It's official. The Catholic Knight is retired.  I'm hanging up the helmet and passing the torch. There will be no more articles, no more commentaries, no more calls to action. THIS BLOG IS CLOSED. I've spent a very long time thinking about this, I believe the time has come, and is a bit overdue.  I want to thank my readers for everything, but most especially for your encouragement and your willingness to go out there and fight the good fight. So, that being the case, I've spend the last several weeks looking for bloggers who are fairly active, and best represent something akin to the way I think and what I believe.  I recommend the following blogs for my readers to bookmark and check on regularly. Pick one as your favourite, or pick them all. They are all great..... In His Majesty's Service, THE CATHOLIC KNIGHT

Thursday, April 3, 2008

What Is Roman Catholicism?

THE CATHOLIC KNIGHT: Some of my non-Catholic readers may have questions about the Catholic Christian faith. I'll do my best to answer a few of those question here, and direct you to resources that can answer in greater detail....

Q. What is Roman Catholicism?
A. The term "Roman Catholicism" is typically used to describe the Catholic Christian faith. The word "Catholic" means "universal" and "complete." It means two things. It means the Church is not limited to any particular nation, state, culture or ethnicity. It also means the faith itself is complete or unabridged. Typically, those Christians in full communion with the pope in Rome are called "Roman Catholic." The Roman Catholic Church is the world's largest Christian denomination, consisting of some 1.1 billion believers. In contrast; all Protestant, Evangelical and Pentecostal churches combined, consist of a mere 455 million believers.

Q. Is Catholicism a Christian faith?
A. Yes, Catholic Christianity is fully Christian in every sense. In fact, it is the world's oldest Christian church, founded by Jesus Christ himself in 33 AD and established in Rome by the apostles Peter and Paul in about 42 AD. Peter and Paul were both martyred in Rome in about 67 AD, and since then Rome has been the official headquarters of the Catholic Church. All other Christian denominations can trace their origin back to Christ through the Catholic Church. Case in point, the Eastern Orthodox Christians were fully part of the Catholic Church, and in union with the pope, up until about 1054 AD when they broke with Rome primarily over political issues. All of the Protestant, Baptist, Pentecostal, Evangelical, and nondenominational churches of today can trace their roots back to Christ through the Protestant Reformation, when prior to that, they were all Christians within the Roman Catholic Church.

Q. Is Catholicism a cult?
A. Sometimes small groups of non-Catholics, particularly Evangelical and Pentecostal Protestants, will hold to a philosophy called Fundamentalism. Some Fundamentalist Protestants occasionally label any religion that disagrees with them as a "cult." This does not match the classical understanding of the word, and when Fundamentalists do this with Catholicism, it's sort of like the pot calling the kettle "black!" Catholicism is no more a cult than mainstream Protestantism is, and any mainstream Christian group for that matter. So if believing in Jesus Christ makes one a "cult," then I guess Catholicism is just as guilty as any other mainstream Christian group.

Q. What do Catholics believe?
A. Catholics believe all of the essential Christian dogma necessary for being considered Christian. Catholics believe in the Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three Persons in one God. Catholics believe in the Incarnation; Jesus is both fully man and fully God. Catholics believe salvation comes ONLY through Jesus Christ and no other. Catholics believe in the necessity of TRUSTING in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. The rest of the basics can be illustrated in the Nicene Creed, which Catholics memorize and pray at every Sunday mass...

I believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son],
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

These are the core beliefs of Catholicism. Beyond that, Catholics also believe in some doctrines not shared by other Christians -- particularly those of the Protestant persuasion. Most of these doctrines are peripheral in nature, and while Protestants may not agree with them, these beliefs in no way contradict the core Christian doctrine described above.

Q. Do Catholics worship Mary?
A. No. Catholics are forbidden from worshiping anyone or anything other than God, as defined by the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Mary (the mother of Christ) holds a special place of honor in the Catholic Church, but she is not worshiped. Any Catholic who worships Mary, or anyone other than God, is liable to be excommunicated from the Catholic Church for idolatry.

Q. Why do Catholics pray to Mary and the Saints?
A. Catholics fully understand the nature of the Body of Christ. The Holy Spirit of God binds all Christians together in a spiritual bond that cannot be broken. Death has no power over this bond. Even after death, Christians are still connected to each other through the Holy Spirit. This allows Christians in heaven to be aware of the spiritual needs of Christians on earth, and through the Holy Spirit they can "hear" or "know" the prayers of the living, and in turn pray for their needs. Catholics, along with Eastern Orthodox Christians, have no problem asking Christians in heaven to become our prayer-partners. When Catholic or Orthodox Christians pray to the Saints (Christians in heaven), they are simply asking them to be prayer-partners. In other words, Catholics and Orthodox Christians pray WITH the Saints in heaven and not really TO them, because all prayers are ultimately directed toward God.

Q. Do Catholics use idols?
A. No, of course not. The use of pictures and statues (iconography) in churches has always been used as a way of telling a story visually. It's no different then when parents use picture books to explain things to small children. The icons (statues and pictures) serve to visually tell a story, and remind people of some Christian truth. Other Christians (including many Protestants) use similar pictures and statues to do the same thing. Catholics do not worship these icons, so they cannot be idols. An idol is a statue of a false god that is worshiped. Catholics do not make statues of false gods to begin with, and we would never worship any statue we make regardless of who is being depicted. Some Protestants, of the Fundamentalist persuasion, will cite Biblical prohibitions against the making of any "graven image" as an act of idolatry, regardless of the intention behind it. Such interpretations actually contradict the Scriptures. Just five chapters after God prohibited the ancient Israelites from making graven images of false gods (Exodus 20:4-5), he actually commanded them to make graven images of angelic creatures (Exodus 25:18-19). Clearly this Biblical mandate to the Israelites demonstrates that God is not against iconography in general, but instead prohibits images made for the purpose of worshiping false gods. Since Catholics do not make images of false gods, and they do not worship the images either, then by definition they cannot be idols.

Q. Do Catholics believe they get a "second chance" in Purgatory?
A. No. The doctrine of purgatory is highly misunderstood by Protestants, and even some Catholics. Purgatory is not a "second chance" for anyone. Catholics believe that when someone dies, their soul either goes to heaven or hell. That's it! No second chance. Perhaps the best way to describe purgatory is to think of it as heaven's front gate. It's like a fiery archway, the fire representing Christ's holy love for us, in which those who have not followed Christ perfectly are bathed in this fire for purification before entering heaven. The Church only teaches two things about purgatory. One, it exits. Two, our prayers help those who are there. So Catholics regularly pray for the holy souls in purgatory, asking that God will hurry in their purification, so that they may more quickly enter the full bliss of heaven. These beliefs are based on Biblical Scriptures frequently omitted from non-Catholic Bibles.

Q. Why do Catholics confess their sins to a priest and not to God?
A. Actually, Catholics do confess their sins to God directly. However, a priest is typically used during this process both as a guide and a representative. Christ gave this authority to the apostles (and their successors) in John 20:21-23. In the Sacrament of Confession, Catholics confess their sins openly to God, and the priest helps them through this process. Then the confessor is required to ask God for forgiveness directly in prayer. After this the priest acts as a representative of Christ and pronounces his forgiveness to the confessor. This is what goes on in the confessional.

Q. Why does the Catholic Bible have more books?
A. The Catholic Church officially uses the older canon of Scripture that was not abridged by the Protestant Reformation. The original Bible consisted of 46 Old Testament books, and 27 New Testament books. All Christians used this version of the Bible prior to the Reformation. The Protestant Bible was abridged (shortened) by Martin Luther in the 16th century, when he removed 7 books from the Old Testament and shorten the books of Esther and Daniel. He did this because he disagreed with some of these books, and he sought to make the Christian Bible match the Jewish Bible more closely. Then he removed 4 books from the New Testament; Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation. Again, he disagreed with those books and so he removed them. Protestants in other countries liked the revisions Luther made to the Old Testament, but thought he went too far with his changes to the New Testament. After Luther's death, his followers placed the 4 New Testament books back into the Protestant Bible. In the years that followed, this became the standard Protestant Bible; a full New Testament (27 books) unchanged from the Catholic version, with an abridged (shortened) Old Testament (39 books) minus chapters from Esther and Daniel.

Q. Do Catholics read the Scriptures?
A. Yes, and in some cases, probably more than some Protestants do. The organization of the entire mass (divine liturgy) is based on Scripture. In fact, the mass is chalk full of Scripture. Aside from the prayers and responses, many of which can be found in the Bible, the Sunday mass consists of a reading from the Old Testament, the New Testament, a psalm and one of the four gospels. In addition to this, Catholics can participate in weekday masses, wherein they can find almost as much readings from the Bible, and then there is the Liturgy of the Hours (divine office), in which Catholics can become very familiarized with the psalms. Some Catholics go to Bible studies, which are held either in the parish chapel or in someone's home. A good number of Catholics also study the Scriptures in their own homes, with their own families.

Q. Do Catholics believe they "re-sacrifice" Christ during the mass?
A. No. This is a common misunderstanding. Catholics believe the living Christ becomes literally present (body, blood, soul and divinity) in the Eucharistic bread and wine. We do not believe he is re-sacrificed, because we know that Christ was sacrificed once and for all time on the cross at Calvary.

Q. Do Catholics believe Protestants are not Christians?
A. No. This is also another topic of misunderstanding. Catholics do not recognize the church organizations of Protestants as "churches" in the proper sense. However, we do recognize Protestants as "Christians" in the proper sense, because Protestants subscribe to all the same core beliefs Catholics do. This includes all Protestants, Baptists, Evangelicals, Pentecostals and nondenominational believers. So Catholics do fully recognize Protestants as Christians, we just don't recognize Protestant organizations as "churches" in the proper and historical sense. It might be more accurate to say we recognize such Protestant organizations as modern "assemblies" of like-minded Christians.

Q. Why do Catholics believe the pope is infallible?
A. Again, this is somewhat of a misnomer. Catholics don't believe the pope himself is infallible. We believe the pope can make infallible statements, when he exercises his apostolic ministry from the Chair of Peter. The word infallible means "without error," and it simply means something that is true. School teachers make infallible statements about mathematics all the time, when they teach their students that 2+2=4. It can never equal 5, and it can never equal 3. It always equals 4. Therefore, this mathematical statement is infallible, meaning that it is truth and without error. Catholics believe the pope is given a special grace by the Holy Spirit to make similar infallible statements about faith and morality when he chooses to exercise this authority from the Chair of Peter. This is a very rare event. In recent history, this has only happened about once every hundred years. Pope John Paul II never exercised this authority during his entire 27 year pontificate. The last time this papal authority was used was in 1950 AD by Pope Pius XII. This same authority of infallibility is also exercised by the college of bishops, when they meet in ecumenical council in union with the pope. The last time this happened was in 1962 - 1965 during the Second Vatican Council. The official documents produced by that council are also considered infallible - meaning "truth" and "without error." We would dare say that some Protestant organizations claim to exercise similar authority in their denominational decisions and pronouncements, though they may not actually use the word "infallible" to describe them. Whenever a Protestant organization officially interprets a section of Scripture, and requires that all their members believe the same way, they are in effect claiming their interpretation to be "infallible."

Q. What about the recent sex-scandals surrounding the Catholic Church?
A. The sex-abuse and cover-up scandal in the Catholic Church has received a lot of disproportionate media attention. First and foremost, Catholic morality prohibits this kind of scandal totally, and those involved in this scandal were not following the Catholic faith and violating Church law. That being said, a complete investigation of the US Catholic Church, going back to 1950, revealed that approximately 5% of the Catholic clergy (priests, bishops and deacons) were involved in sexual abuse and cover-up. What people often overlook is that the investigation also revealed that 95% of Catholic clergy were not involved in any way, and were doing their jobs properly. So while a 5% minority is a tragedy, and inexcusable, it also puts the whole thing into proper perspective. We're talking about a tiny fraction of clergy in the Church causing some very big problems. Having said that, we should also point out that this percentage is about the same across all religious denominations and organizations. A similar percentage exists in the Protestant world, and the Jewish world, and even the Muslim and Buddhist world. In the secular (non-religious) world it's worse. A government sponsored investigation revealed that more than 15% of public school employees would be involved in some kind of sexual scandal during the course of their careers. The same investigation also revealed that a child is more then 100 times more likely to be sexually abused in a public school than in a Catholic Church. What makes the Catholic scandal so high-profile in the public mind is the intense media coverage, which even some media pundits admit is entirely disproportionate and biased. In comparison, sex-scandals in Protestant churches and Jewish synagogues, occurring at the same percentage, haven't received nearly the same amount of media coverage. Likewise, sex-scandals in public schools receive almost no media attention in comparison, even though media outlets have admitted the problem is much worse there.