Friday, July 18, 2014

Demons, Playing Cards, and Telescopes

Atheistic materialism is the belief that matter is all there is: not only does God not exist, this theory argues, but there's no spiritual realm. From a Christian perspective, this position can seem baffling: how do these atheists account for all of the evidence of miracles, or conversely, demonic possession? One answer is that they just don't see this evidence. As it turns out, even very smart, well-meaning people can be so predisposed to the truth of a certain view (like materialism) that they're almost blind to contrary evidence. That's the phenomenon that I explore in a piece that I wrote for Strange Notions. Here's an excerpt:
Giotto, Exorcism of the Demons at Arezzo (1298)
In 1949, Jerome S. Bruner and Leo Postman asked a group of 28 students at Harvard and Radcliffe to perform a simple task: identify playing cards. There were just two catches. First, these cards were shown very quickly: for 10 milliseconds at first, but increasing up to 1000 milliseconds if they struggled to identify the card. Second, the researchers were using a deck of four ordinary playing cards and six “trick cards” in which the card's color and suit were incongruous (red spades, black hearts, and the like).

This second catch proved to be quite vexing. Bruner and Postman found that it took these students four times longer to identify a “trick card” than a normal card:
While normal cards on the average were recognized correctly -- here defined as a correct response followed by a second correct response -- at 28 milliseconds, the incongruous cards required 114 milliseconds. [...] The reader will note that even at the longest exposure used, 1000 ms., only 89.7 per cent of the incongruous cards had been correctly recognized, while 100 per cent of the normal cards had been recognized by 350 milliseconds.
The students' brains struggled to process something as out-of-the-ordinary as a red six of clubs. The first time that they saw a trick card, it took students an average of 360-420 milliseconds (more than twelve times longer than it took them to identify ordinary cards). Even after they had seen two or three trick cards, it still took a full 84 milliseconds for them to identify trick cards. [....]

This is what we might call an incongruous perception problem: when we encounter something that disagrees with our worldview, we have a strong tendency to ignore or disregard it, or try to finesse it into our worldview by compromising it in some way. [....]

With this in mind, consider the Indiana exorcism case that appeared in USA Today in January, after the story was picked up from the Indianapolis Star. The case is a remarkable one for several reasons. First, there's the sheer number of eyewitnesses: the Star interviewed “police, DCS [Department of Child Services] personnel, psychologists, family members and a Catholic priest.” There are nearly 800 pages of official records documenting the events. [....]

But what really stands out about this case are the things that the witnesses report having seen. They are remarkable, to say the least:
  • “Ammons and Campbell said the 12-year-old was levitating above the bed, unconscious.”

  • “Medical staff said the youngest boy was "lifted and thrown into the wall with nobody touching him," according to a DCS report."”

  • “According to Washington's original DCS report— an account corroborated by Walker, the nurse — the 9-year-old had a "weird grin" and walked backward up a wall to the ceiling. He then flipped over Campbell, landing on his feet. He never let go of his grandmother's hand. "He walked up the wall, flipped over her and stood there," Walker told The Star. "There's no way he could've done that."”

  • “[Gary Police Captain Charles] Austin said the driver's seat in his personal 2005 Infiniti also started moving backward and forward on its own.”
So what do we make of this case?

Christians are free to disbelieve that this case was demonic, of course. Believing that demons exist doesn't mean that everything blamed on demons is really demonic, as opposed to delusions, lies, mental illness, etc. There's no prior commitment to this being demonic or non-demonic: Christians are free to simply evaluate the evidence as it is presented.

But for atheists who deny the existence of the spiritual realm, stories like this one are a bit of a red six of clubs. There's no way to easily harmonize the facts presented with the belief that that matter is all that there is.
Read the full piece, and several reactions, over at Strange Notions.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

On Planting Seeds, and Sowing Them

Yesterday morning (about 8:30 a.m. local time, but 1:30 a.m. back in Kansas City), I arrived here in Rome. This is the beginning of a new chapter in my life; as you may recall, my bishop asked me and my classmate Carter to study at the North American College in Rome. This means that we will spend the next four years or so living and studying here in the Eternal City.

I was greeted at the NAC with a surprise: we are getting a new director of admissions, Fr. Daniel F. Hanley. As soon as he announced where he was from, I realized who he was, and that I needed to talk to him. See, Fr. Hanley and I had never met prior to yesterday, but without him, I might not be a seminarian today.

Here's why.

I. On Planting Seeds

In the 1990s, after Hanley graduated as a history major, he began to work as a high school teacher and then a staffer for a U.S. Senator. Shortly thereafter, he entered law school. During this time, he had begun to to feel called to become a seminarian, but was hesitant at first, because it "conflicted with my idea of the plan God had for me with what I wanted to do. I was happy with my career and its prospects, and I had a strong desire for a wife and family."

Finally, in 1999, on the verge of his 28th birthday, he entered seminary for the Diocese of Arlington. After two years of pre-theology, he came here to the North American College for four years for his theology.

In 2005, he was ordained. Fr. Hanley's first parish assignment was St. Mary's in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. There, the newly-ordained priest began a men's prayer group. At the time, I was still a lukewarm Catholic in Topeka, Kansas, but this small act would change my life forever.

Like Fr. Hanley, I was also a history major. After graduating in 2007, I also went to law school, which brought me out to Washington, D.C. It wasn't long before I was attending Mass at St. Mary's in Old Town Alexandria. By this time, Fr. Hanley had moved on to another parish, but the men's group was still going strong under the guidance of Fr. John De Celles (who I've written about before).

I didn't hear about the men's group right away. In fact, the first time I heard about it was during a Holy Hour. I was praying before the Blessed Sacrament when a guy I'd never met before approached me. He has a sort of surfer / Matthew McConaughey vibe to him, and he begins to speak to me by saying something along the lines of, “hey man, we have a men's prayer group tomorrow, do you want to come?” I was a little taken aback since I had no idea who he was, but I agreed.

It was life-changing: under Fr. De Celles' guidance, we formed a close-knit group of upwards of two dozen men who took their Catholicism very seriously. Eventually, Fr. De Celles was also moved to another parish, and a third great priest, Fr. Mick Kelly, replaced him.

One day, in men's group, I mentioned off-handedly that a number of people had asked why I wasn't discerning the priesthood. I had found this funny and a bit confusing, but it wasn't anything I was taking very seriously. Fr. Kelly knew better. He told me the story of St. Ambrose, whose vocational call was also external: St. Ambrose (also a lawyer, incidentally) was a politician in Milan when a feud broke out between the Catholics and the Arians about who should replace the deceased bishop Auxentius. Ambrose delivered a speech which calmed everyone down, and both sides quickly acclaimed him as Auxentius' replacement. At the time, this wasn't anything Ambrose could have foreseen: he was still a catechumen, not even baptized yet. The point of Fr. Kelly's story was that sometimes, for whatever reason (e.g., we're not listening), the Holy Spirit won't just speak within us, but will speak through others.

His advice was that I get a spiritual director and start taking discernment seriously. I did, and it ended me up here. My point is simple, and two-fold: (1) my “yes” to the will of God was built upon the “yeses” of countless other people before me, some of whom I've never even met, some of which have been dead for centuries; and (2) we can't always see the good fruit that the good seeds we plant will produce. It was only by Providence that Fr. Hanley got to learn that the men's group that he had started had helped guide several men into their vocations (in addition to me, another of our group is a Dominican novice, a third is preparing to head to Clear Creek Monastery in Oklahoma, and a few more are considering or have seriously considered the priesthood or religious life because of this group).

II. On Sowing Seeds

There's another aspect to this, as well: saying “yes” to God might take us out of our comfort zones. What had been a tight-knit group living near one another in northern Virginia is now spread all over the country (and if you include me, even across the world).

In the parable of the Sower and the seed, the Sower scatters the seed in order for it to produce better fruit. It's not a matter of sending it into chaos, as in the Tower of Babel, but a sending forth into the world, as at Pentecost. That's what happened to the Apostles. Most of them didn't get to stay in Jerusalem: they ended up everywhere from Spain (St. James) and India (St. Thomas).

But where were these seeds all together? In the hand of the Sower. And where shall the seeds be brought together again? When they die, are ground down, and become bread. So, to those that I leave behind (in D.C., in Kansas City, in Saint Louis, in Topeka, etc.), I'm heartened by the fact that we are all brought together in the hand of God. As we pursue the death-to-self that is the Christian life, let us remember that we are all one in the One Bread of Life. Let us see one another in the Eucharist and in glory, if not before.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Bearing the Yoke of the Cross

Two oxen sharing a yoke
In Sunday's Gospel, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30).

At first brush, His promise seems hollow: the Christian life can be hard, and the burdens seem heavy. After all, Jesus also says, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24). The Cross doesn’t sound like an easy yoke or a light burden. And certainly, for those striving to live a life of holiness, it doesn’t feel like a light burden, either. Oftentimes, we find ourselves tempted to sin simply because it’s easier than doing what we know is right.

So how can Christ claim that His yoke is easy and His burden light?

First, because it is light, compared to sin. King David described himself as drowning in his sin, crushed by its weights: “For my iniquities have gone over my head; they weigh like a burden too heavy for me” (Psalm 38:4). There’s the weight of lies, from covering up the things we knew we shouldn’t have done. The weight of guilt, of regretting what we’ve done, or regretting the harm that our sins have caused those we love. And these weights seem to constantly grow: one sin leads to another and another until we find ourselves drowning. Almost anyone who has lived a sinful life knows this feeling, and certainly, David was no stranger to the deception and guilt brought about by sin. Christ offers us a way out, a way of redemption, of leaving those burdens aside.

But there’s another reason that Christ’s yoke is easy. A yoke, as you may know, is a wooden crosspiece fastened on the neck of two oxen (or other animals) so that they can plow. The ox isn’t alone under the weight of the crosspiece: there’s another ox there to help him. Who helps us carry our Cross, to Whom are we tethered under the yoke of the Cross? Jesus Himself.

This is the beautiful irony of the Passion of Christ. As Jesus is carrying the Cross towards Calvary, Simon of Cyrene is pulled out the crowd to help Him carry it (Matthew 27:32). But in a deeper way, we shouldn’t think of this simply as Simon helping Christ carry the Cross. After all, it’s Simon (and each of us) who is due the Cross, not Jesus. Rather, He is helping us carry the Cross.

And that’s why it’s not heavy: because under the most extreme Crosses of our life, during the most agonizing trials, we’re still never alone. Christ walks that road with us. Therefore, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Monday, June 30, 2014

4 Things You Probably Have Wrong About the Hobby Lobby Decision

Today, the Supreme Court issued its decision in the Hobby Lobby case (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.), siding with Hobby Lobby. It was a 5-4 decision, with Justice Alito writing the opinion (Justice Kennedy, who joined the majority, also wrote a concurring opinion). The Court's decision, holding that the HHS Mandate violates Hobby Lobby's religious freedom, has already been seriously misunderstood. So let's set the record straight on four major issues:

1. Is This Case About Scalia and Other Court Conservatives Imposing Their Religion?

Justice Antonin Scalia
No: something nearer the opposite, really. This whole case involves a law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a law that exists because of a controversial 1990 Supreme Court case called Employment Division v. Smith.

Here's what happened: Alfred Smith and Galen Black worked at a rehab clinic, but were fired for using peyote, and denied unemployment benefits. They sued, claiming that they were using peyote for religious reasons, because they were members of the Native American Church. In a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Scalia, the Court held that a facially-neutral law could be applied across the board, even if it had the effect of hindering religious rituals.

The case was explosive. In his dissent from Smith, Justice Blackmun noted that the “respondents' use of peyote seems closely analogous to the sacramental use of wine by the Roman Catholic Church.” Thus, the Smith decision seemed like it might allow the government to pass facially-neutral laws (like prohibiting peyote or wine) that effectively outlawed a particular religion.

Unsurprisingly, both conservatives and liberals were startled by Smith. Rep. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and 170 co-sponsors (122 Democrats, 47 Republicans, and an Independent)  introduced RFRA. It quickly passed 435-0 in the House and 97-3 in the Senate. As the Court noted in its decision today, RFRA “prohibits the Federal Government from taking any action that substantially burdens the exercise of religion unless that action constitutes the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.

That's the whole point of the law: to make it harder for a federal law to trample the exercise of religion, without a compelling government interest. In other words, Congress was concerned that Scalia and the other conservatives on the Supreme Court didn't take a broad enough view of religious freedom. Which is probably the opposite of what you've heard.

2. Isn't this Case just About Contraception?

No. While there are plenty of parties suing who are against contraception, Hobby Lobby isn't amongst them. Their objection was just to paying for abortions.

Four of the twenty drugs involved in this case are believed, not just to prevent conception (which would make them contraceptive, as the name implies), but to prevent the implantation of an embryo into the uterine wall. Interfering with the natural development of an embryo in order to bring about its death is an abortion.

At the heart of this, there's a semantic debate over when pregnancy begins, because two definitions are used. Some obstetricians use an early definition: pregnancy begins once the sperm fertilizes the egg, resulted in an embryo (an organism genetically distinct from both its parents). Other obstetricians use a late definition: that pregnancy doesn't begin until the fertilized egg implants into the uterine wall.

Of these, the early definition is better. Imagine that, one day, scientists are able to fuse sperm and egg in a laboratory setting, and bring the child full term in an artificial womb (or some other laboratory conditions). According to the late definition, we would have to conclude that this person was never conceived. That's an absurd result, easily avoided by holding to the early definition.

But regardless of the semantic debate, the fact remains: even amongst those people who are fine with contraception, many still disagree with killing a fertilized embryo (or being forced to pay for others to do so). The owners of Hobby Lobby are just such people. As the Court noted in today's opinion:
The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients. If the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions, and if they do not comply, they will pay a very heavy price—as much as $1.3 million per day, or about $475 million per year, in the case of one of the companies. If these consequences do not amount to a substantial burden, it is hard to see what would.
3. Did the Supreme Court Just Declare That Corporations are People?

A typical political cartoon illustrating ignorance of 1 U.S.C. §1,
or the way corporate law works.
Rick Ungar at Forbes responded to the Hobby Lobby decision by writing an article entitled “Founding Fathers Spinning In Their Graves As SCOTUS Rules That Corporations Are People Too.” This is a surprisingly frequent allegation, given how hilariously wrong it is.

Do you know who decided that corporations are people, too? Congress. To see that, you don't need to read any further than 1 U.S.C. §1, the very first law on the books. It reads: “In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, unless the context indicates otherwise [...] the words “person” and “whoever” include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals.

And guess what? That's the whole point of a corporation. They enter into contracts, as if they're people. They're allowed to own property, as if they're people. They have to pay income tax, as if they're people. If you got rid of these rights and duties, you would be eliminating the entire purpose of corporations existing, which is why no one who understands corporate law seriously proposes changing this part of 1 U.S.C. §1.

But having said that, corporations aren't really people, and there are some rights that they don't enjoy (for example, the right to vote). So the task of the Supreme Court was to figure out whether the religious freedom protections of RFRA is one of those rights. In today's decision, they determined that it was, at least for a closely-held corporation (that is, a corporation in which 5 or fewer people control a majority of the shares).

4. Did Either Side Deny that Corporations are People Under RFRA?

No, which is why the panicky reactions of Ungar, et al, are so surreal. The HHS admitted that a nonprofit corporation can be a “person” under RFRA. But the HHS' position was that a nonprofit corporation could exercise religion, but that a for-profit corporation couldn't. So if you're a Christian non-profit, you can exercise religion, but if you're a for-profit Christian bookstore, you can't.

As the Supreme Court noted, such a distinction makes no sense. That position also would make it very hard for activist corporations to exist: the HHS' position amounts to saying that for-profit corporations can only exist for the sake of profit. The Court noted that:
This argument flies in the face of modern corporate law. [...] While it is certainly true that a central objective of for profit corporations is to make money, modern corporate law does not require for-profit corporations to pursue profit at the expense of everything else, and many do not do so. For-profit corporations, with ownership approval, support a wide variety of charitable causes, and it is not at all uncommon for such corporations to further humanitarian and other altruistic objectives. Many examples come readily to mind. So long as its owners agree, a for-profit corporation may take costly pollution-control and energy conservation measures that go beyond what the law requires. A for-profit corporation that operates facilities in other countries may exceed the requirements of local law regarding working conditions and benefits. If for-profit corporations may pursue such worthy objectives, there is no apparent reason why they may not further religious objectives as well. [...] 
Not all corporations that decline to organize as nonprofits do so in order to maximize profit. For example, organizations with religious and charitable aims might organize as for-profit corporations because of the potential advantages of that corporate form, such as the freedom to participate in lobbying for legislation or campaigning for political candidates who promote their religious or charitable goals.
As an example of such a for-profit corporation, the Court pointed to Google.org, which ““advance[s] its charitable goals” while operating as a for-profit corporation to be able to“invest in for-profit endeavors, lobby for policies that support its philanthropic goals, and tap Google’s innovative technology and workforce.”” So it's not just religious organizations that the HHS' position would have undermined, but all manner of socially-conscious companies. The government was prepared to undermine all for-profit corporations' ability to be socially conscious, just because they happened to dislike the particular kind of social activism that Hobby Lobby engaged in.

So regardless of your views on contraception or abortion, if you're a person who wants for-profit corporations to be able to act ethically - to be able to concern themselves with something more than fattening their shareholders' wallets - today's decision is a very good thing.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Universal Call to Holiness: The Antidote to Clericalism



You don't have to be a priest, nun or monk to be a Saint. We need Saints who are homemakers, construction workers, and even lawyers.

Today is the feast day of St. Josemaria, Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei, and one of my favorite Saints. He helped sound a vitally important wakeup call within the Church, reminding us that holiness isn't the province of a few, but the call of all people. Here's a post that I wrote for Word on Fire today, explaining why I think St. Josemaria's spirituality is so important to the Church in the modern world:
Today is the feast day of St. Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei. St. Josemaria is a Saint very near to my own heart, for several reasons. The earliest posts on my own blog arose from retreat notes that I took on an Opus Dei silent retreat. When I was first discerning that God might be calling me to the priesthood, my spiritual director was an Opus Dei priest, Fr. Arne Panula, who had himself become a priest at the personal urging of then-Msgr. Josemaria Escrivá. Now that I am a seminarian, I find myself indebted to Opus Dei yet again: this fall, I will begin my theological studies at the Opus Dei-run Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, better known as Santa Croce.

One of the most beautiful things about the spirituality of St. Josemaria is his emphasis on “the universal call to holiness,” the vocation of every one of us - priests, religious, and laity alike - to become Saints. This radical wake-up call to the Church, clearly reflected in Chapter V of Lumen Gentium, bodes one of the most critical doctrinal developments of the modern Church. It also serves as a powerful correction to the danger of clericalism.
Read more.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Living by the Bread from Heaven: The Eucharist and Trust in God

Peter Paul Rubens, The Israelites Gathering Manna in the Desert (1627)
In today's First Reading, Moses reminds the Israelites of how God fed them “with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order to show you that not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3). The manna was a visible sign of God's Providence, and the need to rely upon Him every day.

The manna first appeared while the Israelites were starving in the desert. In their hunger, they began to doubt God's plan for them, and they turned against Moses and Aaron, accusing them of bringing “us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Exodus 16:3).

God responds to this challenge with great mercy, saying to Moses: “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law or not” (Ex. 16:4). The manna was a constant reminder that without God, the Israelites were helpless, but with Him, they were provided for. In meeting their physical needs, God was giving them an opportunity to see that He was in control, and that He alone could meet all of their needs, bodily or spiritual.

Jesus teaches us this in an even more profound way in today's Gospel, in which He declares that He is “the living bread that came down from heaven.” This is a clear Eucharistic reference: Jesus says that “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” and that “whoever eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:51). This means that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (John 6:53-54). Lest we think that this is only metaphorical, He clarifies that “my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6:55).

This shows that the Eucharist is greater than the manna of old, since “unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:58). The manna satisfied the Israelites' immediate hunger, but it was just a temporary fix. By trusting in Christ, we're offered something infinitely more: an eternal remedy from death.

As St. Augustine said, “the eyes of the blind, that were opened by those acts of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, were again closed in death; and limbs of the paralytics that received strength were loosened again in death; and whatever was for a time made whole in mortal limbs came to nought in the end: but the soul that believed passed to eternal life.

Let us center our lives around Jesus, and in a particular way, around the Blessed Sacrament, confident in the hope that if we are faithful to Him, He shall be faithful to us, fulfilling His promise of eternal life for all those who believe and who receive His Body and Blood faithfully.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Why Should We Trust the Bible?

How do we know the we can trust the Bible? For that matter, how do we know which Books make up “the Bible” in the first place? And how do we know whose interpretation of Scripture is correct?

Here's the talk that I gave on the subject last Wednesday. Here's the talk (broken up into four parts), followed by the materials that I handed out:

Part I:


Part II:


Part III:


Part IV:


I. The Importance of the Bible 

"Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ." (St. Jerome, quoted by Dei Verbum 25, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 133)) 
"Sacred theology rests on the written word of God, together with sacred tradition, as its primary and perpetual foundation. By scrutinizing in the light of faith all truth stored up in the mystery of Christ, theology is most powerfully strengthened and constantly rejuvenated by that word. For the Sacred Scriptures contain the word of God and since they are inspired, really are the word of God; and so the study of the sacred page is, as it were, the soul of sacred theology." (Dei Verbum 24) 

II. Objections to the Bible 
  1. How do we know it's true?  
  1. How do we know it's Divinely inspired? How can it be trusted, if it's the work of men? 
  1. How do we know which Books belong in the Bible? 
  1. How do we know how to interpret the Bible? 

III. Does God Wish to Reveal Himself? 
Even the Bible testifies that God reveals Himself outside of, and prior to, Scripture. 

  1. God Reveals Himself Through Creation: 

"The heavens are telling the glory of God" (Psalm 19:1a);  

"When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established; what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him?" (Psalm 8:3-4) 

  1. God Reveals Himself Through Conscience: 

"When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus." (Romans 2:14-16) 

  1. God Reveals Himself Most Fully Through Jesus Christ: 

"In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world." (Hebrews 1:1-2) 

"In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will (see Eph. 1:9) by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature (see Eph. 2:18; 2 Peter 1:4)." (Dei Verbum 2)  
IVDoes God's Revelation Include Sacred Scripture?  
  1. The Jews, the original People of God, taught that it did. 

There were prophets claiming to receive revelation from God, and claiming that their writings were the inspired word of God. These teachings would often be introduced with phrases like "Thus says the Lord," signaling that this was not simply the wisdom of man, but the word of God. 
Everyone agreed about the inspiration of the Torah ("the Law"), the first five Books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).  

  1. Jesus Christ confirmed this teaching in several ways. 

By quoting Scripture repeatedly. 
- By chastising the Sadducees for not knowing the Scriptures: "You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God." (Matthew 22:29) 
- By declaring that He came to fulfill the Law: "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them." (Matthew 5:17). 
By fulfilling the Old Testament Scriptures. "If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?" (John 5:46-47). "And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself." (Luke 24:27). 

  1. The New Testament affirms the inspired status of the Old Testament and shows that there will be new Scriptures with the Christian revelation. 

"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ JesusAll scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:14-17) 

"And count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures." (2 Peter 3:15-16) 

V. How do we Know Which Books Belong in the Bible? 
  1. Certain Old Testament Books were Universally Accepted by the Jews; Others were disputed. 

The Sadducees believed that only the Torah was inspired.  
The Pharisees held to a longer canon of Scripture, generally corresponding to the modern Jewish Bible, and the Protestant Old Testament. 
The Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews) had an even longer canon of Scripture, corresponding to the Catholic Old Testament. 
The Books in dispute between the Pharisees and Hellenists are what we Catholics call the "Deuterocanon," and what Protestants call the "Apocrypha." 

  1. Certain New Testament Books were Universally Accepted by the Early Christians; Others were disputed. 

The ones in dispute were called the Antilegomena (meaning "Spoken Against"): 
"Among the disputed writings, which are nevertheless recognized by many, are extant the so-called epistle of James and that of Jude, also the second epistle of Peter, and those that are called the second and third of John, whether they belong to the evangelist or to another person of the same name." (Eusebius, Church History, Book III, Ch. 25). 

  1. The Apostolic Fathers Quote both the Old and New Testament as Scripture. 

"
My child, be not a murmurer, since it leads the way to blasphemy; neither self-willed nor evil-minded, for out of all these blasphemies are engendered. But be meek, since 'the meek shall inherit the earth.'" (Didache 3, 1st century, quoting the Beatitudes [cf. Matthew 5:5]). 

"
Let us therefore be lowly minded, brethren, laying aside all arrogance and conceit and folly and anger, and let us do that which is written. For the Holy Ghost saith, 'Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, nor the strong in his strength, neither the rich in his riches; but he that boasteth let him boast in the Lord, that he may seek Him out, and do judgment and righteousness,' most of all remembering the words of the Lord Jesus which He spake, teaching forbearance and long-suffering, for thus He spake: 'Have mercy, that ye may receive mercy: forgive, that it may be forgiven to you. As ye do, so shall it be done to you. As ye give, so shall it be given unto you. As ye judge, so shall ye be judged. As ye show kindness, so shall kindness be showed unto you. With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured withal to you.'" (Pope St. Clement, 1 Clement 13, c. 96 A.D., quoting Jeremiah 9:23 and several New Testament passages) 

"It is therefore befitting that you should in every way glorify Jesus Christ, who has glorified you, that by a unanimous obedience '
you may be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment, and may all speak the same thing concerning the same thing,' and that, being subject to the bishop and the presbytery, you may in all respects be sanctified." (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Ephesians 2, c. 107 A.D., quoting 1 Corinthians 1:10). 

Additionally, a fragment of the Gospel of John [
Rylands Library Papyrus P52] has been found in Egypt, dating to c. 125 A.D. 
  1. The Church Fathers Attest to the Apostolic Authorship of the Gospels. 

"
Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia." (St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, Book III, Ch. 1, c. 180 A.D.)  

See also
: Tertullian, Against MarcionBook IV, Ch. 2; Eusebius, Church History, Book III, Ch. 24.  
  1. The Church Fathers Were Skeptical, Not Gullible, About What They Considered Scripture. 

"[Origen] 
makes the following statements in regard to the Epistle to the Hebrews in his Homilies upon it: “That the verbal style of the epistle entitled ‘To the Hebrews,’ is not rude like the language of the apostle, who acknowledged himself ‘rude in speech’ [2 Cor. 11:6] that is, in expression; but that its diction is purer Greek, any one who has the power to discern differences of phraseology will acknowledge. Moreover, that the thoughts of the epistle are admirable, and not inferior to the acknowledged apostolic writings, any one who carefully examines the apostolic text will admit.’ Farther on he adds: “If I gave my opinion, I should say that the thoughts are those of the apostle, but the diction and phraseology are those of some one who remembered the apostolic teachings, and wrote down at his leisure what had been said by his teacher. Therefore if any church holds that this epistle is by Paul, let it be commended for this. For not without reason have the ancients handed it down as Paul’sBut who wrote the epistle, in truth, God knows. The statement of some who have gone before us is that Clement, bishop of the Romans, wrote the epistle, and of others that Luke, the author of the Gospel and the Acts, wrote it.”" [Eusebius, Church History, Book VI, Ch. 25, 4th century, quoting Origen (184-253)]
  1. The Church Settled the Canon Once and For All. 

Third Council of Carthage (397 A.D.):
 

"It was also determined that besides the Canonical Scriptures nothing be read in the Church under the title of divine Scriptures. The Canonical Scriptures are these: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua the son of Nun, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings [First and Second Samuel and First and Second Kings], two books of Paraleipomena [Chronicles], Job, the Psalter, five books of Solomon [Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus (Sirach)], the books of the twelve prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah,Ezechiel, Daniel, TobitJudith, Esther, two books of Esdras [Ezra and Nehemiah], two books of the Maccabees. Of the New Testament: four books of the Gospels, one book of the Acts of the Apostles, thirteen Epistles of the Apostle Paul, one epistle of the same [writer] to the Hebrews, two Epistles of the Apostle Peter, three of John, one of James, one of Jude, one book of the Apocalypse of John." 
*The Greek version of the Book of Jeremiah includes the Book of Baruch; modern Bibles separate these into two Books. 

Vulgate: 
"This version of the Bible was familiar to and read by Christians for over a thousand years (c. AD 400–1530). The Vulgate exerted a powerful influence, especially in art and music as it served as inspiration for countless paintings and hymns. Early attempts to translate the Bible into contemporary languages were invariably made from the Vulgate, as it was esteemed as an infallible, divinely inspired text. Even when Protestants sought to replace the Vulgate for good with translations in the language of the people from the original languages, they could not avoid the enormous influence of Jerome's translation, with its dignified style and flowing prose." (Mark Hoffman, Latin Manuscripts Overview (Presentation), Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg). 
Lectionary Use: the use of the Deuterocanonical Books in the Mass and other Liturgies eliminated any ambiguity about their canonicity. 

  1. The Church is Indispensable to the Bible. 

Without the Church, you can't don't have the Bible.
 
  • The New Testament was written by Apostles of the Church; 
  • The New Testament was written to the Church; 
  • The Church clarified which Bible is the true Bible. 
  • The Church also clarifies how to interpret the Bible. 

VI. Why Favor the Catholic Bible Over the Protestant Bible? 

Trust in the Holy Spirit. Consider the logic of revelation:  if the Holy Spirit took the trouble to inspire Sacred Scripture, how can we claim that He let the entire Church fall into error about which Books were inspired? This would defeat the point of Divine inspiration. (In contrast, R.C. Sproul, James White, and various other Protestant commentators have suggested that “The Bible is a fallible collection of infallible books.”) 

This is the testimony of the Third Council of Carthage, of St. Augustine, of the Vulgate, of the Lectionary, of St. Thomas Aquinas, of the Ecumenical Council of Florence, etc. 

Removing the Church from the equation results in a crumpling Bible: you're left with no authority on which to know which Books do and do not belong. Luther rejected the canonicity of the Deuterocanon (modern Protestants agree with him), but also rejected the canonicity of James, Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation (modern Protestants disagree with him). 

When the dispute is on whether something is or isn't the Bible, you can't settle the dispute using "the Bible alone" (since that's what being disputed). You need the Church. 

There was no Protestant Bible in the early Church. Not every Church Father used the exact Catholic canon of Scripture, but none of them used the exact Protestant canon. Holding the Protestant position requires thinking that every Christian got it wrong prior to the Reformation. 

The First Council of Ephesus (accepted by Catholics and most Protestants) referred to the Book of Sirach as "divinely inspired Scripture." 

The New Testament (Hebrews 8:9-10) quotes from the Greek version of Jeremiah, which included the Book of Baruch. 

When Jesus says that "the Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35), He is in the Temple, celebrating Hanukkah (John 10:22-23). The Jewish feast of Hanukkah is prescribed only in 1 and 2 Maccabees (1 Maccabees 4:36-59; 2 Maccabees 1:18). 
Hebrews 11:35-37 alludes to 2 Maccabees 7. 

Every one of the Deuterocanonical Books is quoted by the early Christians as inspired Scripture. 

The arguments against the Deuterocanon are faulty, usually based on the fact that the Jews don't have these Books in their canonThere are two problems with this view.  

  1. The Jewish Talmud quotes Sirach 13:5, describing it as part of the Hagiographa (the third of the three Jewish divisions of Scripture) (Folio 92b of Tractate Baba Kamma). Additionally, Hebrew canons containing the Book of Wisdom have been discovered.
  1. The reasons for eliminating these Books from the Jewish canon involved two factors: a belief that all Scripture must be in Hebrew, and a belief that the Holy Spirit "departed from Israel" around 450 B.C. Christians can't accept either of these arguments. “All the prophets and the law prophesied until John” (Matthew 11:23), and we see people led by the Holy Spirit all through this period (e.g., Ana and Simeon in Luke 2). 


VII. How Should We Interpret Scripture? 

  1. According to the Mind of the Church 
"So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter." (2 Thessalonians 2:15) 

"I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth." (1 Timothy 3:14-15) 

"So Philip ran to him, and heard him [the Ethiopian eunuch] reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him."" (Acts 8:30-31) 

"Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church.  [….] But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, (8) has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, (9) whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed. 

It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God's most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls." (Dei Verbum 10) 

  1. According to the Four Senses of Scripture (CCC 116-117)
  • The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: "All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal."
  • Example: "You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself." (Exodus 19:4).  
  • The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God's plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs. 
  • The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ's victory and also of Christian Baptism. [Cf. 1 Cor 10:2] 
  • The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written "for our instruction". [Cor 10:11; cf. Heb 3:1-4:11] 
  • The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, "leading"). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem. [Cf. Rev 21:1-22:5] 

VIII. Conclusion 

We can conclude 
  1. that God has chosen to reveal Himself,  
  1. that part of this revelation includes Sacred Scripture (meaning that Scripture is theinspired and inerrant word of God, not just the work of men), 
  1. that the Books of the Catholic Bible are the Sacred Scriptures revealed by God, and 
  1. that these Books mean what the Catholic Church says that they mean. 


Tonight, at Mother Teresa Catholic Church in Topeka, Kansas, I'll be talking about the Eucharist from 7:00pm - 8:00 pm. Hope to see you there!