I have been very honoured to have my new (presbyterian) friend Rev. David Palmer appear a few times in the combox. I have been saddened to see that David has not always been accorded hospitality on this site by other guests. So a little reminder folks: All are welcome to comment on this blog – we just ask that you treat each other with gentleness and reverence, whatever your faith – or none.
So, David, let me assure you that this IS a blog where Protestants (evangelical or liberal) are as welcome as Orthodox (Russian or Greek or Syrian or whatever), and Catholics (dissenting, traditionalist, magisterial or lapsed).
David made some relevant comments in a recent combox, which I thought I would bring to the fore and answer, if possible. So here goes.
Regarding the real presence of our Lord in the celebration of Lord’s Supper or Mass as you would say, a Calvinist such as myself affirms a true spiritual partaking of the body and blood of Christ who remains at all times in His glorified body at the right hand of His Father in glory. Calvin said that the Holy Supper was spiritual medicine for poor sick souls like me. I like that.I find it fascinating that Catholics fault Protestants for “spiritualising”, “this is”, yet themselves explain away the straightforward reading of Mark 6:3.
I agree with you, David, the plain wording of scripture must be taken as such unless there is good reason otherwise. Since the doctrine of the Incarnation (ie. the simple fact that God, who is pure Spirit, became man, that is, fully en-FLESHed) and all that follows from it (eg. Mary thus being the Theotokos) is central to the Catholic religion, we have absolutely no reason to understand Jesus’ words “This is my body” in any sense other than their plain meaning: that the bread he gives us in the Eucharist IS his body. This affirmation is something wholly other than the affirmation of a purely spiritual presence or partaking. It is a presence or partaking that is usually called “sacramental”, but which can, given certain provisos, be called “physical” (as Pope Paul VI said in Mysterium Fidei 46).
Comparing our interpretation of the texts of the Eucharistic institution to our interpretation of Mark 6:3 (concerning Jesus’ “brothers and sisters”), the same must be said: the plain meaning is to be accepted, except when there is good reason otherwise. I am convinced that on the grounds of scripture alone, there are very good reasons for understanding “brothers and sisters” to mean something other than “offspring of Mary”. I have mentioned the excellent treatment of this question by Raymond Brown in his commentary on the Gospel of John (volume II – in the section dealing with the Women at the Cross), but summary treatments can be found here by Fr Most and here in the Catholic Encyclopedia. Finally, you might like to consdier this essay in First Things, which presents and weighs all the possible views. But for me, a clinching reason for holding Mark 6:3 to mean something other than it appears to mean in “plain English” is the continual memory of the Church from the earliest times, which never (contra Dan Brown et aliter) records a “royal blood-line” of Jesus’ relations.
I am greatly encouraged by David’s and others’ comments about access to and acceptance with God through our Lord Jesus alone (love those “alone”s!).
I cannot stress enough, David, that I have never in my life altered my view one jot that our access to the Father is only through the Son and through the Son alone. I am as Christocentric in my theology today as the day I was ordained a Lutheran pastor. I rely on God’s grace alone through Christ alone every moment of my life today as I have done since my baptism. So:
Why bring Mary and the saints into play when Jesus our Lord, and Saviour gave so many gracious invitations to pray in His name?
Let me be quite clear: asking the saints to intercede on our behalf does not in any way contradict the fact that ALL Christian prayer is prayer “in the name of Jesus”. Any prayer that is not offered “in the name of Jesus” is not Christian. Mary and the Saints offer their prayers to the Father “in the name of Jesus” just as I do. Asking Mary and the other saints to intercede for me is not bypassing Jesus’ invitations to pray in his name. They are intercessories. Christ alone is the mediator.
I think a problem for Catholics (I don’t mean to offend, simply to explain my thinking, but if I do offend, please forgive me) was the notion so prevalent in the Middle Ages of so fixating on Christ as Judge ready to consign you to hell or long stretches in purgatory that you had no other recourse than to go elsewhere. And to whom could you go? Why, Mary of course, and the favoured local town saints as well!
Well, as I think someone in the combox pointed out, that’s a furphy. The practice of imploring the intercession of the saints probably dates back to the times of the earliest martyrs – at least the second century. And no-one who has actually read Medieval Christian literature would form the opinion that Jesus is viewed as a harsh judge. Check out (as one example – admittedly late) Thomas a’Kempis’ “Imitation of Christ”.
For a Calvinist, devotion to our Lord Jesus is the beginning and the end and all the bits in between, and we will not detract from His glory by diverting our gaze and devotion elsewhere, not even to the BVM.
It is important to stress that God’s glory is such that it is increased when he shares it with his creatures, rather than decreased. Human beings have a hard time understanding this, because we see honour and glory as a limited commodity. If I am honoured, you must be dishonoured. If you get a prize, I must be a loser. But that is not how it is with God. When we praise God’s grace and mercy and holiness embodied in his saints, we give glory to God himself. He is “glorified in his saints” (2 Thess 1:10). Or, as further proof, since God has commanded us to honour our mother and father, how can the Son of God not honour his own Mother? If he honours her, how can we not honour her? And how does it detract from Christ to honour his Mother his account?
There is so much thoughtful engaging material in the above 27 comments that I would love to discuss further and I do feel a strong kinship and even affection (!) toward confessional conservative Catholics, yet I have other pressing matters.
It is worth asking yourself, David, how it can be that Christians who believe such heretical doctrines as Catholics do could possibly still manage to remain steadfast in their witness to the truth before the world? Be careful of that “affection”, David. It is dangerous. As John Weidner reminded us in the same combox string, Chesterton once said:
…It is impossible to be just to the Catholic Church. The moment men cease to pull against it they feel a tug towards it. The moment they cease to shout it down they begin to listen to it with pleasure. The moment they try to be fair to it they begin to be fond of it. But when that affection has passed a certain point it begins to take on the tragic and menacing grandeur of a great love affair…
But David goes on:
However one last thing.Re Christine and Mary,Yes Mary was no “mere vessel” just as none of us are “a mere child of God”. However, do not overplay Mary’s hand. The true import of the incarnation was that God of His own volition “at just the right time while we were still lost in our si
n”, Mary included, entered human history choosing Mary to be the theotokos. Yes, she demonstrated beautiful qualities in response to the Angel’s announcement, but that she did so was due first of all to that secret inner working of the Holy Spirit, enabling her to do so.
And you know what, David? You have just given the exact rationale that Catholics give for the doctrine of the “Immaculate Conception”.
It is all grace…