TCA Faith for January/February 2016

Augustine and Calvin?

Q. I know that St. Augustine wrote about predestination, and that John Calvin wrote about double predestination. Can you explain what they both taught and what the Church says about it? What are some things to think about as we reconcile free will with God’s omniscience?

Graham, via e-mail

A. Predestination is a proper biblical concept which indicates that God chose us and called us before we were ever made to be His own. It does not deny that we freely chose Him, but it does insist that He first chose us, and thereby enabled us to choose Him.

Scripture says: “He chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will” (Eph 1:4-5; see also Rom 8:29-30).

Predestination, understood in a way that does not cancel human freedom, is thus biblical and proper. Double predestination, however, as articulated by Calvin and others that follow him is not biblical. Double predestination teaches in effect that some are destined by God from before their birth to go to heaven or hell and have no real choice. In other words, God sovereignly ordains the eternal destiny of every human being — the lost as well as the saved. Thus the damned are fated and destined to hell from before their birth.

But this is contrary to Scripture, wherein God says, for example, “I find no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies” (Ez 18:32; see also 1 Tm 2:4). So, double predestination is wrong: God does not desire, will or force anyone into hell. Only by freely choosing against heaven and the values of the kingdom of heaven does a person depart to hell — it is really their choice, God merely affirms it at the judgment.

An analogy that is sometimes used regarding predestination and double predestination is in reference to sports. In the NFL draft, certain players are chosen by certain teams. And in this sense they are predestined to play for a certain team. However, they are not doubly predestined in that they are not absolutely forced to play for this team. Though they might have to pay some financial penalties, etc., they are free simply to refuse to play for that team and insist on being available for another team. If they were legally forced to play for whatever team chose them, no matter what they thought or wished, this would be an example of double predestination. It would be akin to the Calvinist notion that people are chosen to go to heaven or hell no matter what they think or do.

All of this cancels human freedom, which the Scriptures clearly attest that we do have. Otherwise, any moral exhortation makes no sense at all.

What Calvin’s double predestination is trying to do is to preserve the sovereignty of God. But it does so at the expense of another truth, the freedom of the human person. And this is the essence of all heresy: it takes two truths that are sometimes in tension and, in order to resolve the tension, discards one truth and embraces the other. The word “heresy” is rooted in a Greek term meaning “to choose.”

Orthodoxy however holds the balance and accepts the tension. The tension is embraced in humility that accepts the fact that the tension between God’s sovereignty and our freedom is created by our own human limits in understanding.

Part of the mystery of predestination is that God lives outside of time and sees it comprehensively. God knows and sees the future and the past along with the present as one moment. But the fact that He knows something does not mean He causes or forces it. Even humanly, I might be able to see two trains moving toward each other on a track and know they are going to crash. But my knowing this does not mean I cause this.

How Long a Fast?

Q. How long before and after Mass should a person fast? I read that in older times you could not eat anything after midnight. Is that true? When and how many times have the rules been changed, and why? Nice job on your answers. I always enjoy reading them.

Carly, Providence, R.I.

A. Canon law requires a one-hour fast before receiving holy Communion: “One who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from any food or drink, with the exception only of water and medicine, for at least the period of one hour before holy Communion” (Canon 919).

In a certain sense, especially on Sunday, this is no fast at all since Communion is not usually received until about 45 minutes into the Mass. And if one sets out 15 minutes before Mass to drive to Church, there is really no opportunity to eat anyway.

The rules have, in fact, changed. Pope Pius XII, in 1957, reduced it from a complete fast after midnight to a fast of three hours. It was Pope Paul VI who further reduced the requirement to one hour in 1964. The purpose was to encourage more frequent reception of holy Communion.

There are no Church rules about fasting after Communion. There are some pious practices that encourage one wait 15 to 20 minutes after receiving Communion before eating, allowing the Sacred Host time to dissolve and leave the stomach area. But this is only a pious custom, not a requirement.

Mass in Heaven?

Q. I have been wondering, especially after reading the Book of Revelation, is there Mass in heaven? I suppose there is no need for it, but could there be?

Name withheld by request, via e-mail

A. Your impression of a great Mass in heaven is well-founded. One of the chief descriptions of heaven is that it is a liturgy. For indeed, God is praised by the multitude of angelic and human persons in heaven. Our earthly liturgy, in fact, is modeled on the heavenly liturgy. When John sets forth the vision of heaven he had, beginning in Revelation 4, he describes hymns, incense, priests in long white robes, a book (or scroll), the Lamb of God on a thronelike altar, candles and lampstands, kneeling (prostration), standing, singing of a hymn, and the list could go on.

Thus heaven is like a great Mass. The first part of John’s vision in Revelation focuses on a scroll (or book), the second part focuses on the Lamb which has the making of a sacrifice. And this is a clear correspondence to the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which comprise our Mass. Therefore, holy Mass for us is a kind of dress rehearsal for heaven.

That said, there will not be sacraments in heaven. For indeed, there our union with God is complete and all the veils are lifted. The sacraments will have had their effect and now the fuller experience to which they pointed and led will take hold. God’s true presence will not be mediated through sacraments, for we shall behold Him then face to face.

Scripture says: “At present, we see indistincly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present, I know partially; then I shall know full, as I am fully known” (1 Cor 13:12). In heaven we will not receive Communion, for we shall already have it fully.

Sacraments are for wayfarers, those of us on a journey, something like the manna was for the Jewish people journeying across the desert. Of that manna Scripture says: “After they ate of the produces of the land, the manna ceased. No longer was there manna for the Israelites, who that year ate of the yield of the land of Canaan” (Jos 5:12) — and so, too, for us who have been sustained by our Eucharistic Manna. The day we enter the promised land of heaven, the real Communion it gave us here will be eclipsed by the perfect Communion of heaven to which it pointed and drew us.

Cain’s Offering?

Q. In Genesis, there is the whole story about Cain and Abel. Why did God not approve of Cain’s offerings? What did he do that was so disappointing to God? I get that Cain murdered his brother, but before that?

Carl, Des Moines, Iowa

A. While it is true that there is no obvious explanation given for the rejection of Cain’s offering in Genesis, there are differences in the details of the two offerings that provide some clues: First, Abel gives of the firstlings (first fruits) of his flock. There is no mention that Cain gave of the first fruits of his crop.

In biblical legislation, God commanded that the tithe be given. But it was not any tenth that was to be given, rather it was the first tenth that was to be given (see Ex 23:16,19; 34:26; Lv 23:10 to name just a few). Thus Cain erred by not presenting first fruits, and God did not regard his offering. We are not to give God leftovers.

A second, though less certain, problem may be that Cain offered a cereal offering, not a blood offering. Scripture attests that it was necessary to shed the blood of animals for the remission of sin. Hebrews 9:22 says, “According to the law almost everything is purified by blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” This is confirmed all throughout the Old Testament wherein God specifies the sacrifice of certain animals for Temple worship. This theory is not without a problem, however, since cereal offerings and other offerings from the harvest are elsewhere commanded and acceptable to God (see Lv 2:14 for just one example).

Whatever the full reason, the Book of Hebrews attests: “By faith Abel offered to God a sacrifice greater than Cain’s. Through this he was attested to be righteous, God bearing witness to his gifts” (11:4).

Cain’s reaction to God’s response goes further to indicate a third area of concern, not for Cain’s offering, but for his disposition. As we shall see later in 1 John 3:12, Cain’s offering was not just lacking, it was evil. And this indicates not a merely external problem with Cain’s offering but an internal disposition of sin that renders his offering displeasing to God. And thus one can offer a technically perfect sacrifice to God, but if we offer it in unrepented and serious sin, God is displeased and we can even bring condemnation on ourselves (see 1 Cor 11:29).

Here, too, the Genesis text hints at the “heart problem” Cain brought to the moment. Scripture says: “Cain was very angry and dejected [that God did not regard his sacrifice]. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why are you dejected? If you act rightly, you will be accepted; but if not, sin lies in wait at the door; its urge is for you, yet you can rule over it’ ” (Gn 4:5-7).

The image of sin that lies in wait at the door is a powerful one. In permitting his anger and envy to grow toward his brother, Cain is moving toward darkness and sin. He must learn to master his anger and all his passions.

Sadly, as you already note, Cain gives way to sin and murders his brother. Thus the First Letter of John tersely notes: “Cain … belonged to the evil one and slaughtered his brother. Why did he slaughter him? Because his own works were evil, and those of his brother righteous” (3:12).

Teleology vs. Typology?

Q. I am trying to understand the different theological and philosophical terms that we use as a Church. Two big ones for me are teleology and typology. They both seem to point to the future, but how are they different? Typology was used by the Church Fathers, right?

Claire, Alexandria, Va.

A. Teleology comes from the Greek word telos, meaning “end,” “goal,” “destination” or “perfection.” As such, teleology is that aspect of theology that looks to the end, or goal, of something.

In terms of theology, the end goal of the Lord’s work in our life is perfection, holiness and completion for us. When Jesus says on the cross, “It is finished,” the Greek word translated as “finished” is Tetelestai (it has been finished). In other words, his work is accomplished, has been perfected or completed. When St. Paul says, “I have finished the race” (2 Tm 4:7), he is using the same Greek verb. St. Paul also said, “But [the Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Again, the same Greek verb (translated here as “perfect”) is used. And there are many similar uses throughout Scripture.

There is also a common teleological reasoning in Scripture wherein we are exhorted to live out the perfection that has been attained for us and to become what we are. For example, when St. John writes, “No one who is begotten by God commits sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot sin because he is begotten by God” (1 Jn 3:9), he uses here a teleological argument. He does not mean one cannot sin at all now. Rather, he means that to the degree that God’s grace grows in us, sin is less and less common. And when grace has been perfected or attained its full goal and maturity (telos) we will no longer sin. This is the state of the saints in heaven who have attained to their goal or perfection (telos).

Typology, in its biblical interpretation, is a way of seeing the relationship of the Old Testament people and events to the New Testament. Typology studies how events, persons or statements in the Old Testament prefigure events or aspects especially of Christ. For example, Isaac, a beloved son carrying wood on his shoulders up the same hill that Golgotha would one day occupy, is seen as the type, an image or prefigurement of Jesus, who carried the wood of the cross up the same hill more than a millennium later. The term “type” derives from the Greek noun typos, “a stamp,” or “a die that hits or stamps a figure on something.” In this sense, a type is an image, figure or stamp of what it prints or stamps; it is its original pattern, model or mold.

There are hundreds of figures or types of Jesus and of New Testament events in the Old Testament. For example, the flood and the crossing of the Red Sea are images or types of baptism. The wound in Adam’s side which brought forth his wife Eve is an image or type of the wound in Jesus’ side which brought forth his Bride, the Church.

Breaking Legs?

Q. Why did the Romans break the legs of those they crucified. Medically, I have read, some doctors argue that it would not have been to hasten death. But why was it so important that Jesus’ legs not be broken?

Name withheld by request, via e-mail

A. The breaking of the legs hastened death by bringing on asphyxiation rapidly. Crucifixion involves a lot of physical pain, scourging and often being nailed to the cross (rather than just tied). But the real manner of death was to stretch out the arms of the man on the cross and have the weight of his body drag him down. This weakened the muscles of the arms and chest and breathing became shallower. For a while a person could push up with his legs and take some of the weight off the arms and chest, which would prolong life and lead to deeper breathing. But eventually the lungs filled with fluid, breathing was labored and asphyxiation caused death. To break the legs removed the option of alleviating the arms and chest and death came much sooner.

As for Jesus, his legs were not broken because he had already died. That is the practical reason.

According to the Gospel of John: “For this happened so that the scripture passage might be fulfilled: ‘Not a bone of it will be broken.’ ” (19:36). John thus sees the fact that Jesus’ bones were not broken as a fulfillment of Psalm 34 and its Messianic reference to the just man: “[The Lord] watches over all his bones; / not one of them shall be broken” (Ps 34:21). It was also said of the Paschal Lamb, “You shall not break any of its bones” (Ex 12:46). Thus Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world; as the Paschal Lamb for us, none of his bones are broken.

Sacraments in the OT?

Q. I know you get asked all the time about showing where in the Scriptures Catholic teachings can be found, so sorry for asking you something along those lines. Anyway, here goes. Where are the sacraments found in the Old Testament? I know there are seven of them, but how can I show Protestant friends that they were there?

Peter, Seattle, Wash.

A. The seven sacraments have their roots in the New Testament, not the Old Testament. However, one can find shadows or types of the sacraments there. Let’s cite both Testaments, where possible.

Baptism is rooted in the Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). It is necessary for salvation that we not reject baptism. Jesus says, “No one can enter the kindgdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (Jn 3:5). And St. Peter says, when asked what we must do to be saved, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). In the Old Testament, there are roots of baptism to be found in the Flood, the crossing of the Red Sea and the many ceremonial washings.

Confirmation is found in the Pentecost event (see Acts 2:1-13) where the frightened and confused disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and found courage and clarity. It is clear that they understood that this experience was to be extended to all subsequent believers, for when Phillip the Deacon went to Samaria and baptized new believers, he sent for Peter and John, “who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the holy Spirit” (Acts 8:15-17). In the Old Testament, there are many references to the Holy Spirit coming upon God’s people in fullness one day such as in the Book of Joel (2:28-29, NRSV).

The Eucharist is widely attested in the New Testament in all the accounts of the Last Supper where Jesus instructs us to “take and eat, for this is my Body ... take and drink, this is the chalice of my Blood.” The Lord also gives an extended treatise on the Eucharist in John 6 and links it especially to the manna in the wilderness of Exodus and Numbers.

Confession is found in the Gospel of John, where Jesus breathed on the apostles and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (20: 22-23). The many atonement rituals and washings, as well as sprinkling with blood in the Old Testament, prefigure this.

Anointing of the sick finds its biblical roots in the act of Jesus sending forth the apostles to prepare the towns for his arrival. “They went off and preached repentance. They drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (Mk 6:12-13; see also Jas 5:14-15). In the Old Testament, the archangel Raphael anointed Tobit’s eyes and he recovered his sight.

Holy matrimony as a sacrament comes from the fact that Jesus calls it a work of God (see Mt 19:6). St. Paul also calls it a “mystery” (in Latin sacramentum) (Eph 5:32). The Old Testament root, referenced by Jesus himself, is, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body” (Gn 2:24).

Holy orders is found in the following: “When day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named apostles” (Lk 6:13). To these Twelve alone he gave certain powers and mandates: to baptize, teach, govern, sanctify, celebrate the Eucharist, forgive sins and confirm. The Old Testament roots are many and are rooted in the Old Testament priesthood, but are not directly synonymous with it, for the Letter to the Hebrews clearly distinguishes the Levitical priesthood from the Priesthood of Jesus in the Order of Melchizedek.

Overcoming Sloth

Q. I go to confession — not as often as I should. I pray, or try to pray, but not as often as I should. Frustrated, my confessor told me to work on what he called sloth. That was pretty humiliating. What can I do about being better? Do you have any tips?

Name withheld by request, via email

A. Sloth is sorrow, aversion or sadness at the good things God is offering. The heart of sorrow is that we perceive that some effort will be required to attain to what God is offering, or perhaps that we must lose something to gain another thing. Now, many are averse to any sacrifice. We want “free stuff.”

Sloth should not be equated however with mere laziness. At the heart of sloth is aversion to the change necessary to acquire a new life from God.

For example, one version of sloth is, contrary to laziness, the problem of being a workaholic. Many people, in order to avoid spiritual growth, plunge themselves into worldly pursuits, to building empires and working long hours to do so. There is nothing lazy in this, but avoidance is cearly operative here. So sloth is more than mere laziness.

The antidotes to sloth are joy and zeal. We must ask God to help us cultivate joy at what He offers, and zeal to attain it; even if this means losing everything in this world to gain heaven.

Begin in small ways to dedicate yourself to what God is offering: truth, grace, healing and salvation. Ask for a joyful zeal that roots you in pursuing these gifts!

What is Taizé?

Q. For many years, I have been hearing about Taizé. When I asked a friend about it, and she knows a lot of Catholic stuff, she said that they were kind of out there. I heard from someone else that they are OK for Catholics. They have nice music, but are they safe to study? Anything you can give me would be helpful.

Roberta, Delray, Fla.

A. Taizé is an ecumenical community. As such it will have some elements that are less than pristine from a Catholic view. However, Taizé draws heavily from Catholic roots and, it seems to me, ought to be encouraged. We need certain “estuaries,” where the water of the world and Protestants is able to “mix” with the water of “Catholicism.” It is possible to learn, in this estuary of mutual respect, that there is true value to the personal walk with Jesus, as experienced by many Protestants, and is worthy of our consideration as an experience of the normal Christian life.

The tragic loss of Brother Roger to a crazed killer is all the more reason to stay in communication with this community. He was surely moving in the direction of Catholicism and it may well be that he still inspires this community to walk closely with the Church. Surely they are closer to the Church than many “Catholics” I know.

Chalice or Cup?

Q. Every Mass today uses the word chalice to describe the cup used by Jesus to establish the Eucharist. I know it is a translation from the Latin calix. Did Jesus actually use a chalice at the Last Supper? Was it a cup? What would he have used in the type of meal He and the apostles were celebrating? And why does the Church use the word chalice? Wouldn’t he have been more humble?

Ambrose, via e-mail

A. In one sense the words “cup” and “chalice” are describing the same basic reality. Chalice in English is more formal and, these days, has an almost exclusively religious significance.

The cup or chalice used at a Passover meal (which was likely the context of the first Mass) was no ordinary or “humble” vessel. In most Jewish homes, the cup used at the Passover was special, beautiful and used only for that purpose.

It is fitting therefore that the principle chalice used on the altar should not be ordinary either. It need not be highly jeweled, but the main part of the cup is directed to be of precious metal as is fitting for the Precious Blood it will contain.

Rev. Msgr. Charles E. Pope has a Master of Arts in Moral Theology from Mount St. Mary’s University, Emmitsburg, Md. He was ordained to the priesthood on June 24, 1989, and is currently a pastor in Washington, D.C.