Monday, April 28, 2008

Beyond Faith and Revelation
Salvation History Part Three

Catechism Class Ten

Now, faith and the scriptures are not enough for some people today. They say that God does not exist or that Jesus is merely a fictional character. They demand hard proof. They demand “evidence.” Well, in a trial, we generally prove things by witnesses. And in the case of God, we not only have the proof of the world’s existence, we have the hard proof of witnesses from the earliest days of the Church.

These witnesses, at first the original apostles and disciples who knew Jesus personally, went out and preached the Good News and established churches throughout the region. Today, we call such local churches “dioceses.” We have not only written accounts from Christians during that time, but written accounts from non-Christian sources, as well as written Christian graffiti in stone and Christian artworks.

Although Jesus and His first followers were all Jews themselves, and the Church sprung out of Judaism, the Church was first persecuted by Jews, or, more specifically, the Jewish authorities and their supporters, including Saul of Tarsus, who became St. Paul. Then the Romans engaged in periodic persecutions for hundreds of years, resulting in the slaughter of untold numbers.

St. Peter, the first pope, was martyred in Nero's circus on the Vatican hill in Rome, crucified upside down, and buried there. The Greek word “martyr” means witness, and these martyrs are called the “seeds of the Church.” Peter was only the first of many martyred popes. Today, we have the relics of saints and the martyrs; the very bones of Christians who were killed for the Faith, including Peter himself. If they were not certain that Jesus existed, and that He was the Christ, why would they submit to tortures and death?

There were also theological disputes within the Christian world. Various heresies arose, and councils of bishops were held by the Church to definitively resolve these questions, including the the Council of Jerusalem, the Council of Nicea, the Council of Constantinope, and the Council of Ephesus. At these councils, the bishops did not merely impose the opinions of a majority of bishops, but were instead guided by the Holy Spirit to resolve important theological questions, including questions regarding the person and nature of Jesus.

Also around this time, at the Council of Rome in A.D. 382, a few hundred years after the birth of the Church, the canon of the Bible was formalized. Originally, the Gospel -- the Good News of Jesus Christ -- was not reduced to written form. Instead, the Gospel was spread orally for many, many years; a written "New Testament" did not initially exist. The decision on the canon of the New Testament, like that of the Old, is the result of a development, of a process at once stimulated by disputes with doubters, both within and without the Church. For many years, before the canon was fixed, many different documents of varying authenticity were circulated. Some documents were true and divinely inspired, but some spurious “gospels” and claimed "apostolic" writings contained heresies and led many people into error. Thus, the need arose for the Catholic Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, to definitively declare the canon. Known as the Vulgate, this canon was reaffirmed in the Council of Trent (1545-1563) as the sole, authorized Latin text of the Bible.

After Christianity was legalized in Rome under the Edict of Milan by Constantine in A.D. 313, the Church flourished throughout the Mediterranean and much of Europe. However, beginning in the Seventh Century, the Church had to again suffer as it confronted the challenge of militant Islam. Mohammed was a military leader, and after death in A.D. 632, his Muslim followers continued their military conquests, seizing former Christian Middle East lands within a few years and sweeping across Christian North Africa, before crossing over into Europe. The Muslim armies attacked and moved half-way into France before being turned back in A.D. 732.

In the midst of these struggles against the armies of Islam, various disputes caused a split, or schism, between Eastern Christians and the Roman Catholic Church in A.D. 1054. Nevertheless, the Western Church went to the aid of the East in A.D. 1095 when Constantinople and other Christian-Byzantine lands were threatened and attacked by Muslim armies.

Five hundred years later, disputes again resulted in a split in the Church. Some people protested and rejected the authority of the Pope and the Catholic Church, as well as many of the sacraments. These people, later called “Protestants,” denied Tradition and the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church, even though it is grounded in scriptural authority that Christ sent the Holy Spirit to guide and protect the Church, so that She, acting through the pope and bishops, would be infallible in matters of faith and morals.

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