Origen’s Solution to the Predestination Debate

It’s time to talk about Origen – the third century priest that allegedly castrated himself and rivaled Saint Thomas Aquinas in writing a great number of biblical commentaries, sermons, and theological books (allegedly thousands of books according to his contemporaries).

NSTI Catholic Video Lesson on the Life and Theology of Origen, student member link here:

Origen of Alex Video

But today we are getting crazy and talking about Origen…and his view of predestination as it relates to pre-existent souls.

Catholics and the Problem of Predestination

We have often discussed the intramural Catholic debate about Predestination over at the New Saint Thomas Institute: Augustine, double predestination, Molinism, Thomas Aquinas, Jansenism, etc.

Most new Catholic students react by saying, “Well we’re Catholics. We don’t believe in predestination.” The problem is that it is in the Bible and so we have to account for what it means. Saint Paul refers to predestination:

Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified (Romans 8:28-30).

In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11).

The Greek word is προορίζω (proorizó).

To lay my cards on the table, I float back and forth between Molinism and Thomas Aquinas’s solution. If you are interested in this topic in Catholic theology and history, please use the search function at taylormarshall.com or better yet watch some of our videos on Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and the topic of predestination.

Origen and Predestination

One perspective that I’ve avoided entirely is the solution to predestination presented by Origen of Alexandria. This really out there, so hang with me.

Origen, in his book Peri Archon, states repeatedly that all rational creatures were once equally ranked minds prior to the creation of the universe.

According to Origen, God created millions of minds. He then tested these minds and they strayed from God to greater or lesser degrees.

  1. Those that hardly strayed became angels and were arranged in an angelic hierarchy in accord to their fidelity to God.
  2. Those that strayed more were destined to become humans in the future.
  3. Those that strayed far away from God became demons and were arranged in a demonic hierarchy in accord to their hatred for God.

One of Origen’s favorites verses was Jeremiah 1:5:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

 

For Origen this proves that Jeremiah (and all humans) existed before they were formed in the womb – and some were already consecrated.

Another one from the canonical scriptures would be Wisdom 8:19-20:

“As a child I was naturally gifted, and a good soul fell to my lot; or rather, being good, I entered an undefiled body.”

This verse seem to hold that “a good soul feel to my lot” and that the soul pre-existed the body and entered into it.

Origen also states that out of the millions of minds, one single mind did not stray at all. This one single soul remained 100% allied with God’s will and so it was immediately united with the Divine Logos – the Second Person of the Trinity. This was the soul that would eventually assume a body in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

Now Origen, then claims that it appears entirely unjust for some people to be born as Moses, Abraham, David, or John the Baptist while others are born as heathens. That’s totally unfair and this is often a topic of debate in youth groups and philosophical symposia about God’s justice.

Origen, says: “The answer is easy! Everyone is given a perfectly crafted life in conformity to their fidelity to God in the test prior to creation.”

So if a baby dies early. If a person is born in idolatrous India. If a girls is born in 1873 into the Martin family in Lisieux, France. If a boy is born into the Polish Wojtyła family in 1920…All these scenarios follow from God’s judgment of a soul’s response to God before creation.

Origen states that every person’s life was designed for their salvation based on their previous inclination (or lack thereof) in the test prior to the creation of the galaxy.

Origen says that Taylor Marshall was born into a nominally Christian home in Fort Worth Texas and given all by set backs and privileges based on how my pre-existent mind behaved toward God zillions of years ago.

Assessment of Origen and Predestination

Mormons have taken Origen’s doctrine of pre-existent souls. They hold something similar. Catholics, however, reject these schema. It has, however, been held by Catholics:

  • Origen died in good standing.
  • It’s likely that Clement of Alexandria held to this view of pre-existent souls.
  • Didymus the Blind (a saint in the Oriental Orthodox Churches) held it.
  • Perhaps Saint Gregory of Nyssa held it.
  • The early Saint Basil the Great and the early Saint Gregory of Nazianzus held it. They later reject it.
  • Allegedly, Saint Jerome held to this view in his early priesthood but later condemned it loudly and insistently.
  • And there is no doubt that Evagrius Ponticus held to this view of pre-existence of souls and especially held to the role of the one sinless mind that became the soul of Christ which united to the Logos.
  • The doctrine of pre-existent souls was condemned by the local Synod of Constantinople (AD 543) then again by the Emperor Justinian in his Edict of AD 544.
  • The 5th Ecumenical Council (Constantinople II in 553) allegedly condemned this theology, but modern scholars are divided on whether the Fathers of the Council truly ratified the rulings of the Synod of Constantinople in AD 543.
  • Notably, many of the quotes condemned as “Origenist” actually come from a book written by Evagrius Ponticus.

I don’t see how a Catholic would want to follow this view of predestination by Origen. I can see why a Catholic would be attracted to it. It levels out divine justice. It’s almost like Hindu karma. It allows a Christian to say, “So you don’t like your life? Sorry, but you earned it millions of years ago in a spiritual realm where you tested and apparently you failed. If you had acted better, you’d be Saint Michael the Archangel or a cherub. As it is, you are merely you. God has given you this particular life because it is the best way for you to be saved. Offer it up!”

Despite Jeremiah 1:5 stating “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you,” Sacred Scripture teaches that we come into being in our mother’s womb. We don’t pre-exist. The mystery of why Moses was born Moses and Pharoah was born Pharaoh remains a mystery. The tension I read in Romans 8-10 seems to keep this tension and does nothing to resolve it.

For this reason, the Catholic tradition has sought to find alternate views of predestination. Augustine holding to an unconditional predestination. Molinism holding to foreseen merits. And then various versions of the two systems.

One final strike against pre-existent souls is that none of us remember it. It seems that if we are punished or rewarded, we should know. That alone seems unjust.

Question: The first time I heard, my mind was blown. I’m interested to hear your thoughts and questions on this topic. I look forward to your thoughts. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

In defense of “I am not worthy” in the Roman Mass

The Huffington Post recently published an article titled “Dear Pope Francis, End the Religious Ritual that Devalues Human Life” by Christine Horner.

Ms. Horner writes:

Every single day before communion, millions of Christians verbally declare one of the most destructive phrases in human history.

Stop the press.The tribunal of the Huffington Post’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has made a judgment. According to them, Catholics are daily reciting: “one of the most destructive phrases in human history.” How awful. Catholics are ruining their self-esteem daily by saying these words in public:

“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

This statement, a recitation of Matthew 8:8, is one of the most destructive phrases in human history…and it has a long history. Every Roman Catholic Pope, bishop, priest, and pious laymen has been reciting this (biblical) phrase daily for over 1,300 years. Yet according to Ms. Horner this acclamation of “unworthiness” is one of the most destructive things a Christian can say.

domine non sum dignus padre pio

She is incorrect, but I can see where she is coming form. Our American culture is a cult of self-esteem. In the United States, we are taught that depression, theft, rape, murder, racism, war, unemployment, etc. are essentially caused by a lack of self-esteem.

Dignus, Dignity, and the Imago Deo

Since our culture has lost its roots in the virtue tradition of Christendom, we no longer understand human dignity in terms of being conformed to the imago Dei (image of God). Our worth is no longer related to a divine being that loved to create us and loves to redeem us.

True human dignity relies on theism. When we say in Mass “Lord, I am not worthy, the Latin is “Domine, non sum dignus.” You don’t need to know Latin to see that dignus (Latin: “worthy”) is related to our English term “dignity.”

This is where Ms. Horner at the Huffington Post misses the mark. She claims that our saying, “Lord I am not worthy” is a form “negative reinforcement.” For her it confirms the alleged Catholic strategy of drowning people in guilt and unworthiness – which to her translates as fostering low self-esteem.

Self-Esteem or God-Esteem

The Huffington Post lacks the theological foundation to understand that promoting self-esteem without God-esteem is the path to destruction and sorrow. The “You go girl!” culture of self-affirmation and self-esteem trumpeted by secularist outlets like the Huff-Po for the last 30 years attempts to produce “esteem” from a collective. If enough people say, “You are so beautiful” then this will translate to a girl truly believing she is beautiful. If enough people just say, “You are so intelligent,” it will translate into intelligent people.

The problem for them is that this approach to esteem relies on a consistent collective that reinforces the message. This is why “bullies” are such a problem in the modern self-esteem cult. They are destroying the collective affirmation process. And then there is also the inconsistent messaging. Every one is told they are equally special and worthy, but the media outlets quietly suggest that some are more special and worthy. Taylor Swift, Robert Downey Jr, Jennifer Lawrence, Johnny Depp, Ryan Gosling, and Emma Stone seem be more worthy than the rest of us.

So where do we find find esteem or worthiness?

Worthiness, Suffering, and Martyrdom

When we look at Christianity at the turn of the 4th century, we find Christians standing up to the supreme arbitrator and law giver (the Roman Emperor) and the entire political/social collective (the Roman Empire) for the sake of a dignus that was not granted by collective, the media, the culture, or the secular state.

They discovered a divine dignus.

Saint Agnes of Rome cannot be persuaded to abandon Christ, her virginity, her modesty, or her virtue. Why is she so strong? Because the collective is coming together to affirm her?

No, she is so strong because she finds herself unworthy of anything outside of her life in Christo. Her esteem is thousands of times higher than the richest matrons of Rome – even higher than that of the senator or emperor himself. If Christ rose from the dead, and Christ is truly “under her roof,” well then she has it all.

The Huffington Post and the women’s mags at the supermarket checkout line are trying to lift “self-esteem” to empower people to love themselves and value themselves.

They are telling us, “Don’t say ‘I’m unworthy,’ but rather say ‘I am worthy of everything.’ Deep down inside say to yourself, ‘I have a perfect body. I’m rich. I’m popular. I’m basically Leonardo DiCaprio/Taylor Swift,’ and then you will be so!'”

But let’s be honest. That doesn’t work. And even if you are the sexiest or richest person of the year, does that translate to worthiness and happiness? Apparently not.

Liturgical Worthiness

Our liturgical affirmation Domine non sum dignus is not isolated. It is placed in a context. Let’s look at its location within the Roman Rite:

  • Eucharistic Prayer
  • Our Father
  • “The peace of the Lord be with you always.”
  • Agnus Dei
  • “Lord I’m not worthy…”
  • Reception of Communion

The acclamation, “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:29) by Saint John the Baptist is theologically proximate to “I am not worthy,” since John the Baptist also says, “even he who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:27).

The Christian who says, “I am not worthy” has just recited the Our Father, declaring that God is our Father. Not something we are inherently worthy of, but something He grants as a gratuitous gift. Next, the believer hears “The peace of the Lord be with you.” The liturgical context is essential familial, peaceful, and redemptive.

We do say, “I am not worthy,” but the “but” is important. We say, “but only say the word and my soul shall be cleaned.” This statement is an affirmation of hope!

And what is the next phrase that the priest proclaims to the Christian? He proclaims, “The Body of Christ,” and the believer receives the Eucharist. That is the word that makes clean. That is the word that makes worthy.

Conclusion on “Being Worthy”

Ms. Horner does a disservice by isolating one line of liturgical text from the whole of the Eucharistic liturgy. Most non-Catholics have no idea about its placement proximate to the Our Father, the peace, or the climax of Catholic liturgy in the reception of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ. Most non-Catholic readers do not understand that Christ enters “under the roof” of our mouths and that we become one in Him and He in us. Yet this is where we find our worthiness. When we esteem God, we find our dignity fully. God designed it that way.

Sadly, the cultural self-esteem cult of finding an ever larger and louder voice of affirmation will not transform a man or woman into something beautiful or truly worthy. Only God can do that for us. Without this Eucharistic miracle “under our roofs,” we will continue to be plagued by cultural decline, despair, and violence. With your kindness and love, share the Gospel with others. Invite them to Mass with you this Sunday. Let others see the hope that we have in the Eucharist.

Godspeed,

Taylor Marshall

 

History of Catholic Cardinals: Their Power and Number

The Roman Development of the Office of Cardinal

Having just returned from teaching Roman Church History in Rome, I’ve been reviewing the history of Roman cardinals. Here’s a brief timeline:

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  • 6th century – In Rome the first cardinals were the seven deacons of the seven regions of the city. The deacons, not the presbyters, had immediate access to the Pope of Rome. This is why deacons in Rome were granted the privilege of wearing a more dignified vestment (the dalmatic) than that of the priest (the chasuble).
  • 8th century – The term “cardinal” is attached to the senior priest (pastor) in each of the titular churches of Rome. For the significance of titulus in relation to the churches in Rome, see my book The Eternal City where I relate how the Latin term titulus was used to denote licensed altars in the city of Rome based on the Old Latin (pre-Vulgate) translation of the Old Testament.
  • By decree of the Lateran Council of 769, only a cardinal priest or deacon was eligible to become pope. This is no longer the case. Any Catholic male may be elected as Pope. Laity could not participate in the election. Armed men could not be present for papal elections.
  • 9th century – Pope Stephen V (816-17) decreed that all 7 cardinal bishops were bound to sing Mass on rotation at the high altar at St. Peter’s Basilica, one every Sunday. He also mentions the distinction of cardinal bishops, cardinal priests, and cardinal deacons.
  • 11th century – In 1059, during the pontificate of Nicholas II, cardinal bishops were given the right to elect the pope under the Papal Bull In nomine Domini. Emperors could not nominate candidates or veto a winner. Emperors could still “confirm” the election. Election must take place in Rome. Pope is pope from moment of election and consent and not from coronation or enthronement.
  • 12th century – At the Third Lateran Council in 1179 the right to the whole body of cardinals – bishops, priests and deacons – to elect the pope was re-established for the first time in over 100 years.
    Also, a 2/3 majority was required for a valid election.
  • 13th century – In 1244, cardinals were granted the privilege of wearing the red hat by Pope Innocent IV.

Cardinals in Post-Tridentine Era

  • The chief clergy of any diocese were often called cardinals. However, the use of the title “cardianl” was reserved for the cardinals of Rome in 1567 by Pope Saint Pius V.
  • In 1517, Pope Leo X added 31 additional cardinals, bringing the total to a staggering 65 cadinals!
  • Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590) capped the number of cardinals to 70, comprising of:
    • 6 cardinal bishops,
    • 50 cardinal priests,
    • 14 cardinal deacons.
    • This was modeled on the Sandhedrin pattern of Moses and the Old Testament – seventy elders to assist in judging Israel.
  • During the pontificate of Pope Saint John XXIII, the limit exceeded 70.
  • 1965 Pope Paul VI also increased the number of cardinal bishops by giving that rank to patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches.
  • In 1970, Pope Paul VI raised the number of cardinal electors at a cap of 120 cardinal electors while at the same time fixing the maximum age for cardinal electors at the age of 80 years. Hence, for the first time in history, elderly cardinals could no longer vote.
  • Of the 117 cardinals under the age of 80 at the time of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation, 115 participated in the conclave of March 2013 that elected his successor. The two who did not participate were Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja (for health reasons) and Keith O’Brien (following allegations of sexual misconduct).
  • As of 9 July 2016, there are a total of 212 cardinals, of whom 113 are cardinal electors under the age 80.

Pray for our current Holy Father Francis of Rome, and pray for our Cardinals who have been chosen by God to elect the next Holy Father.

And I just can’t resist, here’s the video from a week ago of Pope Francis kissing my baby: Click here to watch.

Why You Don’t Genuflect After Receiving Communion

Some people are confused about whether to genuflect after receiving Holy Communion.

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When you enter or leave your pew, you genuflect (bend the right knee all the way to touching the ground) to show your adoration for the Son of God who is present in the tabernacle.

Even if the tabernacle is in another place or room, I genuflect toward the crucifix at or on the altar since the Second Council of Nicea II of AD 787 (7th Ecumenical Council) teaches that the devotion we show to sacred images passes beyond the images to their prototypes (in this case from the crucifix to Christ Himself). It is perfectly orthodox to genuflect before a cross, crucifix, or image of Christ.

There is some confusion about whether to genuflect upon returning to your pew. The general custom is not to genuflect after receiving Holy Communion for devotional purposes. By not genuflecting you are confessing that you have become a filled tabernacle. The Holy Eucharist is in you. It’s not appropriate to genuflect in any direction because the Holy Eucharist is literally in your core. The orientation of worship is now interior.

There are stories of children genuflecting before their mothers coming back from the altar after just having received Holy Communion – which is beautiful and orthodox.

There is no official teaching, rule, or law (that I know of) about not genuflecting in the aisle after receiving Holy Communion, but the custom is not to genuflect – because Jesus the Lord is now inside you. You are a walking tabernacle.

Question: What do you do after Communion? Do you genuflect. Please share your thoughts or customs after Holy Communion. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

PS: A double genuflection (both knees) is called for when the Holy Eucharist is exposed for adoration.

PPS: It’s traditional custom to genuflect on the left knee for a bishop or dignitary.

PPPS: If you have a bad knee, do whatever you can. It’s the heart that matters.

Elijah as a Type of Triple Baptism and Pentecost

Triple baptism and Pentecost’s baptism of fire are prefigured in Elijah’s challenge by fire to the 450 prophets of Baal. Here’s the account from 1 King 18 and I’ll note the important features as you read through it:

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30 Then Eli′jah said to all the people, “Come near to me”; and all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down; 31 Eli′jah took twelve stones [prefigures the 12 Apostles], according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name”; 32 and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed [2 measures of seed comes again with Elisha as a prophetic sign in 2 Kings 7]. 33 And he put the wood in order, and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four jars with water, and pour it on the burnt offering, and on the wood.” 34 And he said, “Do it a second time”; and they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time”; and they did it a third time [triple pouring on the sacrifice with water – as a kind of baptism]. 35 And the water ran round about the altar, and filled the trench also with water.

36 And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that thou, O Lord, art God, and that thou hast turned their hearts back.” 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. [here we have a prefigurement of Pentecost with the fire coming down from Heaven upon the “baptized sacrifice”] 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” 40 And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Ba′al; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and killed them there.

The Church East and West conforms to a triple affusion (pouring) or triple immersion (dunking) with the recognition of the three Divine Persons of the Trinity. Prophetically, Elijah has the attendants pour water on the slaughtered sacrifice three times. It’s also no accident that Saint John the Baptist was the “new Elijah” teaching a new baptism.

Elijah poured water on the sacrifice to show that God’s fire is so hot and powerful that water cannot prevent it from burning the sacrifice.

I recently spoke of the life of the follower of Jesus as “being on sacrificial fire” (click here to read “Do you have fire in your soul?”). You may also want to listen to my presentation on on the apocryphal 1 Enoch and Tongues of fire here.

There is a connection between the mystery of water (baptism in Christ) and the mystery of fire (confirmation or chrismation in Christ), as Saint John the Baptist relates in his speaking of baptism by water and fire.

We do this every day. We wash our food and then we place it in the fire. When you slaughter animals, you wash the meat and then cook it. The many mikvehs of the Old Covenant were washings to prepare the believer for becoming a burnt sacrifice for God.

Hence, Christ’s baptism is a preparation for His burnt sacrifice (crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, pentecost).

The priest washes his hands ceremonially because his hands are about to hold the burning coal of the sacrificial body of Christ.

In the Solemn High Mass (pre 1970), the priest sprinkled the faithful in the pews – to prepare them to become a burning sacrifice.

And of course, we will all be “salted with fire” when we die. It’s just a matter of whether we burn in this life (as sacrificial love) or burn some in the next age (in the purgatorial fires of 1 Cor 3:15).

Make your life into a bonfire.

Godspeed,

Taylor

PS: If you want to learn more about Old Testament and Jewish origins of Catholic sacraments and Catholic theology, check out my book The Crucified Rabbi: Judaism and the Origins of Catholicism.

Video Class: St Justin Martyr and Tatian the Heretic

Today is the feast day of the Saint Justin Martyr of Rome. Below is a sample lesson video from the New Saint Thomas Institute featuring a brief bio of Saint Justin Martyr, an analysis of his contribution to Catholic Theology and a brief intro to one of his students named Tatian who became a heretic. Saint Justin Martyr, pray for us!

Question: Do you have questions about Saint Justin Martyr? If so leave a comment. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Could Adultery and Fornication be Forgiven in the Early Catholic Church?

Could adultery and fornication be forgiven in the early Catholic Church? In the 200s, Christians were deeply divided over this question of mercy and forgiveness.

A major theological controversy broke out in in the Catholic Church around the year AD 217 regarding adultery and fornication.

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In 217, Pope Saint Callixtus I of Rome issued a decree that the sins of adultery and fornication could be remitted by the Catholic Church through the office of the bishop.

Tertullian, who rejected the Pope for this reason, directly quotes and preserves Pope Callixtus’s decree:

I hear that there has even been an edict set forth, and a peremptory one too. The Pontifex Maximus, that is, the bishop of bishops, issues an edict:

“I remit, to such as have discharged the requirements of repentance, the sins both of adultery and of fornication.”

It’s notable that Tertullian refers to the Bishop of Rome as the “bishop of bishops” and “Pontifiex Maximus.” Tertullian scholars believe that he was saying this tongue in cheek, because Tertullian held the lowest esteem for Bishop of Rome and Pope Callixtus in particular.

This merciful papal decree of 217 led to general scandal because it was generally believed that certain sins could not be absolved by the visible church. According to Tertullian (a great theological enemy of Pope Callixtus), once a baptized person committed any of the seven sins on the list below, he or she could not be absolved by the visible church:

  1. murder
  2. idolatry
  3. fraud
  4. apostasy (publicly renouncing Jesus Christ)
  5. blasphemy
  6. adultery (sex with someone besides your spouse)
  7. fornication (sex outside marriage)
    (this list is found in Tertullian’s De Pudicitia*, Ch 19).

Tertullian vs. Pope Calixtus

Tertullian, citing ancient custom, claimed that a sinner could be forgiven directly by Jesus Christ for these seven sins; however, the Catholic Church on earth could not absolve these seven sins and those that committed them would and should remain excommunicated and outside the Catholic Church until death. If you were baptized and committed one of these seven sins, you could never in your life receive the Holy Eucharist. Period. End of story. Close the book.

Anti-Pope Hippolytus vs. Pope Callixtus

The Catholic Church’s first Anti-Pope (a man falsely claiming to be Pope against a valid Pope) arose in response to the 217 decree of Pope Callixtus allowing the absolution of fornication and adultery. While Tertullian was railing against Pope Callixtus’s laxity, some traditions say that a priest in Rome named Hippolytus rebelled against his Pope Callixtus and set himself up as a rival Bishop of Rome against Callixtus on the issue of absolution for adulterers and fornicators. It is unclear if Hippolytus claimed to be a full blown “Bishop of Rome” or merely a reformer set against the laxity of Callixtus. Either way we can see that even the clergy of Rome were divided over this issue.

Hippolytus writes that during the pontificate of Pope Callixtus, men in holy orders began taking wives and Callixtus did not censure them for sin or depose them (Refutation of All Heresies 9, 7). Hippolytus claims that clergy were even being married two to three times after ordination. Divorce and remarriage among the clergy!

Concerning Pope Callixtus, Hippolytus writes:

And in justification, [Callixtus] alleges that what has been spoken by the Apostle has been declared in reference to this person: “Who are you that judges another man’s servant?”

Hippolytus goes on to lament that Catholic women in Rome began to engage in contraception and abortion:

Whence women, reputed believers, began to resort to drugs for producing sterility, and to gird themselves round [their belly], so to expel what was being conceived on account of their not wishing to have a child either by a slave or by any paltry fellow, for the sake of their family and excessive wealth. Behold, into how great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by inculcating adultery and murder at the same time! And withal, after such audacious acts, they, lost to all shame, attempt to call themselves a Catholic Church!

And so there was great scandal in Rome concerning Pope Callixtus (who is a canonized Catholic saint).

Can Mortal Sins Be Forgiven? Callixtus says Yes

Center to the debate between Pope Calixtus and Tertullian/Hippolytus was the passage in 1 John concerning “mortal sins”:

And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him. If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. (1 Jn 5:15-16)

Both Tertullian and Hippolytus claimed that the Apostle John taught the Catholic Church that prayer should not be made for those whose sin is mortal. Saint John explicitly says: “I do not say that one is to pray for that.” So for them, there was Apostolic teaching that mortal sins should not receive the intercession of the public and visible Church. According to Tertullian and Hippolytus, if you committed apostasy or adultery or fornication, then the Church had nothing for you. No prayer. No Eucharist. Nothing. After all, didn’t Saint John teach the same thing?

Binding and Loosing in Saint Peter’s Rome

We don’t have the exegetical response of Pope Saint Callixtus but I can make a conjecture of his orthodox response: Saint John said that we are not obliged to pray for mortal sins. However, we find two truths in the Gospels that show us that the visible Catholic Church can and should absolve mortal sins (even the mortal sins on Tertullian’s list of seven):

  1. The power to bind and loose on earth as given by Christ to Peter in Matthew 16. Saint Peter and the bishops of Rome do have the power to bind and loose sins and to modify customs for the sake of Christ’s mercy and salvation for sinners. Pope Callixtus was using the power of the keys as the Successor of Saint Peter.
  2. Peter committed apostasy on Good Friday. He was reestablished visibly and publicly by Christ. Christ did not leave Peter without prayer and sacraments until death. He publicly raised Peter back to his rank with the question: “Simon do you love me” three times.

The Catholic Church, the Pope, and the Ministry of Mercy

Nowadays it seems unthinkable that the austere rigorism of Tertullian and Hippolytus was once normative in the Catholic Church of AD 217. Back then it was generally assumed that after baptism, Catholics did not commit adultery, fornication, murder, apostasy, idolatry, blasphemy, or fraud. It just wasn’t supposed to happen. Remember, this was the persecuted Catholic Church of the martyrs. If you were baptized, you were signing up for possible martyrdom!

Origen (who died in 254), it seems, was baptized as an infant, but 90% or more of Christians at this time were not baptized as children. They made a careful and prayerful decision to follow Christ and receive baptism. Most of them had friends or family who were actual martyrs for Christ. These were serious Christians and once we recognize this reality, we see how “mortal sins” were a real issue.

In the Catholic Church, we see a theological shift happening in AD 217. The reality of Romans 7 comes alive: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” For this reason, the Church as the Body of Christ can visibly execute the mercy of Christ to mortal sinners.

Many Catholics began to report that the Rigorist position against absolving sin removed forgiveness and yet did not remove sin – because even the Rigorists had scandalous sins among them.

Repentance and Mercy

Pope Callixtus and the Catholic tradition afterward was not entirely lax, and she always required the act of ecclesial repentance for sin. “Going straight to Jesus” for the forgiveness of mortal sin has never been approved. If we commit a mortal sin, we must go and confess it to a priest in confession. We believe that forgiveness is tied to the Church and her powers that she received directly from Jesus Christ.

If a sin can be absolved through the bishop and the priests he appoints, then any sin can be absolved through the bishop and the priests. This is the great mercy and comfort of being a Catholic

Godspeed,

Taylor Marshall

PS: If you are interested in these types of topics, can get all three volumes of my Origins of Catholic Christianity at amazon.com.

* Of note, Tertullian in De Pudicitia claims that Saint Barnabas wrote the Epistle of Hebrews in union with Saint Paul. I claim that Tertullian is wrong on this point and Hebrews was written by Saint Luke and give my reasons in my book The Catholic Perspective on Paul.

 

Descended into Hell and Today you will be with me in Paradise: How does this fit?

Waiting in Limbo...

Renee, a student member of the New Saint Thomas Institute recently asked this question:

Ok, I am confused about something in regard to this subject.
As Jesus hung on the cross, one of the crucified thieves acknowledged Him as the Son of God, acknowledged Christ’s innocence, confessed his own sins, and asked to be remembered. The Bible says: (Luke 23:43) ‘Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” ‘
Since Jesus truly died, then descended into hell to preach, and then rose again on the third day, how is the construction of the sentence in Luke 23:43 possible? It makes sense to me if you move the comma like so: “Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in paradise”.

What is going on with this passage? How can the thief be with Jesus in paradise on THAT day when Jesus has descended (or will descend) into hell? Does the original Greek have a different context? Any help would be appreciated.

And here is my answer:

Free Catholic Webinar Class: Catholic Rome and Papacy 101

You’re invited to this week’s NSTI Catholic Webinar class on Rome and the Early Papacy 101.

This webinar is a “mini-version” of the class that I teach to Catholic Seminarians in Rome. This class is complimentary; however, space is limited and you must reserve your spot before Wednesday. You can register (reserve your spot) by clicking here.

Early Papacy 101 Class with Dr Marshall

YOU WILL DISCOVER INFO ABOUT:

  • The Old Testament and Rome
  • Tradition of Peter in Rome
  • Popes after Peter in Rome
  • Importance of St Clement of Rome
  • The Power of the Bishop of Rome in 2nd Century
  • EVERYONE THAT ATTENDS WILL RECEIVE a pdf Handout on these Catholic topics.

This webinar is a “mini-version” of the class that I teach to Catholic Seminarians in Rome. Space is limited and you must reserve your spot before Wednesday. You can register (reserve your spot) by clicking here.

Register here button

Why Did Jesus Wash the Feet of the Apostles? Pope Francis, Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine

Recently the Catholic Church has been wrestling with the significance of foot washing – the liturgical reenactment of Christ washing the feet of His Apostles on the night before He was betrayed.

Jesus-washing-feet-

The Council of Elvira (Spain, AD 305) prohibited the washing of feet because heretical ideas were being associated with it: “The feet of the newly baptized are not to be washed by the priests or clerics” (Elvira 48). Saint Ambrose of Milan, against this rulings of the Council, considered foot washing to be “sacrament” of great importance. In Milan and other places, “foot washing” was a prelude to sacramental baptism.

The Albigensian heretics held foot washing in high esteem and assigned to it a theological importance without parallel in the orthodox Catholic Church. Up until the last century, Popes, Abbots, and Kings would wash the feet of the poor as a sign of humility and servant leadership. More on that later.

Foot Washing Enters the Mass in 1955

Up until 60 years ago, the custom of foot washing did not appear in the Roman Eucharistic liturgy. Until 1955, the Roman Missal included a rite of foot washing detached from the Mass. Pope Pius XII was the first Pope to have foot washing included in the Mass and it was stipulated that it would be the feet of men, presumably as a sign of the male-only priesthood.

Hence, foot washing is relatively new liturgical rite. 

In 2013, Pope Francis washed the feet of two women and non-Christians (Muslims) at a juvenile detention center in Rome 2013. Pope Francis revised the direction of the Roman Missal in 2016 to include men and women as a sign of inclusion.

Theology of Foot Washing? Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine:

I wrote a well-known book on Judaism and Catholicism that covers the liturgical and sacramental connections between the Old Testament and Catholic Christianity called The Crucified Rabbi: Judaism and the Origins of Catholic Christianity. It’s a popular text now in Catholic schools and seminaries. You can read reviews of it on amazon here.Crucified Rabbi Look InsideUnfortunately, I did not include a section on foot washing. So here goes:

Saint Jerome in his Epistle to Pope Damasus states that Christ washed His Apostles’ feet to prepare them for the preaching of the gospel, in fulfillment to the prophecy of Isaiah:

“How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the Gospel of peace, of them that bring good tidings.” (Isa. 52:7)

The Apostles were ordained as sacerdotal priests at the Last Supper and so the foot washing is to prepare them to carry the Gospel to foreign lands. It’s a commissioning rite to “preach the Gospel of peace.”

Saint Ambrose associates the foot washing to original sin and the Protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15 since it is with “the heel” that the Messiah and His followers will crush Satan’s head:

“Because Adam was tripped up by the devil and the venom was poured out over thy feet, therefore dost thou wash thy feet that in that part where the serpent ensnared thee there may be added the more abundant aid of sanctification, so that he be not able to trip thee up hereafter.” Saint Ambrose De Sacramentis3, 1)

Saint Augustine and Cyprian associate the washing of feet with the removal of venial sins. This is why Christ says: “He that has been washed needs not but to wash his feet, but is clean throughout.” The Apostles were already baptized. Peter asks for a second baptism (his head) but Christ refuses. The Apostles had already been baptized and their sins removed, however, the lower sins that trip us up also have to be remitted before receiving the Holy Eucharist. Hence, the foot washing was a liturgical penitential rite prior to the First Communion of the Apostles.

Is Right to Allow Women?

Prior to Francis, the men chosen to receive foot washing symbolized the 12 Apostles. As described above, foot washing seems to be a priestly rite preparing the Apostles to have the “beautiful feet” foretold by Isaiah. Since men alone can be Catholic priests, only men were chosen for the washing of feet.

One might argue, however, that Christ calls all men and women to proclaim the Gospel with beautiful feet. Proclaiming or sharing the Good News is not exclusively a sacerdotal action. Moreover, Saint Paul states that all Christians are called to crush Satan under their (beautiful) feet (Rom 16:19). The Coptic liturgy includes the act of the priest washing the feet of the entire congregation! So there is liturgical precedent for including women in the washing of the feet.

Is it Right to Allow Non-Christians?

What I cannot reconcile theologically is the act of washing the feet of non-baptized members of other religions, namely adherents of Islam, within the Eucharistic liturgy. Peter’s words and Christ’s response presume that the recipients are “washed already,” that is, baptized. Foot washing is an intra-baptized experience.

There is precedent for foot washing as a pre-baptismal rite (in the catechetical context of Easter baptisms), but it’s not clear that the Muslims receiving papal foot washing are preparing for baptism.

My personal belief is that foot washings should be returned to their pre-1955 status. Popes, Abbots, Kings, Presidents, parents, et al. can wash the feet of anyone they like as a sign of humility outside the Eucharistic liturgical rites of the Church.

If a Pope or King washes the feet of another outside of the liturgy, then it is simply a sign of humility. When it’s placed inside the context of Eucharistic liturgy, then we strain to attach a theological meaning to it…and that’s where we run into trouble.

If we want to show outward acts of “inclusion” to the non-baptized, we could give give them blessed bread or other gifts. Or we could wash their feet in contexts that aren’t sacramental. 

Question: I would love to hear your thoughts on foot washing. Please keep the comments respectful. No bashing of the Vicar of Christ on earth. He is our Holy Father. You can leave a comment by clicking here.