It’s fairly common knowledge among Christians that we don’t know for sure who wrote the book of Hebrews in the Bible. The Church knows it to be inspired Scripture, despite the lack of certainty regarding its author.
Well, I’ve been reading an interesting book on Church history called Roots of the Faith, by Mike Aquilina, and he directed my attention to an interesting section in the writings of a Church historian named Eusebius, who lived in the late 200’s through the early 300’s. Since I happen to have Eusebius’ Church History on my shelf, I looked that particular section up for myself because it sounded intriguing.
Here, Eusebius is describing the writings of Clement of Alexandria, who was born circa 150, and Clement seemed to be quite confident in his knowledge of who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews:
“He says that the Epistle to the Hebrews is the work of Paul, and that it was written to the Hebrews in the Hebrew language; but that Luke translated it carefully and published it for the Greeks, and hence the same style of expression is found in this epistle and in the Acts. But he says that the words, Paul the Apostle, were probably not prefixed, because, in sending it to the Hebrews, who were prejudiced and suspicious of him, he wisely did not wish to repel them at the very beginning by giving his name.”
–Eusebius, Church History, 6.14.2-3
So he’s saying that Paul wrote Hebrews, but left out his usual greeting for good reasons. The writing somewhat resembles Luke, because Luke translated it into the Greek.
“Farther on he says: ‘But now, as the blessed presbyter said, since the Lord being the apostle of the Almighty, was sent to the Hebrews, Paul, as sent to the Gentiles, on account of his modesty did not subscribe himself an apostle of the Hebrews, through respect for the Lord, and because being a herald and apostle of the Gentiles he wrote to the Hebrews out of his superabundance.’” (6.14.4)
So even though Paul’s primary mission was to the Gentiles, his “superabundance” overflowed to the Hebrews as well, and the Church has been blessed to this day with the Epistle to the Hebrews apparently as a result of Paul going above and beyond the call of duty (so to speak). I understand that there are other sources from the early Church which also offer insight into the subject of Hebrews’ authorship, but Eusebius is the one I came across and I just thought it was really interesting.
Unrelated to the authorship of Hebrews but included in the same chapter, Eusebius refers to Clement’s writings regarding Mark’s Gospel:
“As Peter had preached the Word publically at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it.”
–Eusebius, Church History, 6.14.6
I’ve already shared significant portions of my journey from Evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism in my posts Considering Catholicism, On the Road to Rome, and How Francis Chan Helped Me Become Catholic, however I also wanted to share a pivotal moment of my testimony that I haven’t shared on my blog before. By the time 2013 was winding down, I was facing some very real questions about my faith. Some questions had begun to nag me years before, such as why someone as intelligent as G.K. Chesterton could conclude that Rome was right. But others were more recent, such as how Catholics can point to Jesus’ clearly articulated words in John chapter six to explain Christ’s Body and Blood being present in the Eucharist (a.k.a. Communion or Lord’s Supper), while Evangelical Protestant explanations were falling short to say the least in saying our Lord’s words must surely be symbolic.
Facing the very real prospect of being convinced of the truth of Catholicism, but struggling with the unfamiliarity of it compared to my prior beliefs, I began looking for a way out of the spiritual conflict. Turns out, it’s easy to find a way out, especially when you’ve been raised in the fringe minority of Christianity that thrives in modern American culture. It’s easy to lose yourself in American culture whenever you get tired of theology (the study of God). I even found a song that I felt I could adopt as symbolizing my new determination to pursue only minimalist Christianity. “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd was how I felt and by determining to believe that God wanted nothing more from me than wholehearted simplicity, I decided to just read the Bible in a simple way, pray in a simple way, and serve others in a simple way, and Christianity didn’t need to be any more complicated than that. The admonitions of my relatives and friends seemed to echo the lyrics of the song:
“Boy, don’t you worry you’ll find yourself
Follow your heart and nothing else
And you can do this, oh baby, if you try
All that I want for you my son is to be satisfied
And be a simple kind of man
Oh, Be something you love and understand
Baby be a simple kind of man
Oh, won’t you do this for me son if you can?”
Trust me, if you drive down the road blasting songs like this with the windows down, it’s easy to forget about things like sacraments and ancient beliefs. But some things still rise above the noise:
“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” -1 Cor. 10:16-17
I had a nagging suspicion that the little symbolic crackers that are passed out in Evangelical Protestant churches are not the body of Christ, even if I wished that it might be true, and if it wasn’t “a participation in the body of Christ”, was I even part of the body of Christ: His Church? Nonetheless, all of the Christians I grew up with and hung out with were all able to shrug it off as no big deal, and I was determined to do the same. Forget the Catholics and their evidence, they’re weird anyway! Perhaps the less I think about it, the better… Well, God had a patient way of working in my restless mind, and I should mention that even though I was growing weary of theology and wanted to live a simple life, I was also praying earnestly for God’s direction.
In the mean time, my wife and I decided to back away from Catholicism and we determined to make our Pentecostal church home work for us. We were sitting in a sparsely populated worship service at the Assemblies of God church one Sunday morning, and it was time for communion. I had been raised to take communion very seriously growing up, and I did, using it as a time of quiet reflection and bringing my sins before God. The pastor usually goes out of his way to remind everyone that it’s a symbol, even while hearkening back to Jesus’ words at the Last Supper. Even though I had been wrestling with the biblical, theological, and historical evidence put forth by the Catholics, I decided that I was just going to leave it in God’s hands and take my time figuring it all out… someday.
As we sat in what was nearly the center of the sanctuary waiting for the crackers and grape juice trays to make their way to us, it gradually dawned on me that the ushers had somehow missed us. I tried to think whether in all my years of attending Evangelical Protestant church services this had ever happened to me before… it never had as far as I could remember. How could they have missed us? I had determined that it would be fine to partake of this symbolic communion as I always had, but had God prevented it? A crazy thought… or was it? While the short communion time proceeded without me, I pondered the possibility that God was saying, “I am fine with you taking your time to work through the process of understanding the Catholic Church… but you know better than this.” My wife wasn’t as sure that God had intended to send a clear message, but she did find it strange at least that we were missed, especially since we had been wrestling with whether or not to continue the Evangelical Protestant version of communion in a symbolic way.
An usher came up to us after the service and was genuinely apologetic for having missed us. He didn’t realize it until after he had passed us by. I happily informed him that it was no problem at all. Little did he know how much God may have used him in that moment.
The journey was still long after that point, but it did seem to be the final clincher in the subject of symbolic communion. And knowing what I know now, it would probably be a sin for me to do something that I know to be a symbolic reinvention of what God intended to be a Sacrament, without the defense of unknowing sincerity. I know that people can quickly and easily disregard this story as coincidental (and even bring up instances of being missed in communion themselves), but I see this as being just the sort of thing that God would use to speak to a specific person in a specific way, and in a way that cannot be used as proof for anyone else. In and of itself, it is hardly evidence of anything, but as it was a tipping point for me (on top of a pile of evidence and prayers for God’s guidance), it might be helpful to others in a similar situation.
In closing, I’ve noticed that if there is one subject that even the most biblically-minded Evangelical Protestants like to avoid, it’s the subject of the Eucharist. Once the biblical evidence is honestly examined, you need to do some very creative footwork to justify that communion is a symbolic “ordinance” rather than a sacrament. After ruling out the churches of our upbringing, we still had to choose between the options that remained. For awhile, we tried out the local Episcopal church, and we would have gladly gone to an Anglican church (at the time) if one was nearby. Also, the Eastern Orthodox have some substantial arguments… but we knew we could never innocently go back to where we were before.
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” -1 Cor. 11:27
From here, I recommend this post:
Protestants say that they don’t put their trust in men, so therefore they don’t trust the Catholic Church. They claim to be putting their trust in the Bible instead.
What if I said that I don’t put my trust in books, so why should I trust the Bible?
Of course I would be told that the Bible is not just an ordinary book. It is the exception to the rule and trustworthy because it is from God and protected by God. This is true.
That’s basically the explanation of the Catholic Church. It’s not an ordinary bunch of men, or simply a human institution. The Catholic Church is the exception to the rule, and trustworthy because it is from God and protected by God. This is a bold claim I know, but I only wish to point out that trusting the Church is no more of a stretch than trusting the Bible.
The Bible did not appear out of thin air. We trust that God equipped certain men to write the Scriptures, compile them, and preserve them through the centuries. Is it that much of a stretch to believe that God is using men to infallibly interpret the infallible Scriptures so that they were not written, compiled, and preserved only to be misunderstood? It has been necessary to protect orthodox Christianity against heresy since the beginning of the Church, sometimes with the necessity of calling a council.
Before you attempt to bypass the Catholic Church in your pursuit of God’s will, make sure that you are not attempting to bypass what God intends for you. A lifetime, even a long one, does not offer enough time for you to figure much out on your own. You and the Bible alone cannot get very deep. Real understanding comes from tapping into the accumulated centuries of the Catholic Church’s knowledge.
I don’t like to put my trust in men either. Therefore I hesitate to trust myself, or pastors that fulfill my own ideas of trustworthiness. I won’t put my trust in the writings of guys like Martin Luther, John Calvin, or Loraine Boettner. I also do not want to be part of a human institution like the Southern Baptist Convention. We all trust people to some extent. Make sure they’re qualified.
This short video goes a long way in explaining the central issue among Christians regarding Church authority.
On January 24th, Christians around the world honor the memory of St. Francis de Sales, who is remembered for his bold yet graceful defense of the Faith in the 16th century area of Switzerland. Before January 24th came along this year, I had the opportunity to read a copy of St. Francis’ book, The Sign of the Cross, in which he defends the practice of making the Sign of the Cross by referring not only to the historic traditions of Christianity, but also relating powerful stories of its use, and the biblical roots of its importance.
The Sign of the Cross can be made over the forehead or mouth, but the most familiar method is touching the fingers of the right hand to the forehead, followed by the lower/center chest, left shoulder and then right shoulder. This is done while saying “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, which some consider to be “the fifteen most powerful words in the English language”. St. Francis is decidedly Catholic, as are his apologetics, but non-Catholics should not be too quick to dismiss the Sign of the Cross simply because Catholics have gotten the most use out of it. My question is whether all Christians should be using it, and I’ll cut to the chase for a moment: if the Sign of the Cross is inherently (and historically) Christian, and does indeed stand against both evil and false doctrine, then it seems to me that all followers of Christ should be identifying themselves with the Sign of the Cross. Because I prefer to examine Christianity in its full historical context, I am willing to think outside the box on this, even though I’m still technically classified as an “Evangelical Protestant”.
St. Francis’ chapter titles offer some insight into his approach to the subject: “A Public Profession of Faith”, “The Use of the Sign of the Cross in the Church of the Fathers”, “A Reproof to the Antichrist”, “A Defense against Demons”, etc.
Along with scripture references to explain to people why they should not assail such a wonderful Christian practice, St. Francis also quoted many important people from Christian history, such as St. Athanasius: “Every magical art is rebuffed by the Sign of the Cross, and by it every spell is broken”. Or St. Antony: “The demons come in the night pretending to be angels of God. Seeing them, arm yourselves and your homes with the Sign of the Cross, and immediately they will be reduced to nothing, for they fear this victory sign by which the Savior despoiled the powers of the air and made them laughable.” And St. John Chrysostom: “St. Paul calls the Cross a prize, and it should not only be made with the hand on the body, but, in truth, first in the soul. For if in this way you impress it upon your face, not one of the demons will dare attack you, seeing the lance by which they received the mortal blow.”
St. Francis de Sales himself was a very interesting guy. Particularly interesting to me, he is the patron saint of writers, and known for his stand against the harmful ideas of his time that posed a real threat to him personally and caused great spiritual damage to the region in which he lived. According to the biographical note at the end of the book, “…St. Francis’ unflagging poise and kindness in [his] mission led to its eventual success. By the turn of the century, the majority of the area’s inhabitants had returned to the Catholic faith.”
In closing, the description on the back cover of the book is worth quoting at length:
“Embodying the zeal of youth and the wisdom of age, this gentle jewel of Catholic apologetics traces the origins of the Sign of the Cross back to the Fathers of the Church, to the Apostles before them, and finally to our Lord Himself…
“Outside the Creed itself, there are few topics to which the Fathers testify as universally and unanimously as the pious practice of making, frequently and well, the Sign of the Cross…”
I would be curious to hear the thoughts of my fellow Christians on this matter. Why are so many of us not making the Sign of the Cross? As a Christian, I have been longing for a way to identify myself boldly with Christ, express spiritual feelings outwardly, bless and be blessed, and separate myself from heretical versions of the faith. History and Christian tradition may have provided the answer. What do you think?
“If this sign were not applied to the forehead of believers, or to the water with which they are regenerated, or to the chrism oil with which they are anointed, or to the sacrifice by which they are nourished, none of these would be as perfect as they should be.”
Why? There is no way to list all of the reasons here, but I will at least attempt to offer a glimpse of my basic reasoning process. The Christian faith must surely be a durable one, and has nothing to fear from my questions. Even if you do not trust my judgment as I look into this, perhaps you can read my thoughts out of curiosity, and I can read your comments in the same manner. My goal is the fullness of the Christian faith, and this is not intended as a condemnation of people who choose to believe differently, or are content where they are spiritually. Think of it this way: someone who is in pursuit of a master’s degree is not necessarily doing it in condemnation of people who are content with a bachelor’s degree. I am grateful beyond words for those who have brought me up in the Christian faith, and I do not wish to appear as though I’m shrugging off their love and legacy by digging deeper.
First of all, let me establish what is NOT being questioned. Christianity itself, in a nutshell, is the core of this whole thing. My faith is grounded in Jesus Christ, who is (and always will be) my Lord and Savior. The Gospel and the Creeds make up my basic declaration of faith which I can refer to as “mere Christianity.” The questions I’m asking arise out of matters of authority within the Church, proper interpretation and understanding of Scripture, the role of tradition within the faith, and the way that Christians are to live their lives. These questions lead to disagreements over the possible answers. Resolving them ultimately requires putting trust in some person’s ability to understand God (even if you only recognize your own ability). So, the overarching question becomes, “Who do you trust, and why?” I ask this in the sense of a trustworthy source that everyone can use. For me this question is separate from questions like “Who has cared about you?” or “Who has invested most in you?” or “What has your family long believed?” It is important to recognize the distinction. Also, you shouldn’t simply point to the Bible as the means of understanding the faith, when the Bible itself is part of what Christians are attempting to understand. If someone is wondering how a masterful work of art was painted and how to interpret its meaning you don’t simply hand the painting to them as an explanation.
One of the first things about Catholicism that becomes apparent to the inquisitor (no pun intended) is that non-Catholics (and even many Catholics!) have many misconceptions of what Catholic beliefs and Church history actually are. I have learned a lot in the past few weeks simply by allowing myself to see the Bible through a Catholic lens instead of a Protestant one. Note: this “lens” concept is important to realize, especially when bringing up points about what the Bible says. Even if I do not end up joining the Catholic Church, I cannot help but have a greater respect for Catholics and a greater sympathy for them as they face constant misunderstanding and mockery in our culture. It has become somewhat amusing to me (yet frustrating) to see the Catholic Church held up to a standard of perfection and be demonstrated as imperfect, while the great many branches of Protestantism are barely held up to any standard at all and are thus demonstrated to be adequate.
In many ways my spiritual journey began years ago, in my frustration with the various churches that I have been a part of. I ended up experimenting with the house church concept, based loosely on an attempt to understand New Testament house churches. Stephen Ray (a convert to Catholicism from Protestantism) tried a similar experiment earlier in his life and described reverting back to the New Testament house church as being like an attempt to take a full-size tree and revert it back into the form of the acorn that it came from. It is an unnatural disregard of what has transpired within the Church since its founding. I realize now that a person can protest their way completely out of the picture. I suppose my attempt at house church could be thought of as the final product of Protestantism.
In other ways this spiritual journey of mine began as a result of my parents’ divorce, causing me to re-evaluate many aspects of the foundation of my upbringing, and the inadequacies of churches that value freedom more than doctrine. In other ways it resulted from my faith being challenged during my time in a secular college, and hours-worth of discussion with a Muslim friend of mine as we compared our faiths. My encounters with Calvinism and various forms of egoism led me to ponder what Christianity would look like apart from those influences, since Christianity seems naturally opposed to them anyway. It appears to me that many Protestants are more Calvinist than they realize or are willing to admit. Calvinism has a foothold in American churches in a profound but immeasurable way.
The Catholic Church seems to naturally repel Calvinists.
I developed a frustration from reading books like “The Cost of Discipleship”, “Crazy Love”, and “Radical”. These books alluded to a very real and powerful way to live the Christian life, but left me with far more questions than answers.
Eastern Orthodoxy and Anglicanism are worthy of serious consideration, but for various reasons I have set them aside. I would be willing to reconsider them or discuss my thoughts if asked.
The issue as I see it is not whether we will accept a human authority on this earth, but which human authority we accept. Some accept the established doctrines of the Catholic Church, others accept the doctrines of their Wesleyan church, or Baptist church, while others establish doctrines on their own, based on their ideas, readings, preferences, etc. What doctrines are the most legitimate? Again, who do you trust, and why? This is NOT ruling out the Holy Spirit as a guide. It is simply an honest acknowledgement of the countless divisions found within the faith, and the logical assumption that divisions are not a sign of strength. If there is one universal Church, it would be great news to anyone like me who is sick and tired of opinions and guesses being used to determine important questions within the faith. Obviously the legitimacy of the Catholic Church’s doctrine is still questionable in my mind at this point (hence the title of this post), but I cannot help but wonder how it can be less legitimate than all of the various ideas that people outside the Catholic Church come up with on any given day. Established doctrines can mean less freedom it’s true, but I for one am willing to release my grip on doctrinal freedom if Truth is found to supersede it.
I admit that much of the appeal of the Catholic Church is its universality. It spans not only the centuries, but the globe. It still boggles my mind that there are 1.2 billion members of the Roman Catholic Church. From what I’ve heard that’s far more than all other versions of Christianity combined. Somebody might be quick to claim that he is smarter than all of those people, but I am not that quick. Like Socrates, learning has made me realize how little I know. An American Evangelical Protestant shaking his fist at Catholicism and declaring it to be “pagan” or some other similar term seems rather self-destructive considering that he is part of a small sliver of the overall Christian population of the world, with the vast majority being Catholic. If the Catholic Church is not Christian, then the legitimacy of all churches around the world looks a bit shaky. It’s more of a question of whether we can justify being outside of it or not. Perhaps we can, but we’d better be sure.
Many different people interpret the Bible in many different ways, and some are quick to accept the responsibility for taking interpretive authority upon their own shoulders. James said “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” Knowing Greek is not the same as understanding the Greek of the New Testament, and reading the Bible does not mean we can teach ourselves or others correctly. The “Magisterium” of the Catholic Church takes that awesome doctrinal responsibility upon its shoulders (I wouldn’t want it!), and the Catholics believe that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church. Even if the Catholic Church is simply regarded as an institution apart from God’s divine preservation, G.K. Chesterton said, “There is no other case of one continuous intelligent institution that has been thinking about thinking for two thousand years.” It has the accumulated experience of centuries, dating back to the beginning of the Church. We individuals with our limited experience have to sift through more concepts and ideas than we have time for on this earth. There is simply not enough time to get it all figured out, so why try? But it’s still important to base our beliefs on the best sources of instruction. Our eternity may depend upon it.
A few miscellaneous thoughts may help offer some insight as well: I have begun to question Americanized Christianity, allowing myself to be humbled by the age and enormity of the faith outside of our usual perception of it. I have discovered the early Church Fathers. Guys like Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Irenaeus, and Justin Martyr are some of the best resources Christians have in order to better understand what Christianity was intended to be. The Catholic Church cherishes the writings of the Fathers, while Protestants seem content to ignore them and rely more on their own judgment and modern commentary. I find that to be interesting. I have developed a greater appreciation for great works of Catholics, from the architecture of cathedrals to the imagination behind The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Things like crossing oneself for prayer and the psychological need people have for confession (and even penance) are making more and more sense. Also, the “age of the earth” debate that Protestants constantly stumble through is practically nonexistent within the Catholic Church, because there are fewer misconceptions running rampant about how to understand the Bible. G.K. Chesterton’s writings have helped me to better grasp the balance between human intellect and the sanity of mystery. I could go on and on, but I’ve shared enough for now.
I ask for your prayers as I continue to follow Christ. Feedback is welcome, and encouragement is always appreciated. I put a lot of careful work into my writing, and this post is no exception. Bear in mind that this post is NOT a declaration of intent to join the Catholic Church. These thoughts are meant to be taken only as thoughts, and I encourage you to keep an eye out for future posts. You may have noticed that I’ve hardly discussed any theology in this post. There will be plenty of time for that. I merely wanted to create a basis from which to launch my future ruminations on the subject of the Catholic Church. Stay tuned…