Wednesday, October 17, 2012

St. Ignatius of Antioch

In my last 7 Quick Takes post, I mentioned St. Ignatius of Antioch. Since today is his feast day, I will write a little more about why he is so interesting.

Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch sometime between 98 and 117, when Trajan was emperor.  This was one of the periods when the Roman empire was persecuting anyone who was identified as Christian, bishops probably being easy targets. On his way to Rome for a trial, and to be martyred, Ignatius wrote letters to various churches (kind of like how Paul did), and seven of them survive (if I wanted to look up what all of them were, maybe I'd do a 7 quick takes on them, but I don't feel like doing research for quick takes.)

The letter that I read for class was his letter to the Magnesians.  Here are some thematic highlights from it.

I. Church hierarchy and episcopal authority:
Ignatius stresses authority of the episcopal office in relation both in terms of the people who are subject to their Bishops and in terms of the Bishops being themselves subject to God.  He describes the people's submission to the bishop in a way that reminds me of how Paul describes being subject to Christ.  About the bishop, Ignatius instructs, "render him all respect according to the power of God the father... even the holy presbyters... yield to him in their godly prudence, yet not to him but to the Father of Jesus" (III.1).

Later, he shows the hierarchy of the bishops and presbyters as a symbol of Christ and the apostles, and also direct people to Pauline mutual love: "...with the bishop presiding in the place of God and the presbyters in the place of the Council of Apostles... Be then all in conformity with God, and respect one another... in everything love one another in Christ" (VI.1).

II. Adhere to Christianity:
Ignatius instructs his readers to adhere fully to the Christian faith, and not merely to be nominal Christians: "It is right, then, that we should be really Christians, and not merely have the name; even as there are some who recognize the bishop in their words, but disregard him in all their actions. Such men seem to me not to act in good faith, since they do not hold valid meetings according to the commandment" (IV.1). Isn't it interesting that this was seen as an issue even back then?  As a modern reader, the first thing I think of is someone saying "I'm Catholic" but living or behaving in a way that it contrary to Church teaching. But I wonder what else he may have been thinking of, with the persecutions and heresies going on at the time as well.

Along the same line of not being only nominally Christian, he cautions people against retaining the Jewish faith.  He's basically pointing out that at this point the Christian Church is a religion itself, and they are not a sect of Judaism.  He says, "for if we are living until now according to Judaism, we confess that we have not received grace" (VIII.1) and "It is monstrous to talk of Jesus Christ and to practice Judaism..." (X.1).

III. Avoid false teachings:
Ignatius cautions his readers against believing in heretical teachings: "...not to fall into the snare of vain doctrine, but to be convinced of the birth and passion and resurrection which took place... for these things were truly and certainly done by Jesus Christ, our hope, from which God grant that none of you be turned aside" (XI).  He seems to have included this specifically to warn against the docetist movement. The docetists denied that Jesus truly suffered and died, but that he only was appearing suffer.  So Ignatius is trying to specifically warn his readers about those who do not belief in the Lord's Passion.

These are my highlights of St. Ignatius of Antioch's letter to the Magnesians. It's not a very long letter, and is easy to read. Here are links to two different translations (neither of which I was quoting from):
An older translation and a newer translation.

My quotations are from Readings in World Christian History vol. I, edited by Coakley and Sterk.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Abortion and Waffles

When defending abortion in the public life, a man must typically make either one of two claims.  Either he will argue that abortion is not a moral evil, that it is either morally good or morally neutral and hence must be permitted, or else he will make a second, stranger claim.  His second option is to claim that though he personally accepts that abortion is a moral evil or that life begins at conception, he should not "impose" this belief on other people, hence he should promote and protect a person's ability to have an abortion.   

As far as the man who claims the abortion ought be legal because it is either morally neutral or morally good, I can respect, if not his belief itself, at least the consistency with which he holds it.  What I cannot respect at all, however, is the man who claims to believe that abortion is morally wrong, but that he "should" not impose this belief on others.  A man might as well claim that though he oppose slavery personally and thinks a slave is a person, he thinks it wrong impose that belief on slave owners.  Indeed, who is he to tell slave owners what to do with their property?  Such a man might as soon claim that though he thinks rape wrong, he thinks it wrong to impose this belief on others, or that though he believes theft or murder wrong, he should not impose this belief on others. 

Such a belief is absurd.  Either the fetus is a human being or is not.  If he is, then it is vain to claim that one does not think he can morally oppose the destruction of that person.  If the fetus is not a human being, then it is equally vain to claim that one personally thinks that the fetus is a human being.  In the former case, a man has a clear moral duty to prevent and oppose the evil act or abortion, in the latter case, he has a moral duty to support it, or at the very least not to oppose it.  

For a man to claim that he thinks abortion is morally wrong, but that he should not oppose it may not only be absurd, however, it may be outright contradictory. The claim seems to be this: abortion is morally wrong (because a fetus is a human being), but one should not impose that belief on others.  This is functionally equivelant to saying: "abortion is morally wrong, but one should not act to limit abortion and must continue to promote it."  

Where then the possible contradiction?  That lies in the use of the word "should"- one should not oppose abortion.  The word "should" implies moral obligation or duty.  Hence, in a man saying that abortion is morally wrong but he should support abortion, such a man is claiming that though abortion is morally wrong, he is morally obligated to support it, ie. that he is morally obligated to support an immoral act.  Since it is immoral to support an immoral act, this amounts to claiming that one is morally obligated to do an immoral action, which is probably simply contradictory.  

To claim that abortion is morally wrong, but that one should not "impose" this view on others amounts to moral waffling.   On this issue, though, there is no room for compromise, as there is no room for compromise on rape or murder.  Either the act is morally wrong, in which case one must oppose it, or it is morally permitted, in which case one must not hinder it.  What one may not find, is a convenient middle ground.  Here, none exists, and all the syrup in the world cannot make this waffling acceptable. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

7 Quick Takes #4- Church History edition

These are two days late and posted in a hurry. .

1. I am taking a Church History course at the Seminary that I work at, and I am finding it really interesting to learn about the early Church. Here are some highlights. The downside is that the seminary is Protestant, and even in studying the early Church, there is a very apparent Protestant viewpoint. Blessed John Henry Newman said, "To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant." I hope that throughout the course the students may come to understand the Catholic Church a little bit better than they do.

Here are some interesting highlights of things I've read in the course so far:

2. St. Ignatius of Antioch: If I only hear "St. Ignatius," I automatically think of the one from Loyola. Maybe having gone to a Jesuit college has something to do with this. Ignatius was the Bishop of Antioch during the reign of the emperor Trajan (98-117). Similar to the apostle Paul, he wrote letters to various Churches. He wrote seven of them (at least, seven survive) and they are how we know most of what we know about him.
My favorite line from Ignatius of Antioch to the Romans: "The greatness of Christianity lies in its being hated by the world, not in its being convincing to it." Great line. Fulton Sheen agreed

3. Correspondence of Pliny and Trajan: Pliny was a governor who was writing the emperor Trajan about how he should deal with Christians. What he had been doing was when Christians were reported to him, he asked them three times whether they were Christian, threatening punishment. If they did not give up Christianity, he had them executed for their "obstinacy." Trajan writes back to him saying that he has been doing the right things. A few interesting things Trajan points out is that it was not their intent to seek out Christians. They only accused and punished Christians who were reported to them by others.  Additionally, Trajan was willing for former Christians to be pardoned if they worshipped the Roman Gods.

4. St. Irenaeus of Lyons: Irenaeus lived toward the end of the 2nd century (d. ca. 200). He wrote an awesome treatise called Against Heresies. The main heresy he was refuting was Gnosticism, which was based on supposed "secret" knowledge from Jesus. He makes some very good points refuting it, and asserting the authority of the Church and the succession of Bishops. One pretty interesting thing is how he defers to the Bishop of Rome as having primacy, and to the Church of Rome as a doctrinal standard. (This was before the Bishop of Rome was officially given primacy as Pope.)

One of my favorite lines (ok, these are the harsher ones): "All who destroy the form of the Gospel are vain, unlearned, and also audacious... Wretched men indeed! Who wish to be pseudo-prophets..."
One more neat thing about Irenaeus: He is cited a few times in Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. That's' how important he is.

5. The Second Treatise of the Great Seth: This is a Gnostic text that shows how crazy Gnosticism was, and why Irenaeus was writing to refute it. The speaker claims to be Jesus Christ, but says all kinds of outlandish things. These particular Gnostics were clearly docetists, since the text tries to assert that Jesus only appeared to suffer as a human being. In numerous places, the speaker mocks the Old Testament God, as well as many of the OT prophets.

Interestingly, there are also a few spots where this text doesn't seem too far off, but the writer just has the general context of God and Jesus muddled. For instance, a marriage/wedding analogy comes up twice in this text. We're familiar with those! There is also a reference to after the Crucifixion that is almost right out of the Gospel narratives: "The veil of his temple he tore with his hands. It was a trembling which seized the chaos of the earth, for the souls which were in the sleep below were released."

6. Hippolytus of Rome: Hippolytus (d. ca. 236) was a presbyter who became for a time a schismatic Bishop of Rome (in opposition to Callistus, the real one). Before the end of his life, he did come back to the Church and was reconciled. He wrote the treatise, Apostolic Tradition, in which he describes early Baptismal liturgies. It is pretty similar to the current practice in some ways, which makes it interesting to read. And guess what is used in the liturgy? "The Lord be with you... and with your Spirit." Yes.

7. The Martyrdom of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity. This was pretty amazing. Perpetua was a young noblewoman who wrote part of her account herself. This is the first first-person account we have of a Christian woman. So, she was upper-class, and Felicity was her slave. They were both mothers. Perpetua had a baby boy, who she gave away to relatives. Felicity was pregnant when they were arrested, and after praying about it, she gave birth a month early so that she would be able to be martyred along with her fellow Christians. Perpetua was given a number of visions while in prison, one assuring her of her arrival in heaven after her martyrdom, and another showing her deceased brother having gone to heaven, out of purgatory after her intercession. (Yay, intercessory prayer!) Perpetua's story can be found here.  I highly recommend reading it!

Oops! I forgot to link to