Purgatory: A Deeper Understanding with the Church Fathers.

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First Published at All Along the Watchtower in response to comments from fellow blogger in regards to Purgatory: A Lesson Taught By Christ.

It needs to be clarified in accord to Catholic theology that Christ has already paid the debt of our original sin; however, as exemplified by St. Paul in 1 Cor. 13, because we are still scarred by concupiscence we may need to cleanse ourselves of sin before entering into the Kingdom of Heaven.

10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But each one must be careful how he builds upon it, 11 for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13 the work of each will come to light, for the Day will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire [itself] will test the quality of each one’s work. 14 If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. 15 But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire.[1]


It is claimed that there is a lack of clarity in my previous post, of course, this is false. In regards to my prior post, I broke down Christ’s teaching in my eschatological assertion that according to Mt. 5: 5:23-26 that there will be an accuser, a judge, and price to be paid for not settling our sins here on earth. Now in the comments section, there was mention of Maccabees, but I wish to refrain from that point, as I did in the original essay for the reason that book is disputed within the canon between Protestants and Catholics. However, Luther and his contemporary reformers did keep the title in the appendixes as it does have value in understanding the beliefs of Judaism in the period.

Regardless, my response here is to disprove a lack of clarity, which as I claimed, Jesus says there will be an accuser, a judge, and penance (payment). Of course, for the purpose of showing clarity, it would be wise to seek the wisdom of the Church Fathers. I think here, as I am about to give a talk at my parish on various Church Father will state my introduction of said fathers:

““The Church Fathers are those great Christian writers who passed on and clarified the teaching of the apostles from approximately the second through the eighth centuries.”[2] I believe this to be a very distinct and thorough definition but if one is looking for a more generalized definition, Catholic Apologist provides a more generalized definition explaining, “In time, the concept (Church Fathers) came to be applied in a general way to those who shaped the faith and practice of the Church in its earliest centuries. They became “Fathers” not only for their own age but for all ages that would follow. Some of these—the ones who heard the preaching of the apostles themselves or lived very shortly after the time of the apostles—came to be called the “Apostolic Fathers” or “Sub-Apostolic Fathers.” Together with the Fathers of later ages, they were important witnesses to the apostolic Tradition.[3]

As I have a great respect of Cardinal John Henry Newman, I’ve included his view on the importance of what the Father’s claim:

“When they (the Church Fathers) speak of doctrine, they speak of them  as being universally held. They are witnesses to the fact of those doctrines having been received not here or there, but everywhere. We receive those doctrines which they thus teach, not merely because they teach them, but because they bear witness that all Christians everywhere then held them…they do not speak of their own private opinion; they do not say, ‘This is true, because we see it in Scripture’—about which there might be differences of judgment—but, ‘this is true, because in matter of fact it is held, and has ever been held, by all the Churches, down to our times without interruption, ever since the Apostles.”[4]

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After stating the importance on the Church Fathers thought in forming orthodox Christian theology, it would be prudent to take a look at what they actually have to say about this passage, as proof that I’ve not created a supposition out of then air which lacks clarity in thought, as well as not all orthodox Christian theology is found jumping out of canon, but can be located in its subtleness.

Fortunately, the great Saint, theologian, and scholar Thomas Aquinas has already compiled s document with views of Church Fathers in a commentary of the Gospels called Catena Aurea.

In regards to this particular passage: St. Augustine writes of the judge, which, of course, is the Son of God, The Christ Jesus:

Whosoever then shall not have been reconciled in this life with God through the death of His Son, shall be by Him delivered to the Judge, that is, the Son, to whom He has committed all judgment.[5]


In the comment section of the previous essay, as I was commenting during my breaks at work, and did not have the material readily available to make certain my assertions, I did error in regards to St. Ambrose speaking in regards to Mt. 5 23-24; however, the passage has a correlating passage in the Gospel of Luke Chapter 12:57-59 in which Ambrose does share his thoughts on the accuser.

57 ¶“And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. 59 I tell you, you will never get out till you have paid the very last copper.”[6]

 For this particular passage, St. Ambrose writes, “Ambrose. Or our adversary is the devil, who lays his baits for sin, that he may have those his partners in punishment who were his accomplices in crime; our adversary is also every vicious practice. Lastly, our adversary is an evil conscience, which affects us both in this world, and will accuse and betray us in the next. Let us then give heed, while we are in this life’s course, that we may be delivered from every bad act as from an evil enemy. Nay, while we are going with our adversary to the magistrate, as we are in the way, we should condemn our fault. But who is the magistrate, but He in whose hands is all power? But the Magistrate delivers the guilty to the Judge, that is, to Him, to whom He gives the power over the quick and dead, namely, Jesus Christ, through Whom the secrets are made manifest, and the punishment of wicked works awarded. He delivers to the officer, and the officer casts into prison, for He says, Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into outer darkness. (Matt. 22:12.) And he shews that His officers are the angels, of whom he says, The angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire; (Matt. 13:49.) but it is added, I tell thee, thou shalt not depart thence till thou hast paid the very last mite. For as they who pay money on interest do not get rid of the debt of interest before that the amount of the whole principal is paid even up to the least sum in every kind of payment, so by the compensation of love and the other acts, or by each particular kind of satisfaction the punishment of sin is cancelled.[7]

Now there are several elements to tease out here.

#1 St. Ambrose indicates that Satan is the accuser of which Christ speaks. In fact, his protégé, St. Augustine admits it to be a possibility:
“Augustine. (Serm. in Mont. i. 11.) Let us see who this adversary is to whom we are bid to be benevolent, It may then be either the Devil, or man, or the flesh, or God, or His commandments. But I do not see how we can be bid be benevolent, or agreeing with the Devil; for where there is good will, there is friendship, and no one will say that friendship should be made with the Devil, or that it is well to agree with him, having once proclaimed war against him when we renounced him; nor ought we to consent with him, with whom had we never consented, we had never come into such circumstances,[8]


If one takes a closer look at Aquinas’ commentary, we do not find anything in regards to the payment in Matthew’s commentary. However, in regards to Luke’s passage, we find quite a bit from the Venerable Bede on the topic in which Bede writes:

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“If I paid every man every thing, I come to the officers and answer with a fearless heart, “I owe them nothing.” But if I am a debtor, the officer will cast me into prison, nor will he suffer me to go out from thence until I have paid every debt. For the officer has no power to let me off even a farthing. He who forgave one debtor five hundred pence and another fifty, (Luke 7:41.) was the Lord, but the exactor is not the master, but one appointed by the master to demand the debts. But the last mite he calls slight and small, for our sins are either heavy or slight. Happy then is he who sinneth not, and next in happiness he who has sinned slightly. Even among slight sins there is diversity, otherwise he would not say until he has paid the last mite. For if he owes a little, he shall not come out till he pays the last mite. But he who has been guilty of a great debt, will have endless ages for his payment.[9]


Again, I must assert that logically “the prison” cannot be hell because In the context of Jesus’ words when one pays the penny, they will be released, the judgment of hell is final. Furthermore, I would hope that it being heaven is quite obvious. Now, as Nicholas has concluded, the early church understanding of these topics does provide substantial evidence for the practice of penance which would also indicate, albeit, I’ll admit, circumstantial evidence of state in which penance would be needed to purify the soul. I hold firmly that all of this is more than enough evidence to point to clear theological discourse of purgatory in the Gospels. And, in the sentiment of John Henry Newman, for one to conclude that there isn’t enough evidence, let that one also claim clear and precise theological evidence for the Holy Spirit in scripture. Of course, this is not to discount the person in the Trinity, it only serves as an example that one has to look for more textural imagery for some concepts.

[1] New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), 1 Co 3:10–15.

[2] D’Ambrosio, 2.

[3] Jimmy Akin, The Fathers Know Best: Your Essential Guide to the Teachings of the Early Church (San Diego, CA: Catholic Answers, 2010), 23.

[4] Dave Armstrong, Quotable Newman (Sophia Press: Manchester, 2012), 169-70.

[5] Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Matthew, ed. John Henry Newman, vol. 1 (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1841), 182.

[6] The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006), Lk 12:57–59.

[7] Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea, 473.

[8] Ibid, 181–182.

[9] Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Luke, ed. John Henry Newman, vol. 3 (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1843), 474.

Should Christians build for the Future?

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First published at All Along the Watchtower.

My thoughts here are of genuine conversation, there will be little history and little theology. I hope the thought I share will foster a conversation about Christianity going forward in our Western Culture and hopefully the prosperity of both.

My family on my wife’s side is split between Catholics and Confessional Lutherans. During the Christmas season, I am surrounded by as many Lutherans as Catholics, and of course, because we’re all practicing our particular forms of Christianity, we discuss topics of the Church at the dinner table. The particular topic between my wife’s cousin and myself is how Christians, in light of the rise of the supremacy of the secular West, should look more to their commonalities than their differences. I told my relative, “I have a great many conversations with a great many different Christians and as far as I can see at this moment and during our lifetime there will be theological disagreements. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate being Christian and come together in the face of the rising cynicism and unbelief that dominates our dying culture.”

One of the assertions my relative made was that Christianity is dying because we’re not building new Churches–especially in Europe. Now, there are Europeans who inhabit this blog, so I wonder how much weight of truth is there to my relative’s assertion. He believes that for centuries people have walked past what are now nothing more than old buildings and now they have naturally grown an apathy to something that has always been there. In many ways, humans respond this way to other particular in the world; for example, the scenery becomes nothing more than a background of where we live, and often we stop looking at beauty for what it is because we get use to it. I’ve lived all my life in the Midwest of the United States, which is basically the grain belt of the country, so it is very flat. I’ve always dreamed of living by the sea and/or the mountains. One summer during college, my college girlfriend visited my own, she wasn’t from around the area, and when she was there, she experienced a good Midwestern thunderstorm. She kept going on and on about how wondrous and magnificent was the lighting show on display on the prairie. She said that were she from it was too mountain-ness to see a lightning storm, and I was a bit shocked how I have seemed to have taken for granted such a spectacle.

I think there is wisdom to what my relative has surmised in Western Culture. I am reminded of the Ken Follet book “Pillars of the Earth.” The story centered around the building of a great Cathedral and the generations of lives it took to build such a magnificent building, it became an affair of the family and generations. When our church decided to build on to our existing Parish, the parish, of course, had a meeting about the finances. During the meeting, a woman stood up and declared from some sort of statistics that the parish membership was in decline, and we should just build a cost-effective building. I stood up and rejected her thoughts on the matter. I reminded her that money is temporal and that our goal was not to hoard it. I even invoked the reasoning of Kevin Costner, “If you build it, they will come.” A faith that builds is an active faith, a faith that preserves, often times burns slowly like a candle and eventually time will extinguish it.

I believe these are the feelings of my relative in the relationship of people of Western Culture to their churches—and perhaps there is some truth to it. I have a particular devotion to Pope St. John Paul II, and I am reminded of the Soviets purposely building a city called Nowa Huta in Poland for steel manufacturing which included no church “a first in the millennium long history of Poland.”[1] In fact, as Pope John Paul II biographer George Weigel writes, “Over the next four decades the exhaust from Nowa Huta’s steel mills would, literally, eat away at the fabric of Krakow.”[2]

The Ark Church would be consecrated by the future Pope John Paul II in May of 1977 in Nowa Huta after receiving a permit to finally build a church in 1967. Weigel articulates, “The Ark Church is a striking architectural metaphor: the people of the Church, gathered in a boat reminiscent of Noah’s ark and the fishing craft sailed by the apostles on the Sea of Galilee, are carried through the tempests of history.”[3]

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There’s another beautiful church built in the area THE CHURCH OF OUR LADY OF CZĘSTOCHOWA. The construction of this particular church began in 1984 and it’s architecture blends both modern and classic themes in a sanctuary that reminds the faithful of both the sacred and the profane. [4]

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It’s interesting how slow secularism has crept into Poland after an onslaught of both Nazism and Soviet powers. Perhaps, the blood of martyrs seeded the ground of Poland, but the newly seeded ground did have to rebuild either physical churches or their spiritualism. After all, arguably the most devout diocese in Europe resides in Poland—Tarnow.[5]

[1] George Weigel, City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Krakow (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2015), 220.

[2] Ibid, 12.

[3] Ibid, 221-222.

[4] http://www.szklanedomy.cystersi.pl/our-lady-of-czestochowa-parish-krakow-poland/

[5] http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/4901/in_vibrantly_catholic_poland_growing_secularism_produces_new_challenges.aspx

The History of God and the Resurrection: A Conversation of Struggle

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Below is taken from emails and pieced together from a conversation with a family member, note that many of the ideas can be fleshed out in far greater detail: 

The problem with pain is not a unique attack on God, but rather a clever one that acknowledges an existence but attacks His character as if His character could be assessed in the same manner as any human. The problem with this common assertion is often the focus on God; for example, why do we blame God for evil rather than humanity? There are many who have supplied refutations to this objection such as C.S Lewis, Fulton Sheen, Joseph Ratzinger, etc.

There are two things to understand. The world because of humanity’s original sin is – profane and not holy-and not the end. Therefore, God’s greatest concern is for the sanctity of our souls. If God allows pain by allowing free will to exist and by allowing natural disasters, we can be comfortable to answer that He does so to allow us to use these opportunities to ease the suffering on earth for the healing of our souls. Suffering is allowed to exist so that a greater good can occur for those in the City of Man to become sanctified.

Many will object to this answer, but I ask them, “What if it’s the truth, what would be your reaction if you knew it to be true?”

So, recently, I’ve been asked How can I know? Where does my faith come from? If I am to answer myself, especially when looking at our current world, I would say that my faith flows from the spring of Truth. When I look at the world, I see a finely tuned creation. A creation that has objective moral truths, natural rights, and natural laws, so from this foundation, I call it God. My observations of the world have allowed me to conclude that relativism is false, and if there are objective truths, what is the source? However, as I have arrived at this conclusion, I ask, is there anything I can know about God? Historically, because I’ve come to the conclusion that God exists, I look to the Apostles and the Gospels. Many modern Atheists will reject the Gospels as evidence, but this is simply not an action of the scholarly. For example, the Gospels quite easily fall in the genre of Ancient Biography, and prior to my degree in history, I was a Classics major and read my fair share of Ancient Biographies to know that just because an Ancient account has miracles doesn’t dismiss its historical content. For example, as I studied Alexander the Great in my youth with a great zeal, I know that modern scholars do not dismiss historical accounts of Alexander by Plutarch, Arrian, and Diodorus even though they have unexplainable events within the texts such as prophecies from oracles and fathers who are deities.

So let’s recap, I have concluded by observing the natural world with philosophy that God exists, and I am searching if there is anything I can know about this God? Now, just like I would as Classic student, examining the ancient accounts without consideration of miracles, what do the accounts tell me? One of the things that it tells me is that the Apostles were all scared and fled for their lives when their leader—Christ–was arrested and executed. After some time, something changed, and those men were not afraid. In fact, all became so courageous that only John was not a martyr. Not one cried out to escape their fates, “I am fraud.”

Now, it’s true, in our modern age of skepticism, there are those who doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was even a historical figure. I cannot stress this enough that this is a position of anti-intellectualism on their part. The historical record, aside from the Gospels, supports the existence of the man. Here is an account from a pagan Roman Historian by the name of Tacitus (55-115 A.D.):

Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, and the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. (Annals XV:44)

 Of course, there is other evidence from Josephus, Suetonius, and others, but many modern skeptics attempt to force Christians into a pigeonhole reading of these accounts in a minimalist perspective rather than maximalist– a viewpoint one is accorded with other Ancient Biographies—mainly because there is so much more at stake with the Gospels.

From this evidence, I have concluded that there is a God, I have concluded from the Gospels that Christ claimed to be God, and I have concluded that he died and his Apostles were inspired by something that occurred after his death to meet their own deaths. Ultimately, I have concluded that Christ rose from the dead. If Christ did indeed die and rose again to conquer sin, I gather that God does care about us and is benevolent rather than malevolent because He chose to become a lowly man, and suffered a lowly scandalous death.

Furthermore, with the revelation of this truth, God can’t be a narcissist, as militant modern atheists now claim, for obligating worship in the respect that narcissism is a human disorder for it is not possible that a human can be perfect. A perfect being who is truly great cannot, by definition, be a narcissist. The being of God is one that is truly perfect who requires worship not necessarily for His glory–because what could our worship aid in the divine?–but rather for the benefit of our eternal soul and sanctification because this is the ultimate plan of God for his creation.

So remember, when we see pain in the world, The most powerful action is turning to God for assistance because ultimately the pain was brought into the world by humanity because of our betrayal of God. We can do this by prayer and compassionate action to our fellow human. Let us, tell God here on earth that we choose to serve him rather than ourselves.

Perseverance in Faith | All Around the Western Front

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I write today as a Catholic who has studied extensively history. One could call me a Catholic Historian, but let it be made clear that my Catholicism can never be separated from who I am and my words. We, the Charity of Christ, find ourselves on the other side of a Relativist Revolution, we are now subjugated to the rule of those who have separated God from the public sphere. Of course, this is not the first time this has occurred in our history–in Salvation History.

We, The Charity of Christ, for far too long have been sold the lie that we must conduct our faithfulness separate from our actions in the public sphere. The Communist attempted to perfect this ideology, but make no mistake, the so-called “Enlightenment” originated the idea in the world. An idea that is very much supported in our mainstream society with pop culture scientist like Neil DeGrasse Tyson who propose an idea like a nation called “Rationalia.” I tweeted back to Tyson that Ironically his sentiment is the same as the Soviets before they exterminated Polish Catholics.

 

 

Readmore via Perseverance in Faith | All Around the Western Front

7 Things You Must Know about St. Benedict’s Medal

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By SPL Contributor, November 9th, 2012

via 7 Things You Must Know about St. Benedict’s Medal

5. The Medal Wards Against

1. To destroy witchcraft and all other diabolical and haunting influences;
2. To impart protection to persons tempted, deluded, or tormented by evil spirits;
3. To obtain the conversion of sinners into the Catholic Church, especially when they are in danger of death;
4. To serve as an armor against temptation;
5. To destroy the effects of poison;
6. To secure a timely and healthy birth for children;
7. To afford protection against storms and lightning;
8. To serve as an efficacious remedy for bodily afflictions and a means of protection against contagious diseases.

 

6. How to use the medal

1. On a chain around the neck;
2. Attached to one’s rosary;
3. Kept in one’s pocket or purse;
4. Placed in one’s car or home;
5. Placed in the foundation of a building;
6. Placed in the center of a cross.

The use of any religious article is intended as a means of reminding one of God and of inspiring a willingness and desire to serve God and neighbor. It is not regarded as a good luck charm or magical device.1

A Historicism of Christians and Muslims of the Crusades Pt. 1 — All Around the Western Front

Read my post on AATWF about the latest research on the Crusades, and why the common narrative of the mainstream is wrong.

During a Prayer Breakfast in 2015, Barack Obama, the President of the United States made the following comment, “During the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”[1] The source I chose to use to cite this comment is the “New Yorker,” a politically left leaning publication. The author of […]

via Historicism of the Christians and Muslims of the Crusades Pt. 1 — All Around the Western Front

The San Damiano Crucifix

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I have a foundational connection to this crucifix from my youth. I was introduced to the remarkable piece of artwork during my years at Catholic school. Our parish priest, as I remember it, had traveled to Rome for some sort of priestly activity and during his time there he found an extraordinary print of this crucifix. I remember the detail of the image to be quite exquisite, like something that truly carried the sanctity of heaven. An image that truly carries the words of St. Augustine as a visible sign of invisible Grace. Our priest had the image custom made into a  processional cross for the altar boys of our parish to carry in and out of Mass. The image was customed framed with a dark wood that bordered the image, but also had the design of the mystical vine that the image carried itself. I remember having the great honor to carry this crucifix as an altar boy it to the altar.

The processional cross was large and weighed a great deal. It wasn’t hard for an altar boy to imagine the weight of Christ’s cross as he carried it to the place of the skull either during Mass or especially for stations of the cross. The honor to be around such an image at such a young age has continued to resonate in my heart that I still carry this crucifix with me every day around my neck, and it hangs on the wall of my office where I now type these words.

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The Church has a historical connection to the crucifix, as according to tradition this is the crucifix that spoke to St. Francis of Assisi at San Damiano. It was through this holy image that Christ spoke to St. Francis to give him the mission to rebuild his church that had fallen into despair. St. Francis would certainly rebuild Christ’s church in San Damiano as well as other areas nearby, but the Franciscans hold that Christ’s message was the foundation of their order.

The Crucifix appears to be odd for the region of San Damiano, Italy, but scholars point to the image to be painted by an unknown Umbrian painter in the 12th century who had been influenced by Syrian monks that were in the region. The artist created within the crucifix the story of the Passion of Christ, the bridge to our salvation. Eastern tradition teaches that the Crucifix Icon is a personal encounter with the living God.

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The central image of the Crucifix is Christ; the image portrays Christ’s humanity and his victory over death. At the top of the Crucifix above Christ’s head is the ascension of Christ into heaven, as well as the hand of God. If you look at the hand, the hand has two fingers extended which are a representation of the Holy Spirit. The two figures under Christ’s right side is Mary and John, who were present at the Cross. Mary is wearing a white veil which is an indication of the purity of Revelation. Both John and Mary look at each other as Christ commanded them to behold their “son” and “mother” respectively. On the other side of Christ is Mary Magdalene, which gives her a special place near Christ. Mary Clopas and the Centurion of Capernaum stands next to her. There are two smaller figures in the portrait which are the Roman with the lance, and the Roman with the sponge. Finally, The image below Christ’s feet is that of unknown Saints, who scholars have debated and speculated who they are in the image.

There is also a rooster by Christ’s left leg, which is a bit difficult to see; of course, this connects to the denial of Christ by Peter during the passion story. It was always a favorite image that the children enjoyed when Father explained the story behind the images on this magnificent piece of artwork. I am so very honored to have such an experience with it.

Did the Church which Christ Established Come with an Expiration Date?

Servus defends the Apostolic traditions and doctrines of the Church. I remember reading this when it was first posted, it’s a good read and worthy of a repost. The Catholic Church, which is the Church established by Christ and entrusted to St. Peter, is how Christ has chosen to continue to touch his disciples today, in his holy word, and by the sacraments of the one true Apostolic Church.

Servus Fidelis ~ The Faithful Servant

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There is a popular and recurrent theme amongst many non-Catholic Christians that the promises given to Peter and Christ’s gift to him of the keys (to bind and loose), is not indicative of an office per se but a one time gift to Peter and that when Peter died so did the keys vanish with him. Likewise, using the same logic, the powers given to the Apostles after Christ breathed on them and gave them the power to forgive sins was also buried with them at their deaths. Thereby, any Christian Church is no better than any other as nobody has a special gift of the Holy Spirit to lead them to all truths. It died when the apostles died and its a great way to avoid any notion of there being any reliable and lasting authority in the practice and teaching of Christianity no matter the claims.

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The Sign of The Cross: Why do Catholics sign themselves?

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One of the great histories written on the topic of the Sign of the Cross was written in defense of the ceremony by St. Francis De Sales. St. Francis De Sales took up his pen in defense of Catholicism while he was Bishop of Geneva in Switzerland, which was dominated during his time in the 16th century by Calvinists. Francis De Sales decided to write on the topic of the Sign of the Cross because the Calvinist of his day accused the practice of being a Papist invention that had nothing to do with the early Church.

The translator, Christopher O. Blum, writes in the forward of The Sign of the Cross that “The reader will not fail to be struck by the relevance of this work in our own age. Crucifixes to be sure, but even bare crosses, are conspicuous by their absence in America’s Evangelical churches, and the act of making the Sign of the Cross is regarded by many non-Catholics as superstition at best.”[1]

I am a born and raised Catholic, so the ceremony of the Sign of the Cross has always been  a part of my life. However, I have encountered instances where I have felt self-conscience because of a stare from another member of society–especially when I was younger. I never really knew the history of the Sign of the Cross just that it was done by Catholics, a distinct action of our Latin culture, but St. Francis De Sales book is a beautiful explanation that I wish I had to encountered at a younger age so that I could have been properly informed.

In the first chapter, St. Francis De Sales discusses how “the Sign of the Cross is a Christian ceremony that represents the Passion of our Lord.”[2] When discussing ceremonies that take place within the religions, Francis De Sales explains the importance of religion in the context of these ceremonial actions. He says, “the virtue of religion, having for its proper and natural work to render to God the honor that is His due.”[3] Francis De Sales explains that the action of the Sign of the Cross is an action that outside of religion would have absolutely no meaning and no use. He says, “Indifferent actions would remain useless if religion did not employ them, but once put to work by it, they become noble, useful, and holy.”[4] Of course, we Catholics do other actions when we enter our sanctuaries as we bend our knees to the ground to show a free submission to the will of God in front of him in the Tabernacle, as explained by Bishop Paprocki during the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.

However for the Calvinist of De Sales days–and the Protestant of today– who are not convinced, he has the reader look back into scripture to find where religion requested such action from those in the world since the beginning of humanity. He explains for all to look at the story of Abel and Cain and notice how religion called for them to make offerings, and in regards to Noah, an altar was constructed without delay.[5] Regardless of the rejection from Calvinist in St. Francis De Sales day to Protestants in the modern world, The Old Testament is filled with examples such as the sacrifices and ceremony of Abraham, Melchizedek, Isaac, Jacob et al. Furthermore, look at the accounts of the New Testament where John is baptizing, St. Paul is cutting his hair for a vow, and prays on his knees with the church of Miletus.[6] De Sales reminds us that these action by themselves mean nothing, but when used in the context of religion to praise the glory of God “they become honorable and efficacious ceremonies.”[7]

St. Francis De Sales reminds us that God even works through ceremony when conducting miracles on earth. He has Moses touch the rock with his staff, or a beggar touches the robes of Christ they become healed.[8]

sign-of-the-cross1

So the Christian who employs the ceremony of The Sign of the Cross does so to honor God in a manner that is strictly Christian. A sign that was conducted in the early Church to symbolize to others during the height of persecution that they were Christians. A symbol of the Passion made by a simple motion that creates the shape of the crucifixion. It must be made with the right hand with either three fingers representing the trinity or five representing the five wounds of Christ. St. Francis De Sales reminds us to use either three or five fingers as the Jacobites and Armenians employed only one figure to represent their Christological heresies.[9] The sign of the Cross should begin at the forehead while saying, “In the name of the Father,” and move down toward the stomach while saying “and of the Son.” The downward motion illustrates that the Son proceeds from the Father by sending his Son to the womb of the Virgin Mary. The hand then moves to the left shoulder to the right while saying “and of the Holy Spirit.” Catholics do this to illustrate that the third person in the Trinity proceeds from the Father and from the Son.

The beautiful ceremony is the confession of the mysteries of the Trinity, the Passion, and salvation from sin.[10] It is one that is that shows our Catholic culture and one that honors the traditions of Christianity. If your own faith does not practice this beautiful ceremony, I ask that you reflect on the matter.

[1] St. Francis De Sales, The Sign of the Cross (Manchester: Sophia Institute Press, 2013), xiii.

[2] Ibid, 3.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, 4.

[5] Ibid, 5.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, 6.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid, 9.

[10] Ibid, 10.