Thursday, July 5, 2007

Catholicism: Where To Start?

The science of the voice has much to do with the utility of breath. When one learns to sing properly, the singer understands that breath is essential to creating beautiful sounds. However, when the singer first begins to use the fuller capacity of the lungs and executes rapid exhalation procedures for more challenging phrases, or to reach that fearful high note, the singer can often become dizzy or light-headed.

I am inhaling the Catholic Church at a rapid rate and find myself a bit disoriented.

And I haven't even skimmed the surface.

Where do I even begin? Thousands of years of doctrine and history, all of it fitting and weaving together, one doctrine depending on another, and leading to yet another. Colossal movements of history defining where Christianity is today.

A bit overwhelming, really. But! I stay the course. Well, first I should decide on one...a course that is. And I think that it would help us all to first look at areas in which we agree. It may be safe to say that we are not all assured of where those agreements lie. It's tempting to get right down to it and throw darts at the statues of St. Peter and the Blessed Mother, Queen of Heaven. But I'm not sure our aim would be skillful, or we'd find ourselves aiming at only illusions of what we suppose our intended targets to be, our darts passing right through, and the attempt, ridiculous.

If, along the way, dialogue ensues that reaches into those depths of differences, then by all means, please proceed forward. Or if questions arise or topics change, good. Most assuredly, I will post on the most desired of topics in time, those which highlight our differences, but I welcome any such discussion that occurs before, as it only helps me as I learn.

Which brings me to an important point. I believe it is necessary, while studying the Catholic church, to remain open minded when faced with theological ideas foreign to the thinker. Not to do away with judgement altogether. Of course not. But to realize that one cannot make an educated conclusion on anything without considering there be truth somewhere in that thing before excluding it.

I thought I would make a new blog for all of this, but it seems the success rate in the multi-blog area is low. What's the point really? I'll post here. If you're interested, then read it. If you're not, then don't.

So there we are. Rules stated. I'll get on with it soon. I promise.


Discontented Refuge said...

I'm anxious to see the post(s)

I took an Apologetics course in college of which we spent much time on Catholicism. (to which I wrote my term project on it...I need to find that paper..I got an A)

Chaotic Hammer said...

Awesome. Eagerly anticipating this. Particularly looking forward to the input of folks like MamasBoy, who has always been very patient and helpful in discussing this subject.

truevyne said...

7296I have two suggestions for you if you don't mind. One will be difficult and perhaps accost your sense of music style- please rent the movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon at the library or Netflix. It's about the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. I almost fainted at the music the first time through (all Donovan from the 70's) and forcing myself to watch even though I felt bored to death at first. For me, it took halfway into the movie to understand why anyone would ever WANT to endure, and now it's one of my favorites. The second is to rent Romero. I liked it from the get go. The story of Francis and Archbishop Romero capture the commonaliites of Christians- our desire to live and love Jesus in the midst of religious chaos and social injustice.

kddub said...

looking forward to it, and those are good rules.

Bill Hensley said...

Yes, truevyne! Brother Sun, Sister Moon is totally cool! I loved the music, too, but then...I am a refugee from the 70's myself. :-)

I've never seen Romero. I'll have to check it out.

Bill Hensley said...

FP, I do want to make one serious comment about the project you're embarking on here. I think it's good to learn about the beliefs of other Christians. It's also a good idea to keep things in perspective and not major on the minors. But at the same time, we don't want to fall into the trap of saying that doctrine doesn't matter. And the sad fact is that there are a number of huge doctrinal differences between Catholics and Protestants. Let's take a brief look at our agreements and differences.

First, the things we agree on. We agree on the nature of God and the nature of Man. We agree on the doctrine of the Trinity. We agree on the nature of sin, the Fall and the sinful nature we inherited from Adam. We agree on the incarnation, the nature of Christ, the necessity of grace and the atoning sacrifice of Christ. We agree on the final judgement, on heaven and hell and on eternal life. We agree on the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture. We agree on the unity of all believers, the resurrection of the dead, and the bodily return of Christ.

When you take a look at that list, it's clear that we stand together on the things that matter most. But....the list of Catholic doctrines that I cannot agree with is also long, and many of these disagreements are profoundly important:

I cannot accept the Apocrypha as inspired Scripture. I cannot accept the doctrine of apostolic succession, the primacy of the Bishop of Rome or the infallible teaching magisterium of the Church. I cannot accept the doctrine of purgatory, the storehouse of merit, the necessity of water baptism for salvation, the necessity of works for salvation, or the possibility of losing one's salvation. I cannot accept praying to the saints, praying for the dead, the conferring of grace through the sacraments or the granting of indulgences. I cannot accept the veneration of the saints, the veneration of holy relics, the veneration of the Host, or the transubstantiation of the Host. I cannot accept the perpetual virginity of Mary, her immaculate conception, her sinless life, her bodily assumption into heaven or her titles of Mediatrix and Coredemptrix.

I don't want to come off like a jerk with this long list of disagreements. I just want to remind everyone how profound our differences are. It's human nature to make mountains out of molehills sometimes, but in this case there really are some mountains.

Seth Ward said...

That is some list there. Fancy's off at Sound of Music Rehearsal so I'll jump in and say I don't think she is saying in any way that doctrine isn't important.

What I think she is trying to do is actually shed some light on what those disagreements are and what they mean. Take the easiest, Mary.

Many Protestants believe that Catholics worship Mary. Terribly false. What do they believe about Mary? Oh well I think if you heard there side of the story you might still disagree strongly but the misconceptions would be out the door and we wouldn't be guilty of ignorant accusations that cause further hatred between people who share the same Savior and God.

It is more along the lines of "I want to understand my Christian brothers and sisters in Christ and stop the nastiness so we can do some good and so "they'll know that we are Christians by our Love."

I THINK that is what she is doing here. But she is a grown woman and she may take a whack at me for speaking for her...

But good to see the list right off the bat.

MamasBoy said...

On the subject of movies about saints, my favorite is "The Song of Bernadette."

Seth Ward said...

On a side note: About 5-7 of your "I cannot accepts" I CAN accept and I am still Protestant. Shoot! I am sure you know this, but there are lots of Protestants that believe a bunch of those you named as well.

Baptists are in the minority on some of those. Zwingli being the Baptist's Pope on some of that doctrine. Calvin and Luther would have hotly debated you as well and they sure as heck weren't Catholic. (both believed in a real presence differently than us and Luther believed in trans, and the perpetual Virginity!) The point?

I guess that IS the point of this little comment.

The lines are maybe more clearly drawn between Baptist and the rest of Christianity than Catholics and Protestant. So careful careful when you list things and think you speak for all Protestants.

(Not saying you meant that though... all that meant to be said in a pleasant tone with a British accent.)

Jeanine said...

Great topic! And for most questions I have no answers..... but as a protestant worship leader/singer/band we have been privileged for the six years to lead worship for a yearly "Prayer Service for Life" attended by equal numbers of Catholics and Protestants and it is one of the most impacting moments of my year. It is always in a Catholic church, and the priest who leads the service is a wise and Godly man - and has become a good friend. We lead worship with Vineyard and Chris Tomlin-type songs (with many Catholics present expressing feeling an intimacy with God during that time that they have not felt before) - and he, during that time, encourages people to come pray and sprinkle incense at the altar. One year he explained to the congregation present "we're supposed to worship the Lord with our entire being and all our senses - incense is a way to engage our sense of smell in that process and draw our attention to the Lord". That resonated with me, and it has deepened my worship expression.

Like I said, I don't know all the answers - actually, I don't think I know any :) - but I love that in this particular service we learn new ways to worship. On both sides of the aisle, so to speak.

I am looking forward to following this thread!

MamasBoy said...

BH: "We agree on the unity of all believers, the resurrection of the dead"

MB: Regarding differences, I would throw the nature of unity in the list with disagreements between Protestants and Catholics. Also, Catholics specifically believe in a bodily resurrection, which most Protestants groups accept but is rarely taught is often excluded from doctrinal statements (in my experience).

Regarding the possibility of losing one's salvation, I personally don't see the Protestant world as being terribly unified on that one. As I heard one AG pastor say in a sermon, "Can we lose our salvation? I don't know, but I sure don't want to find out." He went on to talk about how if we are living for Jesus, that shouldn't really concern us.

Lastly, Catholics don't just venerate the consecrated host. Please, let's be clear on this. Catholics WORSHIP Jesus under the appearance of bread and wine. Catholics are sometimes falsely accused of worshiping the saints, which is totally untrue, but we do worship Jesus in the Eucharist (and so do/did Lutherans, Anglicans, Orthodox, and those pesky church fathers way back before Constantine, though I would contend the Eucharist of most Protestant groups is invalid).

That was mostly being nitpicky, though. Overall, the list is about as accurate a generalization as one can come up with, given the diversity of viewpoints among Protestants.


PS: If the Eucharist is a heresy and/or false interpretation of Scripture, then the heretics/misguided ruled the early church going back as far as we can tell, even to the disciple of the John, Ignatius of Antioch (AD 30-107). In fact, nobody in the early church contradicts that idea other than the "heretics", so maybe Ehrman is right?

The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrn├Žans
Chapter VII.—Let us stand aloof from such heretics.
- They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins...

Seth Ward said...

Jeanine, that sounds just wonderful.

We sang at a church in Nachogdoches TX where there was a vast array of college kids from all denom's including Catholic and we sang and I taught on John 17 and it was the best concert of the whole tour. Thanks for those words. The last thing that Jesus prayed for in the Garden was us. Sorry Fancy, gotta quote em.'

0"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24"Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. 25"Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them."

FancyPants said...

Well, to be quite honest, Bill, I wonder if many Protestants actually know what they believe about the Trinity...but, another time.

I respect what you cannot accept, and I appreciate that you also list our agreements.

It's also a good idea to keep things in perspective and not major on the minors.

I'm not necessarily calling our differences minors. But I am seeking to understand Catholic doctrine with an open mind, untainted by past prejudices or misconceptions. If a person hasn't been introduced to some of these Catholic beliefs, It's easy to hear a list of differences and jump to wrong conclusions from the brief description of each item. And to abstain from doing so, I think it first helps to take a good look at areas we most definitely agree.

But at the same time, we don't want to fall into the trap of saying that doctrine doesn't matter.

I can't tell (honest question) if you are worried that I think doctrine doesn't matter. If so, which part of my post has you worried?

To dispell any fear you might have, I am confident that doctrine matters, which is why I care so much about all of this in the first place. I am also confident that a Catholic differing in his/her doctrine from that of my own affiliation has good reasons for the difference. I'd like to understand them, even if I don't accept them.

FancyPants said...

DR: Congratulations on your A. =-)

C-Ham: I agree.

Truevyne: I love Netflix suggestions! I will definitely add them to my queue. (Dashboard Dictionary useful for that word.)

kddub: I thought so, too.

Bill: I love that you just called yourself a refugee from the 70's.

Seth: No, I will not take a whack at you. And please, you're making these people think I slug you often...

Jeanine: That is really awesome.

MB: I had no idea there were so many movies about saints! I'll watch your Bernadette movie if you watch "Luther." Ha ha! You probably already have.

MamasBoy said...

FP: "I had no idea there were so many movies about saints! I'll watch your Bernadette movie if you watch "Luther." Ha ha! You probably already have."

MB: Nope I haven't watched it. Hadn't even heard of it. I didn't grow up in a strongly reformed tradition that emphasized Luther movies and all, though I was exposed to some reformed theology through lectures at the local Presbyterian church. I was raised a Bible only boy. To the hot place with all those bogus doctrines Luther and other early reformers held about the Eucharist and such.

Alas, that said, I will still probably have to take a pass on that movie thing. I don't have a TV and wouldn't have time right now if I did. I haven't even watched a DVD on the PC in over a month. It takes a really good movie or lots of boredom to motivate watching a movie on a 17" monitor while sitting in an office chair that was rescued from certain death in a landfill.

Seth, you never did answer as to whether that DVD player in my pc counts on your stone throwing exclusion list. Given that I don't have a TV, I don't think it should. Having you admit that I can justifiably throw a stone at you might come in useful some day, though I doubt it will happen anytime soon for logistical reasons.

Speaking of logistics, when is your next concert in New Mexico?

MB (aka Amish Boy)

Bill Hensley said...

Great discussion!

Yes, the list of things I cannot accept is my list, and I am pretty well aligned with the Southern Baptist way of looking at things. But lest you think me narrow-minded (aren't all Southern Baptists narrow-minded? :-) let me hasten to add that I was raised Presbyterian, was saved in an Assembly of God church and came back to the Lord in an Episcopalian church after many years of being far from God. I am a johnny-come-lately Baptist. I find many things to admire in these other denominations. (And Catholicism, too!) That said, I probably find myself disagreeing less often with Southern Baptist teaching than with just about anybody else.

So, on my list of things I can't accept, you are absolutely right that some of them are accepted by some Protestants. Apostolic succession, for one, as practiced in Anglicanism and other denominations. And some Protestants accept the Apocrypha, although they don't always give it equal standing with the rest of the Bible. There are also Protestant disagreements about the significance of water baptism, the Eucharist and the other sacraments. And certainly not everyone agrees that you can't lose your salvation.

FP, I fully support your goal of better communication and increased understanding. I think if we are going to be well-educated Christians we should be able to give a synopsis of the teachings of other churches, even if we don't agree with them. So let us not be content with knee-jerk reactions like, "They pray to the saints!!?? How awful!!" Let us go on to discover that praying to the saints, in Catholic understanding, is more akin to asking your pastor to pray for you than to how we approach God. They believe that the dead can in some way hear and see what happens here, and as they stand before the throne of God they can intercede for us in exactly the same way that godly Christians here on earth can intercede for us in prayer. Even better, in fact, because of their special standing as saints.

By the way, one thing that often draws people to the Catholic Church these days, I think, is the beautiful and deeply meaningful liturgical worship. This is something I learned from my years as an Episcopalian. Baptists generally don't understand how meaningful this type of worship can be. They can't get past the idea of repeating rote prayers. But if you know what those prayers really mean, and you pray them from the heart, they can be a wonderful aid to self-expression. In the same way, the rich symbology of the service can draw us into worship. The problem comes when you go through the motions and you have no idea what it means, or you don't care and think that there is magic in it somehow. There's no doubt that many cultural Christians in liturgical churches do just that. But we don't have to throw the baby out with the bath water. A little liturgy can be a good thing!

4andcounting said...

Hi. Thanks for inviting me to your blog. I look forward to reading your thoughts and adding whatever I can. If you read through the archives on my blog you probably noticed I don't address Catholicism specifically very much. But, I'm happy to contribute any thoughts I may have over here. If you are looking for some more Apologetic style reading, check out Et-tu Jen in my sidebar. She recently joined the Church after a conversion process and between her posts and the comments of others there is a wealth of information about the Church from the perspective of a convert.
Looking forward to more.

4andcounting said...

I'm not meaning to imply that I think you are looking to convert. Sorry if there is confusion. Jen's blog is just a great source of information and I think her background really gives an unbiased perspective on the Church most of the time.

kddub said...

I'm not sure I am going to be able to participate in the conversation much, but I will read it, I promise. You all know a lot, and have opinions that I have yet to form.

FancyPants said...

MB: I didn't grow up in a strongly reformed tradition that emphasized Luther movies and all

Same here. But I thought the movie was pretty good. Then..our Catholic friend told us it was bogus and totally biased on the reformed side, so... I'll guess I'll see when I get around to that part in the history book I'm reading...


Thanks for the blog suggestion. I'll definitely check it out. Thanks for stopping by. I'd be happy to hear any thoughts you might have. And! Thanks for clarifying the conversion thing there....=-)

Kddub, no problemo, said in Spanish in honor of your Spanish Catholic experiences. Thanks for linking about it on your blog.