Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Rapture, the Antichrist, and the Second Coming of Christ – Pt. 1

In my next post, we will get into a biblical critique of the popular “Rapture” theology we find mostly among Evangelical, Fundamentalist, and Pentecostal Christians, but before we do that I would like to respond to a question I often get when talking about this question in general.

“What’s the big deal?”

In other words, so what if these confused Protestants have their beliefs about this aspect of eschatology awry. That’s not going to hurt anybody, is it?

In fact, I argue, Dispensationalist theology is dangerous for many reasons, but one of them can be seen in their view of the Antichrist. Now, for those who may not know, “Dispensationalist theology” made famous by Hal Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth,” and Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkin’s famous “Left Behind” series of books and movies, radically departs from the traditional and biblical Catholic teaching on the Second Coming of Christ. Texts of Scripture that speak of the Second Coming of Christ have always been understood to refer to the absolute consummation of all things at the end of time. Not so, with the Rapture theorists.

The Rapture theorists divide the coming of Christ into first a “Rapture of the Church” where true believers in Christ (and in the very near future, I might add) will literally disappear from sight having been “raptured” up to heaven by God. This is a sort of “secret coming” of Christ that only affects true believers. They will be taken away while the rest are “left behind” to face a seven-year tribulation period where the Antichrist will be revealed and literally billions will be slaughtered in a massive world war that will follow.

Nota Bene: I am using for this post the most popular version of the Rapture theory known as the “Pre-tribulation Rapture” theory. This means the Rapture of the Church will occur before a seven-year tribulation period of unspeakable horror on earth for those “left behind.” There is a minority of folks who hold to a “mid-trib” theory that says the Rapture will occur 3.5 years into the seven-year tribulation. And there are those few who hold to a “post-tribulation” theory that says the Rapture will occur after the seven-year tribulation as well.

At any rate, this “Rapture of the Church,” according to the popular theory, will cause car and airplane crashes, as well as massive economic and cultural chaos due to the “disappearance” of millions of people in an instant.

Again, see my next post for a thorough de-rapturing of Scripture.

But understand that after the Rapture, those “left behind” will have to face the Antichrist, a massive world war that will see the slaughter of billions, as well as executions of a relatively few who will turn to the Lord for salvation during this terrible time of persecution.

Then, at the end of the seven-year period of tribulation, Jesus will return to establish a 1,000 year reign on earth where there will be great harmony, though there will still be sin and death for some. The righteous will live very long lives and many will come to Christ during these 1,000 years leading up to the final “White Throne Judgment” at the end of this millennium that will usher in eternity.

So what could be the harm here, right?

One interesting and I believe dangerous error taught by Dispensationalists about the Rapture, is their teaching that says Christians will never see the Antichrist. Christians will be “Raptured away” before the Antichrist comes on the scene. Would this not be the perfect set up for the Antichrist himself when he does come on the scene? What better cloak for him to deceive than a belief that excludes he could possibly be the Antichrist? This is extremely dangerous, folks!

The Church and the Bible Say

CCC 675-676 gives us the Catholic and biblical perspective on the Antichrist:

Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.

The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism.

The Church traditionally distinguishes between the Antichrist, generally understood to be a pseudo-Messiah who will come at the end of time and lead “the world” against the Church in this “final trial” that we just read about in the Catechism, and antichrist[s] in the plural who participate, in various ways, in the same spirit, so to speak, of Antichrist who will personify the spirit or mind of the devil.

Recall Satan’s temptation to Adam and Eve. He tempted them to “realize within their own history,” so to speak, or in their own lives God’s promise of sharing in God’s own image and likeness, but by their own power and in their own way. Satan is the ultimate example of Sinatra’s famous—“I did it my way!” The spirit of Antichrist, in a sense, is synonymous with the spirit of the devil that opposes the will and the way of God in favor of his own way.

II Thess. 2:1-12–a text we will examine a bit below, and more in my next post–describes the Antichrist to be a person who will have all the power and deception of the devil himself. He will attempt to deceive people into believing that he is what he is not. Ultimately, he will claim himself to be God. And it will only be the coming of the Lord that will stop him. Christ himself will finally defeat him and cast him into Hell.

But we also see in St. John’s writings, for example, there will not only be the Antichrist who appears at the end of time, but there are “many antichrists” already in the world:

For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Look to yourselves that you may not lose what you have worked for, but may win a full reward (II John 1:7-8).

Children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come; therefore we know that it is the last hour… [22] Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son (I John 2:18-22).

In St. John’s day, he was combating the early “fathers,” so to speak, of Gnosticism. According to St. John, they personified the Antichrist because they denied the Incarnation of Christ—the plan of God for the salvation of the world, thus, Antichrist “denies Jesus coming in the flesh.” But he then goes beyond this and says anyone who would then “deny the Father and the Son” to be an antichrist.

But here is a point many miss: In this same context, St. John teaches us something else very important in I John 4:3-6. Just after St. John declared every one who “confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God,” obviously aimed at the false teachers who denied Jesus had a physical body, he goes on to say:

… and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already. Little children, you are of God, and have overcome them; for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world, therefore what they say is of the world, and the world listens to them. We are of God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and he who is not of God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

According to St. John, there is a connection between the spirit of antichrist and those who reject God’s authority, or spokesmen, on earth. The “spirit of truth and the spirit of error” can be known quite simply and clearly. The spirit that says I know more than God’s apostles or bishops on the earth, sent by God with his authority is that same spirit of antichrist that says, “I’ll do it my way!” This is what St. John is warning against in I John 4:6.

Sounds Protestant, doesn’t it? Yet, not just Protestant. The spirit of antichrist is the spirit that says I’ll do it “my way.” The spirit that says with the Devil in Jer. 2:20, “Non serviam!”

Am I saying all Protestants are “antichrists?” No. But I am saying there is a spirit of antichrist that permeates the reformer’s mindset.

At any rate, back to the point:

We, as Catholics, believe it will only be after the revealing of the Antichrist that the Second Coming of Christ will come about, wherein Christ will come and all the nations will be gathered together for the final judgment as Christ himself clearly says to us in Matthew 25:31-46. But that’s it! Then the faithful will be in eternity and experiencing an existence that is beyond anything we can now fathom. However, this is not so according the Rapture Crowd!

More Problems

We have some very obvious problems with the Rapture theory from a biblical as well as historical perspective. The Bible teaches just one “Second Coming” of Christ. Yet, the Rapture theory has Christ coming (at least half way down), snatching up Christians, and then going back up to heaven for seven years! Then it presents Christ as coming again at the end of a seven-year tribulation (a “third” coming?) to establish a millennial kingdom on earth that will last for 1,000 years. During this time “the wolf will lie down with the lamb” (Is. 11:6), children will be born, people will die (though they will live a long time as I said above) and people will have to choose Christ and then Christ will finally judge those who live through the millenium at the end of the 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth!

So, what is being presented is a second and third coming of Christ! Now, to be fair, some Dispensationalists will say the Second Coming is broken down into two-parts: the Rapture and then the Coming of the Lord seven years later. But the Bible says absolutely nothing of the sort.

Perhaps even stranger is the fact that we have four judgments: One at death, one at the Rapture, one at the end of the Tribulation and one at the end of the millennium! As we will see in part two of this post, the Bible only speaks of two Judgments: the particular and the general Judgment at the end of time. And, again, it only speaks of two comings of Christ. The First was in the manger of Bethlehem and the Second will be at the end of time. So where did all of this “Rapture stuff” come from?

From the writings of St. Paul in II Thess., to the Montanists in ca. AD 200 to the millenium craze in AD 1000 to the “Millerites” in 1843-1844, there have been from time to time, and in various forms, many examples of false teachers who get carried away with the imminent return of the Lord. In fact, in II Thess. 2:1-12, St. Paul tells us there were folks who were then teaching Christ’s return was immanent in the first century. And the irony is, St. Paul clearly does not agree with them. He clearly says there was then present “a restrainer” that would have to be taken “out of the way” and that the coming of him whom we today call “the Antichrist” would have to occur as well before the Second Coming:

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him, we beg you, brethren, not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming. The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

Notice, the Lord clearly will not come until after the antichrist is revealed. St. Paul’s message is as timely today as it was 2,000 years ago.

And we can say the same thing today. “The day of the Lord has not come!” And “the day of the Lord will not come until after the Antichrist is revealed!” And there are other things that have to happen as well that are somewhat less certain as to their fulfillments. “The rebellion” of which he speaks, is actually apostasia in Greek, or “apostasy.” This will, most likely, be an apostasy like we’ve never seen before in history. We’re not even close to that now.

It also speaks of the removal of “the restrainer.” Tertullian connected this with lawful government because of the connection to lawlessness. More likely, it would be the sovereign will of Christ whom Scripture depicts as “the strong man” who binds Satan, and the one who “looses” Satan to tempt the earth in Matt. 12:29, and Rev. 20:7.

But one thing Is absolutely certain, the Lord will not come until after the Antichrist is revealed. Now, these necessary things can happen swiftly, and the Lord could come again in any generation, but we have to be careful about coming up with scenarios where we start giving dates and times for Christ’s return! Jesus was pretty cautionary on that point in Matt. 24:36. And yet…

William Miller, a Baptist lay preacher, is an excellent and more contemporary example of one who believed Jesus’ return was imminent in his day. He said Jesus was coming by March 21, 1844. He then extended it to October 22 before giving up on his theory, only to have his message “saved” by the “vision” of Hiram Edson who said Jesus did come, but he came in an “invisible way” and “cleansed the sanctuary” in heaven! His “visible” coming was very soon, he said… we’re still waiting… but his invisible return already happened.

Invisible? Really? What ever happened to “every eye will see him” (Rev. 1:7)?

By the way, the sect Hiram Edson started would later become the “Adventist” movement out of which would arise such sects as the Seventh-Day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have become famous for their many predictions of the end of the world, such as they said was coming in 1914 (and many other years). Their last prediction of the coming of the Lord was for 1975. Obviously, it didn’t happen!

There have been many others who have predicted the second coming (in the case of Miller and others, many of their followers lost everything in the process! They sold off everything they had and waited… and waited…). But beginning with John Darby, a Congregationalist minister in the 1870′s, we have for the first time this very odd and novel belief, not just in the imminent return of Christ, but in this “secret rapture” I mentioned above that has become the craze today in many Evangelical, Fundamentalist and Pentecostal circles.

You’ve probably seen the bumper stickers on cars that will say things like, “In case of rapture, nobody will be driving this car!” The belief is that when the Rapture occurs, all born-again Christians will simply disappear, cars will crash, airplanes being flown by Christians will crash, etc. And this will begin the 7-year tribulation period just before the Coming of the Lord where he will come back to earth to rule and reign for 1,000 years.

This “Rapture” mentality has led to many failed predictions of the coming of the Lord from Hal Lindsey’s famous prediction that Jesus was coming before 1988 in his 1970 book, “The Late Great Planet Earth,” to Harold Camping’s many, many failed predictions.

Let’s pause here for now. But don’t miss my next post where I will give you an in-depth exposition on why the seven most often used biblical texts in favor of the Rapture theory, actually say absolutely nothing of it! In fact, some of them expressly contradict the theory!

If you liked this, and would like to study this further, click here.

There is No Salvation Apart From the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church teaches infallibly, “extra ecclesiam nulla salus,” or, “outside the Church there is no salvation.” But as with all dogmas of the Faith, this has to be qualified and understood properly. The Catechism of the Catholic Church lays out the truth of the matter succinctly in paragraphs 846-848, but I would recommend backing up to CCC 830 for a context that will help in understanding these three essential points concerning this teaching:

1. There is no salvation apart from Christ and his One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Again, this is an infallible teaching and not up for debate among Catholics.

2. Those who are “invincibly” ignorant concerning the truth of #1 above will not be culpable for this lack of knowledge before God.

3. Those in the category of #2 have the real possibility of salvation even if they never come to an explicit knowledge of Christ and/or his Church.

As we will see below, “invincibly ignorant” does not mean just because a person is “ignorant” of the truth, they will automatically be saved. Ignorance is not bliss; it is dangerous. There are other criteria beyond being “invincibly ignorant” that must be met as well before one can finally be saved. But it does mean that they have the possibility of salvation.

Now, before we get too far into the weeds here, let me quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 846-48, which—as is so often the case no matter the doctrine with the CCC—presents this teaching clearly and to the point under the heading: “Outside the Church there is no Salvation.”

How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it (CCC here quotes The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, “Lumen Gentium,” 14, from the documents of Vatican II).

The Church is very clear here. There is no salvation apart from a salvific union with the Catholic Church. However, the Catechism continues:

This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church: “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation” (quoting, Lumen Gentium, 16).

“Although in ways known to himself God can lead those, who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men” (quoting Ad Gentes, 7, another document from Vatican II).

I recommend a careful reading of the texts represented by the footnotes in paragraph 16 of Lumen Gentium (nos. 17 and 18) which reference St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica III q. 8 a. 3 ad 1, and the Instruction of the Holy Office of Dec. 20, 1949 that I will reference below. These make very clear that anyone who is ever saved is not saved by his or her false religious beliefs (i.e. Judaism that rejects Christ, Islam that denies Jesus is the Son of God, etc.); rather, they can be saved in spite of them. If they are ignorant of the truth through no fault of their own (they have never had the opportunity to either hear or understand the truth), then the limited amount of truth that they do have “among shadows and images,” and “all goodness and truth found in these religions [serve] as ‘a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life’ (CCC 843).”

A Catholic Contradiction?

Perhaps the one paragraph in the CCC used more than any other to “prove” Catholics contradict themselves with regard to this the doctrine “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” is paragraph 841, which is given to us under the heading: “The Church’s Relationship with the Muslims”:

The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.

“See? Here the Church says Muslims can be saved. What up with that?”

Well, this has to be understood in the context of what the Catechism says elsewhere, and as I quoted it above: Those Muslims (and as we will see in more detail, anyone of any religion, or even the non-religious could be included here) who are not responsible for their ignorance of the Catholic Faith can indeed be saved.

Now, contrary to what you may have read elsewhere, CCC 841 is not saying “anyone who is a good Joe will go to heaven.” A Jewish person will not make it to heaven by being a good Jew, or a Muslim by being a good Muslim, a Protestant by being a good Protestant, etc. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no man can come to the Father except by me.” He seems to be quite plain in this text that he is essential to the equation. And not only is Christ essential to the equation, but also Christ speaking through his Church. “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me” (Luke 10:16). The Church is “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:23). The Church is Christ in the world. It is almighty God who willed “that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known” (Ephesians 3:10). To reject the Church is to reject Christ because it was Christ who gave authority to the Church and declared:

If he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:17-18).

In a nutshell, you cannot separate rejecting the Church with rejecting Christ according to Scripture and the teaching of the Catholic Church. In other words, one cannot just create his own religion and follow the “Jesus” of his own creation and choosing without there being eternal consequences.

Breaking it Down

As an apologist, I find the real issue here among those who reject this teaching to be a conceptual disconnect between the dogma—extra ecclesiam nulla salus—and the idea that some people who are not formally Catholic can be saved. And this is understandable. One way I have found some success in helping folks to bridge this divide is to note what I mentioned in brief before, i.e., the Church teaches the possibility of salvation for people who do not have what we call a formal relationship with the Church, i.e., they are not on the registry at a local Catholic parish, yet they do indeed have a salvific relationship with the Church.

So then, the question is: “What does this mean?”

To get a clear picture, let’s begin with the necessity of salvation in Jesus Christ. In the Gospel of St. John, and in the very next chapter after Jesus makes his famous statement, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father except by me” (John 14:6), which I quoted above, this same Jesus also said, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin” (John 15:22; see also John 9:41). Jesus presents a very important principle here. A person is not responsible for what they could not have known. The implication is it is possible to have a salvific link with Christ without knowing him formally. If this is so, and it is, according to Scripture, then it stands to reason that in the same way, one can have a salvific relationship with the Church without knowing the truth that the Church is the fullness of Christ on this earth (see also the case of Cornelius the centurion in Acts 10:1-4, 34-35).

What I mean by a “formal relationship” with the Church is that a person has been formally baptized into Christ and has made a profession of faith in the one, true faith of the Catholic Church (assuming he has reached the age of accountability). However, a person can possibly have a salvific link with Christ and his Church in various ways some of which are known to God alone. This can be via the valid sacraments they may have, e.g., all seven with the Orthodox, or two with Protestants (baptism and matrimony). Or, it may be via what the Council fathers called “the images and shadows” of truth that the various world religions possess. Indeed, even “those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to lead a good life” will not be denied by Divine Providence what the Council fathers called “the helps necessary for salvation” (Lumen Gentium,16).

Thus, the Council fathers are here unequivocal on the possibility of salvation for the invincibly ignorant, but we must also note they balance this message with a stern warning:

But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the lord, “Preach the Gospel to every creature”, the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.

With St. Paul, we leave the judging of who is invincibly ignorant and who is not to God (I Cor. 4:3-6). We evangelize everyone!

So Why Preach the Gospel at All?

In some quarters the possibility of salvation for those who are not formally Catholic has been taken to such an extreme that it has led to a religious indifferentism—one religion, even Catholicism, is no better than another—that is condemned by the Church. This is extremely dangerous for the salvation of souls.

Now, James 1:17 assures us: “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Truth is truth anywhere it is found and, ultimately, Jesus Christ is the truth. So, if folks outside of the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church are truly seeking the truth and have not rejected the fullness of the truth found only in the Catholic Church, they can be saved by cooperating with the grace and truth they have where they are. However, Lumen Gentium 14 also emphasizes the fact that the truth of the Catholic Faith is not simply a nice option. It is binding on those who see its veracity. “Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse to enter it, or to remain in it.”

Moreover, I must emphasize again, because someone is “invincibly ignorant” of the truth, this does not mean they will be saved. It means they have the possibility of salvation. Perhaps Pope Pius XII explains best the necessary balance between membership in the Church Jesus established and the possibility of salvation to those who are not formal members in his Encyclical of June 29, 1943, Mystici Corporis:

Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed. “For in one spirit” says the Apostle, “were we all baptized into one Body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free.” As therefore in the true Christian community there is only one Body, one Spirit, one Lord, and one Baptism, so there can be only one faith. And therefore, if a man refuse to hear the [Catholic] Church, let him be considered – so the Lord commands – as a heathen and a publican (22).

Simple.

But his Holiness then goes on to say that others outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church can be “related to the Mystical Body of the Redeemer by a certain unconscious yearning and desire” (para. 103). He makes clear that these can be saved, but “they still remain deprived of those many heavenly gifts and helps which can only be enjoyed in the Catholic Church,” and are, unfortunately, in a “state in which they cannot be sure of their salvation.”

The bottom line is: the straight and narrow road that leads to heaven is not an easy road to begin with, even for those gifted with the fullness of truth found in the Catholic Church alone (see Matt. 7:13; I Peter 4:18). But without the Church and sacraments Christ has provided as the ordinary means for our sanctification, it is even more difficult. In fact, beyond the obvious advantages for the overcoming of the “sin which does so easily beset us” that Catholics enjoy in the sacraments, the Church has also taught there must be three things present in order for salvation to be possible for those who are not in a formal relationship with the Church. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in a letter of August 8, 1949, by direction of Pope Pius XII, said in this regard:

But it must not be thought that any kind of desire of entering the Church suffices that one may be saved. It is necessary that the desire by which one is related to the Church be animated by perfect charity. Nor can an implicit desire produce its effect, unless a person has supernatural faith: “For he who comes to God must believe that God exists and is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrew 11:6).

One can never know if he has attained to “perfect charity” in this life. That is a high standard. It is possible to be sure, but it is a high standard. This should make very clear that we must evangelize everyone so that they can have the certainty of hope that only comes to us fully via the sacraments and union with the Church Jesus founded, the Catholic Church.

In Summary:

There are six key points that I believe we need to remember here:

1. No one who knowingly and deliberately rejects the truth will be saved. It doesn’t matter how good of a Muslim, Jew, Baptist, or anything else he may be. If anyone rejects the truth of Christ and his Church—even one definitive teaching—they will be lost.

2. Religions that have as tenants of their respective faiths the rejection of Jesus and his Church have no power to save anyone. It is “the truth that makes us free” (cf. John 8:32), not falsehood.

3. In the case of one who is ignorant of the truth of the Catholic Faith, “through no fault of [his] own,” he can be saved, if he is truly “invincibly ignorant, [is] given the supernatural virtue of faith and [has] perfect charity in [his heart]” (cf. Instruction of Holy Office of Dec. 20, 1949).

4. We must remember that we are not the judges of salvation. God is the sole and final judge. We do not know who is truly “invincibly ignorant” and who is not. Therefore, we must be careful to “evangelize all men” as the Catechism commands us and leave the judging to God.

5. “Whatever good or truth is found amongst [other world religions] is considered by the Church to be ‘a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life’” (Lumen Gentium 16). And if they seek the true God given the light they have received, they have the possibility of salvation.

6. This does not mean they are not in need of the Eucharist! Without the grace that comes from the sacraments, one is at a decided disadvantage to get to heaven. And if one has rejected the truth, then there is no way he can merit heaven apart from repentance and the acceptance of the truth. The Church makes very clear: “The words bind and loose mean: whomever you exclude from your communion, will be excluded from communion with God; whomever you receive anew into your communion, God will welcome back into his. Reconciliation with the Church is inseparable from reconciliation with God” (CCC 1445).

If anyone makes it to heaven apart from what the Church refers to as “the ordinary means of sanctification that comes through the sacraments,” or a “formal union with the Church,” they will only do so through a salvific link with the Church that comes via extraordinary means.

Some Final Questions:

I often get two very poignant questions that will most often come from people who have a profound personal interest in the answer. That “personal interest” is usually rooted in their having had loved ones leave the true Faith.

1. “What about Catholics who have left the Faith? Are they okay, or are they lost?”

Anyone who knowingly and deliberately rejects the Church will be lost, as I said above. So it would be the height of presumption to say that someone who has left the Faith “is okay.” Now, it may well be that a person who left the Faith may have had such a distorted notion of what the Church truly is and what she teaches that there may not be culpability. Again, we don’t know. However, it may well be that they are culpable. And no amount of “church” attendance or prayer apart from the Church Jesus established, the Catholic Church, will get them to heaven if that is the case. One might even “deliver [one’s] body to be burned” (I Cor. 13:3), but it will “profit nothing” apart from union with Christ and his Church because it is only the divine life and charity of Christ in us that can save us. So we must take extremely serious anyone who has left the faith or anyone who is not in union with the Church because objectively speaking, (barring invincible ignorance, etc.) souls are on the line!   2. “What about the question of those who are in the process of converting to the Catholic Faith? If only the sacraments can take away the sins of those who are fully aware of their efficacy, what about these?”

The Council of Trent declared that either the actual sacraments or a “desire thereof” is sufficient to take away sins. In Session Seven, “On the Sacraments in General,” canon 4, the Council declared:

If any one saith that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary unto salvation, but superfluous; and that, without them, or without the desire thereof, men obtain of God, through faith alone, the grace of justification;-though all (the sacraments) are not indeed necessary for every individual; let him be anathema.

Similarly, the Council of Trent declared, specifically concerning baptism, in Session Six, Chapter 4:

By which words, a description of the Justification of the impious is indicated,-as being a translation, from that state wherein man is born a child of the first Adam, to the state of grace, and of the adoption of the sons of God, through the second Adam, Jesus Christ, our Savior. And this translation, since the promulgation of the Gospel, cannot be effected, without the laver of regeneration, or the desire thereof, as it is written; unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.

And with regard to the Sacrament of Confession, in Chapter 14 of that same Session Six, the Council declared:

Whence it is to be taught, that the penitence of a Christian, after his fall, is very different from that at (his) baptism; and that therein are included not only a cessation from sins, and a detestation thereof, or, a contrite and humble heart, but also the sacramental confession of the said sins,-at least in desire, and to be made in its season,-and sacerdotal absolution; and likewise satisfaction by fasts, alms, prayers, and the other pious exercises of a spiritual life; not indeed for the eternal punishment,-which is, together with the guilt, remitted, either by the sacrament, or by the desire of the sacrament…

Thus, the desire for the Sacraments of catechumens suffices until such a time as they can actually receive them.

More Thoughts About the Movie: “Little Boy”

I am truly amazed at some of the critics who have gone after “Little Boy.” I read one critic who said words to the effect of, “This movie is an attempt to claim the atomic bomb was justified!”

Huh?

Quite frankly, you couldn’t miss it by any more than that if you tried!

Yes, the movie has as one of its themes God can and does bring good out of the most significant of evils, but to say the movie attempts to “justify the bomb” would be like saying the Christian Faith attempts to justify the crucifixion of Christ because of its emphasis on the crucifixion of Christ.

You couldn’t miss it by any more than that if you tried!

We do not say the crucifixion of Christ is good. In fact, it is the greatest evil that could ever be perpetrated by man. We killed God, folks!

“Little Boy,” the atomic bomb that was dropped in Hiroshima, and we could add “Fat Man,” the bomb later dropped in Nagasaki as well, pale in comparison to the evil carried out on Good Friday. But the good news is this: God brought the greatest good (the redemption of all) out of the greatest evil (the crucifixion of God in Christ). And it is because of that fact that we can know that God not only can, but will, bring good out of even the terrible evil of Hiroshima, if we will but “believe the impossible.”

How anyone can watch the dream sequence where Pepper sees the devastation of Hiroshima, and come away with the movie “justifying the bomb” is befuddling to me. Pepper’s faith is tested greatly precisely because of the evil he sees! But the message shines through: “Believe the impossible!”

And, by the way, the movie does not attempt to say Pepper’s father coming home is the only good that came out of ”Little Boy” being dropped on Hiroshima.

But at any rate, I do think there is a deeper point here. If one does not have faith, it is going to be more than a leap to see the profound truth of good being brought out of evil by divine power. And some criticize “Little Boy” for that fact. But I say, “Bravo!” The Boys of “Metanoia Films” are bringing faith into the mainstream! And why not? The subtitle of the movie is: “Believe the Impossible!” With man, the crucifixion/resurrection/redemption is “impossible!” It is even “absurd!” But in fact, it is true! And when you actually dig deep into the philosophy and theology undergirding the Christ event, there is nothing absurd about it. Neither is there anything truly absurd in “Little Boy” the movie.

But like it or not, the writers of this movie decided not to do all of our thinking for us. If one does not understand the most important event in the history of the created universe (Hint, hint! If you don’t know the story of Jesus Christ, you should! Hint, hint!), Little Boy is going to be hard to fathom.

Believe the Impossible

One of the many powerful messages, and I would argue, the most important message of all, communicated in “Little Boy,” merely echoes the words of Jesus Christ in Matt. 19:26: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” And I must say I love “Little Boy” because it presents “faith” and what is a central truth of our Catholic Christian Faith (and many “truths” of the Faith as well in the many relationships and subplots in the movie) without being “in your face,” or worse, sappy, about it. I highly recommend those who have seen it, to see it again. I guarantee you there is more to uncover when you see it a second and third time. I know that happened with me, anyway. And those who haven’t seen it? You simply must see it! Here are a few thoughts I had in seeing it for a third time myself:

“Little Boy,” Pepper Busby, with his simple faith, that didn’t even begin as faith at all, impacted his own life, the lives of his big brother, London, his mother Emma, his Father, James, the town priest, Fr. Oliver, the unjustly hated town “Jap,” Hashimoto, the town bully, “Freddy Fox,” the entire town, and, perhaps, the entire world. All in an hour and forty five minutes. Can I say it? … What a movie, folks! Let’s break this down a bit so you can see what I mean by “Little Boy,” Pepper Busby, impacting his own life, as well as the lives of all around him:

1. Pepper Busby (Jacob Salvanti) – Pepper begins with the wrong motives, and with very little that could be called true faith at all. He wants to bring his father home no matter what he has to do. He tries “magic,” and then moves to incorporating a sort of “magical” view of Faith, but through a very wise priest, Fr. Oliver (Tom Wilkinson), he comes to see, and very painfully at times, that faith is not “magic;” it requires work, it requires “works,” and it doesn’t always “work” the way we want it to! Most importantly, Pepper discovers that faith “works by love” (see Gal. 5:6), and is necessarily linked to the cross (see Luke 9:23).

2. London Busby (David Henrie) – Pepper’s big brother has “issues.” He’s a good man who truly wants to do right, but hatred overpowers him, and he ends up void of both faith and love. “Little Boy’s” tenacious faith, that in the beginning does nothing but annoy and even anger London, ends up aiding Pepper’s big brother in moving from no faith, to a tremendous faith – a faith that believes the impossible is made possible – as is symbolized in these words, “You did it, you little Squirt, you did it!”

3. Emma Busby (Emily Watson) – Emma is Busby’s mom, and she is the model of strength and virtue in the movie. From the very beginning, she is the disciplinarian in the Busby family, not overly emotional, and always on track. She never wavers. She is the image of strength when she sees her husband off to war at the train station. She is the image of true love as well. A love that is a decision of the will, rather than a fleeting feeling or “warm fuzzy.”

Her stalwart persona makes it all the more powerful when she finally breaks with the news of her husband’s death. One gets the sense that Pepper’s tenacity that becomes his own ”faithfulness,” comes directly from mom.

Emma’s faithfulness to her husband, and her statement, “I will always be Mrs. James Busby” in the face of advances made by Dr. Fox (Kevin James) after the news of her husband’s demise, say it all about Emma Busby. What a message for a culture today that sees marriage as little more than a contract that can be broken at the drop of a hat.

How did “Little Boy” impact his mother? Dramatically! When London’s faith falters, it is Emma who stands with her son and even in the midst of unbelievable pain, encourages his faith. Or, at least, will not stand for anyone to discourage it. Emma is moved by the faith of her son.

But perhaps more importantly, one gets the sense in this movie of how Emma and Pepper suffer together. They seem to have a unique faith and love that is head and shoulders above all others. Emma has her own suffering to deal with to be sure, but seeing her Son suffer adds to her pain, while paradoxically, it brings her consolation as well. And, of course, in the end, it brings about a miracle!

When I first saw “Little Boy,” the relationship between Pepper and his mother brought to mind the scene from the Passion of the Christ where Jesus is in the midst of unbelievable suffering and, even though his mother could hardly bear the pain of seeing her Son suffer, she comes to him. Jesus looks her in the eye and says, “See? I make all things new” (cf. Rev. 21:5). There, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary are joined in suffering for the redemption of the world, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Simeon in Luke 2:34-35. Volumes are communicated with six words and a few seconds where mother and son simply gaze into each other’s eyes.

In a “Little Boy” kind of way, one sees how Emma and Pepper suffer in unique ways, and neither ever really falters (at least not in anything close to a definitive way), bringing about redemption in O’Hare, California! Volumes are spoken in “Little Boy” in general, but especially through the relationship of mother and son, through what is never necessarily spoken.

4. James Busby (Michael Rappaport) – We don’t see much of James in the movie, yet, Monteverde and Portillo (the writers) give all we need to know through mostly images that portray a deep love of father for son and son for father. In the very beginning of the movie, Michael and Pepper (father and son) are introduced to the audience in their acting out together imaginative and elaborate scenes of adventure they have created in their own minds all of which present the central theme of dad exclaiming, “Do you believe we can do this?” And Pepper responding, “Yes, I believe we can do this!”

If mom, Emma, is the source of Pepper’s tenacity in believing, his father, James, seems to be the source of his faith to begin with. The Father is seen as the first principle of Pepper’s faith. And that is precisely what a father is called to be!

Pepper’s impact in the life of his father is not something his father is cognizant of in the movie. But it is no less real. It is Pepper’s faith that, of course, is the source of his father’s ultimate “salvation.”

But there is much more as well. Very beautifully, and more subtly, in the end, Pepper’s faith and life become absolutely intertwined with his father, and on a much deeper level. In the end,  once reunited with his father, and seeing the way his father had been gravely injured through the ravages of war, the older Pepper who narrates the story years later says of his father at that point, “We still had a long road ahead of us.” “Little Boy’s” new-found, or at least, newly-deepened, faith, along with the rest of his family’s new birth in faith and love, was not the end, but the beginning of a journey together that goes beyond the 60-mile journey back to O’Hare, California, beautifully portrayed at the very end of the movie. And Pepper Busby, even at the tender age of eight years old, seemed to have a remarkable knowledge of this truth.

5. Fr. Oliver (Tom Wilkinson) – What a masterful job Tom Wilkinson did in this movie! He is the priest/sage who is challenged to the core by the simple faith of Pepper Busby. He, along with Pepper and Emma, are portrayed as the truly “great ones” in this town.

When Pepper comes to Fr. Oliver for direction, Father struggles at times to come up with answers. And he also seems to know that he does not always have the answers. But “Little Boy” takes him to what seems to be new levels of faith even for this obviously holy and wise priest. Fr. Oliver’s faith is definitely tested, but in the end, Pepper’s adventure in faith not only confirms Father in his own faith, but gives Fr. Oliver a powerful tool for evangelism in the life of Hashimoto, the despised town “Jap,” and, atheist. This is a nice segue into #6:

6. Hashimoto (Cary Tegawa) – The relationship between Hashimoto and Pepper is absolutely beautiful. As with Pepper’s “faith” in general, his relationship with Hashimoto at the beginning is not a real “relationship” at all. He is using Hashimoto as a means to an end. In fact, he despises him and knows him only as “the Jap” due to his perception that “all Japs” are the cause of his father having to go to war! He doesn’t know, nor does he even care to know, Hashimoto’s name. He “needs” Hashimoto to get his father home.

In time, however, ”the Jap” becomes a mentor, confidant, and finally, a true friend to Pepper. He eventually becomes “Hashimoto” to Pepper from whom he learns, comes to respect, and truly comes to love.

There is much to say and discover in this complex character, Hashimoto. As an atheist, he has a wonderful relationship with Fr. Oliver that is framed within an on-going game of chance (a card game) they play together regularly as they talk of the deeper questions in life. One cannot help but get a sense of “Pascal’s wager” being hinted at here.

During the on-going card game, Hashimoto and Fr. Oliver toss back and forth the deep questions about the existence of God, whether God truly intervenes in our lives through miracles, and more. All of this is centered on Pepper and his quest. Father holds his own in the discussions, but Hashimoto presents the atheist position well.

All of this leads, in the end, to a very interesting, if uncertain, conclusion. My take is, in the end, it’s not the brilliance of Fr. Oliver (though that relationship has its role to play as well), but the faith and love of Pepper Busby that seems to break through to Hashimoto. At least, it seems… perhaps. There is much to be said in this complex relationship, or in these complex relationships, between Pepper, Hashimoto, and Fr. Oliver. But consider this:

When Pepper is being taunted by the town bully, Freddy Fox, and even physically accosted, he turns to Hashimoto for help. By way of advice, Hashimoto relates to Pepper a story from his own Japanese culture of a young Samurai-in-training, a “little boy” of sorts, who was a Japanese version of a young “David” in relation to the famous “Goliath” of the Bible. “Goliath” was represented by the champion warrior of the hated “Mongols” who had invaded Japan many centuries before. And when none of the larger and more courageous Samurais could defeat this “Goliath,” it would be the “little boy” Samurai-in-training that would overcome his own fear and defeat the Mongol “Goliath.”

Here, we see a wonderful example of Little Boy learning virtue from his not only non-Christian, but atheist friend, Hashimoto. He learns a perennial truth about courage and standing up against injustice from his friend and his friend’s culture. And as a result, he does indeed overcome his fear and defeat his own “giant,” Freddy Fox, the town bully, not with a sling, or a poison dart (the weapon used by the young Samurai-in-training in the Japanese story), but with a lunchbox to the left side of the face of the bully!

Hashimoto taught Pepper the virtue of fortitude through a story, but in a beautiful turn of events, Little Boy teaches Hashimoto about the virtue of faith. After his father’s funeral, when Pepper is questioning his faith, even wondering whether or not it was “foolish,” Hashimoto, the atheist, says, “It is not foolish! It takes great courage to believe. Your father would be very proud of you!”

Wow! The atheist who had earlier claimed faith to be foolish, now says the opposite… and insistently so! We don’t get the answer to the question whether Hashimoto came to believe. But we do know that he was impacted by the courage of Pepper to “believe the impossible.” Hashimoto taught Pepper the virtue of fortitude in standing up to a bully. Pepper taught Hashimoto that there is something profoundly virtuous about faith.

7. The Town of “O’Hare, California.” One of the more ponderous aspects of this movie is found in the impact Pepper’s “faith and works” have on the entire town of O’Hare. Whether they believe or not, Little Boy forces people to make a decision one way or the other. Isn’t that what all of we Christians are called to do? Bring people to a decision?

When Pepper appears to “cause” an earthquake that “moves a mountain” in the presence of multiple eyewitnesses, the responses were presented as wonderfully varied. “That earthquake would have happened whether he prayed or not,” is the response of one, while, “That mountain over there is just a little bit further to the right than it was before…” is the response of another. Fr. Oliver and an unidentified nun think it’s a miracle, while Hashimoto and others will have none of it.

But one thing is certain, Pepper forces a decision. He impacts the entire town.

8. The Town Bully, Freddy Fox (Matthew Scott Miller). Freddy Fox is relentless in his bullying of Pepper Busby. At times, it is painful to watch. I thought of my own children being bullied and it pained me as I watched. And yet, here too, we see the impact of Pepper and his faith along with his “works.” Pepper makes “believers” of sorts out of all who were ridiculing him when be bounces his lunchbox off of the head of his tormentor, Freddy Fox.

“Christians are not pacifists,” or, perhaps, “Christians are not doormats,” are a couple of the obvious messages. There is truly “a time for war, and a time for peace,” as Eccl. 3:8 tells us. This is a much-needed message for our world today.

But one also wonders if it wasn’t Freddy Fox himself that received the most poignant message here! Perhaps he learned a lesson. A lesson of respect.

9. The World – I have read more than one critic of “Little Boy” who said words to the effect of: “God employs the atomic bomb in order to reunite a boy and his father? How ridiculous is that?” Of course, the answer is: “No, God did not ‘employ the atomic bomb in order to reunite a boy with his father.’” And that is not the message of the movie, as I said above. However, there is a question here that is left to all to ponder. Can God truly use a great evil like the atomic bomb in order to bring about great good?

For Christians, the answer is obvious. But it is not obvious to the world. While many critics seem to miss the boat here, the people I have talked to get it. But it is an important question that needs to be both asked and pondered. And should we be surprised that people would object to the implications here? Of course not! The ultimate example of this truth, the cross of Christ , is said to be “a stumbling block to the Jews, and foolishness to the Greeks” (I Cor. 1:23).

Some may say the movie is too subtle with this point and that is why the critics missed the point so badly. While I respect those who say that, I personally disagree.  I think this is an example of a culture that has lost the ability to tell a good story. Everything has to be laid out plainly to the viewer and it all must be entirely politically correct, or else! Hitchcock and Capra could expect to be panned in today’s Hollywood.

A Prediction

At any rate: these are just a few of my thoughts on the movie. But I will close my thoughts here with a prediction. “Little Boy” has been trashed by many critics similar to how “It’s a Wonderful Life” was panned in 1946 as “Capri-corn at its worst.” It’s truth, beauty, and goodness, were lost to the generation for which it was made. However, about 30 years later, it was re-discovered and the rest is history.

Little Boy is not taking the box office by storm. But among the thousands who have seen it (minus many of the professional critics), I hear nothing but rave reviews. I believe there will be a re-discovery even for the “critics” in years to come. The sons and daughters of today’s critics will one day appreciate “Little Boy’s” genius.

But my advice to you is don’t wait for the re-discovery. See it now, and multiple times, and then tell me whether or not you see truth, beauty, and goodness in “Little Boy.” I believe the overwhelming majority of people who actually see the movie will love it. The average Joe is, most often, better able to appreciate beauty, than the PC “experts.”

Call No Woman Father

The question of whether or not women could ever be ordained to the ministerial priesthood is one that often generates more “heat” than it does “light.” Folks often come to the discussion emotionally charged to the point where rational discussion becomes difficult.

Be that as it may, I will respond to this question using the Church’s official teaching on the matter as it was taught in Inter Insigniores from the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, promulgated October 15, 1976, and as it was reiterated by Pope St. John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, May 22, 1994. in 1994.

We will attempt here to present as much “light” as we can without the too-often accompanying “heat” that ends up keeping people away from the “light” that is ultimately Jesus Christ who is “the true light that enlightens every man… coming into the world” (John 1:9).

The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with the approval of Pope (now St.) John Paul II, noted, in both its “Responsum Ad Dubium Concerning the Teaching Contained in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis,” and in its ”Letter Concerning the CDF Reply Regarding Ordinatio Sacerdotalis,” made clear that this teaching is infallible (in both documents) and that the source of its infallibility is not to be found in the Apostolic Letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, itself; rather, it is because of the fact that this teaching is a matter taught by the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium of the Church, i.e., all the bishops of the world in union with the Pope have taught this definitively as a matter that must be believed with divine faith by all of God’s faithful.

In this post, I would like to break down the reasons the Church has given us for the veracity of this dogma into seven distinct points, though we could talk about more.

1. The Church has Definitively Declared it; Thus, Women Cannot be Ordained to the Ministerial Priesthood.

This seems simple. And it is. But if we understand that the Church is God’s voice on this earth in matters of faith and morals, then this first point is the most important of all. Jesus said of his Church, “If they hear you they hear me; if they reject you they reject me” in Luke 10:16 (see also Matt. 18:15-18, Acts 15:24-28, Matt. 16:13-18, I John 4:6, etc.). When God speaks through his Church, the matter at hand is settled. In matters of faith and morals, we must begin with The Faith as Catholics. Yet, as St. Anselm said, the key to our journey as Christians is always “fides quarens intellectum” (faith seeking understanding). We have the assurance as Catholics that the Church will never and can never lead us astray in her formal and definitive teachings because Jesus guarantees it in Matt. 16:18-19! So we can know that the Faith is not dependent upon our understanding of it in order for it to be true. Thanks be to God!

Yet, as Catholics we must ever seek to understand more deeply our Faith though we can never understand it comprehensively. This leads us to point two.

2. The Church’s Constant Tradition for 2,000 Years Cannot Err

The Church has always reserved ordination to the ministerial priesthood to men. There have been a few heretical sects, such as the gnostics and the Collyridians, of the first 400 years of the Christian era who allowed women to be “ordained,” but they were quickly and vociferously opposed by the Fathers and Christian writers of the Church such as St. Irenaeus of Lyons (AD 180), Tertullian (AD 200), Firmilian of Caesarea (AD 250), Origen (AD 230), St. Epiphanius (AD 350), and more.

After the issue was dealt with in the early centuries, the Church universally accepted this dogma without any problem until the 20th century. Hence, the magisterium was never compelled to make a formal pronouncement on the matter until recent times. However, the constant teaching and practice of the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit is proof of the divine origin of the doctrine. We must remember that all of the teachings of the Faith were given to us in the first century in Scripture and Sacred Tradition. The Church does not invent new teachings, she merely defines what she has been given. If Jesus and the apostles taught that women could be ordained, we would have known about it through the Fathers and the teaching of the Church.

The Truth is: 2,000 years of constant Tradition gives us the clear truth: Jesus Christ willed for there to be a male-only priesthood for his Church.

3. The Attitude of Christ

For Christians, the teaching and practice of Jesus Christ is most essential. It is an historical fact that Jesus Christ did not call any woman to be part of the twelve that he ordained. Jesus Christ is “the Word” of God. He is the visible manifestation of the will of God on this earth. Jesus, therefore, is the revelation of the will of God for the Church and for us. So when he does not ordain women, he reveals the will of God in this matter. Some say that Jesus was just “giving in” to the custom of the day. “He would have ordained women if he had lived in a more liberated culture.” This is not true for several reasons.

1. Pagan cultures, almost universally, had priestesses in their religions. Judaism stood in the minority in reserving the priesthood to males. There were many examples of women priests at the time of Christ.
2. Jesus was definitely not one to “cave in” to custom! HE WAS GOD! In fact, even the disciples were astonished when Jesus publicly spoke with the Samaritan woman in John 4:27. This was taboo for Jews, and most especially a Rabbi! Jesus allowed the woman who suffered from hemorrhages (cf. Matt. 9:20-22) to touch him, and he took no thought of it even though she was legally impure. Jesus allowed a known and publically sinful woman to approach him in the house of Simon the Pharisee (cf. Luke 7:37ff). This was radically counter-cultural. Jesus showed the hypocrisy of the men who wanted to stone a woman caught in adultery while the man was no where to be found in John 8:11. Jesus departs from Mosaic Law without hesitation in order to elevate marriage to the level of sacrament and affirm the equality of the rights and duties of men and women with regard to the marriage bond (cf. Mk. 10:2-11; Matt. 19:3-9). And over and over Jesus says, “You have heard it said… But I say to you” in the Sermon on the Mount in Matt. 5. Jesus radically departed from Old Testament tradition as well as from the Old Testament itself when he established the New Testament.
3. Jesus was accompanied by women during his itinerate ministry (cf. Luke 8:2-3) in a culture that did not consider women as equals to men. Jewish tradition did not accord the same value of testimony from women as men, yet Jesus first appeared to women after the resurrection and Jesus charged these women with the message of the resurrection to be carried to the apostles (cf. Matt. 28:7-10; Luke 24:9-10; Jn. 20:11-18). This is a departure from custom, yet Jesus does not call these women to be Apostles with the twelve. Further, even Jesus’ Mother, the pinnacle of God’s creation, who surpassed in dignity all of the Apostles combined, was not called to be numbered as an Apostle. Without her, there is no Jesus, there are no Apostles, and no Gospel at all. Yet, her greatness does not come from being an ordained apostle; it comes from doing the will of God according to her unique call. She is the epitomy of “woman” and “mother” (cf. Luke 1:37-38, John 2:1-5, 19:26-27, Rev. 12). But she is not an apostle.

4. The Practice of the Apostles

The Apostles continued with the same attitude as Christ concerning the ordination of women. Even though Mary, the greatest Christian, was present in the upper room with the apostles, and had a privileged place (cf. Acts 1:14), it was Matthias that was chosen to be numbered among the twelve, not Mary, in Acts 1:20-26. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit filled all those present, men and women, with the Holy Spirit, but it was only “Peter and the Eleven” who made the official proclamation of the Gospel (cf. Acts 2:14). As the Apostles ventured out among the gentiles, they would have encountered a world that was filled with religious traditions that ordained women, yet the Apostles remained faithful to the mind of Christ on this matter. Women had crucial roles in the Church, such as Priscilla, who instructed Apollos when he first was converted to “the way more perfectly” in Acts 18:26. Phoebe is mentioned as being in the service of the Church of Cenchreae in Romans 16:1. And Lydia, the first European convert, converted her household to the faith in Acts 16. But these were not ordained. Just as we saw with Christ, the Apostles held women in much higher esteem than in former Jewish culture (see Gal. 3:28). But never do they ordain women. In fact, whenever St. Paul refers to men and women who helped him in his ministry, he refers to them as “my fellow workers” (Romans 16:3; Phil. 4:2-3). But the title “God’s fellow workers” (I Cor. 3:9; cf. I Thess. 3:2) he reserves to men alone, e.g., Apollos, Timothy, and himself. Only the ordained have this title.

5. The Permanent Value of the Attitude of Jesus and the Apostles

Could it be that this attitude of Jesus and the Apostles toward the ordination of women was only temporary? After all, some of the prescriptions of St. Paul, such as the veiling of women in I Cor. 11:2-6, were only matters of discipline, and therefore, transitory by nature.

When it comes to the veiling of women, this is undoubtedly true; however, there is no doubt that the Apostle’s forbidding of women “to speak” in the assemblies (cf. I Cor. 14:34-35, I Tim. 2:12) is of a different nature. St. Paul does not oppose women prophesying in the assembly at all. He gives prescriptions as to how it is to be done in I Cor. 11:5. In his prohibitions of women speaking, St. Paul is referring to official offices in the Church (see I Cor. 14:29-37), or of the offices of bishop and deacon, in particular (see I Tim. 2:7-3:12). St. Paul’s reasons are given referencing the order of creation and redemption according to I Cor. 11:7 and I Tim. 2:12-15. The orders of creation and redemption are unchangeable! This stands in stark contrast to St. Paul’s indication that the matter of veils for women was a mere ”custom” of the Church (cf. I Cor. 11:16).

It should also be noted that when we are speaking of Holy Orders in the Church, we are speaking about a sacrament. All seven of the sacraments are “outward signs instituted by Christ that give grace” as the Baltimore Catechism so eloquently says it. The substance of these sacraments cannot change. The Church does not have the authority to change them! For example, we cannot decide to use coffee and donuts at Mass because it would relate to our culture better as a staple of our diet! These sacraments are signs or symbols to be sure, but they are more than that. As “Inter Insignores” puts it, “They are principally meant to link the person of every period to the supreme Event of the history of salvation, in order to enable that person to understand… what grace they signify and produce.” The priestly ministry is not just a pastoral service as we see in Protestantism, but as the Church declares, “it ensures the continuity of the functions entrusted by Christ to the Apostles and the continuity of the powers related to those functions… therefore, the Church cannot abolish, on essential points, the sacramental reference to constitutive events of Christianity and to Christ himself.” The Church is accused of being “archaic,” in her sticking to her Traditions. No, she is simply faithful to the teachings of Christ and the Apostles.

6. The Ministerial Priesthood in the Light of the Mystery of Christ

Coming from the tradition I came from before I was Catholic, the Assemblies of God, where we ordained women in our communities, this point was crucial for me. In this our sixth point, we see some of the deeper theological reasons why women cannot be ministerial priests. While I would have certainly accepted on faith the fact that “the Church says it, I believe it, and that’s the end of it,” when it came to this issue, it was deeper refection on the reality and nature of Christ in relation to the Church that would win the day for me on an intellectual level. And indeed, I might add, I found and continue to find a deeper study of the Christ and the Church in general to be a key source of both grace and truth that continues to keep me nourished in Christ as well as in the bosom of Holy Mother Church, along with the sacraments.

At any rate, in the Catholic Church, as in Sacred Scripture, the priest does not act in his own name, or by his own power; rather, in persona Christi (cf. II Cor. 2:10; 17; II Cor. 5:20; Gal. 4:14). In the celebration of the Eucharist we are not only remembering a past event (though we are remembering a past event to be sure), but we are present with Christ in the upper room. This is done not only by the power of Christ conferred upon the priest, but in the person of Christ. The priest takes “the role of Christ, to the point of being his very image, when he pronounces the words of consecration.

As St. Thomas Aquinas said: “Sacramental signs represent what they signify by natural resemblance.” When we are talking about something as essential as sacraments, the faithful must be able to recognize the signs with ease. Not only is this crucial on a mystical level, as we will see in a moment, but on a psychological level. We would not want a woman playing General Patton in a movie! George C. Scott is simply a better fit! In fact, it would be absurd to even think of, let’s say, Julia Roberts playing Patton! Right?

Well, when we are speaking of a priest offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we are not just talking about a play or a movie, we are talking about the central event in all of history that is our very salvation! The psychological aspect of humanity cannot be overlooked. Christ himself was, is, and always will be, a man. Therefore, it is fitting that his ministers who act in his person be men. But on a mystical level, this truth is only magnified as to both its significance, and its necessity.

This does not imply, as some critics say, that the Church is saying man has a natural superiority over woman. And it is not saying women are “not full members of the Church” or that they are “second-class Catholics.” Galatians 3:28 puts that to rest as does the constant teaching of the Church. There is an essential and undeniable equality of dignity between man and woman. However, equality does not assume or imply sameness. Man and woman are oh so very different! Anyone who has been married for more than a year—more than a month—knows this to be true! Different functions and abilities does not equal a difference in dignity.

In fact, I always say that if any argument could be made for superiority, it could more easily be made for the superiority of woman over man! Think about it in relation to procreation! Consider the fact that the man has the role of delivering the seed into the woman in the miracle of procreation while the woman receives the seed, gives life to and then nurtures that child for nine months! Who has the greater role here? Does that mean the woman is superior? No! But if there is an argument to be made, the woman has a pretty solid foundation from which to make her case…

I could talk all night about non-essential differences between men and women that give each advantages in certain circumstances. But what is most important for us to see here is the simple truth that there is a difference in roles and functions between the sexes, not in their essential dignity or essential equality. I think all of us could proclaim together, “Viva la difference!” Much of the beauty of mankind lies in the differences between the sexes!

At any rate, the crux of this point is this: The covenant relationship between God and mankind, from the Old Testament prophets onward, took on the “privileged form of a nuptial mystery” (quoting Inter Insigniores). In both the Old (Song of Solomon, Hosea 1-3, Jer. 2, etc.) and New Testaments (Eph. 5:22-23, I Cor. 11:2), the People of God are depicted as the spouse of God.

If we take even a cursory look at some examples among the many of how the New Testament (it is replete with examples) gives us insight into this nuptial relationship between Christ and his Church (cf. John 3:29, 14:1-6, Rev. 19:7-9, Mk. 2:19-20, Matt. 22:1-14), the truth of an all-male ministerial priesthood becomes undeniable. For example, Christ is clearly presented in these texts cited above as the groom and the Church is the bride. Need we even say that Christ would have to be a man and for obvious reasons? To be blunt: a woman cannot marry a woman! So the priest who acts “in the person of Christ” would simply have to be a man as well. He is the bridegroom and the Church is the bride!

Further, how often is the word of God depicted as a “seed” in Scripture (cf. Luke 8:5-8, I Peter 1:23, etc.)? It is the man who delivers the seed; it is the woman who receives the seed and brings forth life. It is Christ who comes to us as “the Word” in the flesh. He is the true “seed” from heaven that brings forth life. But he needs a bride in order for that seed to bear fruit. Hence, the Church is his bride. If the priest acts as Christ for us, he must be a man just as Christ was so that he may deliver the “seed” of the Word to his bride which is the Church.

One final note on this point: Remember folks, the Church is the “Family of God” (Eph. 3:15). When we are gathered around the table (the Eucharist), we are a family. According to Exodus 12, when Moses instituted the Passover, it was the father who presided at the Passover sacrificial meal and nourished his family as father and head of the family. The Eucharist is our Passover. Jesus fulfilled the Passover in Matt. 26, Mark 14, and Luke 22 on Holy Thursday. He now presides over his Passover family as father. Our priests are called to act in the place of Christ, for Christ, and even more, “in the person of Christ,” in order to continue the Passover to all generations (Luke 22:19, I Cor. 5:6-8, I Cor. 11:23-29). As such, once again, the priest must be a “father” in order to preside over his Passover family at the Eucharist, which is our Passover.

7. The Ministerial Priesthood Illustrated by the Mystery of the Church

In the modern era, we in the West are all-concerned with “rights.” We have this right and that right, and “don’t you dare tread on my rights!” Unfortunately, many will use Gal. 3:27-28 to “prove” that women have a “right” to the priesthood.

For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Actually, this text has nothing to do with ministerial priesthood! This is talking about the essential equality of all in Christ as I said above. The obvious reference is to baptism, which is the “circumcision of Christ” according to Col. 2:11-13. Only free, Hebrew males could be circumcised in the Old Testament. But now all can be baptized, demonstrating the essential equality of all. However, the calling to the priesthood is just that: “a calling.” As Jesus put it, “You did not choose me, no, I chose you; and I commissioned you…” (John 15:16; cf. Heb. 5:4) To think of the priesthood as a right is to miss the boat. Baptism does not give anyone a right to the ministerial priesthood. This is a calling. Jesus prayed all night (cf. Luke 6:12) and called “those he wanted” (Mark 3:13). It is Christ who knows what is best for his bride, the Church. It is our duty to hear the voice of the Master and obey him.

Perhaps, it is in this role of “hearing and obeying” that “woman” is most crucial. It is the ultimate “woman,” Mary, who teaches us what it is to be the true bride of Christ, the Church, in Luke 1:37-38, when she says, “Let it be done unto me according to your word.” As “woman,” Mary knows better than any man what it means to receive the “seed” of the Word both into her womb and into her innermost being. As man more naturally fits into the role of apostle and minister of the Word, woman more naturally fits into the role of recipient of the Word who hears the word of God and brings life to it. This is the essence of what it means to be a saint–to be the Church. And, as “Inter Insigniores” says, “The greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven are not the ministers but the saints.”

Final Thoughts

This that I have presented is basically the teaching of the Church on this issue. But I believe the problem of women’s ordination and the “demand” from some quarters for these “ordinations” betrays a deeper problem, or deeper problems that we would do well to consider. In the case of abortion, what we are combating is more than just an argument of whether or not a baby in the womb, is, in fact, a baby. The problem is deeper than that. We must combat a “culture of death” that has infected every area of our lives in Western Culture (that is a matter for another day!). We must deal with the religious issue to be sure, but also the sociological, scientific, anthropological, moral, legal, political, and philosophical undercurrents if we are to truly make headway when it comes to this issue. There is no doubt that “the culture of death” must be confronted with an entire “culture of life”.

Thus, in closing, I believe we must understand we are dealing with a similar situation when it comes to the feminist movement and the “feminization” of culture, if you will, that underlies the question of “women in the priesthood.” We must be able to deal with this issue by having answers that understand some of the root causes for the passion that surrounds this matter.

I recommend the book, “Women in the Priesthood,” by Fr. Manfred Hauke, and published by Ignatius Press, as an excellent starting point for equipping all involved for the dialogue that must be had here. Fr. Hauke does a fantastic job at presenting the arguments for women’s ordination very well and then in demonstrating the weaknesses of the arguments. And he deals with the issue from an anthropological, social, theological, religious, scientific, as well as a theological standpoint.

And I also recommend that if you really want to dive deeper into this discussion, you should click here for much more information.