Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com Rum , Rome and Royalism: November 2005

Rum , Rome and Royalism

I would much rather belong to a church five centuries behind the times and majestically indifferent to the fact than to a church five minutes behind the times, frantically running to catch up.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

There is Life on Mars

The first episode of "Veronica Mars" aired in Australia last night. I'm not quite ready to join those who are hailing this show as the new Buffy, but it was certainly an enjoyable first episode.

Like Buffy, Veronica is a girl in a small, fictional, Southern California who was once part of the "popular crowd" but has now been forced very much onto the outer. Like Buffy, she's a stereotypically atractive blonde girl (although Kristen Bell is not quite as beautiful as SMG) and like Buffy, she conceals a real vulnerability beneath her toughness. But, what makes Veronica seem to me most like Buffy is the basic "high-school is hell" feel of the show. Veronica has, within a brief period, had her best friend brutally murdered, her father has lost his job, she's been raped, her mother has left her and her dad and she has lost her status as one of the cool kids at school. The dialouge, while not as funny as the dialouge on Buffy, does have a certain Buffy-esque crispness, and I think I recognise the influence of Buffy is certain parts of the characterisation of various high-school students.

On the down side, the sound-track is nothing like as good as Buffy's. They have "We Used to be Friends" by the Dandy Warholes as the theme-song. In their defence, I'd probably like that song a lot more if I hadn;t first heard it as the theme song of "My Resteraunt Rules" and it is more appropriate here.

Words of Wisdom from a Calvinist

Phillip Johnson has a post on his blog with excerpts from a piece by the great Calvinistic Baptist preacher, C. H. Spurgeon. The article needs to be sent to most of the Catholic priests around these days.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

White vs. Brown

Dr. James White of Alpha and Omega mintistries has been doing a serise on Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" the serise has been good and White does an excellent job of demolishing Brown's alledged schoolarship, but I thought this post particularly amusing. How anyone can take Brown seriously is beyond me.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


The episode of Veronica Mars will screen in Australia (or in Canberra, in any event) at 8:30 this Monday night. Be there or be square.

An Interesting Ending

I've just watched the last episode of season one of "House" the excellent medical drama on Network Ten. I've enjoyed the season very much.

Of course, everyone and their dog is talking about Hugh Laurie and how good a performance he gives as the show's eponymous lead character and this is justified. I'd previously known Lauri only for his comedey work, watching him do drama has been quite change. Comparing Laurie's portrayal of Dr. House to the foppish George of the Blackadder shows, it's almost impossible to believe they are played by the same man. However, I think the focus on Laurie undersells the rest of the cast, all of whom do a great job. I have a particular soft-spot for the lovely Jenifer Morrison who play's House's side-kick Dr. Allison Cameron. I think Morrison has done a great job bringing out the sensitivity, vulnerabilty and beautiful optimism of her character, I've been a House/Cameron 'shipper (ie someone who wants those two characters to get together) since episode one and I've enjoyed watching their friendship grow throughout the season. Cameron seems to have given up on the possibility of her and House, but I remain the eternal optimist.

The final episode brought things to a nice conclusion, setting things up nicely for the show to go a somewhat different direction next season. The surprise return of House's old flame (whom House is clearly not over) and her appearently coming on board as a continuing character should mean lots of fun for fans in the year to come.

Mars Attacks

C.S. Lewis once wrote an essay on Orwell in which he commented on how much more human the characters of Animal Farm are than those of 1984. In his view, the "heroic horses, snapping dogs and guzzling pigs" give a true picture of what humanity is like while "if men were only like the characters in 1984, it would not be worth writing stories about them."In a latter essay, about the Lord of the Rings, Lewis wrote that we have not truly seen and undertood humanity until we realise that humanity is like the hero of of a fairy tale and that by putting the human predicament into a myth "we do not retreat from reality, we rediscover it"

I've long thought something similar about that post-modern tv genre, the teen drama. This genre, originating with the hugely successful "Beverly HIlls: 90210" starts out with a group of friends in early high-school and follows them through high-school and (in some case) into adult life. On the whole, the genre has not exaclty produced great televison, it can be etertaining at times, but generally in a superficial over the top way.

There has been one great exception to the rule, "Buffy: the Vampire Slayer" and, as the name suggests, that show does not exactly make an effort at realism. But it is real, it captures the emotional reality of what it is like to a teenager or twenty-something is like. I was well ouyt of high-school when Buffy first came to Australia, and still some of the shows brought back the memorry of what school was like with a painful clarity. Buffy, with her immortal enemies (and lovers) her preternatural strength, her shape-changing friends and her vocation to awful to contemplate showed us what beeing a young person in this confusing post-modern world is really like in a way that her more superficially realistic rivals never could (although I must admit that the early seasons of "Dawsons Creek" came close at times). I have, in fact, come close at times to stating the theory that its just not possible to realisticly depict the reality of contempory high-school with realistic means, the experience is just too sureal to be conveyed without vampires, monsters, magic or something of the kind.

But, perhaps I'm going to have to re-think my views. Network Ten is about to bring to Australia a new show called "Veronica Mars". The netork is advertising it as the new "O.C." which would hardly have lead me to watch it, but, from what I'm reading from fans and critics of the show in the US, this is not an accurate characterisation. The shows eponymous heroine, is appearently a teenage detective, a sort of modern Nancy Drew, only much darker, Veronica's first mystery involves the murder of her own best friend.

A couple of things have got me very excited about this show, first a large number of Buffy fans seem to be wild about it. Secondly, Joss Whedon himslef, the genius behind Buffy, has been activly encouraging his fans to watch it. Have a read of Joss' views here. As an aside, it's very cool to see Joss getting so excited and fan boyish about another show, the way lesser mortals like myself get over Joss. A third reason I'm getting excited is the type of fans the show seems to be attracting, I had a look around various fan sites and they seem to have the same mix of deep, almost intence, seriousness and quirky sense of humor that characterises Buffy fans. Check out this fan site and see what I mean.

Of course, I haven't seen the show yet, it could turn out to be a big let-down, but right now I'm thinking I have good grounds for optimism. Can a realistic show tell us what high-school is really like? Only time will tell.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Answers For a Calvinist

Mr. John Jackson (who I believe is a Calvinist) has posted some interesting question for Catholics on his blog. Lets see how we can go at answering him.

1. Why do Catholics pray the rosary? Where is there precedent for this in scripture, or for that matter anything that even comes close to it?

Well, not all Catholic pray the Rosary, the practice is largely confined to the Western Church and, although it is highly recomended, no law of the churc has ever made it mandatory. That said, it is highly recomended because practical experience has shown it to be a powerful weapon which wonderfully focuses the mind on the great events of our redmeption.

As to the second part of the question, let me answer a question with a question, from where does Mr Jackson get the idea that all of our devotional practices must have scriptural precedent?

2. Why do Catholics pray to Mary as their intercessor, when it seems to be outlined in Scripture that the Holy Spirit is our intercessor? (Romans 8:27)

From the way Mr. Jackson phrases the question, it's possible that he is under the impression that Catholics look to Our Lady as our primary or even sole intercessor. Actually, we look to Jesus Christ, who is our great High Priest as our primary intercessor.

That said, we do believe Our Lady to be a powerful intercessor, this is based on a number of things, amoung them the fact that Our Lord performed His first miracle at her request, and at a time when he did not wish to do so (John 2:1-11).

As for the passage Mr. Jackson cites from Romans, that passage certainly teaches that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, all Catholics know this and we certainly welcolme His help. But if He is our sole intercessor, this is as bad for Protestants as it is for Catholics. I have never met a Protestant who didn't pray for his friends, I have never met a Protestant who did not encourage his friends to pray for him. If Mr. Jackson truly believes the Holy Spirit is our one intercessor, I hope he will be consistent in speaking out against this practice.

3. Why do Catholics add the Apocrypha into their Bibles when to my knowledge the Early Church never regarded it as equal to the rest of scripture, and some of the books of the Apocrypha were written after the Apostolic period?

Ok, some clarification is called for here. The term "Apocrypha" is somewhat vague and refers to a large range of documents written over a lengthy period. The seven books plus parts of two others which are regarded as scritural by Catholics but not by Protestants are called "Deuterocanonical" by Catholics. We regard them as cannonical because those same councils of the early church which our Protestant brethern point to as establishing the New Testament Cannon clearly state that these books are cannonical. Mr. Jackson is simply mistaken in his statements about the Fathers. Catholic Answers has a good tract here on the patristic witness to the authority of these books. It must be admitted that some of the Church Fathers did not admit the full authority of these books, but the same can be said of a number of New Testament books.

As to Mr. Jackson's claim that some of the Apocrypha was written after the Apostolic period, this is where we run into problems with the fuzziness of the term, however, I know of no schoolar who does not date the writing of all of those works which the Catholic Church calls Deutero-Cannonical to before the time of Our Lord.

4. Is the transsubstantiation that Catholics believe takes place in Communion, in which the bread and the wine become the literal body and blood of Jesus equivalent to Jesus dying more than once? (when He only needed die once)

No, absolutly not. The Council of Trent made it perfectly clear that the mass is an unbloody sacrifice. The idea that Catholics believe that Jesus dies again in the mass is a fiction invented by the likes of Jack Chick.

5. Why do Catholics believe that good works are necessary for salvation, when scripture, at least from my reading of it, seems to indicate otherwise. ( Eph. 2:8-9)

This is a subject too big to be dealt with here, although, if Mr. Jackson wishes, I'd be happy to devout a post soley to this question. However, lets look at the text given here:

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no man can boast."

The key point here, is that Catholics agree that no person could possibly earn salvation by good works, indeed, no amount of natural good works could bring a person any closer to salvation. The key phrase here is "so the no man can boast". We Catholics freely acknowledge that our good works are nothing to boast of, that any good they bring to us is only a result of a totally unearned grace.

6. Do not Catholic apologetics, which center around proofs for the existance of God assume that unbelief is merely a problem of knowledge rather than one of the heart?

I don't think Catholic apologetics do centre around proofs for the existence of God. Even if they did, Mr. Jacksons claim still don't follow. An apologist is not an evangelist and the best of them know this, but this does not make an apologist useless. As the great Protestant appologist, C. S. Lewis noted, a person's will is always the decicive factor, however, when the time comes for the will to make a decicion, it will certainly help if that person's intelect is on the right side.

7. Why do Catholics believe that Peter was the first pope?

The New Testament clearly shows the leading role played by St. Peter amoung the disciples. One of the best examples of this is Luke 22: 31-32. The impact of this passge is frequently lost on modern readers because modern English (unlike NT Greek) does not distinguish between plural and singular in second person pro-nouns. What the passage says is:

"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you [plural] as wheat but I have prayed for you [singular], Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your bretheren."

You see what is happening? Satan is coming after all the apostles, but Christ is praying for St. Peter, and then calling on him to Strengthen the breatheren. After Our Lord left the world, St. Peter is shown time and time again taking a leading role, his presiding at the selection of St. Matthias to replace Judas being an excellent example.

Amoung the early fathers, there is ample testimony to the fact that St. Peter settled in Rome and that the Roman Church, from the earliest of days, assumed the leadership of the church, something I will say more on in an answer to a subsequent question.

8. Why do Catholics assume that Mary was a perpetual virgin when there seems to be nothing to indicate this in scripture?

I'll answer a question with a question again, from where comes this beliefe that all Christian beliefes must be in Scripture? The protestant notion of Sola Scriptura (ie that scripture is our sole infallibke guide in matters of faith) is a late developing invention which would have been totally meaningless in the early centuries of the church before the cannon of the NT was agreed on. The beliefe in Our Lady's perpetual virginity is an early belife of the church, as can be seen here.

9. Why do they believe that she was perfect?

Once again, this beliefe can be shown to have originated amoung the early church. See here for details.

10. Why is there a doctrine of Papal infallibility in the Roman Catholic Church?

Once again, we can show the ancient natur of this beliefe. Writing around 190 AD, St. Ireneus of Lyon, in the third book of his master work "Against Heresies" posed the question of how we can know true Christian teaching from false his answer, you look to what the bishops teach. He then asks, what if the bishops disagree, and answers himself that we must look to Rome for an answer. He writes:

"With that church, because of its superior origin, all the churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world, and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition"

You see? Over a hundred years before Constantine, a bishop was ackowledging Rome as the church with which all other churches must agree.

There is also a question that must be asked, if the Pope is not reliable, what is? What did Jesus leave us to ensure that we could carry on His message and know His truth? I'm sure Mr.Jackson's answer will be "The Bible", yet it was over three hundred years after the death of the last apostles that agreement was reached on which books make up the New Testament. "Church Councils" will perhaps be the reply of some, yet bodies claiming to be church councils have gone so far as to anthamise each other.

In his excellent book "Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic" David Currie demonstrates how, over a period of centuries, every majour see in Christendom was held by a Bishop who actively promoted a beliefe which Catholics, Protestants and the Orthodox agree is heretical. The one exception to this was the See of Rome.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Credit Where Credit is Due

Since I was so critical of Jack Chick in a previous post, I feel I should note that he occasionally hit the nail right on the head. I think this piece of his is just brilliant.

Lord Have Mercy

The Traditional Roman Liturgy is all in Latin, with two exceptions. Once exception, obviously enough, is the sermon, always delivered in the language of the peole. The other exception comes towards the begining of the liturgy and is in Ancient Greek.

The words are quite simple, Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy) said three times, Christe eleison (Christ, have mercy) said three times followed by Kyrie eleison three more times. These eighteen words show the influence of the our eastern bretheren on the way we western types worship, and not just by the language.

One notable point is the repetition. A friend of mine once noted an importance difference between the Greek and Latin minds has to do with austerity versus repetion. Latin poetry, latin rhetoric, latin buildings have a certain austerity about them, the greeks tend to be more florid and repertitious. Following this pattern, the traditional latin liturgy tends to be very simple, if something is repetative, there's a good chance that we are seeing a Greek influence (although the Greek influence often reached the latin liturgy via the ancient french liturgies). Of course, the patern of the repetition here is also signifigant, three groups of three, the number of the trinity multiplied by its self.

These thoughts were brought to mind by my good friend Magdalen. Mags has had some great stuff on her blog recently, but what really got me were her words in this post. Mags wrote:

"I don't even know what to pray for any more. I guess, just 'help'. Help her. Help me. I don't even know what it is we need help with. Just help.'Lord have mercy' really is the purest prayer. It kind of covers all possible bases, doesn't it?

So, I guess, Lord have Mercy."

This put my finger on something that has played on my mind for a while. Most Western Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, would tend to associate the words "Lord, have mercy" with prayers of confession not so our Eastern friends. Take a look at the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysotom, the main form of the Byzantine Liturgy, which is used by the Orthodox as well as several rites of the Catholic Church. That simple phrase is repeated time and time again, in response to a large number of petitions, most of them not linked to the confession of sins. Indeed, it has been said that Kyrie eleison is the basic prayer of Byzantine/Greek spirituality.

So, Kyrie eleison, and thanks, Magdalen for much food for thought.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Jack Chick, Anti-Catholcism and the Creed

Chick publications, the "ministry" of Jack T. Chick, has long been know as the lunatic fringe of anti-catholicism*. They've recently given their web page a re-vamp. I've got to hand it to them, the new site design is more visually appealing and more user friendly. It also makes it easier to find certain pieces of absolute rubbish about catholicism. A great example is this article "Purgatory, Gold Mine of the Priesthood". Seriouse question, how many blatant falsehoods can you find in this article? Their are monets when I can't help wondering if Chick's works aren't some kind of amazing hoax. I mean, Chick can't really believe that he is helping his side's cause by printing such misrepresentations of his opponent's beliefs and practices, can he?

I pointed this out to my friend Heather who blogged on it here. Now I certainly share Heather's feelings of anger and frustration towards Mr. Chick, but her frustration seemed to be as much directed towards his view that Roman Catholics aren't Christians as towards the misinformation and distortions he uses to support his view. I don't share this view. As a good tyke myself I obviously think we are Christians, but there are protestants (mostly of the Calvinist variety) who make out a cogent case for the contrary view, and they make it on the basis of what we actually believe, not on Chickesque distortions. Actually, some of my favourite blogs are written by such people, Phillip Johnson of Pyromaniac being a good example.

I'm also a little concerned about what I understand to be Heather's main argument for Catholics being Christians which revolves around the Nicean Creed. Now don't get me wrong, the creed is a great treasure of the church which I value greatly and which I love to recite or sing in the liturgy but I think it dangerous to set it up as the defining point of what a Christian is. The Fathers of Nicea and Constantinople wrote the creed to refute certain then problamatic heresies, heresies which primarily dealt with the nature of God and the relationship of the Divine Persons. That is why the question of what we need to do to be saved, a majour concern of the New Testament is hardly mentioned in the creed.

Heather also has quite a bit to say about the "truly ecumenical" nature of the creed. A couple of points need to be made here. Firstly, there is the point of the "filoque" controversy. The creed we got from the councils called the Holy Spirit "the Lord, the Giver of Life, who procedes from the Father". It was some time later, that a pope, acting on his own authority and with no counciliar aproval, added the Latin word fillioque, "and the son". Today, western tradition Catholics as well as most Protestants say the creed with the added words, eastern tradition Catholics and the Orthodox say the original version. I don't think this is a big problem, the two can be theologically reconciled, but it is worth noting.

Of much bigger concern, can we be said to be affirmin the same creed when we say the same words but give those words different meanings? That this is the case can easily be seen if we read the exposition which the Tridentine Catechism gives of the phrase "one, holy, catholic and apostolic". The catechism, whose primary author was St. Charles Borremeo and which was promulgated by Pope St. Pius V (my all time favourite Pope) explains that when Catholics speak of one church, we mean, amoung other things, that it is one by "Unity of Government". It goes on to explain this as:

"The Church has but one ruler and one governor, the invisible one, Christ, whom the eternal Father hath made head over all the Church, which is his body; the visible one, the Pope, who, as legitimate successor of Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, fills the Apostolic chair.

"It is the unanimous teaching of the Fathers that this visible head is necessary to establish and preserve unity in the Church."

So, how many of our Protestant and Orthodox friends speak of "one church" meaning a oneness that comes from the government of the Pope?

With regards to the catholicity of the church, the catechism states:

"Unlike states of human institution, or the sects of heretics, [and I don't think there can be any doubt that by "sects if heretics" is primarily meant the protestant churches] she is not confined to any one country or class of men, but embraces within the amplitude of her love all mankind, whether barbarians or Scythians, slaves or freemen, male or female. Therefore it is written: Thou . . . hast redeemed us to God, in thy blood, out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and hast made us to our God a kingdom."

If you surveyed a group of modern Protestants as to what they mean when they say they a believe in a "catholic" church, you'd get a wide variety of views, some closer to the view propounded above, some further away, although I doubt any would agree with that exact definition.

And of the apostolicity of the the church, we read:

"That all, therefore, might know which was the Catholic Church, the Fathers, guided by the Spirit of God, added to the Creed the word Apostolic. For the Holy Ghost, who presides over the Church, governs her by no other ministers than those of Apostolic succession."

Since the vast majourity of Protestants reject the historic doctorine of apostolic succession, they will obviously not agree with us here.

The difference is even more noticable when we turn to the creed's confession of "one baptism for the forgivness of sin." The meaning given to this statement by the Catholic Church is clear. We mean that the sacrament of water baptism actually effects the remmision of both original and actual sin. Now, a large strain of protestantism historicaly and probably a majourity of protestants today outright reject the catholic belife in this matter, insisting that baptism (like the eucharist) is purely symbolic. What they mean when they say those words of the creed, I have no idea, I suspect many of them have never thought about it.

It seems clear to me, therefore, that the ecumenical nature of the creeds is a largely a mirage. We have a set of words that everyone can agree to, but only because we give some of those words radically diffferent meanings. It's almost like a group of people got together and signed a statement extolling the virtues of democracy and declared this an agreement, while half of them were using the word "democracy" to mean the sort of government that existed in the former "democratic republics" of Eastern Europe.

I should add a few disclaimers to the above. First, the term anti-catholicsm is a some-what controversial one. For purposes of this post, I simply mean a Christian who does not regard us papists as christians. I should make clear that I'm using it simply as a descriptive term, not as a term of reprobation.

Second, nothing in the above should be read as denying the teachng of Vatican II that Christians of other denominations are turly our brothers in Christ.

Third, In my comments on the creed I am simply attempting to prove that different Christians understand the words differently to a degree that renders any claim to real agreement highly problematic. I am not, at this point, trying to prove the Catholic understanding better or worse than another, which is not to deny that I'd be willing to debate that question if anyone's up for it.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Back To It.

Ok, ok, this is not the first time I've done this, but the blogs of some of my friends have spurred me to give the blogging thing another go. I seriously do intend to post at least once every few days. We'll see how long that intention lasts.