Sunday, August 1, 2010

Catholicism: An Introduction to Their Worldview Part I

Catholicism has been around for 2,000 years and has been the faith of billions. It has spanned the globe and entered every culture, and prayers of the faithful have risen to God in hundreds of languages. This is a massive, deep religion. As a second religion (for Protestants trying to understand Catholicism), it's as easy to understand as a second language (such as Japanese) for an American. But if you are born and raised into it, it is second nature.

Before a Protestant can enter the world of Catholicism, he must take a little trip far back into the past, before the rights of man, before individualism, before equality, before almost everything our western thoughts have been formed upon. We must see the world with new eyes.

The first few generations of Christians worshipped in many ways like the Hebrews had always worshipped, because the first disciples were Jewish! So the early church looks very Jewish in its theology and worship. Also remember that they were deeply influenced by Greek culture, even speaking and read OT scriptures as well as wrote NT scriptures in its language. The early church not only had pagan religions attempting to infiltrate its thinking, the culture was seeped in a Greek philosophical worldview, and that will become VERY important in understanding the early Christians. Add to the mix, that they were under the rulership of the Roman Empire, so the Roman culture also permeated Christianity.

It didn’t know about freedom or rights--master could kill anyone in his household including his wife, child or slave. Unwanted children who were not aborted, were left out in the street to either die of exposure or be taken to be raised as a slave or prostitute. Virtue had nothing to do with a good god’s expectations for the gods themselves go into sexual and moral peccadilloes all the time. A good citizen was one who lived for the state--that was the standard of virtue. Prostitution and child sex slavery was part of religion. It could not conceive of religion and state being separated. 

The state leader was a priest god, and there was no idea of equality. Justice and mercy were for only the most influential. There were many gods of many ranks and as long as you worshipped the caesar as god, you were free to follow the gods of your personal conscience. Truth was relative and individualistic. Rome was completely tolerant and inclusive of all religions. As if that wasn’t enough, by the fourth century, the Germanic culture came in and took charge. This is the environment in which a new religion developed.

We will now begin our tour of understanding Catholics insight into scripture and bring it to life the way Catholicism teaches. We will actually begin before the first word.

The Triune God

God is a covenanted family that is one in substance, mind, goals. Yet, the mystery of the Trinity is that there are three distinct in One God. God is unity. It is His very make up and fabric. There are many ways in which man was created in His image, and one is that man was made for unity. Man and his wife were to be one flesh and through that oneness man could do just what God Himself did, create a likeness of his own image.

This idea of the covenant unity will play out in many Catholic beliefs such as the indissoluble marriage covenant, the unity of believers, the Mystery of the Incarnation and Salvation bringing humanity back into unity with God. The isolation of hell is one of the painful results of breaking this unity with God. Unity forms some of the basis of the Church Militant, the Suffering Church and the Triumphant church and their interconnections.

The Fall and Redemption of Man In Genesis

When mankind sinned, the curse did not fall upon him but upon the serpent and the soil. Yet, unlike Protestants, Catholics believe that the stain of sin did not wipe out all goodness from man’s soul. Although he is now naturally prone to sin, he has always remained capable of making a free choice to do good. Man is now under the domination of Satan’s kingdom, but man can freely accept the Holy Spirit’s call to him and be saved into the Kingdom of God.

While the ground was cursed by God, Catholics do not believe that the intrinsic value of the matter became evil, the broccoli that emerges from the soil was not evil. The soil simply would no longer produce food effortlessly. Fruit trees would no longer spring up naturally and in plenty. Man would have to purposefully plow, plant, irrigate, and harvest to feed himself. Famine from crop failure and the percentage of unproductive land was greater.

Throughout the Old Testament God is constantly using the material to bring the spiritual as a way of showing us Himself and drawing us to Him. The sacrifices that foretold of Christ’s physical sacrifice, the rock that gave forth water, the ark, manna, Ten Commandments, the bronze serpent, Moses and Aaron’s staff, Elijah’s mantle, the bones of prophets. In the New Testament, handkerchiefs were used, even shadows! The material, the physical, God used as a sacrament to reach out and teach us, touch us and heal us.

When Christ came, he released the earth from the curse, famine is less common. Yet an ever deeper understanding is watching Christ as he heals with spittle and clay. In this he is symbolizing the curse being lifted from the ground and added with the material of God it is used for healing.

Today, most Christians pray and ask a blessing on the food. In the ancient world, meals themselves were sacred. Because of the curse of sin, food preparation was more time-consuming and the fact that one could eat was itself a blessing. Their prayer response was an act of thanksgiving over food that was already considered a blessing. There was an intimate understanding and thankfulness when you knew that God’s creature had to be killed for you and your family’s survival. That is why most meals included a thanksgiving offering to the Divine.

Sharing a meal with someone was to include them inside those you were protecting. Covenants were made by sharing in the ritualistic unity of the meal. Each time your family ate, it was a reaffirmation of your covenant with God/or as time went on, gods. This is one of the reasons the early church converts had such a difficult time eating meat sacrificed to idols. They knew what eating a meal with a demon meant. For Catholics, our New Covenant Eucharist with God is sealed and renewed upon each sacrificial “meal” in the mass. We remember the Cross by offering the one-time sacrifice of Jesus Christ himself as a perpetual renewal of the New Covenant.

This is a very important thing to bridge the understanding between Catholics and Protestants. To a Catholic matter is good. God never, even under the curse, did He nullify His pronouncement that His creation was good.

God gave us senses: hearing, tasting, touching, smelling, seeing. These senses interact with nature in order for us to know God. How could we know God without reading the Bible, or seeing nature, or hearing His Word? God created all material to draw us to Him. Using things of nature to draw us to worship Him was part of His plan. Water is used to cleanse us in Baptism. In Catholic mass, creation is used to invite and engage ALL our sense into worship--the incense recalls the fragrance of our prayer sacrifice in Revelation. The flowers, the beauty of the cathedral or chapel, the stained glass windows, all draw our eyes to the mysterious Father in thanksgiving. The sound of the choir chants, and the taste of the bread and wine and the touch of the rosary beads or the kiss of peace. These are God’s gifts to us to use for His glory.

One of the most influential prehistoric philosophies, that haunted the people of God from the Hebrews to the Christians and continues to do so until today, is dualism. Ancient pagan cultures believed that the physical/material world is so intrinsically corrupt that it must be rejected and separated from the spiritual (and authentic reality) which was intrinsically good. Polarized groups formed some became complete asceticism who mortified their bodies to achieve an alternate spiritual consciousness. Others took the radically hedonistic approach that assumed if all that mattered was the spiritual, allow the body free reign to follow its urges. Both of these systems tried to incorporate into Christianity early on. Catholics taught against both. We were created both body and spirit and both are holy and good.

Today some Protestant theology, beginning with Luther, has unintentionally ripped faith into two components--the material/physical realm and the spiritual/philosophical realm. It seems like a ubiquitous idea among Protestant thought that faith is relegated exclusively to the non-material, where it means a good, etherial feeling of hope unrelated in any way to actions. It is a heart/mind thing. Yet, this has never been the case for the vast majority of Christian history. The word faith MEANT both a spiritual and physical manifestation. The word was pregnant with growing life. Faith, Hope and Charity were so interconnected that to have any faith it would result in hope and charity, walking in charity birthed faith and hope, etc. To have one would result in the formation of the other. Catholics teach that there is little spiritual difference in the physical and non-physical, both are sanctified, holy and set apart.

Dr. Scott Hahn quote from EWTN Live. “There is a physical side to being spiritual. That was true in the old, but truer in the new because of the incarnation.” (Book Signs of Life)

St. John of Damascus, “I don’t worship matter like the idolaters but I worship the God who made matter who then assumed matter and uses matter to redeem us.”

This belief will affect the rituals in worship, the collection of relics of the martyrs and burial practices of Christians, their belief in miracles, regenerative baptism, original sin as well as the seriousness of sin, sanctification and the Eucharist.

In Genesis 3, God gave the serpent a prophecy, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel."

Catholics believe that the word “woman” here is a symbol for the church. Jesus will use the church to crush Satan on earth just as He used Michael the archangel (see Rev. 12) and the angels to throw Satan and his angels out of heaven. God uses His creation to to His bidding. Since the church is His Bride, His body, it is the agency by which He communicates, speaks the gospel, wrote the scripture and is intimately involved with the salvation of the world. It is His love for us to honor His Beloved Bride by involving her in the actual overthrow of the Devil. After all, it was through the woman that sin entered the world and God reinstates her to the position by giving her the duty to slay the dragon.

This belief is part of the understanding of Mary as the New Eve as well as her other titles, understanding in the interpretation of the book of Revelation, how our merits of faith and obedience and suffering help save others and the church Triumphant.

In Praise of Authority

A benevolent, God-appointed authority is a very difficult concept for those of us who have grown up hearing the 19th century quote by Lord Acton “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Western culture distrusts if not disdains the person in charge, the one who may have power over us. It is bred into us to love the equality-minded, independent, self-reliant, self-made autonomous individualist. Our movies denigrate fatherhood and America’s fictitious heroes are always the David to the authoritarian Goliath. America was built upon the sentiment that we should be free to do what we wish without any interference from any religious or secular power. Western culture so demonized and scorned those in charge that now men discard their God-ordained positions of authority, not wanting the responsibility nor consequences.

Catholicism did not spring from that western tradition, but flourished and encompassed many cultures in which equality was unheard of. For Catholics, Christian history does not record a Jesus who died to give us the right of self-determination and individualism, but His spilt blood bought for us the right to become holy. Within God’s Kingdom there is a hierarchy of leaders:

I Corinthians 12: 28, 29, “And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?”
Ephesians 4:11, “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.”
The New Testament is clear in that children must obey their parents, wives submit to their husbands and men submit to the church and civic authorities. Catholics strongly believe that honor we give to His appointed authorities is honor given to Him. Religious positions, even when their leaders do not live up to their calling, are not seen as oppressors, but as shepherds. Because of the importance of the position, Catholicism recognizes that much is required of God’s appointed authority, mainly a life of sacrificial, self-denying love.

Catholicism also recognizes that one of the tragic consequences of sin, is that many times when a God-appointed authority, such as a father, mother or priest either has an error in judgement or acts in a selfish way that the people under them suffer. When our first parents sinned, it was their domain, the earth and their offspring that innocently had to bear their sins. Fathers and mothers often neglect or abuse their children. The more under the authority, the more damage can be done. Look at King David for an example. When he killed Uriah the Hittite and slept with Bathsheba, he was not made to carry the tragic consequences, his son was. Another time, David disobeyed, the Lord punished Israel.

II Sam. 24:12, 17 The Lord says to David, “I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.'.... Shall there come upon you three years of famine in your land? Or three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you? Or three days of plague in your land?....These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall upon me and my family."
We may not think this is just in our western mindset, but God is attempting to show us, to teach us that as a unity, we all suffer together, we all rejoice together. We do not live as an island no matter how individualistic we try to be. We all must learn that when our leader fails, we all suffer the consequences because one day, in heaven, we will all be leaders. When Cain asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” He was expressing (albeit a red herring) the newly created idea that we are independent of one another and he was throwing off responsibility for his sibling.

To begin to understand Catholicism, you must understand their ideas about authority.

Kingdom of David to Kingdom of Heaven

Although it is an obscure basis that rarely anyone speaks of, yet it is a vital basis for many of its most controversial doctrines, directly relating to Mary. Catholics believe Jesus came not to just fulfill a general Old Testament Messiah, but also become the direct fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to keep David’s line upon the throne forever. He was merging the Davidic Kingdom into the Kingdom of God. (It is interesting to note David was unusual that he was a priest king and so is Jesus, tying the two kingdom’s together.)
“They brought the ark of the LORD and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the LORD. 2 Sam. 6: 17
The following are some of the texts that Jesus will build on as fulfilling His promise to David:
II Sam.7:16 [To David] " Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.' (see also I Kings 8:25, Jeremiah 33:17)
Isaiah 9:7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore.
Hear the word of the LORD, O king of Judah, you who sit on David's throne. Jer. 22: 2
The days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. Jer. 23: 5
Amos 9: 11 "In that day I will restore David's fallen tent.”
Ezekiel 34:24, “I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them.” (See also Hosea 3:5; Zechariah 12:7, 8)
Again, this is vital to understand, Catholicism bases many of its doctrines and set up of the church hierarchy on the idea of a Davidic Kingdom transformed transmitted into the New Covenant Kingdom. That is why he spent so much time speaking parables of the kingdom. To explain to Israel why he had come, to bring a different kind of kingdom. It is his first title in the New Testament-- introducing to Israel who Jesus was and his position as Messiah and King.
Matthew 1:1, “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David...” 
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The LORD God will give him the throne of his father David.” Luke 1: 32
See how often Jesus is titled “Son of David.”

A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "LORD, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Matt. 15: 22

He called out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Luke 18:38 
(See also Luke 18:39; Luke 20:14; Acts 13:22, Romans 1:3.)
The kingdom of David held high its Queen Mother in Bathsheba honoring her as an intermediary to her son the king (I Kings 1:11, 2:18, 19--note how the King bows to his mother and places her throne on his right hand. This practice carried over into the Renaissance.) Catholics believe Mary, as the Queen Mother of the Kingdom of Heaven, deserves the same honor.

The Supernatural

There is a realm of evil and good in the supernatural. The one kingdom is of the Devil and the other Kingdom is ruled by the Lord. To seek this supernatural is good and right as long as you go through Jesus to the Kingdom of light. The Lord forbidding sorcery and magic does not mean all supernatural is wrong. It is wrong to get there via the Devil and finding it in his kingdom. If you will notice, much of the demonic is simply a mimic of the true path. Latin is often used for incantations. Demonic worship often has prophets, hymns, sermons, and an imitation of the Eucharist. Which leads to our next subject:

Paganism and Catholicism

Did paganism copy Catholicism or did Catholicism adopt paganism? Let’s look at the similarities:

Faith: Polytheistic religions used the phrase, "the fates" to describe how one placed the the future in the hands of the gods, but it is essentially the same as belief in, trust in the power of one's god. Although scholars today tend to imagine that the more technologically advanced civilizations discarded a real "heart belief" and simply followed worship to one's gods ritualistically, that theory is not backed up archeologically. There are thousands and thousands of prayers from these periods that show a deep sincerity of faith to their gods.

Prayer: Pagan prayers took both communal and personal characteristics much like Christian prayers today. They saw prayer as a pathway to contact with the gods. Each prayer not only included praise towards the deity, but requests and petitions as well as promises to perform acts to honor the gods.

Mystery: The idea of clashing supernatural forces of good and evil and that man has a place in this ultimate fight is also an age-old idea.

Visions and Prophecies: Dating back thousands of years before Christianity, oracles and supernatural ecstasies, very similar to Pentecostalism, were part of religion. The ancient Shrine at Delphi is a place where pagan prophecies and visions took place.

Healing: All religious systems had rituals and prayers that the adherents believed would cause the gods to heal them. They even held "healing" services and ancient records describe the miraculous healings.

Virtue: Honest and ethical behavior was expected from most ancient religions, although they may differ from our standards somewhat. Misbehavior was expected to bring bad luck or punishment from the gods. Pythagoreans and Epicureans had traditions that taught certain ways of life brought reward.

Scriptures: Not all religions had written laws and stories given from their gods, some did such as Hindu, Buddhism--but all had oral proscriptions and legends about how the gods formed the world and how they expect us to behave. These were considered sacred very much like Christians consider the Bible.

Divine Calling: Polytheistic religions believed certain people had a "divine" calling to teach others about their gods.

Sacredness: Pagan religions had places (churches), people (pastors, evangelists), things and times (holy days) they set aside as sacred.

Sacrifices: Pagan religions included sacrifices of unblemished animals that were taken to the temple and immolated after being anointed with salt and flour by the person giving the sacrifice.

The similarities are endless-- Pagans and Christians both have:

Conversion stories, Pagan Messianic prophecies that resembled Christianity: Virgin birth of deity who becomes savior of man, Born-again rituals, Heaven for the righteous, Hell for the sinner, Purgatory, Final--last day events--Armageddon, Creeds and doctrines, Certain cults in polytheism claimed they should be free to worship the gods as their conscience dictated, Predestination, Immortality of the soul (for certain people), Soul sleep (for other persons), Saints, Heretics, Holy wars, Inquisition, Marriage ceremonies with cake, lifting bride over threshold, wedding rings (many other similarities).

When King Solomon said millennia ago that there is nothing new under the sun, he was right. Being a Christian, I am certainly not saying that Christianity is the same. I am just saying Christian forms of worshipping and even some theology are very similar to paganism. So, when we realize that Christianity brought very little unique to religious rites and beliefs, we have a clear choice. Is Christianity a mere culling from the past? Are the critics correct when they say because Christianity brings relatively nothing new to religion and that it is similar to polytheism, that Christian roots are pagan?

Christians must acknowledge that arguments that point out the similarities are logical and that one can look at the facts and surmise that Christianity is simply a new form of paganism. However, it is just as logical to look at the similarities and suggest that Christianity fulfills paganism. That the ubiquitousness of religion and its cycles of mysteries and beliefs---rather than invalidate and disprove religion--does quite the opposite. These repeated similar beliefs, known in all languages, all geographical areas of the world, all time periods, all phases of evolution and development of civilization rather prove something... There is A TRUTH they are pointing to....

We can look at these facts and logically, reasonably surmise that these all came from an original source. And Christianity claims that original source. "In the fullness of time" Christ came and fulfilled it all. He was what these promises, recycled and corrupted as they were by different societies, were pointing to.

Please, be mindful of suggesting that Catholicism is wrong and erroneous because their rites and rituals look similar to paganism. If you use the logic that, "if it is similar to paganism" and predates Catholicism therefore, it is then evil or sinful, you have just cut your own throat. You certainly can say that because Christmas trees began in Druid homes, therefore it is evil to have Christmas trees, but then you must logically say that if Druids prayed then it must be evil to pray.

To have a clear and coherent argument you must prove the intrinsic evilness of an action rather than a comparative argument such "since jailbird Billy grew up reading The Hardy Boys series, therefore the Hardy Boys series are evil and we should not allow our children to read them." That is a lose-lose argument for the Christian.

Look at the above list. All of these religious beliefs and practices predated Christianity and all were used in polytheistic worship. So if Catholicism is evil for similar worship, anyone else's worship that looks similar is also. That logic can be used to prove Protestantism is ALSO based in paganism.

Paganism was the mimic a counterfeit, the distorted mirror of an ancient truth.... a truth that came to its climax, its actualization in Christ.

We do not let go of the doctrine, the rites because they have been fulfilled. They were NEVER wrong--but were corrupted by the evil one so that the form would be deflected into false worship. Now our worship--of prayers, holy days, prophecies, etc. are fully realized and made perfect through the Savior.

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