Thursday, July 16, 2015

Yes we are!

I can't count the number of times that I've heard the idea that Catholics are not Christians and I'm often amazed at the arguments given as to why calling oneself Catholic rules one out of some people's idea of Christian, most notably among the more fundamental Protestants.

Given that I, being part of the Anglican Catholic Church, identify myself as a Catholic and not as Protestant (see here for a refinement of that idea) I do have a vested interest as to defending Catholicism against the idea that we are not Christian.

Of course, being an Anglican Catholic, I am not a Roman Catholic. I do not believe that Rome defines Catholicism. If it did, then it would not regard the Orthodox Church as being Catholic either. Surely the Orthodox Church would properly be called Protestant if Protestant means "not Roman Catholic". As I've said before, I believe in the Primacy of the Pope but not his Supremacy, the two are different things, and I've not yet heard one successful argument from the Fathers or from Scripture that proves that the Pope is indeed Supreme. It does mean that I cannot entirely defend Roman Catholicism from the rabid attacks by Ian Paisley, but I am confident that they have already mounted a successful defence against those (usually straw-man) arguments.

Yet, I must state quite clearly that if you claim to be a Catholic, then it must be demonstrated that you are a Christian first. How is this to be done? What is a Christian? 

The good news is that the word "Christian" is biblical. In Acts xi.25-6, we read:
Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass , that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
Is there a significance here? Well, yes, we know that St Barnabas and St Paul/Saul and the disciples of the Church in Antioch are qualified to receive the epithet of "Christian". If we look a little later in the twenty-sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we find St Paul before Agrippa. The conversation is worth presenting in full, even if you have a bible at hand!
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. 
Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself : I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews: Especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently. My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify , that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come . 
For which hope's sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead? I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death , I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto * strange cities. 
Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And I said , Who art thou , Lord? And he said , I am Jesus whom thou persecutest . But rise , and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen , and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.  
Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me. Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles. 
And as he thus spake for himself , Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself ; much learning doth make thee mad. But he said , I am not mad , most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness. For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest . 
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. And Paul said , I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.
So what does one conclude? Agrippa is almost persuaded to become a Christian by what Paul says, so there must be something in what Paul says here that characterises being a Christian. In fact, what is here is the beginnings of the Catholic Creeds. Compare what is said about the criterion of faith in the biblical passage with
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary: Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell; The third day he rose again from the dead: He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty: From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
and further, with,
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten son of God, Begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God, Begotten, not made, Being of one substance with the Father, By whom all things were made: Who for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man, And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, And ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and dead: Whose kingdom shall have no end.
It seems quite clear that an active and well-formed belief in the Catholic Creeds is sufficient to fulfill the criteria for being a Christian according to St Paul. For, believing that Jesus Christ is the son of God means to believe His teachings and His witness. His witness, as the Church has always maintained, leads to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the Church as the Bride of Christ.

Do Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came down from Heaven to give us light to show us our need for repentance and gave the promise of reconciliation of us with God through His Death upon the cross?

I believe the phrase is "you betcha!"

So why are Catholics often rejected as Christians? Most of the time it's because we're told what we believe by people who don't want us to be Christians. We're told that we worship Mary and the saints/ We're told that we worship priests and popes and statues. We're told that we worship bread and wine.

All I can say is, isn't it wonderful to have people with so infallible a vision through the window into men's souls? Such infallibility rivals that of the Popes they seek to demonise.

Of course, if they really bothered to look and see what we understand, then they would see that we are just as Christian as they are. In fact, it is because of us Catholics that there is a Bible for them to read in the first place. If what these folk say is true, there were no Christians whatsoever from the death of the disciples until the Reformation!

It's also interesting that the Roman Catholics (these days) refuse to see Protestants as non-Christian. to them non-Protestants are separated brethren, though this has been the product of listening and one of the more welcome results from Vatican II. They also say the same about non-Roman Catholics.

To say that any Catholic is not Christian is the mark of ignorance, either a genuine lack of understanding of what the Catholic Church teaches, or a genuine wilful ignorance born of a deep-seated wholesale rejection of Catholicism. I would hope that such people would be willing to listen and be educated before they pass so damning a judgment.

Of course, there are lots of different doctrines of Christianity out there, and not all of them can be right. I believe that Anglican Catholicism is the closest and also that there are many other Churches out there that believe almost practically the same things as we do, but I am not prepared to write off anyone as non-Christian unless I am given a very good reason to do so! Perhaps there should be a blanket ban on sweeping statements.

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