Few Protestants raise an eyebrow over the fact that there is a 2,000-year lacuna between the Scripture’s inspiration and their personal copy of sacred Scripture. For them, what transpired in…
Few Protestants raise an eyebrow over the fact that there is a 2,000-year lacuna between the Scripture’s inspiration and their personal copy of sacred Scripture.
For them, what transpired in those intervening years really isn’t very important. What really matters is that they have a Bible and that they can use it to confirm doctrine. As long as we end up with a Bible, what harm is done? But it still begs the larger question: Where did the Bible come from?
The Bible is the product of those missing 2,000 years, and when it is divorced from the Catholic Church from which it came, Scripture’s authority is undermined. The fact is that the Bible is a Catholic book. It was written, authenticated and passed on to us today through the Church. In many ways, the Church is the Bible’s custodian and interpreter. Without the Church, we really have no rational basis to believe with certainty that the Bible we possess is the Bible and that it is capable of confirming doctrine.
“Not Done in a Corner”
Let’s consider this last statement from the perspective of the first Christians. The words and deeds of Christ and His inspired apostles were not done in secret, or, as Paul told King Agrippa, they were “not done in a corner” (Acts 26:26); they were done publicly. The writings of the New Testament were composed by members of the same community that heard, saw and were taught by Jesus and/or His apostles and disciples. Therefore, this first Christian community functioned as a guarantor of the truthfulness or veracity of the Gospels and the rest of Scripture. After all, who would risk their lives, fortunes and honor to promote spurious and inaccurate documents? If the Scriptures simply parachuted into existence, there would be no witness from the early Church. How then would we know whether the Gospels and other books were telling the truth, much less that they are capable of confirming doctrine?
Someone could argue that since the Scriptures are inspired by God, who cannot deceive nor be deceived, they must be trustworthy. But this response misses the point. It’s not a question of whether inspiration conveys truth. It is a question of what basis is there for knowing whether a given document is inspired and truthful. It is similar to the question, “How do you know Matthew wrote the Gospel of Matthew?” Most Bible Christians would point to the fact that Matthew’s name appears on the book’s cover page. The title, however, was not part of the inspired original. It was added later by Catholics who knew that the Gospel was traced back to Matthew. Without these Catholic witnesses, how would one know the Gospel’s authorship? We can’t. Without the Church, we really can’t establish the veracity of the Gospels or the rest of the contents of the New Testament.
Inspired, Not Spurious
How do we know that the writings of Scripture are from inspired sources and not spurious? The Church had to deal with this difficulty early on. In 2 Thessalonians 2:2, we learn that the Thessalonians were upset by “a ‘spirit,’ or by an oral statement, or by a letter allegedly from us [the apostles] to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand.” How did the Thessalonians determine whether or not this letter was spurious? Paul gives them the means to authenticate his letter in 2 Thessalonians 3:17: “This greeting is in my own hand, Paul’s. This is the sign in every letter; this is how I write.” Paul knew that the recipients of his letter would recognize his signature and handwriting based on their own personal knowledge of Paul. By using this knowledge, the Thessalonians were able to confirm the Second Epistle to be authentic. Without the Catholic community’s witness to its authenticity, how would we know whether or not Paul wrote this letter? The original inspired autograph no longer exists, and even if it did exist we no longer have access to the knowledge that the Thessalonians had concerning Paul’s handwriting. Scripture, when removed from the context of the Catholic Church, loses an objective basis for demonstrating the New Testament’s authenticity.
There is also the problem of the canon. The New Testament began as separate documents. Who gathered these documents together and placed them into a single volume? A generic answer like “the early Christians did” is simply inadequate. Early on there were several different groups who held to different “canons” of Scripture. For example, one group, called the Marcionites, only accepted the letters of Paul and an adulterated version of Luke as Scripture. On the other hand, the Ebionites rejected Paul’s letters and accepted an altered form of the Gospel According to Matthew. Even among the Jews there was disagreement over the Old Testament. The schools of Shammai and Hallel were split over Ecclesiastes’ sacred status. The Essenes seem to have rejected Esther, but accepted Tobit, Sirach and some of their own writings as sacred. Which one was right? Or, were any of them right? Without a single, authoritative, identifiable Church — that is, the Catholic Church — to show us what was the true canon, there is no adequate way to answer this question.
But couldn’t someone say that these groups do not pose a problem because they were heretical? For example, one could say that post-Christian Judaism can be eliminated because they rejected Jesus as the Messiah? Likewise, the Ebionites can be scratched off because they denied justification by grace. The Marcionites could be eliminated because they were Gnostics and believed in two gods, and so on.
After all these heresies are eliminated, the true Christians would be left and with them we would find the correct canon. Unfortunately, the objection above fails because it begs the question. The objector begins with a specific canon of Scripture in mind (which is presumed to be true) and then de-duces from his canon a set of doctrines (which is also assumed to be true) as the standard to judge other groups. Once all challengers are eliminated by the objector’s set of doctrine, his canon is “proved.” In other words, the objector uses a scriptural canon to form a set of doctrines, then uses the set of doctrines to prove his scriptural canon.
The true canon of Scripture is something more to be discovered than determined. The Church received its sacred writings from the apostles, and the Catholic Church manifests the true canon of Scripture by its continuous use of certain books as sacred Scripture in its liturgies. Without the Catholic Church, the canon cannot be made manifest, and if the canon is not made manifest then it is up to each individual Christian to determine which books should or should not be included in Scripture.
The Bible, therefore, is really a Catholic book in that it came from the very heart of the Catholic Church. Its authenticity, veracity, canon and proper interpretation all depend upon the witness of the Church. When the Bible is taken out of its Catholic context, the very foundation upon which we can know that the Scripture is inspired, true, authentic, complete and properly understood is undermined. Without the Church, the Scripture is no more defensible than if it had one day fallen out of the sky.
The Catholic Context
In regards to the proper understanding of the Bible, Scripture is most properly understood within the context of the Catholic faith. Apart from this faith, Scripture can be distorted and misunderstood, as 2 Peter 3:16 tells us when he warns that “the ignorant and the unstable distort [the Scriptures] to their own destruction.” The words translated “ignorant” (Greek oi amatheis) and “unstable” (Greek astriktos) do not convey their full meaning in English. These words really mean “the undiscipled” and “those who do not remain in the apostolic teaching.” In other words, the people who distort the meaning of Scripture are those who are not discipled by the Church and do not remain in the Church’s teaching. Notice how Peter’s words presumes that there exists a master/disciple succession that comes from the apostles and a rule of faith (regula fidei) that must be continuously held. Without these two factors, the proper meaning of the Scriptures is in peril.
The Task of Interpretation
“The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.” This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.
— Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 85
Gary G. Michuta is an author, speaker and teacher on Catholic apologetics and evangelism.
The first Hoosier bishop, Servant of God Simon Bruté, should be numbered among the pivotal players of American Catholicism — an exemplary intellect and man of great holiness. It even…
The first Hoosier bishop, Servant of God Simon Bruté, should be numbered among the pivotal players of American Catholicism — an exemplary intellect and man of great holiness. It even can be considered that without Bishop Bruté we might have never known two of our own American saints: St. Theodora Guerin and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Bruté’s is a life worth knowing.
When the young Sulpician priest Simon Bruté arrived in the United States in 1810, he established himself as an intellectual at America’s first seminary — St. Mary’s in Baltimore — and then two years later at Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Maryland. His capable mind earned his description by President John Quincy Adams as “the most learned man of his day in America.” He used his scholarly gifts to contribute to the early Catholic newspapers being formed throughout the East coast. Further evidence of his zeal for the faith is what earned his appointment as a theological adviser to those early Councils of Baltimore. In those early councils of American hierarchy, Bruté advocated for cohesion in Catholic teaching and practice. He had great love for the faith and its growth in his new beloved mission land.
Bruté’s pastoral heart was also seen beyond his academic pursuits. His work as a priest outside the classroom was equally important. During his tenure in Emmitsburg he became known as a gifted pastor and spiritual director — even serving in that capacity for the future saint and foundress Elizabeth Ann Seton. Following her death he insured the preservation of her papers and writings — he was keenly aware of the future saint’s spiritual depth. Bruté later memorialized Seton: “O, such a mother! Such faith and love! Such a true spirit of prayer, of true humility, of true self-denial in all, of true charity to all!” Many of these words of wisdom could also be applied to Bruté.
In recognition of his deep love for the faith, his great intellect, his tender care and zeal for souls, Bruté was named first bishop in Indiana — then the diocese of Vincennes, now the Archdiocese of Indianapolis — in 1834, remarking, “unworthy as I am of so great an honor, and of myself unequal of the charge, my only trust is in God; and, therefore, earnestly calling for your prayers, that I may obtain His Divine assistance, I come to be your chief pastor.”
As bishop of Vincennes, Bruté was responsible for bringing to Indiana the French Sisters of Providence, led by the valiant St. Theodora Guerin. The bishop wished for their assistance in establishing Catholic education in his new diocese that included the entire state of Indiana and a portion of Illinois including Chicago. The request took time to come to fruition, and they arrived in their new Hoosier mission land the year after Bruté’s 1839 death. St. Theodora’s holiness was forged on the Indiana frontier where she was brought thanks to Bishop Bruté’s intervention.
Many regarded Bruté a saint during his lifetime, and his legacy has endured. In 1891, another great American churchman — Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore — said of Bruté on a visit to Vincennes: “Worthy citizens of Vincennes, you need not go on pilgrimages to visit the tombs of saints. There is one reposing here in your midst, namely, the saintly founder of this diocese, Right Reverend Simon Bruté.”
In 2005, one of his successors — then-Archbishop of Indianapolis Daniel Buechlein, O.S.B. — formally began the process that intends Bruté’s canonization. The process continues today, and many hope Bruté’s name soon will be inscribed in the Church’s catalogue of saints.
Michael R. Heinlein is editor of Simply Catholic. Follow him on Twitter @HeinleinMichael.
In 2008, Bishop Jean-Michel di Falco Leandri, the bishop of Gap in the French Alps, celebrated a special Mass to announce the Vatican’s approval of Marian apparitions in that diocese…
In 2008, Bishop Jean-Michel di Falco Leandri, the bishop of Gap in the French Alps, celebrated a special Mass to announce the Vatican’s approval of Marian apparitions in that diocese that occurred between 1664 and 1718.
Although the location of the apparitions to Venerable Benôite (Benedicta) Rencurel and the shrine founded there have been drawing pilgrims since the late 17th century, Our Lady of Laus is relatively unknown outside of France. The website for the shrine is available only in French and Italian, for example, and the nearest airport is in Grenoble, about 60 mountain miles away.
The shrine of Our Lady of Laus may be obscure to those outside the region, but her message of reconciliation, with its emphasis on repentance, the Sacrament of Penance and reparation for sins should be better known. Our Lady of Laus is known as the Refuge of Sinners. As she appeared to Benôite Rencurel for more than half a century, she repeated a call for holiness and devotion among the laity and for faithfulness among priests and religious. The Mother of God also promised miraculous healings for those anointed with holy oil if they had faith in her intercession.
Mary’s calls for repentance, warnings against unfaithfulness and scandal, and requests for a shrine to be built in Laus are all common attributes of the Marian apparitions recognized by the Church. Since they are private revelations, Catholics are not required to believe in them. Like other Marian apparitions — for example, at Rue de Bac in Paris (St. Catherine Labouré and the Miraculous Medal); La Sallette, also in the French Alps; and most famously at Lourdes (St. Bernadette Soubirous) — Our Lady of Laus offers guidance for devotion and personal holiness.
An Orphaned Shepherdess
Benôite Rencurel was an orphan, born on Sept. 16, 1657, in Saint-Etienne d’Avancon. After her father died when she was only 7 years old, she helped her family by serving as shepherdess for a neighbor. Benôite had not learned to read or write; her only source of education was the parish church and the sermons she heard at Mass.
In May 1664, she saw a beautiful lady holding a child in her arms and standing on a rock in the valley of Laus, where Benôite was guarding her neighbor’s flocks and praying the Rosary. Her simple response, offering to share the hard bread she had to eat after softening it in the nearby fountain, made the beautiful lady smile. Her desire to hold the little child made the lady smile again, but she left without saying a word.
Over the next four months, the beautiful lady, whose name Benôite did not know, returned daily to instruct her on her mission. Benôite told her neighbor about the lady, and the neighbor did not believe her. Following Benôite to the valley one day, she heard the lady — although she did not see her — warn Benôite that her neighbor was in spiritual danger: “She had something on her conscience” and needed to confess her sins and do penance, because she took the name of Our Lord in vain. Benôite’s neighbor took this message to heart and did penance for the rest of her life.
Benôite finally asked the lady who she was. “My name is Mary,” she replied. Mary called on Benôite to pray for sinners and work for their conversion. She asked Benôite to meet her at a chapel in Laus which was to be used as a shrine. Once the diocese recognized the authenticity of the apparitions, the same chapel was replaced by a larger church, the present shrine church. The miraculous healings with the oil from the sanctuary lamps continued, drawing more and more pilgrims to Laus. (At the present time, more than 120,000 travel there yearly.)
Like all visionaries, Benôite knew suffering and misunderstanding. After all, she was a simple peasant instructing priests on how to welcome penitents with kindness and charity in the Sacrament of Penance to encourage them to confess their sins and repent. Benôite also urged young girls and older women to be modest, sometimes correcting their dress or behavior. She became a Third Order Dominican and received visions of Jesus in His passion from 1669 to 1679. Among these five visions, Jesus told her once, “My daughter, I show myself in this state so that you can participate in My passion.” Benôite mystically participated in the sufferings of Christ for 15 years, enduring great pain starting every Thursday evening and continuing until Saturday morning. On Christmas Day 1718, she received holy Communion; on the feast of the Holy Innocents, she went to confession, received extreme unction and died. Bishop di Falco Leandri, in addition to urging the Vatican approval of the apparitions — the first approval in this century and the first approved in France since Lourdes — has also supported the cause for Benôite’s canonization.
Our Lady of Laus, Refuge of Sinners, pray for us!
Stephanie A. Mann writes from Kansas
For Catholics, two questions frequently come up in talking about the Mormon faith. Is it a Christian religion? And is Mormon baptism valid? Interestingly, those two questions are closely related…
For Catholics, two questions frequently come up in talking about the Mormon faith. Is it a Christian religion? And is Mormon baptism valid? Interestingly, those two questions are closely related and have been a concern to Church leaders over the last decade because of the controversial Mormon practice of baptizing the dead.
Who Was Joseph Smith?
The founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, was born in Vermont in 1805 and was living in New York when, in 1820, God the Father and Jesus Christ supposedly appeared to him and declared that he had been chosen to restore God’s kingdom on earth. Three years later, he claimed to have been visited by an angel named Moroni who revealed the existence of the authentic Gospel that had been taught by the Risen Christ to a lost branch of Israel residing in the Americas prior to the discovery of the New World by Columbus. He received this ancient record in 1827 on a set of golden plates, and the result of the translation was the Book of Mormon, published three years later at Palmyra, N.Y. Smith began preaching his new religion in western New York and northern Pennsylvania and soon after organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (today, often referred to as LDS) at Fayette, N.Y.
Smith and his followers found, not surprisingly, resistance to their new creed, and they were expelled from state after state. In June 1844, Smith was killed with his brother Hyrum by a mob in a jail in Carthage, Ill.
The remaining Mormons, led by Brigham Young, pushed westward and ultimately settled in Utah. In fact, one of the first encounters between Catholics and Mormons occurred in the fall of 1846, when the famed Jesuit missionary Pierre De Smet met the migrating Mormons near Council Bluffs, Mo. They asked many questions about his travels across the West and were much impressed with his description of the Great Salt Lake. Father De Smet did not claim that they chose Salt Lake to be their headquarters because of him, but choose it they did. They founded Salt Lake City and established themselves as a theocracy. Poor relations with the U.S. government over such issues as polygamy and the theocratic government climaxed in the Utah Mormon War (1857-1858), which ended with the arrival of a non-Mormon governor and the resignation of Young as head of both church and state. Utah entered the Union in 1896. Polygamy was finally abolished in 1890, with further prohibitions issued over the next years. Today, there are some 14 million members around the world, with Mormon missionaries sent out to many different countries.
Three Gods into One
In 2001, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) responded to a question about whether Mormon baptisms should be considered valid by Catholics. The answer was in the negative (see sidebar). And one of the main reasons for this conclusion was that LDS theology is polytheistic.
At first look, the baptismal formula used by Mormons appears Trinitarian: “Being commissioned by Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” However, as the CDF determined, this is not a true invocation of the Trinity, because the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in the teachings of the Latter-day Saints “are not the three persons in which subsists the one Godhead, but three gods who form one divinity. One is different from the other, even though they exist in perfect harmony” (L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, Aug. 1, 2001, Page 4).
As the CDF further pointed out, God the Father was once a mortal man from another planet who, through a series of progressions, achieved divinity. He and his wife, the heavenly mother, share the responsibility of creation and have sons in the spiritual world. Their firstborn son, Jesus Christ, equal to men, “has acquired his divinity in a pre-mortal existence. Even the Holy Spirit is the son of heavenly parents. The Son and the Holy Spirit were procreated after the beginning of the creation of the world known to us.”
The Celestial Kingdom
There are numerous other points of divergence between LDS and Catholic beliefs.
Mormons accept the idea of celestial marriage, a form of marriage that “seals” the husband and wife and their children together through eternity. The afterlife consists of a complex set of destinations for spirits, a Celestial Kingdom for the faithful and a spirit prison for sinners. The Celestial Kingdom is a three-tiered heaven: the highest heaven is for those believers sealed by celestial marriage; the second is for those who lived honorably but not heroically in their testimony of Christ; and the third is for unrepentant sinners. Even the sinners, however, will eventually be saved through the atonement of Christ, and sinners in the spirit prison and the lower levels of heaven may advance through accepting Mormon baptism. Missionary work also continues among those in spirit prison, which is why the Mormons famously baptize the dead by proxy.
These teachings, of course, are subject to some changes over time as the LDS believe in ongoing public revelation through the current leadership of the church, a notion entirely contrary to the Church’s clear teaching that public revelation ended with the death of the last apostle (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 66, 73), although private revelations can still be given which in no way change or correct the Faith.
Despite these differences, there is much cultural ground that Catholics find with the members of the LDS. Mormons are supportive of a strong family life and are noted for their opposition to abortion and gay marriage. These make for considerable points of commonality, and we should be mindful always to treat our Mormon sisters and brothers with charity and justice. As the CDF noted in its assessment of Mormon baptism: “Catholics and Mormons often find themselves working together on a range of problems regarding the common good of the entire human race. It can be hoped therefore that through further studies, dialogue and good will, there can be progress in reciprocal understanding and mutual respect.”
The Question of Mormon Baptism
LDS teaching denies both that baptism was instituted by Christ and the existence of original sin. Mormons perform baptism only for those have reached the age of reason and are at least 8 years old. Notably, they claim that infant baptism was one of the ways that the Church sank into apostasy in the first centuries and that Catholic baptisms are invalid.
In 2001, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responded to questions about the validity of Mormon baptisms in the negative. The response cited several problems with Mormon baptism:
The form: Because of the severe problems in the doctrine of the Trinity, the form was judged invalid.
The intention of the celebrating minister: Owing to the problems with the form and Mormon beliefs regarding baptism and original sin, the minister of the LDS cannot do what the Catholic Church does in conferring baptism.
The Mormon church also practices baptism for the dead, the belief that those who have died as non-Mormons can become Mormons in the afterlife through baptism by proxy. This is one reason why Mormons are so active in genealogy and also why in 2008 the Congregation for Clergy urged bishops around the world to refuse the Mormon genealogical society access to the parish registers as there is the risk that deceased Catholics might be “re-baptized.” This has also been condemned by other faiths, such as Jewish leaders who consider it dis-respectful to the dead, especially victims of the Holocaust.
Artists appear to have agreed to place the soldier’s wound on Christ’s right side (the viewer’s left), but an early carving shows the wound on the Savior’s left. Lucas Cranach…
Artists appear to have agreed to place the soldier’s wound on Christ’s right side (the viewer’s left), but an early carving shows the wound on the Savior’s left. Lucas Cranach (d. 1553) painted a crucified Christ without a wound and said he would add the detail if its position were revealed to him. As late as the 19th century, Eduard Manet represented Christ supported by angels, with a wounded left side.
Only St. John mentions Jesus’ head in his Gospel account, “bowing his head, he gave up his spirit” (Jn 19:30). Because we cannot determine the actual position of Jesus’ head when he died, artists have exercised some freedom when representing this aspect of the Crucified Christ.
That artists represent Christ’s head leaning to the right may reflect no more than a sensibility that the right is the more noble side. Or the artist may simply wish Christ’s head to echo the position of his wound. To show the wound on one side and Christ’s head leaning toward the other might prove distracting. We shall never know who established these conventions, but the expression on the Crucified Christ’s face reveals his love; that is what counts.
For centuries, the faithful have come to venerate the tomb of St. Walburga, a German Benedictine saint, from whose bones flow a liquid that is credited with miraculous healings. Nestled…
For centuries, the faithful have come to venerate the tomb of St. Walburga, a German Benedictine saint, from whose bones flow a liquid that is credited with miraculous healings.
Nestled in the hills of southern Germany in Eichstatt, St. Walburga Abbey greets pilgrims who come to pray around her tomb and receive some of the liquid known as St. Walburga oil. The oil has flowed from her bones for more than 1,000 years, starting in October and ending on Feb. 25, the saint’s feast in the Benedictine breviary. The Roman martyrology commemorates her feast on May 1.
Examples of St. Walburga’s intercession are numerous. Entering the chapel, pilgrims kneel around the balustrade that encircles the tomb where a shaft has been constructed to collect the “oil” in a silver cup.
The Benedictine nuns who care for the tomb and abbey collect the oil and place it into small glass vials that are given to the faithful.
Display cases that line the chapel walls hold wax body parts that indicate healings granted along with hundreds of pictures of the saint given to the abbey’s nuns in thanksgiving.
Feast of oil saints
St. Walburga is reckoned as the most famous of the oil-yielding saints — which include St. Nicholas of Myra, St. Andrew and more than two dozen others — because her bones are still emanating the oil the most frequently.
She was born in Devonshire about A.D. 710 and died in 777 in Heidenheim, where she had established a convent. From a saintly family, she was the daughter of St. Richard and the sister of St. Willibald, St. Winibald and St. Boniface, known as the apostle of Germany.
Devotion to her flourished soon after her death but was soon forgotten. By the late 800s, her tomb had fallen to neglect.
St. Walburga seems to have had other plans to still help the faithful on earth. Legend states that she appeared to Otkar, then bishop of Eichstatt, in a dream and asked why he allowed her tomb to be “trampled upon by the dirty feet of builders” during church reconstruction. The bishop had her moved ceremoniously to a new location, and miraculous cures were reported as her remains traveled along the route.
The saint’s tomb led to the founding in 1055 of what is now called St. Walburga Abbey. The order still flourishes and has offshoots in the United States.
Jennifer Lindberg writes from Indiana. This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor.