Sunday, April 20, 2008

Back to Catholicism

I'm about ready to get back to those Catholic blogs-slash-discussions-slash-questions-slash-readings.

Ya know, the Pope being in town and all.

I thought his visit was extremely positive. I sure like that guy. I admit, I was sad to see him board his plane and leave the United States of America. I even got a little teary eyed. Which I thought strange, but nevertheless, true. I don't know why I got teary eyed. Maybe hormones? Or maybe it was the look on his face and the way he smiled at people. He seems so stone cold until he smiles and then there's such a light and joy and gentleness and humility.

Pope Benedict had a little something to say about illusion. I thought it relevant to our recent discussion and my recent thoughts. Here it is in his address to the U.S. Bishops:

"For an affluent society, a further obstacle to an encounter with the living God lies in the subtle influence of materialism, which can all too easily focus the attention on the hundredfold, which God promises now in this time, at the expense of the eternal life which he promises in the age to come (cf. Mk 10:30). People today need to be reminded of the ultimate purpose of their lives. They need to recognize that implanted within them is a deep thirst for God. They need to be given opportunities to drink from the wells of his infinite love. It is easy to be entranced by the almost unlimited possibilities that science and technology place before us; it is easy to make the mistake of thinking we can obtain by our own efforts the fulfillment of our deepest needs. This is an illusion. Without God, who alone bestows upon us what we by ourselves cannot attain (cf. Spe Salvi, 31), our lives are ultimately empty. People need to be constantly reminded to cultivate a relationship with him who came that we might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10). The goal of all our pastoral and catechetical work, the object of our preaching, and the focus of our sacramental ministry should be to help people establish and nurture that living relationship with “Christ Jesus, our hope” (1 Tim 1:1)."

If you're interested in past Catholic discussions on this blog, go here first.  Then here.  Then here.  Then here.  And lastly, here, which is ironic because the title of that one is "Beginnings."  Ahhhh well.  All in good time.


Baca's Head said...


Seth Ward said...

The Pope kicks but. There has not been one thing that this Pope has said that hasn't blown me away.

He is a true leader.

Amy said...

the Pope kicks but what? ;)

thanks for posting this Fancy, I've had a hard time keeping up with the good news lately.

Chaotic Hammer said...

Wow, I read back through your links to some of the past discussions here. I had forgotten how much has already occurred. Lots of good stuff there.

So. Uh. Where do we go from here?

FancyPants said...

Baca, =-)

Seth, right on.

Amy, very punny.

C-ham, not sure exactly. A little more Catechism I think. Then onto the *big stuff* like Mary, the Pope, Apostolic Succession, Sacraments, the Eucharist,...., birth control? Ha just kidding. Well, maybe I'm not. OK yeah, birth control, suicide, Mortal sins....

Chaotic Hammer said...

Fancy - Wow, you're right. I guess there are one or two little things we haven't discussed yet. :-)

Bill Hensley said...

I went back and read all the comments on those posts. I am so proud of myself! I am also exhausted! :-)

I'm wondering if we still have anybody around here who can take up the Catholic side of these issues? Where is MamasBoy these days?

If an able spokesman for Catholicism is present, I have one question I'd like to ask. I understand that in medieval times it was common for Catholics to postpone their baptism until they thought they might be about to die. What I seem to remember is that baptism confers absolution for all sins you have committed, but only up to that point. If you commit a mortal sin after that your soul would still be in jeopardy. So it became fashionable to game the system, so to speak, and put off baptism for as long as you thought you could.

Now, am I remembering correctly or is this way off base? I'd like to understand this practice and I'd like to know when and why it changed. For that matter, a good summary of Catholic soteriology that touched on baptism, penance, absolution, mortal and venial sins, etc. would be very helpful. I get a little confused about it sometimes.


FancyPants said...

MB? You there?

Bill, I'm with you. I'm hoping for an able Catholic representative, as well. No pressure, MB.

Great question.

MamasBoy said...

"I understand that in medieval times it was common for Catholics to postpone their baptism until they thought they might be about to die. What I seem to remember is that baptism confers absolution for all sins you have committed, but only up to that point. If you commit a mortal sin after that your soul would still be in jeopardy. So it became fashionable to game the system, so to speak, and put off baptism for as long as you thought you could."

Lots to address there.

First, I don't think that would be a medieval practice, but an early church practice and even then not a universal one (though probably one that was relatively common among governmental officials and those whose jobs entailed duties that were considered to be grave sin by the Catholic Church). The CDF document on infant baptism comments on this practice becoming common in the 4th century, and that seems to coincide with when one finds famous examples of it.

A couple things to keep in mind. First, private confession was a later invention. Confession in the early church was typically public and penance was typically severe (sometimes years in length). Second, the unbaptized were not even allowed to even be present for the liturgy of the Eucharist. I'm unclear on when this practice began and when it ended, but I think it lasted for quite some time and was in place at least locally in the mid-100's. Justin Martyr speaks of this separation of the baptized and unbaptized after the scripture readings.

There's alot of misinformation out there on the topic, so be wary. I've read in several places that the early Catholics didn't believe in forgiveness of sin after baptism. That's bologna, though it does have some shred of truth to it. For instance, the Donatist schism concerned people who had renounced the faith or handed over the Scriptures to be burned and then come back when the persecution was over. They held the extreme view that there was no forgiveness possible for such people. However, that was not the view of the Catholic Church, and people were allowed to return after public penance had been done.

It was because of this public penance and the rigorous moral requirements of the early church that some people decided to postpone baptism (at least that's what I've read, and it makes sense). I've read several condemnations of the practice in the early church, yet it seemed to be relatively common, at least in some circles. Constantine was not baptized until he neared death and the government official Ambrose was not baptized until he was chosen (quite surprisingly) as bishop of Milan. Lest you think Ambrose was not a holy man, he converted Augustine himself and was held in deep respect by S.A. Also, Augustine's mother had deferred his own baptism, though he condemned the practice in his writings. One wonders whether, had he had the graces available to the baptized, if he would have rejected the faith when he came of age. Was Monica that fearful of the influence of his pagan father, himself a Roman curiales?

To be honest, I'm not quite sure what to make of the practice nor how common it was. It seems quite contradictory that a church that baptizes its infants would also have a large group that postponed baptism until later in life. Also, while it is easy to find famous examples (esp. in the 4th century), it couldn't have been overwhelmingly common or else the places of worship would have emptied out after the Scripture readings (unless that practice ceased by the 4th century). It strikes me as a rather fearful approach to faith, and the opposite problem that the Paul addressed in his letter to the Corinthians and which it seems we have today in a culture that struggles to recognize sin or take it seriously when it is recognized. At the same time, I don't work for a government that requires me to approve torture and killing as part of my job. Perhaps if I was a government official living in China, I would be more sympathetic to such people. My best guess it that it was the result of several events happening closely in time. The first was the Diocletian persecution, arguably the most severe, in which many, many people (and even clergy) fell away, recanting themselves and/or giving up the Scriptures to be burned. The second, was the conversion of Constantine and the edict of Milan legalizing Christianity a mere 2 years after Galerious officially ended the Diocletian persecution. Lastly, the Donatist controversy broke out soon after the Diocletian persecution ended and even in the churches which accepted the repentant, their penance was a public reminder of the consequences of mortal sin for quite some time.

Skimming what I wrote, it seems quite scattered. I would encourage you to read up on it for yourself and let me know if I made any historical fumbles. I'm not above being corrected.


PS: Here's a trivia question for you the next time someone says that there were no Christian Churches before Constantine. In which city was a newly constructed Church ordered to be torn down by Diocletian, its Scriptures razed and all its valuables hauled off? Answer: Nicodemia, in present-day Turkey.

MamasBoy said...

Getting teary-eyed watching him leave. Well, you're not alone. No matter who the pope is, there is something about meeting the man or seeing him visit one's home country that can really effect people. Some friends of mine met JPII as newlyweds, and the wife just bawled her eyes out the entire time, she was so happy. I wondered what it would have been like to be an 80 year-old crippple and see this new bride in her wedding gown crying tears of joy as you meet her. I'm sure my friend wasn't the only person that day bawling as she met him.


FancyPants said...

Hi MB - Thanks again for your input in these discussions. I look forward to learning more in the near future.