Saturday, December 30, 2006


I've been memed, by a Dominican, no less.

The Questions:

(1) Favorite devotion or prayer to Jesus:

The Divine Mercy Chaplet and the Jesus prayer.

(2) Favorite Marian devotion or prayer:

The Holy Rosary, although I also try to say the Angelus when I remember.

(3) Do you wear a scapular or medal:

I wear the brown scapular and the Miraculous Medal, which also has the St. Benedict medal. I also ear a crucifix on the same chain as the Miraculous Medal.

(4) Do you have holy water in your home:


(5) Do you offer up your sufferings:

I do, but I need to do it with more regularity.

(6) Do you observe First Fridays and First Saturdays:


(7) Do you go to Eucharistic Adoration? How frequently:

Not very oten. This is another thing I need to do more frequently.

(8) Are you a Saturday night Mass person or Sunday morning:

Sunday morning, 10:00 at St. John's Cathedral. The choir is excellent,and the music is typically good (though occasionally they sing something by Haugen, Haas, or Shutte).

(9) Do you say prayers at mealtime:

Yes. Always.

(10) Favorite saints:

St. Francis, St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas

(11) Do you know the Apostles Creed by heart:

Yes. However, when I'm the Precentor for Vespers or Compline, I have to read it from the book. That translation uses more archaic language.

(12) Do you usually say short prayers (aspirations) during the course of the day:

Yes, whenever the need strikes me. Sometimes it's frequent.

(13) Bonus question: When you pass an accident or other serious mishap, do you say a quick prayer for the persons involved:

I do try.

(14) Wolftracker's bonus question: What sin do you find most difficult to manage from day to day:

I sometimes think uncharitable thoughts. I have to remind myself (or be reminded) that we are all children of God.

Hmmmm. Whom to tag next? Maybe Dorian Speed (formerly the Anonymous Teacher Person)?

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas everyone. The peace of Christ be with you all.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Apocrypha of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

The late fashion of revisionist biblical history underscores a general trend in our day and age toward a twisting of truth, surely indicative of what our Holy Father calls "the dictatorship of relativism." One indicator of the trend is the degeneration of popular folk epics into revisionist screeds—the transformation of folk hero into antisocial predator.

No example would be more apropos than Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. If one were so inclined (as I appear to be) to parallel the development of Sacred Tradition and Scripture with the development of the Rudolph saga from folk song (oral tradition) to the height of the tradition's development, the similarities are staggering. As biologists like to say, ontogeny recapitulates philogeny.

As many of the early prayers and hymns included in the synoptic gospels came down through oral tradition, so the Rudolph saga begins. In 1938, Robert May pens a poem, which Johnny Marks later turns into song and Gene Autry records. But the good news of Rudolph's triumph must evolve and be passed down in a new form, one geared toward reaching a broader audience.

In 1964, Rankin-Bass produces a stop-motion animation of Rudolph's story: "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." It airs for the first time on December 6, 1964, coincidentally enough on the feast day of another famous personality and avid fighter of heresies, St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra.

But like all stories of good news, some would later appropriate and divert from the teaching of Rudolph story. The first step is a nod toward paganism in 1976, "Rudolph's Shiny New Year." As time progresses, the story of Rudolph becomes mired in mysticism, secret gnosis, and just a touch a nationalistic fanaticism in "Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July." And finally, bogged down by political correctness and blatant materialism, Goodtimes Entertainment releases the first CGI-animated sequel, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys," in 2001.

With the true message of Rudolph leached of its original depth, the antlered icon is ripe for reification by postmodern revisionists. Where our original hero is a gentle soul, a cynical postmodern recasting posits a violent "Raging Rudolph," a mafioso wannabee, who overcomes to become "The Reinfather."

Not to be outdone in its depth of moral despair, "A Pack of Gifts Now" gives us a story of Rudolph with a Christmas heart of darkness, Scorsesi style.

The horror. The Ho. Ho. Horror.

The development is clear. Once a message of good news to all is proclaimed, it is twisted and transformed into a promise of enlightenment for the few. When that distortion loses its charm to the masses (and its lucrativeness), opportunists appeal to the baser material instincts of the masses, only to finally reach a nihilistic endgame. It is a sad indictment, but an all too common one.

"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (TV special)." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 22 Dec 2006, 23:28 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 26 Dec 2006 .

The Heresy Channel

The Biography Channel is right up there with the History Channel in competition for the official title of "Channels Most Likely to Dispute Biblical Accounts." Perhaps the worst example is the series "Mysteries of the Bible," which should more properly be called "Postmodern Feminist Mysteries of the Bible."

The episode focused on Mary, the Mother of God. Naturally, the regular cast of modernist theologians and scripture scholars were trotted out to make claims of conflicting accounts (cave vs. stable, birth in Bethlehem vs. Nazareth). Nevermind that each of them has a reasonable explanation supported by documentary evidence. Surprisingly, one or two of the scholars mentioned the "Protevangelium of James." This document, attributed pseudonymously to James (the brother of Jesus, son of Joseph from a previous marriage), recounts the conception and births of Mary and Jesus. The earliest manuscript dates from the third century, but there are references to other works that suggest a date of around the middle of the second century.

But not shortly after the mention of this extracanonical work, one of the scholars, a professor from a Marymount College, claims that the references to a "virgin" in Matthew and Luke are likely mistranslations of a term used to refer to a woman of marriageable age and disputed the claim of technical virginity. She made no mention whatsoever of the development of a document not 100 years later that clearly sets forth an account of Mary as a virgin in every possible sense of the word.

Of course, these claims are nothing new. It would be refreshing if either of these two channels would try nearly as hard to find a group of scholars who supported the orthodox interpretation of scripture. But when Elaine Pagels is perpetually available to give us gnosis, I guess we can't expect producers of such codswallop to work all that hard to find better scholars.

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism, Church History]

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Books! Books! Books!

Okay, I did manage to make off with quite a few new books on my latest birthday, and I picked up a few more with a gift card to Barnes & Noble. The big surprise was the three titles by Cardinal Ratzinger, including The Spirit of the Liturgy. I'm working my way through that now (along with four other books I've been picking at for a while). I can never read only one book at a time.

Rufus McCain will no doubt be happy that I have picked up The Moviegoer motivated largely by his constant trumpeting of the glories of Walker Percy. I had a copy of The Last Gentleman for a graduate course another lifetime ago, but for some reason we dropped it from the course list. I never got around to it, and that book somehow found its way out of my collection. Anyway, I'm happy to have another go at Percy.

I also picked up The Man Who Was Thursday (G.K. Chesterton) and The Loved One (Evelyn Waugh). Thursday is turning out to be rather interesting. I'm more familiar with British fiction prior to 1890 and after 1930, but this novel seems strikingly like the Continental fiction of the later period—a bit surreal, absurd. The Ball and The Cross struck me in the same way. I'm enjoying it nonetheless. I've been reading more theology and history lately, so it's nice to return to fiction for a time.

Monday, December 18, 2006

They say it's my birthday...

As initimated in last night's post, today is the 42nd anniversary of my nativity. Or whatever.

My wife, daughter, parents, and brothers got together to spoil me last night. As my dad once warned me, someday I would miss those family get togethers. Now, I look forward to every other Sunday when we all have dinner at my parents. I think my wife and I may be taking over the hosting soon as Mom is not as excited about feeding a large horde anymore.

Anyway, my wife gave me a copy of the Latin version of Rosetta Stone. Dabbled a little in it this evening, and it looks promising. I might have to get the French, Spanish and German versions to relearn what I've forgotten. Mom gave me three titles by the Holy Father. I'm currently digging into The Spirit of the Liturgy. And apparently she has another on the way, a Hans Urs von Balthasar reader.

Tonight, my wife is making enchiladas, and we're watching Chronicles of Narnia. I feel blessed.

Every now and then, I think, "Hey, I'm actually 42." I'm not depressed, just rather surprised. I should've been clued in by the whizzing sound that January first kept making as it passed by. Nonetheless, I find it oddly shocking to be two years on this side of 40.

I mentioned that my father has been diagnosed with two forms of cancer—both slow growing and very responsive to treatment. He's been undergoing chemotherapy and finished his second cycle last Monday. I guess his hair has started falling out, and it appeared last night that he had gone ahead and shaved his head. So today, I celebrated my birthday by having my head shaved. Dad won't know until I see him at Vespers on Wednesday (and I trust that no one - Mark - will tell him).

One thing is certain. I'm much happier since I've come back to the Church and turned my life over to God. That sounds trite. In a previous life, "trite" would've concerned me. I still sometimes wrestle with the cynical, hip voice that sneers at sentimentality and raises its brows at common expressions of love. I have, at very least, come to despise the malady of hipness, the illness of ennui. And it's not an illness merely because it "torments" people. Hipness, cynicism, and ennui poison the soul. They make simple pleasures impossible and degrade the beauty of everyday life.

Here's a happy birthday to me, and a very merry unbirthday to all y'alls (or y'uns, or youse guys).

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Don't hate me because I'm beautiful...

...that would be a misguided waste of energy.

If I sound different tomorrow, perhaps a little more mature or wiser, that would also be a figment of your imagination. There would be absolutely NOTHING to it.

BTW, would you also please not mention the number 42. I'm just sayin'.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Verbum in Via

Kansas City Catholic brings new meaning to the term "interfaith dialog."

*Please let me know if the declension for "street" is incorrect. I was sort of winging it.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Barque of Peter or Gilligan's Isle?

The Pertinacious Papist has an interesting post on welcoming converts into the Church. Having gone through RCIA at a rather liberal parish, I can confirm many of the reflections and supporting comments. Oddly, I recall that one of the points they frequently touted about membership in the Catholic Church was Sacred Tradition. Yet most of them were quite happy dispensing with Tradition and Magisterial Authority when those sources of doctrine didn't jibe with personal preference.

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism, Church History]

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Yep, that would be my current work life. In addition to the end-of-year stuff for the food pantry I run, I'm getting hammered at work (both for actual billed work and general business development stuff). And did I mention that we didn't shop early?

So posting will be slow for the next few days. However, I would like to link to an excellent speech that Archbishop Chaput gave at this year's Orange County Prayer Breakfast, courtesy of Jeff Miller. The archdiocese of Denver is vey lucky to have such good bishops. I can only hope their quality bcomes commonplace in the coming years.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

More Crack for Fantasy Lovers!

Our friendly fantasy crack-dealer, S.M. Stirling, has posted yet another chapter from The Sunrise Lands. I've only read the first few pages, but it's looking good. The only thing that haunts me is the length of time between chapters and the anticipated wait between the last chapter S.M. posts and the release of the book. Fortunately, I'll have more theology classes to occupy my time, so maybe I won't feel the jones quite so much.

Who am I kidding?

Become an organ donor! Give your heart to Jesus!

That was Jesse Romero's message to us today.

St. John's had a conference this week on family life and faith, and we were blessed to have Jesse Romero, Rosalind Moss, and Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers as the conference speakers. They were all fantastic, and they brought something that we hear all too infrequently in our diocese: orthodox Catholic teaching. I'm not saying thatall of our priests are heterodox. We have some who are excellent, but there are a few who softsell the faith, who hesistate to preach the hard teachings, and admittedly some who are simply operating under their own personal magisterium.

Deacon Harold was particularly vocal about novelties in the liturgy, and he made one thing very clear: when priests mess withthe words in the liturgy, they are messing with scripture!


He mentioned a discussion he had with a Calvinist friend who claimed that the Mass wasn't scriptural. So the deacon proceeded to show him every location in scripture from which the prayers, responses, and acclamations are taken.

There were two somewhat embarrassing points in one of the deacon's talks and when Rosalind Moss spoke. At some point in their talks, they turned to point to the crucifix, only to find that there was no crucifix in sight. It was just what the rest of us needed to finally put our collective foot down. Back in the late 80s there was a remodel, and the traditional crucifix was replaced with the newer, sleeker resurrects-ifix. (Credit my friend Mark with that name.) Somewhere along the line, that was removed, but an appropriate crucifix was never replaced. Lately, even the processional crucifix has been replaced by a resurrects-ifix. Apparently the debate has gone on for about four years, but I think the tide has turned.

It was a happy day to be a faithful, conservative Catholic in Boise today.

Monday, December 04, 2006

One small step for Sparky, one giant step for clown priests.

Okay, that is deliberately provocative. I did not witness, today or ever, a clown mass. However, I did sing at a local Advent concert featuring several of the Catholic choirs in our area. For the most part, it was very pleasant. However, there were liturgical dancers from one of the local parishes (not mine). A number of the churches seem to be putting together liturgical dance troupes. While I object to dancing during the liturgy, I couldn't really object to dance as part of a concert.

One of the dancers, Sparkle, was actually quite good, and she performed with a soloist singing "Breathe of Heaven." Nonetheless, the dancers for the most part were a bit distracting. Both my wife and daughter found it uncomfortable to have these women moving around in the aisles while the choirs performed. My daughter summed it up nicely: Boo, creepy liturgical dancers! (I have to acknowledge that my wife put her up to it.)

I later mentioned that it's a short step from Sparkle the Liturgical Dancer to Sparky the Clown Priest. We will have to keep our eyes peeled for overlarge shoes poking out from under our priests' cassocks.

[Technorati tags: Catholic, Catholicism]

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Common Declaration by Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Bartholomew I

I'm heartened to see this joint decree from the Holy Father and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. While I know there's a long way to go, I praise God to see some progress toward ful communion.

Tip of the Biretta to Fr. Stephanos.

[Technorati tags: Eastern Orthodoxy, Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism, Church History]

Monday, November 27, 2006

Thou shalt see your pomegranates wither, O thou love-crazed Gittite!

Nothing substantive to post today, so instead I'll tell you about our weekend.

We had Thanksgiving dinner with my parents on Thursday. My dear wife, however, always has to have a to-do as well, so we had another meal on Saturday and invited over another branch of the family.

And sometime Friday night, our refrigerator passed on to that appliance junkyard in the sky.

We were able to fix our family dinner, but all leftovers went out the door with the kids, brothers, and parents, along with some stocks of cut corn and applesauce that my wife was hoping would last us through winter.

Today our new refrigerator arrived, and all is nearly back to normal.

But that's not what I wanted to post about! No, actually the Ironic Catholic has posted a link to the Ship of Fools' Biblical Curse Generator.

Maybe even more potential than the Shakespearean Insult Generator!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Boise State 38, Nevada 7

This will probably be the only sport-related post I ever make. However, it's a big day for my Alma Mater, Boise State University, home of the blue astroturf.

Boise State beat University of Nevada-Reno today to finish the season 12-0 and to win a first ever opportunity to play in a BCS bowl. It looks like they'll be playing either Oklahoma or Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl.

Coming up, Notre Dame (my father's Alma Mater) vs. USC.

What kind of reader am I?

The kind who always has a use for old business cards (bookmarks)? The kind who saves books solely on the off chance that it might be referenceable? The kind who separates books by genre and theme (technical books in one book shelf, theology and Church history in another, novels in the bedroom and living room)?

Apparently there's a word for that...

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm

You're probably in the final stages of a Ph.D. or otherwise finding a way to make your living out of reading. You are one of the literati. Other people's grammatical mistakes make you insane.

Book Snob
Dedicated Reader
Literate Good Citizen
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

Thursday, November 23, 2006

What would Mary drive?

The Curt Jester is going on a test drive with the Holy Father. Looks like Mary was also out for a ride that day.

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism]

Happy Thanksgiving!

Now if I could just find that darn turkey...

Here turkey, turkey, turkey...

Complimentarity of Men and Women

My friend, Mark, has an interesting reflection from Fr. Giles Dimock, OP, concerning the complimentarity of men and women. Typically when we think of complimentarity between the sexes, we think of union in marriage. However, Fr. Dimock speculates that this complimentarity plays itself out elsewhere as well.

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism]

Welcome to!

The Claw of the Conciliator discovers the joys of

Contraception & Breast Cancer

A number of researchers have claimed links between the use of oral contraceptives and breast cancer in premenopausal women. Now a study from the Mayo Clinic confirms the link.

The extract of the article contains the following statement:

On the basis of the accumulated data, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified oral estrogen-progestogen contraceptives as carcinogenic to humans (group 1 carcinogen) in 2005, which is a higher classification than the 1999 IARC evaluation.

That there are physical dangers of contraception is not surprising. Paul VI noted in Humanae Vitae that there are also significant dangers to society and personal liberty:

Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.

Do you want fries with that Zamboni?

So you're working late at the local ice rink, and you get a hankering for a Whopper. So whaddaya do? Take the Zamboni down to Burger King.

Both drivers were temporary employees and are now ex-temporary employees.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Who's this Squiddy person?

The NY Times interviewed Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the new bishop presiding over the ECUSA and the first woman bishop elected to this position. If you haven't been following the story of her election, it has caused weeping and gnashing of teeth in many quarters (fortunately not of the eternal variety), and many conservative Episcopalians have had it up to here with the ECUSA. Numerous parishes are seeking oversight from a bishop in Africa and are leaving the ECUSA.

What I find most humorous about the interview is what it reveals about the Right Reverendess herself. Por ejemplo...

Your critics see you as an unrepentant liberal who supports the ordination of gay bishops. Are you trying to bolster the religious left?

No. We’re not about being either left or right. We’re about being comprehensive.

Because, of course, other religions are all about being reprehensive. None of us have freinds or family members who have same-sex attractions, and if we do, well, then anathema sit.

How many members of the Episcopal Church are there in this country?

About 2.2 million. It used to be larger percentagewise, but Episcopalians tend to be better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations. Roman Catholics and Mormons both have theological reasons for producing lots of children.

Well, of course. Those silly Catholics and their dirt-poor masses with no system of education; no history of intellectual enterprise; no brilliant theoligical, philosophical, or scientific minds. Mentally impoverished, we are. I'll remember to tell that to my dad—the doctor with three residencies and some 16 years of education beyond high school. Pardon me, gotta light the wood stove with the diploma from my master's in English literature. Sheepskin just seems to help the peat from the bog catch more quickly.

Have you met Pope Benedict?

I have not. I think it would be really interesting.

Heh. I bet it would. I guess her Ph.D. in oceanography would be of great benefit in theological discussion with the Holy Father.

He became embroiled in controversy this fall after suggesting that Muslims have a history of violence.

So do Christians! They have a terrible history. Look at history in the Dark Ages. Charlemagne converted whole tribes by the sword. I think Muslims are poorly understood by the West, and it is easy to latch onto that which we do not understand and demonize it.

I think the use of third person here says it all. "They," those Christians (not we enlightened, leftist Unitarian-types), have such a horrible history. Just check out the Dark Ages! Filled with all those horrible universities, and hospitals, and scientific inquest! The Dark Ages, from which the middle class arose! The Dark Ages, during which time those dastardly Christians didn't wreak vengeance upon the Muslim hoardes who were threatening their borders from North Africa and Turkey. Somehow those ages were so much more dark than the periods following.

I think what bothers me most is that she not only mischaracterizes faiths other than her own, she essentially lumps all Christianity in with her misconceptions and denies her own involvement.

Something I've noticed about most of my left-leaning friends is the air of intellectual superiority they frequently take on topics while not providing any justification for the rightness of their cause. Kathy Shaidle posted something about this just the other day. There's no actual debate. They all know the talking points and the positions. And they all know which myths to repeat. Schori seems to have those points down as well.

Faith and Works: St. Augustine

Michael and Katerina at Evangelical Catholicism have a passage out of St. Augustine's De fidei et operibus (Faith and Works) that explains Augustine's take on faith and works. I noted in one of my paper's last semester that Luther's theological formation as an Augustinian monk must've been a bit on the weak side given that he so thoroughly misunderstood Augustine's position on faith and works. Luther also seemed to ave little exposure to the other early Church fathers.

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism, Church History]

Sunday, November 19, 2006

UPDATE: Prayers for My Father

My father was recently diagnosed with cancer. He had surgery last Wednesday, and the pathology report indicated that the cancer is stage 1. However, a follow-up CT-scan revealed another growth in a different area, also stage 1. Both growths are thought to be very treatable, but please keep my father (Doc) in your prayers, nonetheless.


UPDATE: My dad is beginning chemotherapy tomorrow. In addition, they'll be taking two bone-marrow samples and a spinal tap. That's quite an ordeal for a 70-year-old guy. Thanks for your prayers this week.


I've been praying for some time about whether I am called to the diaconate. I've thought it might be the case, and my wife has suspected as well. During our priest's homily today, something he said gave me a sudden sense that I am being called. He was talking about Dr. Kübler-Ross's work with terminally ill people. She mentioned that these people facing the ends of their lives and looking back at what they had done with their time all seemed to focus on two elements: love and service to others. Something about his words brought me certitude about what I should be doing with my life. So I spoke to him after Mass, and he is going to pass my name along to the deacon who is beginning the next formation session soon.

So please pray for me and for my family.

Another wonderful thing happened at Mass today. Father announced that our church would be hosting the Sanctuary project next week. Santuary is an effort among the interfaith community in Boise to provide homeless families with shelter during the cold season. Two years ago, the city turned over control of the largest homeless shelter in the city to a private organization that also runs a rescue mission. While that organization does some great work, they made a decision that many feel wasn't wise. They decide to make the shelter for men only. Doing so makes for a smoother operation, and apparently they have fewer incidents with the police when families and single men are separate. This put a lot of people in a bad situation.

Last year, Sanctuary was started by a number of area churches, temples, and religious organizations. Originally they proposed a tent city, but the weather was simply too harsh, and the city seemed to be quite against it. Instead, the various local churches opened their doors for a week at a time to provide a place for these homeless people to sleep. St. John's Cathedral wasn't able to accommodate Sanctuary last year. However, this year, we got involved right up front.

Father had to make a tough decision, one that angered some parents of the children who attend the parish school. However, he announced today that we would be hosting Sanctuary starting tomorrow evening. He said that this was, for him, the only option available to his conscience, and he hoped that we would come to support his decision. I don't usually approve of applause at Mass, but I was extraordinarily touched when he finished and the entire congregation burst into applause. I feel blessed to worship with such a group.

So please pray for our parish as well!

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism]

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A Catholic View of Sex and Sin

I posted this as a comment in response to S.M. Stirling, who responded to a post on on a recent interview with John Martignoni. Since it followed an earlier comment I made, I thought S.M. might've been missed it, so I'm reposting it here.

BTW, SM, I want to tell you that I really appreciate your openness to discussion on these matters. I hope this post doesn't come off as patronizing. I think most people think Catholic views on sexuality are repressive and have more to do with guilt than healthy shame or love. While some of us may certainly have unhealthy views of sex, the doctrine of the faith has a very healthy view of sex. Anyhoo, here's the original post:

The difference in our perpectives is tied to our different world views, which are informed by our belief systems. I would assume, as an atheist, that you're also a materialist. From a materialist perspective, you can't really go beyond the immediate act to some greater reality. Your sex life has meaning (if it has meaning) because it's tied to something in the here-and-now that you value—in your current case, your marriage; in previous cases, sexual satisfaction. In your married life, it can have the additional impact of continuing your family line. However, that's still a purely temporal concern.

That's not how it works in Catholic thought (with an eye toward natural law). Sex is tied to marriage because sex is tied to procreation. (I'm sure I haven't surprised you there.) From a biological perspective, you cannot say that the pleasure is tied to sex for its own sake. It's clearly a means of motivation, just as appetite is a means to motivate us to eat. However, just as misusing the appetite of hunger can cause emotional and physical harm, so can the misuse of the sexual appetite.

However, procreation and its motivating factors are only part of the picture. We believe that marriage is necessary to provide a stable environment in which to raise children. Part of that stability comes from the bonding that takes place during the sexual act—a bonding that acts on a spiritual level, as well as a chemical, neurological level (see oxytocin and vasopressin). On a spiritual level, a permanent bonding takes place in the sacrament of marriage, and it is reinforced during the sexual act. Marriage is described in Genesis 2 as a cleaving of man to woman. (I'm sure, as a writer, you can appreciate the duality of that word "cleave" given that Eve was first taken from Adam). This scripture is one on which the sacramentality and indissolubility of marriage in the Cathoic church is based. A marriage isn't created solely by the whims of two individuals. It's created by God. As Christ said, "What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder" (Mt 19:6).

So sex is a spiritual act, and in the Catholic mind, having enaged in sexual behavior outside of marriage means a misuse of a spiritual act, the misuse of a sacred gift. It offends God because it uses a natural thing unnaturally. It also wounds the other spiritually, whether he or she recognizes the wound. When someone returns to the Catholic faith sincerely, they (meaning "I") look back on these acts not as meaningless activities but as betrayals of trust, as sins against our neighbors, and as wounds to our own spirituality.

A final thought...

While many Catholic Christians certainly have shame and remorse for our past sins, it would be a mistake to assume that all of us simply fear eternal retribution. Yes, we recognize an ultimate judgement, but that's not what our remorse is about. Just as one always regrets hurting a loved one, we regret our offences to God and to our brother and sister—not because of fear but because of love. Our role as Christians is to will and hope for the best outcome for everyone, and where we have hindered that end, we are culpable. While we may be granted mercy, leading someone else to the wrong choice results in an eternal loss. When we mourn our past failings, this is part of our grief.

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism, Church History]

Friday, November 17, 2006

Feeling marginalized?

Make up your own hate crime!

FDA Rejects Nutrition Labeling for the Eucharist

The Spouse of the Ironic Catholic (sic) has the scoop.

HT to the Curt Jester.

What's Really Wrong with Priestly Formation

The Curt Jester has posted a link to Fr. John Trugilio's dismantling of a recent Commonweal Magazine editorial concerning the poor quality of priestly formation in today's seminaries.

Similarly, the ecclesiastical radicals bragged about their disdain for the Pope, the Vatican and the Magisterium. Academic freedom and liberty of conscience were their mantras. Yet, if someone under their authority dared to disagree or worse yet, disobey the disobedient, then the fascist side of them emerged. While there was no equivalent Peasants' Revolt, we did have in the seminary those who refused to be disloyal to Rome. It was not the people in the pews who faithfully went to church for Mass and confessions who demanded that their parishes remove statues, communion rails or whitewash their sanctuaries. The liturgical Nazis imposed iconoclasm on many parishes and they even deported Christ by removing Tabernacles and placing them in obscure, small, and covert 'Eucharistic chapels' instead of the main worship space.

Reminds me a little about the response I received from my bishop when I reported some irregularities in the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy. I also requested additional opportunities to attend the Tridentine Rite and received very helpful guidance to find the only parish in the diocese where this rite is permitted.

BTW, No Comment Moderation

I'm probably going to pay for this, but I've turned off comment moderation in the hopes of encouraging more people to leave comments. I'm still requiring verification if for no other reason than to discourage spam.

So comment all you like! I see Rufus McCain has already started.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

DOH! Game's Over for My Blog Title

Looks like someone else has a blog with the same title (, and he appears to be on a different political and spiritual wave length (although I do have to say his blog design is pretty cool).

So, I'm going to have to change the name of the blog AGAIN. Any suggestions? Here are some things to keep in mind:

- I'm a Catholic revert.
- I'm a martial artist (okay, well, I PRACTICE a few martial arts anyway) and have an interest in military history and warfare.
- I play guitar and bass, sing, and otherwise produce music-like sounds when poked.
- I study theology and other things Catholic.
- I have a master's degree in English—mostly focused on po-mo and modernist lit.
- I have an odd sense of humor that occasionally rears its head here.

Heck, let's make a game of it—Name That Blog.

Can you name that blog in three notes?

Prayers for a Former Anglican Ordinand

Dwight Longenecker is a married, former Anglican priest who is preparing for ordination in the Roman Catholic Church. He has a chalenging path ahead, so please pray for him and his wife.

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism, Church History]

Saturday, November 11, 2006

John Martignoni: From Hedonism to Holiness

The National Catholic Register as an interview with John Martignoni about his flight from and return to the Catholic faith. The interview strikes a chord with me, particularly this passge:

Someone said to me once, “John, you’re lucky because you got to sow your wild oats.” I said, “You don’t know how lucky you are that you didn’t.” I have this constant struggle with memories form the past. All the things I did come back and try to tempt me. Those memories of impure actions are impure thoughts and I have to constantly keep my guard up to keep these thoughts and feelings and emotions from flooding my mind.

So you’re very lucky if you’ve never done these things. I was sinning like crazy, and it has consequences in my life today. You don’t want to “sow your wild oats” and you want to keep your children from doing so.

Amen to that. Like Mr. Martignoni, I stepped out of the Church and into a life of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and I can confirm that those three nouns are not used together by accident. I played in nightclub bands starting when I was 17. While I certainly wasn't innocent at that time, the music scene exposed me to a whole new level of hedonism. I still pay the price of those early, dark years.

Sexual immorality is probably one of the best examples I can think of sin that has such clear spiritual and temporal consequences. When people in the Church these days argue for a less stringent morality, for a "more realistic" view of sex, I come to two conculsions about these people:

- These people have a completely materialist view of sexual intercourse. They see the act as purely physical and only endowed with those emotional aspects one chooses to give it. However, no one is more vulnerable to another person as they are during the sexual act. Such vulnerability brings with it an emotional attachment or an emotional wound, one or the other.

- These people have no idea of the damage pre- or extra-marital sex can do to someone's future relationships and emotional health. When someone has sexual intercourse with another person, they develop a bond. With no commitment, the bonding process is frustrated. Over time, repeated acts thwart a person's ability to bond. If that person ever marries, they begin that relationship with a huge impediment.

Here's another way to look at it. We try to protect our children from physical harm by setting rules and guidelines. No one in their right mind would tell us that we should allow our children to risk life or limb to really understand the need for caution. Yet, when it comes to sexual activity, this is the wisdom of the day. Your son or daughter won't really understand the value of commitment until they've been used emotionally and physically and tossed away. What kind of wisdom is that?

Some people like to say, "Well, at least he got it all out of his system." Nothing could be further from the truth. Engaging in that lifestyle is what puts the filth into your system. We need to God to get it back out of us.

HT to Jeff Miller.

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism]

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Pun for a Hun

I don't know what it is about Catholic writers and puns.

Mike Aquilina is at it as usual and has a great post on St. Leo the Great. Aside from Pope Leo's role in helping to define the role of the See of Peter in the Catholic Church, he also managed to do what armies before him could not: turn Attila the Hun back from Rome.

HT to Jeff Miller.

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism, Church History]

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Walker Percy—A View of Abortion with Something to Offend Everybody

Via South Dakota Politics comes this reprint of a Walker Percy essay. One passage in particular struck me (ouch):

Such vexed subjects as the soul, God, and the nature of man are not at issue. What we are talking about and what nobody I know would deny is the clear continuum that exists in the life of every individual from the moment of fertilization of a single cell.

There is a wonderful irony here. It is this: The onset of individual life is not a dogma of the church but a fact of science.

HT to Rufus at Korrektiv.

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism, Church History]

Idaho Election Results—Same as the Old Results

Well, the most dramatic shift in power in Idaho politics was the increase of the Democrats holdings in the state legislature by six seats. Otherwise, it was business as usual in Idaho.

Five years ago, I would've been in a dismal mood because of the state results. This year, I get to be distraught by the ungodly decisions in South Dakota, Missouri, and elsewhere.

*On a lighter note, I accidentally spelled Demoncrats. No, really, it was an accident.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Dialectic of Reformation

Since the 1300s, a conversation had been ensuing in the Roman Catholic Church concerning the need for change, for a reformation of the institutional Church and a purgation of the worldliness that had become the hallmark of the Church during the Renaissance.1 Long before Luther left his calling card on the door of a church in Wittenberg, pious men and women such as St. Catherine of Sienna and Girolama Savonarola2 had earnestly sought spiritual and moral renewal. However, with economic situations creating additional stressors and with simony still running rampant at all levels of the Church hierarchy, a crisis was fasting approaching. When Luther finally struck flint in the dry brush of Renaissance Europe, religious dissent and dissatisfaction provided the fuel Luther's spark needed to become a conflagration.

Fr. Marvin O'Connell notes that the sixteenth century brought a religious revival to all of Europe.3 However, the character of reform differed considerably depending on the locale, the individuals or groups behind the movement, and the interplay of personal or political interest with religious motive. Whereas Protestant reform tended toward individual interpretation, a consolidation of religious authority in the state or regional government, and a purging of ritual and practice deemed "popery," Catholic reform relied on historical consistency, continuity, and preservation of magisterial authority. Jaroslav Pelikan, in Reformation of Church and Dogma, volume 4 of The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, points out this tendency on the part of many Protestant reformers to dispense with the very substance of Christian doctrine rather than the distorted teachings that led to abuse:
By "boldly passing judgment" on such abuses, the Reformation had performed a useful service, but its demand for "pure doctrine and uncorrupted morals" was no justification for "overthrowing all the authority of all the ages of history." The removal of an abuse must not involve removal of "the substance of the matter" that had been subject to abuse.4
In both the German and English reformations, the notion of reform inclded both a rejection of so-called bad doctrine and a rejection of centralized authority. In the Catholic reformation, the notion of reform included a refinement of doctrine and a reassertion of authority with an attempt to purge the worldly influences that had encouraged and supported abuse. As Pelikan states, Protestant scholars eschewed Sacred Tradition and magisterial authority and rather "reversed the long established order and interpreted the creeds and confessions of the Reformation in the light of the teaching of the Reformers, instead of adapting the dynamic faith of the Reformation to the doctrines of the creeds."5

While Lutherans and Anglicans ended up with very similar outcomes, the reform movements in each country originated from different perspectives. In Germany, a rejection of Catholic doctrine eventually led to a denial in the authority of the Papacy. As Pelikan notes, Luther initially seemed to be riding the waves of reform from within:
It had not been his "will or intention" to elevate his own private theological concerns to the status of doctrinal issues affecting the entire church, and he had long professed the conviction that what he had "discovered" was something that the best theologians of the church must have known all along.6

The original subject of his dispute centered not upon what would become a pillar of Protestantism, justification by faith alone, but on the sacrament of confession and the abuse of indulgences. However, within the next year, Luther's attacks on doctrine clearly set his opinions outside of orthodox teaching. The false assumption that led to this attack on doctrine was, according to Marvin O'Connell, the idea that abuses were due to bad doctrine rather than simple human sinfulness, or as Pelikan phrased, "`wrong teaching' in the church, from which the `wrong conduct' proceeded."7

Luther redefined commonly used theological terms to suit his evolving ideology. As O'Connell notes, "He did reform, he did reshape, he redefined words like justification, predestination, sacrament, church, all of those things were reshaped as following from the insight that he thought he had to the process of justification."8 Other reformers on the continent may have disputed many of Luther's claims, but on the matter of justification by faith alone, all agreed. As Pelikan notes concerning the seventeenth-century followers of Calvin, "[A]ll of them agreed on this doctrine as the foundation of the entire Reformation, in fact, the chief doctrine of Christianity and the chief point of difference separating Protestantism from Roman Catholicism."9 From this shift in meaning of the term justification came a denial of the value of auricular confession, free will, priestly ordination, and eventually, for many Protestants, the Real Presence in the Eucharist. The bulk of Catholic sacramental doctrine was cast off based on the acceptance of this change in meaning.

Although Protestant reformers frequently invoked the name and the words of St. Augustine in their cause, defenders of the faith pointed out that both Cyprian10 and Augustine11 condemned the narrow Protestant position (albeit centuries beforehand). While Luther claimed to represent the Pauline line on the doctrine of justification, Catholic defenders used Paul's words to refute him, as Pelikan notes:
Love "does not permit anything to be preferred to it," not even faith. It was a mark of these "newfangled Christians" to speak of "faith alone," and in so doing to ignore the variety of meanings the word "faith" had in Scripture, where it did not refer only to "trust."12

None other than the pre-schismatic King Henry VIII referred to Luther's use of the great doctor's ideas as "lacerating the words of Augustine."13 Luther's understanding of Augustine put him at odds with the greater body of the doctor's work, particularly where Luther denied free will.

The doctrine of justification by faith alone was only part of the problem. As Pelikan notes, implicit in the affirmation of doctrines outside of Catholic orthodoxy was a denial of the doctrine of authority.14 If the Protestant reformers felt free to dispute the teachings, they clearly had no use for the teacher. By claiming scripture to be the sole basis for doctrinal truth, reformers did away with two more pillars of Catholic doctrine, leaving the basis for Protestant faith teetering on two untried legs: sola fide and sola scriptura.15 With no Sacred Tradition and no magesterium on which to rely, there was no need for a central authority on matters of faith and doctrine. The Lutheran reform, then, redefined what it kept and cut away all that it could not justify by its own chosen means. In Germany, the denial of what was taught led to the denial of the teacher. In England, the opposite would take place.

In the early sixteenth century, England seemed to be the most unlikely place for the Reformation to take hold. In 1521, Pope Leo X had endowed King Henry VIII with the title Fidei Defensor for his defense of the sacraments against Luther's attack.16 The period just prior to the break with Rome saw extensive combat against heresies, both Lutheran and Lollard:
Specifically, the heretics of the late 1520s were pursued for their attacks on the traditional cultus - the observation of fasts and holidays, the invocation of saints, the veneration of images and relics, pilgrimages, and the cult of intercession on behalf of the dead in Purgatory.17

Even as the king initiated his attempt to gain an annulment in 1526, he still considered himself a faithful Catholic.18 Not until the Holy See denied his request for an annulment did the king begin down the road to schism. In 1534, Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, which officially transferred all control over ecclesial matters to the king as Supreme Head of the Church in England.19 At this point, Henry VIII made no attempt to change the basic doctrines of the faith. The only other significant change that took place during Henry's time was the suppression of religious orders, and this due more to the desire for the property owned by the various orders rather than any doctrinal disagreement with their existence.

The Act of Six Articles stemmed, for a time, the Lutheran and Calvinist influences on the English church under Henry Tudor. This period is marked by conflict between the desire of the king to maintain doctrine and tradition and the reforming tendencies of the Regency Council.20 However, when the king died and left the young, sickly Edward as his heir, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, and the other Protestant sympathizers on the Regency Council asserted their influence on the developing schismatic church.21 After a brief respite during the reign of Mary, the onslaught continued with a new Act of Supremacy (which designated the monarch as the governor rather than the head of the church), the Act of Uniformity (which established a consistent liturgical form for the Church of England), and the Thirty-Nine Articles (which set down, albeit ambiguously, the doctrine of the church).22 The Virgin Queen demonstrated her perspicacity in these enactments. Eschewing the iconoclastic extremes of the Puritans, she retained those external elements of ritual, those "`dregs of popery'"23 that bound the English people in a common worship experience. However, Elizabeth knew she could make no concessions to the Catholic Church. To do so would undermine the "legitimacy" of her claim to the throne. While the Act of Uniformity offended the sensibilities of the hardcore Calvinists, the Act of Supremacy and the Thirty-Nine Articles, heavily influenced by the Augsburg Confession,24 were enough to satisfy all but the more extreme Protestant reformers.

While the term "reform" from the Protestant perspective took on a deconstructive cast, it took on very different tones in the Roman church. The Church owed something to the efforts of the Protestant reformers: despite the appearance that they performed more like battlefield physicians than skilled surgeons (hacking off limbs rather than carefully excising infections), they had charted out a course for reform. As Pelikan writes,
What the Protestant Reformation had done with its doctrine of justification by faith alone, as the debates at the Council of Trent were to make clear, was to bring into the open some of the unresolved questions about justification in late medieval theology.25

Shortly following Luther's posting of the 95 Theses, Pope Leo X had responded by clarifying the doctrine of indulgences in his papal bull of November 9, 1518.26 When Luther refused to submit to the Pope's authority, his teachings were condemned in the June 15, 1520 papal bull, Exsurge Domine. However, to view the Catholic reformation simply as a reaction to Protestant attacks would be a mistake, and the Church undertook the process of reform with earnestness and penitence. Cardinal Reginald Pole struck this penitential tone in his opening address to the Council of Trent. He put the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the shepherds of the Church, the bishops, and he invoked precisely that note of contrition that Luther failed to recognize in Catholic doctrine as a condition for forgiveness: "`[U]nless we place our own sinful responsibility in front of our minds it is useless to call upon the Holy Spirit for help.'"27

While the Protestant reform seemed to take place as a battle of pamphlets and a marketplace exchange of proof texts, the work of the council proceeded in a far different fashion. The council took place in three sessions over a period of eighteen years. The council fathers (that is, all those who had voting rights at the council) took into account current theological opinion, the continuous historical understanding of doctrine from the apostolic era, the writings of the early Church fathers, scripture-in short, all of the resources by which the Church currently defines matters of faith and morals. Unlike the more democratic approach of the Protestant reformers, the council required moral unanimity for all conciliar decrees. As O'Connell explains, "A simple majority could not express the mind of the council, because, as the fathers firmly believed, the Holy Spirit did not manifest his will in that fashion."28 In addition to the work of the council, the Pope also initiated changes within the Roman curia. In 1563, the presiding Papal legate, Cardinal Morone, presented a program of clerical reform that proved acceptable to the Holy See and the secular rulers alike.29

The reforms of the Church were not matters deemed appropriate for the moment or settled upon by a wholesale rejection of things past. O'Connell sums up nicely the distinction between the Protestant reforms and those of the Catholic Church:
The Council of Trent provides a striking example of a valid distinction between the conservative and the reactionary. On both the doctrinal and the practical levels the solutions reached at Trent had their roots deep in the past, and yet took into account the specifically contemporary questions Protestantism had raised.30

While Protestant reforms set the various young factions on paths of ever increasing factionalism that continues to this day, the Roman Catholic Church chose a preservative reform, one that recognized the frailty of human wisdom and strove to maintain the Church's apostolic character. While the Protestant reformers condemned the Church as corrupt beyond redemption and abandoned the barque of St. Peter, the Catholic Church took responsibility for its own failings, repented, and put its trust in God in whom all things are possible.

Works Cited

"Counter Reformation: Origins of the Counter Reformation." The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. © 1994, 2000-2005, on Infoplease. © 2000-2006 Pearson Education, publishing as Infoplease. August 14, 2006.

Duffy, Eamon. Stripping the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580. 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.

"Girolamo Savonarola." The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. © 1994, 2000-2005, on Infoplease. © 2000-2006 Pearson Education, publishing as Infoplease. August 14, 2006.

Moyes, J. "Anglicanism." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company, 1907. Online Edition. K. Knight, 2006. August 18, 2006.

O'Connell, Marvin. The Counter Reformation 1560-1610. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1974.
----. "Lecture 5: Tudor Dynasty and Reformation in England." Two Critical Moments in Catholic History. July 17, 2006.

----. "Lecture 6: Counter Reformation-Council of Trent." Two Critical Moments in Catholic History. August 14, 2006.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Volume 4: Reformation of Church and Dogma (1300-1700). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

Thurston, Herbert. "Henry VIII." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company, 1907. Online Edition. K. Knight, 2006. July 18, 2006.

1"Counter Reformation: Origins of the Counter Reformation," The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, © 1994, 2000-2005, on Infoplease, © 2000-2006 Pearson Education, publishing as Infoplease,, August 14, 2006.

2"Girolamo Savonarola." The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, © 1994, 2000-2005, on Infoplease, © 2000-2006 Pearson Education, publishing as Infoplease,, August 14, 2006.

3Marvin O'Connell, "Lecture 5: Counter Reformation-Council of Trent," Two Critical Moments in Catholic History,, August 14, 2006.

4Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Volume 4: Reformation of Church and Dogma (1300-1700), (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984) 248.

5Ibid., 127.

6Pelikan, 127.

7Ibid., 247.

8Marvin O'Connell, "Lecture 6: Counter Reformation-Council of Trent," Two Critical Moments in Catholic History,, August 14, 2006.

9Pelikan, 138-139.

10Ibid., 250.

11Ibid., 252.

12Ibid., 252.

13Ibid., 251.

14Ibid., 262.

15Marvin O'Connell, "Lecture 5: Tudor Dynasty and Reformation in England," Two Critical Moments in Catholic History,

16Herbert Thurston, "Henry VIII," The Catholic Encyclopedia, Robert Appleton Company, 1907, Online Edition, K. Knight, 2006,

17Eamon Duffy, Stripping the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580, 2nd ed, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005) 379.


19J. Moyes, "Anglicanism," The Catholic Encyclopedia, Robert Appleton Company, 1907, Online Edition, K. Knight, 2006, August 18, 2006.

20Duffy, 424-435.



23Marvin O'Connell, The Counter Reformation 1560-1610 (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1974) 154.

24J. Moyes,

25Pelikan, 253.

26Pelikan, 135-136.

27O'Connell, "Lecture 6: Counter Reformation-Council of Trent," Two Critical Moments in Catholic History,, August 14, 2006.

28O'Connell, The Counter Reformation 1560-1610 (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1974) 97.

29Ibid., 101.

30O'Connell, 103.

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism, Church History]

A Tale of Two Reformations

When speaking of the history of Christianity, people often refer to the Reformation as some single, coordinated movement that reshaped Christian thinking. To adopt such a view is to commit the same erroneous assumption as those who refer to the Inquisition of the Roman Catholic Church. Just as there were multiple inquisitions separated by locale and in response to various doctrinal threats, one could say that there were multiple reformations. The Reformation can be viewed through lenses of two distinct perspectives: the Lutheran reformation in Germany and the Anglican reformation in England. One thing in common can be claimed for certain for the two men at the center of the controversies that ignited these two reformation movements: neither of these men initially intended a rupture with the Holy See or with the Catholic Church.1 However, both chose paths that eventually set them on a course for collision with the authority of the pope. Each chose a path different from the other, but both ultimately had the same rupturing effect.

The Reformation in Germany began in a doctrinal dispute but ultimately came to address matters of Church authority. The dispute officially began on October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of a church in Wittenberg. However, Luther's struggle with doctrine had begun several years earlier. Although Martin Luther had been awarded a doctorate in Sacred Theology, Luther's theological studies had not been particularly thorough.2 At the outset of his tenure at the University of Wittenberg (from 1513 to 1516), Luther began to develop what would eventually become the doctrine of the church he was to found.3 The basic propositions of sola fide (or "faith alone") and extrinsic justification appeared in his 1517 Commentary on Romans,4 in which he also presented the germ for his later dispute with Erasmus in Bondage of the Will concerning the concept of free will.

As heretical as these points were, the issue that sparked the posting of his 95 Theses was a legitimate dispute-the sale of indulgences. Pope Leo X responded to Luther's charges by clarifying the doctrine of indulgences in his papal bull of November 9, 1518.5 Following a whole year after the initial posting of the theses, this document came too late to stem more of Luther's attacks on doctrine. By this time, the German monk had disclaimed the Papal authority to loose and bind, the inerrancy of the papacy and councils, and the scriptural basis for the sacrament of penance.6 These and additional heresies would result in another papal bull on June 15, 1520, Exsurge Domine, which condemned many of Luther's teachings. His refusal to recant and to submit to the authority of the Pope confirmed him in his heresy, and his excommunication followed in 1521.

For the average German of the early 1500s, Luther's confrontation of the Church was grist for the mill. Disaffection with the clergy and with the Church was nothing new to the German populace. Luther's struggle and the development of his doctrine coincided with popular unrest, first in the form of the Bundschuh movement (which was anticlerical but not anti-Rome)7 and later with the Peasants' War.8 The economic climate of Germany in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries contributed greatly to this disaffection. Because of economic conditions, peasants occasionally broke out into open rebellion. In some cases, even minor nobility joined the side of the protestors. Clergy were caught in between as they benefited from rents and revenues from Church lands but paid no taxes. Added to these factors was the general dismal state of the clergy at the time. Although some good priests certainly existed, far too many ignored their vows and lived disreputable lives. With the addition of corruption and scandal in the episcopacy and the Papal Curia, the tinder was ready for someone to strike a flame. Luther's protest against the selling of indulgences was the perfect catalyst for religious upheaval.

Although the peasants were ready and willing to embrace Lutheranism in their own revolution, Luther did not fully reciprocate the feelings. He certainly gave the wrong impression to some reformers (such as Andreas Carlstadt).9 Indeed, some of Luther's early polemics would seem to support violent uprising but for the fact that a single quote of his had been lifted and used repeatedly as evidence against him.10 As Roland Bainton notes, many on the Catholic side chose unfairly to saddle Luther with responsibility for this popular movement:
The Catholic princes never ceased to hold Luther responsible for the uprising, and the Catholic historian Janssen has in modern times endeavored to prove that Luther was actually the author of the movement which he so violently repudiated. Such an explanation hardly takes into account the century of agrarian unrest by which the Reformation had been preceded.11

In reality, Luther was horrified by the violence of his fellow countrymen, and when asked to be an arbiter of the dispute between the peasants and the ruling class, Luther, according to Bainton, "disparaged most of their demands."12 Despite Luther's intentions, the religious reformation he sparked was bound to a larger social and national cause.

The nationalist flavor of the Peasants' War, as well as the compelling interests of the people, would prove to have a lasting effect on the form of the church organization. Instead of the traditional ecclesial organization, Luther proposed that the new church submit to the secular authority in each state. Instead of bishops, this new church had appointed superintendents. The former powers granted to bishops fell to the head of state.13 In addition to these organizational changes, Luther also contributed to the development of a new liturgy. The sacrificial aspects of the Liturgy of the Eucharist were eliminated, leaving only what the Lutherans referred to as the Lord's Supper. Roland Bainton explained the change more in terms of reclamation:
The canon of the mass disappeared because this was the portion in which reference to sacrifice occurred. Luther restored the emphasis of the early Church upon the Lord's Supper as an act of thanksgiving to God and of fellowship through Christ with God and each other. This first Lutheran mass was solely an act of worship in which true Christians engaged in praise and prayer, and were strengthened in the inner man.14

In addition to this change in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the mass employed German instead of the traditional Latin. Bainton noted that some visitors more familiar with the simpler services of the Calvinists found that "the Lutherans had retained many elements of popery: genuflections, vestments, veerings to the altar or the audience, lectern and pulpit on opposite sides."15 Nonetheless, the break was clear. Luther no longer led a reformation within the Church; he led an entirely new church.

If one tried to summarize the difference between the German and English reformations, one might say that the English reformation was a negative image of the German. While the German reformation began with a doctrinal dispute, the reformation in England began with matters of Papal authority. Doctrinal differences between the Church of England and the Church of Rome only came to the forefront following Henry VIII's death. Prior to the matter of his request for an annulment, Pope Leo X had dubbed the king Fidei Defensor for his defense of the sacraments against Luther's attack.16 However, the king's desire for a male heir, not to mention his desire for Anne Boleyn, would lead him into direct conflict with the authority of the Pope. King Henry's case hinged upon a dispensation that his father, Henry VII, and the Spanish King and Queen requested following the death of the elder Tudor heir, Arthur. His father had forestalled using the dispensation seeking some other possible advantage.17 At the time, this delay suited Henry the younger, 14 years of age at the time: he had lodged a formal complaint against the match claiming that it had been arranged without his consent.18 Nonetheless, nine weeks after his father's death and following his own ascension, Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon.

When Catherine failed to provide a suitable heir for the king, he began to claim a scrupulous conscience concerning the validity of the dispensation. As Herbert Thurston notes, when King Henry finally disputed the dispensation, he revealed the depth of his scrupulosity:
Henry also petitioned, in the event of his becoming free, a dispensation to contract a new marriage with any woman even in the first degree of affinity, whether the affinity was contracted by lawful or unlawful connexion. This clearly had reference to Anne Boleyn, and the fictitious nature of Henry's conscientious scruples about his marriage is betrayed by the fact that he himself was now applying for a dispensation of precisely the same nature as that which he scrupled about, a dispensation which he later on maintained the pope had no power to grant.19

Another factor in the king's claim was Catherine's counter claim that her marriage with the king's brother had never been consummated, leaving the matter of affinity null. Henry's scruples notwithstanding, the Pope in the end denied him the annulment. By this time, the king had already denied the Pope's power to dispense a law of the Church and had begun a number of activities that eventually culminated in his May 1533 marriage to Anne Boleyn. With this step, Pope Clement VII excommunicated Henry VIII.20

Social conditions in England could not have been more different than on the continent. While the German peasant class experienced the oppressiveness of Church taxes and the unremitting demands of Church law, the average English villager found the rhythm of life in the celebration of the various Catholic feasts and fasts. Eamon Duffy notes the stark difference between the Catholic faith as practiced on the continent versus the Catholic faith in England during the Reformation:
[M]edieval English Catholicism was, up to the very moment of its dissolution, a highly successful enterprise, the achievement by the official church of a quite remarkable degree of lay involvement and investment, and of a corresponding degree of doctrinal orthodoxy.21
The people of England lived their lives around the liturgical calendar and celebrated the many holy days of obligation, fasted frequently, and showed devotion to Mary and the cult of the saints. Books on the Catholic liturgy in the vernacular were abundant, as were various devotional and catechetical tracts.22 While various forces in the reformation on the continent disparaged the belief in the True Presence, its reality was foundational in the villages of fifteenth-century England. While receiving communion may have been an annual event,23 adoration of the Eucharist took place daily for many of the faithful.24

Unlike Luther's Germany, government policy drove the reformation in England against the popular will. The Crown preserved the basic ecclesial structure inherited from the Roman Catholic Church, even while dissolving monasteries and convents. The essential structure of the church hierarchy persisted. However, the liturgy, plus or minus some external aspects such as vestments and altars, appears to have been heavily influenced by the Lutheran liturgy.25

While the conditions leading to each reformation movement differed greatly, the end result for these two churches was remarkably similar, particularly when compared to the Calvinist and Zwinglian churches. Both maintained many of the external trappings of the Catholic Church, while dispensing with many of the sacramental and devotional aspects. As the common Catholic epigram "Lex orandi, Lex credendi" suggests, this change in the sacramental and devotional character of worship would have a tremendous impact on the futures of both churches. In hindsight, one might ask whether the reformation would be more suitably called a deformation.

Works Cited

Bainton, Roland. Here I Stand: a Life of Martin Luther. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1950.

Duffy, Eamon. Stripping the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580. 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.

Luther, Martin. Commentary on Romans. Trans. J. Theodore Mueller. Grand Rapids: Kregel Classics, 1976.

MacCaffrey, James. History of the Catholic Church from the Renaissance to the French Revolution. Vol. 1.
. July 19, 2006.

O'Connell, Marvin. "Lecture 4: Luther and the Reformation." Two Critical Moments in Catholic History. July 17, 2006.

----. "Lecture 5: Tudor Dynasty and Reformation in England." Two Critical Moments in Catholic History. July 17, 2006.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Volume 4: Reformation of Church and Dogma (1300-1700). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

Scannell, T.B. "The Book of Common Prayer." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company, 1907. Online Edition. K. Knight, 2006.
. July 19, 2006.

Thurston, Herbert. "Clement VII." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company, 1907. Online Edition. K. Knight, 2006.
. July 18, 2006.

----. "Henry VIII." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company, 1907. Online Edition. K. Knight, 2006. July 18, 2006.

1Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Volume 4: Reformation of Church and Dogma (1300-1700), (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984) 127. Also, Herbert Thurston, "Henry VIII," The Catholic Encyclopedia, Robert Appleton Company, 1907, Online Edition, K. Knight, 2006,

2Marvin O'Connell, "Lecture 4: Luther and the Reformation," Two Critical Moments in Catholic History,

3Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: a Life of Martin Luther, (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1950) 68.

4Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, Trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids: Kregel Classics, 1976) 77.

5Pelikan, 135-136.

6Bainton, 103.

7Bainton, 270.

8Ibid, 271-284.

9Ibid, 270.

10Ibid, 149.

11Bainton, 271.

12Ibid, 274.

13James MacCaffrey, History of the Catholic Church from the Renaissance to the French Revolution, Vol. 1.
. July 19, 2006.

14Bainton, 339.

15Ibid, 340.


17Marvin O'Connell, "Lecture 5: Tudor Dynasty and Reformation in England," Two Critical Moments in Catholic History,



20Herbert Thurston, "Clement VII," The Catholic Encyclopedia, Robert Appleton Company, 1907, Online Edition, K. Knight, 2006,

21Eamon Duffy, Stripping the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580, 2nd ed, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005) xviii.

22Ibid, 77.

23Ibid, 93.

24Ibid, 112.

25T.B. Scannell, "The Book of Common Prayer," The Catholic Encyclopedia, Robert Appleton Company, 1907, Online Edition, K. Knight, 2006, ">, July 19, 2006.

Roman Perception of the Early Christians

One could say that the relationship between Christians and Rome got off to a rocky start. Notwithstanding Christ's own relations with Roman citizens such as Jairus in Luke 10:40-56 or the centurion in Matthew 8:5-13, His first encounter with the Empire of Rome ended with His crucifixion. Many early Christians would follow Him to similarly ignoble deaths. As Henri Daniel-Rops writes, "The term `Christian' was virtually synonymous with `execution victim' from the beginning."1 However, the Roman perception of this Christian population would develop over several decades until their identity became distinct from the Jewish population with which Rome was more familiar and at ease.

Even before Christians became a large population in Rome, they must have raised eyebrows in the eastern Empire. Several passages in Acts describe St. Paul's missions to Asia Minor and the encounters he had with Diaspora Jews and with local gentile populations. Christians would have been suspect if only because the Jews seemed to be at unrest whenever a Christian appeared in their midst. In Acts chapters 13 through 15, the Jews from Antioch and Iconium go so far as to follow Paul to other cities and to incite the crowds there to violence against him. Paul had already been stoned and left for dead once. In Philippi, a Roman colony, Roman magistrates beat and jailed Paul and his companions on behalf of the gentiles (Acts 16:19-40). Clearly at this point, Paul and his companions were still considered to be Jews by those in Philippi who raised protests against them. Later, in Thessalonica, the Jews again incited the crowds and pitted the Christians against the Roman authority (Acts 17: 6-8).

In Corinth, Paul encountered a hostile Jewish crowd who took him before the Roman tribunal (Acts 18: 12-15). In this chapter, two items suggest that Rome still considered Christians to be Jews. First, verses 2 and 3 mention Aquila and Priscilla who had been expelled from Rome by Claudius. That Aquila and Priscilla became Christians at some point is clear from verse 26. However, when they actually converted is unclear-whether it was during Paul's stay with them or whether Paul's acquaintance with them is due to their conversion while in Rome. A document from the early second century suggests that Claudius may have expelled the Jews because of the unrest due to the Christian sect's presence in Rome. Suetonius, the imperial secretary of Emperor Hadrian2, mentions the following: "Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome."3 This name "Chrestus" is assumed by many to be a misspelling of Christus.4

Second, when the Jews presented Paul to the proconsul, Gallio made clear that he saw this matter as an internal affair among the Jews, and he refused to be drawn into it (Acts 18: 14). Nero's exploitation of hostility toward Christians suggests that he was aware of differences between the two groups, but how he understood them to be distinct is unclear. Tacitus' reference to Christians in The Annals makes no concurrent mention of Jews.5 Nero took advantage of the apparently well-known animosity toward the sect following the fire in Rome in July of the year 64. Daniel-Rops notes that popular suspicion drove Nero to seek a scapegoat, and the Christians (being even less popular than the Jews) provided a convenient one.6

Given the history of the early Church, the antagonism between the Jews and the early Christians is not surprising. However, Christians had also alienated themselves from other Romans by virtue of the strangeness of their beliefs. As Daniel-Rops points out, the apocalyptic language of the early Church itself may have been part of the problem.
[I]t must be taken into consideration that the language of Christianity, which was something of a mystery to the non-initiated, may well have acted as a disturbing and almost provocative influence, with its great pictures of divine wrath, of sinful cities being devoured by the flames, of universal conflagrations: with all that apocalyptic symbolism with which St. John was soon to score his themes.7

Nonetheless, Nero's persecution had less to do with the nature of Christian identity than it did with his need to find some group to implicate in the fire of July 64. When Domitian later turned against both the Jews and Christians, his reason appeared to be more out of a general sense of distrust and suspicion toward several groups. Daniel-Rops notes that Jews and Christians were clearly viewed as two distinct groups by this time, albeit with a common practice in the worship of and belief in one God.8 While Jews and Christians shared this one element in common, how Christians engaged their faith would be central to Rome's developing response toward them.

By the time of Trajan's reign (from around 98 to 117 AD9), several facts are clear. First, the Christian faith had spread far beyond Judea and had established a foothold in Rome, as Tacitus mentions in The Annals.10 Second, the early Church comprised mostly manual laborers and craftsmen from the lower classes;11 by Domitian's time, it had clearly begun to infiltrate the aristocracy.12 Finally, the sporadic but ongoing persecution of Christians appears to have been based on legal precedent, although no specific anti-Christian legislation is known to have existed until the third century. Christians by this time were no longer treated as Jews but as dissidents from Judaism. Professing Christian faith in itself had become a crime.13 To this point, one would be hard pressed to explain why this status would be the case, with the exception of a few notable points. Although being a Christian in and of itself required no direct act against the state that could be of itself a crime, Christians clearly created dissension among some quarters. As the biblical evidence suggests, and as Suetonius' historical note indicates, Christians and Jews did not mix well, and whenever they did mix, public disorder often followed. What is more, the pagan populace also found Christians abhorrent, as evidenced by both Paul's encounter with the pagan artisans of Ephesus in Acts 19 and Tacitus' description of Christians as "a class hated for their abominations" and who were convicted not for setting Nero's Rome on fire but for "hatred against mankind."14 The lack of actual criminal behavior notwithstanding, Rome would be inclined to see Christians as threats to the popular order.

Another difference between Christians and Jews exacerbated the situation. While Jews tended to keep to their own traditions and not seek to convert non-Jews, Christians actively proselytized and sought converts. This activity meant that the Christian populace increased outside of ethnic bounds, drawing from the pagans in the local populace. As in Ephesus, this activity would provide an economic motivation to the pagans' antipathy. Conversions from the pagan population meant that fewer worshipers would buy livestock or graven images. The spread of Christianity, then, was a threat to the livelihoods of pagan merchants and craftsmen. Cross-cultural proselytization also made containment problematic. Jews were identifiable by their ethnicity and their unique practices, but anyone could be a Christian. As mentioned before, Christianity also had begun to transcend class distinctions. While Judaism may have increased due to an individual conversion here or there, Christianity rapidly expanded both horizontally and vertically. For pagan craftsman and merchants, this rapid change caused economic instability. For the Roman authority, this change had other implications.

Because Christians worshipped the one true God and not the pantheon of civil gods of the Romans, they denied to Rome what Rome considered its due and what citizens of the Roman and Greek states had always considered their civic responsibility. Rome had a policy of tolerance toward pagan religions, and Eastern mystery cults were quite popular with the cosmopolitan Roman population.15 Rome was not concerned about pagan religions because adherents to these sects did not resist taking part in the civic festivals and cult of worship. As Daniel-Rops notes, the difference in the Christian mindset was the point of contention:
Christianity refused to be considered along with all the other cults that derived from Asia. Even in those elements where some semblance might have been found between it and them, it worked assiduously to differentiate itself from them. Its God destroyed the pagan gods; He did not mix with them. This alone was enough to make the Roman mind resist the newcomer.16

Christians came and caused division, just as Christ predicted: "Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three" (Luke 12:51-52). Christians caused division in society, division that could be exploited by the emperor (as in the case of Nero) but which could also be exploited by others. Christian intransigence in this matter also indicated that adherents to this new faith considered Roman authority to be less than absolute. In an era in which Roman authority was to become more centralized and more dominating, such a presence in the realm would become intolerable.17

Although Rome came to understand too late to effect a change, they did seem to grasp the threat that this sect with their transcendent authority, the one true God, posed. Rome had a few useful tools for gaining compliance to its will: death, exile, and torture. However, as temporal means, these methods swayed only those Christians whose faith was insufficient. For those fervent believers who ran headlong rejoicing into martyrdom, death meant only a quicker release to be with God and to enjoy the beatific vision. To compound Rome's dilemma, this ardor and passion increased the rate of conversions, so the very means by which Rome kept its populace in line was a catalyst for the growth of Christianity. As Tertullian wrote in The Apology, "The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed."18 When Constantine finally extended religious tolerance to Christians in the fourth century, one might still wonder whether he performed the act in magnanimity or in capitulation.

1Henri Daniel-Rops, The Church of Apostles and Martyrs, vol. I (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1962) 205.

2"Suetonius," Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, June 2006 ed.,

3Suetonius, De Vita Caesarum-Divus Claudius, trans. J. C. Rolfe, Internet Ancient History Sourcebook, ed. Paul Halsall, 1999,, chapter 25.

4The following editorial note appears inline in the Internet Ancient History Source book: "Another form of Christus; see Tert. Apol. 3 (at the end). It is uncertain whether Suetonius is guilty of an error in chronology or is referring to some Jew of that name. The former seems probable because of the absence of `quodam'. Tacitus, Ann. 15.44, uses the correct form, Christus, and states that he was executed in the reign of Tiberius."

5Tacitus. The Annals. Book 15: A.D. 62-65. Perseus Digital Library Project. Ed. Gregory R. Crane.. Tufts University. June 10, 2006.

6Daniel-Rops, vol. I, 200-202.

7Ibid., vol. I, 202.

8Daniel-Rops, vol. I, 202.

9"Trajan," Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, June 2006 ed.,

10Tacitus, The Annals. Book 15: A.D. 62-65,, Perseus Digital Library Project, ed. Gregory R. Crane, Tufts University, June 10, 2006,

11Marvin O'Connell, "Lecture 2: Apostolic Succession-First Persecution," Two Critical Moments in Catholic History, To be fair, not all share O'Connell's characterization. A recent book by Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity (HarperSanFrancisco, 1997), suggests that most growth in Christianity came from the merchant and upper classes.

12Daniel-Rops, vol. I, 216.

13Ibid., 209-211.

14Tacitus, The Annals. Book 15: A.D. 62-65,, Perseus Digital Library Project, ed. Gregory R. Crane, Tufts University, June 10, 2006,

15Daniel-Rops, vol. I, 191.

16Ibid., 192.

17Ibid., 211.

18Tertullian, The Apology,, Early Christian Writings, June 2006,, chapter 50.

Works Cited

Daniel-Rops, Henri. The Church of Apostles and Martyrs. Vol. I. Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1962.

O'Connell, Marvin. "Lecture 2: Apostolic Succession-First Persecution." Two Critical Moments in Catholic History. June 10, 2006.

"Suetonius." Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia. June 2006 ed. June 10, 2006.

Suetonius. De Vita Caesarum-Divus Claudius. Trans. J. C. Rolfe. Internet Ancient History Sourcebook. Ed. Paul Halsall. 1999. June 10, 2006.

Tacitus. The Annals. Book 15: A.D. 62-65. <>. Perseus Digital Library Project. Ed. Gregory R. Crane. Tufts University. June 10, 2006.

Tertullian. The Apology. <>. Early Christian Writings. June 2006. June 10, 2006.

"Trajan." Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia. June 2006 ed. June 10, 2006.