Saints and Miracles

A reader kashyap asks:

Aron,
Excuse me for a completely off-topic question, but this is of current interest to me.  I read in the paper that sainthood was bestowed upon Mother Theresa. One of the requirement is performance of two miracles.  I understand as a devout Christian, you believe that resurrection (a miracle) was so important that God made exception to the laws of nature to make it possible.  I do not have any problem in people believing in their faith. But my problem would be that if you require exceptions (miracles) for every sainthood, there would be too many exceptions to the laws of nature.  What is your opinion on this? If you have talked about such things before, please just give a reference.  Thanks.

kashyap,
The canonization of saints is a Roman Catholic thing, whereas Protestants like myself do not recognize the authority of the Pope, nor do we pray to saints.  Therefore I am not responsible for defending their canonization process, even though (in this case) it couldn't have happened to a nicer person...  ;-)

What is common ground, accepted by both groups, is that God calls all Christians to be saints, people who are holy just like he is holy, and fills us with his Holy Spirit in order to accomplish this.  Obviously, the results are more effective in some people's lives than in others, depending on our response to his grace.

Catholics* believe that people who are especially holy go directly to Heaven when they die (whereas they say that most Christians need to spend time in "Purgatory" being cleansed from their sins, before they can enter Heaven).  They believe that these people have an especially powerful ability to intercede with God, and that Christians on earth can petition saints in heaven to pray for their needs.  They also believe that the Pope has the power to infallibly* declare that certain deceased people are, in this sense, "saints"; although in modern times he normally only does this on the recommendation of a committee that investigates the person for evidence of "heroic virtue" and (yes) a minimum number of miracles.  (However, it is a common journalistic mistake, misrepresenting Catholic doctrine, to say that "sainthood was bestowed" on the person; in their theology it is God who makes somebody a saint; the church merely recognizes the fact afterwards, in some subset of cases.  On Nov 1st there is an "All Saints Day" holiday to commemorate all the saints who served in positions of obscurity, without earthly recognition.)  They also believe that the good works of the saints build up a "treasury of merit" which can be dispensed by the Pope to any Catholic who performs certain actions called "indulgences", in order to reduce or eliminate their time in Purgatory.

* at least, many Catholic theologians believe it is infallible

* The term catholic means "universal".  I generally use their preferred term out of politeness, although obviously I believe that Protestants are also full members of the "holy catholic church" founded by Jesus.

Whereas Protestants generally reject most of the things I mentioned in the previous paragraph.  We believe that the sacrifice of Christ already provides full forgiveness for all sins without needing to add any extra "merit" from saints on Earth or in Heaven.  And that, while there is nothing wrong with thanking God for the accomplishments of Christians of past ages, or of asking people on earth to pray for us, the practice of asking deceased people for favors is spiritually dangerous because of the temptation to idolatry, and the danger of treating saints (especially St. Mary) as though they were polytheistic deities having power of their own.  (Of course Catholics deny that this is what they are doing, but I don't think there are enough "safety measures" in place to prevent it from happening sometimes.)  Because of this danger, and because the practice is not commanded or authorized by the Bible, we avoid it.  We also do not believe that Purgatory has sufficient warrant in Scripture to be accepted as a doctrine; instead we teach that everyone who is saved goes directly to be with Jesus when they die.

It is the practice of the New Testament to refer to groups of Christian believers as "saints".  He wants us all to be holy, because he is Holy.  This is the justification for this blog's highly unique canonization policy.  To me holiness is a more important thing than miraculous signs, and there may be exceptionally holy people who never do any miracles at all.  The more important "miracle" is the work of transformation that God wants to do in people's hearts, in order to fill them with love, because he is Love.

Now none of this actually answers your question about the prevalence of signs and wonders.  I personally believe that God does a fairly large number of miracles even in modern times (associated with the ministries of many kinds of Christians, including Catholics and Protestants).  The most scholarly compilation of modern day Christian miracles I know of is in this 2 volume tome, by St. Craig Keener.  Despite the subtitle, the book is really mostly about modern times.  Since you are a Hindu I should also mention that non-Christian miracles are outside the scope of his work.  (I plan to blog about Keener's book eventually, but I haven't gotten around to it.)

Is this "too many exceptions"?  Well, too many for what purpose?  Most of these are miracles of healing, and judged from the poverty and diseases we see in many countries, one might just as easily argue that there are too few miracles in the present day, rather than too many.  Certainly there are not so many miracles that we are unable to do Science, and identify the usual course of events in Nature!

I guess the real question concerns the trade-offs God is making between consistency, mercy, and revelation, as he governs the world, but:

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.  (Psalm 139:6)

and

I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.  (Psalm 131:1)

where that the last Bible verse ought to be the motto for this blog, because I violate it almost every time I submit a post!

The Bible also records many miracles besides the Resurrection, although these miracles are more like "signs" or "pointers" that help illustrate particular points about the meaning of creation and salvation.  (This viewpoint is explained in St. Lewis book on Miracles, which is in turn based on St. Athanasius' book On the Incarnation.)  For example, when Jesus miraculously multiplied the bread and fish of a child's lunch in order to feed thousands of hungry people, this miracle illustrates the fact that God is always multiplying grain and fish in Nature, and that every time we eat we can be thankful for his loving provision.  It also reminds us of the spiritual nourishment which Jesus, the Bread of Heaven, provides to those that trust him.

Whereas the Incarnation of Christ, and especially his Death and Resurrection, is the central event of the Christian faith, the event that vanquishes sin, defeats death, and brings in life everlasting.  It permanently negotiated a new relationship between God and Man, and when Christ comes back from Heaven to Earth (I am talking about the return of the same body that was crucified in the 1st century, not reincarnation as a new human) his resurrection power will cause every human being who has ever lived to come back to life again with immortal physical bodies.  But it is not enough to merely ransom the human race; the entire universe will be renewed as well, so that there will be "a new Heaven and a new Earth, the home of righteousness" (2 Pet 3:13).  And there, his saints will reign with him forever.  So the Resurrection is indeed what you might call an important miracle, one that catalyzes a whole host of other miracles.

(Since earlier I was talking about disputes between different kinds of Christians, I should probably state that everything in the previous paragraph is agreed upon by all major branches of Christianity, including Protestants, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Coptics, and the Assyrian Church of the East.  In my view, the beliefs that all Christians share in common are more important than the doctrines that divide us.)

Anyway, you don't really say in your comment why you think it would be a problem to have "too many miracles", so I'm not sure how to respond right now.  But feel free to elaborate on your thinking in the comments section.

About Aron Wall

In 2019, I will be studying quantum gravity and black hole thermodynamics as a Lecturer at the University of Cambridge. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my postdocs at UC Santa Barbara, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Stanford. The views expressed on this blog are my own, and should not be attributed to any of these fine institutions.
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25 Responses to Saints and Miracles

  1. Interesting post Aron. Please allow me to comment as a Catholic Physicist. I've written about miracles and the Catholic positions on miracles and sainthood. See "Can a Scientist Believe in Miracles" via the website link above. My point here is that although miracles may well occur on occasions other than invoking a saint or by a saint, it is a requirement in the canonization process that at least two miracles occur due to the intervention of a saint. The vetting process for a miracle to occur is extremely rigorous (see the links in the referenced post): the Church doesn't want to wind up with egg on Her face if either fraud or financial hanky-panky is behind an event. There are miracles, again listed in the post, which are not involved in canonization--medical miracles such as Lourdes, Eucharistic miracles, non-corruption of saintly bodies, etc., again, detailed in that post.
    Aron, you cited C.S. Lewis--here's a great quote from him about miracles:

    The divine art of miracle is not an art of suspending the pattern into which events conform but of feeding new events into that pattern."

    And another one by the Catholic theologian, philosopher and mystery writer Ralph McInerny
    :“Miracles always relate to the faith. That is why a belief in miracles is not a vacation from reason, a little holiday from the tedious demands of rational responsibility. Not only is it reasonable to believe that miracles can and do happen, it is unreasonable to think they cannot and do not occur.”― Ralph M. McInerny, Miracles—a Catholic View

  2. kashyap vasavada says:

    Thanks Aron for writing a whole blog in reply to my question. It is quite educational for a non-Christian like me.
    Yes. The canonization couldn’t have happened to a nicer person. I guess, healing (medical) miracles are somewhat easier to understand. And as you say, we can use many more. There is a strong connection between body and mind. The fact that Mother Teresa came to see them and gave them blessings may have a powerful effect on their mind which probably cured them. I understand, it has been proven ‘scientifically’ that prayers can have a powerful effect on the person who is praying.
    Just like Christians many Hindus also believe in miracles. Personally, I have not seen any miracle. So when I see one I will have to think about it! I am sure you will agree that ‘non-healing miracles’ which openly defy well understood scientific principles should be really scrutinized. When I used the words “too many” I had these in mind. After all as physicists we cannot say that physics does not work :-). This should be, in spite of our agreement that there are limits to science and that we do not know all the laws of nature anyway. So a discussion will be quite interesting. Thanks.

  3. Mactoul says:

    Mother Teresa was not a nice person. No nice person would say in a Noble lecture that “I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a direct war, a direct killing — direct murder by the mother herself.”

  4. Mactoul says:

    kashyap vasavada,
    "There is a strong connection between body and mind. "
    True but it does not mean that anything goes. A miracle has an objective nature that the Church tries to determine. The miracles associated with Mother Teresa had nothing to do "Mother Teresa (coming) to see them and gave them blessings". The miracles have happened after Mother Teresa's death.

    If you are interested, you can look up the reports of Lourdes miracles at http://en.lourdes-france.org/deepen/cures-and-miracles. Details of the verification process through committees of physicians are provided. Lourdes cures have nothing to do with prayers. The patients are dipped in miraculous waters.

  5. kashyap vasavada says:

    Aron and Mactoul,
    I would add something to my previous comment. I understand, scientists believing in divinity have more difficult job than atheist scientists. On the one hand they have to accept that there is something to genuine religious experiences. On the other hand they have to draw line against real frauds and people taking advantage of superstitions.
    I believe, overall, mother Teresa was a genuinely good person. BTW, dipping in waters believed to be miraculous also is faith healing and has to do with body-mind connection!

  6. Mactoul, a simple question: do you believe that abortion is not murder of a human being? If your answer is yes, I can only pray for you.

  7. Aron Wall says:

    kashyap,
    As other commenters have said, some miracles are hard to explain using psychosomatics alone. And, once your worldview admits certain miracles that suspend the usual laws of nature, it seems arbitrary to draw a line and say yes, but there can't be any more!

    As for writing a whole blog post in reply, well I started by writing a regular reply and then it got out of hand. This explains a number of my posts...

    Robert,
    Mactoul was trolling you. In the comments to this post he has made many anti-abortion comments there.

    Also, your blockquote came out wrong (I've fixed it now). Just insert the text you want to quote in between <blockquote> and </blockquote> tags without trying to add anything else inside the tags. And also, don't construct your tags out of html escape codes. Use actual < and > symbols.

    Mactoul,
    Please do not make any more sarcastic comments of a sort that cause people to pray for your soul unnecessarily.

  8. Mactoul says:

    People have sought to neutralize Mother Teresa's Christian message by portraying her as a "nice person".
    Esp in India which is one of the most pro-abortion nation. There is no anti-abortion voice there at all.

  9. Mactoul says:

    Aron,
    "Mactoul was trolling you."
    This is unfair and indeed impossible. I could not have trolled Robert since Robert was not involved in the comments previous to mine.

  10. kashyap vasavada says:

    Mactoul,
    I do not want to get into abortion debate. It is a difficult issue. But very few people have served poor, destitute, sick and dying people who did not have any one to take care of them, like Mother Teresa. Surely, fanatic Hindus blame her for trying to convert Hindus to Christianity. But these are few. I remember, when she passed away, she was given an impressive national funeral service, with prime minister and several Indian govt. officials attending it.

  11. I find I'm late to a good conversation, and I don't know if this small comment will be noticed. I'll mention: There is an ancient train of thought in Christianity that miracles are not properly 'violations' of the law of nature, but re-enactments or microcosms of the law of nature that show the divine providence behind all natural occurrences. The most straightforward example is healing: healing miracles are not violations, they are restorations of nature to its original healthy state. Not only so but the converse is true: what happens in a miracle (e.g. healing) is something that often occurs naturally, and is in harmony with nature. So a large stream of Christian thought would reject the definition that a miracle is a 'violation' of nature. I think the earliest writer that said something to that effect (as far as I know) was St Athanasius, in his work On the Incarnation of the Word of God. Which is a really good read, for anyone wanting an intro to Christianity.

    Take care & God bless
    WF

  12. Mactoul says:

    WF,
    If "what happens in a miracle (e.g. healing) is something that often occurs naturally, and is in harmony with nature", then why would we call a particular event a miracle?
    There must be a criterion demarcating miraculous events from non-miraculous.

  13. Aron Wall says:

    WF,
    Well, yes, there is a reason why I mentioned St. Athanasius' book in my main post ;-)

    As for "violation", to some extent this is just a terminological dispute. In his own book on Miracles St. Lewis is very careful to define them as an "interference with Nature by supernatural power" rather than use terms like "violation" or "breaking the laws of nature" or anything like that. But I must admit I was never convinced of the theological importance of this distinction.

    As an example let us consider the usual laws which govern a clock. When (1) a watchmaker repairs a clock or resets it to the proper time, or (2) when a hooligan puts a wrench in some gears out of spite, both of these are contrary to the usual laws that govern the behavior of the clock. Morally, the action of the watchmaker is quite different, because it is an action by the creator of the clock intended to restore its proper function, whereas the hooligan's action is merely chaotic and destructive. But physically, both actions can be characterized, while they are going on, as an interference with the clock's usual functioning. If somebody observing the clock had made a list of rules governing that clock's behavior and then suddenly found an unexpected change, I think they could very well say that those rules were "violated" by the watchmaker or the hooligan---it's just a choice of terminology.

    Let me clarify that to me as a physicist, this word "violation" does not have any negative moral tone! For example, it happens that 3 of the forces of Nature (strong, electromagnetic, and gravitational) are symmetric under mirror reflection symmetry (also called "parity"). Whereas the weak force distinguishes beween particles that spin clockwise (relative to their direction of motion) and those that spin counterclockwise. We call this a "parity violation" because it breaks the principle that left and right are identical, but we don't mean it as a term of disapproval! It is merely intended to be descriptive.

    So, the fact that miracles are intended to heal or restore Nature does indeed show that they are due to the same good and wise providence that created Nature originally. But they still seem to suspend, ignore, interrupt (or whatever your preferred term is) the usual rules of physics and biochemistry which we are accustomed to call "Laws of Nature".

  14. Mactoul, the thing that delineates a miracle from the corresponding working of nature such as healing is mostly the fact that the working of nature had failed; if it were a car I'd compare it to jump-starting when the battery isn't working. The origin of the energy input has changed, but that's the only thing we're sure has changed. From what we know of the several people that Jesus raised from the dead, again we see the same thing: the working of nature had failed, and it required a new start to restore life.

    Aron, -- definitely, Athanasius deserves his recognition. On the topic of wording, I think the issue of compatibility comes up in the choice of word "restoration", to communicate that a healing is compatible with the laws of nature rather than hostile to it. Consider how often the argument is made about a possible miracle: "Well, couldn't that have happened naturally?" That question argues against the possible miracle being incompatible with nature, if it's so similar that it could be mistaken for the same thing. And on the other side, there's a connotation of violence and dishonesty rather than restoration in the word "violation". While some may be after pure facts, it would be naive of us to imagine that the charge "violation of nature" is never intended to evoke that connotation of violence and dishonesty. So a fact-oriented purist may still prefer words with the connotations that were in-step with the intended message.

    Take care & God bless
    WF

    [I edited the "name" field to match WF's other comments, on the theory that "ak" must have been inserted by mistake. While I was at it, I corrected the spelling of my own name...---AW]

  15. Mactoul says:

    "the thing that delineates a miracle from the corresponding working of nature such as healing is mostly the fact that the working of nature had failed"

    This might do with some miracles e.g. miracles of healing but this view is inadequate to deal with other miracles e.g. Virgin Birth or miracle at Cana or multiplication of loaves.
    What the miracle means logically comes after the recognition that a particular event is miraculous.

  16. Mactoul, I agree that there are different categories of miracles, and that I only covered the most common one (related to failing/failed health; "nature wasn't working") by way of example to show the general point-of-view. It's also the simplest to grasp, if anyone reading along is new to that perspective. If you'd like to go over other categories from that same point-of-view, another example is bringing about more bread/fish or bringing about wine. Between the post and comments this is probably getting repetitive but here it is again: the miracle replicates a natural process, though without the conditions under which nature would have done the same autonomously. And sure there are other categories: Likewise the virgin birth replicates a natural process without the conditions under which nature would have done the same by itself, ditto for stopping a storm.

    Those kinds of miracles demonstrate that Jesus is working with divine power ... and keep in mind that Jesus' opponents claimed that these miracles were sorcery and were done based on a demonic power. So the fact that Jesus' works are compatible with the divine power working in nature from creation is on-topic: Jesus is not an alien force, but works with the same power that created the laws of nature by which those things happen naturally.

    If you're interested in the different categories, the miracle of Jesus that is most off-pattern is walking on water; there isn't a natural process that would have done the same for a person just walking along. Though there are Old Testament quote that relate ... so that one is on the borderline between "miracle" and "theophany".

    Take care & God bless
    WF

  17. Aron Wall says:

    WF,
    St. Lewis suggests that some miracles are symbolic, not of what God has already done in creation, but rather of what he is going to do in the New Creation. Perhaps the walking on water is one of those things, showing the power of redeemed human beings over inanimate nature in the age to come. The theophany aspect is definitely there (cf. Pslam 77:19), but one should point out that St. Peter, who was very much not divine, also walked on the water (for a moemnt, anyway)!

    (On a sterner note, there are also miracles of destruction, such as the Withering of the Fig Tree, that forshadow judgements to come to those who do not repent.)

  18. Mactoul says:

    WF,
    Your concept of "nature" is unclear. What does "nature wasn't working" mean precisely?
    We may say when one is ill, the nature is, in fact, "working"-presumably sickness occurs by laws of biology and biochemistry.

    "the virgin birth replicates a natural process without the conditions under which nature would have done the same by itself,"
    The key thing is "without the conditions"--surely nature "isn't working"? at least "working" alone.
    The Virgin Birth is much more than Virgin Conception. And the term "nature working" simply can not be used for the Virgin Birth.

  19. Martel says:

    Hi Aron,

    A couple of points, illustrating the point that Protestantism is a belief system that emerged 1,500 years after Christ died, and is on crucial points at odds with the teachings of the historical Church.

    "Whereas Protestants generally reject most of the things I mentioned in the previous paragraph. We believe that the sacrifice of Christ already provides full forgiveness for all sins without needing to add any extra "merit" from saints on Earth or in Heaven."

    The Church Fathers disagreed.

    "And that, while there is nothing wrong with thanking God for the accomplishments of Christians of past ages, or of asking people on earth to pray for us, the practice of asking deceased people for favors is spiritually dangerous because of the temptation to idolatry, and the danger of treating saints (especially St. Mary) as though they were polytheistic deities having power of their own. (Of course Catholics deny that this is what they are doing, but I don't think there are enough "safety measures" in place to prevent it from happening sometimes.)"

    The Church Fathers disagreed.

    "Because of this danger, and because the practice is not commanded or authorized by the Bible, we avoid it."

    The recitation of the Nicene Creed is also not authorized by the Bible, and yet all Christians did it for thousands of years.

    "We also do not believe that Purgatory has sufficient warrant in Scripture to be accepted as a doctrine; instead we teach that everyone who is saved goes directly to be with Jesus when they die.

    The Church Fathers disagreed.

  20. Aron Wall says:

    Martel,
    And here I was at least hoping that Catholics would acknowledge it as a miracle that a Protestant accurately summarized their own position (in the previous paragraph to the one you quoted) :-)

    Joking aside, there are two main issues here. The first is that "The Church Fathers" are not a monolith and did not have a completely uniform set of beliefs. It is important to consider the range of opinions across both space and time. If you mean that some Christian theologians have taught these views, then I quite agree. If you mean that they all uniformly believed in prayers to deceased saints, Purgatory, and indulgences, even in the ealiest eras, then I think your history is quite wrong! (The practice of prayer to the saints is fairly early, being documented in some 3rd century sources and picking up steam in the 4th century, but the developed Catholic versions of Purgatory and Indulgences and the "Treasury of Merit" are medieval doctrines, which are rejected even by the Eastern Orthodox churches.)

    Secondly, in Protestant epistemology, the teachings of Jesus and his Apostles takes precedence over the opinions of later theologians, whenever the two appear to conflict. I'd rather disagree with the Church Fathers than with Christ.

    I wrote:

    "Because of this danger, and because the practice is not commanded or authorized by the Bible, we avoid it."

    I'm afraid I may have used the word "and" in a confusing way here. The conclusion only follows if both premises are true.

    Of course it is permissible to do acts which are not explcitly mentioned in the Bible, so long as they are in accordance with its spirit. For example, most Protestants will recite the Nicene Creed, because we believe it is a good summary of core Scriptural teachings. But the things that the Bible says is to "flee from idolatry". Thus emphasis in my sentence above was supposed to be on the first clause: the danger of falling into idolatry! Please note, that I am not claiming that all Catholics and Orthodox are committing the sin of idolatry when they petition saints. It is merely a danger of sin, which I think is prudent to avoid.

    The purpose of the second part of my sentence, "because the practice is not commanded or authorized by the Bible", was merely to acknowledge the obvious point that if a practice is commanded or authorized by the Bible, then we should do it even if someone claims there is a significant spiritual danger. For example, if someone claimed that the celebration of the sacraments might tempt Christians into idolatry or superstition, that is not a good argument against doing it, because there is an explicit command of Christ to perform certain sacraments! Since there is no similarly explicit command in the Bible to pray to saints, that does not apply to this particular controversy.

  21. Mactoul says:

    Aron,
    "authorized by the Bible"
    But which Bible? What authority had the 16c reformers to take out certain books from the canon which had been accepted for more than a thousand years?
    Result is that Bible is no more a monolith than the Church Fathers. Some Christians hold Sirach and Maccabees to belong in the Bible while others don't. You need to resolve this question first before you appeal to the authority of the Bible.

  22. Joe says:

    Aron
    “Secondly, in Protestant epistemology, the teachings of Jesus and his Apostles takes precedence over the opinions of later theologians, whenever the two appear to conflict. I'd rather disagree with the Church Fathers than with Christ.”
    On close scrutiny of the NT, but especially the synoptic gospels and the letters of Paul, taking the time line into consideration, one can only come to the conclusion that preaching the gospel of Jesus, namely that of Kingdom of God and entry to it, became unfashionable after the Jerusalem Council 51 AD.
    During the Jerusalem council Paul explained and claimed authority, as he did on numerous occasions later, regarding “his” gospel. He explained, with convincing authority, the mystery/secret revelations to him, that caused so much friction between him and the apostles, to the members of that council
    The moment Peter conceded to Paul was the moment that sealed the Gospel of the Kingdom to eventual obscurity. With so much in common between the Gospel of Grace and the Gospel of the Kingdom we can understand Peter’s change of position- which convinced the other apostles as well to change position. But now, in modern era, reconciliation between the two gospels seems to be impossible (like gravity and the other fundamental forces that pose to be a problem in science).
    Much has been said about this topic. But I would like to add two aspects to this subject
    The Gospel of Grace forever, as long as Christianity exists, will portray God the Father as a vicious entity who can only be appeased by the letting of blood contra to, if not pitifully, to what Jesus preached during his three plus year stunt.
    Secondly, Paul left Christianity behind with severe philosophical difficulties. No doubt, even Prof Craig will be challenged in his effort to explain the doctrine of atonement, particularly the theory of penal substitution.

  23. Aron Wall says:

    Joe,
    So you think that you, Joe, understand what Jesus meant by the Gospel and the Kingdom better than St. Peter or the other Apostles did. Interesting.

    Even though Jesus chose the Apostles, said they would be inspired by the Holy Spirit and guided to speak the truth, and that they would be given authority in the kingdom of heaven. Not only that, he said that St. Peter and his confession of Christ was the rock on which he would build his Church and that the gates of death would not prevail against it. So when he later guided St. Peter (you are greatly overstating St. Paul's influence in the early Church, the vision of the sheet from heaven had nothing to do with St. Paul, and the decision in Jerusalem was made primarily by the other apostles) to allow Gentiles to enter the Church without converting to Judaism, that has the imprimatur of Christ's authority.

    Indeed, anyone who thinks that "Grace" and the "Kingdom" are opposed has clearly not understood Jesus' teaching. The synoptic gospels show that Jesus himself regarded his death as necessary (Matt 16:21-23), that he would "give his life as a ransom" (Mark 10:45, Matt 20:28), and by instituting the Eucharist showed that he thought of his shed blood as a new Passover sacrifice, giving life to many. So the doctrine of the Atonement definitely predates St. Paul.

    Of course, your view of the Father as a "vicious entity who can only be appeased by the letting of blood" is a slander against Christian theology which has always taught that the Father and Son are united in the same will and love for sinners. Why his sacrifice is necessary to remove sin is indeed somewhat mysterious, but it can certainly be understood in a way which is not contrary to justice.

    Mactoul,
    It is not necessary to resolve the question of the "Apocrypha"/"Deuterocanonicals"---a set of books written by Hellenistic Jews after the last Old Testament prophet but before St. John the Baptist---to determine the authority of the books whose canonicity is undisputed, especially since some of the Catholic dogmas I mentioned are not taught even in the broader canon of Scripture.

    2 Maccabees does indeed have a couple passages which are relevant to Catholic/Protestant disputes, but it hardly endorses the medieval system of indulgences, and besides it contains several apparent conflicts with the rest of Scripture such as endorsing suicide (2 Maccabees 14) and weird myths about Jeremiah hiding the Ark of the Covenant (chapter 2) which seem problematic in light of the actual Jeremiah's teaching (Jer 3:16) as well as the New Covenant. (Admittedly there are always going to be some apparent contradictions within any canon of Scripture, but that also shows the danger of reading too much into isolated passages.) On the plus side, there is a very striking Messianic prophecy in Wisdom 2, yet Wis 8:19 seems to teach the pre-existence of spirits (in line with Greek philosophy, but contrary to Christian doctrine) and to deny original sin. So it seems like a mixed bag.

    While there is little evidence that Jesus or the Apostles endorsed the broader canon, many post-apostolic Christians accepted the extra books due to their inclusion in the LXX translation. However, some very important theologians, for example St. Jerome and St. Athanasius*, did not. Since the early Church did not excommunicate them, I regard it as a matter on which Christians may legitimately disagree.

    *except that St. Athanasius includes Baruch and excludes Esther.

  24. Mactoul says:

    Aron,
    As for weird stories, there is one about census carried out by King David. Its tone does not meet the rest of David story.
    You cite one verse in Wisdom that teaches pre-existence of spirits but note that Ecclesiastes teaches that:
    "For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten.'"

    So, one verse should not be taken in isolation but the whole argument needs to be appreciated as a whole.

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