Archive for the 'Catholicism' Category

Is There Something Wrong with the Symbol of the Cross?

Messianic Necklace with Cross

Messianic Necklace with Cross

Messianics often are in dubio about the symbol of the Cross. To my knowledge there is nothing wrong with symbolic crosses, provided that they be not used as in Catholicism, as an image to worship. During the long course of history, Judaism has been enriched with symbols like the Chanukah menorah and the Magen David. The typical symbol of Yeshua is the Cross, and we glory in a crucified Messiah. Messiah did not die on a Cross accidentally. Crucifixion was a Roman way of execution and when Messiah died on the cross, this death was the means of his victory over the Roman Empire — the final of the four Beasts mentioned in the Book of Daniel and the Apocalypse — and thus over all the wordly powers.

There is thus nothing wrong with wearing a necklace of the cross, or making the sign of the cross at certain moments of the liturgy, e.g. when specific messianic berachoth are recited. Making the sign of the cross is in fact a beautiful confession of the core of our messianic faith. In touching our forehead we symbolize the authority of G-d the Father, in touching our navel we symbolize his only begotten Son, Yeshua the Messiah, and in touching our shoulders we symbolize the power of the Ruach HaKodesh.

The acceptability of traditions like these should be determined according to the standards of the Torah. Making a crucifix with a corpse on it, with the intention of worshipping the image and offering incense to it, as occurs in the Roman Catholic Church, is clearly unacceptable by Torah standards. But there’s no objection to a cross without a corpse, hanging on a wall or above an entrance, or standing on a ceremonial table in use for celebrating Yeshua’s Supper.

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The Problem of Women Dressing Like Men: An Early Warning from a Roman Cardinal

 

 

Modest and elegant

Modest and elegant

No serious believer will deny that in our time sexual perversions are propagated and modesty and chastity ridiculed. Today’s political correctness is siding with those who attack traditional family life, religion, and the divine laws of nature and revelation.

This counter-culture of perversion has invaded traditional Christianity on a massive scale since the end of the Second World War. It started with the mistaken emancipation of women and feminism and is now involved in the diabolical attempts to destroy all traditinal morality  by the LBGTQ and Gender Ideology movements.

When in the late 50s and early 60s of the XXth century emancipated women began to dress like men, only a few prophetic voices foresaw what was coming. One of these voices was the Roman Cardinal Siri’s. [1] In a pastoral letter entitled: Notification Concerning Men’s Dress Worn By Women, dated June 12, 1960, this staunchly conservative Catholic prelate dealt with the roots of the problem in an excellent psychological and social analysis based on the principles of natural law. [2]

We decided to republish this Notification for our readers. It highlights aspects of sexual morality which are often overlooked by believers of evangelical upbringing, but which are quite familiar to traditional Catholics and religious Jews. Messianics will discover that Siri’s analysis provides a general clarifying background to many Torah injunctions and prohibitions on the domain of the social interacting of the sexes as well as on traditional Jewish fence laws.

I expect that Siri’s letter, given here below, will surprise many readers for its actuality, relevance and depth of vision.

Notification Concerning Men’s Dress Worn By Women

By Giuseppe Cardinal Siri

Genoa,
June 12, 1960
To the Reverend Clergy,
To all Teaching sisters,
To the beloved sons of Catholic Action,
To Educators intending truly to follow Christian Doctrine.

I

The first signs of our late arriving spring indicate that there is this year a certain increase in the use of men’s dress by girls and women, even family mothers. Up until 1959, in Genoa, such dress usually meant the person was a tourist, but now it seems to be a significant number of girls and women from Genoa itself who are choosing at least on pleasure trips to wear men’s dress (men’s trousers).

The extension of this behavior obliges us to take serious thought, and we ask those to whom this Notification is addressed to kindly lend to the problem all the attention it deserves from anyone aware of being in any way responsible before God.

We seek above all to give a balanced moral judgment upon the wearing of men’s dress by women. In fact Our thoughts can only bear upon the moral question.

Firstly, when it comes to covering of the female body, the wearing of men’s trousers by women cannot be said to constitute as such a grave offense against modesty, because trousers certainly cover more of woman’s body than do modern women’s skirts.

Secondly, however, clothes to be modest need not only to cover the body but also not to cling too closely to the body. Now it is true that much feminine clothing today clings closer than do some trousers, but trousers can be made to cling closer, in fact generally they do, so the tight fit of such clothing gives us not less grounds for concern than does exposure of the body. So the immodesty of men’s trousers on women is an aspect of the problem which is not to be left out of an over-all judgment upon them, even if it is not to be artificially exaggerated either.

II

However, it is a different aspect of women’s wearing of men’s trousers which seems to us the gravest.

The wearing of men’s dress by women affects firstly the woman herself, by changing the feminine psychology proper to women; secondly it affects the woman as wife of her husband, by tending to vitiate relationships between the sexes; thirdly it affects the woman as mother of her children by harming her dignity in her children’s eyes. Each of these points is to be carefully considered in turn: —

A. Male dress changes the psychology of woman.

In truth, the motive impelling women to wear men’s dress is always that of imitating, nay, of competing with, the man who is considered stronger, less tied down, more independent. This motivation shows clearly that male dress is the visible aid to bringing about a mental attitude of being “like a man.” Secondly, ever since men have been men, the clothing a person wears, demands, imposes and modifies that person’s gestures, attitudes and behavior, such that from merely being worn outside, clothing comes to impose a particular frame of mind inside.

Then let us add that woman wearing man’s dress always more or less indicates her reacting to her femininity as though it is inferiority when in fact it is only diversity. The perversion of her psychology is clear to be seen.

These reasons, summing up many more, are enough to warn us how wrongly women are made to think by the wearing of men’s dress.

B. Male dress tends to vitiate relationships between women and men.

In truth when relationships between the two sexes unfold with the coming of age, an instinct of mutual attraction is predominant. The essential basis of this attraction is a diversity between the two sexes which is made possible only by their complementing or completing one another. If then this “diversity” becomes less obvious because one of its major external signs is eliminated and because the normal psychological structure is weakened, what results is the alteration of a fundamental factor in the relationship.

The problem goes further still. Mutual attraction between the sexes is preceded both naturally, and in order of time, by that sense of shame which holds the rising instincts in check, imposes respect upon them, and tends to lift to a higher level of mutual esteem and healthy fear everything that those instincts would push onwards to uncontrolled acts. To change that clothing which by its diversity reveals and upholds nature’s limits and defense-works, is to flatten out the distinctions and to help pull down the vital defense-works of the sense of shame.

It is at least to hinder that sense. And when the sense of shame is hindered from putting on the brakes, then relationships between man and women sink degradingly down to pure sensuality, devoid of all mutual respect or esteem.

Experience is there to tell us that when woman is de-feminised, then defenses are undermined and weakness increases.

C. Male dress harms the dignity of the mother in her children’s eyes.

All children have an instinct for the sense of dignity and decorum of their mother. Analysis of the first inner crisis of children when they awaken to life around them even before they enter upon adolescence, shows how much the sense of their mother counts. Children are as sensitive as can be on this point. Adults have usually left all that behind them and think no more on it. But we would do well to recall to mind the severe demands that children instinctively make of their own mother, and the deep and even terrible reactions roused in them by observation of their mother’s misbehavior. Many lines of later life are here traced out — and not for good — in these early inner dramas of infancy and childhood.

The child may not know the definition of exposure, frivolity or infidelity, but he possesses an instinctive sixth sense to recognize them when they occur, to suffer from them, and be bitterly wounded by them in his soul.

III

Let us think seriously on the import of everything said so far, even if woman’s appearing in man’s dress does not immediately give rise to all the upset caused by grave immodesty.

The changing of feminine psychology does fundamental and, in the long run, irreparable damage to the family, to conjugal fidelity, to human affections and to human society. True, the effects of wearing unsuitable dress are not all to be seen within a short time. But one must think of what is being slowly and insidiously worn down, torn apart, perverted.

Is any satisfying reciprocity between husband and wife imaginable, if feminine psychology be changed? Or is any true education of children imaginable, which is so delicate in its procedure, so woven of imponderable factors in which the mother’s intuition and instinct play the decisive part in those tender years? What will these women be able to give their children when they will so long have worn trousers that their self-esteem goes more by their competing with the men than by their functioning as women?

Why, we ask, ever since men have been men, or rather since they became civilized — why have men in all times and places been irresistibly borne to make a differentiated division between the functions of the two sexes? Do we not have here strict testimony to the recognition by all mankind of a truth and a law above man?

To sum up, wherever women wear men’s dress, it is to be considered a factor in the long run tearing apart human order.

IV

The logical consequence of everything presented so far is that anyone in a position of responsibility should be possessed by a sense of alarm in the true and proper meaning of the word, a severe and decisive alarm.

We address a grave warning to parish priests, to all priests in general and to confessors in particular, to members of every kind of association, to all religious, to all nuns, especially to teaching Sisters.

We invite them to become clearly conscious of the problem so that action will follow. This consciousness is what matters. It will suggest the appropriate action in due time. But let it not counsel us to give way in the face of inevitable change, as though we are confronted by a natural evolution of mankind, and so on!

Men may come and men may go, because God has left plenty of room for the to and fro of their free-will; but the substantial lines of nature and the not less substantial lines of Eternal Law have never changed, are not changing and never will change. There are bounds beyond which one may stray as far as one sees fit, but to do so ends in death; there are limits which empty philosophical fantasizing may have one mock or not take seriously, but they put together an alliance of hard facts and nature to chastise anybody who steps over them. And history has sufficiently taught, with frightening proof from the life and death of nations, that the reply to all violators of the outline of “humanity” is always, sooner or later, catastrophe.

From the dialectic of Hegel onwards, we have had dinned in our ears what are nothing but fables, and by dint of hearing them so often, many people end up by getting used to them, if only passively. But the truth of the matter is that Nature and Truth, and the Law bound up in both, go their imperturbable way, and they cut to pieces the simpletons who upon no grounds whatsoever believe in radical and far-reaching changes in the very structure of man.

The consequences of such violations are not a new outline of man, but disorders, hurtful instability of all kinds, the frightening dryness of human souls, the shattering increase in the number of human castaways, driven long since out of people’s sight and mind to live out their decline in boredom, sadness and rejection. Aligned on the wrecking of the eternal norms are to be found the broken families, lives cut short before their time, hearths and homes gone cold, old people cast to one side, youngsters willfully degenerate and — at the end of the line — souls in despair and taking their own lives. All of which human wreckage gives witness to the fact that the “line of God” does not give way, nor does it admit of any adaption to the delirious dreams of the so-called philosophers!

V

We have said that those to whom the present Notification is addressed are invited to take serious alarm at the problem in hand. Accordingly they know what they have to say, starting with little girls on their mother’s knee.

They know that without exaggerating or turning into fanatics, they will need to strictly limit how far they tolerate women dressing like men, as a general rule.

They know they must never be so weak as to let anyone believe that they turn a blind eye to a custom which is slipping downhill and undermining the moral standing of all institutions.

They, the priests, know that the line they have to take in the confessional, while not holding women dressing like men to be automatically a grave fault, must be sharp and decisive.

Everybody will kindly give thought to the need for a united line of action, reinforced on every side by the cooperation of all men of good will and all enlightened minds, so as to create a true dam to hold back the flood.

Those of you responsible for souls in whatever capacity understand how useful it is to have for allies in this defensive campaign men of the arts, the media and the crafts. The position taken by fashion design houses, their brilliant designers and the clothing industry, is of crucial importance in this whole question. Artistic sense, refinement and good taste meeting together can find suitable but dignified solution as to the dress for women to wear when they must use a motorcycle or engage in this or that exercise or work. What matters is to preserve modesty together with the eternal sense of femininity, that femininity which more than anything else all children will continue to associate with the face of their mother.

We do not deny that modern life sets problems and makes requirements unknown to our grandparents. But we state that there are values more needing to be protected than fleeting experiences, and that for anybody of intelligence there are always good sense and good taste enough to find acceptable and dignified solutions to problems as they come up.

Out of charity we are fighting against the flattening out of mankind, against the attack upon those differences on which rests the complementarity of man and woman.

When we see a woman in trousers, we should think not so much of her as of all mankind, of what it will be when women will have masculinized themselves for good. Nobody stands to gain by helping to bring about a future age of vagueness, ambiguity, imperfection and, in a word, monstrosities.

This letter of Ours is not addressed to the public, but to those responsible for souls, for education, for Catholic associations. Let them do their duty, and let them not be sentries caught asleep at their post while evil crept in.

Giuseppe Cardinal Siri,
Archbishop of Genoa

From a Torah obedient perspective it is clear that believers in Messiah Yeshua shouldn’t be involved in modern cross-dressing or in any attempts to blur moral standards or the natural distinctions of creation. These standards and distinctions should instead be cherised and accentuated by cultural norms. Many of these norms are given and upheld by divine revelation. The Torah explicitly warns us against cross-dressing, which is considered an abomination in Dt. 22:5. The Body of Messiah has the clear and unambiguos obligation to uphold a biblical and traditional culture in matters of sexual morality.

_____________

[1] Giuseppe Cardinal Siri (1906-1989) was Archbishop of Genoa. His Notification can be found at: http://olrl.org/virtues/pants.shtml

[2] ‘Natural law’ can be defined as the collection of moral principles and norms detectible by natural reason unaided by divine revelation. The Apostle Paul refers to the natural law in Rom. 1:18-32.

The Biblical Canon, Church Tradition, and Messianics

 

new-testament-orientationA basic problem in the domain of biblical studies is the question of (how to establish) the Canon of Scripture. This problem is particularly important for Messianics when it comes to the Canon of the Apostolic Writings (commonly, but erroneously, called the New Testament). This importance is related to the fact that Messianics reject many of the traditional teachings of the Christian Church and yet accept the Canon of the New Testament as it is recognized by the tradition of this Church.

From the assumption that the Messianic theological position as to the remaining relevance of the Torah is correct it necessarily follows that the Church already began to deviate from the teachings of our Lord and the Apostles during the second century, and thus at a time when the formal recognition of the New Testament was still in its initial stages. For it is in the second century that we see the emergence of Replacement Theology, together with the development of christological doctrines that finally would lead to the dogmas of the Deity of Yeshua and the Trinity. [1]

The historical time-frame of the recognition of the New Testament Canon roughly coincides with the historical time-frame of the development of Replacement Theology and the great christological conflicts. However, there is evidence for the proposition that the history of the formation of the Canon is more complicated than often admitted, and that it extended to the times of the Protestant Reformation and the Council of Trent. One of the factors that led to its ultimate fixation were Luther’s and Erasmus’ reopening of the debate. This evoked a Catholic reaction at the Council of Trent. The position of this Council seems to have been helpful in ending the debate, even among the followers of the Reformers.

Regardless the exact reconstruction of this history, it is problematic to simply accept the NT Canon without granting any authority to the tradition of the Church, since it is clearly impossible for anyone of us today to determine which collection of books or letters of the times of the Apostles we should recognize as being part of Holy Scripture — had this collection not been handed down to us through the generations by the authority, the constant teaching, and the liturgical tradition of the Church.

This problem can be stated as follows: If the position of the Church on the relevance of the Torah and the nature of G’d led the believers completely astray by the developments that culminated in the doctrines of the Deity of Yeshua and the Trinity, how can we be sure that the Church did not lead us astray by adopting and using in her liturgy the collection of Scriptures that we call the New Testament?

From the Catholic point of view it is considered a basic theological error to isolate the genesis and reception of the NT Canon from the developing early Christian tradition. According to this viewpoint it is a fundamental metho-dological problem of all non-Catholic NT studies that they first isolate the NT from its functional context in Christian tradition and the living community of the Church, and subsequently find things in it which conflict with this tradition and the authority of the Church.

The Catholic response to these findings is to ascribe these conflicts with Church teaching to this initial error of isolating the Scriptures from the tradition and authority of the Church. If divine revelation is only partly contained in Scripture and if Scripture is an organic part of the developing Jewish nation and the later Christian Church, how can one separate Scripture from the tradition and teaching of the Church and subject the Holy Books to the insights of individual scholars, while ignoring the primal fact that these scholars themselves have received the Scriptures from the Church? Defenders of Catholicism always stress that the sola Scriptura teaching of the Protestant Reformers is not found in the Bible itself.

The Messianic position seems even more difficult to defend than the position of the Reformers. For the Reformers accepted the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils until about the fifth century, when the question of the Canon of the NT was practically settled or at least no longer debated. The Messianic position, however, is that the Church during the first centuries of her existence got throughly corrupted in such basic teachings as the nature of G’d and the relevance of the Torah, while at the same time developing a correct intuition in solving the problem of the NT Canon.

The question is thus: How it can be made reasonably credible that the Church stumbled into error after error in her teachings about the ontological status of Yeshua, the nature of G’d, and the normative status of the Torah, and yet preserved a right intuition on the issue which books of the Apostolic times should be recognized as inspired and canonical in addition to the Hebrew Bible?
_____________

[1] Regrettably, many Messianics accept the Church doctrines of the Deity of Yeshua and the Trinity. But the basic problem pointed out here remains the same for them, since they don’t accept Replacement Theology.

Pope Francis and the Apostasy of the Christian Church

 

anti-pope-francisThe Roman Catholic Church throughout her history has always vehemently opposed to give the Sacrament of Holy Communion to those living in irregular sexual relationships. The position of the Church was that those living in cohabitation, adultery, or any other sexual relation outside traditional marriage were unfit to receive Communion, because they were in a state of mortal sin and in danger of losing their eternal salvation, according to the warning of the Apostle Paul in his First Epistle to the Corinthians:

I Corinthians 6:9-10
Know ye not that unrighteous shall not inherit the Kingdom of G’d? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the Kingdom of G’d.

Holy Communion was considered to be only for those in the ‘state of grace’ according to Catholic theological terminology — or, in evangelical terminology, in the ‘state of being saved’. To be in the state of grace requires that one has confessed and sincerely repented the mortal sins one has committed, and has acted upon this repentance by leaving all situations of continuously ‘living in sin’.

This sacramental discipline was based on the notion that, ultimately, the Church is only composed of those are saved, i.e. the truly faithful. Only the saved, ultimately, are part of the mystical Body of Christ. This community of the saved is liturgically expressed in Holy Communion, because in receiving the Eucharist the Body of Christ is actualized in this temporal life and in and through it the faithful are bodily and spiritually united with the Lord Jesus Christ.

After the Second Vatican Council there has been a growing minority in the Church of liberals and modernists abandoning this traditional moral position. For some decades, this minority has grown vocal and demanding, and important Church leaders, including Cardinals have joined it. And in our days of the pontificate of Francis even the Pope seeks to support it. Sacramental discipline, which was already considerably weakened after Vatican II, is now in danger of being completely thrown out of the window.

Under the guise of proclaiming “mercy” and “compassion” — reiterating the general Christian invitation that the Lord is welcoming everyone — Pope Francis’ pontificate has become a concerted effort of theological liberals to change the moral basics of Catholicism and to bring it in line with the demands of the modern world. For this is really what theological liberalism or modernism is all about: adapting the Church to the modern secular sensibilities of liberty and equality.

What is happening in Catholicism since Vatican II, and now seems to culminate in the effort to abandon traditional sexual ethics, is nothing less than the introduction of the principles of the French Revolution in the Church.

As Torah minded believers we should be attentive of this phenomenon as a new manifestation of the spirit of lawlessness (i.e. Torahlessness), as a radicalization of Replacement Theology.

The Replacement Theology that was introduced in the early days of the Church can be viewed as an effort to synthesize the biblical and Jewish heritage of the Church with the surrounding culture of Greco-Roman Antiquity. Such a synthesis was only possible by giving up the culture and rites of the Torah. The Catholic Church was the result of this synthesis. For this reason Catholicism can be viewed as a secularization of the Jewish religion. In order to have universal impact, and to be acceptable to all people, it was deemed necessary for the message of the Gospel to shake off its Jewish particularisms. Thus the Church supposedly would be enabled to gain cultural influence and to effectively evangelize the masses of the Roman Empire without the obstacles of Jewish cultural forms.

What is happening nowadays is a radicalization of this Replacement Theology by an effort to synthesize the historical Catholic heritage of the Church with the surrounding culture of Naturalism and Secular Humanism. Such a synthesis is only possible by giving up traditional Christian sexual morality.

What will be the result of this proposed new synthesis? In any case not Catholicism or Christianity as we know it. If the agenda of the modernists is accepted by the Church, the result will be a rupture in the continuity of Church’s teaching and practice as big as when the Church rejected Torah observance and introduced Replacement Theology.

By adopting the umbrella of Secular Humanism and an attitude of inclusiveness the Church will become more thoroughly de-judaized then ever before. Not only Jewish rites and ritual laws but also Jewish ethics will be declared obsolete. This amounts to a nearly complete rejection of the Hebrew Bible, the so-called ‘Old Testament’. But this also implies the rejection of many and fundamental parts of New Testament teaching.

This modernist revolution is so fundamental that it could never succeed under the existing premises of Catholic doctrine. That’s why it is introduced by the Pope and his circle of liberal theologians as just a matter of pastoral care and compassion. It is presented to the faithful as if the practice of the Church could change without changing the doctrine. Once the practice is changed, however, in the name of mercy, traditional moral doctrine, while being preserved in name, will become completely obsolete and fossilized.

It will be clear to Messianics and to traditional Christians that what is happening here is nothing less than open apostasy from the faith. The pastoral terminology is just a smokescreen. What is called ‘mercy’ by Pope Francis and other Catholic modernists is just what traditional theology rejects as ‘cheap grace’. It is a ‘mercy’ that doesn’t require repentance in the sense of turning away from the state of sin. It is a lawless mercy which permits the sinner to continue in sin and yet be in ‘full communion’ with the Church and presumably with Christ.

The principle of lawlessness, that was introduced in the early history of the Church, nowadays seems to be on its way to a complete victory. If this analysis is correct, then we are witnessing an important preparatory phase for the coming of him who is called by St. Paul the “man of sin” and the “lawless (Torahless) one” (II Thess. 2:3, 8), the Anti-Christ or Anti-Messiah.

The coming of this Torahless person is connected to the “falling away” — the massive apostasy from the Christian faith — and other events that will precede the Second Coming of Christ:

II Thessalonians 2:3
Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day [i.e. the day of the Second Coming of Christ] shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition […].

Why are these developments within the Roman Catholic Church important for us as Torah observant Messianics who deny many Catholic doctrines and precriptions? Because the Catholic Church is the historical heart and centre of Western culture, its unifying factor and its traditional moral compass. The apostasy and possible collapse of this Church is an alarming sign of the moral collapse and desintegration of our entire culture.

While it is true that the Catholic Church has been an important factor in the persecution of the Jews and a fierce opponent of Torah observance by Christians, this doesn’t mean that we should simply rejoice in her downfall. For we can be sure that when the Church is removed from the scene, or should choose to side with the forces of secularism, we’ll have to face a future of persecution. The Church will not be replaced by a more friendly power but to all probabilty by the naked aggression of an openly Anti-Christian Secularism.

The Catholic Church has known many Popes and other high prelates who were examples of wicknedness and lawlessness instead of examples of Christ and shepherds of his flock. But whatever these persons said and did, they never questioned or attacked the dogmatic and moral fundamentals of the Church.

After Vatican II all this has changed. The present crisis is mainly a consequence of the tidal waves of modernist theology that entered the Church during and after this Council. Pope Paul VI complained that the smoke of Satan had entered the Church. John Paul II tried to consolidate the situation and to limit the damage. This line of consolidation was continued under Benedict XVI. Under Francis, however, we face again the full seducing force of modernism at work. His pontificate might well initiate the final apostasy of the Christian Church.

The Confusion of Protestantism

 

An interesting article, written by Niels Ebrup, was published last Sunday (March 18th) on the ScienceNordic website about the relation between Protestantism and the decline of religion in our Western civilization. When read from a Messianic perspective, it makes clear how essential external observances are for maintaining a religious culture and lifestyle. Catholicism has always recognized this essential place of the external. The Protestant Reformation was the first major religious movement which began to depreciate the external as an accidental or even superfluous aspect of Christianity. This has led to a considerable diminishing of a particular, distinct lifestyle, and to a loss of the sense of religious identity.

As Messianics we share the Protestant perception that many Catholic religious forms are irreconcilable with biblical Christianity. Protestantism, however, has thrown away Catholic forms without (re)introducing biblical ones. It created an empty space in which “faith” was the only important thing. Historically, Protestantism thus became an important starting point for the modern, secular view of life. By neglecting the basic biblical idea, expressed in the Torah, that all the domains of life have to be sanctified in particular ways, and by accepting life as it is (meaning: as it commonly met with), Protestantism in the long term has contributed to the decline of religion in modern culture.

Without introducing the idea of Torah observance, the article nevertheless implicitly demonstrates the problematic status of a culture without religious laws and outward rules and observances.

Ebrup’s observations are based on a recent Danish PhD dissertation by Matias Møl Dalsgaard, entitled: Det Protestantiske Selv (2012). The cover of this dissertation is shown in the picture above.

View: Niels Ebrup, “Protestantism has left us utterly confused”, at: ScienceNordic.

The 7th of Tammuz: The Yahrzeit of Manuel Lacunza (5561)

 

There are not many Roman Catholic theologians who could make a legitimate claim of being worthy of having their Yahrzeit remembered by Messianic Jews and their co-religionists. And one would certainly not expect a priest of the Jesuit order to be an exception to this. However, if there is a Roman clergyman deserving to be an exception it is Manuel Lacunza (1731-1801), who can be regarded as the founder of modern Christian Zionism and Millenarianism. [1]

Manuel Lacunza Y Diaz was born in Santiago (Chile) as the son of Charles and Josefa Diaz. His father was a wealthy merchant in colonial trade between Lima and Chile. Manuel entered the religious life and joined the Jesuit order in 1747. He was ordained a priest in 1766. His daily profession was being a teacher in grammar at a school in Santiago. He seems to have enjoyed some fame as a pulpit preacher.

In 1767 Lacunza had to face the misfortune of the expulsion of the Jesuit order from the Spanish Americas by king Charles III. The specific reasons for this expulsion are still shrouded in an air of mystery. All we know with certainty is that the European monarchs felt threatened by Jesuit political power and were under the influence of Enlightenment secularism. The expulsion from Latin America was not an isolated phenomenon. In 1759 the Jesuits had been expelled from Portugal, and in 1762 from France.

The expulsion forced Lacunza and his fellow Jesuits into exile in Europe, first to Cadiz in Andalusia, and later to Imola, within the surroundings of Bologna. When in 1799 the Spanish Crown lifted the restrictions against the Jesuits, Lacunza did not return to Chile. He lived in Imola until his death in 1801. [2]

In 1773 Pope Clement XIV for political reasons dissolved the Jesuit order altogether. Against his will, and without any possibility of appeal, Lacunza thus found himself secularized by papal decree.

These events seem to have caused severe spiritual blows to Lacunza, who, to regain his peace of mind and to find consolation in the midst of the troubles of life, devoted himself to religious studies, especially of holy Scripture. He became gradually fascinated by the subject of prophecy. The main result of his studies was a book in three volumes, entitled La Venida del Mesías en Gloria y Majestad — which later (in 1826 or 27) was published in a two volume English translation by the Rev. Edward Irving (1792-1834) as: The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty. [3]

Lacunza’s work was completed in 1790 but the first Spanish edition was not printed until 1810 or 1811, about ten years after his death. The remarkable thing about the book is that it defends the idea of a future glorious restoration of the Jewish nation in a millennial Kingdom Age to be inaugurated by the return of Messiah Yeshua. It contains a fundamental criticism of the traditional doctrine of the Church on the Jewish people.

One of the famous passages deserving our attention is the following (Vol I, p. 326 of Irving’s edition):

The Jews may be considered in three states infinitely different: the first, is that which they were in before Messiah; the second, is that which they have held, and still hold, since the death of Messiah, in consequence of having  rejected him, and much more, of having obstinately persisted in their unbelief; the third is yet future, nor is it known when it shall be. In these three states are they frequently regarded and spoken of in scripture; and in each it regards them under four principal aspects.

In the first state, before Messiah, the scriptures regard them; First, as the owners and legitimate masters of all that portion of the earth which God himself gave to their fathers in solemn and perpetual gift: “All the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever,” Gen. xv. 18. and xiii. 15. Secondly; it considers them as the only people of God, or which is the same as his church. Thirdly; as a true and lawful spouse of God himself, whose espousals were solemnly celebrated in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, Exod. xix. and Ezek. xxiii. Fourthly; it considers them as endued with another kind of life infinitely more valuable than natural life.

In the second state, after Messiah, it considers them; First, as disinherited of their native land, scattered to every wind, and abandoned to the contempt and derision, and hatred, and barbarity of all nations. Secondly; as deprived of the honour and dignity of the people of God, as if God himself were no longer their God. Thirdly; as a faithless and most ungrateful spouse, ignominiously cast forth from the house  of her husband, despoiled of all her attire and precious jewels, which had been heaped upon her with such profusion, and enduring the greatest hardships and miseries in her solitude, in her dishonour, in her total abandonment of heaven and earth. Fourthly; it regards them as deprived of that life which so highly distinguished them from all the living.

In the third state still future, but infallibly believed and expected, Divine Scripture regards them; First, as gathered again, by  the omnipotent arm of the living God, from among all the peoples and nations of the world, as restored to their own land, and reestablished in it, not to be removed for ever. “And I will plant them and not pluck them up,” Jer. xxiv. 6. “And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them,” Amos ix. 15. Secondly; it regards them as restored with the highest honour, and with the greatest advantages, to the dignity of the people of God, yea, even under another and an everlasting covenant. “And I will bring them again unto this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God…And I will make an everlasting covenant with them,” Jer. xxxii. 37,38,40. Thirdly; it considers them as a spouse  of God, so much beloved in other times, whose desolation, trouble, affliction, and lamentation, do at length move the heart of her husband; who, forgetting his wrongs and reconciled, recalls her to  her ancient dignity, receives her with the warmest welcome, forgets all the past, restores her to all her honours, and, opening his treasures, heaps upon her new and greater gifts; clothes her with new attire, adorns her with new and inestimable jewels, incomparably more precious than those which she had lost; Isa. xl. 49. Hos. ii. 18. Micah vii. Fourthly and finally; the scriptures consider them as resuscitated and reanimated with that spirit of life, of which, for so many ages, they have been deprived. These three estates of the Jews perfectly correspond to the three states of the life of holy Job, which we may regard as a figure, or as a history written in cypher of the three mighty revolutions of the people of God.

Lacunza adopted the Jewish pen-name Juan Josafat Ben-Ezra, and posed himself in the work as a Jew converted to Christianity.  This was a tactical move to raise the curiosity of the Jews and to get the book accepted and read by them. [4]

In the Dedication of the work — which is “To the Messiah Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Son of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Son of David, and Son of Abraham” (ibid., p. 135) — Lacunza mentions three motives for its composition. First, he says that he wanted the Roman priesthood “to shake off the dust from their Bibles, inviting them to a new study and examination, a new and more attentive consideration of that Divine Book” (ibid.). Second, he wanted to prevent as many people as he could reach from slipping “towards the horrible gulf of infidelity” (ibid, p. 136). His third motive is that he wanted give the Jews “knowledge of their true Messiah whom they love, and for whom they sigh night and day without knowing Him” (ibid.).

I understand the first motive to mean that in the midst of the perils and revolutionary upheavels of his times Lacunza wanted improve the level of knowledge of the holy Scriptures of the priesthood in general and more specifically about the subject of biblical prophecy, with the purpose of strengthening the Church. This at least seems to be implied by the following passage: “What advantages might we not expect from this new study, were it possible to re-establish it among the priests, in themselves qualified, and by the church set apart for masters and teachers of the christian community!” (ibid., p. 136).

The second motive is tightly connected to the first. It seems that Lacunza thought that a genuine knowledge of biblical prophecy would give Catholic Christians a perspective that would be able to strenghten their faith and give them the consolation that the tumultuous course of world history was not something outside the scope of the divine purpose — or irrelevant to it — but was part of the very process by which the destination of all things in Messiah’s Kingdom was to realized. By knowing the outline of biblical prophecy, Lacunza hoped, Catholics would be withheld from adopting secular views and from the dangers of apostasy. Essentially, Lacunza thus held his work to be an answer to the devastating influences of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.

The third motive is again tightly connected to the first and the second, and is essentially to give the Jewish people an opportunity to proper and scriptural knowledge of their Messiah, in preparation for the Second Coming.

Although these motives were in Lacunza’s mind related to efforts to maintain the Roman Church system, it is not difficult to discover in them a latent criticism of Catholicism. In fact his interpretation of biblical prophecy can be called the remote starting point of a dispensational type of eschatology. With some caution Lacunza can be considered as the father of modern dispensationalist millennialism. He offered an explanation for the recently diminished authority of the Church to traditional Christians and equipped them for the apocalyptic events which were to happen sooner or later and would lead to the return of Jesus Christ. The messianic kingdom couldn’t come without a temporary rise of evil, culminating in an anti-Christian regime, which in its turn would be destroyed by Christ at his Second Advent.

Despite its latent — and at times not so latent — criticism of Catholicism, Lacunza’s work was received by the Church’s authorities with a certain benevolency. Although it didn’t reflect the traditional Catholic teachings about the Second Coming and the end of the world, Rome found nothing wrong or heretical with Lacunza’s approach, as Ovid E. Need remarks in his Death of the Church Victorious (p. 48). [5] And it must be admitted that in a manner Lacunza continued and expanded an existing Catholic and Jesuit tradition of interpretation. When the Reformers accused the Papacy to be the Antichrist, and began to interpret the Book of the Apocalypse accordingly, the theologians of the Counter Reformation, particularly the Jesuits, tried to answer the Protestant charges by adopting futurist interpretations. It was a Jesuit, Francisco Ribiera (1537-1591), who took the position that the events described in John’s Revelation had nothing to do with the course of Church history but belonged to the distant future and were to happen immediately before the end of the world.

The new element in Lacunza’s interpretations was that he combined a futurist prophetic model with a literal interpretation of the texts of Scripture, and in this way he was led to the idea of a future restoration of the Jewish nation. He not only expanded the dynamics of the futurist interpretation model, but he also shattered the limits imposed upon it by the inherent constraints of Roman Catholicism.

The person who was asked to inspect Lacunza’s book and give advice to the ecclesiastical censor was a certain Fr. Paul, who gave his judgment not until after a long period of study and meditation. He confessed his great admiration for the author and his work:

[…] every time that I have read it over, my admiration has been redoubled in witnessing the profound study which the author had made of the Holy Scriptures; the method, order, and exactness which adorn his work; and, above all, the light which it casts upon the most deep mysteries and obscure passages of the sacred books.

The truth, the abundance, and  natural application of the  passages which he adduces from the sacred Scriptures, both of the Old and the New Testaments, incline me in such a way to the understanding and reception of his system, that I dare take upon me to affirm, that, if what he says be false, never has falsehood  presented itself so attired in the simple and beautiful garb of truth, as this author hath set it forth in:  for the tone of ingenuousness and candour, the very simplicity of the style, the invitation which he always gives to read the whole of the chapter, or chapters he quotes from, as well as those which precede and follow the quotation, the exact correspondence, not only with the quotations, but with that sense of the sacred text which first strikes the mind; all this, I say, gives such strong presumption of truth, that it seems impossible to refuse one’s assent, unless through obstinate prepossession in favour of the contrary system. (Vol I, p.131)

Fr. Paul added that Lacunza’s system of interpreting prophecy was not new, but had firm roots in the ancient Church. He uttered only a single reservation:

Nevertheless, when I take into consideration the number of ages which have elapsed in the church, without even the mention of this system, otherwise than as a fabulous opinion; and advert to certain fathers and doctors, as Jerome, Augustine, Gregory, and to all the theologians since their day, who treat it with aversion, and some of them as positive error; I cannot help quaking and trembling, under the impression that there is less risk in erring with so many learned and very holy masters, than in venturing to aim at the mark by one’s own inclination and judgment. (ibid.)

His final conclusion was favourable, and he recommended the work should receive a permission to be printed:

[…] my judgement is; That in this work there is not contained any thing repugnant to our holy faith, but that it may be of good service in making known, and publishing abroad, many truths, whereof the knowledge, though not absolutely necessary in the first ages of the church, is become indispensable in the times in which we now live.

And with respect to customs, not only does it contain nothing contrary thereto, but on the other hand tends much to reform them by the motives which it brings forward; as will appear from what I shall slightly point out, First; by the magnificent idea which he gives of our Lord Jesus Christ, clothed with glory and majesty, and of his immense empire and power, he stimulates the soul to that fear and love of him, which is the fountain of all righteousness. He infuses, moreover, into the mind a profound feeling of the truth of the holy scriptures, and draws to the perusal of them all believers, and especially the priests, to whom above others belong the exact understanding and explanation of them. The hearts of true christians he fills with fear and trembling, by showing them how they themselves through the looseness of discipline, are threatened with that most fearful calamity which the Jews endure at present, of being cast out from the marriage chamber, which is the holy church, into the outer darkness of infidelity in which they shall perish, for ever lost to Christ Jesus the Saviour. Before the unbelievers and ungodly, who have renounced the profession of their faith, he sets forth with energy and truth, the horrible  lot to which they are reserved, if they renounce not with detestation their blasphemies and errors, and cease not to fight against the Lord, and his Christ. To all classes of men it may be profitable; because it turns their eyes inwards upon themselves, and leads them to consider their eternal destiny, and so to shun their own ruin, and the desolation of the whole earth, when, as God hath told us by the mouth of his prophet, “desolations, &c”. (ibid., pp. 133-134)

This verdict did not prevent the later prohibition of Lacunza’s book by the Roman Holy Office in 1824. The prohibition was repeated in a condemnation of Lacunza’s type of Millennialism in 1941. [6]

Meanwhile Lacunza’s work had drawn wider attention, and already in 1816 it appeared in London. Irving was so impressed by it that he translated it into English. His translation was published in 1827, with a critical introduction of more than a hundred pages, since Irving’s opinions differed in important respects from Lacunza’s. Although Irving believed in a future Millennium, he took a historicist position in many issues of prophetic hermeneutics. However, Irving was a preacher who was famous for his rhetorical skills and he enjoyed great popularity among the higher classes. The fact that his name was attached to Lacunza’s book did its work and within no time The Coming of the Messiah in Glory and Majesty obtained the status of a Christian cult book. [7] Prophetic conferences were organized to study and discuss its implications.[8]

The founder of the Plymouth Brethren, John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) developed Lacunza’s thought definitely into the direction of a systematic dispensationalist theology. Darby separated the Church and Israel through the introduction of the (unbiblical) doctrine of a Secret, pre-tribulational Rapture of the Church. [9]

Notwithstanding Darby’s additions — or even perhaps because of them — it was through the enormous influence of the Brethren movement that large parts of orthodox Christianity, in particular in the US, were converted to Millennialism and accepted the idea of a restoration of the Jewish nation in a future messianic Kingdom.

We cannot agree to the theoretical framework and the presuppositions of Darby’s dispensationalist theology with its opposition between Law and Grace and its separation between Israel and the Assembly of Messiah, and certainly not to his introduction of a Secret Rapture. Yet we must acknowledge that it was through Darby and his followers that the idea of a future restoration of Israel, which is fundamental for all branches of Messianic Judaism, has spread over all the earth.

One of the implications of this idea, once it is detached from its dispensationalist limitations and errors and brought back to the framework of a covenantal theology, is nothing less than the necessity of a return to a Torah observant lifestyle for the whole Body of Messiah. There are thus enough reasons to honour the memory of an important initiator of it, Manuel Lacunza.

Lacunza was a great and creative theological thinker and a person of great spirituality, as is confirmed by his admirers and his opponents. He did not fall into despair because of the humiliations of his exile and his undeserved secularization. He led a life of prayer and study and served his Lord day and night. He saw his suffering as a means of sharing in the suffering of Messiah.

We may perhaps add that Lacunza’s sufferings have contributed to return to a biblical perspective on that time when Yeshua shall arrive “in glory and majesty” to accept his reign as the King-Messiah of all Israel.

During his exile in Italy Lacunza used to undertake solitary walks during which he thought and meditated. It is assumed that he died of natural causes during one of these. On June 18, 1801, he was found dead in a pit beside a road not far from Imola. On the Jewish calendar this was the 7th of Tammuz of the year 5561. Upcoming Shabbat is his 210th Yahrzeit. May his memory continue to be a blessing.

I think it is proper for messianic congregations and individuals to keep in remembrance Manuel Lacunza and to pay attention to his Yahrzeit, especially those with historical roots in Catholicism, the Plymouth Brethren, or the Irvingites.

Yahrzeit Prayer:

O G-d, the King of saints, we praise and magnify thy Holy Name for all thy servants who have finished their course in thy faith and fear; for the blessed virgin Miryam; for the holy patriarchs, apostles and martyrs; and for all other thy righteous servants known to us and unknown; and also for our teacher — in thee and for thee — Manuel Lacunza Y Diaz; and we beseech thee that, encouraged and inspired by their examples, and strengthened by their fellowship, we may with them be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light, in that great Day of the Appearing of our Lord and Saviour Yeshua the Messiah, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.

Remark:

In case one wants to burn a Yahrzeit light during Shabbat care should be taken to kindle the Yahrzeit light before the Shabbat candles are lit. After Shabbat the Yahrzeit light can be used to kindle the Havdalah candle.

______________

[1] For an historical study of XIXth century Millennarianism, Christian Zionism, and Prophetic Futurism view: Sandeen, Ernest R., The Roots of Fundamentalism. British and American Millenarianism 1800-1930, The University of Chicago Press — Chicago & London 1970.

[2] For some biographical facts on Lacunza, view the Wikipedia article about him, at: Wikipedia: Manuel Lacunza. There is also a good article on Lacunza on an Adventist website, which gives a basic summary of his book, by Sergio Olivares, “Manuel Lacunza: The Adventist Connection”, at: College and University Dialogue.

[3] Ben-Ezra, Juan Josafat, The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty, translated from the Spanish, with a preliminary discourse by the Rev. Edward Irving, A.M. Published by L.B. Seeley & Son, Fleet Street — London 1827 (J.G. Tillin, England 2000). This edition is in two volumes and is currently available as a web publication at the Birthpangs website: Volume I & Volume II.

[4] Others say that Lacunza adopted this pseudonym to hide himself before the authorities. Both possibilities are not mutually exclusive.  Sandeen remarks (p. 17-18): “His treatise, completed about 1791, was not published during his lifetime for fear of condemnation by the authorities, but manuscript copies circulated and some printed editions appeared in Spain and Latin America beginning about 1812. Shortly before Irving’s translation appeared, the work was placed on the Index, which was not surprising since Lacunza had concluded that the Catholic hierarchy and priesthood were the Antichrist”. Sandeen is not entirely correct here. Lacunza’s position was that the Catholic hierarchy would in the prophetic future develop into an anti-Christian power. Notwithstanding this nuance, there was obviously enough reason to fear the Inquisition.

[5] Need, Ovid E., Death of the Church Victorious. Tracing the Roots and Implications of Modern Dispensationalism, Sovereign Grace Publishers — Lafayette, Indiana 2002.

[6] For some details and for references to official Church documents on this condemnation, view Denzigers Enchiridion: The Lacunza case can be found under Denz. no. 3839 (ed. XXXVI).

[7] According to Sandeen (p. 17) “Irving spent the whole of the summer of 1826 on leave from his parish duties, translating a millenarian treatise by a Chilean Jesuit, Manuel Lacunza. The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty was a ponderous two-volume work, seldom cited by later British millenarians; in fact, many of Lacunza’s positions were rejected by the British school and by Irving himself. Yet the aura of mystery and providential intervention surrounding the book drew Irving into the labor of translation and seems to have stimulated a short period of popularity for its name if not for its substance”. The “providential intervention” mentioned by Sandeen refers to the coincidence that Irving had just learned Spanish when he received the work (ibid., p. 18): “Irving had not known any Spanish until a few months before he was sent a copy of Lacunza’s book. That he had begun learning Spanish (while trying to assist some Spanish refugees) just at the moment this startling work from the Catholic “underground” appeared at his door convinced him that he was being providentially prepared to present the work to the British public. Even though Lacunza’s prophetic interpretations often varied from the customary British views, he did make a strong case for the premillennial advent of Christ, and this was the aspect of his work that Irving and the British millenarians emphasized. Lacunza might have been confused on some points (so the defense ran), but notice the manner in which testimony from this Roman Catholic scholar reinforces our heralding of the imminent return of Christ”. Sandeen’s account suggests that Irving already held millenarian views before he got acquainted with Lacunza’s work. This is controversial. There are many voices insisting that Lacunza was influenced by Ribiera, Irving by Lacunza, and Darby by Irving. It is difficult, however, to find reliable sources about the actual historic development of movements like Millenarianism and Dispensationalism. According to Mark Patterson and Andrew Walker (p. 107) “the influence of Lacunza (and fellow Jesuits Alcazar and Reberia) upon nineteenth century millennianism may prove profound” [Mark Patterson & Andrew Walker, “‘Our Unspeakable Comfort’ Irving, Albury, and the Origins of the Pre-tribulation Rapture” In: Stephen Hunt (ed.), Christian Millenarianism: From the Early Church to Waco, Indiana University Press — Bloomington and Indianapolis 2001.]

[8] For example the Albury and Powerscourt conferences. Cf. Sandeen, pp. 18-22 & 34-38.

[9] It is disputed whether Darby can be called the originator of the concept of the Secret Rapture, or that others had preceded him. In any case, Darby systematized it by adopting a consequent dispensationalist hermeneutics, and in this form the concept became a part of the highly influential theology of the Plymouth Brethren.

Roman Catholicism and the Jerusalem Council

The Church and the Apostolic Decree of Acts XV

 

For Christians today the principle of abstaining “from pollutions of idols”, the first precept of the Apostolic Council of Acts XV (15:20, 29) often sounds antiquated, because in our secular society institutionalized idolatry no longer seems to exist. But in important respects this situation is one of superficial appearance. On second thoughts, large sections of Christianity itself are contaminated by idolatry and superstitition, based on swerving from biblical truth. It may be hard to digest for us that idolatry is found in the people of G-d. There is nothing new in this, however, and it is a problem of all times. As Messianics we should acknowledge this sad state of affairs, and do our best to rectify it by our own walk of life and by thoughtfully and lovingly drawing our fellow believers’ attention to it.

Modern Messianic Judaism to a large extent finds its historical roots in diverse sections of evangelical Christianity. Naturally, therefore, Messianics have inherited many characterics of the mindset of evangelical Christians. Even if Torah observance has brought many changes to their ideas as well as in their practical walk of life, Messianics are often maintaining two typical features of evangelical Christians. These are: 1) An emphasis on the necessity of personal faith in Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ) for eternal salvation; and 2) A certain disregard for typical traditional denominational distinctions.

These two features are part of a biblical mindset which should be cherised as the right mean between the two dangers of, on the one hand, a denominational small-mindedness excluding true believers, and, on the other hand, an ecumenical latitudinarianism or liberalism compromising the core of the Gospel message.

The introduction of a positive orientation towards the Torah, however, has added some new biblical sensibilities to the messianic mindset. One of the more conspicuous of these is the heightened awareness of the evil nature of idolatry and sins associated with it. Although this awareness is part and parcel of Christianity in general — and of Protestantism in particular — in a messianic context it acquires new practical meaning. This is due, mainly, to the fact that the Apostolic Decree of the Jerusalem Council is given far greater weight and attention in messianic circles than in average Christianity. For non-trinitarian Messianics there is the important additional point that the doctrine of the Deity of Messiah is exposed as false in the light of Scripture.

In our days, when many Church traditions are crumbling and old denominational differences no longer paid attention to, evangelicals often face the question how to approach Catholics, especially Roman Catholics: Are they to be considered Christians? And what practical implications do we face in our intercourse with Catholics? Can we work and worship together with them? These questions are even more topical for Messianics than for evangelical Christians in general, given the vague taint of idolatry that surrounds Catholicism. For Messianics indications of idolatry are especially alarming, as I have said above, and for them the just mentioned questions amount to this critical and very fundamental issue: Are Roman Catholics Christians or are they idolaters? From a messianic viewpoint our answer to this question and its practical ramifications should to a great extent be based on the precepts of the Jerusalem Council in Acts ch. XV.

The first thing one should take into account when dealing with the world-wide phenomenon of the Roman Catholic Church is that the overwhelming majority of its members are only nominal Catholics. They don’t actively subscribe to their Church’s doctrinal teachings and far less do follow its practical religious and moral precepts. They are baptized members that in many cases want to have a Church wedding and a Church burial, but that apart from some attraction to these life-cycle rituals show no particular Christian religious interest. This state of affairs leads to low expectations about the number of Roman Catholics that can be considered Christians from a biblical point of view. Evangelical Christians — and there are good reasons to reckon Messianics as Evangelicals in this question — are often misled here by the impressive liturgical traditions of Catholicism, by its staunch hierarchical and authoritarian structure, and by its official orthodoxy regarding the necessity of faith in Jesus Christ for salvation.

The two biblical verses that are the shortest and simplest expressions of the Gospel message found in the Bible are perhaps John 3:16 and Romans 10:9. John 3:16 says: “G-d so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life”. Romans 10:9 says: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Yeshua, and shalt believe in thine heart that G-d hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved”.

If, with these verses in mind, one asks Roman Catholics about their personal faith and trust in Yeshua one almost always gets evasive and non-committal answers, sometimes even clear denials of faith. Only very seldom one gets a positive affirmation of belief “in Christ”. One of the most often given positive answers is that they believe “in the Church”, without being able to specify what that means or implies. Cardinal John Henry Newman, the famous XIXth century Anglican convert to Roman Catholicism, elaborated on this faith “in the Church” in his Grammar of Assent. He defended the position that for the average Catholic it is enough to have “implicit faith”. By this he meant to say that the explicit affirmation of belief “in the Catholic Church” — which is a distinct article of faith in the Apostolic and Nicene Creeds — includes implicit assent to all the Church’s teachings and precepts. He says:

The difficulty is removed by the dogma of the Church’s infallibility, and of the consequent duty of “implicit faith” in her word. The “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” is an article of the Creed, and an article, which, inclusive of her infallibility, all men, high and low, can easily master and accept with a real and operative assent. It stands in the place of all abstruse propositions in a Catholic’s mind, for to believe in her word is virtually to believe in them all. Even what he cannot understand, at least he can believe to be true; and he believes it to be true because he believes in the Church. [1]

It can hardly be admitted, however, that such “implicit faith” qualifies as saving faith in the biblical sense. Biblical faith is trusting faithfulness in the G-d of Israel and his Anointed one, Yeshua. The implicit faith of Cardinal Newman isn’t the personal trust in G-d as found in Abraham, the father of all the faithful, and described by the words: “And he believed in HaShem; and He counted it unto him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). The biblical faith is an explicit faith in G-d and in the message that comes from G-d. An implicit faith based on reliance on the teachings of a religious body without the requirement of any explicit personal commitment to the person of the Saviour and the contents of the message is certainly not enough for salvation. In his epistle to the Romans the Apostle Paul says (10:13) that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved”. And he continues (10:14-15): “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the Gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!”.

This construction of “implicit faith” finds its theological motivation in the impossibility of the average Christian to have an adequate theological knowledge of the mysteries of faith which he affirms in the Church’s Creed. How, for instance, is it said, could a simple Catholic ever have a true faith if this faith were dependent on his own personal theological knowledge? To correctly believe what is called the “mystery of the Holy Trinity” he would have to understand that in the One G-d there are two processions, three persons, four subsistent relations and five notions.

The problem with this motivation is, however, that it offers a solution for a difficulty that doesn’t exist from a biblical and evangelical viewpoint. The Bible doesn’t teach us the “mysteries” of Catholicism and doesn’t demand our “faith” in them. It demands returning to G-d in true repentance and amendment of life, trusting in Him and in the redemption He made available for us in the person and work of Messiah Yeshua, and walking a life of continual trusting faithfulness. As to doctrinal truth, part of this walk of faithfulness is of course to become acquainted with Holy Scripture and to accept its teachings.

By comparing the basic biblical attitude of faith, which is trusting faithfulness, and “faith” as understood by Catholicism, which is the affirmation of dogmatic Church doctrine, one becomes aware of a fundamental distortion of the nature of faith caused by Roman Church doctrine. Although this Church theoretically holds that faith without love is dead and that to be saved a person has to be in what is called “the state or condition of grace”, all this only points to the fact that the Catholic expects his salvation from the Church institution rather than from Jesus Christ personally. For, one may ask, what is this Catholic “state of grace”? It is being baptized in a valid manner and having subjected oneself to the authority of the Roman Church, especially in the domains of doctrine and morals, and practically in the manner of confessing and doing repentance. This practice consists in regular auricular confession of one’s sins to a Roman priest and doing the “acts of penance” imposed or recommended by him.

Essentially, thus, subjection to the Roman Church is what is presented here as the way of salvation. In fact this is not salvation in a biblical sense at all. One can state without exaggeration that — because of the enormous doctrinal errors found in Roman Catholic teaching — there is hardly any officially proclaimed dogma of the Church that has the mark of truth according to biblical standards. Many of the Church’s teachings are outrightly superstitious or idolatrous in nature from a biblical perspective. It is well-known that idolatry and superstition are among the worst sins mentioned in the Torah, and that idolatry was one of the main concerns of the Jerusalem Council of Acts XV. Idolatry and superstition are very grave sins, because they directly impair the relationship with the only true G-d. The endorsement of idolatry and superstition throughout history by the Roman Church is therefore one of  the most worrisome and troubling characteristics of this religious body. This Church has teachings and practices which cause its members to sin gravely by adhering to them and which actually endanger the salvific relationship of the true believer with his heavenly Father.

The idolatry committed by the Roman Church is nowhere clearer than in its main act of worship, the “Mass”. The Roman Catholic Mass pretends to be a representative repetition of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ under the species of bread and wine used for its version of “Holy Communion”. The Church teaches that the bread and wine used in the celebration are transsubstantiated by the “consecration formula” (“This is my body, …&c”; “This is the blood of the New Covenant…&c”). These elements are taught to become the very body and blood of Jesus Christ. While the outward appearance of the bread and wine remains intact, the real being or substance of it is changed in Christ’s body and blood. Since the body and blood of Christ do not exist apart from his soul the Church teaches that “the whole Christ” is contained in the Sacrament. The Roman Catholic dogma that Jesus Christ is G-d implies here that the transsubstantiated substances of bread and wine of the Roman Eucharist contain G-d Himself and thus are worthy of divine worship and adoration. A piece of bread is thus honored as if it were G-d Himself. [2]

One the abominable consequences of this doctrine of Transsubstantiation is the teaching that a person drinking the wine of the Eucharist doesn’t actually drink wine at all, but the literal substance of the blood of Christ. It may smell and taste like wine, but its essence is the human blood of Christ. Likewise, the person eating the bread of the Eucharist is literally eating the substance of Christ’s body.

From this it is evident that what happens in the Roman Mass is nothing less than an outright perversion of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper as depicted in the Gospels and in Paul’s first Corinthian letter. On the one side what we have here is earthly products made by humans being elevated to the sphere of the divine and superstitiously and idolatrously worshipped as G-d. And on the other side we have those partaking of the “sacramental species” according to their own profession of faith literally eating human flesh and blood.

No long argument is needed to demonstrate that any consumption of human flesh and blood is totally contrary to biblical teaching. The Roman doctrine doesn’t only violate the kashrut laws of Judaism. It violates basic concepts of the Torah that are obligatory for all mankind. Human flesh and blood are prohibited food for all, even if one holds the position that Gentile Christians are only bound by the laws given to Noach. The meat permitted to Noachides in Gen. 9:3 is clearly the meat from animals, not from humans. From this it follows that the consumption of human blood is already excluded even apart from the explicit prohibition against blood in Gen. 9:4.

The Apostolic Council by its four prohibitions ordained that Gentiles could not be admitted to the fold of believers in Yeshua unless they separated themselves from paganism and idolatry. Therefore the new Gentile believers were summoned to abstain from “meats offered to idols” (Acts 15:29). Roman Catholicism publicly sins against this apostolic injunction by insisting that the bread of the Eucharist is the literal flesh of Jesus and by honouring it with divine worship. One of the characteristics of paganism in the days of the Apostles was the consumption of (sacrificial) blood. Therefore Gentiles had to abstain from it before they could be admitted as genuine believers. Roman Catholicism, however, publicly sins against this verdict of the Apostles by its teaching that the wine of the Eucharist is turned into the literal blood of Jesus by the consecration of the Roman priest. By biblical criteria the Roman Mass is thus exposed as a public act of idolatry.

This leads to the devastating conclusion that the Apostles wouldn’t have admitted Roman Catholics — had they existed in their days — to the Assembly of believers. I’m well aware of the fact that this conclusion is anachronistic, but yet it reveals the enormous deviations from apostolic teaching that have taken place in the later history of Christianity. The Roman Catholic Church, which adorns itself with the gift of infallibilty in its dogmatic and moral teachings, would never have been acknowledged by the same Apostles it so vehemently claims to follow as a legitimate community of believers.

It does not simply follow from this that in Catholicism there are no true believers in Yeshua at all. They are difficult to find, however, and without doubt they are a tiny minority in a sea of unbelief and superstition. But what does actually follow from this is that the average Catholic cannot be accepted as a true believer, and that Catholics who want to stay in the Roman Church cannot without relunctance be acknowledged by messianic congregations as fellow believers. It would be very problematic to admit Catholics in Messianic congregations without requiring them to sever their ties with a Church which by its own official act of worship commits a sin of idolatry. It would violate the prohibitions of the Apostolic Decree to have Catholics admitted to messianic congregations while remaining in practical communion with the Church of Rome.

How should Torah observant Messianics relate to Roman Catholics? While it is clear that Catholics are not outright pagans, in most cases they are only nominal Christians. Therefore I think we should follow the general guidelines of the Apostles for relating to unbelievers and approach Catholics as non-believers. We may eat with them, according to the permission of the Apostle (1 Cor. 11:27), but we should not participate in or attend their religious ceremonies, since these are tainted with idolatry and superstitition. Above all, we should bring them the true Gospel of Yeshua and try to open their hearts and minds for the Jewishness of the Messiah. We should try to use the elementary knowledge Catholics have of the biblical story to remind them that the true capital of the faith is Jerusalem, not Rome. It is a matter of life and death for them to get out of the paganized and anti-Jewish Christianity of the Roman Church, and be led to the King of the Jews. For when Messiah will return he’ll destroy the Roman Church and set up the Kingdom of Israel.

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[1] Newman, p. 150, at: http://www.newmanreader.org/works/grammar/chapter5-2.html  [J.H. Newman, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, Longmans, Green & Co. — London · New York · Bombay 1903]

[2] Many Protestant denominations agree with the Roman dogma of the Deity of Christ. The dangers of public idolatry is less great, however, in the Protestant liturgy, because in their official worship these Churches often follow the biblical pattern of praying to the Father “through Jesus Christ our Lord”. In practice they honour Jesus Christ more as the human mediator with G-d than as member of the “Holy Trinity”. They don’t subscribe to the doctrine of Transsubstantiation and thus don’t worship any visible material substance.