Catechism / Biblical Studies

Command 8 Do Not Bear False Witness

Vatican II Declaration of Religious Freedom, Blog 4, Debates at Vatican II

Religious liberty was a controversial topic, religious liberty was either comforting or threatening to the faith, depending on the region. In America, religious freedom was a guaranteed constitutional right that helped Christianity thrive. In Latin American, aggressively polemic American evangelicals were eager to poach the Catholic faithful. In the communist Eastern bloc, the persecuted Church dreamed of guaranteed rights to religious liberty so the Church could thrive. In continental Europe, many Catholics equated religious liberty with the ideas of the French Revolution and its hatred of all things religious. In Italy and Spain the Catholic Church was granted preferential treatment by the state, would a new emphasis on religious liberty lead to a loss of faith in these countries? […]

Command 8 Do Not Bear False Witness

Luther on Do Not Bear False Witness Against Your Neighbor

Luther starts his Large Catechism commentary on this commandment memorably, “Besides our own body, our wife or husband, and our temporal property, we have one more treasure which is indispensable to us, namely, our honor and good name, for it is intolerable to live among men in public disgrace and contempt.” Our reputation is our most precious possession, more important than baubles and gold, every man wants “to maintain his self-respect before his wife, children, servants, and neighbors.” […]

Command 8 Do Not Bear False Witness

Vatican II Declaration of Religious Freedom, Blog 3, American vs European History

For Americans, what is puzzling is why a Declaration of Religious Freedom not be an obvious right, why would bishops argue over this decree over three sessions of Vatican II, and why would it need to go through six drafts before being approved? The United States was the first major country to guarantee the freedom of religion in our founding documents, and the American bishops led by John Courtney Murray led the Council in the formulation of the final drafts on religious freedoms.

To understand the controversy over the doctrine of religious liberty we need to review European history from classical times to modern times. In future years we plan a series of more in-depth blogs in this interesting history, here we will review the broad brush of history as it relates to religious history. This is general knowledge so we will forgo footnotes, instead I will provide links for the various Great Courses that IMHO best pertain to these topics. Painting history with such a broad brush may reveal more about my own personal beliefs than the actual history, hopefully it will spark your curiosity to study further these topics so you can come to your own conclusions. […]

Command 8 Do Not Bear False Witness

Vatican II Declaration of Religious Freedom, Blog 2, Dignitatis Humanae

In Murray’s words, the final decree denies the concept of a “double standard, freedom for the Church where Catholics are a minority, privilege for the Church and intolerance for others when Catholics are a majority.” Murray describes freedom of religion as three tiers. First, religious liberty is a human right and a personal freedom and a collective freedom for the citizenry. Second, religious liberty is a political doctrine on the functions and limits of government in religious affairs. Finally, religious liberty is a theological doctrine that governs the relationship between the Church and the state. […]

Catholic Catechism

Vatican II Declaration of Religious Freedom, Blog 1, Pacem In Terris

What has also not changed is the fact that the moral laws apply to all people, no matter their rank in society. Many modern men are deluded into believing that the moral law only binds individual men to behave properly to one another, but Pacem in Terris reaffirms that the moral law also applies to relationships between men and the state, and to international disputes and behavior between states, and between states and international institutions like the UN and the World Bank and the IMF.

Also affirmed, “man has a right to live,” he has a right to live with dignity, with sufficient “food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and necessary social services,” to be cared for when he is sick, disabled, widowed, elderly, or when he cannot earn a living through no fault of his own. Man should be guaranteed freedom from harassment, freedom of speech, and be enabled to get a good education and realize his potential regardless of his class or wealth. […]

Eastern / Early Church Fathers

Ladder of Divine Ascent

Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 1, Blog 1, On Renunciation of the World

Many pray for show, and John Climacus knows this. How a brother in the monastery treats those around him as a window into the true state of his soul. He who truly Loves God treats his brothers with respect and kindness and humility. He who truly Loves God repents of his failings when he treats his brothers poorly. Indeed, when John Climacus advises those who live in the world on how to live the solitary life, he doesn’t emphasize prayer and fasting, but rather he cares more how they treat their neighbors:

“Some people living carelessly in the world have asked me:
‘We have wives and are beset with social cares, and how can we lead the solitary life?’

I replied to them: ‘Do all the good you can; do not speak evil of anyone; do not steal from anyone; do not lie to anyone; do not be arrogant to anyone; do not hate anyone; do not be absent from the Divine Services; be compassionate to the needy; do not offend anyone; do not wreck another man’s domestic happiness, and be content with what your own wives can give you. If you behave in this way, you will not be far from the Kingdom of Heaven.’”
[…]

Early Church Writing

The Church Fathers Preach Against the Judaizers

John Chrysostom is the most strident of the early Church writers in his writings opposing the Judaizers where he warned his flock that Christians should not adopt Jewish customs and practices, that Christians needed to celebrate the Church festivals rather than the Jewish festivals, that Christians should not attend services at the synagogue. His work “Against the Judaizers” is so polemic that it is far more anti-Semitic than the writings of Barnabas and St Justin Martyr and many other church fathers, it is painful for us modern readers to read, we who remember the horrific events of the Holocaust. This work is not in the standard collection of the works of the Nicene and Anti-Nicene Fathers, but it was widely read in medieval times and afterward, and unfortunately was used to justify the European and Russian pogroms and persecutions against the Jews.[2]

One scholar who has pondered the problems posed polemic stands against the Judaizers by St John Chrysostom and also St Cyril is Robert Wilken. In this book “John Chrysostom and the Jews,” he explores the history of the early church to better understand the world of the early Church Fathers. We cannot totally excuse the errors in the teachings of the early Church Fathers, but neither can we blindly judge and condemn them for not knowing the lessons of the Holocaust. There is nothing wrong with reading the Church Fathers as they apply to our modern world, but particularly in this case we should also let the Church Fathers in their ancient historical context, we need to do both lest we have a distorted understanding of the history of our faith. […]

Ladder of Divine Ascent

Ladder of Divine Ascent, Introduction

Marriage is a monastic calling. Marriages are only truly happy when each spouse puts the needs of the other first. Marriages are truly happy where the love each spouse has for the other is like the love St Paul describes, patient, kind, not jealous or boastful, not rejoicing in the wrong but rejoicing in the right, bearing all, believing always, hoping always, enduring everything, never failing.

Work, career and schooling are monastic callings. To get a good job, we spend many years of schooling to learn our trade or profession. If we spend all our school years partying and not studying, we pay for our lack of attention for the rest of our lives. To keep our job, we need to keep our bosses and customers happy. Even when know they are wrong, we bite our tongues and endure, because we work for them, and they are often right anyway. Our job is to serve them. If we mistakenly think they are there to serve us, we will have no job. If the company loses sight of their customers’ needs, the company itself may eventually bankrupt itself.

Child rearing is a monastic pursuit. When children are small they demand your attention, and sometimes they cry and you don’t know why. You can spend fun time with your children when they are little, playing with them and taking them places, or you can spend anguished time with them later, answering to judges and policemen. St Paul in Timothy teaches us that mothers are saved through child rearing if they lead a godly life. We are all saved if we put the needs and desires of others ahead of our own selfishness. […]

Ladder of Divine Ascent

Ladder of Divine Ascent, Personal Reflection

Bad habits and bad habits are incredibly difficult to even see in our souls. Changing bad habits and attitudes are is even more difficult. We can spot the bad habits and attitudes in others, but we rarely see them in ourselves. If others point out our bad habits, often we deny them. The deeper the truth that is seen, the deeper is our hurt, and the more vehemently will we deny our faults.

The Ladder of Divine Ascent is about developing the spiritual discipline needed to change bad habits and bad attitudes. This discipline is born of our repentance. Our sins and the consequences we suffer are our fault, and we should repent. Even when they are not our fault, they especially are our fault, or they may be caused by sins in prior generations long forgotten but never properly buried. Through our sufferings we work out our salvation.

The Ladder of Divine Ascent teaches us that when we Love God when we love our neighbor. When we rehabilitate our relationships with those close to us, our spouse, our family, our bosses, our co-workers, our teachers; that is when we begin to Love God. For most of us the most important and most difficult relationship is our relationship with our spouse. […]

Philokalia Volume 1

St Mark the Ascetic, Blog 2, No Righteousness By Works

St Mark the Ascetic teaches us, “when we fulfill the commandments in our outward actions, we receive from the Lord what is appropriate; but any real benefit we gain depends on our inward intention.” When we live a godly life, the immediate reward is the living of a godly life. Salvation is promised in the next life for living a godly life, as St Mark the Ascetic teaches us, “fear of hell and love for God’s kingdom enable us patiently to accept affliction; and this they do, not by themselves, but through Him who knows our thoughts.”

However, salvation can also be attained in this life when we are transformed into godly people, adopted sons of our Father in Heaven. Luke reminds us, “once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ’The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’”

St Mark continues, “Christ is Master by virtue of His own essence and Master by virtue of his incarnate life. For He creates man from nothing, and through His own Blood redeems him when dead in sin; and to those who believe in Him He has given His grace. When Scripture says ‘He will reward every man according to his works’, do not imagine that works in themselves merit either hell or the kingdom. On the contrary, Christ rewards each man according to whether his works are done with faith or without faith in Himself; and He is not a dealer bound by contract, but God our Creator and Redeemer.” […]

Western Church Fathers / St Augustine

St Augustine

St Augustine on the Beatitudes

St Augustine tells us the fate of those who hear God’s words and does them, and then for emphasis those who do not, hearing is not enough, the words must be planted in our soul and bear fruit in our actions and deeds.

Who are the poor in spirit in the first beatitude, “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God?” St Augustine teaches us that the poor in spirit are those who “are humble and God fearing,” whose spirit is not proud, not puffed up by the wind. St Augustine contrasts this with the spirit of the proud, in a passage quoted by the Catholic Catechism[2], that though the “proud seek after and love the kingdoms of the earth” while the poor in spirit possess the kingdom of heaven. […]

St Augustine

St Augustine on Catechizing the Uninstructed, Blog 2

If you seek to become a Christian for social or temporal reasons you may backslide from the faith when you see “wicked and impious men” who are more prosperous than you are.  You may ask yourself, How is this faith helping me?  This is the wrong question, for the true Christian seeks “everlasting blessedness and the perpetual rest of the saints so he may not pass into eternal fire with the devil but rather enter into the Eternal Kingdom together with Christ.  He will be on his guard in every temptation, so we will neither be corrupted by prosperity nor be utterly broken in spirit by adversity, but remain modest and temperate during good times, and be brave and patient during times of tribulation.”  Then this Christian will “Love God more than he fears hell,” and he will recoil from evil thoughts and temptations. […]

St Augustine

St Augustine on Catechizing the Uninstructed, Blog 1

In all his writings St Augustine reminds us that the core of our faith is the commands to Love God with all of our heart and with all of our soul and with all of our mind and with all of our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  In this work on catechesis St Augustine teaches that the vice that ruins love, the vice that is the enemy of love is envy, and that the mother of envy is pride.  This section is referenced in the Catholic Catechism teaching on the Commandment, Do Not Covet. […]

St Augustine

St Augustine’s Treatise on the Faith and the Creed

This discourse on the Apostle’s Creed was delivered by St Augustine to a local church council in North Africa.  In this treatise he repeats his classical explanation of the Trinity:
The Father is truly God, the Son is truly God, and the Holy Spirit is truly God.
The Father is not sometimes the Son, and the Father is not sometimes the Holy Spirit, and God is One.  We have God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, but “there are not three Gods in that Trinity, but One God and one substance.” […]

Greek / Stoic Philosophers

Stoic Philosophers

The Stoic Socrates of Xenophon

Xenophon’s Socrates definitely sounds Stoic, he sought to die the good Stoic death. “Socrates was so arrogant in court that he invited the juror’s ill-will and more or less forced them to condemn him. His fate was proper to one loved by the gods, because he both avoided the most difficult part of life and gained the easiest of deaths. His fortitude was obvious, since he decided death was the better option, he showed no weakness in the face of death, but awaited it cheerfully.” […]

Plato

Sentencing and Execution of Socrates in Apology and Crito, Blog 2

In the end of his speech to the jurors who will decide whether he will live or die, he says, “Judges, be of good cheer about death, and know for certain that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death.” Socrates is forgiving. “I am not angry with my condemners, or with my accusers; they have done me no harm. Although the did not mean to do me any good; for this I gently blame them.” […]

Plato

Trial of Socrates in Apology and Crito, Blog 1

How do you encourage your neighbor to grow in wisdom without preaching to him? The Platonic method is the dialectic, the Socratic Dialogue, questions and answers to encourage the citizen to think. The method used by the Gospels is the parable, similar in function to the Delphic Oracle, that also entices the listener to think through questions of right and wrong, justice and virtue. Plato does not use parables as often, but he does use parables very effectively, the most famous parable in the history of philosophy is his Allegory of the Cave in the Republic. […]

Plato

Plato: Euthyphro, Who Won’t Listen

Socrates has been charged by the citizens of Athens of impiety, of corrupting the youth, and in preparation he must go to the porch of the King Archon. There he meets his friend, Euthyphro, and they converse about the serious charges filed against Socrates, and the serious charges Euthyphro intends against, surprisingly, his very own father. Socrates senses that his friend has little idea of the consequences of this action, and that his youthful haste may lead to a miserable and penurious future, and that his friend has pondered little of this drastic action. […]

Early Church Writing

St Justin Martyr’s Second Apology to Senate, Quoting Xenophon’s Socrates, Blog 2

Justin compares Jesus to Socrates, who was accused of the same crimes as the Christians, being accused of atheism and impiety, and of corrupting the youth.  The Greeks accused Socrates “of introducing new divinities, and did not consider those to be gods that the state recognized.  In the Republic he cast out from the state both Homer and the rest of the poets, and taught men to reject the wicked demons and those who did the things which the poet related.”  The early Church Fathers, including Justin, did not deny the existence of the pagan gods, rather they saw them as demons active in the world.  But Jesus was mightier than Socrates, whereas “no one trusted in Socrates so as to die for his doctrine,” many willingly believes and are martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ. […]

Ancient History

Ordinary Life in the Ancient World

Marriage and Family Life In Ancient Greece, Rome, and Israel

We in the modern world are so quick to condemn the ancients for misogyny, for not treating women as equals, for subjugating women, we forget how dangerous it was to be a woman in the ancient world. Indeed, those in the ancient world would be puzzled by these accusations, they would reply that their entire culture is built around the need to protect women, for it was dangerous for pretty women to be wandering about town for any reason, rape was a constant threat, women were sequestered partially for their protection. The Hebrews in the Old Testament culture did not sequester women quite as much as the Greeks, many of the stories in the Old Testament describe how romances center around the wells where the women draw water for their flocks. This was true even in the middle ages, St Francis and his monks could choose to minister to the townspeople, but St Claire and her nuns were always cloistered. […]

Ordinary Life in the Ancient World

Slaves in Ancient Greece and Rome, Blog 2

Slavery in the ancient world was not based solely on race like in the Confederate South. Slavery in the ancient world happened to you when your city was conquered or when you were kidnapped by pirates. When a city was defeated the women and children were often enslaved, the men were often slaughtered, though sometimes they were enslaved to work in the mines. Or if you could not pay your bills you could be sold into slavery. […]

Ordinary Life in the Ancient World

Slaves in the Ancient World, Blog 1, Were Slaves the Employees of the Ancient World?

We are tempted to view slavery as something that went away with the Civil War, that with regards to slavery the modern world is so morally superior to the ancient world. The truth is that there were no employees in the ancient world, that slaves in the ancient worlds did the work that employees are hired to do in today’s world.

To understand the role of slaves in the ancient world we have a totally distorted picture when we only focus on the moral wrong of owning another person, treating servants like talking draft animals. The other aspect of slavery is paying someone such low wages that they cannot feed their family with dignity, that they feel like they live forever on the edge of the abyss, where the slightest crisis could force them to live in the streets. Someone who earns starvation wages is very much a modern-day slave. […]

Ordinary Life in the Ancient World

Ordinary Life and Justice in the Ancient World

The ancient world is very different from the modern world. We in the modern world view life is sacred, today we expect our children to survive until old age, because modern medicine ensures a long healthy life to most of us. If I had lived in the ancient world, I would have died as a teenager from appendicitis. In the ancient world, parents often did not name their children until they were a few weeks old due to the high infant mortality rate. Only half of children survived to adulthood, some scholars estimate that only one in ten survived to a ripe old age.
[…]

Civil Rights & Modern History

Vichy France, Blog 4, Christianity in Vichy France

Facism

Hitler shrewdly allowed the rump Vichy regime nominal autonomy in the third of France that was unoccupied by German troops. Marshal Petain and the Vichy regime had moral legitimacy in the early years of the war. Since the church teaches that the political authorities should be respected, the regime had the support of the elderly bishops throughout the war. The British were urging the French to fight on, from North Africa if necessary, but the Church Hierarchy felt that an attitude of repentance and acceptance was more appropriate. The humiliation of the German conquest was seen as an opportunity for moral and religious transformation. […]

Vichy France, Blog 3, The Tide Turns, Resistance and Collaboration

Facism

Now that Russia was again an enemy of Germany, the Communists in France faced greater pressure, causing more Communists to join the Resistance which actively opposed the Germans and the Vichy French, and also greater cooperation between Catholics and Communists in France that would last into the post-war years. Terrorism and assassinations of German officials increased, and the Vichy officials were drawn into the struggle against the Resistance, which was now a civil war.

Now the Vichy officials heard a new excuse when they urged the Germans to see them as partners rather than as conquered, the Germans were now far too busy on the Eastern front to attend to matters in Europe, the French would have to wait until the end of the war to negotiate a permanent peace.

The German persecution of the Jews in France increased in 1942, Jews were required to wear yellow stars, and Himmler ordered that 100,000 Jews from all of France be deported to the Auschwitz death camps, foreign born Jews first. The Vichy officials offered token resistance.[3] This persecution extended to clergy who assisted the Jews, many French priests would be murdered in the Dachau concentration camp, many of the faithful would become martyrs in their defense of the Jews. One nun commented as she sent to the death camp in Ravensbruk, “I am leaving for Heaven.” […]

Facism

Vichy France, Blog 2, Collaborating with the Germans in the Early Years, 1940-1942

The war in France seemed over in 1940, with Germany in control of the continent, the French were asking, how would it be possible for England to fight back? Hitler was quite willing to accept a lenient armistice, lenient on his terms, Hitler did not want the French government to flee to continue the war from Algeria.

Marshall Petain announced over the radio, “With a heavy heart, I tell you that it is necessary to stop the fighting.” Charles de Gaulle remembered bitterly, “Not a single public figure raised his voice to condemn the armistice.” In hindsight we all know the Nazis lost the war, but in 1940 most French expected a final peace conference in a matter of months. Marshal Petain won the gratitude of most French who thought he had saved them from the abyss of another war in the trenches of France.

The Nazis occupied the northeast two-thirds of France, including Paris, but left the French Vichy regime to govern the rest France in relative autonomy. Soon the borders hardened between the occupied France and Vichy France. Although the Vichy leaders technically had jurisdiction over all of France, they were not even allowed to travel to Paris. Although some were eventually released, two million French POW’s were held in prison camps in Germany throughout the war, and the French had to pay most of their taxes to Germany as reparations to pay for the occupation forces. The German speaking provinces of Alsace-Lorraine were annexed by Germany. The French were eager to negotiate a permanent peace, but Hitler was not so eager. Again and again Hitler would tell the Vichy leaders that they needed to wait for the end of the war to end for a settlement. […]

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I was born and baptized and confirmed as a Lutheran. When I was in my twenties I read some of Luther’s works, and although his theological works were well written, seemingly well thought out, what [...]