Friday, May 26, 2006


Once upon a time, I thought the doctrine of predestination was merely the domain of Calvinist Christians.

And then, sitting in Catholic Theological Traditions class one day, we read some of St. Augustine, who clearly articulated a notion of predestination.

Wait a sec. Augustine wasn't a Calvinist!

Okay, so it turns out that the Catholic Church does teach the doctrine of predestination. Sure enough, you can even look it up in the index of the Catechism. We just understand it differently than the average Calvinist.

The Calvinist position assumes that, in order to retain the truth of the predestination of the elect, one must also conclude the predestination of the damned, thus in effect denying our free will and saying that God wills for some people to go to hell. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, affirms the predestination of the elect and free will and maintains that there is no contradiction between the two.

The best synopsis that I've been able to find on this topic is actually on the dust jacket of a book by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-LaGrange (faculty advisor to John Paul II's graduate thesis) called simply Predestination. The following sums up, concisely, the Church's position:
God wills all men to be saved; yet some are not saved. Efficacious grace always effects the good which God intends; yet man's will remains free. Only those are saved who are predestined by God to eternal life; yet those who are lost have only themselves to blame. God's knowledge of our deliberate choice is infallible; yet the freedom of our will is not at all lessened.
If at first it seems there may be inherent contradictions in there, rest assured, they are only apparent contradictions. But this is surely one of those doctrines which retains an element of mystery. For as the same dust jacket concludes:
In the problem of predestination, we reach a point beyond which the human mind cannot penetrate, we reach a realm of mystery which our understanding, even at its best, is unable to comprehend until we attain to the beatific vision. Father Garrigou-Lagrange clearly marks this boundary and explains why the mystery is beyond our grasp.
It's a long book, so the topic is definitely a complex one. It's also fraught with danger, as it is all too easy to get caught up in the minutiae and get led down an incorrect train of thought. This was demonstrated over an hour-long class lecture where we progressively became more and more confused, some of us beginning to worry that the Catholic Church was, unbeknownst to us, actually Calvinist! It's a good thing I ran across that book, and was able to share it with the class. There were many sighs of relief that day.

It was later on that we then stumbled across the words of Ignatius of Loyola, who said:
We should not make predestination an habitual subject of conversation. If it is sometimes mentioned we must speak in such a way that no person will fall into error, as happens on occasion when one will say, "It has already been determined whether I will be saved or lost, and in spite of all the good or evil that I do, this will not be changed." As a result, they become apathetic and neglect the works that are conducive to their salvation and to the spiritual growth of their souls.
Boy, isn't that the truth!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Fr. Joseph Johnson, the priest who was the main celebrant at my wedding, was just appointed rector of the Cathedral of St. Paul. You can definitely expect all kinds of good things to be happening at the Cathedral.

Here's an interview of him by the Star Tribune. This quip from that interview is quintissential Fr. Joseph. When asked if he considers Minnesota home now (he's a reluctant Texas transplant), he replied: "It's as close as any place on Earth to being home. I made a deal with the Lord -- I'd offer up my time in this cold place for a shorter stay in purgatory." I can just see the grin on his face as he said it.

One other quote also is a perfect illustration of his incredible pastoral sensibility. The Cathedral is where all the action is, at least with regard to public protests. It really requires careful handling to offer solid orthodox catechesis and liturgies, while being welcoming to all and yet not pandering to the whims of special interest groups who dissent from church teaching and want to turn Cathedral liturgies into protest events. Fr. Joseph is the man for the job. For sure. Notice his response, when asked about how the Cathedral can be a unifying place, when there are varying opinions within churchgoers:
Sadly, we are all too good at making divisions, and we can't pretend divisions aren't there. But they weren't put there by God. ... The cathedral is a place where we can realize that peace and unity only happen in our own hearts as much as each of us is willing to give up what it is that's an obstacle to love of God and neighbor.
He doesn't deny the divisions, yet he doesn't point fingers either. He states the truth: each and every one of us have obstacles that we hold onto that prevent us from growing in love of God.

One thing is for certain: with Fr. Joseph, everyone will be challenged to embrace Christ and conform their lives to his will for them. And yes, that does include dissenters...


Covenant: A covenant is an arrangement between two parties involving promises of fidelity and the awareness of grave consequences for violations of the agreement. Specifically, it refers to biblical agreements between God and His chosen people.

Bishop Nienstedt in Crisis Magazine

I'm a little late on noticing this, but I just saw that Bishop Nienstedt of New Ulm, MN, made the pages of Crisis Magazine, warning about the family planning agenda of the United Nations' "Millenial Goals". All my readers from the New Ulm diocese will undoubtedly be happy to see their shepherd raising his voice loud and clear in support of the moral law. Already the alternative legacy of his predecessor is beginning to fade into memory...

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Dogma: Dogmas are doctrines of the Church which have been formally declared and to which the faithful are obliged to give their assent.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Get ready.

The Da Vinci Code movie is about to hit the movie theaters (May 19). The hype will undoubtedly increase.

What to do? Well, it doesn't hurt to get yourself educated about some of the claims in the book, so you're well-armed with sound historical research. This resource will do nicely for that task.

But rather than going to see the movie, Barb Nicolosi has a different strategy in mind, to reduce the impact that the opening weekend box-office numbers will have. Is it a boycott? Nope. It's an "othercott".

Full text of her article is here, and the pertinent snippet follows:
I'd like to offer another option.

On DVC's opening weekend—May 19-21—you should go to the movies. Just go to another movie. That's your way of casting your vote, the only vote Hollywood recognizes: The power of cold hard cash laid down on a box office window on opening weekend.

Use your vote. Don't throw it away. Vote for a movie other than DVC. If enough people do it, the powers that be will notice.

The major studio movie scheduled for release against DVC is the DreamWorks animated feature Over the Hedge. The trailers look fun, and you can take your kids. And your friends. And their friends. In fact, let's all go see it.

Let's rock the box office in a way no one expects—without protests, without boycotts, without arguments, without rancor. Let's show up at the box office ballot box and cast our votes. And buy some popcorn, too.

As for The Da Vinci Code, don't go see this stupid movie. Don't pay money to have the insidious lies of the enemy introduced into your heart and mind.

Let's "othercott" DVC on May 19 by going to see Over the Hedge instead.


Conscience: Conscience is the internal discernment of the rightness or wrongfulness of a particular action. It is based upon an objective recognition of an individual’s appropriate behavior and an evaluation of the amount of conformity between such behavior and the action under evaluation.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Gospel of "Q"

These days there's a lot of hubbub about various Gnostic gospels, specifically the newly-released "Gospel of Judas". Given that they were all written 150+ years after Christ's death, it's pretty easy to understand their unreliability in terms of representing Christ's life and teaching. (For all your Gospel of Judas-rebutting needs, here's a good start.)

There is, however, a different "fifth" Gospel out there. It's one that you may never have even heard of. But you can buy it on Amazon. (If you can buy it on Amazon, it must exist, right?)

What is the Gospel of "Q"? Well, scripture scholars have long understood that the Gospel of John is the only gospel of the 4 that was written totally independently of the others. Which means that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, & Luke, (also called the "Synoptic" Gospels) which contain significant similarities, also contain some order of literary dependency between them (meaning that to some extent they were copying one another).

Of the three, Mark is the shortest. Matthew and Luke are longer, and contain nearly all the events in Mark's gospel, plus a very similar list of "sayings" of Jesus, interspersed throughout the narrative.

Traditionally it was understood that Matthew was written first, then Luke and Mark. Evidence for this is found even in the church fathers, where Clement of Alexandria noted that "those Gospels were written first which include the genealogies." (Matthew & Luke both contain a genealogy; Mark does not.) This view, known as the "Two-Gospel Hypothesis", assumed that 1) Luke used Matthew as the source for much of his material, and 2)Mark did as well, but merely cut out information from Matthew that he didn't deem important for his audience.

In the nineteenth century, a differing view began to arise (due to a great extent, to a political crisis that pitted the authority of the state against the authority of the Church - see this book by William Farmer if this topic interests you) in Germany, then spreading throughout the academic world to become the "consensus" opinion. This view saw the Gospel of Mark as having primacy (being written first). Then, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, being written later, simply added material to it to include extra "sayings" of Jesus. Because Matthew & Luke contain very nearly identical lists of the sayings, however (including the same usage of the original Greek), it became necessary to posit a second "source" from which both Matthew and Luke must have copied. This separate source is known as the "Gospel of Q", and this theory which contradicts the Two Gospel Hypothesis is thus known as the "Two-Source Theory".

Now, it should be noted that there is no evidence that such a second source actually exists. There have been no discoveries of papyrus or other archaeological finds that would corroborate this theory. Nevertheless, many scholars are so convinced that it must exist, that they have gone to the lengths of pulling out the "sayings" of Jesus that they think would have been in it, and cobbling them together in book form, and selling it as the "Lost Gospel of Q" (see book above).

So, what difference does it make, except to a bunch of eggheads in tweed sportcoats sitting in a library?

Well, it makes a fair amount of difference, actually. If this Gospel of "Q" in fact, exists, and if, as is theorized, it was the very first gospel in existence, then it becomes mighty important, and in fact the interpretive key to understanding the other Gospels. It happens to be the case that the material in this "gospel" - due to its lack of much of the narrative of Christ's life, and in particular, his passion and death - skews, by its ommissions, the record of Christ's life and gives a very different impression of him. Consider the following statement by Harvard professor Helmut Koester, regarding the way in which the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Q are used, hand in hand, to diminish the importance of Christ's death and resurrection:
One of the most striking features of the Gospel of Thomas is its silence on the matter of Jesus' death and resurrection - the keystone of Paul's missionary proclamation. But Thomas is not alone in this silence. The Synoptic Sayings Source (Q), used by Matthew and Luke, also does not consider Jesus' death a part of the Christian message. And it likewise is not interested in stories and reports about the resurrection and subsequent appearances of the risen lord. The Gospel of Thomas and Q challenge the assumption that the early church was unanimous in making Jesus' death and resurrection the fulcrum of Christian faith. Both documents presuppose that Jesus' significance lay in his words, and in his words alone.
So, in a nutshell, it does matter very much whether or not this Two-Source theory is legit.

But the fact is, as noted before, there's no evidence for the existence of the Gospel of "Q". And in fact, there is plenty of evidence that Matthew was written first, and thus the Two-Gospel theory is the correct theory.

In short, don't believe the hype. There is no "Gospel of Q".

-----Addendum: I should note that, while there is substantial debate in the scholarly community over the existence of the "Gospel of Q", one thing that is generally not even considered up for debate is which Gospel was written first (thus categorizing my above comments on the primacy of Matthew and the Two-Gospel theory as a "minority view"). The vast majority of scholars today, even Catholic scholars, proceed from the assumption that Mark was written first. By simply following along with the "consensus view", however, they overlook much evidence and disregard the Pontifical Biblical Commission's 1911 exhortation to continue ascribing primacy to the Gospel of Matthew. More information on this topic is available in this article or in the William Farmer book linked to above.