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Home > Catholic Library > Quick Questions > 1994

Quick Questions (1994)

Does the Jewish religion still have a priesthood today? Is it Levitical? Do its priests still offer sacrifice?

No, there is no Jewish priesthood today. According to the Old Testament, the only place from which it was appropriate to offer animal sacrifices to God was the Temple in Jerusalem. In A.D. 70 the Temple was destroyed, meaning Jewish priests no longer had a place to offer sacrifice. Since the Temple is still in ruins today, there is currently no place for sacrifice. Therefore, there is no active priesthood in Judaism.

This does not mean that there are not people who could be called upon to be priests were the Temple rebuilt. Unlike the other tribes of Israel, the tribe of Levi is not thought to have completely lost its identity. Many Jewish people, with names such as Levit, Levin, and Levine, are thought to be of the tribe of Levi. They are given special roles to fill in Jewish synagogue worship because of their priestly heritage. Those with names such as Cohen, Kahan, and sometimes Katz are thought to come from the priestly family within the tribe of Levi.

In recent years there has been discussion of rebuilding the Temple, and much of the discussion has centered around whether it would be possible to rebuild the Temple without destroying the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim Shrine built on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Recent archaeological evidence has suggested that the Holy of Holies--the most important chamber of the Temple and the place where the Ark of the Covenant was kept--lay outside the Dome of the Rock, meaning it would be possible to rebuild the Temple, including the site of the Holy of Holies, without disturbing the Dome of the Rock.

Stories have circulated about Jewish men of Levitical descent training in Israel for active service in a restored priesthood. Last year one group of ultra-orthodox Jews even tried to lay a foundation stone for a new Temple.

Not all Jews support the movement to rebuild the Temple. Some have aired concern that if it were rebuilt, they would have to face the problem whether or not to bring back animal sacrifices--an issue many Jews don't want to wrestle with.

I heard that we get our guardian angels at baptism. Is this true, and does it mean that the babies of non-Christians do not have guardian angels?

The idea that we get our guardian angels at baptism is a speculation, not a teaching of the Church. The common opinion among Catholic theologians is that all people, regardless of whether they are baptized, have guardian angels at least from the time of their birth (see Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma [Rockford: TAN, 1974], 120); some have suggested that prior to birth babies are taken care of by their mother's guardian angels.

The view that everyone has a guardian angel seems well founded in Scripture. In Matthew 18:10 Jesus states, "See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven." He said this before the Crucifixion and was speaking about Jewish children. It would therefore seem that non-Christian, not just Christian (baptized) children have guardian angels.

Notice that Jesus says their angels always behold the face of his Father. This is not merely a declaration that they continually stand in the presence of God, but an affirmation that they have continual access to the Father. If one of their wards is in trouble, they can serve as the child's advocate before God.

The view that all people have guardian angels is found in the Church Fathers, notably in Basil and Jerome, and it is also the view of Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae I:113:4).

How can Christian theologians say that God is both just and merciful? To be just means to give someone what he deserves, but to be merciful means to give him better than he deserves. Given those definitions, a person could not be just without being unmerciful.

The problem here comes from a confusion about what is meant by the word "just." To do justice to a person, in this context, means to give him at least what he deserves. Thus if I owe a person a favor, it satisfies justice for me to repay him the favor, but this does not stop me from going beyond what justice alone requires and doing him an additional favor.

This has been the standard answer to this question for centuries. Thomas Aquinas said, "God acts mercifully, not indeed by going against his justice, but by doing something more than justice; thus a man who pays another two hundred pieces of money, though owing him only one hundred, does nothing against justice, but acts liberally or mercifully.

The case is the same with one who pardons an offense committed against him, for in remitting it he may be said to bestow a gift. Hence the apostle [Paul] calls remission a forgiving: 'Forgive one another, as Christ has forgiven you' [Eph. 4:32]. Hence it is clear that mercy does not destroy justice, but in a sense is the fullness thereof. Thus it is said, 'Mercy exalts itself above judgment' [Jas. 2:13]" (Summa Theologiae I:21:3 ad 2).

How can Christian theologians say that God is perfectly merciful if he still punishes some people? Wouldn't he be more perfectly merciful if he forgave every one?

No. The word "perfect" can be taken in different senses. Sometimes it means "completely" or "in every case." If this were the sense in which God were perfectly merciful, then he would forgive sins in every single case, thus forgiving everyone. But "perfect" has other meanings--for example it can also mean "in the best way."

Suppose a person needs 25 dollars to get out of trouble, and he comes to me for help. I know that if I give him the 25 dollars he will get out of trouble, learn his lesson, and all will be well. I also know that if I give him more than 25 dollars he will not learn his lesson but will use the extra money to go out and get in trouble again. How would we regard the act of giving him 25 dollars versus a larger sum?

Assuming I do no owe him any money, giving either amount would be an act of generosity, but which act would be the more perfect example of generosity? From one perspective we might reason that giving the higher amount would be more generous and thus more completely or "perfectly" generous. From another perspective we might reason that by giving the lower amount I would be helping him more and thus would be more perfectly generous (generous in a better way).

This gives us an insight into the nature of virtue. To do something virtuously is not just to do it in a higher degreee, but in a better way.

God is perfectly merciful in that he perfectly displays the virtue of mercy. This means that he is merciful to the right degree, with the right motive, and in the right circumstances. But some people and some circumstances are not the right ones. It is not appropriate to forgive a person's sins when he is defiant and unrepentant. It may be appropriate to continue trying to lead him to repentance, but it is not fitting for him to be forgiven even before he has admitted he was wrong.

God is perfectly merciful in the sense that he is merciful in the best way, not in the sense that he forgives every single sin people commit. Some sins (those of which people have not repented) are not appropriate to forgive, so God's mercy is the very thing that prevents him from forgiving them.

Were any of the Gospels written in Aramaic, since Christ and the Apostles spoke that language? Was Hebrew only spoken by the priests in the Temple? Did Pilate use an interpreter when he spoke to Christ?

We do not know for certain whether any of the Gospels were written in Aramaic. An early Christian writer named Papias wrote (c. A.D. 120), that Matthew wrote the oracles of Christ "in the Hebrew tongue." This is ambiguous because "the Hebrew tongue" could refer to the language known as Hebrew or to Aramaic, which was the tongue commonly spoken by Jews at that time.

Throughout Church history the accepted opinion has been that Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew, but since the last century the view has become common that he wrote in Greek instead. Recently there has been a number of scholars returning to the earlier opinion that he wrote in Hebrew or Aramaic. Some have suggested that Mark and Luke were also written in Hebrew or Aramaic.

Two books by scholars advocating a non-Greek origin for some of the Gospels are The Birth of the Synoptics by Jean Carmignac and The Hebrew Christ by Claude Tresmontant.

In Jesus' day Hebrew was not spoken by only the priests in the Temple. It was also used in the synagogue liturgy, and it was the language in which Scripture was read. Many Jews had at least some understanding of Hebrew, even though it was not their primary language.

This fact has apologetic implications for Catholics. The next time someone attacks the Church for having used the "dead language" of Latin in Church services and older editions of Scripture, point out that Jesus worshipped in synagogues where the "dead language" of Hebrew was used.

We do not know whether Pilate used a translator in his conversations with Christ. As a Roman governor, Pilate would have known Latin (his native language) and Greek (the international language). He might also have known some Aramaic, since he was governor of an Aramaic-speaking territory. Even if he did not know Aramaic, many Jews would have no problem conversing with him; Greek was the language of commerce, and many Jews knew it from their business dealings. Thus Jesus' conversations with Pilate might have been conducted in Greek.

Aren't the images of Mary with the baby Jesus taken from pagan representations of goddesses with children? If not, how do you explain the fact that so many cultures have woman-with-child images in their religion?

Perhaps because there are women with children in every culture. Motherhood is a profound aspect of the human experience, and it should be expected to appear in a culture's art and religion.

That two things are similar doesn't mean one is derived from the other. After all, there are pyramids in Egypt and in Latin America, but no serious archaeologist believes one kind is derived from the other. The people in the two places simply made the same discovery: It is possible to build a stable building in the shape of a pyramid. In the same way, people in different cultures realized that motherhood is significant, and mother-and-child images became common in all cultures.

In the past one of the purposes of religious art was to instruct the illiterate. If you want to convey to someone who can't read that a given painting is of Christ's mother, how better to do it than by painting her with her infant son?

Are there any Bible verses I can cite to support the use of holy water? Fundamentalists say holy water is a superstition that has no basis in the Bible.

They're wrong. Look up Numbers 5:17, where a ritual is being described and the text says, "[A]nd the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water."

This shows that holy water not only has a basis in the Bible, but that it has been around since the days of Moses. Holy water was used for numerous Old Testament ceremonies that involved ceremonial sprinklings and washings. Today we are not bound to perform those ceremonies, but the fact holy water was used at all proves that it is not a superstitious or invalid practice.

Recently at my parish women have begun to give the homily after the Gospel reading at Sunday Mass. Sometimes they call it a "faith talk." Is this allowed now?

No. Canon 767 of the Code of Canon Law states, "Among the forms of preaching the homily is preeminent; it is a part of the liturgy itself and is reserved to a priest or to a deacon; in the homily the mysteries of faith and the norms of Christian living are to be expounded from the sacred text throughout the course of the liturgical year. Whenever a congregation is present a homily is to be given at all Sunday Masses and at Masses celebrated on holy days of obligation; it cannot be omitted without a serious reason."

Furthermore, the instruction Inaestimabile Donum, issued by the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship and approved by Pope John Paul II on April 17, 1980 also condemns the practice you describe. Among the liturgical abuses condemned in the foreword of the document is "homilies given by lay people." Under the section on the Mass, subsection 3 states that "The purpose of the homily is to explain to the faithful the Word of God proclaimed in the readings, and to apply its message to the present. Accordingly the homily is to be given by the priest or the deacon."

Sometimes I hear people around me at Mass saying with the priest, "Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, forever and ever." I was not taught to do this. Is this optional or should I say it also?

This concluding part of the Eucharistic Prayer, called the Per Ipsum, is to be said by the celebrating priest alone or with concelebrating priests, not by the faithful. Inaestimabile Donum makes this quite clear:

"It is reserved to the priest, by virtue of his ordination, to proclaim the Eucharistic Prayer, which of its nature is the high point of the whole celebration. It is therefore an abuse to have some parts of the Eucharistic Prayer said by the deacon, by a lower minister, or by the faithful. On the other hand the assembly does not remain passive and inert; it unites itself to the priest in faith and silence and show its concurrence by the various interventions provided for in the course of the Eucharistic Prayer: the responses to the Preface dialogue, the Sanctus, the acclamation after the Consecration, and the final Amen after the Per Ipsum. The Per Ipsum itself is reserved to the priest."

New Agers talk a lot about nirvana. What exactly is nirvana, and how does it compare with the Christian idea of heaven?

In Buddhism, nirvana is the final state the sould reaches on its journey through different lifetimes. These lifetimes are pictured as a series of lamps, one being lit by another, until the final lamp goes out. The word "nirvana" means "going out" or "extinguishing."

According to Buddhists, our desires and cravings are what keep the process of reincarnation going. By eliminating all desires it is possible to escape the cycle of rebirth. When a person manages to extinguish all his desires, he reaches a state of nirvana and is said to be a saint.

When a saint dies he enters nirvana proper, in which he loses his identity as a distinct individual. Buddha compared the question "Does a saint survive his death?" to the question "Where does a flame go when it is blown out?" Both questions are thought to be intrinsically unanswerable. Neither a dead saint nor a blown-out flame have individual identities anymore.

Nirvana is different from the Christian idea of heaven. Nirvana is a state of desirelessness; heaven is a state of havings one's most fundamental desire (for God) fulfilled. Nirvana is a state of ultimate apathy and indifference, heaven of ultimate joy and fulfillment. Paradoxically, Buddhists regard nirvana, the state of desirelessness, as the most desirable state.

Nirvana also differs from heaven because it suggests one will eternally lose his body and his individual identity, while Christians claim they will keep both of them eternally.

I was told that devout Jews believe in purgatory. Is this true?

In essence, yes, though they do not call it purgatory. Jews do believe in a purification (a purgation) which takes place after death. When a Jewish person's loved one dies, it is customary to pray on his behalf for eleven months using a prayer known as the mourner's Qaddish (derived from the Hebrew word meaning "holy"). This prayer is used to ask God to hasten the purification of the loved one's soul. The Qaddish is prayed for only eleven months because it is thought to be an insult to imply that the loved one's sins were so severe that he would require a full year of purification.

The practice of praying for the dead has been part of the Jewish faith since before Christ. Remember that 2 Maccabees 12:39-46, on which Catholics base their observance of this practice, show that, a century and a half before Christ, prayer for the dead was taken for granted. Unlike Protestantism, Catholicism has preserved this authentic element of Judeo-Christian faith.

Who are the "other sheep" Jesus mentions in John 10:16? In a TV ad the Mormons say that verse refers to Jews who allegedly migrated to South America around 600 B.C.

Jesus said, "And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd." Most Catholic biblical scholars, following the teaching of the early Church fathers, agree that the "other sheep" are the gentiles, to whom the gospel was sent after the Jews rejected Christ (Rom. 11:11-12).

During his public ministry Jesus confined his proclamation of the gospel to the Jews (Matt. 10:5-6, 15:24), and initially this remained the focus of the apostles' preaching, although Jesus had foretold that the gospel would eventually be carried to "all nations" (Matt. 28:19, Acts 1:8). This opening up of God's blessing even to Gentiles was foretold in the Old Testament (Ps. 2:7; Isa. 2:2-6).

Paul explained this to Gentile Christians: "Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands--remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ" (Eph. 2:11-13; cf. Rom. 3:22; Gal. 3:27-28).

The Gospels place emphasis on the Samaritans (for example, in the parable of the Good Samaritan). Who were they and why were they important?

The Samaritans were people who lived in what had been the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Samaria, the name of that kingdom's capital, was located between Galilee in the north and Judea in the south. The Samaritans were a racially mixed society with Jewish and pagan ancestry. Although they worshiped Yahweh as did the Jews, their religion was not mainstream Judaism. They accepted only the first five books of the Bible as canonical, and their temple was on Mount Gerazim instead of Mount Zion in Jerusalem (John 4:20).

The Samaritans of Jesus' day were strict monotheists. In some respects they were more strict than Jews about commandments of the Mosaic law, especially the sabbath regulations, but they did not share the Jewish stricture against pronouncing the divine name Yahweh in their oaths.

Because of their imperfect adherence to Judaism and their partly pagan ancestry, the Samaritans were despised by ordinary Jews. Rather than contaminate themselves by passing through Samaritan territory, Jews who were traveling from Judea to Galilee or vice versa would cross over the river Jordan, by-pass Samaria by going through Transjordan, and cross over the river again as they neared their destination. The Samaritans also harbored antipathy toward the Jews (Luke 9:52-53).

That the Samaritans were separated from and looked down upon by the Jews makes them important in the New Testament. Jesus indicated a new attitude must be taken toward the Samaritans when he passed through their towns instead of crossing the Jordan to avoid them (John 4:4-5), when he spoke with a Samaritan woman, contrary to Jewish custom (John 4:9), and he said a time would come when worshiping in Jerusalem or on Mount Gerazim would not be important (John 4:21-24). When asked whom to regard as our neighbor, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan precisely because Samaritans were despised.

The apostles recognized that in the Church Samaritans must be accepted as equal to Jews. Peter and John conducted a special mission to Samaria to confirm Samaritans who had already been baptized by Philip (Acts 8:14-17). This initiation of the Samaritans was a middle stage between the preaching of the gospel to the Jews (Acts 2) and the preaching of the gospel to full-blooded Gentiles (Acts 10).

Today a few Samaritans survive, not having lost their identity through intermarriage. There are about 300 active practitioners of the Samaritan religion, most of whom live in the city of Nablus. Although their temple is long since destroyed, they still celebrate Passover every year in its ruins on Mount Gerazim.

What is the difference between a rabbi and a Jewish priest? In the Gospels were these two ways of referring to a single office?

The offices of rabbi and priest were distinct. Priests were descendants of Aaron, and they worked at the Temple in Jerusalem, though in Jesus' day there were so many of them that they did not work through the whole year (Luke 1:5, 8-9). A rabbi was a religious teacher who operated out of the local synagogue and was not required to belong to any particular family or tribe in order to hold his position. Unlike priests, rabbis at that time did not receive payment for their teaching: they were expected to have a secular job instead (notice that Paul was a tentmaker [Acts 18:2-3; see also 1 Cor. 9:3-15]).

Rabbis and priests tended to have different theological beliefs. Most priests were members of the Sadducees, the aristocratic, priestly party in Jerusalem, while most rabbis were Pharisees. These groups had great theological hostility toward one another. One key point on which they disagreed was whether there would be a resurrection of the dead. Pharisees said there would be, while Sadducees said there was no afterlife (Acts 23:8). The Sadducees also said angels and spirits do not exist, while Pharisees said they do.

Despite the mutual hostility, the two groups served together on the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews. When he was on trial before the Sanhedrin, Paul used the fact that its priests and rabbis had differing views to start an argument which jammed the machinery of justice and got him a change of venue to a Roman court (Acts 23:6-31).

My wife is studying with Jehovah's Witnesses, and they have convinced her that celebrating birthdays is a pagan custom and not something Christians should do. She refuses to allow our children to celebrate their birthdays. What should I do?

Birthday celebrations are mentioned only a few times in Scripture, and nowhere are they condemned. Witnesses wrongly assume that celebrating birthdays is evil because the only two explicit biblical mentions of birthday celebrations are those in honor of a pagan, Pharaoh (Gen. 40:20-22), and a wicked man, Herod Antipas (Mark 6:21; cf. Matt. 14:1-12). To compound the issue, King Herod's birthday festivities were the occasion of sexual immorality involving the daughter of his brother's wife, Herodias, and led to the murder of John the Baptist. Witnesses wrongly reason that, because these biblical occurrences depict the celebrations of the births of wicked men, celebrating anyone's birthday is in itself sinful. You can demonstrate that this does not logically follow by showing that the Bible says that the birthday of John the Baptist would be the cause of "joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth for he will be great in the sight of the Lord" (Luke 1:14-15). While this passage does not explicitly mention an annual celebration of John the Baptist's birth, it certainly allows for such an interpretation and at the very least demonstrates that it is good to celebrate the birth of a holy person.

Why won't Jehovah's Witnesses accept blood transfusions, even when their lives are in jeopardy?

Mainly because their founder, Charles Taze Russell, scrambled to come up with a unique set of doctrines that would stand out from the pack. He didn't seem to care which biblical teachings he embraced and which he rejected, so long as the resulting doctrinal pastiche would be exotic. Rejecting blood transfusions on "biblical" grounds is one of the odd tenets that make the Watchtower a truly odd organization. Witnesses cite two verses as bases for their position: "You shall eat no blood whatever, whether of fowl or of animal, in any of your dwellings. Whoever eats any blood, that person shall be cut off from his people" (Lev. 7:26-27); "For the life of every creature is the blood of it; therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off" (Lev. 17:14).

Besides being inconsistent by retaining this particular Old Covenant prohibition while ignoring others, such as circumcision (cf. Gen. 17:2-14) and kosher dietary laws (cf. Deut. 14:3-21), Witnesses misunderstand what these passages are talking about. In both Leviticus 7 and 17 the prohibition is against the eating of blood, not reception of blood through transfusions (a medical procedure which was developed only within the last century). Witnesses ignore the fact that in a single passage in Leviticus the Lord prohibits the eating of both blood and fat: "It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, in all your dwelling places, that you eat neither fat nor blood" (3:17). Yet the Watchtower does not condemn the eating of fat, and no Jehovah's Witness would feel any moral compunction against eating a bag of fried pork rinds or enjoying a nice, fatty cut of prime rib. This is a good example of the Watchtower's selective "theology."

Secularists have the American Civil Liberties Union, and Protestants have the Rutherford Foundation, but are there any Catholic legal defense organizations to protect the legal and civil rights of Catholics? Are there any organizations to make sure they get their ecclesial rights within the Church?

Yes to both questions. For cases where Catholics are being denied their rights in the secular world, contact the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, 1011 First Ave., New York, NY 10022, phone (212) 371-3191. This organization exists to help defend the rights of Catholics in American courts.

For cases where Catholics are being denied their ecclesial rights within the Church, contact the St. Joseph Foundation, 4211 Gardendale, Suite A-100, San Antonio, TX 78229, phone (210) 614-3673.

I've heard that when a man leaves the priesthood, he undergoes a process called "laicization," which takes away his priestly powers, making him a regular layman. Is this correct?

It is only partly correct. Laicization is a process which takes from a priest or other cleric the licit use of his powers, rights, and authority. Laicization occurs automatically when a priest, deacon, or monk marries or joins the military without permission. Major clerics (priests and deacons) are directly laicized through their superiors by the penalty of degradation. The Holy See also has the privilege of laicizing major clerics.

Laicized clerics are forbidden to wear clerical dress or to perform ceremonies or to administer the sacraments ordinary to their former offices. Priests who are laicized are required to continue practicing celibacy, although dispensations from this discipline are frequently given. Otherwise, laicization renders a cleric for ecclesiastical purposes the equivalent of a layman.

The supernatural mark of holy orders and the powers connected with the sacrament (especially for the priest) remain even after laicization, although they cannot be used licitly. A laicized priest has the power to confect the Eucharist. Although to the world he may live as a laymn, in a sense "once a priest, always a priest."

What can you tell me about the book Poem of the Man-God? Has it been condemned by the Church?

Poem of the Man-God, a multi-volume work of prose written by Maria Valtorta, purports to be a factual account of the life of Christ as revealed by Jesus himself. Interest in the work grew after one of the alleged seers from Medjugorje claimed that the Virgin Mary okayed the reading of the book. The history of the book leads one to question the credibility of this claim. In 1960 The Poem of the Man-God, then a four-volume set, was placed on the Index of Forbidden Books. The official Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, summarized the findings of the Holy Office in an article titled "A Life of Jesus Badly Fictionalized." When the publishers tried to get around this condemnation the next year by publishing a new ten-volume set, the work again was condemned in the Vatican paper which called it "a mountain of childishness, of fantasies, and of historical and exegetical falsehoods, diluted in a subtly sensual atmosphere."

In correspondence with Catholic Answers, the current Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Agostino Cacciavillan, pointed out that, although the Index was abolished in 1965, it still retains its moral force, and faithful Catholics should heed the reservations and cautions expressed in it.

Is it true that the Greek Orthodox Church believes in infallibility, but not in the Catholic sense?

The members of the Greek Orthodox Church believe that the only infallible authority is an ecumenical council of all the bishops of the world. They believe that there were only seven such councils held before the Eastern Schism, when the Eastern churches split from Rome. They say the charism of infallibility is now inoperative or non-existent and will be until the Eastern churches are reunited with Rome. This is in stark contrast to their predecessors at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, who said "Peter has spoken through the mouth of Leo [the then-reigning Pope Leo I]. The matter is closed. Let him who will not listen to Leo be anathema."

One of the causes of the Reformation was the selling of indulgences. Does the Catholic Church still sell them?

That's like asking, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" The Catholic Church does not now or has it ever approved the sale of indulgences. This is to be distinguished from the undeniable fact that individual Catholics (perhaps the best known of them being the German Dominican Johann Tetzel [1465-1519]) did sell indulgences--but in doing so they acted contrary to explicit Church regulations. This practice is utterly opposed to the Catholic Church's teaching on indulgences, and it cannot be regarded as a teaching or practice of the Church.

In the sixteenth century, when the abuse of indulgences was at its height, Cardinal Cajetan (Tommaso de Vio, 1469-1534) wrote about the problem: "Preachers act in the name of the Church so long as they teach the doctrines of Christ and the Church; but if they teach, guided by their own minds and arbitrariness of will, things of which they are ignorant, they cannot pass as representatives of the Church; it need not be wondered that they go astray."

The Council of Trent (1545-1564) issued a decree that gave Church teaching on indulgences and that provided stringent guidelines to eliminate abuses:

Since the power of granting indulgences was conferred by Christ on the Church (cf. Matt. 16:19, 18:18, John 20:23), and she has even in the earliest times made use of that power divinely given to her, the holy council teaches and commands that the use of indulgences, most salutary to the Christian people and approved by the authority of the holy councils, is to be retained in the Church, and it condemns with anathema those who assert that they are useless or deny that there is in the Church the power of granting them.

In granting them, however, it desires that in accordance with the ancient and approved custom in the Church moderation be observed, lest by too great facility ecclesiastical discipline be weakened. But desiring that the abuses which have become connected with them, and by any reason of which this excellent name of indulgences be blasphemed by the heretics, be amended and corrected, it ordains in a general way by the present decree that all evil traffic in them, which has been a most prolific source of abuses among the Christian people, be absolutely abolished. Other abuses, however, of this kind which have sprung from superstition, ignorance, irreverence, or from whatever other sources, since by reason of the manifold corruptions in places and provinces where they are committed, they cannot conveniently be prohibited individually, it commands all bishops diligently to make note of, each in his own church, and report them to the next provincial synod" (Sess. 25, Decree on Indulgences).

In 1967 Pope Paul VI reiterated Catholic teaching on indulgences and added new reforms in his apostolic constitution Indulgentarium Doctrina (cf. Vatican II: The Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery, O.P. [Northport, New York: Costello, 1980], 62-79).

Why are religious groups such as Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses called "cults," while other groups, such as Fundamentalists and Calvinists, are not? Don't all of these groups teach cultic doctrines?

The word "cult" has fallen on hard times. Used authentically, it refers to a grouping of people for some religious purpose; it can also refer to specific ceremonial, liturgical, and prayer activities carried out within a particular group. Vatican II, for example, refers to the "cult of the saints," meaning the honor and devotion Christians show to Christians who are now reigning with Christ in heaven. Used this way, "cult" carries no pejorative connotations.

In the last few decades an unfortunatue phenomenon has sprung up, primarily among Evangelical Protestants who have appropriated the word and used it to categorize religious groups with whom they disagree. Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses have become "cultists," and their religions are branded as "cults." In popular jargon "cult" implies more than just a religion with odd tenets. It carries the implication that the group has a hidden agenda, uses deception and mind control techniques to keep its members in line, and may be satanic in origin. Calling someone a "cultist" has become a handy stick with which to beat members of minority religions. Some Fundamentalists call the Catholic Church a cult.

Of course, some religions are cults, but it's a matter of prudence whether to trumpet that fact. If you want to evangelize adherents to such religions, you must avoid approaches that will alienate them. Be firm but charitable. Don't throw around the terms "cult" and "cultist." With a little restraint you'll more likely get your message across. If you start by telling a non-Catholic that he's a member of a cult (even if he is), it's unlikely that he'll listen to anything you have to say.

When did the custom of canonizing saints start, and is it true that canonizations are infallible?

Here are excerpts from two articles on canonization of saints; they are taken from The New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967):

The solemn act by which the pope, with definitive sentence, inscribes in the catalogue of saints a person who has previously been beatified. By this act he declares that the person placed on the altar now reigns in eternal glory and decrees that the universal Church show him the honor due to a saint. The formulas indicate that the pope imposes a precept on the faithful, e.g. "We decide and define that they are saints and inscribe them in the catalogue of saints, stating that their memory should be kept with pious devotion by the universal Church."

The faithful of the primitive Church believed that martyrs were perfect Christians and saints since they had shown the supreme proof of love by giving their lives for Christ; by their sufferings, they had attained eternal life and were indefectibly united to Christ, the Head of the Mystical Body. These reasons induced the Christians, still oppressed by persecution, to invoke the intercession of the martyrs. They begged them to intercede before God to obtain for the faithful on earth the grace to imitate the martyrs in the unquestioning and complete profession of faith [1 Tim. 2:1-5, Phil. 3:17] . . . .

Toward the end of the great Roman persecutions, this phenomenon of veneration, which had been reserved to martyrs, was extended to those who, even without dying for the faith, had nonetheless defended it and suffered for it, confessors of the faith (confessores fidei). Within a short time, this same veneration was extended to those who had been outstanding for their exemplary Christian life, especially in austerity and penitence, as well as to those who excelled in Catholic doctrine (doctors), in apostolic zeal (bishops and missionaries), or in charity and the evangelical spirit . . . .

In the first centuries the popular fame or the vox populi represented in practice the only criterion by which a person's holiness was ascertained. A new element was gradually introduced, namely, the intervention of the ecclesiastical authority, i.e., of the competent bishop. However, the fame of sanctity, as a result of which the faithful piously visited the person's tomb, invoked his intercession, and proclaimed the thaumaturgic [miraculous] effects of it, remained the starting point of those inquiries that culminated with a definite pronouncement on the part of the bishop. A biography of the deceased person and a history of his alleged miracles were presented to the bishop. Following a judgment of approval, the body was exhumed and transferred to an altar. Finally, a day was assigned for the celebration of the liturgical feast within the diocese or province.

The transition from episcopal to papal canonization came about somewhat casually. The custom was gradually introduced of having recourse to the pope in order to receive a formal approval of canonization. This practice was prompted obviously because a canonization decreed by the pope would necessarily have greater prestige, owing to his supreme authority. The first papal canonization of which there are positive documents was that of St. Udalricus in 973 . . . . Through the gradual multiplications of the Roman pontiffs, papal canonization received a more definite structure and juridical value. Procedural norms were formulated, and such canonical processes became the main source of investigation into the saint's life and miracles. Under Gregory IX, this practice became the only legitimate form of inquiry (1234) . . . .

The dogma that saints are to be venerated and invoked as set forth in the profession of faith of Trent (cf. Denz. 1867) has as its correlative the power to canonize . . . . St. Thomas Aquinas says, "Honor we show the saints is a certain profession of faith by which we believe in their glory, and it is to be piously believed that even in this the judgment of the Church is not able to err" (Quodl. 9:8:16).

The pope cannot by solemn definition induce errors concerning faith and morals into the teaching of the universal Church. Should the Church hold up for universal veneration a man's life and habits that in reality led to [his] damnation, it would lead the faithful into error. It is now theologically certain that the solemn canonization of a saint is an infallible and irrevocable decision of the supreme pontiff. God speaks infallibly through his Church as it demonstrates and exemplifies its universal teaching in a particular person or judges that person's acts to be in accord with its teaching.

May the Church ever "uncanonize" a saint? Once completed, the act of canonization is irrevocable. In some cases a person has been popularly "canonized" without official solemnization by the Church . . . yet any act short of solemn canonization by the Roman pontiff is not an infallible declaration of sanctity. Should circumstances demand, the Church may limit the public cult of such a person popularly "canonized" (vol. 3, 55-56, 59, 61).

In a recent This Rock article ("Changing the Sabbath", December 1993), you stated that Christ used his authority to alter the sabbath in Matthew 12:8, but a footnote in my Confraternity Version of the Bible says he did not alter the commandment, but urged it be interpreted in a more reasonable way. How could he alter one of the Ten Commandments, anyway?

Jesus exercised his sovereign power to abrogate the sabbath law in at least some way. This is why he states, "For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath" (Matt. 12:8). Both "Son of Man" and "Lord" are references to Christ's sovereign power. The footnote in your Confraternity Version is wrong. Footnotes in Catholic Bibles are not infallible. (See "Dragnet" in the January 1994 issue of This Rock for a place where we caught one such footnote in an outright historical error).

The sabbath command is the only one of the Ten Commandments which can be altered in any way, because only it is a part of the ceremonial law. This is taught by the Roman Catechism issued after the Council of Trent:

The other commandments of the Decalogue are precepts of the natural law, obligatory at all times and unalterable. Hence, after the abrogation of the Law of Moses, all the Commandments contained in the two tables are observed by Christians, not indeed because their observance is commanded by Moses, but because they are in conformity with nature which dictates obedience to them.

This Commandment about the observance of the sabbath, on the other hand, considered as to the time appointed for its fulfillment, is not fixed and unalterable, but susceptible of change and belongs not to the moral, but the ceremonial law. Neither is it a principle of the natural law; we are not instructed by nature to give external worship to God on that day, rather than on any other. And in fact the sabbath was kept holy only from the time of Israel from the bondage of Pharaoh.

The observance of the sabbath was to be abrogated at the same time as the other Hebrew rites and ceremonies, that is, at the death of Christ. . . . Hence St. Paul, in his epistle to the Galatians, when reproving the observers of the Mosaic rites, says: "You observe days and months and times and years; I am afraid of you lest perhaps I have labored in vain amongst you" [Gal. 4:10]. And he writes to the same effect to the Colossians [Col. 2:16].

In ancient Judaism the sabbath was from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. If Sunday is the Christian sabbath, should we celebrate it from sundown on Saturday to sundown on Sunday? Is this why attending an anticipatory Mass on Saturday evening fulfills our Sunday obligation?

The Sunday obligation applies to the modern Sunday, reckoned from midnight to midnight. This was established by canon 1246 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law.

The ancient Jews reckoned days from sundown to sundown, meaning that for them the first part of the day was evening. This is why Genesis 1 says things like, "And there was evening, and there was morning--the first day" (Gen. 1:5). The same custom was observed by the ancient Phoenicians, Athenians, Arabs, Germans, and Gauls. Today Jews and other groups who keep the sabbath, such as the Seventh-Day Adventists, continue to celebrate it from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. This way of reckoning time was not the only one in the ancient world. For example, the Romans reckoned days from midnight to midnight--the system we use today.

The option of attending an anticipatory Mass on Saturday evening has nothing to do with the fact the sabbath began at sundown. This provision was originally introduced for Catholics who had to miss Sunday Mass for a good reason (for example, because they had to work). The 1983 Code of Canon Law simply states: "The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere at a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day.

Sunday is often spoken of as "the Christian sabbath," but this is not a technical description. Sunday is not a strict replacement for the sabbath (which has been abolished), but a day the Church instituted to fulfill a parallel function. Thus Ignatius of Antioch, the earliest Church Father to address this question, states that Christian converts "have given up keeping the sabbath and now order their lives by the Lord's Day instead, the day when life first dawned for us, thanks to him [Christ] and his death." (Letter to the Magnesians 9 [A.D. 107]).

When a person commits mortal sin he implicitly rejects God and the entire life of holiness he had led up to that point, including the reward he would have gotten for his good deeds. When he repents and comes back to God through the sacrament of confession, does this mean he will have to start from zero in gaining new rewards?

No. The common teaching of Catholic theologians is that there is a "revival of merit" when a person comes back to God. When a person comes back to God, he implicitly reaffirms the prior life of holiness he had led, so his rewards for that life are restored.

In Infinita Dei Misericordia (1924), Pope Pius XI taught that penitents have "the fullness of the merits and the gifts which they lost through sin . . . restored and given back." Thomas Aquinas taught the same thing (Summa Theologiae 3a:89:5).

I heard there was a "secret Gospel of Mark" which contained additional material not found in the canonical Gospel of Mark. Is there any truth to this? What are we to make of this report?

Not much. In 1958 Morton Smith claimed to have found a portion of a letter written by Clement of Alexandria. It discussed a second edition of the Gospel of Mark, prepared after Peter's death. This second edition supposedly included stories not found in the canonical Mark. The longest of these stories was what appeared to be an alternative account of the resurrection of Lazarus. According to the letter Smith found, this document was kept at Alexandria (of which Mark had been bishop), but not generally disseminated. The Gnostic heretic Carpocrates obtained a copy of the gospel and then revised it, adding his own gnostic teachings, and then used it to justify the licentious sexual ethics of his followers.

The letter is of dubious authenticity. Smith claimed to have found it handwritten in the back of a book in the library of the Mar Saba monastery in southern Israel. The book itself dated from the seventeenth century, and the handwriting of the letter was dated from the eighteenth century. Smith published photographs of the letter, but since their publication no other Western scholar has seen the letter.

Even if Smith's account of finding the letter is correct, it is doubtful that the eighteenth century person who wrote it in the back of the book had a genuine letter of Clement of Alexandria. He might have composed the letter himself, expecting someone to find it in the future, or he may have had a copy of a letter previously forged in Clement's name.

Even if Clement wrote the letter, it does not prove that the version of Mark he mentions was genuine. Someone between the time of Mark and the time of Clement may have added the additional material and then put forward the Gospel in Mark's name (just as the heretic Carpocrates is supposed to have done). Few scholars who believe Clement wrote the letter believe Mark was the author of the Gospel the letter mentioned. The additional material contains clues that make it unlikely it would have been written by Mark.

What is fundamental option theory? I understand that the pope discussed this in his recent encyclical, Veritatis Splendor, but I don't know what it is or why it is important. Was it one of the opinions he condemned?

The pope condemned the fundamental option theory, but he admitted that it had some valid elements.

According to fundamental option theory, each person makes a deep and basic choice for or against God. Individual acts we perform may or may not be in accordance with that fundamental choice. For example, when a person who has made a basic choice in favor of God sins, this choice to sin is not in accord with his fundamental orientation in favor of God.

The key claims of fundamental option theory are that individual acts do not change our basic orientation and that only when our fundamental option changes against God do we fall out of a state of grace. A person can commit particular sins without losing a state of grace.

Historic Catholic theology would say that those sins which do not change our fundamental option are venial sins and that those sins which do change it are mortal sins. Whenever a person commits a mortal sin, he has changed his fundamental option and chooses to be against God; he loses the state of grace.

But this is not the way fundamental option theorists present their system. They typically claim that one can commit acts such as adultery, homosexuality, and masturbation, which the Church has always regarded as mortal sins, without changing one's fundamental option. Some go so far as to imply that no single act of sin one commits changes one's fundamental option; only a prolonged pattern of sinful behavior can do so.

The effect of fundamental option theory, when it is presented this way, is to minimize people's awareness of mortal sin and the danger it poses to their souls. It was this teaching, which undermines what the Church always has taught concerning sin, that the pope condemned (Veritatis Splendor 65-70).

How can I defend the book of Judith against Fundamentalist attacks which charge it with blatant historical inaccuracies, such as stating that Nebuchadnezzar was king of the Assyrians instead of the Babylonians (Judith 1:1)?

Some scholars have thought that Judith is a stylized account of real events and that this explains the supposed "historical inaccuracies" in the book--they are due to the form of stylization the author employs. You might compare the book of Judith to the book of Job, which Fundamentalists view as a stylized account of a real historical event. They believe the basic story in Job is real, since Job is mentioned elsewhere in the Bible (Ezek. 14:14, 20), but because chapter after chapter of the book is dialogue written in the form of Hebrew poetry, Fundamentalists concede it is a stylized account.

Other scholars have thought Judith is not a historical book but a "theological novel"--basically and extended parable--and that this could be recognized by any Jew reading the work. On this view, the fact that Nebuchadnezzer is declared to be the king of the Assyrians in the very first verse of the book is regarded as one of the cues that would tell the reader he is reading an allegory rather than history. Nebuchadnezzar was then the single most famous persecutor of the Jews, and every Jew knew he was king of the Babylonians.

Scholars who adopt this view point out that Judith's name means "Lady Jew" and that she is placed against the two greatest enemies of the Hebrew people, Nebuchadnezzar, the king most famous for fighting them, and the Assyrians, the second most famous enemy of Israel. To give a modern equivalent of this, suppose you picked up a book that pitted Miss America against Adolf Hitler, king of the Russians. Would you identify the work as a piece of literal history or as an allegory intended to teach a point?

The idea that Scripture contains parables, allegories, and figurative language is something even Fundamentalists will admit. So long as the original audience recognized that what it was reading was a literary device, there could be no objection to including the work of Scripture--it would not have deceived the intended readers into thinking it was making factual claims when it was not. The parables of Jesus are a perfect example of this.

The status of the book of Judith is thus similar to that of the Song of Solomon. We are not sure whether this latter work is a stylized account of real events (was the wife of Solomon mentioned in the book a real person?) or whether it is a straight parable about ideal love. If the Song of Solomon can go into the Bible, so can Judith.

Papal infallibility can't be true because Pope Zozimus pronounced Pelagius to be orthodox and later reversed himself. What do you have to say to that?

Zozimus (reigned 417-418) was approached by Caelestius, who brought a profession of faith from Pelagius for the Pope's examination. Zozimus examined Caelestius and the profession and found nothing heretical in them. He said the African bishops' condemnation of Pelagius and Caelestius had been hasty and instructed Africans with charges against them to appear in Rome for further investigation.

This prompted outrage among the African bishops since they considered the Pelagian controversy to have been closed by Zozimus's predecessor, Innocent I. Zozimus responded by stressing the primacy of the Roman See and by explaining to them that he had not settled the matter definitively and that he did not intend to do so without consulting them. He said that his predecessor's decision remained in effect until he had finished investigating the matter.

The bishops provided Zozimus with additional evidence against Pelagius, and the Pope condemned Pelagianism. His initial assessment had been a tentative judgment, based on partial evidence. He did not issue a definitive judgment, much less a doctrinal definition, as indicated by the fact he asked for additional evidence to be sent to Rome. The case of Zozimus thus does not touch the doctrine of papal infallibility.

I am encountering a group known as the Christadelphians. How did they originate and what do they believe?

The Christadelphians ("brothers of Christ") were founded in 1848 by John Thomas, a physician and the son of a Congregationalist minister. Thomas for a time had associated himself with the Campbellites (the "Church of Christ" movement). In 1848 he wrote Elpis Israel--An Exposition of the Kingdom of God, a book which contained his religious ideas.

The sect attracted members in the U.S., Canada, and England and came to be known as the Christadelphians during the U.S. Civil War, when the members' pacifism forced them to select a name. They have experienced no significant growth since that time and today have approximately 20,000 members in England and 16,000 in the U.S. Members are also found in Canada, Australia, Germany, and New Zealand.

Christadelphians hold to unitarianism, the belief that there is only one person in the Godhead. They see Jesus as one of the many "Elohim" or "created gods" who were at one time mortal men; in this Christadelphians are much like Mormons. The Holy Spirit is not considered a spirit but a force.

Christadelphians believe the soul "sleeps" between death and resurrection and that there is no eternal punishment; in this they are like the Jehovah's Witnesses. The wicked will not be raised on the last day. Christadelphians deny the existence of the devil and claim that Christ will soon return to reign in Jerusalem for a thousand years.

Christadelphians have no central authority. Each local church or "ecclesia," as it is called, functions independently and generally meets in private homes or rented buildings. They do not employ salaried clergy, but elect "serving brethren" for three-year terms. They do not have missionaries and are opposed to military service, trade unions, holding elective office, and voting in civil elections; again, in these matters they are like the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Christadelphians I deal with claim many people will never be awakened from death (cf. Is. 26:14, 43:17, Jer. 51:57). They say that Paul implies this in 1 Cor. 15:18, where he says that if there were no resurrection then those who have died in Christ would have perished. How can this be refuted?

Point out that the passages they quote do not prove their case, but can be interpreted in other ways. Isaiah 26:14 describes Israel's defeated conquerors as "shades that cannot rise." This means they are unable to bring themselves back from the dead. Isaiah 43:17 and Jeremiah 51:57 refer to the dead's inability to get up from falling down, and in the case of Jeremiah 51:57 it is the inability to get up from sleep. All three passages are qualified by their time frame, which is limited to this age and does not have the end of the world in view. It is within this age that the dead will never rise and will always sleep. The end of time is a different matter.

When we turn to those passages where the end of the world is in view, we see that the wicked will be raised on the last day. In John 5:28-29 Jesus tells us, "Do not marvel at this, for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of the judgment." We are told that all the dead will hear his voice and arise and that the wicked will experience "the resurrection of the judgment."

In Revelation 20:12-15 we read, "And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead in it, death and hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done. . . . [A]nd if any one's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire."

Here we are told that all of the dead, great and small, will be judged by what they have done. The sea, death, and hades will give up the dead that are in them, which means none of the dead will be left unresurrected. Among the resurrected will be the wicked, who will be damned.

The Christadelphians argument from 1 Corinthians 15:18 is flawed. Paul states that if Christ is not raised, then those who have died in him have perished. The simplest way to refute this is to turn it on its head. Christ was raised, therefore those who have fallen asleep in him have not perished--they are still awaked and conscious with him in heaven.

Further points should be made:

First, for Jews the alternative models of the afterlife were total annihilation (this was the Sadducees' view) and resurrection (the view of the Pharisees). When Paul says, "If there is no resurrection then the dead in Christ have perished," he may be alluding to the Sadducee view that there is no survival beyond death. He is not thinking about a disembodied existence because, in Jewish thought, a disembodied existence is just a temporary state preceding the resurrection. If there were no resurrection, there could be no disembodied state either. (On the fact that there is a conscious, disembodied state, see Luke 16:19-31 and Rev. 6:9).

Second, your Christadelphians friends have assumed that in 1 Corinthians 15:18 "perished" means "been annihilated" or "ceased to exist." This is not necessarily the case. For example, in Ephesians 2:1 Paul refers to a spiritual death (being "dead in one's sins") that can be experienced even while one is alive. His point in 1 Corinthians 15:18 might thus be that those who have died as Christians are not only physically dead, but spiritually dead also if there is no hope in resurrection; they pinned their hopes on Christ in vain. This is the thought of the previous verse: "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins" (1 Cor. 15:17).

Some Eastern Orthodox claim that the Catholic Church is under anathema because it added the word filioque ("and the son") to the Nicene Creed after the declaration that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. This was illicit, they say, because the Council of Ephesus condemned anyone who composes a new creed. How should we reply?

It is true that the Council of Ephesus (431) prohibited the making of new creeds. It stated, "It is not permitted to produce or write or compose any other creed except the one which was defined by the holy Fathers who were gathered together in the Holy Spirit at Nicaea. Any who dare to compose or bring forth or produce another creed for the benefit of those who wish to turn from Hellenism or Judaism or some other heresy to the knowledge of the truth, if they are bishops or clerics they should be deprived of their respective charges, and if they are laymen they are to be anathematized" (Definition of the Faith at Nicaea).

Edicts of an ecumenical council are binding on Christians, but they are not binding on another ecumenical council unless they are pronouncing a matter of faith or morals. Later ecumenical councils can revise or modify disciplinary policies of their predecessors. Since the prohibition on making a new creed was a disciplinary matter, it could be changed by later ecumenical councils.

At the ecumenical Council of Florence (1438-45), it was changed, and the council ruled that the words "and the Son" had been validly added to the Creed. The Eastern Orthodox originally accepted the authority of the Council of Florence, but later rejected it.

Note that Ephesus referred to the creed as composed by the Fathers at Nicaea (325), not as modified at Constantinople. This is significant because the final portion of the Nicene Creed, which deals with the Holy Spirit and contains the filioque clause, was not composed until the First Council of Constantinople (381). If the prohibition of Ephesus undermined the modern Catholic creed, it undermines the Eastern Orthodox creed no less, since the Easter Orthodox version includes the material on the Holy Spirit as written at Constantinople I. It is inconsistent for the Eastern Orthodox to cite Ephesus about the filioque clause when all of the material on the Holy Spirit was added to the creed that was formulated at Nicaea.

Ephesus' prohibition of making a new creed in addition to the Nicene prompted questions about the status of the material added by Constantinople I. How this material was to be regarded was settled at the ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451), which stated, "Therefore this sacred and great and universal synod . . . decrees that the creed of the 318 fathers is, above all else, to remain inviolate. And because of those who oppose the Holy Spirit, it ratifies the teaching about the being of the Holy Spirit handed down by the 150 saintly fathers who met some time later in the imperial city--the teaching they made known to all, not introducing anything left out by their predecessors, but clarifying their ideas about the Holy Spirit" (Definition of Faith).

According to Chalcedon, it was permissible for the Fathers of Constantinople I to include the material on the Holy Spirit in the Creed of Nicaea; they were not adding substance but clarifying what was already there. Yet if this option of making clarifying notations to the creed was permissible for them, it would be permissible for others also. Thus the Council of Florence could add "filioque" legitimately as a clarification of the manner of the Spirit's procession.

I have heard some modern Catholic scholars suggest that angels are not personal beings but archetypes or symbols of cosmic principles. Is this correct?

They're fantasizing. Their notion is contrary to the official teaching of the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "As purely spiritual creatures angels have intelligence and will: They are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness" (CCC 330).

A theologian is also not permitted to reduce the devil or demons to archetypes or to some other impersonal status.

The Catechism goes on to say, "The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: 'The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing'" (CCC 391, citing Lateran Council IV [1215]).

I have the Collegeville Bible Commentaryfor the New American Bible, but it seems really technical. Is this a good commentary?

We are unable to recommend the Collegeville Bible Commentary. It is characterized by one-sided, liberal Bible scholarship and lack of fidelity to the Church's teachings.

A good example of this is the commentary on Romans 1:18-32. In that passage of the Bible Paul states that because pagans worshiped creatures rather than the Creator, "God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error" (Rom. 1:26-27).

The Collegeville Bible Commentary states "'natural' and 'unnatural' should be more accurately translated 'culturally approved' and 'culturally disapproved.'" This is linguistic nonsense. The Greek word here for "natural" is the adjectival form of phusis, from which we get "physics." The term means "according to [a thing's] nature." It has nothing to do with society's approval or disapproval. In fact the phrase for "unnatural" (para phusin) was found in the Stoic philosophers before Paul's time and clearly indicated something that was out of accord with nature. Sickness, for instance, was said to be para phusin (cf. Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 9, p. 265).

The fact that the Collegeville Bible Commentary would go so far as to say that the terms "should be more accurately translated" as "culturally approved" and "culturally disapproved" shows the lengths to which the authors of the commentary are willing to go to push their social agenda. (In the case cited the commentary gives what my be termed a pro-homosexualist interpretation.) This is not scholarship, but the antithesis of it, where a scholar's personal social or political views are allowed to dominate the data.

We have given only one example of this commentary's deficiencies, but we have found enough similar problems that we cannot recommend this as a trustworthy work.

1 Timothy 4:14 says that Timothy was ordained by priests. Doesn't that contradict the Catholic teaching that only bishops can confer Holy Orders?

This verse does not say that Timothy was ordained by priests. At most, it says that priests laid their hands on him at the time of his ordination, but this does not mean that it was they who conferred the sacrament upon him.

When someone is ordained to the priesthood, the bishop imposes hands on the candidate, followed by any already-ordained priests who are present. These impositions of hands have different significance. The bishop places his hands on the candidate to impart the Holy Spirit to him for ministry, to confer on him the sacrament of holy orders. When the new priest's colleagues lay their hands on him, it is not to confer the sacrament, but to symbolize their union with him in the priesthood and their sharing a common Spirit through the sacrament.

This explanation of the two impositions can be found as early as the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, which was written in the early 200s.

In 2 Timothy 1:6 Paul states, "Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands." Timothy's ordination was received through the laying on of Paul's hands, and Paul had the powers of a bishop as part of his powers as an apostle. Thus someone of episcopal rank ordained Timothy. If 1 Timothy 4:14 means that presbyters (priests) laid their hands on Timothy, it was the same situation as modern priests laying their hands on a candidate after the bishop actually confers the sacrament.

Yet there is a question whether 1 Timothy 4:14 even refers to priests laying their hands on Timothy. In most modern Bible translations the verse is rendered this way: "Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the council of elders [presbyters, priests] laid their hands upon you," but the verse can also be translated this way: "Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given to you . . . with the laying on of hands for the presbyterium [priesthood]." In other words, the laying on of hands was to make Timothy a member of the priesthood; it was not the priests who laid their hands on him.

How can we show, from Scripture, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as the Father?

One proof is that the Holy Spirit is referred to in Scripture as both the Spirit of the Father (Matt. 10:20, Rom. 8:10-11, 2 Cor. 1:21-22, Eph. 3:14-16) and as the Spirit of the Son (Rom. 8:9, Gal. 4:6, Phil. 1:19, 1 Peter 1:11). Statements saying that the Spirit is "of" the other two Persons of the Trinity indicate that his Person is tightly bound up with and originates from them (just as the Son is the Son "of" the Father).

A second proof is that the external relations of the Trinity model their internal ones. In Acts 14:26 the Spirit is said to proceed from the Father, but a chapter later, in 15:26, Jesus states that he will send the Spirit from the Father. The same relation is reflected in Acts 2:33, where Peter states that Jesus has received the Spirit from the Father and sends him.

A philosophical explanation of this is found in the Council of Florence, which stated in 1439, "Since the Father has through generation given to the only-begotten son everything that belongs to the Father, except being Father, the Son has also eternally from the Father, from whom he is eternally born, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son" (Decree for the Greeks).

The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son because the Father has given all things to the Son, including the procession of the Holy Spirit. For more information see the Catechism of the Catholic Church 246, 248, 264.

Aren't all sins equally offensive to God? After all, James 2:10 says, "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it."

Don't ignore 1 John 5:17: "All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal." Everyone sins and falls short of the glory of God--there is no disputing that. But why would Paul tell Christians in Rome to keep the faith--"otherwise you too will be cut off" (Rom. 11:22)--unless he feared for their salvation? There are other times when the apostle indicates the necessity of remaining with Christ lest salvation be lost (1 Cor. 9:27, Phil. 2:12). Yet salvation is not lost by every sin; as James says, "We all stumble in many ways" (Jas. 3:2).

It stands to reason that the Catholic Church would teach that some human failings are worse than others. Man-made law reflects this insight: Governments do not hang jay-walkers. As it is with human law, so it is with divine law. Minor sins are called "venial," and serious sins are called "mortal" because they involve a massive rejection of God's law and cause the spiritual death of the soul.

What James means when he says that whoever fails on one point of the law is guilty of breaking all of it is not that all humans are equally guilty if they sin once--then there would be no difference in the levels of punishment people would receive, yet Jesus says there will be (Luke 12:47-48; cf. Matt. 10:15, 11:22-24). What James means is that anyone who breaks one point of the law is guilty of breaking the law itself, of breaking it as an entity. To give an analogy, anyone who breaks one part of a plate is guilty of breaking the plate. He may not have broken every part of it--smashed it into pieces--but he is guilty of breaking the plate as a whole.

In the same way, a person who breaks one law has broken the law as a whole; he has become a lawbreaker, which is James's point, as is clear from the next verse: "For he who said, 'Do no commit adultery,' said also, 'Do not kill.' If you do not commit adultery but do kill, you have become a transgressor of the law" (Jas. 2:11). This means all of us need mercy and therefore need to be merciful (Jas. 2:12-13).

In light of all the evidence proving evolution, to be a faithful Catholic does one have to believe that there was an original couple called Adam and Eve?

It is prohibited to believe that there were multiple first parents, many sets of Adams and Eves. This position is called polygenism. It is a teaching of the Catholic Church that there was one set of parents, and it was they who committed an offense against God, and that offense has had lasting effects for mankind. This is the doctrine of original sin, the sin that occurred at the origin of the human race. C.S. Lewis argued that the existence of original sin is perhaps one of the most obvious facts of human life, even to non-believers.

Those who hold that there were multiple sets of first parents go against the teaching of the magisterium on the doctrine of original sin. In fact, there are even logical difficulties in accounting for original sin if that calamitous falling can't be traced to a single man, Adam.

In an encyclical issued in 1950 Pope Pius XII stated, "When there is a question of another conjectural opinion, namely, of polygenism so-called, then the sons of the Church in no way enjoy such freedom. For the faithful in Christ cannot accept this view, which holds either that after Adam there existed men on this earth who did not receive their origin by natural generation from him, the first parent of all, or that Adam signifies some kind of multiple first parents; for it is by no means apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with what the sources of revealed truth and the acts of the magisterium of the Church teaches about original sin, which proceeds from a sin truly committed by one Adam, and which is transmitted to all by generation, and exists in each one as his own" (Humani Generis 37).

I've heard Fundamentalists argue against the use of holy images by citing Deuteronomy 4:15, which says God did not show himself under any form. They say that by having such images we commit idolatry by trying to force God into a man-made form. What would be a response?

Early in Israelite history the Jews were forbidden to make pictures of God because he had not revealed himself to them in a visible form. Had the Israelites made images of God, they might have been tempted to worship them, much as the pagans around them worshiped images. God later revealed himself under visible forms. One instance is found in Daniel 7:9-10: "As I looked, thrones were placed and one that was ancient of days took his seat; his raiment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, its wheels were burning fire."

The Holy Spirit revealed himself under two visible forms--that of a dove, at the baptism of Jesus (Matt. 3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:22, John 1:32) and as tongues of fire, on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).

Most notably, God the Son visibly revealed himself in the Incarnation: "[A]nd going into the house they [the magi] saw the child with Mary his mother" (Matt. 2:11).

Since God has revealed himself in the above forms, he can now be depicted under these forms. Keep in mind that Protestants have pictures of Jesus in Bible story books, that they depict the Holy Spirit as a dove, and that they depict the Father as an old man sitting on a throne. They do all these without the least temptation to worship these images as God.

Are non-Catholic marriages valid in the eyes of the Catholic Church? What if a Catholic marries a non-Catholic?

In general, marriages between non-Catholics, of whatever religion, are considered valid, but the situation is not as simple as it sounds because there are two kinds of marriage: natural (ordinary) marriage and supernatural (sacramental) marriage. Supernatural marriages exist only between baptized people, so marriages between two Jews or two Muslims are only natural marriages. Assuming no impediments, marriages between Jews or Muslims would be valid natural marriages. Marriages between two Protestants or two Eastern Orthodox also would be valid, presuming no impediments, but these would be supernatural (sacramental) marriages and thus indissoluble.

When one spouse is a Catholic and the other is a non-Catholic--this is commonly termed a "mixed marriage"--the situation changes. Just as the state has the power to regulate marriages of its citizens by requiring them to get a blood test or to marry in front of a competent authority, so the Church has the right to regulate the marriages of its "citizens."

If one participant is a Catholic who has not left the Church by a formal act, such as by officially joining another church, he must obtain a dispensation for the marriage, which would otherwise be blocked by the mixed-marriage impediment or by the disparity of cult impediment. A Catholic who has not left the Church by a formal act also must obtain a dispensation to be married in front of a non-Catholic minister. If either of these dispensations is not obtained, the marriage will be invalid.

I have always been taught that a person's soul and his spirit are the same thing, but in some passages Paul seems to distinguish the two from each other. What is going on in these cases?

The terms "soul" and "spirit" are used in different senses in the Bible (Catechism of the Catholic Church 363). Genesis 2:7 states that God formed man's body from the ground, breathed into him the breath (spirit) of life, ans so "man became a living soul" (literal translation). Here the term "soul" is used to refer to the whole man, composed of both body and spirit. The same use is found when we describe a shipwreck and say things like "70 souls were lost," meaning 70 people died.

A different use is found in Revelation 6:9 and 20:4, where John sees the souls of those who have been slain for the gospel. Here "soul" obviously does not refer to the whole, embodied person, but to the immaterial part, the spirit, that survives the death.

In two Bible verses (1 Thess. 5:23 and Heb. 4:12) "soul" and "spirit" seem to be used in distinct senses, but this does not prove the existence of two immaterial substances in man. The authors use Hebrew parallelism for poetic effect; they are not talking about constituent parts of man.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church also sheds light on this issue: "Sometimes the soul is distinguished from the spirit . . . The Church teaches that this distinction does not introduce a duality into the soul. 'Spirit' signifies that from creation man is ordered to a supernatural end and that his soul can graciously be raised beyond all it deserves to communion with God" (CCC 367).

A friend of mine says she was baptized a Catholic when she was an infant, then rebaptized when her family became Baptists. What does rebaptism do, if anything?

If a person's inititial baptism was valid, rebaptism does nothing to improve the state of the soul before God. Any valid baptism imprints a spiritual mark or character on the recipient's soul. This mark cannot be destroyed or removed, so baptism can never be repeated. Any subsequent attempts at baptism will be invalid. They are at least materially an insult to the Holy Spirit, because they imply that what the Spirit did in the initial baptism was not sufficient. Usually, though, a person who receives a "second baptism" is not formally guilty of insulting the Holy Spirit since he has been mistaught concerning the efficacy of his initial baptism.

Because of the invalidity of subsequent baptisms and the danger of insulting the Holy Spirit (even materially), the Church is reluctant to apply the rite of baptism to a person who already has been baptized in a non-Catholic sect. Only if there is some reason to doubt the person's initial baptism does the Church apply the rite of baptism to him--and then it does so conditionally. A conditional baptism has the form, "[Name], if you were not already baptized, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." This leaves the question of whether the person's original baptism was valid up to God, and it shows that the Church never rebaptizes people baptized outside the Church.

Rebaptism into a Protestant sect does do one thing: It changes a person's status under canon law. It is generally taken as a formal declaration that one has left the Catholic Church. People who make formal declarations are exempt from certain obligations they acquired as Catholics. Canons 1086 and 1117 exempt those who have defected from the Church by formal act from the disparity of cult impediment to marriage and from the need to observe the Catholic form of marriage (marriage in front of a Catholic priest or deacon, with two official witnesses). Formal defectors are not exempt from other marriage impediments (lack of age, physical impotence, or prior marriage bonds), nor are they exempt from other ecclesiastical obligations they assumed as Catholics (see Coriden, Green, and Heintschel, The Code of Canon Law, A Text and Commentary, 129).

I recently watched a debate between a Christian and a Muslim. The latter said there were contradictions in the Bible and gave as an example a passage saying Solomon had 4,000 horse stalls and another passage saying he had 40,000. What should I make of this?

Don't make a mountain out of it. The passages you refer to are 2 Chronicles 9:25, which says Solomon had 4,000 stalls for horses, and 1 Kings 4:26, which in some translations says he had 40,000 of them (this latter verse is numbered 1 Kings 5:6 in the New American Bible). Those translations which give the number 40,000 are based on the Masoretic Text, the Old Testament used by Jews in the Middle Ages. But if one checks the Septuagint (LXX), one discovers manuscripts giving the number 4,000--the same as in 2 Chronicles 9:25.

What we have here is a classic example of a copyist error. Before the printing press, each copy of the Bible had to be produced by hand from a previous copy. Though the scribes doing the copying were amazingly meticulous in their efforts, occasionally a scribe would get sleepy or lose his concentration or mishear a word in the text as it was being read aloud, and he would make a mistake. These tiny mistakes are called copyist errors, and they were dangerous because, if not caught, they would be passed on to future copies made from this scribe's work.

The Hebrew word for forty is only two strokes of a pen different from the word for four. What probably happened in the case of 1 Kings 4:26 is that some early scribe became sleepy and accidentally added those two strokes to the word he was writing. No one caught the error. His manuscript became the basis for the Masoretic Text. The true form of the text was preserved in the LXX manuscript tradition (the LXX being an early Greek translation of the Old Testament), which is used for this verse by almost all modern Bibles.

The fact we have a copyist error in this case has been known for a long time. For example, Keil & Delitzch's Commentary on the Old Testament, first published in the mid-1800s, states: "Arba'iym (40) is an old copyist's error for arba'ah (4), which we find in the parallel passage, 2 Chronicles 9:25, and as we may also infer from chapter 10:26 and 2 Chronicles 1:14, since according to these passages Solomon had 1,400 rekeb or war chariots. For 4,000 horses are a very suitable number for 1,400 chariots, though not 40,000, since two draught horses were required for every war chariot, and one horse may have been kept as a reserve" (Commentary on the Old Testament 3:53).

Generally, numerical discrepancies are trivial in their solution and are obvious to scholars. John Haley's classic work, Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, states, "We have previously, more than once, called attention to the marked resemblance of Hebrew letters to one another; also to the fact. . .that these letters were in ancient time employed to represent numbers. These two facts indicate at once the cause and the solution of the numerical discrepancies" (Alleged Discrepancies, 380).

I know of a priest who, during the consecration at Mass, used to say "This is our bread of life" instead of "This is my body." Was this valid? If not, did the people receive the body and blood of Christ? What if the priest makes only minor variations in the words? How much must be there for the consecration to be valid?

What this priest said was definitely illicit and far removed from the proper words used to confect the Eucharist. He engaged in a grievous liturgical abuse of the kind which should immediately be reported to the bishop. Because the priest used not just improper words, but words that didn't even mean "This is my body," the consecration did not take place at all.

The result was that the people at that Mass were led into material idolatry. They adored something that was not really Christ, but just bread. They were worshiping as God something that really wasn't, even though they were unaware of the import of the priest's actions. This means they did not incur the guilt of the sin of idolatry.

While it is always gravely illicit for a priest intentionally to change the words of consecration from what is in the Church's liturgical texts, it is possible for there to be some variation in wording without rendering the Mass invalid. Slight slips of the tongue, for example, don't make for invalidity.

That there can be some variation is obvious from the fact that the current words the priest uses are not taken from any single New Testament account of the consecration, but are a combination of elements of the four different accounts (Matt. 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20, 1 Cor. 11:24-25). Surely a priest in the early Church, at a time before liturgical texts became fixed, would have been able to consecrate validly if he had read the words of consecration out of one of the gospels.

There are elements in the current words of consecration that are not directly from the Bible. For example, "Take this all of you and eat it" is not found in the English translation of the Bible used at Mass nor in the Greek text of the Bible. The closest text is Matthew's "Take, eat" (Matt. 26:26). The closest thing in the Bible to "This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant" is Paul's "This cup is the new covenant in my blood" (1 Cor. 11:25).

The same is true of the wording used in the Tridentine Mass. In place of those two phrases, it has "All of you take and eat of this" ("Accipite, et manducate ex hoc omnes") and "For this is the chalice of my blood of the new and eternal covenant" ("Hic est enim calix sanguinis mei, novi et aeterni testamenti"). Neither one of these Latin phrases corresponds exactly to the Greek.

So what's the bottom line? What must a priest minimally say? For there to be a valid consecration the priest must say at least this much: "This is my body . . . This is my blood." It would be illicit for him to reduce the words of consecration to these, but the consecration would nevertheless be valid.

It should go without saying--but we'll say it anyway--that there never can be any explicit denial of transubstantiation contained in the words used by the priest. He can't say such things as "This is my body if you accept it by faith" or "This is a symbol of my blood." If such words are used in conjunction with the "bare minimum" words, the consecration won't "take" because "This is my body . . . This is my blood" would be gutted of meaning.

During the Mass, when the priest says, "We offer you, Father, this holy and living sacrifice," what exactly is he offering and why? Also, to what did Jesus refer when he said, "Do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19, 1 Cor. 11:24-25)? What was "this," and where does the Eucharistic sacrifice come in?

As one would guess by the words the priest uses, he is offering to God the sacrifice which is Christ. It is a holy sacrifice because Christ is holy, and it is a living sacrifice because Christ is alive as he is being offered on the altar; he does not die again. Pope Paul VI's Credo of the People of God states, "We believe that . . . the bread and wine consecrated by the priest [are] changed into the Body and Blood of Christ now enthroned in glory in heaven."

The reason for the offering is so that Christ's once-for-all offering on the cross might "be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit" (CCC 1366, citing the Council of Trent; cf. CCC 1356-1381). "As sacrifice, the Eucharist is also offered in reparation for the sins of the living and the dead and to obtain spiritual or temporal benefits from God" (CCC 1414).

When Christ said "Do this in remembrance of me," the "this" to which he referred was the celebration of the Eucharist, including consecration and consumption. This is why Paul explains the remark by saying, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor. 11:25).

This proclamation of the Lord's death has sacrificial overtones. It is not simply a way of getting us to remember Christ; it re-presents to God what he did and prompts the Father's merciful remembrance of us. This is the function of a memorial offering (Num. 10:10). In view of this fact, the Protestant scholar Joachim Jeremias translates the phrase "Do this is remembrance of me" (that is, remember me to your benefit; cf. Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, 237-255). The Greek phrase can also be translated "Offer this as my memorial sacrifice" ("Quick Questions," This Rock, September 1993).

My Protestant wife is objecting to my taking our new baby to Mass with me on Sunday. She says that until he is a little older, she can't bear to be separated from him for that long (she doesn't want to go to Mass with us). The trouble is that since our boy was baptized as a Catholic a month ago he has the requirement to go to Mass every Sunday, doesn't he?

No, he doesn't. Canon 11 of the Code of Canon Law states that three conditions must pertain for a person to be subject to ecclesiastical laws (such as the requirement to assist at Mass on Sundays):

  1. He must have been baptized or received into the Catholic Church,
  2. he must have the use of reason, and
  3. unless the law states otherwise, he must be at least seven years of age.
Your son meets the first of these conditions, but not the other two.

He will not be subject to the requirement to participate in Sunday Mass until he is seven; and he will not be subject to the Church's laws on fasting and abstinence until he is 14 (since canon 1252 exempts those under 14 from this obligation).

Eventually he will be subject to these laws. Your obligation as the Catholic parent is to do all you can to see that he is raised as a Catholic, since he has been baptized into the Catholic Church and has, by your proxy, assumed the obligations of a Catholic. Even prior to his turning seven, he needs to be taken to Mass enough to consciously ingrain his Catholic identity in him. This is part of your obligation to see to his Catholic education.

If your wife strenuously objects to your taking him to Mass for a temporary period, you are not sinning by not taking him, though you run the risk of setting a bad precedent with your wife. Only your own knowledge of your situation can weigh the potential risks and benefits. If she objected to your ever taking the child to Mass, a more complicated situation would ensue.

You stated that when the Latin Mass says Christ's blood was shed "pro multis," normally rendered "for many," it can equally be translated "for all" since "many" is a biblical idiom that often means "all" (cf. Dan. 12:2, Rom. 5:12). If so, why was this not stated for 1900 years? Also, did "for many" always mean "for all" in the Bible?

It has been stated for 1900 years that Christ's blood was shed for all. The Church declared heretical the Calvinist/Jansenist idea that Christ shed his blood exclusively for the elect. The translation "for all" may not have been used in the liturgy until recently, but this was because in the Western rite the Mass was celebrated in Latin until recently. There were no English translations made for liturgical use.

Today there is still variation among the different language translations of the Mass. In some languages, such as Spanish, the rendering of "for many" has been kept, while in others, such as Italian, the rendering of "for all" has been used. In other rites of the Church there are further variations on the words of consecration. The Greek term for "many" in the consecration (pollus) is not always an idiom for "all." In Mark 5:26 we are told that the woman with the issue of blood had suffered under many (pollus) physicians, but she certainly had not been to all the doctors in the world. Here the term simply meant, "many." In the case of the words of consecration, we know that "all" is a valid translation because the Bible tells us Christ did shed his blood for all men (1 John 2:2), and the Church has condemned as heretical the contrary proposition.

Dissenters from papal authority, trying to downplay the authority of documents such as Humanae Vitae and Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, use Joan of Arc as an example of the Church making a decision and then reversing it, thereby proving itself fallible. What is the story of Joan of Arc, and does it make a dent in infallibility?

Joan of Arc was born in France in 1412. A poor, illiterate peasant girl known for her piety, she began hearing "voices" from God at age 13. Five years later she revealed the message of the voices: to deliver France from the control of England, gained by Henry V in the Treaty of Troyes in 1420.

Joan convinced Charles VII (known as the Dauphin), rightful heir to the French crown, to assemble an army and help relieve the city of Orleans, which had resisted the English and been under siege for eight months. With Joan in command, the French army marched on Orleans and ended the siege in eight days. A succession of further victories saw Joan present at Charles's coronation at Rheims in 1429.

Charles, once crowned, became apathetic and opposed Joan's plans for further action, and when she tried to move to relieve the city of Compiegne, she was arrested and, in 1430, sold to the English, who wished to eliminate their staunchest adversary and at the same time discredit the coronation of Charles, owed directly to Joan.

Pierre Cauchon, bishop of Beauvais and strong ally of the English, tricked her into an admission of guilt, and, after a three-month trial, she was convicted of heresy. She was excommunicated and turned over to the state, which on May 30, 1431 had her burned at the stake.

In 1456, after a posthumous trial, Joan was formally rehabilitated by Rome, which canonized her in 1920. This reversal of Cauchon's judgment in no way affects the Church's teaching authority. A lone bishop's determinations of an individual's sanctity or personal revelations does not fall under the Church's charism of infallibility. Joan was condemned by an individual bishop who had a clearly political agenda.

Cauchon's personal corruption says nothing about the universal Church's ability to teach authoritatively on matters of faith and morals. On the positive side, note the relative speed (by fifteenth-century standards) with which she was rehabilitated; keep in mind also that she was burned by the secular power, not by the Church.

I heard that it's the Church's teaching that unbaptized babies go to hell rather than limbo. Is this true?

No--but neither is it official teaching that they go to limbo. The fate of unbaptized children has not been determined.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

As regards children who have died without baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God, who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children, which caused him to say, "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them" [Mark 10:14, cf. 1 Tim. 2:4], allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy baptism" (CCC 1261).
The idea of limbo is a theological speculation about what happens to people who depart this life in original sin (1 Cor. 15:22) but without actual sin (Rom. 9:11). The only such people would be the unborn, babies, young children, morons, and a few others. They lack actual sin, so they would not be in hell, but they have original sin, so they would not be in heaven. It was speculated that they would be in a place of natural glory (limbo).

The basis for this speculation has been undercut by recent reflection on God's salvific will. The Second Vatican Council stated, "For since Christ died for all (Rom. 8:32) . . . we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery" (Gaudium et Spes 22). This includes the young and those severely retarded.

If, in whatever mysterious way the person receives the offer, he accepts it, then he has "baptism of desire" and goes to heaven. If the person rejects the offer, then he has committed mortal sin and goes to hell. Thus it can be argued that no one leaves this life with original sin but without actual sin. People die either in a state of grace or in a state of mortal sin.

Some have speculated about what form God's offer of salvation might take to children. One suggestion is that he might enlighten them at the moment of death and enable them to make a choice for or against him. This possibility was endorsed by the nineteenth-century Catholic theologian Heinrich Klee.

Another suggestion is that these persons may have a form of "baptism of desire" through the desire of their parents, of the Church, or of someone else. This would operate the way the faith of the Church suffices to allow infants to be baptized, even though they lack faith themselves. This idea ("vicarious baptism of desire") was endorsed by Cardinal Cajetan at the time of the Reformation.

Are sacraments efficacious even if not understood by the one receiving them? Doesn't grace require active cooperation of faith, knowledge, and will?

When a sacrament gives us a grace requiring cooperation, such as the grace to love our spouses, it does require us to cooperate for that grace to manifest itself. But when a sacrament gives us a grace that does not require action (such as sanctifying grace), then our active cooperation is not required. This is not to say our passive cooperation is not needed. Sacraments communicate their grace to us unless we put obstacles in the way--but we can put obstacles in the way.

For example, in order to receive the sacrament of matrimony, it is necessary to be open to the essential properties of marriage, such as unity and indissolubility. If, at the time the marriage is contracted, one party is not open to the essential properties, the marriage will not be valid. There will be no real marriage at all.

The Code of Canon Law says, "But if either or both parties through a positive act of the will should exclude marriage itself, some essential element, or an essential property of marriage, it is invalidly contracted" (CIC 1102:2). But "Error concerning the unity, indissolubility, or sacramental dignity of matrimony does not vitiate matrimonial consent so long as it does not determine the will" (CIC 1099).

It is necessary to cooperate at least passively to retain sanctifying grace, which is cast out of the soul by mortal sin. Once sanctifying grace has been received through a sacrament, to retain this grace, you must cooperate by not committing mortal sin.

Active cooperation with the sacrament is not always required. The recipient's status is taken into account. When an infant is baptized, or when he receives any other sacrament, he will receive the sanctifying grace the sacrament communicates. His passive cooperation, both in accepting the grace and in retaining it, is assured by the fact that he is incapable of putting an obstacle in the way and incapable of committing mortal sin (Rom. 9:11).

I've been seeing television programs about people trying to find the ark of the covenant. What should a Catholic think about these efforts? Does the physical ark of the covenant still exist, and can it be found?

According to a letter attached to the beginning of 2 Maccabees, the prophet Jeremiah hid the ark of the covenant in a cave on Mount Nebo, where Moses had looked across the Jordan river into the Promised Land (Deut. 34:1).

We read:

And Jeremiah came and found a cave, and he brought there the tent [of meeting] and the ark and the altar of incense, and he sealed up the entrance. Some of those who followed him came up to mark the way, but he could not find it. When Jeremiah learned of it, he rebuked them and declared: "The place shall be unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows his mercy. And then the Lord will disclose these things, and the glory of the Lord will appear, as they were shown in the case of Moses, and as Solomon asked that the place should be specially consecrated" (2 Macc. 2:5-8).
Two questions face the interpreter of this text. First, is it inerrant? This question must be raised because letters contained in historical books do not have to be inerrant themselves--they merely have to be inerrantly reported by the historical book (e.g., the letter against the Jews in Ezra 4:8-16). It is not clear whether the letters that appear before the main text of 2 Maccabees are on the same level as ordinary historical documents contained in an inerrant document or as on the the same level as the inerrant document itself.

Second, has the finding of the ark already happened? The reference to the time when "God gathers his people together again and shows his mercy" has been interpreted as a reference to the return from the Babylonian exile and the coming of Christ (see Luke 2:25; cf. 1:68). In Revelation 11:19 we read, "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." It is thus possible that the promise of the ark's finding might have a spiritual fulfillment in the book of Revelation and the events surrounding the first coming rather than a literal, historical fulfillment in an archaeological unearthing of the ark.

There are other accounts of what happened to the ark. One that is currently popular states that it was taken from Israel and eventually deposited in an Ethiopian church (which refuses to reveal its contents). Another, found in the non-canonical book 2 Esdras, claims that the ark was plundered by the Babylonians (2 [4] Esdras 10:21-22).

Because of these questions, no firm conclusion can be drawn. As interesting as the subject is, we won't know for sure whether the ark will be found until it is unearthed or until the world ends (whichever comes first).

What is an ark, anyway? The Bible talks about the ark of the covenant and Noah's ark. Does this mean that the ark of the covenant was shaped like a boat?

Just the reverse: It means that Noah's ark was shaped like the ark of the covenant--in other words, like a box. "Ark" is simply an old word for "chest" or "box." The Hebrew terms used for the two arks (tebah and arown mean the same.

When God told Moses to build an ark, what he in effect said was, "Make yourself a box of gopher wood; make rooms in the box, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: The length of the box will be four hundred and fifty feet, its width seventy-five feet, and its height forty-five feet. Make a roof for the box, and build its walls to within a foot and a half from the top; and set the door of the box on its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks" (Gen. 6:14-16).

Similarly, some modern translations of the Bible, such as Today's English Version (the Good News Bible), render the phrase "the ark of the covenant" as "the covenant box." The ark of the covenant served as a chest to contain certain articles intimately associated with God's covenant with Israel. Hebrews 9:4 reveals that it contained the tablets of the ten commandments (God's requirements of his people), a golden jar of manna (God's provisions for his people), and Aaron's rod, which had budded to show that Aaron was God's priest (God's proper way to be approached by his people) (Num. 17:10). These articles symbolize the aspects of a king's covenant with those under him: what he requires, what he provides, and how he is to be approached.

The ark also served as God's throne (1 Sam. 4:4, 2 Sam. 6:2, 1 Chr. 13:6-7, Jer. 13:16-17) or as the footstool of his throne (1 Chr. 28:2). God declared that he would speak from above the cherubim that were on the lid of the ark (Ex. 25:22), and he is regularly spoken of as being "enthroned above the cherubim" of the ark. Thus when Joshua carried the ark around the walls of Jericho (Josh. 6-7), the picture was of a king being carried on his throne in triumphal procession around the city of conquest.

In a popular Catholic devotion known as "The Litany of Humility," we ask Jesus to grant us the grace to desire "that others should become holier than I, provided that I become as holy as I should." This doesn't seem to make sense. Since we should all avoid sin completely, doesn't this mean we all should become equally holy, making it non-sensical to ask for others to be holier than us?

The argument confuses two different kinds of holiness: holiness with respect to sin and holiness with respect to good works. With respect to sin, we should all be equally holy because we should never sin (even though we continually do so during this life). With respect to good works, we are not called to be all equally holy, because God has called us to different levels of sacrifice and good works. He has given us different opportunities and gifts for holiness.

Paul indicates that some have been given the gift of celibacy, while others have not (1 Cor. 7:7), and that celibacy is preferable because of the increased opportunities for devotion to God that it offers (1 Cor. 7:36-38). He summarizes by saying, "If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: Let them marry--it is no sin . . . . So that he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better" (1 Cor. 7:36-38).

Therefore, while we all are called not to sin (which a person who marries would not be doing), some of us are given the opportunity to do even better than not sinning (by not marrying).

The Church teaches that when God justifies us he completely removes all objective sin from our souls and makes us holy by giving us sanctifying grace (Trent, Decree on Original Sin 5). This holiness through sanctifying grace is then increased by doing the good works which justification enables us to accomplish (Trent, Decree on Justification 10, 16, and canons 24 and 32). Our souls are rendered completely holy in justification in that they are completely free of objective sin and are given sanctifying grace, but they are not as holy as they will become through pleasing God by doing good works (Eph. 4:18, Col. 1:9-10).

We might compare the way sanctifying grace makes our souls shine before God with the way a light shines. A light might shed completely white light, yet it might not shine this light as intensely as some other light does. In this way, our justified souls shine purely before God, but may still come to shine more brightly.

When we pray the Litany of Humility, we ask that we will become holy in the sense that we will perform all the good works God has commissioned us to do, and we ask that we will not be envious of others but will want to see them go on to perform even more good works than we do. No contradiction is involved.

Are homosexuals born with this disorder? I have never heard a definitive answer on this subject. I believe this behavior is not learned, but if it happens at birth, why would God place such a heavy cross on any human being he created?

Science has not yet established the degree to which homosexual tendencies are learned or inborn. It is likely to be a combination of both factors, like alcoholism is. In the latter case, there is a genetic predisposition to alcoholism, but it takes a process of conditioning and experience with alchohol to develop the addiction.

Sexual drives are built into the human race biologically, but among humans sex is subject to a great deal of cognitive conditioning. Responses to particular stimuli (body shapes, facial features, hair colors, clothing) are largely learned and vary widely from individual to individual, and even from time to time in a single individual's life. This degree of cognitive involvement in sexual behavior is not found among lower life forms, whose sexual behavior is almost entirely instinctual and has few cognitive factors involved in it.

There may be genetic, hormonal, or neurological factors toward which produce a predisposition toward homosexual desires, but some degree of learning and conditioned response is almost certainly involved (as in human sexuality generally). Because of this ambiguity, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that homosexuality's "psychological genesis remains largely unexplained" (CCC 2357).

It is important to realize that homosexuals do not have complete, voluntary control over their desires. Of course, they have control over their actions, as do heterosexuals. After a person has been conditioned to homosexual responses, it is impossible to simply wish away the desires, just as it is impossible for an alcoholic to wish away his desire to be drunk. (It should be noted that heterosexuals do not have complete control over their desires either.)

Homosexuals also do not make a conscious choice to have homosexual tendencies. Nobody says, "I think I'll become a homosexual!" any more than anyone says, "I think I'll become an alcoholic!" Homosexual desires may come about as a result of certain choices the individual makes (such as thinking about members of the same sex in a certain way or engaging in homosexual behavior), just as alcoholic desires may come about as the result of certain choices the individual has made (such as frequently choosing to get drunk), but virtually no one consciously chooses to become a homosexual or an alchoholic as a goal and then intentionally cultivates the corresponding desires.

For this reason, the Catechism states, "The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. The persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition" (CCC 2358).

While they may not choose their desires, homosexuals do have the ability to choose whether they act on those desires, just as an alcholic has the choice of whether to act on his desire to get drunk and just as a heterosexual has the choice of acting on his desires. For this reason, the Catechism states, "Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, traditions has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to natural law . . . . Under no circumstances can they be approved . . . . Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection" (CCC 2357, 2359).

Regarding God's involvement in the origin of homosexuality: He is not the source of such temptations, just as he is not the source of temptation in general: "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one" (Jas. 1:13). Adam is the source of the temptations we feel. It is because of his sin that we have inherited a corrupt nature (Rom. 5:19).

Some Messianic Jewish congregations baptize "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Ruach ha-Kodesh. Are these baptisms valid?

They probably are. Ruach ha-Kodesh is simply the Hebrew phrase for "the Holy Spirit" (Ruach = Spirit, ha-Kodesh = the Holy).

We already know that there is some flexibility in the translations of the terms used to refer to the Persons of the Trinity. For example, in English the Holy Spirit is often referred to as "the Holy Ghost" (especially in older works or in Traditional circles). It is valid to baptize using the term "Ghost" instead of "Spirit."

In Messianic Jewish congregations, a special sub-dialect of English is used in which Yiddish and Hebrew loan words are used as part of English speech. Thus if you were to attend a Messianic Jewish service, you probably would hear a sermon in English on Yeshua ha-Mashiach, which is Hebrew for "Jesus Christ."

As part of the daily speech they have been taught to use in church, many Messianic Jews naturally use Yeshua ha-Mashiach to refer to Jesus Christ and Ruach ha-Kodesh to refer to the Holy Spirit. It is part of their sub-dialect, just as "Holy Ghost" is part of a more traditional sub-dialect of ecclesiastical English and "Holy Spirit" is the mainstream usage within ecclesiastical English.

One can argue that Ruach ha-Kodesh is simply a term in an English sub-dialect, just as "Holy Ghost" is. English is a composite language made up of loan words from other languages in the first place. In fact, "Ghost" is from Old High German, while "Spirit" is a loan word from Latin, and "baptize" is itself a loan word from Greek.

Thus these baptisms are probably valid, even though, in the case of a Messianic Jew who becomes Catholic, a conditional baptism might be in order, just to make sure.

All questions excerpted from This Rock magazine and reprinted with permission. Copyright © 1994 Catholic Answers.

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