Holy Father

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is No. 20 in the series. Please read my introduction and explanation here.

John 17:11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.

In Chapter 17 of his gospel, the apostle John records Jesus, after warning, instructing, and comforting his disciples in light of his impending death, turning his eyes to heaven and fervently praying to his Father. What we read there is often referred to as Jesus’ high priestly prayer. It is the night before he goes to the cross, and his concern is for his Father’s glory and for the protection and unity of his disciples, then and now. This is the only place in the Bible where anyone is addressed as “Holy Father,” and it is in the context of a sacred and pivotal moment when God the Son is at the climax of his ministry, about to be sacrificed, made to be sin, and temporarily but painfully separated from God the Father…yet through it gaining the victory over the “prince of this world.” It is as if Jesus has been on a journey his whole earthly life to get to this moment and place where he will be crowned King, and he comes to the One who will crown him and calls him, “Holy Father.”

It is truly dissonant to move directly from thoughts of the great God of the universe as Holy Father, to thoughts of a fallen human being as the same…a mere mortal whose proper title is properly God’s Name. It startles the sensibilities. If there were nothing else improper or dishonoring to God in the Catholic Church’s teaching and practice regarding the pope, that he is called Holy Father is enough reason, for me, to reject his authority.

But there is. The elevation and exaltation of the papacy in assigning the pope universal power and honor, with great pomp and pageantry, divert praise and exaltation away from God, and are completely contrary to Jesus’ example of humility and his instructions to his apostles not to follow the lead of the Pharisees and exalt themselves. As beloved and humble as the current pope may be, he assumes the titles and power given him by the Church, and receives the praise and adulation given by her people.

An audience with the pope involves a whole list of items of protocol, I’m sure. Among them is the expectation that the visitor will bow or kneel before the pope and kiss his ring. Would Peter, whom the Church looks to as the first pope, have allowed anyone to prostrate themselves before him this way? In Acts 10 we have the story of God calling Peter to go share the gospel with a Roman centurion named Cornelius, who was expecting him because of a vision he received in answer to his prayers. When Peter arrives, Cornelius “fell down at his feet and worshiped him.” The Greek word translated “worshiped” is proskuneō and means “to kiss, like a dog licking his master’s hand; to fawn or crouch to, that is, (literally or figuratively) prostrate oneself in homage (do reverence to, adore): – worship.” And how does Peter respond to this treatment? “But Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I too am a man.’” He would not receive such adoration. But every one of his ‘successors’ has and does.piusxiisedes

Much has been made of Pope Francis’ more humble choices in living quarters, automobiles, and garments, as compared to his predecessors. That this is admirable only serves to highlight the material excesses that are typical of the papacy. Silk finery, Prada shoes, jeweled headgear, ornate palaces, being carried around on a throne so that his flock can catch a glimpse of him. All more befitting of a king than a shepherd.

The power conferred on every pope more befits a king as well. This man, no matter how godly or corrupt, “by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.”1 This power extends even to the submission of mind and will. “In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra.”2

The scope of the Supreme Pontiff’s reign was dogmatically defined at the First Vatican Council in 1870, and those who would deny the council’s definition were pronounced cursed: “If anyone thus speaks, that the Roman Pontiff has only the office of inspection or direction, but not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which pertain to faith and morals, but also in those which pertain to the discipline and government of the Church spread over the whole world; or, that he possesses only the more important parts, but not the whole plenitude of this supreme power; or that this power of his is not ordinary and immediate, or over the churches altogether and individually, and over the pastors and the faithful altogether and individually: let him be anathema.”3

One simply cannot extrapolate such excessive and far-reaching power and authority, nor justify the material trappings of a worldly king, from the witness of the New Testament documents. Only time and “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life”4 can account for it.

Surely, this is not what Jesus had in mind when he told Peter, “Feed my sheep.”5

1 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 882
2 Lumen Gentium, 25
3 http://www.catholicplanet.org/councils/20-Pastor-Aeternus.htm
4 1 John 2:16
5 John 21:17

 

 

 

 

 

The flesh opposes the Spirit

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is No. 19 in the series. Please read my introduction and explanation here.

 As I mentioned in a previous post, not all my 30 reasons were instrumental in my decision to leave the Catholic Church, though they are all reasons why I will never return. But this one disturbed me from the first time I learned of it, while I was yet in the Church, and became more bothersome as I struggled with whether or not to remain. When I finally came to the point where I knew I couldn’t stay and I put to death, so to speak, my Catholic self, it served as the nail in the coffin.

To continue the death motif…the Catholic Church has more than a few skeletons in her closet. They’ve been exposed for a long time and she doesn’t deny them, but I imagine she’d hide them if she could. Though they belong to her past, her assumed designation as the continuous subsistence of Christ’s church1 since its inception, make them relevant to her claims today.

The papal office was not always held in as high esteem as we currently view it. Many of the popes in the Church’s history were quite unworthy to be considered the “vicar of Christ.” According to author and historian Brian Moynahan, “The period of the first millennium was a time of papal depravity,” and here are a few of his supporting facts:

  • A number of these popes, “the cardinal-historian Cesare Baronius wrote later, were…’vainglorious Messalinas filled with fleshly lusts and cunning in all forms of wickedness…’”
  • Various leading Roman families had their own family members installed as pope, and had their rivals murdered.sergius_iii
  • Pope Stephen VI had the corpse of his predecessor Formosus exhumed and tried with fraud. After finding the body guilty, he had two of his fingers chopped off before throwing it into the Tiber River.
  • “Sergius III, having murdered his immediate predecessor, had the unfortunate Formosus exhumed again.”
  • “Theodora, the Theophylact courtesan and mistress of the unfortunate John X, and her daughter Marozia, helped create eight popes in a decade…[Marozia] was the mistress of Pope Sergius III; she had their illegitimate son installed as John XI, and her grandson Octavian became John XII.”
  • “Benedict IX, squalid and lecherous, so shamed the office that the Roman populace had deposed him in favor of Silvester III two years before. Benedict had become pope through his father’s bribery; he now used the family’s hired thugs in street riots to force Silvester to resign and to reclaim his throne.”2

The list, unfortunately, could go on. If the Catholic Church were merely one Christian denomination among many, distinguished only by their particular interpretations of Scripture, she could distance herself from these immoral prelates. Because we are all fallen human beings, and the bad behavior of a few leaders doesn’t affect the doctrine we profess. Unless each of those leaders is not simply a guide and teacher to those under him, but a link in an unbroken chain of apostolic authority.

Hence the Church teaches that “the bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church, in such wise that whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ and him who sent Christ.”3

Some of these popes were truly despicable, yet according to this teaching, to consider them so is to despise God himself. You can still find their names on the list of apostolic successors.

Also on the list are the names of various “antipopes,” men who claimed the papal office in opposition to other popes…some because of their own avarice and lust for power, others because of political conflicts. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “The elections of several antipopes are greatly obscured by incomplete or biased records, and at times even their contemporaries could not decide who was the true pope. It is impossible, therefore, to establish an absolutely definitive list of antipopes, but it is generally conceded that there were at least 37 from 217 to 1439.”4

But the Catechism states that, “Just as the office which the Lord confided to Peter alone, as first of the apostles destined to be transmitted to his successors, is a permanent one, so also endures the office, which the apostles received, of shepherding the Church, a charge destined to be exercised without interruption by the sacred order of bishops.”5

Thirty-plus antipopes belie the projected image of an unbroken, uninterrupted line of apostolic succession. A Catholic might respond by saying that having an uninterrupted line and being certain of which of the men were actually in that line, are two different things. Agreed. Yet, the infighting, power struggles, and confusion cast doubt on the Church’s claim of being uniquely guided by the Holy Spirit in “shepherding the Church.”

These blots and blemishes in the history of the Catholic Church are more than an embarrassment to her. They are evidence that she has far overstated her divine rights and bestowals. Murder, fornication, deception, and debauchery in the highest office of “the sacred order of bishops” seriously call into question her claims of privilege and authority.

1 http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070629_responsa-quaestiones_en.html
2 Moynahan, Brian, The Faith, Doubleday, New York, 2002, pg. 213-214
3 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 862
4 http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/28501/antipope
5 Catechism, 862

Nuns with guns

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is No. 18 in the series. Please read my introduction and explanation here.

Catholic schools.

Enough said. Bam.

Huh?

:-)

As I continue with my laundry list of reasons why I left the Catholic Church, I want to pause again to highlight something really commendable about the object of my objections. I’ve recognized the immeasurable contributions of Catholic people and organizations in doing great works of charity. And I’ve introduced you to my wonderful Catholic mom and dad. Today I want to give credit where credit is due again.

I was blessed to be the recipient of 12 years of education in Catholic parochial schools. You’ve probably heard horror stories of nuns with two by fours rulers, and wild tales of crazed sisters with cattle prods scissors and such. And I’m sure some of them are true, though I never experienced or witnessed any of them myself. Exaggerated stories like these grow out of a simple, no-nonsense reality that marks a typical Catholic classroom, and contributes greatly to the quality of education received there.

Discipline. It’s what sets Catholic schools apart, because it’s what makes effective learning possible. Nowadays in the public schools, a teacher can barely say boo to a student without somebody complaining and getting the parents and the ACLU involved. So they carefully measure their words and emotions, expecting only the most meager level of respect, and spend half their teaching time just trying to get the students’ attention.

I know they’re not all like that. Some public schools are better than others, and there are some magnet-type, specialty schools that have great success because they follow the Catholic schools’ lead of strict, consistent discipline and high expectations. And uniforms. Uniforms definitely help.

You hear a lot these days about how important class size is. It seems anything over 18 is considered practically unmanageable. My elementary school classes averaged 40 – 50 students. And we were manageable, because we were disciplined if we weren’t. But the goal wasn’t to make things easier for the teacher; it was to create an environment where everyone had the same opportunity to hear the lessons, ask questions, and reach their full potential. Which was the expectation. And most people, adults included, will at least try to live up to what is expected of them.

Parents with high expectations of their children also contribute greatly to their success. I’m looking at my sixth grade report card. Across the columns for each subject the teacher draws a red line indicating the student’s level of ability. Mine was at A+. :-) The first grading period I achieved that level in only two subjects (Religion was one of them). Just As and Bs in the others. My mother’s comment on the back was, “Caroline’s report is good so far, but we hope she can get all her subjects up to the top.” The teacher’s comments in the following two periods indicate the focus on discipline. Period 2: “2 times caught not paying attention.” Period 3: “3 times caught not paying attention.” I probably got grounded after that dive.

A father’s involvement in his child’s education is particularly instrumental in her success, and I’m grateful to my dad for his participation in my education…checking my homework, affirming my successes, assigning me written reports when I asked him a question. Well…I wasn’t so grateful about that then.

But thinking of my dad again reminds me of the one funny school-related story I have. Some people have memory drawers full. I have one. For a time when I was quite young, there was a neighborhood bar right next door to our home. And occasionally (and I do mean occasionally – he was not a big drinker) Dad would walk over to see some of the neighbors and he would tell Mom that he was going to the beer joint. That’s what he called it.2nd grade 2

Well, in my second grade reading class one day we were each given a word and told to define it. My word was ‘joint.’ God knows how a second-grader would define that today…but you can probably guess what I said. Now you need to understand that my father was well-known in the community and very active in our church. So when I stood up and confidently said, “That’s where my dad goes to drink beer,” poor Sister Timothy had to leave the room because she couldn’t keep it together. I heard her laughing in the hall.

There are not quite as many nuns teaching in the schools now as there were back in the day, which is a shame because those awful black and white habits made for some amusing stories about hiding weapons and the like. And for fooling your students and fellow nuns with fake vomit. I think that was Sister Regina. But religious or irreligious…I mean, lay teaching staff…these women and men deserve our praise for expecting excellence, and delivering it themselves.

My objections to the teachings of the Catholic Church are many, and I will continue with those tomorrow. But my affection for her people is real, as well as my appreciation for the benefits bestowed on me through her, like a superb education. And I don’t ever want to forget that.

Inordinate power and control

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is No. 17 in the series. Please read my introduction and explanation here.

I’ve always been pretty much a conformist. While in my parents’ home I acknowledged their authority and tried to please them. As a student I accepted the rules and did follow them. In most of my adult life I tried to be the daughter, sister, wife, and mother that society says I should be. So my break with the Catholic Church was a bit out of character for me…a non-conforming act of rebellion that was not without struggle in my own mind and heart.

But once I walked away from the Church, I saw clearly that conformity is not always a wise choice. And submitting to an unauthorized person or institution is folly.

For roughly 30 years the Catholic Church was my spiritual Mother, telling me what to believe, how to behave, and what would behoove me to practice as a member of Christ’s church if I wanted to join him in heaven. In addition, if I did not conform and obey, she asserted the right to decree penances and punishments on me, in this life and in the one to come. But does she have those rights?

In previous posts like this one, and this one, I talked about the Church’s claim to being the one, true church by virtue of apostolic succession. These doctrines empower her to exert an inordinate amount of control over her members. As a Catholic conformist, I was willing to submit to her, in large part because I loved and trusted my parents. But once I had a few children of my own, I knew that age and maturity called for a reasoned evaluation of what I had previously consented to. My journey of investigation, however, was really much more than an intellectual pursuit. God was stirring me up to seek him. I had known of him, and knew some general things about him. Being willing to question what I had been taught, by comparing it with his word, was what led me to really know him.

Now that I am outside the Catholic Church, but inside the Body of Christ, to which belong all those who are true believers, I recognize that she has asserted authority for herself that God did not grant…authority to determine the correct interpretation of Scripture, establish doctrine, decide the requirements for membership in Christ’s Body, and even punish by torture and death those who promote contrary teaching. Her wholesale assumption of the mantle of Christ’s visible church on earth has led to something akin to invisible chains binding the faithful. They are not free to interpret Scripture differently, reject any infallible doctrine, disobey the pope, or even eat what they want to on certain days. The Church has power over them that I am convinced is not of God.

I don’t believe there’s any evidence in Scripture that Jesus wanted to establish a visible institution known as the Church, with a single, reigning, visible head over all its members. Even if he were singling out Peter in Matthew 16:18 to be the, instead of an, instrumental leader in the fledgling New Testament church, neither he nor any of the apostles said anything about appointing successors that would act as a primate. It is more than plausible that since this was a totally new kind of venture – making the “one new man in place of the two”1 – and one that would change the course of history, a unique and temporary leadership position may have been needed for its inception.

When in the days of the judges, the elders of Israel came to the prophet Samuel and demanded he appoint them a king, God was displeased because, “they have rejected me from being king over them.”2 In the same way, since Jesus Christ is the head of the church3, I believe he is displeased when we appoint our own heads over it. The Catholic Church acknowledges Christ’s headship over his Body, but so did the Israelites recognize God’s sovereignty when they asked for a king. They were just not willing to trust in his active leadership – they wanted a leader they could see.

I belong to an independent, non-denominational church. I call our pastor by his first name, and he serves under an elected board of elders. We answer to no one but God, and are accountable to him alone. We don’t all agree on secondary issues like the age of the universe, the propriety of certain musical elements, or even eternal security. But we all agree in salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone, in the primacy of Scripture, and the power of the gospel for all who believe. Though we are an imperfect local body of believers, like all are, and we have our quarrels and failures, God is active by his Spirit in and through us. And I believe we are a fairly faithful representation of Christ’s design for the church.

Catholics insist that without an established, authoritative leadership body, there is no way for the church to know what is true…what God’s word really says. They point to all the various Protestant denominations split on doctrinal issues as evidence that it is needed, and Jesus’ promise to the apostles that the Holy Spirit would guide them “into all the truth”4 as a promise for them today as their successors. But if a single, authoritative magisterial body is needed for God to accomplish his goal of redeeming and restoring mankind to himself, how do you explain the thousands, perhaps millions, of people being redeemed and restored to him in China and other nations hostile to Christianity, through the simple preaching of the clear and simple gospel, and totally apart from the Catholic Church?

It’s frankly maddening to me, the way the Church “lords it over” her people, claiming to be the very presence of Christ himself to them. How could any good Catholic refuse Christ? And if a Catholic is bound to obey all the rules of law under threat of punishment, restricted to a predetermined understanding of Scripture, and trapped in a works-righteousness system with ever-elusive and undefined quotas…is she really free in Christ?

Brothers and sisters, “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?…For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’…But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith…But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother…So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”5

1 Ephesians 2:15
2 1 Samuel 8:6-7
3 Colossians 1:18
4 John 16:13
5 Galatians 3:2, 10, 25-26, 4:26, 31, 5:1

Truth or consequences

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is No. 16 in the series. Please read my introduction and explanation here.

Well, I’m halfway through this series on why I am no longer in the Catholic Church, and all along I’ve been considering if it was the right thing to do. I’m definitely ruffling some feathers and stirring up the proverbial pot. Not that I didn’t expect that. One might ask, if I expected that my posts would likely cause distress to people close to me, why would I write them? It’s a fair question, and I’d like to take this post to try and answer it.

Truth matters, and no truth matters more than truth about God. Believing what is false about God may affect our eternal destiny, as well as our earthly existence. As it says in the book of Hebrews, “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?”1 God’s holiness, righteousness, and justice require him to judge that which does not line up with the truth that he has given us. Jesus, who is Truth2 said, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”3

False doctrine leads to false worship. Worship is derived from “worth-ship” and can be broadly defined as anything we do that has as its end ascribing worth to its object. Our prayers are worship, our religious services are worship, even our lives are worship as they should reflect and demonstrate how we view God. So if our worship conveys inaccuracies and falsehoods about God, we are not worshiping “in spirit and truth.”

So truth is vitally important; we should be able to agree on that. Can we also agree that it is selfish, irresponsible, and unloving to fail to correct false doctrine, if we are able, when we know that believing it might result in serious and unpleasant consequences in this life as well as the life to come? And since it is an affront to the God we love when he is being misrepresented and his glory diminished, are we “hallowing his name” if we say nothing?

The big question is, of course, what is the truth? Not “What is truth?”4 as Pilate said to Jesus before turning back to the crowd without waiting for an answer. But what is THE truth that Jesus came to bear witness to?5

This will shock some of you…I know I could be wrong about it. I do. I feel very strongly that what I believe is true, or else I wouldn’t believe it. But I’m far from perfect and I don’t claim a unique, unhindered, dedicated hotline to the Holy Spirit. So it’s possible that I am mistaken about some or all of what I assert to be true. I pray my Catholic readers are willing to admit the same thing.

Some have suggested that since we all believe in Jesus, can’t we just celebrate what we have in common and leave it at that? I concur with the ecumenical spirit behind this approach, and for most of my life as a Christ-follower I have had that attitude, and have left it at that. I focused on my love for my Catholic family and friends, noticed and affirmed their good works for God, and rejoiced that we share a real love for him and a desire to serve and submit to him. But always I longed for them to see the truth – yes, what I believe to be true – because the truth really does set us free.6

John 8:31-32 says, “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” When I finally started reading God’s word, I was in one sense captured by the truth that I saw in it, and in another freed of the false legalism that had bound me with a chain of rules that I was seeing for myself was not Scriptural.

To the charge that will surely come that I was simply looking for an escape from a faith that was harder than I was willing to bear, I say, read the Bible. Read Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees who “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders.”7 Read his invitation to those who “labor and are heavy-laden” to come to him because, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”8 And Paul’s admonition to the Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”9A metallic chain with an explosed link.

I experienced that freedom as soon as I made my break with the Catholic Church. No person or institution should stand in the place of God. I am accountable to him and him alone, and he is able by his indwelling Spirit to convict and counsel me. I am now a slave to Christ, and to nothing and no one else.

<Insert heavy sigh> I hate that this series has engendered hurt, anger, and other bad feelings among Catholics, especially those I know and love. I’m sorry. My words may not always have been well-guided by love and humility, so I do apologize for what could and should have been expressed more kindly. I pray you will forgive me for that.

And I pray that you can maybe understand my heart a little better, and recognize that if what we have in common is a sincere desire for truth, we can seek agreement based on that without being personally offended by challenges to what we believe. Because truth is objective. It’s irrespective of who we are, how we were raised, how it was conveyed to us, and whether or not we believe it.

May God guide and bless us all as we seek him, love him, and love each other.

1 Hebrews 2:2-3a
2 John 14:6
3 John 4:24
4 John 18:38
5 John 18:37
6 John 8:32
7 Matthew 23:4
8 Matthew 11:28-29
9 Galatians 5:1

 

 

 

A clear injunction denied

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is No. 15 in the series. Please read my introduction and explanation here.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”

“That was a wonderful homily, Father Bob.”

“The Holy Father, say those close to him, is wearing himself out.”

Matthew 23:9 “And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.”

In the 22nd chapter of Matthew’s gospel, the Jewish scribes and Pharisees make thinly-veiled and unsuccessful attempts to outsmart Jesus, and get summarily schooled. In the 23rd chapter, Matthew records Jesus subsequently turning to his disciples and the attending crowd to expose the Jewish leaders for their hypocrisy and warn his followers against undue and improper adulation of religious leaders. It is in this context that Jesus says, “call no man your father on earth.” That this has nothing to do with what we all our biological father is clear from the context and other verses. Jesus is specifically referring to those in a position of spiritual authority.

Yet every Catholic priest is properly addressed as Father, in direct disobedience to Christ’s command. The Church, of course, sees it differently and has a defense of the practice here. Their argument can be summarized as follows:priest collar

  • Jesus couldn’t have been saying that under no circumstances should you call a religious leader Father because Abraham is referred to as Father and he was a spiritual leader.
  • What’s more, New Testament figures Stephen and John address non-familial men as fathers, and Paul refers to himself as father to the Corinthians.
  • The Jewish leaders were pridefully usurping the fatherhood of God and their pride was all Jesus was proscribing.

But the many references to Abraham as “father” are not supportive of the Catholic viewpoint because they refer to his paternity to the nation of Israel, as well as all nations, as ordained by God in Genesis 17:5. Not as a spiritual leader or teacher. In Acts 7, Stephen’s use of “brothers and fathers” is something quite different as well. He begins his defense by establishing that he is one of them – a Jew – some of whom are young like he, and some are his elders. “Father” is a term of respect to those who have gone before him in the faith. He uses the term a lot in that chapter when giving the history of the Jews. They were his ancestors, those who have preceded him, and in that sense they were his fathers. In a similar way, those who are still living and are older can be said to have preceded him, and out of respect for his elders, Stephen calls them fathers.

In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul is backing up his right to chastise and correct the church at Corinth, and perhaps soften the blow a little, by reminding them of his role as their spiritual father in bringing them the gospel. They are his children in the faith, and by virtue of that they can know that he loves them and they would be wise to receive his discipline. But I am confident he would reject the title of Father Paul.

In 1 John 2, I see no indication that John is speaking to leaders of the church. By “fathers” he is likely addressing professing Christians who are mature in the faith.

Jesus was highlighting and condemning the error of giving any spiritual leader the reverence and exaltation due only to God, and more so, of spiritual leaders expecting and allowing it. But the Catholic church says that “the priest, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, acts in persona Christi Capitis…Now the minister, by reason of the sacerdotal consecration which he has received, is truly made like to the high priest [Jesus] and possesses the authority to act in the power and place of the person of Christ himself.” It goes on to quote Ignatius of Antioch as saying that a bishop is “like the living image of God the Father.”1

I believe that what the Catholic church has done in designating that priests be addressed as “Father” is exactly what Jesus was warning against. Catholics give (and are expected to give) an inordinate level of honor and prestige to their priests. Jesus was teaching his followers, who would be leaders, not to follow the example of the scribes and Pharisees who loved to be greeted in the marketplace and get the best seats at parties and events and be noticed because of their robes and vestments – exactly like a lot of priests today. Not that there aren’t many who are truly humble servants, but the fact that the Church confers such authority and status on them, partly by giving them the title Father, ensures that many will end up looking just like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.

1 Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1548-49

The Communion of Saints

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is No. 14 in the series. Please read my introduction and explanation here.

O, the saints that have gone before. What a “cloud of witnesses” 1 we have in so many of the men and women the Catholic Church has determined are worthy of canonization as saints. Followers of Christ who have sacrificed and suffered for his name, pouring out their lives unto death because they saw “him who is invisible.” 2

But though we would do well to emulate them, we err if we idolize them and ascribe to them powers that only belong to God. In conferring on saints the roles of patron and intercessor, the Catholic Church in effect sets them up in place of God.

Jesus taught us to pray to the Father.3 He invited us to pray to himself.4 In the book of Romans, Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us.5 But nowhere in Scripture do we read that we can implore the dead in Christ to intercede on our behalf. If we are praying to saints for favors, even if the favors are actually granted by God, are we not crediting them with the power to obtain them? That’s what the Church says in her Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium (No. 50), “It is supremely fitting, therefore, that we love those friends and coheirs of Jesus Christ, who are also our brothers and extraordinary benefactors, that we render due thanks to God for them…and ‘suppliantly invoke them and have recourse to their prayers, their power and help in obtaining benefits from God through His Son, Jesus Christ, who is our Redeemer and Saviour.’” (italics mine)

When we, the living, pray to God for someone and he gives or does what we asked him for, would we dare to ascribe to ourselves “power” in gaining that benefit? Don’t we instead simply recognize that it is God’s love for us and them that motivated him to bless us this way?

Shrine to St. Anthony

Shrine to St. Anthony

But the Catholic Church considers the dead saints to have this power by virtue of their glorified status and based on Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2683): “When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were ‘put in charge of many things.’ Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.” This includes even ordinary Catholics like deceased family members, as is stated in the same paragraph, “The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom, especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer”(italics mine). So some Catholics pray to their own mothers and fathers.

This is so similar to ancestor worship in some Eastern religions. I acknowledge that Catholics will reject the comparison, insisting that these saints are intercessors only. But if they are praying to them, ascribing spiritual powers to them, assigning feast days for them, building shrines to them and kneeling before images of them…as I previously wrote regarding their practices surrounding the cult of Mary, what element is missing without which it does not connote worship?

In addition to the lack of Scriptural support for praying to saints and the effectual idolization of patron saints for everything from actresses to zoos, God specifically prohibits and condemns trying to “inquire of the dead.”6 The Hebrew word translated here “inquire” and in some translations “consult” implies to request or ask.

In the eleventh chapter of Hebrews we have what some call the “Hall of Faith.” It’s a “Who’s Who” of men and women who lived and died “by faith.” Some named, others not, but all held up as examples to follow…a “cloud of witnesses” surrounding us, to whom we can look for inspiration and guidance. Not to contact for guidance or help, but to serve as a template or an ideal as we learn by their example what it means to live by faith.

The Catholic Church’s teachings about dead saints and the resulting practices centered on them, detract from the praise and glory and worship due God alone. I don’t deny the genuine love for God that many Catholics display. So why are they willing to take what belongs to him and give it to another?

1 Hebrews 12:1
2 Hebrews 11:27
3 Matthew 6:9
4 John 14:14
5 Romans 8:26-27
6 Deuteronomy 18:11