Monthly Archives: June 2013

You’ve heard kids fighting on the playground, or maybe you were one of those kids a long time ago. Somebody said something rude about your mom, your teacher, or the girl you were sweet on, and you couldn’t let it pass. You lit into the offender and forced him to the ground, punching and yelling, “Take it back! Take it back!!”

Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. Most of us just feel a need to hear people recant when they’ve said something too rude to let pass, something that just ain’t so. Playground violence aside, it can be very satisfying when some of the objectionable tall tales spun about Catholicism are publicly refuted. And in my lifetime, at least two have been.

The first of these whoppers is the invention of restorationist Christians, specifically Landmark Baptists, and is known as Baptist successionism. Baptists are NOT Protestants, according to this theory of history. Their spiritual ancestors are not Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, or any of the Reformers; no, they trace their roots directly back to Jesus, John the Baptist and the River Jordan. This version of “history” was popularized by the sermon series of a Baptist preacher, Dr. James Milton Carroll, in a 56-page booklet entitled, “The Trail of Blood: Following the Christians Down through the Centuries – or, The History of Baptist Churches from the Time of Christ, Their Founder, to the Present Day”. Rev. Carroll was not the originator of this tale – he was simply elaborating on the work of 19th-century Baptist writers such as G.H. Orchard and J.R. Graves (who wrote that “all Christian communities during the first three centuries were of the Baptist denomination”). Relying on the “scholarship” of these “historians,” Brother Carroll described the 4th and 5th centuries – you know, the era of the Council of Nicaea, of the discernment of the canon at the Council of Hippo and the Council of Carthage, of Sts. Athanasius, Jerome, Augustine – in terms that would throw serious historians for a loop:

To effectually bring about and consummate this unholy union [of temporal and spiritual power], a council was called. In A. D. 313, a call was made for a coming together of the Christian churches or their representatives. Many but not all came. The alliance was consummated. A Hierarchy was formed. In the organization of the Hierarchy, Christ was dethroned as head of the churches and Emperor Constantine enthroned (only temporarily, however) as head of the church. The Hierarchy was the definite beginning of a development which finally resulted into what is now known as the Catholic, or “universal” church. It might be said that its indefinite beginnings were near the close of the second and beginning of the third century, when the new ideas concerning bishops and preacher-church government began to take shape. Let it be definitely remembered that when Constantine made his call for the council, there were very many of the Christians (Baptists) and of the churches, which declined to respond. They wanted no marriage with the state, and no centralized religious government, and no higher ecclesiastical government of any kind, than the individual church. These Christians (Baptists) nor the churches ever at that time or later, entered the hierarchy of the Catholic denomination. Up to the organization of the Hierarchy and the uniting of church and state, all the persecution of Christianity has been done either by Judaism or Paganism. Now comes a serious change. Christians (in name) begin to persecute Christians. Constantine, desiring to have all Christians join with him in his new idea of a state religion, and many conscientiously opposing this serious departure from New Testament teachings, he begins using the power of government to compel. Thus begin the days and years and even centuries of a hard and bitter persecution against all those Christians who were loyal to the original Christ and Apostolic teachings. Remember that we are now noting the events occurring between the years A.D. 300 and 500. The Hierarchy organized under the leadership of Constantine, rapidly developed into what is now known as the Catholic church. This newly developing church joined to a temporal government, no longer simply an executive to carry out the completed laws of the New Testament, began to be legislative, amending or annulling old laws or enacting new ones utterly unknown to the New Testament.

I hear you snickering. But I know folks who actually believe this pig swill. I know many, many more who many not swallow this exact story, but who believe a modified version of this concerning a “Christian remnant” who survived somewhere, somehow, from the 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th century (the story is very vague) with their Evangelical Christian beliefs in “sola Scriptura, sola fide, once-saved-always-saved, baptism and Holy Communion as mere symbols, and the imminent secret rapture of all true believers” intact until Martin Luther was called by God to expose the deceptive teachings of the Evil Catholic Church. And every Protestant church I attended over a 45-year period taught that the first Christians believed and preached exactly what our Methodist-charismatic-nondenominational-Lutheran-Presbyterian-Baptist church believed and preached. That last one was a must, because if the first Christians did not believe and preaching what we believed and preached, then we were preaching “a different Gospel” – and that couldn’t be.

Dr. Carroll’s contention was that the Catholic Church pursued true believers (AKA Baptists) to the ends of the earth in an attempt to exterminate them. His explanation for the fact that no historical evidence of the existence of anyone who held distinctively Baptist beliefs, i.e., the above-mentioned “sola Scriptura, sola fide, once-saved-always-saved, baptism and Holy Communion as mere symbols, and imminent secret rapture of all true believers” is that the Catholic Church wiped all traces of their existence from the historical record. However, somehow the Evil Catholic Church did not manage to wipe out all traces of the existence of other groups considered to be heretical, groups like the Donatists, Paterines, Cathari, Paulicians, Petrobrusians, Arnoldists, Henricians, Albigenses, and Waldenses. Needing some kind of proof that his history holds water, Carroll drafts many heresiarchs into the Baptist camp, claiming them as kindred spirits.

Ummm, you might not wanna do that….

St. Dominic burning heretical books

But Pastor Carroll had a sermon series to deliver, and an argument from utter historical silence isn’t going to hold anyone’s attention. True, the groups claimed by Carroll as spiritual ancestors all rejected the authority of the Holy Catholic Church. For that matter, so do atheists, Mormons and Muslims – that doesn’t make them Baptists. Other than that commonality, the beliefs of these alleged “proto-Baptists” were all over the map. They put forth various propositions, among them the following:

  • Jesus was not God but an angel
  • Jesus only appeared to have human flesh – He did not literally “die” on the Cross because He did not literally “live” as a man.
  • The material world is evil, and therefore marital relations are evil. Bestiality is preferable to marriage.
  • Eating eggs is a mortal sin, since they are the product of sexual intercourse.
  • Sins cannot be forgiven after baptism. Once baptized, the safest course is to induce death by starvation, rather than run the risk of continuing to live and perhaps losing one’s salvation.
  • Baptism and Holy Communion are the traditions of men and are not to be practiced.
  • The Old Testament is not Holy Scripture. The New Testament epistles are not Holy Scripture.
  • One would be reincarnated until one reached “perfection,” and a woman’s final reincarnation had to be as a man.
  • Crosses should be desecrated because the cross was an instrument of torture upon which Jesus was crucified.
  • The ownership of private property is a sin.

Dr. Carroll admits that some of these groups might not have been 100% orthodox, but he explains:

Let it not be thought that all these persecuted ones were always loyal in all respects to New Testament teachings. In the main they were. And some of them, considering their surroundings, were marvelously so. Remember that many of them at that far away, time, had only parts of the New Testament or the Old Testament as to that.

Which, I suppose, explains the bestiality and the aversion to eggs….

Two points:

1. No reputable Protestant historian believes any of this bullpucky.

2. Protestants such as I once was do not read books written by reputable Protestant historians. They read bullpucky cranked out by the likes of the late Dave Hunt, Loraine Boettner, and Tim LaHaye.

I personally used to read books from the local Christian bookstore, the books by the “popular” authors. I left Protestant scholars for my pastor to read, thinking that that was more his domain than mine. What did I think I was, a theologian?

Carroll’s booklet was published posthumously, so he never had the chance to rethink things and perhaps publish an edition bringing his theories more into line with historical fact. It was left to a fellow Baptist, James Edward McGoldrick, to do that in his 1994 publication of
Baptist Successionism: A Crucial Question in Baptist History. McGoldrick investigated the “Trail of Blood” and came to these conclusions:

Among the most vigorous exponents of this teaching are pastors who lack an understanding of historical theology and critical historiography….

Although no reputable Church historians have ever affirmed the belief that Baptists can trace their lineage through medieval and ancient sects ultimately to the New Testament, that point of view enjoys a large following nevertheless. It appears that scholars aware of this claim have deemed it unworthy of their attention, which may account for the persistence and popularity of Baptist successionism as a doctrine as well as an interpretation of church history….

…although free church groups in ancient and medieval times sometimes promoted doctrines and practices agreeable to modern Baptists, when judged by standards now acknowledged as baptistic, not one of them merits recognition as a Baptist church. Baptists arose in the seventeenth century in Holland and England. They are Protestants, heirs of the Reformers.

You might want to keep a copy of McGoldrick’s book handy if you happen to live in an area where Baptist successionism still holds sway. People who wouldn’t take the word of a Catholic, or even of a Protestant scholar, might listen to a former Landmark Baptist warning them that Baptist successionism is a crock.

Even better, as far as retractions go, is the story of Ralph Woodrow, erstwhile proponent of theories proposed in The Two Babylons by 19th-century writer Alexander Hislop. Woodrow was the author of the derivative Babylon Mystery Religion, published in 1966. If you missed these little gems, they are books claiming that the belief system of the Catholic Church can be traced back to the religion of the pagan Nimrod and his wife in the Old Testament. Through a tangled web of historical inaccuracies, conspiracy theories and just plain kooky assumptions, Hislop proposed that Catholicism was actually the original pagan religious system, and Pastor Woodrow backed Hislop up on this, popularizing his theories. Priestly robes, the round wafers of Holy Communion, and virtually every other distinctive of Catholicism are “proved” to have their origins in the Babylon mystery religion.

Then out of the blue, Woodrow’s book was pulled from circulation and a new book, entitled The Babylon Connection?, was published. In it, Pastor Woodrow recounts the events leading to his change of heart. A reader convinced him to double-check the historical “facts” that form the basis of Hislop’s work. Pastor Woodrow writes:

As I did this, it became clear – Hislop’s “history” was often only mythology. Even though myths may sometimes reflect events that actually happened, an arbitrary piecing together of ancient myths can not provide a sound basis for history. Take enough tribes, enough tales, enough time, jump from one time to another, from one country to another, pick and choose similarities – why, anything could be “proved”!


On his organization’s website, Mr. Woodrow takes pains to explain what should be (but obviously isn’t) plain concerning the pitfalls of assumption-making:

What may seem to have a connection, upon further investigation, has no connection at all!

By this method, one could take virtually anything and do the same—even the “golden arches” at McDonald’s! The Encyclopedia Americana (article: “Arch”) says the use of arches was known in Babylon as early as 2020 B.C. Since Babylon was called “the golden city” (Isa. 14:4), can there be any doubt about the origin of the golden arches? As silly as this is, this is the type of proof that has been offered over and over about pagan origins.

By this method, atheists have long sought to discredit the Bible and Christianity altogether—not just the Roman Catholic Church.

By this method, one could condemn Protestant and evangelical denominations like the Assemblies of God, Baptist, Church of Christ, Lutheran, Methodist, Nazarene, etc. Basic things like prayer, and kneeling in prayer, would have to be rejected, because pagans knelt and prayed to their gods. Water baptism would have to be rejected, for pagans had numerous rites involving water, etc.

By this method, the BIBLE itself would need to be rejected as pagan.

In other words, I was wrong – I take it back.

Thank you.

It is important to note that neither McGoldrick nor Woodrow embrace Catholic teaching; they are Protestants who have backed away from the excesses of anti-Catholic pseudo-history. Woodrow still buys into some of Lorraine Boettner’s anti-Catholic misconceptions. But the testimony of these gentlemen is still valuable to us when we speak to those who believe that the Baptist denomination traces its back to John the Baptist, or that the Catholic Church traces her roots back to the false religion of Nimrod. There are, unfortunately, too many of them out there. We can look them in the eye and tell them – It simply ain’t so.

Sez who?

Sez honest Protestants – that’s who!


On the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul

Deo omnis gloria!

Ever feel like you’re not communicating?

Imagine that you are the chancellor of a university who devises some method by which certain high-school students are able to attend your university tuition-free. Excited, you start advertising this tuition-free option for qualifying students, and before you know it you have a small group of eager would-be enrollees at your institution. You open the matriculation process, and soon start to receive some angry phone calls from parents crying foul. “You said it was FREE!” they snarl. “My kid just told me he’s going to have to pay upwards of $1,000 dollars this semester for books, lab fees and meals!” Baffled, you explain to the irate callers that you were advertising a tuition-free opportunity for eligible students. You NEVER claimed that their books would be paid for, or that they’d get free food, and lab fees have never fallen into the category of “tuition.” All you get for your trouble is hung-up on.

Where did you go wrong?? You stated as clearly as you could in your advertising that the offer was for free TUITION. Then it begins to dawn on you. As an educator, you are well-versed in university lingo. Others may not be. And apparently when these parents heard “4 years tuition-free,” this translated in their minds to “4 years of free college.” Free, as in “I don’t pay ANYTHING.”

It’s a misunderstanding. Not your fault. No one’s going to be hauling you into court on charges of misrepresentation. But that doesn’t change the fact that you’re going to be fielding angry phone calls for the foreseeable future….

Things like this happen because people confuse terms. They have only a passing familiarity with the actual definition of certain words. We see it every time a huge windstorm blows through town, wreaking havoc, and the National Weather Service announces that it was NOT a tornado. “Not a tornado!!” huffs your cousin Melba. “Then why is my barn in my neighbor’s yard???” Because when the NWS says there was no “tornado,” what your cousin understands them to be claiming is that there was no windstorm – and she’s here to tell you that there most certainly was.

Cousin Melba and the Weather Service aren’t the only ones quibbling over terms, and confusion of terms isn’t the only reason people miscommunicate; the reasons are legion. In fact, it’s a wonder anything gets communicated at all sometimes. The issue can be as simple as a vocabulary deficit. When I as a Protestant started attending Mass, I heard words like “paschal” and “oblation.” I had no clue what they meant, but fortunately I did care enough to find out. Not everyone is all that interested, and many people simply wander off mumbling something about mumbo-jumbo rather than learn a few new words. Another problem that surfaces in Protestant-Catholic dialogue is when Evangelicalese meets Catholicspeak. Huh?? So much of our vocabulary is the same, yet the meanings assigned to various terms differ. Take “grace” and “justification” for starters. Evangelicals and Catholics define these differently, so your Protestant neighbor may be hearing something slightly different that what you think you’re saying when you explain that Catholics believe that we are saved by grace and justified by faith. Sometimes the problem is a matter of ineptitude on the part of the communicator, and other times it’s a hearing impairment on the part of the listener. Why else would we bother to coin the lament, “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant”?

Our best-laid plans to explain Catholicism to Protestants often go astray because of this – we try to explain what we believe, but the listener just can’t hear what we’re actually saying. It’s as if they have mental earwax. You explain to our next-door neighbor that Catholics don’t buy into the “secret rapture” doctrine so dear to Evangelical hearts. She goes home and tells her husband that Catholics don’t believe in the Second Coming of Christ in glory to judge the living and the dead. Is that what you said? No, but that’s what she thinks she heard. Her husband sees you that evening in the supermarket and asks you where the Bible says that Mary was conceived without sin. You ask him where the Bible says that every doctrine must be found in the Bible, and explain to him that Catholics don’t accept the self-refuting doctrine of sola Scriptura. He buys his avocadoes, goes home and tells his wife that Catholics don’t believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. Is that what you said? No, but that’s what he thinks he heard.

I wonder if you can buy an ear trumpet cheap on eBay….

One real impediment to communication is know-it-alreadyism. You would assume that one of mankind’s primary motives for engaging in conversation is the exchange of information, right? Sounds great in theory, but how often does that correspond with conversational reality? Communication relies to a certain extent upon an openness of mind. If you already know everything, you kind of lose your incentive to exchange information. It could be that your neighbors have already been misinformed, having been told that Catholics don’t believe in the Second Coming or the inerrancy of Scripture. When you talk to them, they can see your lips moving, but they “hear” what they already believe.

When I lived in Germany, I had a conversation with two guys from Asia Minor. We were discussing life in the U.S. when one of them casually mentioned something about the 51 American states. I politely corrected him – there are 50 American states. He stared at me quizzically. He and his friend exchanged glances and discussed the matter between themselves. “Yep!” was the conclusion to which they came – there are 51 states.

Well, gee, don’t mind me! I’m just a native of the U.S.A.! Hard to believe that I might know how many states are in my own Union!

This helps to explain the ongoing battle Catholics wage against Protestant confusion over our doctrine. Back to your next-door neighbors again. You can clarify as patiently as Job to your neighbor that, no, Catholics don’t worship Mary. God forbid! That is an obvious violation of the First Commandment. God alone is to be worshipped! Catholics do, however, venerate Mary. That means that we give her honor, more honor than we give to any other human being, because of the role we believe she played in salvation history. We sometimes pray to her. Just as one of your Protestant ancestors might have asked a godly friend, “Pray assist me, dear Elizabeth, in beseeching our Lord for the life of my child,” we often “pray” (that is, “direct petitions” to Mary), asking her to take our concerns to her Son and plead for us. That doesn’t mean that we think she’s God; it means that we think she can intercede on our behalf, just as you believe that your fellow Christians can intercede on your behalf. We study Mary’s life, we sing about her, and in the month of May we may even bring flowers to statues of Mary because we love her as the “mother” Jesus gave to us as He hung on the cross (Jn 19:26-27). The Bible tells us that we are her children (Rev 12:17)! You might occasionally see someone in a Catholic church kneeling before a statue of Mary. They aren’t worshipping Mary or the statue. If you want a pop-culture reference, think “Star Wars,” where Amidala went down on her knees before Boss Nass, asking for his aid, because she knew that without his help her revolt was pretty much dead in the water. She wasn’t worshipping him; she was humbly imploring his assistance. So, you explain to your neighbor, Catholics simply DO NOT worship Mary. Got it?

“Uh-huh,” responds your neighbor. “You guys worship the pope, too, don’t you?”

Don’t mind me, I’m just Catholic.

And that’s how it goes sometimes in the Catholic-Protestant dialogue. Terms need to be defined; prejudices must be addressed. It’s an uphill battle, and we charge into the fray wielding Q-Tips, in the form of prayer, patience, prayer, charity, prayer, perseverance and… prayer. It helps if more than one person is working to communicate the truth to a given individual. Sometimes it’s that 15th refutation of justification by faith ALONE that finally does the trick. I know it can be mighty tempting to just give up when your neighbors ignore everything you say and persist in insisting that Catholics worship Mary. You want to shrug your shoulders and retreat. It’s hopeless. Don’t mind me – I’m just Catholic! Remember, though, your neighbors may be hearing more than you think. They may be uncomfortable because you are starting to making sense, and your patience, charity and perseverance are a witness of God working in you. Believe it or not, some scientists actually believe that anxiety and stress may increase the production of earwax!

“To the hard of hearing you shout,” wrote Flannery O’Connor, “and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.” Clearly, communication crises call for bold measures. Storm the heavens, and persistently petition the Holy Spirit, the Divine Hearing Aid, to aid your communication efforts and to assist your neighbors in listening as well as hearing.

And don’t forget – ear trumpets make stylish and affordable presents for birthdays, anniversaries or any gift-giving occasion!

Available at your local Catholic religious goods shop!


On the memorial of St. Josemaría Escrivá

Deo omnis gloria!

Postscript:  George from Convert Journal suggests this link to ear trumpets on eBay.  Who knew?

Photo credits: A pack of 54 counts Q-tips cotton swabs, made in USA by Geographer

Everybody’s got a favorite TV detective. I grew up watching Mannix and Jim Rockford. Kojak was popular in those days. Magnum was huge in the 80s, and Monk broke the mold in the New Millennium. But I’ve got a real soft spot in my heart for one special lieutenant – Columbo, the disheveled, distracted, disarming homicide detective who never, never gave up. He lulled his suspects’ suspicions, apparently accepting whatever story they cared to dish out, but then spent the next 50 minutes making Swiss cheese of that story, at which point the perp invariably decided that coming along quietly was really the only option left to him. I loved it. Some commentators have made the case that the show was a classic portrayal of class struggle – Columbo was a working-class kinda guy patronized by all the high society murderers, and the audience loved to watch him cut them down to size. I think most of us fancied that we saw ourselves in him. He wasn’t all perfectly pulled together. He was disheveled. One eye wandered. People tended to underestimate him, and he was okay with that. To this day, when 2 and 2 just don’t make 4 in my life, I tend to go into Columbo mode, determined to get to the bottom of things.

Channeling our inner Columbo can be something of a challenge, however, when it comes to getting to the bottom of our own religious beliefs. I should know – I was raised as a Protestant, and it took me 45 years before I was ready to investigate the strange goings-on that occurred every time my church expounded on verses like “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” or “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained,” or “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” We all admire Ginger Rogers for being able to do everything Fred did, backwards and wearing high heels. The song-and-dance my denomination did around these verses made Ginger look like an amateur – we were dancing on our heads trying to make these verses say something, ANYTHING, other than what they actually said. Finally, one day I stopped dancing, sat down, and asked myself, why? It turned out that there was a fatal flaw in our theology, one which we covered up by suppressing various verses. The clues had been there all along; it just took me 45 years to decide to investigate.

There was a pretty basic explanation for my reluctance. We all know that someone who just doesn’t want to know will selectively filter information in or out of the picture to come to his or her foregone conclusion. Take the example of a wife who dearly loves her husband – when confronted with mysterious business trips, late nights at the office and lipstick on his collar, she will see nothing more than an overworked, underpaid hero who needs a better laundry detergent. The opposite is of course true – a jealous wife reads betrayal into every innocent pastime her husband enjoys, certain that everything he does is proof of adultery and grounds for divorce. Evidence is twisted, misused, overlooked – whatever it takes to uphold preexisting beliefs. We see this clearly in the debate over abortion – intelligent, thoughtful adults who have bought into the notion of a woman’s “right to choose” pretty much have to stumble into the illogical insistence that a baby on this side of the womb is a human being entitled to the full protection of the law, while a baby on that side of the womb is not a human being and can be murdered at will – the evidence is forced to fit the pre-existing conclusion. Conservative “right to life” Protestants wonder how anyone could be so foolish. And yet, those same Protestants who are taught that “justification by faith ALONE” is the key to interpreting the Scriptures (rather than “justification by faith,” which is the teaching of both the Bible and the Church) will then find themselves forced into the predicament of denying a literal understanding of verse after verse of Scripture which teaches the necessity of perseverance in the faith, of a genuine concern for the least of these, of obedience to God’s commandments, of baptism for the remission of sins, etc., etc. – these verses cannot be saying what they appear to be saying because they contradict the foundational assumption which shapes the denomination’s teaching. All of us are in this same boat – when we go into any experience with a grab-bag of assumptions, we risk assuming all sorts of untenable positions, until we dispassionately prove or disprove those assumptions and get our feet on the solid ground of the truth.

One day it dawned on me that there is some serious lipstick besmirching the collar of Protestantism. As a female I was aware that various shades of lipstick go by creative names like “Wild Child” and “Candy Yum-Yum.” This shade of lipstick had a name that was really far-out: “Historical Evidence.” Everyone who gives their heart to Protestant interpretations of Scripture must sooner or later ask what this tattletale lipstick betokens. Is it something that I need to investigate?

If you believe it is, you can start by investigating the common Protestant assertion that the first Christians believed and preached exactly whatever the Protestant church you happen to attend believes and preaches. This claim is more important than it appears. Those first Christians were taught by the apostles, so if your church believes and preaches doctrines that the first Christians disagreed with, it is pretty likely that your 21st-century church is preaching “a different Gospel,” the very thing St. Paul warned the Galatians against in no uncertain terms. All Protestant churches therefore will insist that their doctrine reflects the beliefs of the first Christians. Even a cursory inspection of this assertion should set off warning bells, for the Lutherans practice, for example, infant baptism while the Baptists decry it. The Baptists insist that a Christian cannot lose his salvation while the Lutherans insist that he can. The Baptists as a rule wholeheartedly embrace the “secret rapture” doctrine; the Lutherans as a rule think that’s kinda nutty. When you attend a Baptist church they will assure you that the first Christians believed and preached exactly what Baptists believe and preach. This is also the foundational assumption at your friendly neighborhood Lutheran church. Somebody’s wrong – the first Christians simply could not have been taught by the apostles that it was appropriate to baptize infants AND NOT appropriate, that Christians can lose their salvation AND definitely cannot, or that they should be expecting to be raptured out of this world AND that no such thing was to be expected. And these are but a few of the beliefs over which Protestant denominations in good standing disagree vehemently. While the “secret rapture” is a secondary issue, baptism and eternal security are most definitely not – they are essential doctrines, for they inform the believer what he must do to be saved….

Reading one’s Bible cannot straighten this issue out, for the Bible does not tell us what the first Christians believed. It gives us the teaching of the apostles, but then we must understand that teaching. The $64,000 question is: are we understanding that teaching the way the first Christians understood it? The only way to know that is to read the writings of the first Christians – what were the first-generation Christians teaching the second-generation Christians? This will make clear to us what they understood the apostles to say. It will solve the nagging questions of infant baptism vs. believer’s baptism/eternal security vs. you can lose your salvation/imminent secret rapture vs. secret-rapture-my-foot! To find the writings of the first and second generations of Christians, though, we must look outside the Bible. We must go to the historical record.

When I was a Protestant, I really had no idea what a wealth of documents sprang from the pens of 1st- and 2nd-century Christians. We didn’t talk about those writings at the nondenominational and Baptist churches that I attended. The “fact” that the first Christians believed and taught exactly what we believed and taught was just assumed. Had we looked into the writings of the early Christians, we would have found that they were united in their belief that baptism is for regeneration and that it is appropriate to baptize infants, that they insisted on the necessity of final perseverance, and that no one ever even hinted at the doctrine of the “secret rapture.” Score 3 for Team Lutheran! Either the first Christians all apostatized immediately after the death of the apostles (something groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Latter-Day Saints may try to tell you), or the Lutherans may be onto something here!

Investigating further, we nondenoms and Baptists also would have found that the 1st– and 2nd-century Christians considered the Virgin Mary to be the second Eve (as Christ was the second Adam), and taught that the Mass was a sacrifice, and that Jesus was actually physically present in Holy Communion, with the bread and wine actually becoming His Body and Blood. St. Justin Martyr’s description of the Sunday gathering of Christians circa 150 A.D. is Catholic to the core. Now, that’s not exactly what the Lutherans want to hear….

Upon further study it would have become clear to us that the 1st– and 2nd-century Christians unanimously supported the idea that after the free, unmerited gift of initial justification, works were necessary for salvation. You know Luther must be spinning in his grave right about now.

And those first Christians were, according to their writings, committed to the idea of there being only one Church, a visible Church gathered around the bishops, and that the church of Rome was accorded “the primacy of love.” They claimed that St. Peter was the first bishop of Rome, and they wrote about the apostolic succession which gave the bishops their authority. Those Christians called their Church Catholic. No, that really doesn’t sound like the kind of doctrine Lutherans propound. It doesn’t really sound Protestant at all….

Which helps to explain the experience of so many students in Protestant seminaries when it comes time to study early Christian history. Lest they should start questioning the lipstick evident on the collar of whatever denominational doctrine they espouse, these students are taught ABOUT the early Church and the writings of the 1st– and 2nd-generation Christians, as opposed to being given a copy of the Ante-Nicene Fathers and asked to read what those men actually wrote. This limited exposure suffices to convince them that they know what the first Christians believed and that it was exactly what their seminary teaches. Four quotes from former students:

My theological roots were at most only 150 years deep. Contrary to what I had been taught, my version of Christianity didn’t go all the way back to the New Testament. Not even close.

From that point on I had a deep desire to understand historic Christianity. I borrowed Paul Johnson’s book, The History of Christianity, from a missionary friend. Over the next year I read several books on Church history. I read the works of men I had never heard of before: Anthony of the Desert, Cyril of Jerusalem, Clement of Alexandria, Basil, Ambrose, Eusebius, Ignatius of Antioch. It felt like finding new friends, Christians who knew my Lord so intimately. But their words also profoundly shook my Evangelical theology. The fact that these men were Catholic made me embarrassed and indignant. In all my years as a Christian I had never heard of these people, let alone studied their writings. I didn’t know much about the early Christian Church. In seminary (we attended Biola, in Southern California) we had been taught to believe that after the death of the Apostles, the Church slid immediately into error and stayed that way until Luther nailed his Theses to the door, and then the “real” Christians came out of hiding. (Kristine Franklin)

Like many young evangelicals I had little denominational loyalty, but the Southern Baptists had a fantastic seminary and missions program. After delaying my entry into seminary for a year after graduation, I finally started classes in early January. The troubles didn’t start until the second week. We were learning about spiritual disciplines like prayer and fasting and I was struck how often the professor would skip from St. Paul to Martin Luther or Jonathan Edwards when describing admirable lives of piety. Did nothing worthwhile happen in the first 1500 years? The skipping of history would continue in many other classes or assigned textbooks. Occasional references to St. Augustine did not obscure the fact that the majority of church history was ignored. (“Anthony“)

That’s when I did something really dangerous. I started reading the early Church Fathers firsthand. I had studied some early Church history, but too much of it was from perspectives limited by Protestant history textbooks. I was shocked to discover in the writings of the first-, second- and third-century Christians a very high view of the Church and liturgy, very much unlike the views of the typical Evangelical Protestant. (Steve Wood)

In the first year of seminary, we studied church history, one of my favorite fields of study. I went beyond the required readings and explored the writings of the early Church Fathers. In their writings, I found a world very different from that of the Evangelical and Reformed Christianity of my experience. (Ed Hopkins

And so, folks, we have evidence of a deception and a cover-up. That’s some pretty serious lipstick. The question is, what are you going to do about it? Buy some industrial-strength laundry detergent and scrub harder? Send the shirts to a high-priced dry cleaners and hope for the best? Or follow the lipstick trail and see where it leads?

The writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers can be read online, or are available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and many other booksellers. Channel your inner detective.

Make Lt. Columbo proud.


On the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Deo omnis gloria!

It was a week best forgotten – missed spiritual opportunities, interpersonal quandaries, and gut-wrenching bad news.

I dragged myself to Mass as a first resort, and as a last. I was spent. I had nothing to give; I barely had the emotional energy to drive myself over there. The knowledge that God could have intervened to prevent so much of my sorrow lay heavily upon my heart, and so the Gloria was an act of faith in itself:

We praise You!

We bless You!

We adore You!

We glorify You!

We give You thanks for Your great glory, Lord God, Heavenly King!

O God, Almighty Father!

The homily said nothing to me, neither did the hymns. The psalm was “Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord.” The taste in my mouth was medicinal, bitter. What God had allowed to happen was not bad, at least, it did not have to be. Willingly embraced, it could be good, good – like medicine. And it tasted as such.

I sat through the offertory, mentally placing the events of the past week onto the paten and into the chalice. Along with the bread we have baked and the wine we have pressed, the work we did, the words we said, our attitudes and reactions are the “fruit of human hands,” my hands, your hands. All of the past week went in there, to be carried forward by my fellow parishioners and placed upon the altar. Those were not the gifts I wanted to bring to Him. Who wouldn’t rather place into God’s hands success rather than failure, joy rather than sorrow, progress rather than stagnation, hope rather than a loss of courage? But such was the desire of Cain, to worship God with what he thought were good gifts. I gave back to God what He had given me this past week, and thanked Him that I had anything to give at all, and I prayed with the priest as the Holy Spirit came upon the bread and wine that they might become, for me and for my brothers and sisters, the Body and Blood of Christ. I watched, believing and daring to hope, as the paten and chalice were raised high with the proclamation that “through Him, with Him, and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor are Yours, Almighty Father.” There goes my week, I whispered to myself, to the glory of God the Father.

Going forward to receive Jesus, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, I prayed for a tiny miracle, a lifting of the sadness, a ray of joy piercing my leaden soul. The Body tasted like bread, and the Blood tasted like wine. This, I realized, is what faith tastes like.

One single act done with dryness of spirit is worth more than many done with sensible devotion – so wrote St. Francis de Sales. A “Glory be” recited in darkness unites us to the obedience of God’s Holy Son, in Whom the Father is eternally well pleased. I take that on faith as well. A week best forgotten can, by the grace of God, become a week worth remembering….

And in that spirit, I close my hymnal, take up my purse and head home, in the faith which pleases God.


On the memorial of St. Aloysius Gonzaga

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credits: Raindrops falling on water by Juni of Kyoto, Japan

God can be embarrassing. His methods are … how shall I say this? – unorthodox, to put it kindly. If there is a God, atheists growl, why doesn’t He operate at least as responsibly and efficiently as the most responsible and efficient of His creation?? What exactly is up with this celestial Father Who supposedly loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son, yet can’t get little children out of the path of rampaging gunmen or stop a tornado from ripping into an elementary school?? How can a supposedly intelligent human being claim that there is a God Who loves us but won’t lift a finger while someone dies in the street, waiting instead until some human (who apparently possesses more compassion than He does) goes out and tends to that person’s needs?? Kind of hard to believe all the great press He gets, when the reality looks sooo very different here on the ground! Seriously, don’t you think God, if there were such a Person, would have a better game plan?

As an Evangelical, I had answers to these questions about our apparently “messy” God, and they were good answers. I would have responded that God is Love, that He is Light and in Him there is no darkness. While no one in this world can ever fully explain the reasons why an all-powerful God allows evil (and thus, suffering) to continue to exist, Evangelical theology addresses the fact that sin is man’s choice, not God’s will, and sin is the mother of suffering. Fallen man has chosen to pursue his own path, a path which excludes God, and God honors man’s free will. That God expects His creation to accomplish His ends is made evident in something as basic as the process of sexual reproduction. God directly created the first man and woman. After that, He turned the process over to us. He expects humankind’s cooperation to populate the planet – be fruitful and multiply! Don’t try to blame the impending demographic winter on the Almighty! Unless men and women engage in reproductive activity, God (except in one very memorable incident) does not bring any new people into the world (and even in that one memorable incident, He asked the woman’s permission, making her a co-worker in the process.) And so it goes in so many aspects of our daily lives. God very often will not act until believers do their part, which may consist of praying, or intervening directly, or both. Mankind’s rejection of God goes a long way in explaining suffering. The failure of Christians to act goes an even longer way; if we Christians were what we should be, the world would be a very different place. My Protestant theology could account, at least to a certain extent, for the existence of what the world sees as an apparently “messy” God, because on this subject Evangelicals “get it.”

And yet… I realize now that as an Evangelical I recoiled in a very atheistic fashion from the existence of a messy Church. A Church led by the Vicar of Christ?? By a man?? A hierarchy?? You’re talking about the Keystone Cops, right?! Smug bishops astraddle exploding barrels of scandals, Judas priests giving Judas a bad name, and the head honcho in Rome always just one step away from a diplomatic contretemps or a public relations misstep – that’s messy! That’s like disciples who try to call down fire from Heaven, or a Chief Apostle who buckles under pressure and refuses to eat with Gentiles! God, in His tidiness, I believed, abjures an earthly hierarchy, preferring to rule through a Book, because God knows the Book will never embarrass Him!

A Church which makes real, binding decisions on matters of faith and morals?? Are you kidding me??? You’d be sticking your neck out like a Thanksgiving turkey on the chopping block! What if you affirmed the age-old Christian teaching that contraception is immoral, and no one listened? You’d be left to stew in your own irrelevance! That’s like the Council of Nicaea declaring Arianism a heresy – only to watch the world fill with Arians! Obviously, the way to go is to allow everyone to decide for himself what the Book teaches. No messy dustups over doctrine! Agree to disagree – just keep telling yourselves that you agree on “the Essentials” (be careful, though, never to define what those “Essentials” are….) God, neatnik that He is, I believed, would never involve Himself in the disorder inherent in an authoritative Church!

A Church which harbors sinners?? May it never be! While acknowledging up front that I was merely a sinner saved by grace, I witnessed wounded Christians left by the side of the road when they didn’t live up to the standards of the churches I attended. A Church which casts out sinners only as a last resort (rather than a first), a Church which clasps sinners to her bosom while continuing to exhort them to convert lest they die in their sins – that’s messy! That’s like a Samaritan who stops what he’s doing to bind the wounds of a dying man, or a nurse who doesn’t evacuate when plague breaks out, but stays and picks maggots out of festering sores. Do that, and the Church will stink like the hospital for sinners that she claims to be! God, in His obsessive-compulsive commitment to cleanliness, I believed, recoils from stink.

A Church which insists on getting even dead people into the act, placing innumerable stumbling blocks between the petitioner and the One Mediator, Jesus Christ?? I ask you, what could be more ludicrous?? Asking Mary, and Joseph, and John the Baptist, and Thomas Aquinas to pray for us to the Lord our God would be as messy and inefficient as asking Aunt Mary, Uncle Joe, cousin Johnny and Brother Tom the televangelist to pray for us! Why in the world would you do that, when you can go straight to the top?? God, in His vision of streamlined management, I believed, sees no place in His organization for unseen prayer warrior saints.

Hey, God, what could be tidier than an invisible church? What could be neater than functionally disconnected assemblies with no oversight? What could work better than letting each individual decide for himself what Your word means? What could flow more smoothly than excluding heavenly intercessors from the prayer process?? What could smell better than a well-Lysol’d hospital-turned-library??

Don’t worry, God! We have got Your back! Our new-and-improved versions of the Church You founded will do You proud!

Yes, God can be embarrassing. Fortunately He had me, and folks like me, to help make His Church less of a cross to bear! It’s a mess, but it’s nothing that handlers, press secretaries and spin doctors can’t whip into shape given time and a free hand. So don’t lose hope, world – coming soon to a sanctuary near you:

The First Ethereal Church of Jesus and Me!

It’s presentable!


On the memorial of St. Romuald

Deo omnis gloria!

I have a confession to make: I grew up skeptical of the modus operandi of our omnipotent God. His way of doing things just irked me. I am all about planning, forethought, careful measurements and oodles of pondering before I undertake anything – that guarantees that my undertakings will generally run smoothly. God? Well, God seemed just a teensy bit … unreliable to me.

We had explanations for this. “God writes straight with crooked lines” we would assure ourselves as we cleaned up after the accident. Seriously? What’s wrong with Him?
Why can’t He write straight with straight lines? That’s the goal every kindergarten teacher encourages us to shoot for! Are you saying human beings teach their children to write straighter than God can write?

We would catch ourselves muttering things like “Why did God let my kitchen catch fire? Yes, we all got out safely, even the dog. Yes, our kind cousins let us stay with them that night. Yes, the insurance covered the remodeling. Yes, it all turned out okay… but it might not have! It was a shock, and a trauma, and an inconvenience, and a pain! A RESPONSIBLE God would have psychically alerted me to the imminent combustion of that pan of cooking oil! Or He would have stopped the oil from combusting! He could have caused a power outage! Or He could have inspired my cheapskate husband to take us out to eat for once!! Instead, I had to go through this!

Steve Wood, founder of Family Life Center International, is a former Protestant pastor. He tells the story of a Catholic boys’ school run by Carmelite Fathers. The Carmelites prayed fervently that God would bless and prosper their efforts to bring Christ to the world. The school, however, was forced to close. The Carmelites sold the campus to the men who founded Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Subsequently, this very Protestant institution began producing an unanticipated crop of clergy converts to Catholicism, among them Scott Hahn and his wife, Kimberly, Marcus Grodi, and Steve Wood! One might say that God heard and answered the prayers of those Carmelites in a very unexpected way.

Quirky, to say the least. If God had let me write that script, the story would have been much more professionally produced! Tell me, why couldn’t God have just blessed and prospered the Carmelite school, and gotten His crop of Evangelical converts from someplace else? Why did one dream have to die that the other might live? I would have written a happy end to everyone’s dreams – and I’m a limited, fallible being. The schoolteacher in me is tempted to give God a less-than-flattering grade in the “effort” category! It’s as if God isn’t trying. Certainly He could do better if He tried. There is simply no accounting for His lackluster performance in this world, unless….

Unless God is our Father. If that is true, then some of this “messiness” has an obvious, though vexing, explanation. On Father’s Day, we celebrate good parenting, and one very important aspect of fatherhood is a commitment to teaching. A good father teaches his children how to become capable men and women. He does this by demonstration, first and foremost – he walks the walk, day in and day out, in the sight of his offspring. But that is not all: good teachers have factored time for practice into their lessons. And so, a good father eventually steps back and says, “You’ve watched me long enough. Now, you do it.” To teach a child to write, a good father must sooner or later surrender the pencil. He knows that the child will not write perfectly – Dad could write out the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution more legibly and in less time than the child can scrawl out her name. But that would not teach the child to write. A good father waits while his daughter scribbles her love onto a piece of paper, and runs with her as she carries it to her mother, backwards letters, half-erased misspellings and all, messy but tangible proof of her affection: “Wee lov yu, Momy!!!” Could Dad have written a better declaration of love? Of course, but a good father must foster the desire to work in his children, to work just like Daddy does. Our Good Father also must foster the desire to work in His children, and so He uses the crooked lines of His children’s writing to accomplish His purpose in the world. He lets us work, and then He works with what He is given. St. Catherine of Siena exhorted us with the words, “If you were what you should be, you would set the world on fire.” Yes, if we were what we should be, the handwriting on God’s messages wouldn’t be so perilously illegible. We aren’t, and still He works with us. He is, in fact, pretty close to being a cosmic MacGyver, using practically anything we hand Him to achieve His ends. This is where the trust issue comes in. Sometimes God’s jerryrigging looks awfully, awfully flimsy, based as it is upon the poor materials that we have handed Him – we are foolish and irresponsible, and He lets us learn from our mistakes. Yet He always comes through – His children’s lives always work out according to His purpose, although that happy end is, due to our sin and failings, often perceived through eyes awash in tears.

So, that’s our God, the God Who has deigned to share His very name with earthly fathers. He is able to make something out of nearly nothing, and He’s a genius with a Swiss Army knife. That His kids learn, that His kids grow in grace and knowledge and grow up to be just like Him – that’s what He’s all about. Like it or not, it’s just something we’ve got to get used to – our God is a messy God…

… because our Dad is the best Dad ever!


On the memorial of St. Lutgardis

Deo omnis gloria!

As I was explaining in my last post, back before I was reconciled to the Church, I “knew” a lot of things. I “knew” that Catholics had adulterated the Faith once delivered and compromised the teachings of Christ. I “knew” because I had learned this from other Protestants who just “knew.” It was a “known fact” that the Catholic Church had taken the doctrines taught by the apostles and perverted them, adding the teachings of men. The Church played fast and loose with doctrinal truths. To ensure that their little scam was never uncovered, the Church strongly discouraged (i.e., FORBADE) Bible reading. I and everyone like me just “knew” that the Bible had never been translated into a local, understandable language of the people before Martin Luther came along and broke the Catholic stranglehold on the Scriptures, because, you see, if Catholics had been allowed to pick up a Bible and read it for themselves, they would have realized that they were being cultivated like mushrooms, kept in the dark and nurtured with doctrinal guano!

The most glaring examples of this, I would have told you if you had bothered to ask me, were Mark 3:20-21, 31-35; 6:3, Matthew 13:55-56, John 2:12, and John 7:3-10. “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” As the Bible CLEARLY states, Jesus had brothers and sisters. Yet Catholic doctrine teaches that Mary was not only a virgin at the birth of Christ, but remained a virgin for the rest of her life!

I rest my case! How unscriptural can you get??

It is a matter of public record that the Catholic Church refuses to admit that Jesus had brothers and sisters! Yet the Bible p-l-a-i-n-l-y tells us that his brothers and his sisters went out to stop Him from preaching! On top of that, the book of Acts tells us that the apostles gathered in the Upper Room to await the Holy Spirit, together with “Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers.” On top of that, Paul says Jesus had a brother (“Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.”) On top of that, Luke tells us that Mary brought forth her FIRSTBORN(!), and Matthew says that Joseph knew Mary not, UNTIL she had given birth to Jesus.

All of this I got straight from the Bible, so I felt like I was on pretty solid ground when I insisted that Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus, but after she and Joseph got back to Nazareth more kids eventually came along!

Of course, if you had asked me, I might have admitted that there were a few “difficulties” with my proofs that Mary had other children. For example, the fact is that the Bible calls Jesus “THE” Son of Mary, and that no other person is ever referred to as a son or daughter of Mary. In other words, these “brothers and sisters” of Jesus are never called “Mary’s children.” And the term “firstborn” simply means “the child who opens the womb.” The Old Testament says that every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord – people didn’t wait around to see if God would bless them with a “secondborn” before considering their first son set aside unto the Lord! And as for the “until” objection, there is that statement Jesus made at His Ascension about being with us to the end of the age (“unto the end of the world” or “until the end of time” in other versions). Does that mean “after the end of the age you’re on your own, folks!“?

And if you had asked me, I might have admitted that it struck me as bizarrely counter-cultural the way Jesus’ “younger brothers” had treated Him. After all, He was the eldest, and in Middle Eastern cultures, respect for one’s elders is ingrained. After Joseph died, Jesus would have been the head of the family – yet his “younger siblings” at one point sally forth to try to drag Him forcibly back to Nazareth! I had to admit, from a Middle Eastern point of view that sounded pretty far-fetched. It certainly seemed that we were projecting our modern-day American total lack of respect onto Jesus’ younger “brothers”….

If you had asked me to reconcile these difficulties, I might have realized that it seemed a lot more plausible that these “younger brothers” were actually OLDER than Jesus, which is why they felt Jesus could be pushed around. If they were older than He was, then of course they would have felt justified in trying to bring their “little brother” back into line.

But how could they have been older than Jesus? He was, after all, Mary’s firstborn….

Pondering this, I might have realized that they could have been Joseph’s sons, not Mary’s! Joseph could have been a widower when he became betrothed to Mary, not an unusual situation at all. Remember, Joseph apparently died when Jesus was relatively young; he could have been an older man when he married Mary. Or, the “brothers” could simply have been related to Jesus in some way, yet not have been actual brothers (Protestants believe, after all, that these men were not actual brothers of Jesus – according to the Protestant understanding they would have been no closer than half-brothers.) In the Hebrew Old Testament, for example, we hear Abram saying to Lot, “We are brothers!” Were they? Nope – Abram was Lot’s uncle. What Abram meant was “We’re related.” To this day, many cultures use terms like “brother” and “uncle” much more loosely than we do. When I, a 21st-century American, introduce someone as my “aunt,” I mean she is either my mother’s sister or my father’s sister. But if you had asked me, I would have remembered that when I first went to my husband’s hometown in Taiwan, he began introducing all of his “aunts” and “uncles” to me. When we reached Aunt #27, I began to become suspicious….

These possibilities also clear up a minor problem at the Crucifixion, where Jesus looks down in love at His mother and nods towards John the beloved disciple, saying, “Behold, your son.” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household. Seriously, if Mary had all those other children, what was Jesus doing entrusting her to John? But if Jesus was her only child, that passage made a lot of sense.

And what did the early Christians believe? If you had asked me, I could have looked it up and discovered that the early Christians had a word for folks who believed as I did – they called us antidicomarianites (those who oppose Mary)! In the fourth century an antidicomarianite named Helvidius wrote a pamphlet denouncing the belief that Mary was a perpetual virgin, and was answered by none other than St. Jerome in his aptly-named “Against Helvidius.” “I must call upon the Holy Spirit to express His meaning by my mouth and defend the virginity of Blessed Mary,” Jerome wrote. “I must call upon the Lord Jesus to guard the sacred lodging of the womb in which He abode for ten months from all suspicion of sexual intercourse. And I must also entreat God the Father to show that the mother of His Son, who was a mother before she was a bride, continued a virgin after her son was born.”

Jerome used the Bible to refute Helvidius’ points one-by-one, writing that Helvidius “is utterly refuted by the authority of the same Scripture” as he cites verse after verse against the “until” objection and the “firstborn” problem. Jerome then held up second-century Church Fathers in support of Mary’s perpetual virginity as proof that Christians had always held this belief. To those Fathers can be added St. Jerome’s contemporaries who wrote:

Let those, therefore, who deny that the Son is by nature from the Father and proper to his essence deny also that he took true human flesh from the ever-virgin Mary – St. Athanasius

If they [the brethren of the Lord] had been Mary’s sons and not those taken from Joseph’s former marriage, she would never have been given over in the moment of the passion [crucifixion] to the apostle John as his mother, the Lord saying to each, ‘Woman, behold your son,’ and to John, ‘Behold your mother’ [John 19:26–27), as he bequeathed filial love to a disciple as a consolation to the one desolate – St. Hilary of Poitiers

It helps us to understand the terms ‘first-born’ and ‘only-begotten’ when the Evangelist tells that Mary remained a virgin ‘until she brought forth her first-born son’ [Matt. 1:25]; for neither did Mary, who is to be honored and praised above all others, marry anyone else, nor did she ever become the Mother of anyone else, but even after childbirth she remained always and forever an immaculate virgin – Didymus the Blind

Imitate her [Mary], holy mothers, who in her only dearly beloved Son set forth so great an example of material virtue; for neither have you sweeter children [than Jesus], nor did the Virgin seek the consolation of being able to bear another son – St. Ambrose

Scripture frequently gives the name of brethren, not to those only who are born of the same womb, or the same father, but to those of the same generation, cousins by the father’s or mother’s side. Those who are unacquainted with this were of speaking, ask, Whence has our Lord brothers? Did Mary bring forth again? That could not be: with her commenced the dignity of the virgin state. Abraham was uncle of Lot, and Jacob was nephew to Laban the Syrian. Yet Abraham and Lot are called brethren; and likewise Jacob and Laban – St. Augustine

Would I as a Protestant have been convinced by this reasoning, or would I have responded along the lines of Awww, come on! Which part of “brothers and sisters” don’t you Catholics understand?? Who would be dumb enough to buy into Jerome’s arguments?!

Well, Martin Luther, for one….

…in childbirth and after childbirth, as she was a virgin before childbirth, so she remained.

Christ . . . was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him . . . I am inclined to agree with those who declare that ‘brothers’ [in Jn 2:12] really mean ‘cousins’ here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers.

And John Calvin for another….

This passage [Mt 1:25] afforded the pretext for great disturbances, which were introduced into the Church, at a former period, by Helvidius. The inference he drew from it was, that Mary remained a virgin no longer than till her first birth, and that afterwards she had other children by her husband. Jerome, on the other hand, earnestly and copiously defended Mary’s perpetual virginity. Let us rest satisfied with this, that no just and well-grounded inference can be drawn from these words of the Evangelist, as to what took place after the birth of Christ. He is called first-born; but it is for the sole purpose of informing us that he was born of a virgin. It is said that Joseph knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born son: but this is limited to that very time. What took place afterwards, the historian does not inform us. Such is well known to have been the practice of the inspired writers. Certainly, no man will ever raise a question on this subject, except from curiosity; and no man will obstinately keep up the argument, except from an extreme fondness for disputation.

“The word brothers [Mt 13:55], we have formerly mentioned, is employed, agreeably to the Hebrew idiom, to denote any relatives whatever; and, accordingly, Helvidius displayed excessive ignorance in concluding that Mary must have had many sons, because Christ’s brothers are sometimes mentioned.”

Okay, well, Luther and Calvin weren’t right about everything, (I would have told you) – that’s why I’m an Evangelical!

Fine, how about Ulrich Zwingli?

I esteem immensely the Mother of God, the ever chaste, immaculate Virgin Mary.

And I believe that this humanity was conceived of the Virgin, made pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and was brought forth by preserving her perpetual virginity, that He, who from eternity was born Lord and God from a Father without mother, might be born into the world as deliverer and healer of souls from a virgin mother….

I firmly believe that [Mary], according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin.

And Heinrich Bullinger?

The Virgin Mary . . . completely sanctified by the grace and blood of her only Son and abundantly endowed by the gift of the Holy Spirit and preferred to all . . . now lives happily with Christ in heaven and is called and remains ever-Virgin and Mother of God.

Look, those men grew up steeped in Catholic teaching. They needed time to get their theology straight! Had they lived 200 years later, for example, they never would have fallen for such malarkey!

Like John Wesley?

I believe that He was made man, joining the human nature with the divine in one Person; being conceived by the singular operation of the Holy Ghost, and born of the blessed Virgin Mary, who, as well after as before she brought Him forth, continued a pure and unspotted virgin.

And you’ve got to admit, it’s hard to claim that Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Bullinger and Wesley didn’t read their Bibles, yet I thought ignorance of the Scriptures caused Catholics to embrace the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity.

You see, my Catholic friend, if you had asked me to look into it, I would have realized that Luther insisted not only that Mary bore no children besides Jesus, but also that we, as Jesus’ “brothers and sisters,” are all children of Mary!

Mary is the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of all of us even though it was Christ alone who reposed on her knees . . . If He is ours, we ought to be in His situation; there where He is, we ought also to be and all that He has ought to be ours, and His mother is also our mother.

And I might have seen that that is quite consistent with the Catholic interpretation of John 19:26-27

When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

As well as the Catholic understanding of Revelation 12:17

So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.

Did Jesus have brothers and sisters?

Biologically speaking, no – He certainly did not. The perpetual virginity of Mary is a doctrine supported by Scripture and adhered to by noted Catholic and Protestant theologians alike. Spiritually, however, Mary has been most fruitful. As the Church Fathers put it, she is “the mother of all the living.” All believers are “children of Mary;” she is the mother of Catholic “you” and even of little old Protestant “me”….

So, really, only one question remains:

Seriously, why didn’t you Catholics ask me to explain this stuff to you sooner??


On the memorial of St. Anthony of Padua

Deo omnis gloria!