Why Fr. Russell is right! An opinion on Russell Pollitt’s homiletic standpoint.

In business, a project manager’s lot is not an easy one. Their discipline requires of them that they tell their sponsors what they need to hear and not what they want to hear! Well Fr. Russell has done just that and as a result he has attracted the admiration of many – particularly in the lay fraternity, as well as the vitriol of not a few antagonists. In June he wrote a piece (READ) describing how he had walked out of mass in protest against a mind numbing and banal excuse for a homily!

He recently followed up his initial opinion piece (READ) with a post containing some of the replies he had received in response to that initial blog piece and the following one in particular caught my attention:

“I am disturbed that you, as a priest, do not understand that Sunday Mass is about the Sacrament. Go back to the seminary and learn about the Mass! The preaching makes no difference.”

‘The preaching makes no difference’ – that is a sad indictment of the state of the Church’s teaching ability and perversely supports Fr. Russell’s point of view! Of course this statement, source undetermined, displays a frightening ignorance of the liturgy and reveals rather, a defensive retort to an alarming truth!

The homily is an integral and very important part of the liturgy, so much so that in 2015 the Vatican saw fit to publish a papal decree on the matter entitled ‘Homiletic Directory’.[i] The decree noted: “It is very poignant that Pope Francis wished to devote considerable attention to the theme of the homily in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium.” Pope Francis goes straight to the heart of the matter when he says: “The homily is the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people”.[ii] He goes on to say that the homily is not so much a time of meditation and catechesis but rather a dialogue between God and His people, much in the same way as Jesus dialogued with the local multitudes in Palestine 2000 years ago. The homily is meant to highlight the salvific mission of God and the covenantal undertakings between a God and His people.[iii] As Pope Francis clarifies: “The homily has special importance due to its Eucharistic context: it surpasses all forms of catechesis as the supreme moment in the dia­logue between God and his people which lead up to sacramental communion”.[iv]

Pope Benedict echoes this sentiment in his Exhortation, Verbum Domini when he says: “The homily ‘is part of the liturgical action’ and is meant to foster a deeper understanding of the word of God, so that it can bear fruit in the lives of the faithful”.[v]

So, contrary to the contributor’s viewpoint, it seems that the homily does form a very close part of the liturgy. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal is very specific about the place of the homily in the liturgy:

“The Homily is part of the Liturgy and is highly recommended for it is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life.” [vi]

In conclusion, it was a finding of the fathers of Vatican II, that the homily is critical to the growth of the Christian diaspora, and aiding in holding firm to the values of Christ.[vii]


  1. H.H. Pope Benedict XVI. (2010, Sept. 30). Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini – The Word of the Lord. Retrieved Sept. 20, 2016, from The Holy See – Apostolic Exhortations – Benedict: http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_ben-xvi_exh_20100930_verbum-domini.html
  2. H.H. Pope Francis I. (2013, Nov. 24). Apostolic Exhortation Evangelli Guadium – The Joy of the Gospel. Retrieved Sept. 20, 2016, from The Holy See – Apostilc Exhortations – Francis: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html#The_joy_of_the_gospel
  3. H.H. Pope Paul VI. (1965, Nov. 18). Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation – Dei Verbum. Retrieved 2016, from The Holy See – Document of Vatican II – Paul VI: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651118_dei-verbum_en.html
  4. The Roman Catholic Church. (2010). The General Instruction of the Roman Missal. Retrieved 2016, from The Vatican – Roman Curia: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccdds/documents/rc_con_ccdds_doc_20030317_ordinamento-messale_en.html

[i] http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccdds/documents/rc_con_ccdds_doc_20140629_direttorio-omiletico_en.html

[ii] (H.H. Pope Francis I, 2013, p. Part II # 135)

[iii] (H.H. Pope Francis I, 2013, p. Part II # 137)

[iv] ibid. emphasis is mine.

[v] (H.H. Pope Benedict XVI, 2010, p. The Importance of the Homily # 59)

[vi] (The Roman Catholic Church, 2010, p. The Homily GIRM # 65)

[vii] (H.H. Pope Paul VI, 1965, p. Sacrosanctum Concilium # 52)

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Satirical Insensitivity

Zapiro is normally an insightful satirist, highlighting the ills in South African society with humorous skill. On April 9th, in the Mail & Guardian Newspaper, a cartoon was published which was meant to satirize the ousting of Zwelinzima Vavi from the trade union movement Cosatu by his erstwhile protagonists, S’dumo Dlamini and Bheki Ntshalintshali. He did this by using the crucifixion of Christ as the basis of his satire, obviously inferring that Vavi’s adversaries had ‘nailed him’ to a cross.

The timing of the publication clearly indicates either a particular ignorance or understanding of the Christian faith or worse, a total insensitivity toward and disregard of the centrality of the crucifixion to Christian belief. In the norm I find Zapiro to be incisive and witty, but here I believe a line was crossed – it is hoped that the newspaper in question might acknowledge this – for Christians, like their Abrahamic cousins, can also be offended.

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In the beginning……..

The Beginning…

‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth….’ So starts the Judeo/Christian narrative describing the creation of existence.

The complex processes which govern the physics of universal existence have been around since the foundation of the universe; they are the physical laws of this universe and definitely pre-date the earth! The earth is about four and a half billion years old and Homo sapiens [1] (that’s us), well we are a recent addition to the evolutionary scene. We have been around for only the last 12 000 years or so, as is evidenced by the appellation attached to our species – ‘of the Holocene Epoch’ [2] The evolution of human ‘thought and cognisance’ has taken this long to reach its current sophisticated level of insight, in addition we also know that time and the evolutionary process (amongst many other factors) were prime movers behind our present state of existence – this is science fact.

Taking a literal view of Genesis has, up until fairly recently in human history (Judeo/Christian history in particular), been the cornerstone of Western understanding; with the evolution of enlightened thought do we hold our heads in our hands and proclaim the end of human spiritual reality as we know it or do we re-look at the meaning to be taken from these ancient narratives and contextualise the thought processes of the past, bringing contemporary meaning to them? I certainly think so!

The Christian idea of the world is that it originated in a very complicated process of evolution but that it nevertheless still comes in its depths from the Logos. It thus bears reason in itself.

Joseph Ratzinger – Pope Benedict XVI [3]

There are certainly those who would discard such contextualisation out of hand, in ‘their’ certain knowledge that there is nothing else – nothing but pointless, nihilistic existence, a sea of unanswered questions! One can say with certainty that the provision of empirically proven answers to the metaphysical questions – who are we, what are we and why are we here, which would satisfy theistic detractors, is unlikely? Where do we ultimately come from and to where and what are we finally destined are heady questions indeed. However if, as some would have us believe, we are just the by-products of chance and star matter, what unique by-products we are! All logical thought determines that we shouldn’t be here, but here we are nevertheless!

Probabilities Chance!

How does one calculate the odds or rather the probability of this universe coming into existence? Well you do need a foundation in the known to relate to, which in the case of the universe we don’t have – we can only hypothesize based on current theoretical knowledge. It is said that probability is the measure of how likely an event is to occur out of the number of possible outcomes.[4] Well logic and intellect say that the number of possible outcomes for our universe must have been infinite; thus the probability of this specific universe coming into existence must, for all practical purposes, be zero. Yet it did!

Cardinal Schönborn clarifies chance well when he quotes Professor Walter Thirring[5]:

It is so far “beyond human capacity to conceive” the degree of precision in this event,[6] which occurred in microscopic fractions of the very first seconds, so Professor Thirring says, that he exclaims, “And that is supposed to have happened by chance – what an absurd notion!”

Schönborn was discussing the exacting conditions required for the universe to come into existence.[7]

Analogous to this is the question – ‘what are the odds of YOU coming into existence – not just your physical substance but your metaphysical being as well; that which makes you, you’.

Author Ali Binazir sums it up succinctly:[8]

The probability of your existing at all is 1 in 102,685,000

To put some perspective on this, the number of atoms in the body of an average male (80kg, 175lb) is 1027. The number of known atoms making up the earth is about 1050. The number of atoms in the known universe is estimated at 1080!

So what’s the probability of your existing? It’s the probability of 2 million people getting together – about the population of San Diego (USA) – each to play a game of dice with trillion-sided dice. They each roll the dice, and they all come up the exact same number – say, 550,343,279,001.

Absolutely improbable…you say and I would agree – the chances that you would be here are basically non-existent – yet you are here, you must be because you’re reading this! With such odds against your chanced existence, why would you not believe in a creative power such as that described in the Book of Genesis? This is not a punt for the cause of literal creationism as posited by fundamentalist factions of Christianity, nor must it be construed as support for the antithesis, but rather a voice seeking reason and understanding; a voice seeking contemporary meaning behind the reading of the Book of Genesis’ creation story.

Genesis – A society making sense of the unknown

The authors of Genesis did not possess the knowledge and understanding of present-day society; in fact I would risk stating the obvious by saying that their worldview was very different from ours given that a worldview is based in part on perspective or how you as an individual see the world around you – Nor did they care, says Boadt [9] I concur with his proposition that the benchmark opening timestamp for Israelite history (and consequently the Christian story) is the Exodus and that all preceding events were an attempt by the writers of Genesis to show God’s purpose with the Israelite people by a gathering together of tribal traditions on ancient ancestors stemming from pre-history.[10] Boadt suggests that as a people, the Israelites needed to understand “how they came to be a people and a nation”[11]

It has been put forward that, while the Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible) in its final form stems from a period later than that of the ‘United Kingdom’[12], ‘…it preserves the literature that had its origin in the United Kingdom’[13]. Indeed, Boshoff, Scheffler, & Spangenberg indicate that the bible actually developed around that literature.[14] This would infer that early traditions were mainly verbalised, passed down from generation to generation. At the same time this would exclude Moses from being the physical author of the Pentateuch, though he may very well have been instrumental in the initiation of the tradition of the exodus etc.; this would concur with Boadt’s assertion that Israelite history started with the Exodus.

In the later exilic period when the Israelites were held bondage in Babylon, Babylonian literature contained various accounts which seem to parallel Genesis accounts: [15]

1. The Enuma elish (Akkadian) – A Babylonian creation epic.

2. Enki and Nihursag – A Sumerian paradise myth

3. The Ziusudra flood – a Sumerian myth

4. The Gilgamesh epic – An Akkadian flood myth.

5. The Atrahasis epic – An Akkadian flood myth.

It is not entirely beyond reason that enculturation of the Israelites while in Babylonian exile would have enriched their traditional knowledge base and that they consequently incorporated aspects of these into their own traditions.

Matthews and Moyer put forward that the Israelites wanted to show God’s sovereign role in their creation as a people[16]; while Boadt postulates that Genesis can be seen as a pre-cursor, a preface to the beginning of the Israelite peoples.[17] They describe Genesis as an etiology of the founding of the Israelite nation and the human race in general, a search for an understanding of their origins.[18] Understandably, these writings are based on a worldview of the authors within their own time frame – the coalescence of this worldview with contemporary knowledge will invariably produce strange and confusing inconsistencies and consequently the contemporary fundamentalist clash!

This does not mean that valuable truths cannot be had from these very early writings; indeed, as I was reminded recently – all scripture is divinely inspired. As such is it a stretch to believe that Genesis illustrates the ancients need to describe the transcendence and all powerful nature of their God; it initiates the covenantal relationship which became prevalent in Israelite and subsequently Christian belief. It describes most clearly to me what they and indirectly Christianity are as a people.


1. Binazir, A. (2011, November 9). What are the odds? Retrieved November 17, 2014, from visual ly: http://visual.ly/what-are-odds

2. Boshoff, W., Scheffler, E., & Spangenberg, I. (2011). Ancient Israelite Literature in Context (Third ed.). Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa: Protea Book House.

3. Christoph Cardinal Schonborn. (2007). Chance or Purpose – Creation, Evolution & A Rational Faith (English ed.). (H. P. Weber, Ed., & H. Taylor, Trans.) San Francisco, California, USA: Igantius Press. Retrieved November 18, 2014

4. Collins Online English Dictionary. (2014). Holocene. Retrieved December 03, 2014, from Collins Online Dictionary: http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/holocene?showCookiePolicy=true

5. Fr. James V. Schall, SJ. (2007). The Order of Things (First ed.). San Francisco, California, USA: Ignatius Press. Retrieved November 19, 2014

6. Fr. Lawrence Boadt, CSP. (2012). Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction (Second ed.). (Fr. Richard Clifford, SJ, & Fr. Daniel Harrington, SJ, Eds.) Mahwah, N.J., New York, USA: Paulist Press. Retrieved November 28, 2014

7. Horn, S. O., & Wiedenhofer, S. (2008). Creation and Evolution – A Conference with Pope Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo (First ed.). (M. J. Miller, Trans.) San Francisco, California, USA: Ignatius Press. Retrieved November 19, 2014

8. Matthews, V. H., & Moyer, J. C. (2012). The Old Testament: Text & Context (Third ed.). Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Baker Academic. Retrieved November 28, 2014

9. Prof. Pheme Perkins, Ph.D. (2012). Reading the New Testament – An Introduction (Third ed.). Mahwah, N.J., New York, USA: Paulist Press. Retrieved November 28, 2014

10. Walter Thirring. (2014, October 29). Retrieved November 30, 2014, from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Walter_Thirring&oldid=631679337

11. wikiHow. (2014, October 28). How to Calculate Probability. Retrieved November 17, 2014, from wikiHow: http://www.wikihow.com/Calculate-Probability

[1] Homo sapiens (Latin: “wise man”) is the binomial nomenclature (also known as the scientific name) for the human species: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo_sapiens

[2]Recent Period” – Collins Online English Dictionary. (2014). Holocene. Retrieved December 03, 2014, from Collins Online Dictionary: http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/holocene?showCookiePolicy=true

[3] (Christoph Cardinal Schonborn, 2007, p. Opening Page)

[4] (wikiHow, 2014)

[5] Austrian Physicist (Walter Thirring, 2014)

[6] The Big Bang theory

[7] (Christoph Cardinal Schonborn, 2007, pp. 39-41)

[8] (Binazir, 2011)

[9] (Fr. Lawrence Boadt, CSP, 2012, p. Pos. 1973 (Kindle))

[10] (Fr. Lawrence Boadt, CSP, 2012, p. Pos. 1980 (Kindle))

[11] (Fr. Lawrence Boadt, CSP, 2012, p. Pos. 1967 (Kindle))

[12] United Kingdom of the Israelites – c.1050 B.C. – c.930 B.C., the reigns of David and Solomon.

[13] (Boshoff, Scheffler, & Spangenberg, 2011, pp. 95-96)

[14] Ibid.

[15] (Boshoff, Scheffler, & Spangenberg, 2011, p. 53)

[16] (Matthews & Moyer, 2012, p. Pos. 1251 (Kindle))

[17] (Fr. Lawrence Boadt, CSP, 2012, p. pos 1967 (Kindle))

[18] (Matthews & Moyer, 2012, p. Pos. 1940 (Kindle))

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A Trinitarian Dilemma

This post attempts to lay a simple foundation for defining the Doctrine of the Trinity in a way that allows me to accede to an acceptable level of intellectual assent. As my knowledge grows, I would hope to expand on this foundation.

The Doctrine of the Trinity has always been a very difficult concept to grasp. Indeed, I would imagine that its perceived complexity is, in many instances, used as an argument against it. But is it that complex and difficult to understand? Certainly on the face of it, it would seem extremely illogical, a mathematical conundrum – 3 is 1 and 1 is 3, add to this the fact that Christianity is a monotheistic religion, believing there to be only one God – “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” (Deut. 6:4), professing a tri-personal god then, seems to be a logical contradiction in a Christian sense?

My personal belief structure has always seen the need to make logical sense of a concept or thought, to proffer proof of its veracity, allowing me the option of providing an acceptable level of intellectual assent; the higher I can raise that level, the stronger my faith in that concept can become. This ‘process’ helps lead me to an ever strengthening commitment to my convictions; and it is at this point that I can begin to embrace faith.

Belief in the Trinity is central to and the most important concept of Christianity and it is with this background that I approach the concept of the Divine Trinity, the core of Christian belief and of salvific theology.

This post does not purport to address all and every question on the Trinity, far from it. However, let me share some of my concerns regarding the Doctrine of the Trinity, the questions and worries which have come up while contemplating this difficult subject.

1. Contravention of the law of non-contradiction: the doctrine appears to endorse the thought that God is one but also three. Simply put, one cannot be both one and not one at the same time!

2. A belief in three: is this not just polytheism? This would certainly seem to be the view of those holding differing or antagonistic views toward Trinitarian Christianity.

3. It is understood that God is transcendent, He exists above and outside the realm of His creation. Man can or is able only to make sense of that which exists within the sphere of his existence, his rationality. That which is outside of his existential domain remains a mystery (an unknowable knowledge). When hypothesizing on something for which there is no grounding in what can or could be known, then that which man tries to understand becomes a ‘mystery’. This is how I see God; He is outside the realm of my existence and consequently my ability to apply human rationality is limited! Nevertheless, I must try and comprehend – it is an innate need! The logical fallacy I am concerned with here has to do with ‘An appeal to faith’ – how do I justify belief that, on the face of it, appears to be irrational?

4. Were there no truth or understanding to be derived from the revelation of the Trinity, how then has its concept, its dogma survived the test of time? How has it energized and lifted Christian humanity over the centuries without being drummed out as just another heretical belief. After all, did not the learned theologians of the church expel so many other incorrect beliefs? Witness Arianism, Monism etc. Surely something which, prima facie, appears to be a total contradiction to accepted belief, would have suffered a similar fate at the hands of those eminent theologians – wouldn’t it? Or is there something more to be said of Trinitarian doctrine? Are we actually able to rationalize this doctrine within the ambit of our understanding?

5. Karl Rahner proposed an anti Neo-Scholastic interpretation of the immanent and economical Trinity – that the one equals the other and vice versa, his ‘grundaxiom’. This is problematic for me as this implies that God is NOT outside of His creation, is reliant on His creation for His existence or properties; I find it difficult to agree with this theory as, how can one be both immanent and transcendent at the same time? Is this not again, a typical contravention of the law of non-contradiction?

6. If there is serious doubt over Trinitarian Doctrine, then it would bring into serious question the salvific actions of God. Denial of the Trinity denies the very divinity of the Christ and the logical consequence is that man is not saved. This goes to the very core of Christian belief and must be answered.

I would suppose that these enquiries barely scratch the surface of that knowledge revealed in Christ – Deus revelatus[1]; I am sure that there are many other questions and opinions which also require elucidation however, for now, these will serve as the foundational seeds for my first foray into the enigma that is the Trinity.

Frank Sheed in his book Theology for Beginners, asks “God is a living God. But what does His life consist of?” This rather insouciant remark has, I think, some deep underlying meaning which helps shed light on the Trinitarian concept, after all God is all knowing love – utterly and entirely. Who then does He love in His eternal existence – Man? Certainly but through Christ, God reveals His love within the Trinity, a love of three persons within one divine nature – an eternal and absolute love. Man is finite and as Sheed says, ‘Finite creatures are no adequate object for infinite love – we cannot comprehend it, we cannot return it’ (Sheed, Theology for Beginners, pp. 31-32) God certainly does love man, His creation but why, in His wisdom and compassion, does He reveal the true nature of His innermost being when, in our finitude, its significance and worth is beyond our ability to comprehend. After all, God does not mock, nor take lightly His revelation to man – there is always purpose to His revelations. But what is that purpose? It is to reveal the love, the all-conquering love which exists within God; to show us the love which awaits us when we accept the salvation given us by Christ, by God.

There is one God, in three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. An eternal and holy communion of love – a love which knows no bounds. This Trinity, this Communion was the entire message which Jesus the Christ came among us to reveal. It is beholden to us to remember the message contained in Matthew 22:36-40[2]

A way, perhaps, to identify with the Trinity is to look at ourselves; after all are we not made in the image of God? …and God is the Trinity. Bearing in mind the Christian definition of the Trinity, God in Three Persons there is firstly a need, as there would be when rationalising humanity, to differentiate between ‘nature’ and ‘person’ (Sheed, Theology & Sanity, pp. 56-57); the ‘who’ and the ‘what’, the source of our actions and the actions themselves. It is critical to our thesis that we understand the differentiation between these two nouns – for it is by our nature that we are defined and it is by our actions that that which is our nature or essence is revealed. Actions, the verb, are the product of the ‘person’, derived from what defines that person – their ‘nature’. To paraphrase Sheed, nature is the source of our actions, person does them.

But what of that which possesses these two capacities? That almost unknowable essence we intrinsically know to be at our core but which, when introspectively examined, seems fogged and elusive.

This I would put forward, is the third part of the equation, the one which underpins or is foundational to our very existence. Sheed refers to this as our nature’s ‘root reality’; it is that essence, that reality to which ‘person’ and ‘nature’ belong and to which reality, ‘person’ and ‘nature’ are the very tools of existence – this to me is the soul, the very essence of man, the absolute reality of our existence. It is that piece of God which gives us life:

And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them.[3]

And the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth: and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul.[4]

As creatures of God we are each created with our own distinct nature making us unique in terms of who we are.

Not dissimilar but admittedly not quite the same, contained within the mystery of the Trinity is only ONE divine nature, ONE source of divine action, one overarching ‘root reality’. There is ONE God but within that divine essence are THREE distinct persons, each equally and fully possessing of that ONE divine nature we call God. As we have seen when rationalising humanity, nature and person are two distinct qualities. Nature does not equal person so it would be incorrect to say one god equals three gods but in terms of the Trinity, it is correct to say one (God) equals one (divine nature) – that there is ONE God but three distinct elements of action within God.

So we have three divine beings capable of action, ‘the persons of the Trinity’ and that from which those actions are derived, ‘the one divine nature’, a derivation which is common to all three persons of the Trinity. That derivation is GOD.

So for me, I have re-enforced within myself the belief that there really is only ONE God, one God within whom is embraced three distinct persons: GOD the Father, GOD the Son and GOD the Holy Spirit.



§ Pope John Paul II. (2002). The Trinity’s Embrace – God’s Saving Plan (1st Edition ed., Vol. 6). Boston, Ill., USA: Pauline Books & Media.

§ Sheed, F. J. (2011). Theology & Sanity (Kindle ed.). San Francisco, California, USA: Ignatius Press.

§ Emery, G. (2011). The Trinity: An Introduction to Catholic Doctrine on the Triune God (Kindle ed.). (M. Levering, Trans.) Washington, D.C., USA: The Catholic University of America Press.

§ O’Collins, G. (1999). The Tripersonal God – Understanding & Interpreting the Trinity (1st ed.). New York, N.J., USA: Paulist Press.

§ Rahner, K. (1997). The Trinity (Milestones in Catholic Theology ed.). (C. Mowray LaCugna, Ed., & J. Donceel, Trans.) New York, N.Y., USA: The Crossroad Publishing Co.

§ St. Thomas Aquinas. (2002). Aquinas’s Shorter Suma. (C. Vollert, Trans.) Manchester, New Hampshire, USA: Sophia Institute Press.

§ Sheed, F. J. (2011). Theology for Beginners (Kindle ed.). New York, NY, USA: Angelico Press.

§ Sproul, R. C. (2011). What is the Trinity? (Kindle ed.). Sanford, FL, USA: Reformation Trust Publishing.

§ Jowers, D. W. (2004). An Exposition & Critique of Karl Rahner’s Axiom: “The Economic Trinity is the Immanent Trinity and Vice Versa”. Mid-America Journal of Theology , 15, 165-200.

§ ST GREGORY OF NYSSA. (1996, 01 01). http://www.ewtn.com/library/PATRISTIC/PII5-7.TXT. Retrieved 05 14, 2014, from http://www.ewtn.com: www.ewtn.com/library/PATRISTIC/PII5-7.TXT

§ Douay-Rheims. (n.d.). The Holy Bible. Retrieved from http://biblehub.com/genesis/2-7.htm

[1] Deus revelatus – “God revealed in Christ”

[2] Matthew 22:36-40 Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)

[3] (Douay-Rheims) – Gen. 1:27

[4] (Douay-Rheims) – Gen. 2:7

[5] Council of Constantinople II, Anathema 1 (Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, 1:114)

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A House of Cards

A society without an ontological moral watchdog effectively polices itself – it justifies its own actions to the point where it expresses moral outrage and indignation when questioned on its actions, as is currently playing out on the Nkandla stage:

  • Madonsela exceeded her powers[i]
  • Sizani accused Madonsela of overstepping her mark[ii]
  • The ANC is set to take the DA to court for “spreading malicious lies” about President Jacob Zuma and his Nkandla homestead.[iii]
  • Public protector Thuli Madonsela said this week that she had feared for her life [iv]

And so on from various organs of the ANC, the ANCYL, the ANCWL etc.

The new democratic dispensation was crafted by selfless individuals, whose aspirations were to take South Africa back from the brink of civil war and guide her forward to a time of prosperity and normalisation, where the poor and homeless would at last find justice. The crown jewel of this new dispensation was the hard fought for Constitution; as Stephen Grootes so aptly puts it, “….the Constitution, quite deliberately, looks after the minorities.”[v] And by minorities I believe that he is not only referring the numerical minorities but to economic and other disadvantaged minorities – those who always seem to get the rough end of the stick!

One of the remarkable parts of the Constitution is the provision of Chapter 9 institutions – those bodies whose critical role it is to protect democracy; the Public Protector headed by Thuli Madonsela is one such body and while I am sure that Thuli Madonsela does not claim deistic (ontological) qualities (though the ruling party seem to have some godly insights!), she does fulfil a very important role. A role which highlights corruption and maladministration which is to the detriment of the country but the poor in particular.

To vilify the messenger, when the truth is brought into the light, is the despicable tactic of those who know they have done wrong and want to take the spotlight off of themselves. It is an ominous sign and does not bode well for democracy in this country. It also throws a shadow over the future of the Public Protectors office; in their avarice, would not the beneficiaries of the ‘gravy’ want to plug the hole which threatens to stop the flow?

The SACBC[vi] is quite right in expressing concern over the safety of the Public Protectors office – “This is not about Thuli. This is about ensuring that we don’t allow political affiliation to get in the way of an important democratic institution,” Fr Pearson said.[vii] For if the checks and balances of the Constitution are removed, then there is no stopping the fall into a failed state.

Perhaps while taking our Lord’s name in vain[viii], Jacob Zuma might want to reflect on Jesus’ attitude to the poor and disenfranchised and to self-aggrandizement in general! As I have mentioned previously, the words of Christ should echo portentously to those in power: “…Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me”[ix]

[i] News 24 – 20140328 (http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/Madonsela-exceeded-her-powers-group-20140328)

[ii] News 24 – 20140326 (http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/Madonsela-hits-back-at-ANC-whip-20140326)

[iii] News24 – 20140327 (http://www.news24.com/Elections/News/DA-spreading-malicious-lies-about-Zuma-ANC-20140327)

[iv] News24 – 20140323 (http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/Politics/Madonsela-feared-for-her-life-Report-20140323)

[v] (Grootes, 2013)

[vi] South African Catholic Bishops Conference

[vii] (Mathieson, 2014)

[viii] Mail and Guardian – 20140108 (http://mg.co.za/article/2014-01-08-zuma-the-anc-will-rule-forever)

[ix] New King James Version (NKJV) – Matthew 25: 40


  1. Grootes, S., 2013. S.A. Politics – Unspun. Kenilworth(Cape Town): Mercury an imprint of Burnet Media.
  2. Mathieson, C., 2014. Church Leaders: We must protect Thuli’s office. The Southern Cross, 26 March, p. 1.
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A Scourge in Modern Times

When we think of criminal activity and in particular theft, we tend at times to wrongly associate the perpetrators with the indigent in society. Whilst this is true in some instances due to circumstance, it is wrong to generalise in such fashion. However, in a more covert way, greed can be seen as the motivator behind theft and importantly behind the more surreptitious instances of depravity!

Greed is defined as an ‘…excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or deserves, especially with respect to material wealth’[1]

Greed though, is just the catalyst in this equation; three other elements are involved, making possible the worst type of theft, corruption! The first element is power, as power to act facilitates the means to corrupt, the second is discretion, being oversight of assets, the purpose behind the corruption and the ultimate objective of greed; the third is a lack of accountability, belief that one can act with impunity.

This is the view expressed in the facing article of a recent Catholic pew leaflet:

One way to explain corruption is a formula: C=P+D-A. Corruption occurs where authority figures enjoy Power and Discretion without Accountability.[2]

This formula might explain and possibly identify the ‘King Pins’ of corruption however all involved in the overarching venal action, whether in facilitating that action or in benefiting from the ill-gotten gains, are also to be considered corrupt.

So when I look at South African society today using the above narrative, it becomes as if a shroud were lifted and the rancid corpse of corruption were laid bare!

In South Africa, just reading or listening to the daily news indicates that corruption has become endemic, almost a way of life – so much so that I do not think it far-fetched to say that to most perpetrators, the immoral nature of their action cannot or will not be seen!

Of greater concern though, are the instances of corruption within the leadership elements of our society. Catholic Social Doctrine is very clear on this aspect, article 411 of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states:

Among the deformities of the democratic system, political corruption is one of the most serious because it betrays at one and the same time both moral principles and the norms of social justice.[3]

Why is this so serious, because in a way it legitimises corruption to those in the lower echelons of society, blunting the gravity of moral turpitude and making corruption a normative behaviour. It just drags society down into a mire of moral depravity from which it becomes difficult to get out.

It has reached such a low point now that society in general are saying ‘No More’!; to paraphrase SACBC[4] in their leaflet endorsing the Exposed[5] campaign – Corruption is theft from the poor, hurting the most vulnerable in society, destroying trust, hurting us all. We, as society, must show moral fibre and reject corruption in all its forms.

For this reason, the Catholic Church here in South Africa has come out in active support of a worldwide anti-corruption campaign. If we do nothing then we are guilty of omission – we aid and abet those who, by their actions, take from the very least of God’s children. It behooves us to remember “…Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me”[6]

Do Something!


  1. Ntabeni, M. (2013, October 16). SA’s corruption: What is to be done? (G. Simmermacher, Ed.) Retrieved October 20, 2013, from Southern Cross Catholic Online Newspaper: http://www.digital.scross.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/131016.pdf
  2. Redemptorist Pastoral Publications. (2013, October 20). Corruption. Catholic Link, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Merrivale, Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa: Redemptorist Pastoral Publications. Retrieved October 20, 2013
  3. The Catholic Church. (2005). Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Ed.) Retrieved Oct. 20, 2013, from The Holy See – Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/justpeace/documents/rc_pc_justpeace_doc_20060526_compendio-dott-soc_en.html
  4. The Free Dictionary. (2013). Greed. Retrieved October 20, 2013, from The Free Dictionary: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/greed
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The Bible – Sole Arbiter Of The Christian Faith

That Holy Scripture is central to the tenets of the Christian faith is not disputed; that it is the sole arbiter of the Christian faith is. Sola Scriptura is a cornerstone of Protestant theology, but it is, in my opinion, a fundamental misconception of Protestant biblical theology.  Why?

This is the question that I would like to discuss in response the latest Alpha subject – Why and How Should I Read the Bible? This discussion will not argue on the spiritual aspect of biblical reading, covered under such subject headings as the Catholic practice of Lectio Divina, but rather on the more controversial subject, that of the Protestant doctrine of Scripture Alone!

First let us distinguish between two important aspects of scripture: 1) the more arcane characteristic referring to the intrinsic knowledge conveyed by scripture and, 2) the actual written word, more commonly referred to as the biblical word or the written word.

What is sola scriptura and what does it mean?

  1. Wikipedia describes Sola Scriptura as – “the doctrine that the Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness.
  2. Apologist, James Akin says of Sola Scriptura, it:  “…teaches that every teaching in Christian theology (everything pertaining to “faith and practice”) must be able to be derived from Scripture alone.

Basically, sola scriptura means that any theological or religious understanding can and must only be based on scripture. It must exclude any external influence such as a centralised interpretive authority or traditional understandings etc.

This disallows any tradition handed down or any binding authority such as the Catholic Magisterium from aiding or augmenting scriptural instruction. Indeed Akin says of the Protestant dilemma, [i]If Tradition or a Magisterium could bind the conscience of the believer as to what he was to believe then the believer would not be looking to Scripture alone as his authority.” This, in my mind, is rather convenient and also smacks of a central Magisterium(!) in itself, dictating how and what the believer should believe!

Obviously in disallowing a central interpretive authority (the Magisterium) to guide the ordinary believer, Sola Scriptura must, by necessity, advocate a right to absolute private judgment.[ii] And as regards this dogma, as many as are adherents, is as many different ‘truths’ which are espoused. Taking it to a farcical level, even in one parish let alone one religious denomination, there could be many versions of the truth!

Make sense – no of course not!

In a sense this multiplicity of truths is indistinguishable from relativism, believing that the truth is whatever the private judgment of the individual conceives it to be! That cannot be true, for truth cannot be many things, it can only be one – one interpretation. This does not dispute that truth can be hard to find or that people have got it wrong but there can only be one truth. It follows then that this must be the same for the interpretation of scripture – excluding private abstract meaning there can only be one specific public meaning.

Then what other source is required for the determination of the truth: one we have already heard – is the magisterium, but the other we have not – tradition. The Catholic Encyclopedia describes tradition in the following manner:

“The word tradition (Greek paradosis) in the ecclesiastical sense, which is the only one in which it is used here, refers sometimes to the thing (doctrine, account, or custom) transmitted from one generation to another; sometimes to the organ or mode of the transmission (kerigma ekklisiastikon, predicatio ecclesiastica)” [iii]

Transmitted from one generation to the next’, a pretty obvious and innocuous statement on the face of it but which, in the context our story, was partly the cause of  the Protestant schism within Christianity. To be fairly banal, do you not possess knowledge which was passed from your parents to you, will you not pass this on to the next generation? This information is in addition to the more formal knowledge and understanding of life that we receive as instruction but is just as vital.

Likewise, the church has passed down apostolic and post-apostolic knowledge over the eons, from the apostles to the early church fathers (think of the Didache, the Shepard of Hermas, Irenaeus, Origen and many more) and beyond. Although these and other traditions were not included into the canon of scripture, this does not mean that they have no value; they represent the collective wisdom of the past.

 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. [iv]

says Paul to the Corinthians.

Paraphrasing Catholic Answers [v]  provides some context to the preservation and passing on of apostolic tradition:

On the preservation of Apostolic Tradition, Paul instructs Timothy:

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. [vi]

Paul recognized the need for tradition to be passed on from generation to generation, ensuring that the true teaching of Christ was not lost. Likewise, the early Church Fathers recognized the same necessity. The following excerpts are taken from Catholic Answers article on Apostolic Tradition: [vii]


“As I said before, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although she is disseminated throughout the whole world, yet guarded it, as if she occupied but one house. She likewise believes these things just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart; and harmoniously she proclaims them and teaches them and hands them down, as if she possessed but one mouth. For, while the languages of the world are diverse, nevertheless, the authority of the tradition is one and the same” (Against Heresies 1:10:2 [A.D. 189]).

Clement of Alexandria

“Well, they preserving the tradition of the blessed doctrine derived directly from the holy apostles, Peter, James, John, and Paul, the sons receiving it from the father (but few were like the fathers), came by God’s will to us also to deposit those ancestral and apostolic seeds. And well I know that they will exult; I do not mean delighted with this tribute, but solely on account of the preservation of the truth, according as they delivered it. For such a sketch as this, will, I think, be agreeable to a soul desirous of preserving from loss the blessed tradition” (Miscellanies 1:1 [A.D. 208]).


“Although there are many who believe that they themselves hold to the teachings of Christ, there are yet some among them who think differently from their predecessors. The teaching of the Church has indeed been handed down through an order of succession from the apostles and remains in the churches even to the present time. That alone is to be believed as the truth which is in no way at variance with ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition” (The Fundamental Doctrines 1:2 [A.D. 225]).

Sola-Scriptura pre-supposes ready access to the scriptures, it pre-supposes the individuals capacity for theological thought and application in interpreting those scriptures and it pre-supposes the individuals literacy! Are these the pre-requisites for salvation? I would hope not and if they are, humankind through history would be in a rather sorry state! Why? – up until (and probably including) the 1800’s the average person was illiterate, had no access to books (let alone bibles) or theological training –  most probably because of their economic predicament. Thus the majority would rely on verbal communication, interpretation by application of tradition, visual aids depicting stories and traditions (think of the stained glass windows in churches) and a trust in the values of the local vicar/priest!

Dei Verbum the Catholic Church’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation ratifies the relationship between scripture and tradition as:

There is one source of revelation, God, with two modes of transmission – “Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture … For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity …”[viii]

In conclusion, I would posit that scripture is of prime importance but that it can and must be augmented by authentic tradition. When reading the bible and generally studying the Christian way of life and its mores, cognisance must be taken of both scripture and any related and accepted tradition, such as the church fathers etc. All of this must be governed by a central authority vested with the responsibility of providing a true public interpretation of God’s Revelation.


  1. Akin, J. (1996). The Practical Problems of Sola Scriptura. Retrieved September 2, 2013, from EWTN: http://www.ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/PRACTICL.HTM
  2. Wikipedia. (2013, June 9). Sola Scriptura. Retrieved September 2, 2013, from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sola_scriptura&oldid=559085188
  3. Akin, J. (2013). Sola Scriptura and Private Judgment. Retrieved September 3, 2013, from JimmyAkin.com: http://jimmyakin.com/library/sola-scriptura-and-private-judgment
  4. Bainvel, J. (1912). Tradition and Living Magisterium. (New York: Robert Appleton Company) Retrieved September 3, 1913, from The Catholic Encyclopedia: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15006b.htm
  5. Catholic Answers. (1996-2013). Apostolic Tradition. Retrieved September 4, 2013, from Catholic Answers: http://www.catholic.com/tracts/apostolic-tradition
  6. The Roman Catholic Church. (1965, November 18). Dei Verbum. Retrieved September 4, 2013, from The Holy See: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651118_dei-verbum_en.html

End Notes

[i] (Akin, The Practical Problems of Sola Scriptura, 1996)

[ii] “This was a question put by Catholics to Luther and the other Protestants, who answered that, in the absence of some group of Christians who were divinely commissioned with the task of formulating the material of theology, the individual himself must be divinely commissioned with this task. Thus the doctrine of an absolute right to private judgment–to deciding for oneself what the correct interpretation of Scripture is–was created.”

(Akin, Sola Scriptura and Private Judgment, 2013)

[iii] (Bainvel, 1912)

[iv] 1 Corinthians 11:2

[v] (Catholic Answers, 1996-2013)

[vi] 2 Timothy 2:2

[vii] (Catholic Answers, 1996-2013)

[viii] (The Roman Catholic Church, 1965)

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