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Sunday Night Journal, April 23, 2017

For some months now I've noticed that I take great satisfaction in reciting the creed. Or, I should say, one of the creeds: at Mass of course it's the Nicene, but in my personal prayers it's the Apostles'. It's a reaction to the times. The spirit of the age is attacking the faith from many directions now, and the notion prevails in many minds that such things as specific religious beliefs are "antiquated" and obviously not just false but ridiculous, and not just ridiculous but dangerous. This has begun to bring out in me a spirit of defiance which is energized by the increasingly stupid and wicked things the spirit of the age demands that we believe. And the more it insists, and the more power it gets, the more I will, with the help of God, resist, and keep the promises I made when I became a Catholic thirty-six years ago. When I say the creed(s) now it is with a little of the feeling that I imagine a soldier might have when he digs in to defend to the death a piece of ground and says to the enemy Do your worst and be damned--I'll never back down

I was in Washington DC over the Easter weekend and attended the Easter Vigil at St. Peter parish there. It was an impressive liturgy, with lots of good music including the assistance of a small orchestra. There was of course a group of people being baptized and/or confirmed, and so the creed was said in the question-and-answer cathechetical mode. It's a fairly large church and it was nearly full.

"Do you believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible?" says the priest.

"I do!" roars back the entire congregation.

It was wonderful to hear, and to be a part of.

 *

I first learned the Apostles' Creed in my early teens as a Methodist. As a Catholic I've never felt that I had to repudiate the most important things I was taught as a Protestant: the things that have to do with the nature of the Church and of sacraments, yes, but apart from a different understanding of "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church," nothing in the creed. I'm happy that in recent decades many theologically "conservative" (you know what I mean) Protestants have given up their fierce anti-Catholicism, and vice-versa. This has been done in part by focusing on what we share rather than on what divides us. The brighter people on both sides realize that this only goes so far, and that differences remain which are not likely to go away anytime soon. Still, we are willing to count the others as fellow Christians.

I've gotten so used to this that it surprises me when I encounter Protestants who deny that Catholics and Orthodox (if they are even aware of the existence of the latter) are Christian at all. Apparently there are still more of these types than I think. Some of them run a web site called Pulpit and Pen. And when a prominent Protestant named Hank Hanegraaff, who apparently had a radio program called The Bible Answer Man (I assume he was that man), converted to Orthodoxy, he was denounced by Pulpit and Pen, and I'm sure others, as being no longer a Christian. 

Well, so it goes, right? Like I said, it is a bit of shock to me when I encounter this attitude, but I know it's out there. I would not be remarking on this incident except that a guy from Pulpit and Pen named Jeff Maples took it upon himself to attend the Easter Vigil (not the right term, I know) at Hanegraaff's new church, and produced a weird little screed denouncing it. 

Should we laugh at him? I'm reluctant to do that, being all ecumenical and stuff. But I think yes, we should. Pride and willful ignorance deserve mockery, and those are the two most striking qualities of the w.l.s. His denunciation is both ridiculous and malicious. Here is point 9 of his 9-point critique:

The Greek and Eastern Orthodox church is clearly a lifeless church. There was absolutely no gospel in this service. A lost person could not walk into this church and walk out a changed man. It was literally a Pagan practice. Like a seance. Pure witchcraft was going on in this place. In this religion, salvation doesn’t come through Christ’s imputed righteousness and substitutionary atonement on the cross, it comes through these dead rituals that they believe ontologically changes them into divine beings. It was truly one of the most wicked experiences I’ve ever seen.

He is of course comparing Orthodoxy to his concept of bible-only Christianity, and I'm struck more now than I once was by the pridefulness of that view as it is manifested in people like this, as dogmatically as this. When someone claims the Bible as his only authority and then uses theological terminology like "imputed righteousness and substitionary atonement," he clearly is bringing a whole lot of extra-biblical thinking to his supposedly pure straightforward reading of the text.

There are many Protestants, including some Evangelicals, who understand that the 1500-year legacy of thought and worship on the part of the Church before Protestantism has a great deal to say and must be given serious attention even by those who think it went wrong in ways that Protestantism corrected. But the folks at Pulpit and Pen don't need any of that. In their view the Bible requires no interpretive authority, and they are it. 

They seem in fact to regard themselves as the hammer of heretics in the old style, as their web site is full of denunciations of other Christians, at least as many of them Protestant as Catholic or Orthodox. Mother Teresa, they inform us, is damned. And a few days after the appearance of this piece, they published an "apology" to the Eastern Orthodox community in which they said they were sorry they hadn't denounced "the grave and damnable heresies" of Orthodoxy sooner and more vigorously, along with any Protestants who have anything good to say about them. I wonder where such people think they get the authority to declare anyone a heretic, or--and this is really pretty funny--a schismatic.

Apart from the religious questions, Maples comes across as a clod. He enters an Orthodox church for the holiest celebration of the year with the intention of "confront[ing] Hanegraaff in person." (Fortunately he bailed out after two and a half hours, which made me chuckle--the Easter Vigil I attended lasted a full three.) In a liturgy and a physical building that were probably at least moderately pleasing aesthetically, he sees nothing good. The incense and bells are a "noxious combination." The chant is "eerie." The icons (which he amusingly calls graven images) "looked like lifeless figures just floating around in space."

Somewhere along the line a Catholic theologian came up with the nice phrase "invincible ignorance" to describe, and to some degree excuse, those who are by reason of ignorance, prejudice, and so forth truly unable to see the Catholic faith for what it is. I think it's roughly the equivalent of "Bless their hearts, they don't know any better." I don't think that's applicable here. This is willful ignorance, and, worse, a hard ugly pride. 

The usual thing, and it's basically a good thing, is to close a criticism like this with "I'll pray for them." That often sounds insincere to me, as if said through gritted teeth. I guess we've all heard Christians say "I'll pray for you" in a tone that suggests that what they really mean is closer to "I hope you burn in hell." I suppose that's better than not praying at all. But in any case I don't feel up to it. Shaking the dust from my feet is more like it. But I can muster this bit of charity: I do hope that they'll change their minds. Jeff Maples mentions that he was married in a Catholic church (and the fact that he doesn't say it was "witchcraft" etc. may not be to the credit of that particular church) . I don't know if that means he's an ex-Catholic, or went through the motions because he wanted to marry a Catholic (which would be pretty strange for anyone who thinks the pope is the Antichrist etc. etc.),  or what, but maybe he has a Catholic wife praying for him. 

*

The funny thing about sola scriptura is that it isn't found in scripture. I think there are some reasonable arguments to be made for it: if you don't accept the idea of a visible Church possessing apostolic authority, it's not unreasonable to argue that only the written word is secure from the vagaries of human sin and weakness. But you can't prove it from scripture itself. Pulpit and Pen has a Statement of Faith which offers some proof texts intended to support it, but it's a pretty lame effort. I'm always a little amused by the attempt to make 2 Timothy 3: 16-17 do that work: 

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

True, of course. But getting from that to "The Scriptures are the only guide and rule of faith and conduct for the believer" (their words) is a pretty big leap of...interpretation. And made on what authority? 

*

On a more pleasant subject: today is Divine Mercy Sunday. A few months ago I made a complaint about the Divine Mercy prayers:

The thing is...I don't want to submit myself with great confidence to God's holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself. I want him to fix the problem I'm asking him to fix. 

At the time I had begun to pray that litany daily, with emphasis on a specific family problem. I'd been doing it for some little time then (not sure how much) and am still doing it, and expect to continue indefinitely. The problem has not only not been fixed but is worse and by any human measure seems to be permanent. But I have actually become much more able to submit myself with at least some confidence to what God is permitting, and which must therefore be in some sense his will. 

  Lines

Sometimes the line between darkness and light is clear.

Comments

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I did not bring my computer with me on vacation and now I am kicking myself because there is so much I. Would like to say about this.

I love the creed for those reasons also. One of my favorite passages of scripture is the one where the the king says something to Hannaniah, Azariah, and Mishael like Let's see if your God will save you from the fiery furnace, and they say, Our God may save us and he may not but we're not going to bow down to your stinking Gods. ;-). More later.

AMDG

I like that passage a lot, too. I don't know if I'd have the courage to defy someone who had the power to burn me alive, but I hope I would.

The post will still be here when you get back. :-)

I am not feeling any better for knowing that these people running Pulpit and Pen exist. I know several atheists who are better than so many Christian wackos. When I say "better" I mean that they respect those of us that have faith, and do not belittle or bring us down because of our faith. Why can't Christians simply do the same for other Christians?

Sin

Yep.

I could say the same for some atheists I know or have known.

I grew up among evangelical Protestants, and while there may have been some who held fervent anti-Catholic views, I am grateful that I was never exposed to anything like that. In my world, growing up, I really never heard anyone say anything about Catholicism one way or another. When I came of age and began to take an interest in it for myself, I was able to approach it with no prejudice. Pulpit & Pen is new to me, but, based on this evidence, plays like a rather sad comedy.

A question about Divine Mercy Sunday: each year my wife likes us to do a Divine Mercy novena leading up to it, which strikes me as being witchcraft! -- Pardon me. -- which strikes me as being slightly tone-deaf. What I mean is this: the Divine Mercy novena involves praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet ("For the sake of his sorrowful Passion...") each day, but the week of Easter, of all weeks in the year, seems the one least suited to these particular prayers. It is the week during which I want to celebrate the Resurrection, to celebrate the joyful conclusion of Christ's suffering, yet this novena throws me back into Good Friday. I feel that there ought to be some other, more fitting novena for us to pray during the octave of Easter.

Anyone else feel the same way?

There was an Irish sitcom years ago about three disgraced priests exiled to Craggy Island by their bishop. Not exactly relevant, but somehow came to mind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptd_h0dF7NE

Growing up Protestant in the South, I absorbed a general sense that Catholicism was something foreign and more or less irrelevant, and that Protestantism and Christianity were more or less the same thing. That involved the "whig history" view of things--medieval corruption, Luther liberates the Bible, etc. But I really don't remember hearing any active anti-Catholic rhetoric--no "pope is the Antichrist stuff," etc. It was anti-Catholic in the sense that it was anti-flat-earth--it was assumed, but nobody went around fuming about flat-earthers and devoting great amounts of time to denouncing and refuting them. Maybe in some churches I would have heard that kind of thing, but I was Methodist, and we were a bit more laid-back than, say, the Baptists. I didn't have, for instance, the kind of gut-level emotional anti-Catholicism that C.S. Lewis picked up as an Ulster Protestant.

You have a point about the DM novena but I didn't see the prayers that way during Easter week, probably because I had already been saying the prayers every day for several months. They've just become part of my daily routine, not associated with anything else going on liturgically.

There has been some grumbling among the more traditionally-minded all along about the Octave of Easter being more or less replaced with Divine Mercy Sunday. I'm sympathetic to that. It does sort of crash the calendar. I guess there was a specific reason for making it that Sunday but I don't know what it was.

There's a Catholic gift shop run by the archdiocese here in Dunedin, NZ, and last year it started calling itself a "Catholic Christian" store. Have I just missed the use of that term or is it something new?

It was because Jesus told St. Faustian to make it that day.

AMDG

Oh. Well then...

"Sr. Faustian" is funny.

I've been hearing "Catholic Christian" for a long time, Marianne. Twenty years at least, maybe more.

I figured I was probably just pretty much out of it re "Catholic Christian". Thanks.

Stupid phone. I definitely rejected Faustian.

AMDG

:-)

The image of the Divine Mercy is the Resurrected Christ. So Divine Mercy is the fruit of the Resurrection. The blood and water flowing from the side of Christ is the beginning of the redemption by the Risen Christ.

The Gospel reading for Low Sunday has a focus on the Mercy of God.

Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,"Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,and whose sins you retain are retained."

The Gospel of John especially conflates the crucifixion and the Resurrection. It is one paschal mystery. Jesus is "raised up" on the Cross. It is his "glory."

All the readings at Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours are still the same. As a matter of fact, St. John Paul II intentionally left all the texts the same.

Yes, I was going to say something like your first paragraph, and that it is an addition, not an interruption to the celebration of Easter. When we pray the novena, we are participating in spreading the mercy that flows from the Resurrected Christ to all those groups of people that we pray for during the novena.

AMDG

I suppose I knew some of that when Divine Mercy Sunday was first instituted, but if I did I had forgotten.

I grew up reciting the Apostles Creed each Sunday in the Presbyterian Church, Mac. I still do not know the Nicene Creed by heart, and must seek it out in the missallette.

I can't say the NC without some help, either. I need at least a little starter for the various sections. It's worse now that I mostly attend the Ordinariate Mass which has a different translation.

When the new translation came around, I memorized the Creed as a Lenten penance, but I occasionally blurt out the wrong thing, like fulfillment instead of accordance.

I'm still bad on the Gloria, though. Because we usually sing it, I can sing it, but when we recite it....

AMDG

Yeah, that new translation was pretty disruptive to my partial memorization, too, even though I like it better than the old one.

"Anyone else feel the same way?"

Yes.

I can't easily recite the Nicene Creed any more because of the new translation in 2011, and I never prayed the Rosary as a child, so I don't fully have The Apostle's Creed memorised either. But I love to recite them, for similar reasons to Maclin, and also to do the renewal of Baptismal vows.

I laughed heartily at Maclin's description of the "wls"! I just encountered something similar on Youtube. Blech.

"Should we laugh at him? I'm reluctant to do that, being all ecumenical and stuff. But I think yes, we should. Pride and willful ignorance deserve mockery"

Yes, I agree.

"The funny thing about sola scriptura is that it isn't found in scripture."

I know. It's rather funny.

This resonated with me (except that I'am a cradle Catholic):

" The spirit of the age is attacking the faith from many directions now, and the notion prevails in many minds that such things as specific religious beliefs are "antiquated" and obviously not just false but ridiculous, and not just ridiculous but dangerous. This has begun to bring out in me a spirit of defiance which is energized by the increasingly stupid and wicked things the spirit of the age demands that we believe. And the more it insists, and the more power it gets, the more I will, with the help of God, resist, and keep the promises I made when I became a Catholic thirty-six years ago."

I think I have felt this way for years, but that may be because Australia is further down this track than the US. It's so much more secular there. I have increasingly felt this way since at least 2000.

People of the secularist persuasion are always talking about how ridiculous it is that the U.S. still has such a high level of religiosity. It embarrasses them. But I think it's basically a good thing (of course), even though a lot of it is sort of nutty.

I agree.

Many years ago when I used to listen to WCRV, Your Christian Radio Voice, The Bible Answer Man was one of my favorite shows because although I disagreed with some of what Hanegraaff said, he always spoke rationally and did not have a negative attitude toward the Church. Sometimes, I remember in particular when he was talking about the term Mother of God, he would defend the Church teaching. He explained the arguments for and against, and talked about Ephesus. So, I always wondered if he would eventually follow that road to Catholicism--well close. ;-) I haven't read anything that's been written about his conversion. I would like to read something from him.

Maples' description of the liturgy is ludicrous. "Absolutely no gospel," well except maybe the gospel and some other stuff. You have to be looking at the world through a very odd pair of glasses to see that.

AMDG

But I have actually become much more able to submit myself with at least some confidence to what God is permitting, and which must therefore be in some sense his will.

This is something I have really found to be true about consistent prayer. It changes us. I think I mentioned hear, or maybe on my blog, a long time ago that I had been praying St. Louis de Monfort's prayers that introduce the mysteries of the rosary for many years, and that one day I realized that God had granted me the answers to many of those prayers, even though I almost always pray them in a mechanical and distracted way. He takes us at our word, even when we aren't paying attention.

AMDG

And...um...thank God that he does. I'd certainly be pretty lost otherwise. I never have been very good at attentive prayer, but I'm reasonably persistent.

"You have to be looking at the world through a very odd pair of glasses to see that."

Yes, and more than odd. Cracked, dirty...maybe intentionally. Impossible to say how personally culpable he is for his ignorance, but he certainly seems somewhat so.

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