My goal this week is to introduce to 6 of the world’s greatest heretics and how we can avoid their heresies and errors for our time. Today we study Nestorius – the man who denied the unity of Christ and denied that Mary is the Mother of God. Join Dr Marshall for this fascinating episode of heresy in Catholic history:
The image above depicts Nestorius. Note the x on his mitre – this signifies that he is a heretical bishop.
124: Heretic Nestorius: Is Mary Mother of God? Are there 2 Christs? [Podcast]
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Is there a reason why the name of Pontius Pilate was included in the second creed?
Pontius Pilate’s name is in the Creeds because it anchors the life of Christ into human history, specifically Roman history. If you interested in the redemptive meaning of Rome, the Roman Pontius Pilate, and the Roman cross of execution in the redemption of man by a Jewish Messiah, please see my book The Eternal City: Rome and the Origins of Catholicism.
There is a “tradition” that Pontius Pilate’s wife Claudia Procula had a dream of billions of people chanting “sub Pontio Pilato” over and over and over.
What she was hearing was the billions of Christians who recite “He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.”
Most woman would be honored to know that their husband’s name would be on the lips of billions over a period of 20 centuries. But in the case of this Prefect of Judaea, it is the notorious reputation of being the remote efficient cause of Christ’s crucifixion.
The dream of “Claudia” is referred to in Matthew 27:19:
While Pilate was sitting in the judgment hall, his wife sent him a message: “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, because in a dream last night, I suffered much on account of him.”
If the tradition is true, she dreamed of the countless recitations and liturgical chants of “under Pontius Pilate.”
Origen is the first to mention that she converted to Christianity. She is a saint. In art, she is depicted as whispering into the ear of Pontius. Mel Gibson’s Passion depicts Claudia giving linens to the Blessed Mother to collect the Blood of Christ from the scourging.
Saint Claudia, pray for us.
If you’d like to take our courses on Historical Theology, the Creeds, the Councils, and Catholic Tradition, please sign up with us at newsaintthomas.com.
The glorious catalogue of the martyrs of Christ retell their macabre deaths as being roasted, boiled, decapitated, crucified, starved, strangled, and hung-draw-quartered.
Today’s saints received the crown of martyrdom through the pain of ice. Dante places punishment by cold and ice at the bottom of hell. He perceived it as the worst punishment, and he even describes Satan as frozen at the waist inside a block of ice, as in the illustration below:
The earliest account of the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste is found in a sermon by Saint Basil of Caesarea (370–379). They were 40 Roman soldiers in AD 320 who refused to renounce Christ. They were stripped naked and tied down to a frozen lake near Sebaste (present-day Sivas in Turkey). They were instructed that if they renounced Christ, they would be freed and taken to a hot bath nearby in order to recover.
Consider for a moment, the feeling of your skin and body being overtaken by frost bite. All you need to say is, “I reject and renounce Jesus Christ,” and you’d be sitting in a warm hot tub.
The 40 soldiers persevered until one man relented. He renounced Christ and was taken to the hot baths to warm up, leaving 39 soldiers on the ice. However, one of the guards watching the 39 was allowed to see the supernatural glory resting on these 39 confessors of Christ. Desiring to receive that same glory, he stripped naked and joined them on the ice, thereby restoring the number to 40.
The traditional icon of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste always shows the apostate running away into warm bathhouse, while another man removes his clothes to join the 39. See the icon image below:
In the morning, the stiff bodies (some were still alive) were cast into fires and their bodies burned. The faithful collected their ashes as relics.
The 40 Martyrs of Sebaste were popular in the East and they symbolized for monastics the tight bond of brothers in co-suffering for Christ.
The 40 Martyrs of Sebaste Today: Iron Sharpening Iron
Proverbs 27:17 reads, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” These men were each blessed to know at least 30 friends who were willing to die for Christ. Every Christian suffers. How much sweeter it would be if we had friends with which to suffer. Pray for faithful and holy friends. Nobody goes to heaven alone. Nobody goes to hell alone. We travel as pilgrims in a collection. If you need advice or help on finding solid Catholic friends, please consider listening to this podcast I recorded: Finding Friends Like Samwise Gamgee.
In order to prepare for Lent, I was looking at the Lenten sermons of Pope Saint Leo the Great (died AD 461).
In his Sermon 46 on Lent, he exhorts the faithful to fast from food and luxury and vain thoughts. And then he goes further and exhorts them to give up heresy for Lent:
For the mind then only keeps holy and spiritual fast when it rejects the food of error and the poison of falsehood, which our crafty and wily foe plies us with more treacherously now, when by the very return of the venerable Festival, the whole church generally is admonished to understand the mysteries of its salvation.
What’s the historical background here? Pope Saint Leo the Great was battling a heresy called Monophystism in the Eastern Church that falsely taught that Christ’s human nature was absorbed or mixed into His divine nature so that Christ only had a single (mono) divine nature (physis). The human nature was no longer there. This essentially means that Christ is no longer human but only divine.
These heretics were backed by the Emperor, the political strongholds of the time, and by the Patriarch of Alexandria. It was a time of schism, infighting amongst bishops, and confusion among the laity. The temptation for Pope Leo and others was to compromise the Catholic Faith in order to keep the Empire and the Church united under a false theology. This Pope Leo refused to do. He called a council (Chalcedon in AD 451) and issued his orthodox “Tome of Leo” which explained how Christ’s divine nature and human nature were united in His one divine Person or in Greek, His divine hypostasis.
Pope Saint Leo labored to defend and explain the Truth because the truth sets us free from sadness, error, and sin. In order to live right, we need right morals and right thinking (which is one reason why the Catholic Tradition is rich in education and in the establishment of schools and universities.)
Christ our Lord and Savior taught that it was not food or drink entering the mouth that justifies or condemns a man, but rather the thoughts and words that come from his mouth (Matthew 15:16-20). We need to habituate right thinking.
The Greek word for “orthodox” is ὀρθοδοξία (orthodoxia) and it literally means “straight thoughts.” Similarly, an orthodontist provides you with “straight teeth,” and an orthopedic doctors are those that originally made sure that children (pedi-) developed straight (ortho-) bodies. Let’s go to the Doctors of the Church and acquire “straight thoughts” regarding God, salvation, and morality.
Giving Up Sinful Thoughts Against Morals and Against Faith
We often think of sinful thoughts as angry thoughts, lustful thoughts, and covetous thoughts. These are the kind of thoughts that we so often confess in the confessional. These are our thoughts against Catholic morals.
However, we might also serious thoughts against Catholic faith. We may even be repeatedly tempted to entertain these thoughts. This is what Pope Saint Leo warns us about in particular in his Sermon 46.
How do we combat these thoughts against faith and doctrine? Saint Leo provides the answer by exhorting us “to understand the mysteries of its salvation.” We must labor to understand the beautiful mysteries that Christ left for us within His Church.
Here are three ways that we can begin to grow in “understand[ing] the mysteries of salvation.”
Read the New Testament daily:
Read 1-3 chapter(s) every morning. The Catholic Church holds that Sacred Scripture is “the very soul of sacred theology” (Dei Verbum 24). Moreover, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ” (Saint Jereome). And Pope Benedict XVI taught that “the normative theologians are the authors of Holy Scripture.” And if you’ve never read the New Testament, it’s time to read the whole thing. Lent is a perfect time to establish this goal. Right theology begins with a knowledge of the New Testament.
Read books by the Saints:
People ask me all the time about the best and latest books on theology. My rule of thumb is if you haven’t read the top ten classic works of Catholic Patristic Theology and the Summa theologiae, you probably shouldn’t be reading new theology. Build a foundation first. Here are some recommendations (most these books are under 200 pages):
St Augustine Confessions
St Athanasius On the Incarnation
St Basil On the Holy Spirit
St John Damascus Three Books on the Divine Images
St Ignatius of Antioch Epistles
St John Chrysostom On Marriage and Family Life
St Cyril of Alexandria On the Unity of Christ
St John Chrysostom On the Priesthood
St Gregory Nazianzus Sermons and Letters
St Leo the Great Letters and Sermons
Take a theology class or course:
Enroll in a theological class at your parish, at a trusted university, or somewhere else. Here’s a sample class from the New Saint Thomas Institute on Pope Saint Leo the Great in 10 Points. I hope you will be encouraged and filled with hope as you discover the Pope to be given the title “the Great.” We all need to foster a devotion to this great theologian and Pope: Saint Leo the Great.You’re always invited to watch video lessons on Philosophy, Historical Theology, etc:
The Eastern Orthodox often reject the Latin doctrine of Purgatory based on the Latin tradition of “physical fire” purifying souls in purgatory.
The Latin phrase used by Thomas Aquinas and others is “corporal fire.” For example:
I answer that, In Purgatory there will be a twofold pain; one will be the pain of loss, namely the delay of the divine vision, and the pain of sense, namely punishment by corporeal fire. (STh Supp. App I. q. 2, a. 5)
The Latin is ignis corporalis. The “corporeal fire” of Purgatory is one of the doctrines that the Greek Orthodox objected to during the Second Council of Lyons (1274). Saint Thomas Aquinas was discharged to defend the doctrine at this council, but he died on the way. Saint Bonaventure was sent in his stead (and Bonaventure died at the end of Council).
I very rarely disagree with Saint Thomas Aquinas, but I do disagree here – but I will offer a Benedict XVI suggestion that might provide a unique solution.
How can “corporeal fire” purify an immaterial non-corporeal soul in Purgatory? This is a metaphysical problem. You cold corporeal fire under an immaterial soul all day long and it would not touch the soul. And yet Thomas is insistent on the fire of Purgatory (and Gehenna) as corporeal.
Pope Benedict, in his Encyclical Spe Salvi, writes:
Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Savior. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgment. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves (Pope Benedict, Spe Salvi 47).
This goes along with the teaching of Moses that “the Lord your God is a consuming fire” (Deut 4:24). If Christ Himself is the purifying fire, then here’s the twist: Christ is corporeal! He is resurrected. So a Christian might in fact say that the fire of purgatory is “corporeal” if in fact we are referencing the resurrected corpus Christi.
Is the particular judgment when we stand face to face with the resurrected Christ the burning fire of love that hurts, burns, cleanses, and restores the soul alive with sanctifying grace but lacking full sanctification at death. I think so.
I think all of this can be held along with holding (as do I) that Purgatory is “located” not in Heaven with the Beatific Vision but in the Infernus or Sheol.
According to legend, Saint Marcellinus was like Saint Peter in three ways:
He was a Pope
He denied Christ publicly
He repented and died a martyr’s death
Pope Marcellinus offering incense with Saint Peter behind him.
Lets take a look at his life:
The Liber Pontificalis records that during Diocletian’s persecution (AD 303) Marcellinus was captured and commanded to offer incense to the Roman idols.
Fearful of death, he scattered incense to the false gods.
Remorseful after a few days, he confessed his faith of Christ.
He was captured again, stayed true to Christ and received martyrdom.
Marcellinus was buried on 26 April 304 in the cemetery of Priscilla, on the Via Salaria, 25 days after his martyrdom.
These details are hotly debated. For example, Saint Augustine of Hippo (died AD 430) denies that Pope Marcellinus offered incense to idols – although he knows of the story and the accusation (see St Augustine, Against Petilian 2.202). The Church Historian Eusebius does not mention it at all.
However, scholars have noted that the pontificate of “Marcellinus” is notably omitted in the Roman “Chronograph” of AD 336. He had undoubtedly been the bishop of Rome, so this absence on the list reveals some doubt about his status as Bishop of Rome.
I wish that we had a way to know the truth of the matter.
I continue to read and study Origen and I was recently impressed with his spiritual interpretation of the words of Saint John the Baptist regarding Christ:
“I baptize with water, but in the midst of you stands one whom you know not, even He who comes after me, the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose.” (Jn 1:26)
According to Origen, John the Baptist is here confessing his amazement over the incarnation of the Divine Logos. Origen interprets:
…he goes on: The latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose. By which he conveys, as in a riddle, that he is not fit to solve and to explain the argument about Christ’s assuming a human body, an argument tied up and hidden (like a shoe-tie) to those who do not understand it—so as to say anything worthy of such an advent, compressed, as it was, into so short a space. (Origen, Commentary on John, Book 6, Ch. 15)
Origen holds that John the Baptist indicates that he can cannot untie the mysterious knot that the Logos can possess a physical body by which to fill a shoe or sandal.
How wonderful and mysterious that the eternal Son of God became man? He came not only to wear a simple shoe on his incarnate foot, but also to receive the cleansing baptism of water in the Jordan River upon his anointed body. And even more to die on a cross and rise again.
John the Baptist is stunned. It is as if John the Baptist might say: “Look guys. I’m the last prophet of the Old Testament and I’m not worthy to untie the mystery of His incarnation. I’ll leave that the next seven Ecumenical Councils to untie over time.
While Origen is not a saint and not a doctor of the Church (and has some theological oddities), his exegesis is fascinating and helpful. Even in something in small as the shoe-latchet saying of John, he has something beautiful to draw out. As we say in Texas: That’ll preach.
I was at a coffee shop yesterday and I got pulled into a conversation with a stranger about metaphysical nature of the soul.
This man emphasized that we are not simply a soul and body, but that we are spirit, soul, and body.
So what is the Catholic to say?
This the bipartite vs. tripartite debate on human anthropology. The majority position in the Catholic Church is that we have a physical element (body headed by the brain) and a metaphysical element (soul headed by the spirit). The spirit is the highest intellectual faculty of the soul.
The locus classicus on this topic is Hebrews 4:12
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
Tripartite advocates point here showing that “soul and spirit” are distinguished and thus separate. The problem here is that if soul and spirit are different entities then our body is also twofold with different entities, namely joins and marrow.
Soul Vocab in Scripture
Let’s review the terminology in Hebrew and Greek:
Basar: flesh or body. In Genesis, this comes from dirt, mud, or grime. It is the lowest basest element of man.
Nephesh: soul or life force. In Genesis this is the life of a living thing. It can be said that animals and perhaps plants have nephesh or a living force within them.
Ruach: spirit or breath. In Genesis, God breathes this into Adam and it is what makes human unique from all other animals. It is something we share with God – the intellectual and voluntary faculty that makes us rational animals or human.
Sarx: flesh. In Greek it is the body but also includes the animal passions of the body for nutrition and sex. Saint Paul typically uses sarx to include the effects of original sin in all humans. Hence sarx has a somewhat pejorative meaning in the New Testament as in the sinful “law of the flesh.”
Soma: body. This is a physical body and doesn’t necessarily include the passionate elements of sarx above, but it can. Used 129 times in NT.
Psyche: soul or life force. The Greeks explicitly stated that all living things have a “soul” or psyche, including plants, animals, and humans. Some speculated whether each star and planet had a psyche since they also had an interior principle of motion similar to life. Used 105 times.
Nous: mind. In Greek this refers to the highest intellectual faculty of the human.
Pneuma: spirit or breath. This is a spiritual or supernatural element in man. Used 385 times, but about 80 times for the human spirit, as opposed to the Holy Spirit.
The Church Father Origen (who spoke Greek) speculated that “nous” referred to the human mind, but “pneuma” referred to the human mind redeemed and filled with grace. I rather like Origen’s suggestion. It makes a lot of sense to me.
Early Gnostics (drawing from Paul in 1 Corinthians, esp. chs. 2 and 15) spoke of three kinds of people:
sarkic or fleshly people. He relates this to Jews and unsaved people who have not the ability to see Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior. They live according to sight and according to the flesh. For Paul, the Jewish preoccupation with circumcision is an example of them living “by the flesh.”
pscyhic or soulish people. Common people in the mainstream church who have not been initiated into the deeper knowledge of the Gnostic teachers.
pneumatic or spiritual people. Those who have acquired the secret teachings passed along by visions or by secret traditions allegedly derived from the Paul or the Apostles.
Church Fathers on Bipartite vs. Tripartite
The Eastern Orthodox Church tends toward a tripartite anthropology and this likely derives from the distinctions of Saint Paul, but especially from the writings of Origen and, through his influence, the writings of the three Cappadocian Fathers Saint Basil, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, and Saint Gregory Nazianzus. If you are interested in learning more about Origen and these three sainted teachers and their theology, please watch the NSTI video lessons on them in our Historical Theology Modules.
In the West, the Pelagian heretics wrongly taught that the soul and body were corrupted by sin, but that the human spirit remained unaffected by sin and remained righteous and good. Consequently, Saint Augustine and others blew a hole in the Pelagian tripartite anthropology showing that the moral state of the soul was the same as the moral state of the human spirit. The strict tripartite arrangement was associated with Pelagianism and was thus held suspect in the Latin West.
What and How Can We Speak of “Spirit and Soul”?
When speak of the soul by the Hebrews (nephesh) and by the Greeks (psyche), they spoke chiefly of life and motion. Oak trees, weeds, crabs, fish, squirrels, and gorillas possess this “life force” or “soul.” The Jews by divine revelation and the Greeks through philosophy were speaking of the same thing.
Even more, both understand that within the human person, there was something beyond the life force. Beyond our motion across earth. Beyond our pursuit for food and sex. It was something that set us apart. Something that made us religious and reflective. It is what made us homo liturgicus. It was the rational spirit they sparks within us the questions of “Why am I alive? What is the purpose of life? Who made us? What are we supposed to be doing? Where are we headed? What happens after all this?”
In the Latin West, we call this the “rational soul” or the “intellectus.” Those terms work, but I rather like the poetic distinction between the “soul” and the “spirit” in Scripture. As Saint Paul said, Adam had for us a soul. But Christ became for us a “life giving spirit.” Here Paul doesn’t mean that Christ was a docetic or solely spiritual phantasm. Rather, he is capturing that Christ becomes for us the means by which we find the answers to the spiritual questions that I’ve listed above.
And as Origen (though not a saint and somewhat dangerous) observed, his suggestion that “mind/intellect” and “spirit” are simply two ways of referring to the same thing but from different points of view – with the spirit being the way to refer to the illuminated and redeemed mind.
It seems that the presence of the divine Holy Spirit in our soul transforms our intellect into a spiritual intellect or into a spirit. My guess is that the liturgical response “and with your spirit” is an acknowledgment of this reality in the communal life of the Church. When we respond that way, we aren’t just saying “and also with you,” but we are acknowledging the transformative power of the Holy Spirit within the celebrant.
3 Ways to Defend the Immaculate Conception from Scripture:
Is the Immaculate Conception Biblical?
Yes, but only if you accept typology as a valid interpretation of Scriptural texts (i.e. a method used by the Apostles and Fathers to interpret Old Testament people, things, and events as types foreshadowing New Covenant realities).
Below are three common arguments used by the early Church Fathers, the Popes, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to justify Mary’s title as the Panagia or “All-Holy.” The first is straight-forward, the latter two rely on typology.
Argument #1 Mary is Full of Grace
Luke 1:28: “And he came to her and said, ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!'”
The term traditionally translated “full of grace” or “highly favored” is κεχαριτωμένη or kecharitomene. This “perfect passive participle form” (Even if you never study Greek, memorize what I have placed into quotes. Burn it into your memory) denotes something that happened in the past and continues into the present. She was perfectly graced in the past and continues in that state. Luke 1:28 has served as the locus classicus for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady.
When a Protestant fronts you on this, just keep the broken record approach by repeating “perfect passive participle of kecharitomene” until the Protestant grabs your Rosary beads and start praying it aloud. Works every time.
Argument #2 Mary as New Eve Having Enmity with Satan
Gen 3:15 “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall crush your head, and you shall strike at His heel.”
In this verse God addresses Satan. The Seed here is Christ. The Woman is His Mother, that is, Mary. Thus Satan has perfect enmity with Christ and with His Mother. The Catholic Church has interpreted this as indicating the sinlessness of Christ and Mary. If either actually committed sin, then they would not be at enmity with Satan but actually a cooperator with Satan at times.
In the Old Covenant the Ark of the Covenant contained the Word of God on stone. In the New Covenant, the Word made Flesh was also contained – and that in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. The Catholic Church has therefore understood Mary as the mystical Ark of the New Covenant. This connection is made in the book of Revelation.
Rev 11:19-12:2 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child.
The Ark of the Covenant appears in Heaven and then in the next breath (and next verse) St John describes a pregnant woman appearing in Heaven. This Woman “contains” the Messiah.
The thinking goes that if Mary is the fulfillment of the Ark of the Covenant, then she must be “all holy”. Remember that in the Old Covenant a man was killed for touching the ark. It was holy. If the box that held stone tablets was so restricted – so also would be the woman who actually carried God Himself. And so she is all pure and all holy, without the stain of sin.
Luke 1:28 “perfect passive participle of kecharitomene,” rinse and repeat
Gen 3:15 “Why does Satan have a perfect “enmity” with a woman and who is she?
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And now for something more advanced: Saint Thomas Aquinas on the Immaculate Conception:
Did Saint Thomas Aquinas deny the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary?
In the theological video below I’ll share how Thomas Aquinas changed his position over time on the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and share some of the nuances. Thomas may have reverted back to a belief in the Immaculate Conception after he wrote about the Immaculate Conception in the Summa theologiae. See the video below for details.
If you are not yet a Member of the New Saint Thomas Institute and you want to study with us, our General Advent Enrollment just opened up. Here’s a free sample our theology classes: Did Thomas Aquinas Deny the Immaculate Conception?
We are the biggest global Catholic Institute (in 50+nations) and we have the lowest tuition rates on the planet (98% lower than nearly every Catholic college). We just finished enrolling our waiting list of 200 people and have opened enrollment to the general public.