1400-Year-Old Monastery

Posted in Historical Doctrines on October 1, 2008 by Sarah Long

HT: The Way of the Fathers

A 6th-century monastery has been found in Iraq. You really should click that link and read the Smithsonian article because this is fascinating stuff. There are a few things I want to highlight for my own purposes:

Inside the plain walls of the chapel, one shell-shaped niche is decorated with intricate carvings and an Aramaic inscription asks for prayers of the soul of the person interred beneath the walls. Shades of a cobalt blue fresco can be found above the stepped altar. (snip)

After World War I, the monastery became a refugee center, according to chaplain and resident historian Geoff Bailey, a captain with the 86th Combat Support hospital. Christians supposedly still came once a year in November to celebrate the feast of St. Elijah (also the name of the monastery’s founding monk).

We have a monastery from the late 500’s, founded by a monk named St. Elijah, with frescos above the altar, and a request for prayers to prayed by the deceased at a grave. Monasticism, saints, images, altars, praying to the dead.

Almost all non-Catholics (Anglicans and Episcopals excepted, I think) would claim that these are all signs of gross apostacy. Yet many of these same non-Catholics would claim that the Church did not apostatize until the 1000’s or later. How, in the absence of any evidence that any orthodox Christians saw these practices as apostacy, and in the presence of their widespread use throughout history, and in the presence of explicit defenses of these practices by orthodox Christians, can these Protestants claim to practice the true ancient faith? If you’re going to say that these practices are un-orthodox, you must also say the Church apostatized sometime before this monastery was built. And this is just ONE monastery. There are scores more, and much, much more such evidence in other places. (The catacombs for one example.)

The Orthodox Church is the only other contender even in the ballpark for the title of The Historic Church. This is precisely the sort of thing that brought me to the Catholic Church.


God Does Not “Overlook” Our Sin

Posted in Doctrine, My Journey on August 31, 2008 by Sarah Long

Growing up in the Church of Christ, I thought that after baptism, every time I sinned, I had to pray to God for forgiveness. In response, the ever-patient and forgiving God would wipe my slate clean (the slate on which He kept track of my demerits) because of His inexplicable love for me. So every time I prayed for forgiveness, I was starting over – getting a second chance. One of the most difficult things to understand was why God would be willing to pass out “second” chances when we all knew I was on chance number five million. It was my job to stop sinning. Sanctification was understood in terms of the most basic definition of the word – a setting apart. So when God sanctified me, He excluded me from the class of people who are the “world” and included me instead in the class of people who make up his church. So I lost my sanctification every time I sinned and was re-sanctified every time I was forgiven.

When I became a Calvinist, I believed something a bit different. I believed that God had chosen me specifically (and many other people) out of the entire human family to be saved from my sin. I believed that because I was one of the chosen ones, it was impossible for me to die without having repented of all sin. The repentance and forgiveness still worked basically the same way in my new belief system. The reason God kept giving me chances was that He had chosen to save me, and His will would prevail even over my sinfulness. My sanctification was something that God was working out in my life so that I will sin less and less as my life goes on. However, I could not expect to reach complete sanctification in this life.

Now that I’m Catholic, I understand this entire process differently. I do not believe that God ever “overlooks” my sin. He forgives it, yes. But He doesn’t ever pretend it doesn’t exist or that it didn’t happen. He looks unflinchingly on what I am and sees both what I was designed to be and the horror that I have become. God works my sanctification, declaring me righteous only after I become truly holy. My holiness may be achieved in this life or after it (in Purgatory), but it will be achieved. (This, incidentally, is why I find Purgatory comforting, rather than scary.) The good news of Christianity is that it’s not my job to make myself perfect, but God’s. And the great promise is that God will not give up on my sanctification.

Poor in Spirit

Posted in Books, I couldn't have said it better on August 18, 2008 by Sarah Long

From Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI, in the section on the Beatitudes.

The poverty of which this tradition speaks is never a purely material phenomenon. Purely material poverty does not bring salvation, though of course those who are disadvantaged in this world may count on God’s goodness in a particular way. But the heart of those who have nothing can be hardened, poisoned, evil — interiorly full of greed for material things, forgetful of God, covetous of external possessions.

On the other hand, the poverty spoken of here is not a purely spiritual attitude, either. Admittedly, not everyone is called to the radicalism with which so many true Christians — from Anthony, father of monasticism, to Francis of Assisi, down to the exemplary poor of our era — have lived and continue to live their poverty as a model for us. But in order to be the community of Jesus’ poor, the Church has constant need of the great ascetics. She needs the communities that follow them, living out poverty and simplicity so as to display to us the truth of the Beatitudes. She needs them to wake everyone up to the fact that possession is all about service, to contrast the culture of affluence with the culture of inner freedom, and thereby to create the conditions for social justice as well.

The Sermon on the Mount is not a social program per se, to be sure. But it is only when the great inspiration it gives us vitally influences our thought and our action, only when faith generates the strength of renunciation and responsibility for our neighbor and for the whole of society — only then can social justice grow, too

Sola Scriptura vs. Scripture Solo

Posted in I couldn't have said it better, Sola Scriptura on July 14, 2008 by Sarah Long

Bryan at Principium Unitatis put up a great post on how Sola Scriptura necessarily reduces to Scripture Solo.

The Historicity of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity

Posted in Historical Doctrines on July 13, 2008 by Sarah Long

One of the first exclusively-Catholic teachings that I encountered is the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary. I was unaware until just a few years ago that the Church even taught this. It surprised me. I don’t want to deal in this post with whether this doctrine is true or Biblical. I want only to address it’s historicity.

This is one of the most ancient beliefs. I did a bit of research on this a few months ago. I made a short list of resources that are easily available on the internet for anyone to read.

1. The entire Protoevangelium of James. The purpose of the writing seems to be to defend Mary’s perpetual virginity and to relate some of the history of Christ’s earthly family. The earliest known manuscript of this is from the 3rd or 4th century. Scholars date it to about 140. A few highlights:

Mary was dedicated to God:

From 4 “And Anna said: As the Lord my God liveth, if I beget either male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God; and it shall minister to Him in holy things all the days of its life.”

From 7 “And the child was two years old, and Joachim said: Let us take her up to the temple of the Lord, that we may pay the vow that we have vowed, lest perchance the Lord send to us, and our offering be not received. And Anna said: Let us wait for the third year, in order that the child may not seek for father or mother. And Joachim said: So let us wait.”

She was formally “married” to Joseph.

From 9 “And the priest said to Joseph, Thou hast been chosen by lot to take into thy keeping the virgin of the Lord. … And Joseph was afraid, and took her into his keeping. And Joseph said to Mary: Behold, I have received thee from the temple of the Lord; and now I leave thee in my house, and go away to build my buildings, and I shall come to thee. The Lord will protect thee.”

She and Joseph were suspected, but found innocent, of having marital relations.

From 16 “And the priest said: I will give you to drink of the water of the ordeal of the Lord, and He shall make manifest your sins in your eyes. And the priest took the water, and gave Joseph to drink and sent him away to the hill-country; and he returned unhurt. And he gave to Mary also to drink, and sent her away to the hill-country; and she returned unhurt. And all the people wondered that sin did not appear in them. And the priest said: If the Lord God has not made manifest your sins, neither do I judge you. And he sent them away. And Joseph took Mary, and went away to his own house, rejoicing and glorifying the God of Israel.”

A midwife verified that Mary remained physically virginal after Jesus’ birth

From 19 and 20 “And the midwife went forth out of the cave, and Salome met her. And she said to her: Salome, Salome, I have a strange sight to relate to thee: a virgin has brought forth — a thing which her nature admits not of. Then said Salome: As the Lord my God liveth, unless I thrust in my finger, and search the parts, I will not believe that a virgin has brought forth. And the midwife went in, and said to Mary: Show thyself; for no small controversy has arisen about thee. And Salome put in her finger, and cried out, and said: Woe is me for mine iniquity and mine unbelief, because I have tempted the living God; and, behold, my hand is dropping off as if burned with fire.”

2. Jerome’s Against Helvidius. This is another work composed for the purpose of defending the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary. The whole thing is too good, and too much to the point, for me to pull out quotes. Please read it

3. Augustine’s On Holy Virginity: The purpose of this writing is to defend the practice of consecrated virginity. In at least two places, Augustine refers to Mary’s perpetual virginity.

In 2 Augustine says that the church is a virgin as Mary is a virgin. “Whereas, therefore, the whole Church itself is a virgin espoused unto one Husband Christ, as the Apostle says, of how great honor are its members worthy, who guard this even in the flesh itself, which the whole Church guards in the faith? which imitates the mother of her husband, and her Lord. For the Church also is both a mother and a virgin. For whose purity consult we for, if she is not a virgin? or whose children address we, if she is not a mother? Mary bare the Head of This Body after the flesh, the Church bears the members of that Body after the Spirit. In both virginity hinders not fruitfulness: in both fruitfulness takes not away virginity.”

In 4 Augustine claims that Mary’s dedicated virginity is an example to all dedicated virgins throughout the history of the church. “Her virginity also itself was on this account more pleasing and accepted, in that it was not that Christ being conceived in her, rescued it beforehand from a husband who would violate it, Himself to preserve it; but, before He was conceived, chose it, already dedicated to God, as that from which to be born. This is shown by the words which Mary spoke in answer to the Angel announcing to her her conception; ‘How,’ says she, ‘shall this be, seeing I know not a man?’ Which assuredly she would not say, unless she had before vowed herself unto God as a virgin. But, because the habits of the Israelites as yet refused this, she was espoused to a just man, who would not take from her by violence, but rather guard against violent persons, what she had already vowed. Although, even if she had said this only, ‘How shall this take place?’ and had not added, ‘seeing I know not a man,’ certainly she would not have asked, how, being a female, she should give birth to her promised Son, if she had married with purpose of sexual intercourse. She might have been bidden also to continue a virgin, that in her by fitting miracle the Son of God should receive the form of a servant, but, being to be a pattern to holy virgins, lest it should be thought that she alone needed to be a virgin, who had obtained to conceive a child even without sexual intercourse, she dedicated her virginity to God, when as yet she knew not what she should conceive, in order that the imitation of a heavenly life in an earthly and mortal body should take place of vow, not of command; through love of choosing, not through necessity of doing service. Thus Christ by being born of a virgin, who, before she knew Who was to be born of her, had determined to continue a virgin, chose rather to approve, than to command, holy virginity. And thus, even in the female herself, in whom He took the form of a servant, He willed that virginity should be free.”

This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but it makes the point: This doctrine was held by the very early Church and is attested by some of the “biggest names” among the church fathers.

The Title of this Blog…

Posted in Uncategorized on June 26, 2008 by Sarah Long

…contains a mistake. It should be habemus papam. Darn.

My Journey

Posted in My Journey on June 22, 2008 by Sarah Long

I was raised in the Church of Christ. All Churches of Christ believe in a congregational form of church government – meaning there is no higher office than the local elder and the local elder is answerable directly to God, not to any man or board. They all claim to be the first-century church – either a reincarnation of it, or a continuance of it. They all teach that for the church to be what it should, our only guide should be the bible. My family attended only non-institutional congregations. This means that we taught that any formal cooperation between congregations is unscriptural. We believed that it is sinful to use the church’s money to help institutions, such as orphans homes or missionary boards/societies. Some people have pejoratively called these groups “anti” and their members “antis”.

I went to Florida College, which is officially and financially NOT associated with any church, but all of the faculty and almost all of the students are members of the non-institutional Church of Christ. I met my husband there. A year or two after graduation, we were married by a Church of Christ preacher in his house. We moved around a good bit the first few years while my husband was in school. Eventually he finished school and was offered a job in the suburbs. He took the job and we’ve been in the same area since then.

When we moved to this area, we found a “sound” (non-institutional) Church of Christ and visited once or twice and then placed our membership there. We attended there for several years. During that time, my husband was on the rotation of men that would preach once a month, and he also filled in sometimes when the preacher went out of town. After a few years, he decided he needed to be preaching more often and he found a preaching job at a small Church of Christ in the area. We moved to be closer to their meeting place. He preached there for a year. Toward the end of our year there, we became convinced that it was unscriptural for a church to own a building. (If it’s unscriptural to use church money to fund an orphans home because we can’t find that in the bible, then it must be unscriptural to have a church building, because that isn’t in the bible, either.) Because of this issue and a heavy dose of family politics, we were asked to leave that church. For some months we met in homes with two other families. We eventually realized that our house church didn’t really function like a church because it couldn’t. We went back to the church we’d found when we first moved to this area, and we bought a house within a 15 minute drive of that church.

One of the major themes in my journey is the status of women. We were always raised to believe that a wife should submit to her husband. This is de rigour for the Church of Christ. We were also always taught that people should dress modestly. We took these to extremes. At some point I began wearing only long dresses or skirts. When our daughters were born, we dressed them in long dresses exclusively, from birth. I grew my hair as long as it would grow. For a time, I wore a headcovering everywhere I went. After some time, I wore one only in church. I read Me, Obey Him? and took it to heart. I believed that I should obey my husband even when he asked me to break the law. I believed that God would protect me from sin if I simply obeyed my husband. I encouraged other women to obey their husbands the same way and to dress very conservatively.

Sometime during the time we were away from the church we attended when we first moved to this area, I became Calvinist. I read Romans 9, without blinders on, and recognized that God is much more sovereign than I had believed. I was also heavily influenced by Credenda/Agenda and Doug Wilson. Eventually, my husband also came to believe that Calvinism was true. We found a church in our area. This church had two other families and met in the pastor’s home. This church was working toward becoming a member of the Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches. I won’t go into much detail about our time there. I will say that they encouraged us to relax our standards of dress some, and they encouraged us to strengthen our ideas about a man’s leadership and headship in the home. They had been heavily influenced by Bill Gothard. And it wasn’t long before I realized I did not want to be there.

The pastor there found the ex-church of Christ website and shared the link with us. It was there that I first “met” some Catholics who were adept at defending their faith. It didn’t take me long to realize that almost everything I had been taught about the Catholic Church, whether from the Church of Christ or from the Reformed, was incorrect. I had been miserably misinformed. I read some of the writings of the earliest Christians – Irenaeus, the Didache, the Protoevangelium of James, and others. And it was obvious that the Catholic Church is truly the historic church. I studied various scriptures again, and was convinced. I needed to become Catholic.

I started RCIA in the fall of 2007 and was received into the Church at the Easter vigil 2008. This caused an unbelievable strain on my marriage, as my husband remains Reformed. We have fought terribly over this, and over where our children should go to church. Eventually, on the advice of my priest, we now attend both my Catholic parish, and my husband’s PCA congregation. I pray for my husband, and I’m sure he prays for me.

Whew! That took longer than I expected. I intend to go into more detail about doctrine and faith in future posts.