justification is one of the most impressive achievements of the council. The leaders of the council had reported to Rome that “the significance of this council in the theological sphere lies chiefly in the article on justification, in fact this is the most important item the council has to deal with.” But reading it can give one a false impression of the significance of justification within Roman Catholicism. The decree was needed, and the doctrine received the attention that it did, because of the Protestant challenge. For the inner life of the Roman Catholic Church, however, the doctrine was not very important. In 1564 Pope Pius IV promulgated the Creed of the Council of Trent. Justification is mentioned just once in passing: “I embrace and accept each and every article on original sin and justification declared and defined in the most holy Council of Trent.” Shortly afterward, his successor, Pope Pius V, promulgated a Catechismus ex Decreto Concilii Tridentini, the so-called Roman Catechism. This contains only scattered passing references to justification, mostly in the context of teaching on the sacraments. The sacramental system is as central to the catechism as the doctrine of justification is peripheral, and the need to offer satisfaction for sins receives the sustained exposition denied to justification. Justification needed to be treated in response to the Protestant threat, but at the heart of the Christian life in Roman Catholicism is not justification but the sacramental system. The Council fathers turned from justification to the sacraments, and the Decree on the sacraments begins with the observation that all true righteousness begins with the sacraments; having been begun, increases through them; and, if lost, is restored through them. (Anthony Lane, “A Tale of Two Imperial Cities,” in Bruce L. McCormack, Justification in Perspective, 141-42)

Two paradigms, indeed, (but not much reform in the Counter-Reformation).