Romans 13

This is a literal translation of an ancient Greek text. It has also been cross-posted on For more information on how to read this post and what everything means, see the relevant page on that site.

1Let every life be placed underassigned to the powershere and throughout, authorities being overlit. rising above [it].some manuscripts: Be placed under every power being over [you].a For [there] is no powerlit. power is not if not from God, but the [powers] being(existing) have been marshaled(arrayed / drawn up [for battle]) by God;b 2inasmuch as the [one] setting [oneself] in battle against(opposition to) the power, the [one] having been appointed [on a particular occasion] by God, [he] has set [himself] against [iti.e., the power/authority in battle], but the [ones] having set [themselves] against [it] will receive a judgment(condemnation) for themselves. 3For the [ones] ruling are not a fear to the good work(deed) but to the bad.c But do [thou] wish not to dread(be frightened by) the power? Do the good [thing], and [thou] will have approval(praise) from it; 4for [it] is a servantHere and throughout, an English cognate term with this word is deacon. of God for thee unto the good [thing]. But if [thou] do the bad [thing], be afraid; for [it] does not carry the daggerThough not technically accurate, it was common to use this Greek word to refer to the gladius, the primary sword of the Roman soldier. in vain;(at random / without a plan) for [it] is a servant of God, a prosecutor(avenger) unto wrath to the [one] practicing the bad [thing].d 5Wherefore [there is] a compulsion to be placed under [it], not only on account of wrath, but also on account of knowledge.(conscience) 6For an account of this [thing you] perform(perfect) tributes,lit. payments for public servants of God are persisting obstinatelyThis is a circumlocution, using a participle instead of the normal form of the verb. This focuses especially on the state of behavior rather than the particular action. unto this same thing. 7Give back debts to all [people], the tribute to the [one to whom] tribute [is due],e the dutylit. outcome, end to the [one to whom] the duty [is due], fear to the [one to whom] fear [is due], honor to the [one to whom] honor [is due].

8Oweὀφείλετε can take a direct object, meaning to owe something, or an infinitive, meaning that you ought to do something. Both are used here, but English loses some of the commandment of the latter (i.e., we ought to love each other). nothing to anyone, except to love each other; for the [one] loving another has fulfilled [the] law.f 9For the [thing], [thou] will notThe verb forms here could almost be imperatives, but the word for negation is οὐ, not μή, which means it must be a future indicative, not an imperative. commit adultery, [thou] will not murder, [thou] will not covet,(desire); lit. set one’s heart uponsome manuscripts end after murder, others add [thou] will not give false witness there; some do bothg and if [there is] any other commandment, in this word [it] is summed up, {in this:} [thou] will love thy nearby [person(neighbor) as] thyself.h 10Love does not work [at] a bad [thing] for the [one] nearby;This is the adverbial form, not an adjective. love, therefore, [is the] fulfilmentlit. complement of [the] law.i

11And knowing this [is] the time, that the hour already [has come] to wake(rouse) yousome manuscripts: us; others omit out of sleepj for now our salvation [is] nearer than when [we] believed [on a particular occasion]. 12The night advanced(made progress / progressed) [on a particular occasion], but the day has approached.k Let [us] therefore put awaysome manuscripts: throw off [on a particular occasion] the works of darkness,l {and} let [us] put onhere and in verse 14, (don) the armor of light. 13Let [us] walk gracefully as in [the] day, not with revelries and strong drinks,m not with beds and licentiousness, not with strife and jealousy; 14but put on the lord Jesus Christ,n and do not make providencelit. foreknowledge, foresight forlit. of the flesh unto [its] desires.(covets); the same root as the command in verse 9

a Let every life…rising above [it]: cf. Titus 3:1
b For [there] is…marshaled by God: cf. Proverbs 8:15; John 19:11
c For the [ones]…to the bad: cf. 1 Peter 2:13-14; 3:13
d a prosecutor unto…the bad [thing]: cf. Romans 12:19
e Give back debts…tribute [is due]: cf. Matthew 22:21; Mark 12:17; Luke 20:25
f for the [one]…fulfilled [the] law: cf. Galatians 5:14; 1 Timothy 1:5
g [thou] will not…one’s heart upon: cf. Exodus 20:13-15, 17; Deuteronomy 5:17-19, 21; Matthew 19:18
h [thou] will love…[person as] thyself: cf. Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 5:43; 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8
i love, therefore, [is…of [the] law: cf. Matthew 22:40
j knowing this [is]…out of sleep: cf. Ephesians 5:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:6-7
k The night advanced…day has approached: cf. 1 John 2:8
l Let [us] therefore…works of darkness: cf. Ephesians 5:11
m Let [us] walk…and strong drinks: cf. Luke 21:34; Ephesians 5:18
n put on the…lord Jesus Christ: cf. Galatians 3:27

Romans 12

This is a literal translation of an ancient Greek text. It has also been cross-posted on For more information on how to read this post and what everything means, see the relevant page on that site.

1Therefore [I] exhorthere and in verse 8, (summon); lit. call to you, brothers, through the mercies(pities, compassions) of God, to place(set) your bodies aside [as] a sacrifice, living, holy, acceptable to God, your intellectual service. 2The imperatives in this verse are in the present tense, giving them imperfective aspect. This means that the command is habitual, over time, or continuing long-term.And do not be corrected(remodeled) to this period of existence,(age, lifetime, era) but be transformed by the renewal of the mind,(thought)a in order that you may test(prove, approve) what [is] the will of God, the good and acceptableb and perfect.(complete)c

3For [I] say, through the grace having been given [on a particular occasion] to me, to every [one] being among you not to be proudlit. to over-think about what [it] is necessary to think, but to think in order to think soundly,lit. safe-think for each [one] just as God distributed(divided) [on a particular occasion] a measure of faith.(belief)d 4For exactly as in one body [we] have many limbs, on the other hand all the limbs do not have the same job,(business, action, function)e 5thus [we] many are one body in Christ, but on the other hand, individuallylit. according to the one [we are] limbs of each other.f 6But having different graces(favors, charisms) according to grace having been given [on a particular occasion] to us, either prophecy according to the proportion of faith, 7or service in service, or the [one] teaching in [his] teaching, 8or the [one] exhorting in [his] exhortation, the [one] sharing in [his] simplicity,(liberality); lit. singlenessh the [one] being set over in [his] haste,here and in verse 11, (zeal, earnestness) the [one] showing mercy in [his] cheerfulness.An English word derived from this Greek word is hilarity.g

9Love [is] undramatic.(without dissimulation)i AbhorHere and every imperative marked with a blue asterisk through the end of the chapter, this is a participle with attendant circumstance, indicating an imperative sense. the worthless(knaving, toilsome) [thing], glue* [yourselves] to the good [thing];j 10[be] affectionate in brotherly love unto each other,k lead* each other to honor,(worship)l 11do not shrink* from(be timid toward) haste, boil* with respect to [your] spirit,m be a slave* to the lord,some manuscripts: to time; others omit this clause 12rejoice* with respect to hope, remain* [in] pressure,(affliction) persist obstinately(adhere firmly, remain faithful)* in prayer,n 13have a share*(take part in) in the needs of the saints, pursue* hospitality.o 14Blesshere and in the next clause, (praise) the [ones] pursuing {you},some manuscripts omit “you,” others omit this whole clause bless and do not curse.p 15RejoiceThis imperative and the next one is a command using the infinitve; this construction has a solemn or formal force beyond the norm for imperatives. with the [ones] rejoicing, wail(lament) with [ones] wailing.(lamenting)q 16Think* the same [thing] unto each other,r do not think* lofty(proud) [things] but be led away(be arrested)* with the lowly [ones]. Do not become sensible(wise) beside yourselves.(in your own opinion)s 17No longer return* a bad [thing] against a bad [thing];t foresee*(look for) beautiful [things] face-to-face with all men;here and in the next verse, (people)u 18if possible,lit. powerful [insofar as] the [matter is] out of you, live peaceably* with all men;v 19do not avenge* yourselves,w beloved [ones], but give a place to wrath,x for [it] has been written,y “To me [is] vengeance, I will repay, says [the] lord.” 20But if thy enemylit. hated or hateful [one] hunger, feedIn a literal sense, by putting small pieces of food in his mouth by hand. him; if [he] thirst, give [something] to him to drink; for, doing [this], [thou] will heap coals of fire upon his head.z 21Do not be conquered by the bad [one], but conquer the bad [thing] in the good [one/thing].

a be transformed by…of the mind: cf. Ephesians 4:23
b in order that…good and acceptable: cf. Romans 6:11, 13; 1 Peter 2:5
c to place your…acceptable and perfect: cf. Ephesians 5:10, 17
d for each [one]…measure of faith: cf. 1 Corinthians 12:11; Ephesians 4:7
e verse 4: cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12
f verse 5: cf. 1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 4:5
g 6But having different…in [his] cheerfulness: cf. 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; 1 Peter 4:10-11
h the [one] sharing…simplicity cf. 2 Corinthians 9:7
i Love [is] undramatic: cf. 1 Timothy 1:5; 1 Peter 1:22
j Abhor the worthless…the good [thing]: cf. Amos 5:15
k [be] affectionate in…unto each other: cf. 2 Peter 1:7
l lead each other to honor: cf. Philippians 2:3
m boil with respect…to [your] spirit: cf. Acts 18:25; Revelation 3:15
n persist obstinately in prayer: cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:17
o pursue hospitality: cf. Hebrews 13:2
p verse 14: cf. Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:28; Acts 7:60; 1 Corinthians 4:12
q wail with [ones] wailing: cf. Psalm 35:13
r Think the same…unto each other: cf. Romans 15:5
s Do not become…sensible beside yourselves: cf. Proverbs 3:7; Isaiah 5:21; Romans 11:20
t No longer return…a bad [thing]: cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:15
u foresee beautiful [things]…with all men: cf. Proverbs 3:4 (LXX)
v verse 18: cf. Mark 9:50; Hebrews 12:14
w do not avenge yourselves: cf. Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 5:39
x but give a…place to wrath: cf. Romans 13:4; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7
y written: Deuteronomy 32:35; cf. Hebrews 10:30
z verse 20: cf. Proverbs 25:21-22; Matthew 5:44

Romans 11

This is a literal translation of an ancient Greek text. It has also been cross-posted on For more information on how to read this post and what everything means, see the relevant page on that site.

1[I] say therefore, God did not push away his people,some manuscripts: inheritance [did he]? Would that it not come to be; for also I am an Israelite, out of [the seed] of Abraham, of [the] tribe of Benjamin.a 2God did not push away his people,b whom [he] foreknew. Or do [you] not know in Elijah, what the writing says, how [he] meets with God against(concerning) Israel? 3“Lord, [they] killed your prophets, [they] razedThe etymology of this word evokes an image of tearing something to the ground and then digging up its foundation. your altars, and I alone was left remaining and [they] seek my life.”c 4But what does the decree(oracle / negotiation) say to him? [I]or [they] left seven thousand men for myself, whoever did not bend [the] knee to Baal.”d 5Therefore thus also in the now-time(present) a remnant has come about according to a choice of grace;e 6but if by grace,Because no verb is supplied, one must be assumed; we may think ἐκλογέω (choose, from ἐκλογὴν in v5) or καταλιμπάνω (leave behind, from κατέλιπον in v4); in either case, the usage is probably the instrumental dative (the dative of means), specifically as a standard of judgment. no longer out of works, for otherwise grace becomes grace no longer.some manuscripts add: for otherwise the work is no longer a work; others: but if out of works, [it] is no longer grace, for otherwise the work is no longer a workf 7What therefore? What Israel was seeking, [she] did not attain,here and elsewhere, (reach) but the choiceHere and in verses 5, 28, not those chosen, but the act of choosing attained [it];g but the remaining [ones] were petrified,(hardened) 8just as [it] has been written, “God gave to them a spirit of bewilderment, eyes not to see,here and in the next clause, as well as in verse 10, are articular infinitives of negative purpose ears not to hear, until the today-day.”h 9And David says, “Let their table become [on a particular occasion] a trap and a hunt and a snare(scandal) and a repayment to them, 10let their eyes be made dark not to seei and their back [be made] bent [down] through everything.”j

11[I] say therefore, [they] did not stumble in order to fall,ἵνα + subjunctive purpose clause [did they]? Would that it not come to be; but the salvation for their blunder [was given] to the peopleshere and throughout, (nations)k in order to provoke them to jealousy.articular infinitive of purpose with εἰςl 12But if their blunder [is the] wealth of [the] cosmos and their loss [is the] wealth of [the] peoples, how much more their fulfilment [is wealth].

13But [I] say to you, to the peoples: therefore, for as much as I am an apostle of peoples, [I] magnify my service, 14if in some way [I] shall provoke my flesh to jealousy, [I] will also save some oflit. out of them. 15For if their rejection [is the] reconciliation of the cosmos, what [is their] acquisition if not life out of [the] dead [ones]? 16And if the firstling [is] holy, also the [whole] mixture [is];m and if the root [is] holy, also the branches [are].

17But if some of the branches were completely broken off [on a particular occasion], but thou, being a wild olive, were graftedhere and throughout, lit. pricked / stuck in among them and, partaking of the root of the fattinesssome manuscripts: of the root; others: of the fattiness; others: of the root and of the fattiness [thou] came to beThis verb could go with any of the genitives (of-phrases) in this verse, just as “partaking” can; though I have rendered it the most sensible way in English, it can mean that by partaking of all these things, you become of them all. of the olive tree,n 18do not boast over the branches; but if [thou] boast, thou do not lift up the root, but the root [lifts] thee [up].o 19Therefore [thou] will say, “Branches were completely broken off in order that I may be grafted in.” 20Wonderful; [they] were completely broken off by [their] disbelief,here and throughout, (lack of faith) but thou have stood by [thy] belief.(faith) Do not be high-minded,lit. think high [things]p but fear;(be afraid) 21for if God did not spare the [ones who were] branches according to their nature,here and throughout, lit. origin neither will [he] spare thee, {not in any way}.some manuscripts omit these words; their presence is still disputed 22Behold, therefore, [the] goodnesshere and throughout, (kindness) and severity of God; on the one hand, severity upon the [ones] having fallen [on a particular occasion], but on the other, [the] goodness of God upon thee, if [thou] remain in the goodness;r otherwise thou also will be cut out.q 23But also those [men], if [they] do not remain in disbelief, [they] will be grafted in; for God is ablelit. powerful to graft them in again. 24For if thou were cut out of the wild olive, [the one] according to [thy] nature, and [thou] were grafted against [thy] nature into the garden olive, by how much more will these, the [ones] according to [their] nature, be grafted in the same olive tree.some manuscripts end this verse as a question

25For [I] do not wish you to miss,(be ignorant of / not perceive) brothers, this mystery, in order that [you] may not be wise {among}some manuscripts use a different word to mean the same thing; others: with respect to yourselves,s because hardness from heritage comes about for Israel to the uttermost where the fulfilment of the peoples came int 26and thus all Israel will be saved,u just as [it] has been written, “The [one] rescuing will have come out of Zion, [he] will turn back impieties from Jacob. 27And this [is] the covenant from me for them, v that [I] take away their errors.”w 28On the one hand, according to the gospel [they are] hated throughhere and in the next clause, (because of) you, but on the other hand, according to the choice [they are] beloved through the fathers; 29for the graces and the calling of God [are] not to be repented of.(repentant) 30For just as you were disobedient to God then, but now [you] have been shown mercy for the disobedience of these [men], 31thus also these [men] now were disobedient for your mercy, in order that [they] themselves also may {now}some manuscripts: afterward; others omit; the presence of this word is disputed be shown mercy. 32For God enclosed all [men] into disobedience in order that [he] might show mercy to all [men].x

33O [the] depth of wealth of both wisdom and knowledge of God; how unexaminable [are] his judgments and inscrutable [are] his ways.y 34“For who knew [the] mind of [the] lord? Or who became his counselor?z 35Or who has prepaid him and will be repaid by him?”aa 36Because out of him and through him and unto him [are] all [things];ab to him [be] the glory unto the ages, amen.

a I am an…tribe of Benjamin: cf. Philippians 3:5
b God did not…away his people: cf. I Samuel 12:22; Psalm 94:14
c verse 3: 1 Kings 19:10, 14
d [I] left seven…knee to Baal: 1 Kings 19:18
e verse 5: cf. Romans 9:27
f verse 6: cf. Galatians 3:18
g What Israel was…choice attained [it]: cf. Romans 9:31
h God gave to…until the today-day: Deuteronomy 29:4; Isaiah 29:10
i Let their table…not to see: cf. Psalm 69:22-23
j their back [be…[down] through everything: cf. Psalm 35:8
k the salvation for…to the peoples: cf. Acts 13:46
l in order to…them to jealousy: cf. Deuteronomy 32:21; Romans 10:19
m And if the…[whole] mixture [is]: cf. Numbers 15:17-21; Nehemiah 10:37; Ezekiel 44:30
n verse 17: cf. Ephesians 2:11-19
o thou do not…[lifts] thee [up]: cf. John 4:22
p Do not be high-minded: cf. Romans 12:16
q verse 22: cf. John 15:2, 4
r if [thou] remain…in the goodness: cf. Hebrews 3:14
s in order that…wise {among} yourselves: cf. Romans 12:16
t the fulfilment of…peoples came in: cf. Luke 21:24; John 10:16
u all Israel will be saved: cf. Matthew 23:39
v The one rescuing…me for them: Isaiah 59:20-21; cf. Psalm 14:7
w that [I] take…away their errors: cf. Isaiah 27:9; Jeremiah 31:33-34
x verse 32: cf. Galatians 3:22; I Timothy 2:4
y inscrutable [are] his ways: cf. Isaiah 45:15; 55:8
z verse 34: cf. Isaiah 40:13 (LXX); Job 15:8; Jeremiah 23:18; I Corinthians 2:16
aa verse 35: cf. Job 41:3
ab out of him…[are] all [things]: cf. I Corinthians 8:6

Swimming the Tiber 39: The Buffet Line

To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: the Amen, the witness–the [one] faithful and trustworthy–the beginning of the creation of God says these [things]:

[I] know thy works, that [thou] are neither cold nor hot. Would that [thou] were cold or hot! Thus, because [thou] are tepid and neither hot nor cold, [I] am about to spitlit. [I] must have spit; Jerome: [I] am beginning to spit thee out of my mouth. Because [thou] say that, “[I] am wealthy and [I] have been wealthy and [I] have no need,” and [thou] do not know that thou are the [one] suffering and piteous and a beggar and blind and naked, [I] advise for thee to buy from me a golden [thing] having been burned out of fire in order that [thou] may be wealthy and that [thou] may wrap white clothes [around yourself] and [that] the shame of thy nakedness may not be revealed, and [I advise for thee] to anoint thy eyes with clay in order that [thou] may see. As many as I love, [I] test and teach; be zealous, therefore, and repent. Behold, [I] have stood at the door and [I] knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [I] will go in unto him and [I] will dineor make a meal with him and he himself [will dine] with me. The [one] conquering, [I] will give to him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat with my father on his throne. Let the [one] having ears hear what the spirit says to the churches.

– Revelation 3:14-22 (my translation)

To be tepid (or lukewarm) is to be neither here nor there; to sit on the fence; to pick and choose what we shall follow from the mouth of the Lord. Woe to the church in Laodicea, and to all who resemble them, who do not choose one side or the other–who warrant neither tenderness nor correction, but say to themselves that they have no need of anything! We should want to dine with him and he with us, but if we consider ourselves good enough, he must spit us out. What more would we let him do in our lives? How else can he grow us, strengthen us, empower us, if we say that we have enough?

I am reminded of the professor who introduced himself to his class by saying, “There are two kinds of students that I can do nothing with: those who already know everything, and those who think they do.”

The Catholic Church has a fairly significant problem in that her members do not always obey her. But this isn’t news and we already knew that. And many people reject the Church because so many people–so, so many–start political or moral comments with, “I’m Catholic, but…” It’s a flawed approach for the flawed people of the Church. We pay lip-service to the Church, like we’re strong adherents to her teaching, and then we spout off our own opinions.

Newsflash, America: The Catholic Church isn’t Democrat. She isn’t Republican. She isn’t Libertarian. She isn’t from the Green Party. She isn’t a capitalist. She isn’t a Communist. She isn’t deeply into mercantilism or monarchies. And more than likely, she doesn’t teach what you personally believe; you’re not her mouthpiece, and neither am I.

And that’s okay. As long as we acknowledge it. Because that’s the way it should be. You and I don’t speak for the Catholic Church–nor should we. She isn’t a democracy at all. We don’t elect representative bishops who then elect a representative pope who makes representative changes to doctrine. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen is quoted as having said in 1953, “Moral principles do not depend on a majority vote. Wrong is wrong, even if everybody is wrong. Right is right, even if nobody is right.”1 The Catholic Church does not bend to the times; she does not “catch up to modern society.” She has a top-down hierarchy, with God at the head, and his timeless teachings on faith and morals do not change to suit the whims of whatever our culture has dreamed up for today.

So how do people disagree with the Church? Well, if you look long enough, you’ll find someone who disagrees with her (yet still claims to be a part of her or even represent her) in every single aspect of her teaching. The most common, probably, are related to the morality of one’s sexual life: “How dare a bunch of old men tell me how to spend my time in private and what to do with my own body?” etc. Almost as common is the morality of economics: “I don’t appreciate the Church telling me to give my money to poor people; it’s charitable of me to give them advice, to pay my taxes, to make sure taxes are cut for companies that might try to employ them,” etc. Or the morality of ecology: “I bet the Church agrees with me that using up this forest for my paper factory is just good stewardship,” etc.

But it always, always comes down to this: someone holds an opinion that they deem more important or more accurate than the teaching of the Holy Catholic Church established by Christ himself. Either the Church is wrong (and should therefore change to match my opinion), or she is simply not my highest priority. Both positions rely heavily on the superiority of self; “I have evaluated the scientific evidence and therefore I deem this behavior moral”; “I believe with all my heart that this behavior is okay, so it doesn’t matter what those old fogeys preach from their ivory tower”; etc. The final arbiter of every decision is not God, but Man–and me in particular. It is Protestantism hidden inside Catholicism, the Enlightenment wrapped in revelation.

But why do people do this? Why call yourself Catholic and then prove by word and deed that you disagree with the Church so vehemently? These are the arguments I’ve seen, followed by my counterpoints:

  1. It’s perfectly normal to ask questions. It’s fine to have doubts. I don’t think anyone should have blind faith, or believe in something without testing it out.
  2. The Church is slow. It will catch up eventually.
  3. I’m following my conscience.
  4. I adhere to Church teaching in so many other ways; it’s unreasonable to expect people to adhere to all of it. No one does that.

In response:

  1. It is perfectly normal to ask questions and have doubts. I wish I could be more like those with the spiritual gift of faith, never needing to question why, but I feel obligated to trust my own reason the most, so I must work through every doctrine, every proclamation, until I understand the teachings of the Church. But this doubting must be done with an eye toward agreement, not schism. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2), a sense that is informed by a holy fear of God’s wrath (Hebrews 12:21) and power (Mark 5:33). If we fail, or fall short, and we choose to stay that way, we are not merely “in disagreement,” but we are in schism, and what stands at stake is not polite conversation at the dinner table but our immortal souls.
  2. This suggests that you are moving in an inevitable direction, but not all schisms are that way. Is the Church about to catch up with Henry VIII? This “divorces should be allowed” thing has been going on at least that long, and the Church still hasn’t “caught up.” Maybe we’re close to Martin Luther–a declaration that members of religious orders should be allowed to abandon their vows should be right around the corner. Perhaps we’re close to catching up with Pelagius and about to say that original sin isn’t a thing; you know, because we’re all basically good and capable of being moral on our own. Maybe we’re about to catch up to Arius and say that there was a time when the Son was not. Any day now.
  3. Well, at least you’re not defying your conscience. But that doesn’t mean you’re always right. (See the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 1783-1794.)
  4. The saints did that. Many of the faithful do exactly that. Adhering to one teaching does not absolve you of the responsibility to adhere to the rest; you cannot say, “I believe in the eternal nature of the Son, so I’m allowed to believe in modalism.” Faithfulness is not a balancing act of orthodoxies and heresies, but a strict adherence to orthodoxy.

I think the most basic reason for this disagreement is a fundamental misunderstanding of how the Church works. It’s typical of Americans because we cling to this notion that democracy is the best of all possible governance, but the Catholic Church does not rise up from the people and their opinions. Rather, it was handed down to us by God himself, in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, through his chosen apostles and most especially Peter. The Catholic Church teaches the Word of God, not the word of Man. But many who were baptized Catholic make no effort to accept this framework.

Okay, but why doesn’t this happen so much elsewhere? Why do I meet more Catholics who cling to their own opinions over the Church than, say, Baptists or Pentecostals? Well, the main issue here is how the label gets applied. If you’re baptized Catholic, you’re Catholic; that’s a lifelong sacrament with lifelong grace. The label doesn’t get removed without excommunication–and in many cases, an excommunication is appropriate to people teaching heterodox views, but it’s out of vogue to excommunicate people. Protestant labels like “Methodist” or “Baptist” are chosen by the individual and self-applied for as long as they are appropriate; if a person’s faith changes, they change labels or drop them altogether. Even so, Protestant churches are full of people who only attend because they feel obligated, but who hold no shared opinions with the rest of the congregation; they’re just less likely to use the labels. Catholics are so attached to that label of Catholicism that I would not be surprised to hear someone say, “I’m Catholic, but I don’t think God exists.” This is the origin of the phrase cultural Catholicism–to be Catholic becomes so ingrained in people that they forget what it actually means. Instead, they take it on as a sort of ethnic identity; no one would bat an eye if I said, “I’m a white guy, but I don’t think God exists.”

You may have noticed that I have been careful not to use the phrase suggested by my post title, the derogatory term “cafeteria Catholics.” In part, this is because some are now championing the term because they think it makes them greater saints to defy where the Church is “wrong.” (Of course, if the Church could be wrong, she wouldn’t be the Church.) It’s also not a charitable term; most people to whom it applies really are following their consciences. But our consciences are imperfect, because we are imperfect. We should follow the Church precisely because God has given her to us for this grace, to have her at the ready to correct our concupiscence and cure us of our sin. The true danger of “cafeteria Catholicism” is not teaching error–the Church can survive that, as she has well proved–but it is the trivialization of sin and schism.

I have no doubt the Church will weather the storm as she always does, but not every soul aboard will be saved. Let us strive always to join the crew, obey the captain, and follow the will of God; every time we veer off-course, we risk losing more souls–especially our own.

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1 I’m not saying Abp. Sheen didn’t say this, because it’s certainly in keeping with what he has said, and he has said the “wrong is wrong” and “right is right” bit in multiple places. But the most specific any source gets for this quote is the year 1953, which was certainly a full year for which I was not present, much less Catholic. It’s possible he said this during a homily or a speech that was not recorded, and someone noted down the words as being particular poignant (for that they are). But these words in this phrasing do not seem to appear in printed or recorded material that I can find, so I’m being as honest as possible about the source.

Swimming the Tiber 29: Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

As a term, “the bodily assumption of Mary” is probably the second most confusing Marian doctrine. (The first most confusing is “the Immaculate Conception,” and that’s mostly because people think that it refers to Jesus’ conception instead of Mary’s.) Certainly, when I first encountered it, I didn’t have a clue what it meant. Once I learned about it, though, I actually had less trouble accepting it than most Marian doctrines.

In short, the Assumption refers to when Mary’s body was taken up into Heaven at the end of her life on earth. The main point of contention for this doctrine (even within the Catholic Church) is whether this event occurred before or after she died. There’s strong precedent for the former, and traditionally, the Church has always taught that she died, but people still fight over it for some reason.

Perhaps she is like Enoch and Elijah. Enoch appears most prominently in a genealogy in Genesis 5, where person after person is recorded as having died–except Enoch. Enoch, we are told, “walked with God; and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:24, NRSVCE). The author of Hebrews reminds us, “By faith Enoch was transposed in order that he might not see death, and [he] was not being found because God transposed him; for before the transposition [it] has been testified that [he] has been well-pleasing to God” (Hebrews 11:5, my translation). Elijah is taken up in a chariot of fire (hence the song and, by way of that song, the title of this post) in 2 Kings 2:11: “As they were going along and talking, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven” (NRSVCE).

But perhaps Mary is different; most likely, like her beloved Son, she saw death, one final pain for the woman who suffered more than any other (not because no other woman has lost a child, but because no other woman has watched the death of, all at once, her Child and her God). And after her dormition (“falling asleep”), God took her up to be with her Son then. This brings to mind the death and burial of Moses; Deuteronomy 34 tells us that God buried him in the land of Moab, but his exact burial place was never known to the Israelites. What God chooses to do with someone’s body is up to him, naturally.

So why would Mary be taken bodily up to Heaven? Well, this recalls her status as the new Eve, which we talked about two weeks ago. Christ was the firstborn from the dead (Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5), the first to be resurrected fully in the glory of God, the first fruits of the new Creation (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)–as Adam was the first time around. Mary is the first woman of the new Creation, fulfilling her status as the new Eve and as mother of the Church through her Son.

Besides that, look again at Hebrews 11:5 and recall what we talked about last week–for who (except Jesus) can be more pleasing to God than Mary? Indeed, she is “graced” by God and he is with her (Luke 1:28). If Enoch was taken up because he was pleasing to God, how much more should Mary be taken up for the same reason?

I am now going to diverge off-topic briefly and talk about the moment at which all of these Marian doctrines fell into place for me–because it wasn’t an intellectual conversion, and if you’re at all like I was, then all of my talk up to this point doesn’t convince you one whit (even if you have trouble dismissing the arguments themselves).

You see, the way I was raised put Mary in a very negative light, not so much for what she did, but for what Southern Baptists used her to represent in the Catholic Church. Because Catholics, as we all knew back then, are idolatrous and polytheistic and worship people and things that are not God. And Mary became this symbol of that; any devotion to Mary, any positive thought about Mary, was shunned in the churches I grew up in.

Now, maybe it wasn’t entirely intentional, and maybe no one intended to paint Mary as a bad person, but it was the little ways in which we ascribed importance to passages or interpreted words or made assumptions. I mean, there were people who associated the woman of Revelation 12 (obviously the mother of Jesus when read sensibly) with the whore of Babylon in Revelation 17 (obviously not the same person). We read Luke 2 every Christmas, but I don’t recall ever reading Luke 1 in Advent. Jesus’ calling his mother “woman” was not seen as praising or relating back to Genesis 3, but was called condescension or disdain (as in, “Woman, make me a sandwich!” or, “Woman, get out of my sight!”).

So as I learned about Catholicism, Mary was the last piece of the puzzle. I had read de Sales’ “Catholic Controversy,” which made no mention of Mary (because the early Reformers were perfectly happy to venerate Mary), and almost every other question had been answered to my satisfaction, but I resented Mary, and I refused to accept Catholic doctrine about her.

I was going to a men’s group at the time, and it was there that a fellow named Robert Tunmire, himself a convert, talked about the time he finally came to terms with Mary. He was visiting a parish (I forget where, unfortunately), where there was one of those enormous statues of Mary that just rankles you as a Protestant. And for one reason or another, he ended up in there alone with this statue. And standing there in that room, he prayed (not to the statue, of course), “Mary, if you’ve got something to say to me, say it.” And he received the words of what I have since come to call the Tunmire prayer, because I still pray it often: “You should pray, ‘Holy Mary, Mother of God, help me to look upon all your daughters with the purity of your love for me.'”

Those words were powerful for Robert, and as I sat in that men’s group for another hour, they worked powerfully on me. Because it never occurred to me that Mary loves me–not just me as one among many humans on earth, but me personally. She sits enthroned in heaven as the queen mother, and she always does whatever Christ tells her to do (John 2:5), and he tells us more than anything to love–so surely she loves us, and prays for our well-being and the salvation of our souls. Which means that, all this time that I had resented Mary and treated her poorly, she loved me and prayed for me. It broke my heart, and on my way home that morning, I repented of my ill will and finally saw Mary in the glory of God, the way he intended.

This post concludes our in-depth examination of the Marian doctrines of the Church, which very nearly puts us in the home stretch for this series. Before long, we’ll examine historical and social issues around the Church, personal practice of Church doctrines, and a couple more differences between Church teaching and what I used to believe that I haven’t touched on yet. But next week, we’ll be looking at where we go when we die, and what the Church teaches about that.