Crossed The Tiber

An Evangelical Converts to Catholicism

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I was born into the Catholic faith. At 14, I was "born again" and found Jesus personally but lost His Church. After thirty years as an evangelical protestant, I have come full circle to find that He has been there all the time, in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I wish others to find the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith as I have found.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Catholics Inventing New Doctrines?

I recently heard that a song I wrote called Joseph's Blues was played by the associate pastor of my old evangelical church as a part of his advent sermon. My song described Joseph's initial human reaction to Mary's pregnancy (before the angel spoke to him). So I went to the website of the church and listened to the podcast of the sermon (yes, I admit it stoked my ego a bit to hear my song played in front of my old congregation.) The pastor focused his message on the Virgin Birth but then touched on the Immaculate Conception. He said that Pope Pius in 1854 invented this doctrine and it had not been present in the first to fourth centuries of the early church. His implication was that Catholics make up new doctrines as they go along. (Which interestingly, is what I was incorrectly taught in my new found days after being born again)

I am posting this today to give a brief apologetic of this misunderstood aspect of Catholicism . When the pope defined the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception as dogma in 1854, he was not creating a new doctrine. As a matter of fact, in the very context of the pronouncement, Pope Pius explains carefully and repeatedly that this belief had been held by the early church fathers and was not a new and novel conception (no pun intended). So the doctrine was not new, but the dogmatization of it was. Before 1854, as a Catholic, you weren't bound to accept this doctrine, though the majority of the faithful did. After the dogma was pronounced, as a Catholic you were obligated to accept this ancient doctrine. The Church often dogmatized it's teachings as a way of clarification or to combat heterodox teaching. The Nicean Creed annunciating the doctrine of the Trinity, did not "make up the doctrine", but merely stated it as dogma to stem the rising tide of Arianism. To be a Catholic Christian in the early fourth century, you needed to adhere to the tenets of the creed, if you wanted to consider yourself part of the universal(Catholic) church.

David MacDonald gives a nice summary of this in his website Catholic Bridge:

"How come it took Catholics 1800 years to decide Mary was conceived without sin?
The Immaculate Conception was defined as a pious belief in 1453 and declared a doctrine by Pope Pius in 1854. But we must realize that the Church does not make something Dogma out of thin air. It is made Dogma after many centuries of careful considerations. For instance the Trinity took 300 years to turn into Dogma. The New Testament itself took 400 years. We Catholics are not in a rush to cement doctrine. We take our time.

This belief was a part of the early Church and has always been held as a pious belief by the faithful. We didn't just pull this stuff out of thin air. In fact Martin Luther, the father of the reform spoke about it 300 years before it became Dogma. The early Church father were talking about a millennium before that. Here is what some the greatest Christians were saying over 1600 years ago.

It becomes you to be mindful of us, as you stand near Him who granted you all graces, for you are the Mother of God and our Queen. Help us for the sake of the King, the Lord God Master Who was born of you. For this reason you are called 'full of Grace'..." (373 A.D., St. Athanasius)

Blessed Virgin, immaculate and pure you are the sinless Mother of your Son, the mighty Lord of the universe. You are holy and inviolate, the hope of the hopeless and sinful; we sing your praises. We praise you as full of every grace, for you bore the God-Man. We all venerate you; we invoke you and implore your aid...Holy and immaculate our intercessor and advocate at the hour of death and are holy in the sight of God, to Whom be honor and glory, majesty, and power forever (373 A.D., St. Ephrem of Edessa)

You alone and your Mother are more beautiful than the others; for here is no blemish in you, nor any stains upon your Mother. (St. Ephraim, Nisibene Hymns, 27:8, 370 AD) "

So clearly before the end of the fourth century, the early church was describing their belief in the sinlessness of Mary, which the reformers held to as well (at least early on in their writings.)


Blogger Pilgrimsarbour said...

Hello TJ,

I think it would be helpful to explain what the implications of this Catholic doctrine are. I'm sure at least some Protestants would like to know why it's important to view Mary as sinless. Please direct me to a previous post in case you've already gone over this.

Thanks and Blessings,


December 27, 2006 1:04 AM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Hey PA! Merry Christmas! That's a good question. I think, but am not sure , that the Church fathers felt that corrupt flesh with sin couldn't give the sinless flesh of Christ, and the thinking was that Mary had to remain sin macula, without stain,
This link :
is the whole schtick but I would suggest taking a look at the "Proof from Reason" section for a reason why the Church felt it was important.
thanks for commenting

December 27, 2006 9:04 AM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Another source of the implications of Mary's Immaculate Conception can be found in this article "Why the Immaculate Conception" The author Paul Mankowski, SJ, uses a quote from CS Lewis in his discussion.

December 27, 2006 10:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is the pastor who misrepresented Catholic teaching a former Catholic? I suspect so.
It saddens me that former Catholics throw their faith away without really understanding why. If they really learn about true Catholicism and don't agree with it, at least they have found reason to leave and I can respect that as an informed decision.
But to leave the Church, bashing it and misrepresenting it is simply
not acting in charity.

December 30, 2006 3:28 PM  
Anonymous Theo said...

As it happens I know the pastor in question. He is a very good man who has sacrificed much in terms of worldly gain in order to serve the body of Christ and his community. I find it difficult to imagine that he would intentionally and knowingly speak falsehood about anyone or anything, the Catholic Church included. I hope, pray and choose to believe that he spoke in good faith, albeit in error--and shall continue to believe so unless the man himself personally testifies to the contrary.

I believe Tiber is right in his reminding us to refrain from judging those who might make false reports or preach false teachings about the Church. Always, we should be ready to speak the truth--and lovingly defend the truth; however, we should ask God to help cure us of the natural inclination to ascribe ill intent.

Of old, Joseph forgave and even blessed his own brothers who had done him ill *intentionally*, saying, "You intended it for evil, but God intended it for good." How much more charitable must we be to our Brothers in Christ who might do us ill, but intend it for good?

When by Jesus' grace and mercy we might behold with our own eyes the Beatific Vision, and though our own offenses against God make us worthy of the second death, stand cleansed in the blood of the Lamb who was slain; what human soul, plucked from the fire by grace would dare hold any other soul so redeemed by God accountable for a debt?

May God grant us the grace to always show kindness to those who judge us.

With prayers to you and all saints to pray for God's mercy upon me in my brashness,
I remain
Your Brother in Christ,

December 31, 2006 2:23 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Theo, your comments doth slay me.
Thanks for always bringing a spirit of Christ's charity to my blog. I am indebted to you.
The best New Year to you and yours!

December 31, 2006 2:33 PM  

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