Augustine on the Sinlessness of Mary

"We must except the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honour to the Lord; for from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin" (De nat. et grat. 36.42)

image from the 'Public domain' via wikimedia commons. Augustinus in betrachtendem Gebet, by Botticelli

Rules for Catholic Biblical Interpretation

St. Peter, in his first epistle, teaches us that "no prophecy of scripture is made by private interpretation" (1 Pet 1:20) He then goes on, in the same letter, to warn us that in Scripture there "certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction" (2 Pet 3:16)

Clearly interpreting Scripture is not something any Catholic should take lightly. At the very same time the regular reading of Scripture IS something recommended for Catholics. In fact there are even indulgences attached to the reading of Scripture for even only a short amount of time (S.C. Ind., Dec 13, 1898)(Enchiridion Indulgentiarum n.50)

How then are Catholics to properly interpret Scripture without falling into pitfalls mentioned by St. Peter?

The answer can be found in the encyclicals of the great Roman Pontiffs. Denzinger points out that we ought to follow the "principles and norms of interpretation rightly established by Our predecessors of happy memory, Leo XIII in the Encyclical Letter “Providentissimus,” Benedict XV in the Encyclical Letter, “Spiritus Paraclitus,” and also by us in the Encyclical Letter, “Divino Efflante Spiritu.” [DS 3889]

Fr. Laux, in his ʻIntroduction to the Bibleʻ (1932) summarizes Leo XIIIʻs rules for Catholic Interpretation:

"1. No sense or meaning may be attributed to any part or passage of the Bible which would be contrary to the solemn or ordinary teaching of the Church. This rule is known as the "Analogy of Faith"

2. Where the Church has defined the meaning of a certain passage in the Scriptures, it must be accepted as the true meaning intended by the Holy Ghost. The meaning of very few passages in Holy Writ has been thus defined by the Church.

3. Whenever all the Fathers interpret in one and the same manner any text of the Bible as pertaining to the doctrine of faith and morals, they must be faithfully followed.

4. The opinion of other Catholic writers is not as great as that of the Fathers; still, the opinion commonly accepted by them is a safe guide

5. If the results of Biblical criticism or exegesis are inconsistent with the teaching of the Church, it argues a positive defect or mistake in the critical investigation, due to the critic himself or to insufficient data"

Interpreting Scripture without the ʻAnalogy of Faithʻ will inevitably lead us to our ʻown destructionʻ. However,with the guidance of Holy Mother Church, we can engage Scripture and allow it to deepen our understanding of the Catholic Faith.

image used with permission. By Kris A. 


"BRAGA (560).1 Held about 560, by Lucretius, the metropolitan, assisted by seven other bishops, against the errors of the Priscillianists. They drew up twenty-two canons, mostly relating to ceremonies. . . . . The fourteenth orders clerks who are unwilling to eat flesh, to avoid the suspicion of Priscillianism, to be compelled to eat at least herbs boiled with meat."

(Landon, E. H. (1909). Vol. 1: A Manual of Councils of the Holy Catholic Church (122). Edinburgh: John Grant.)

BOOM goes the dynamite!

Lesson -In order to avoid suspicion of heresy, Eat meat OFTEN :) 

To help everyone out in our mission to avoid such suspicion here is a video I made a few months ago of one of my favorite chicken recipes. The short hand is here:

Bok Choy Chicken - Make sauce overnight: 2T tamari, 1T ginger, ½ c grapeseed oil, ½ c chopped scallion. Steam 2 halved chicken breasts, 2 halved baby bok choy 15min. Serve w sauce. (Recipe from the 4-Hour Chef, by Tim Ferriss)

The Necessity of the Ascension (Questions from the Gospel of the 4th Sunday after Easter)

“But I tell you the truth: it is expedient to you that I go. For if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you: but if I go, I will send him to you.” (Jn 16:7) 

This verse, from the Gospel reading of the 4th Sunday after Easter, has an air of mystery to it. 

Why does Christ say that unless He GOES the Paraclete will not come?

Why does Christ NEED to Ascend to the Father? Why couldn't he just stay here, in human form, with us?

St. Augustine gives us an answer about John 16:7 in his Letter on the Trinity

"But this is said, not on account of any inequality of the Word of God and of the Holy Spirit, but as though the presence of the Son of man with them would be a hindrance to the coming of Him, who was not less, because He did not “empty Himself, taking upon Him the form of a servant,” as the Son did. It was necessary, then, that the form of a servant should be taken away from their eyes, because, through gazing upon it, they thought that alone which they saw to be Christ. Hence also is that which is said, “If ye loved me, ye would rejoice because I said, “I go unto the Father; for my Father is greater than I:” that is, on that account it is necessary for me to go to the Father, because, whilst you see me thus, you hold me to be less than the Father through that which you see; and so, being taken up with the creature and the “fashion” which I have taken upon me, you do not perceive the equality which I have with the Father." (De Trin. 1.9)

Augustine clarifies that certainly the verse is not intended to intimate some sort of denial of the nature of the Trinity but rather that Christ needed to Ascend so that we would not know Christ ONLY as a man but as truly equal and consubstantial with the Father. 

The Catechism of the Council of Trent has much of the same Augustinian reasoning when addressing the question of why Christ needed to ascend. It also beautifully relates that until Christ, in fleshly form, left our presence our love for Him would be imperfect. Once he DID leave He would be able to send the Holy Ghost, by Divine love, to help PERFECT our love for Him. In other words, His Ascension and sending of the Spirit would allow us to love Him as Fully God and not just as the humanly present Jesus. 

"And, indeed, if Christ the Lord were dwelling on earth, our whole strength would be fixed upon the very sight of his human person, and the enjoyment of his presence, and we should regard only that man, who was to bestow on us such blessings, and would cherish towards him a sort of earthly affection. But, by his ascension into heaven, he has rendered our affection for him spiritual, and has made us venerate and love as God him who, though now absent, is the object of our thoughts. This we learn partly from the example of the Apostles, who, whilst our Lord was personally present with them, seemed to judge of him in some measure humanly; and in part, from these words of our Lord himself: ʻit is expedient for you that I goʻ, for that imperfect love, with which they had cherished Jesus Christ when present, was to be perfected by divine love, and that by the coming of the Holy Ghost; and, therefore, he immediately subjoins: ʻIf I go not, the Comforter will not come to you." (Roman Catechism of Trent 1.7.8)

image from the 'Public domain' via wikimedia commons.  The Ascension by Benjamin West, 1801

The Phoenix, an Emblem of our Resurrection

The story of the Phoenix, the bird that dies and then rises it from its ashes, is legendary. Its made its way from the stories of ancient eastern lands all the way to modern fantasy tales. What some Catholics don't realize is that the Phoenix is much more than a cool story. The Phoenix actually played a role in early formation of some essential Catholic Dogma. One of these dogma is that of the ʻResurrection of the bodyʻ.

St. Clement of Rome (Pope) famously used the Phoenix as sign of our bodily resurrection. It was best encapsulated in his Epistle to the Corinthians :

"Let us consider that wonderful sign [of the resurrection] which takes place in eastern lands, that is, in Arabia and the countries round about. There is a certain bird which is called a phœnix. This is the only one of its kind, and lives five hundred years. And when the time of its dissolution draws near that it must die, it builds itself a nest of frankincense, and myrrh, and other spices, into which, when the time is fulfilled, it enters and dies. But as the flesh decays a certain kind of worm is produced, which, being nourished by the juices of the dead bird, brings forth feathers. Then, when it has acquired strength, it takes up that nest in which are the bones of its parent, and bearing these it passes1 from the land of Arabia into Egypt, to the city called Heliopolis. And, in open day, flying in the sight of all men, it places them on the altar of the sun, and having done this, hastens back to its former abode. The priests then inspect the registers of the dates, and find that it has returned exactly as the five hundredth year was completed." (The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians J. Keith, Trans.). Clement of Rome. (1897). In A. Menzies (Ed.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume IX)

Other Church Fathers such as St. Ambrose and early ecclesiastical writers, such as Rufinus of Aquileia and Tertullian, also used the Phoenix illustration to defend Catholic Doctrine. Here Tertullian, as St. Clement did, defends the ʻResurrection of the bodyʻ:

"What can be more express and more significant for our subject; or to what other thing can such a phenomenon bear witness? God even in His own Scripture says: “The righteous shall flourish like the phœnix;” that is, shall flourish or revive, from death, from the grave—to teach you to believe that a bodily substance may be recovered even from the fire."(Tertullian. "On the Resurrection of the Flesh". Trans. Peter Holmes. The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume III, 1885. 554.)

Church historians and Patristic commentators are not certain whether or not each of these writers ACTUALLY believed that the Phoenix existed or if they were just using the analogy as a teaching tool. However St. Augustine, in his commentary of the Psalms (A.D 400), as well as the great apologist Cardinal Newman (1877) both remark that the Early Fatherʻs actual belief/non-belief in the existence of Phoenix means very little since their use of the ʻillustrationʻ of the Phoenix ITSELF is proof of their belief in the bodily Resurrection. 

In fact Ludwig Ottʻs explanation of the De fide teaching that ʻAll the dead will rise again on the last day with their bodiesʻ mentions St. Clement and the Phoenix:

"St. Clement of Rome bases it by analogy on nature, the tale of the wonder bird, the Phoenix, and on the writers of the Old Testament (Cor. 24–26). In defence of the Christian faith in the resurrection" (Ott, Ludwig. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. 1957. 490)

Whether Phoenix birds exist or not is perhaps a topic for another blogpost :) Catholics can, however, undoubtedly embrace the Phoenix as a Catholic Symbol, an Emblem of our Resurrection,  as it most definitely played an important role in helping the Early Church articulate this important Dogma.

image from the 'Public domain' via wikimedia commons.  Friedrich Justin Bertuch, Bilderbuch für Kinder

Mānana Trail / Waimano Falls

A few days ago some family friends and I (who all happen to be part of the same parish community) went on an AWESOME hike to one of the beautiful places on Oahu Mānana Trail / Waimano Falls

Noise, Quarrelling, or Laughter = EXCOMMUNICATION!

Certainly the community I fellowship with regularly, with our lively celebrations, would DEFINITELY NOT be allowed near ANY Ecclesiastical Council :) Especially on Feast days! 

From Appendix III: On the Forms Observed in the Celebration of Councils (CAPS emphasis are mine): 

"amongst other things, it was enacted, that any one DISTURBING the synod by NOISE, or QUARRELLING, or LAUGHTER, should be quietly removed, and placed for three days under sentence of EXCOMMUNICATION. "

(Landon, E. H. 1909. Vol. 2: A Manual of Councils of the Holy Catholic Church)

Another Pope besides Peter mentioned in the Bible?

Another Pope besides Peter mentioned in the Bible !?! Looks like it :) 

Its Pope St. Clement mentioned in Phillipians 4:3

"And I entreat thee also, my sincere companion, help those women who have laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement and the rest of my fellow labourers, whose names are in the book of life." (Phil 4:3)

The Haydock Biblical commentary says that most likely this Clement is the 4th Pope after Peter, Linus, and Cletus

"With Clement. S. Jerom, Estius, and some others, believe that this Clement was the fourth pope that governed the Church, after SS. Linus and Cletus" (Haydock, G. L. (1859); Php 4:3)

The Book of Saints, 1921, affirms this but makes the assertion that Clement might have been before Cletus as Pontiff.

"CLEMENT (St.) Pope, M. (Nov. 23)(1st cent.) A Roman by birth, converted to Christianity either by St. Peter or by St. Paul. He accompanied the latter, who styles him “his fellow-labourer” (Phil. 4:3), on some of his missionary journeys. He followed (or perhaps preceded) St. Cletus in St. Peter’s Chair, and governed the Church for about ten years."

Not sure why I find this discovery exciting. . . But I do! The Scriptures are AWESOME!

image from the 'Public domain' via wikimedia commons. conu de San Clemente, obispu de Roma.

No Baptizing with BEER!

Apparently sometime in our Churchʻs history some people tried to baptize with BEER and it happened so often that it required a Papal letter to correct them :) 

"447 [DS 829] Since as we have learned from your report, it sometimes happens because of the scarcity of water, that infants of your lands are baptized in beer, we reply to you in the tenor of those present that, since according to evangelical doctrine it is necessary “to be reborn from water and the Holy Spirit” [John 3:5] they are not to be considered rightly baptized who are baptized in beer."

[From the letter of GREGORY IX “Cum, sicut ex” to Sigurd, Archbishop of Nidaros, July 8, 1241] Denzinger (1954). The sources of Catholic dogma (178).

So if you ever wondered if a beer baptism is legit, the answer is NO :) 

image from the 'MORGUEfile' via creative commons

The ʻother sheepʻ on Good Shepherd Sunday

The Gospel for Good Shepherd Sunday (2nd Sunday after Easter) is John 10:11 - 16. A question is often raised of verse 16 where it says: "And other sheep I have that are not of this fold: them also I must bring. And they shall hear my voice: And there shall be one fold and one shepherd. " (Douay-Rheims)

Who are these ʻother sheepʻ? The answer is the Gentiles (those not Jewish) We can take a look at some respected Catholic biblical commentaries as well as the writings and homilies of the Early Church Fathers to expound :

MacEvilly, in his commentary states  “ ʻAnd other sheep I haveʻ etc. He refers to the Gentile world, whom He meant to call into His Church, bestowing on them the priceless gift of faith" (MacEvilly, J. (1902). An Exposition of the Gospel of St. John (209) Benziger Brothers.

Haydock continues the same sentiment by saying that the signification of the ʻone foldʻ later in the verse is that "there shall be one church of Jews and Gentiles converted." (Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary, 1859)

St Thomas Aquinas, in his famous Catena Aura, confirms this understanding by showing the commentaries of several Church Fathers including Pope St. Gregory I  (A.D. 590) and the Doctor of Grace, St. Augustine 

" Gregory. (Hom. xiv.) But as He came to redeem not only the Jews, but the Gentiles, He adds, And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold.

Augustine. (de Verb. Dom. s. 1) The sheep hitherto spoken of are those of the stock of Israel according to the flesh. But there were others of the stock of Israel, according to faith, Gentiles, who were as yet out of the fold; predestinated, but not yet gathered together. They are not of this fold, because they are not of the race of Israel, but they will be of this fold: Them also I must bring." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Cardinal Newman. Catena Aurea, Volume 4)

image used through the 'Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. via wikimedia commons. Stained glass: Alfred Handel, d. 1946

Have a question about the Faith? Ask the Angelic Doctor!

Well studied Catholics should know the importance of the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, when it comes to a proper understanding of our Faith.

He is SO revered, in fact, that a Papal encyclical was written about him (Studiorum Ducem,” June 29, 1923 by Pius XI) and many others referenced him as source of Truth and as defense against heresy and modernism (i.e. Humani Generis, Pascendi Dominici Gregis)

Both of those great documents even go as far as saying those who DO NOT adhere to St. Thomas UNDERMINE the foundation of Catholic Doctrine.

"2322 [DS 3894] If these matters are thoroughly examined, it will be evident why the Church demands that future priests be instructed in the philosophic disciplines “according to the manner, doctrine, and principles of the Angelic Doctor,” since it knows well from the experience of many ages that the method and system of Aquinas, whether in training beginners or investigating hidden truth, stand out with special prominence; moreover, that his doctrine is in harmony, as in a kind of symphony, with divine “revelation,” and is most efficacious in laying safe foundations of faith, and also in collecting usefully and securely the fruits of sound progress."

(Some False Opinions that Threaten to Undermine the Foundations of Catholic Doctrine: From the Encyclical, “Humani generis,” August 12, 1950)

But the greatest honor to St. Thomas Aquinas, I believe, was expressed by Pope Leo XIII

" The ecumenical councils, also, where blossoms the flower of all earthly wisdom, have always been careful to hold Thomas Aquinas in singular honor. In the Councils of Lyons, Vienna, Florence, and the Vatican one might almost say that Thomas took part and presided over the deliberations and decrees of the Fathers, contending against the errors of the Greeks, of heretics and rationalists, with invincible force and with the happiest results. But the chief and special glory of Thomas, one which he has shared with none of the Catholic Doctors, is that the Fathers of Trent made it part of the order of conclave to lay upon the altar, together with sacred Scripture and the decrees of the supreme Pontiffs, the Summa of Thomas Aquinas, whence to seek counsel, reason, and inspiration" (Pope Leo XIII, ʻAeterni Patrisʻ, 1879)

WOW! The Fathers of the GREAT council of Trent in order to ʻseek counsel, reason, and inspirationʻ had three things upon the Altar 1)The Holy Scriptures 2)The Decrees of the Roman Pontiffs AND 3) St. Thomasʻ Summa Theologica!

There should be no doubt that when we have a question about our Catholic Faith, ask the Angelic Doctor!

image from the 'Public domain' via wikimedia commons. St. Thomas Aquinas, by Carlo Crivelli