Collyridians and Antichrist

Of the things which make being a convert to Catholicism absorbing to the attention, two stand out. The first is that, unlike learning the lore of a dead tradition, a living tradition teaches something new nearly every day, making it as forever fresh and fascinating as springtide or first love. The second is that, unlike adherence to settled opinion, controversy never dies, for the attacks of the unfaithful never cease, nor do the trumpets calling souls to war fall silent. The battle is always beginning.

The battle is against the muddle-headed, the untrue, and the malign. As any faithful convert from atheism to Christianity most likely would testify (and, I assume, any faithless anti-convert from Christianity to atheism would say, were an honest member of that tribe ever to be found), the main difference between them is that Christians understand atheist dogmas perfectly well, and can articulate them as well as St. Thomas Aquinas, whereas atheists argue only against caricatures and strawmen.

How often have we heard atheist sneer that Christian subsist solely on blind faith, and in the next sentence affirm that science proves no substance but matter exists? or that neuroscience proves free will to be illusion? or that psychology proves belief in afterlife to be a neurosis caused by fear of death?

In reality any properly catechized Christian can give perfectly rational and evidence-based affirmations supporting the proposition to which he is faithful, and can explain the hope within him.

It is the atheist who is confounded when asked to explain his hopelessness. Disbelief in mind, volition, or sanity becomes a paradox when the skeptic is asked to apply his own standard of skepticism to himself.

It is with a particular personal frustration that I dwell upon this point, since, back when I was an atheist, I was guilty of this mental dishonesty of simply pretending I knew what Christians believed and why, despite their clear statements to the contrary: and after I was converted, I was, if only at first, befuddled to find the same silly trick played on me by men who had been my fellows and friends only a short time ago.

The one time I was naive enough to agree to a formal and public debate in a series of columns with an atheist partisan. We were both columnists for the same online newspaper.  Warily, beforehand, I had exacted a private and unambiguous vow from him, his word of honor, that he would not indulge in these perennial informal logical fallacies, neither to use ad hominem nor strawman arguments.

I immediately found that strawman arguments were the only ones he had. He literally had no other argument to make, no other method of debate, than to put words in my mouth.

I would state my belief in clear and unambiguous terms, quoting the catechism word for word, and then he would then say that I, and presumably all Christians, believed the opposite.

I do not mean he thought my reasons for supporting a point of belief were unwise or illogical: he merely asserted that I had said the opposite of what I said.

When in cold and offended dignity privately I asked him to live up to his word that he had given, as he had promised on his honor to do, he scoffed, and sneering that I should save my histrionics for the debate.

I regarded the debate as an honest attempt to investigate a difference in reasoning to discover the truth of the issue. He regarded it as performance art.

Such is the moral code of atheists.

He was no outlier. At one time, there were at least some atheists willing to debate honestly, with a sense of intellectual integrity and honor. Yearly such sterling example grow ever more rare. Now, atheists believe rhetoric more persuasive than dialectic: So they utter slogans, not syllogisms.

I found a similar dynamic at work, back when I was a “Mere Christian” attempting to decided between the competing claims of the several denomination, and hearing debates between Catholic and non-Catholic. The non-Catholic simply would misstate Catholic doctrine and argue against the misstatement. This is one of the several reasons that drove me into the arms of the Church. No one shoots blanks who has live ammo.

Now, the strawmanning by Protestants, living in a Protestant nation, and learning history from English-speaking hence Protestant people, is understandable, perhaps unintentional: many a youth has never met a Catholic, and many a Catholic has never read the catechism.

A similar dynamic, but not a similar dishonesty. Atheists are a freakish minority, fewer in number than ufologists or witches, and cannot be unaware of what their civilization has believed for centuries, because this teaching inundates every song and storybook and public institution.

Alas, this statement may prove untrue in the near future, or perhaps is already, as the blanket of brain-numbing social amnesia produced by modern schooling, social media, and entertainment carefully ostracizes all trace of Western Civilization from the public square and public education.

As I said above, many a Catholic discovers new elements and aspects of Christian teaching day by day. I can hardly blame a Protestant for not knowing a Catholic teaching I myself did not know until, at age 60 and more, I heard for the first time this fortnight.

An example or two might serve:

It is often said that Catholic worship Mary or erect idols, in direct contravention of the Decalogue.

One yammerhead told me directly that my asking Mary to pray for me was worship of her as a divinity not one whit different from the worship offered by his Hindu friends toward their goddesses Laxmi or Parvati.

Myself, I see no difference between a child asking his mother to pray for him, and a child asking his queen to pray for him. To the world, the departed seem dead; but we know the saints in heaven are alive by a most rational and common sensical test, namely, whether they are still active in the earth, by their prayers on our behalf being granted miraculous blessings to those of us still in this world.

I had often heard it said in reply to this criticism by Catholics that there was a distinction between adoration and worship, but only recently did I encounter a rejoinder of startling clarity:

In any religion, Christian or pagan, whomever is never offered sacrifice is not a divinity. Sacrifice and propitiation is the central act of worship in all human cultures, in all generations, all kingdoms.

The animal sacrifice of the Jews is no longer offered by Christians, who are not bound by Jewish ritual law. But the Mass is a sacrifice, for it both reenacts and partakes of the most holy sacrifice of Christ on the cross, offering up his body and blood in propitiation for sin.

No Catholic offers sacrifice to Mary, nor seeks to propitiate her divine wrath.

Kneeling is not the defining act of worship, for I knelt to my bride when I asked her hand in marriage; nor is obedience the defining act, for she obeys her bridegroom. I did not sacrifice an unspotted ox to her, nor did she offer up a turtledove to me. Neither do I offer wave offerings or sin offering when rising to salute the flag, any more than subjects of the Queen of Denmark, when vowing fealty by unmanly prostrations hateful to the free, consider her a goddess.

There were, historically, a cult in Arabia in the Fourth Century who offered seedcakes as sacrifice to Mary, called Collyridians, and these were declared heretics and expelled from the body of the faithful immediately. No one has heard any rumor of these heretics since then. When Mohammed, in his blasphemous writings of the Alcoran, makes the specious claim that Christians worship Mary, it is unlikely he refers to these, as they were from three centuries prior. Equally faithless reformers in the Sixteenth Century repeated the claims of their forefather.

As for the decorations of a house of worship, if this were against the Decalogue, God Himself would not have decreed tabernacle nor the temple to be decorated in such exacting detail, even to the composition of threads and knobs, nor told Moses to erect the image of a brass serpent on a pole to heal the people. Representations of visible creation and invisible adorned the tabernacle, including cherubim, stars, lions, flowers, and pomegranates by express divine command, and this was the earthly representation of the heavenly tabernacle Moses saw in a vision atop Sinai.

The scrupulosity of removing representative art and decoration from houses of God is an innovation of Mohammed, and a grotesque misinterpretation of the Decalogue, which the Iconoclasts of Byzantium copied from him. The idea is not from Moses, and not from the Word of God.

Likewise, we have heard the argument that the Antichrist as foretold Daniel the Prophet will think to change times and laws of feasts and fasts, and therefore the Roman Catholic Church, by changing God’s sabbath day from Saturday to Sunday, commits this very act. Nor is this merely some rare crackpot who objects to services on Sunday on the grounds of the Jewish law, but also perfectly honest and scholarly Christian apologists and public speakers.

You, dear reader, may have heard the rebuttal to this claim since your days in Sunday School, but, as for me, emerging so recently from the stinging fogs and mental numbness of atheism, never encountered the real explanation, which is both clear and startling.

If you are Jewish, and you believe Christ is the Messiah, and you have been baptized into the Church, you are still obligated to rest on the Sabbath day, as part of the Jewish ritual observance to which you adhere. The Jewish Sabbath is not a day of worship, but a day of rest. Sacrifices in the Temple were performed on all other days; Saturday was such as day.

Christians who are Greek, or from any gentile nation, are not now and never were under Jewish ritual law. We are not obligated to be circumcised, nor to refrain from pork, nor to obey the details of the dietary law, except, of course, in refraining from eating blood. Saint Paul made it clear that the Church accepts gentiles as well as Jews into her bosom, and the gentile converts are not bound by the laws of the Children of Abraham, as we are such children only by adoption. That was the point of the rather thorough discussions of faith and law in the Letter to the Romans.

So the Church did not change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. Christians are not now and never were obligated to rest on Saturday.

We celebrate the resurrection of  Christ on a Sunday because that is the day he rose from the dead, and it is the day, in Genesis, when Light was born, and creation was born. Christ’s resurrection we hold to be the onset of the new creation.

Now it was commonplace for princes and republics, whose secular authority was and is meant to uphold and honor the spiritual authority of the Church, would and could degree days of thanksgiving or days of rest when fitting and proper to do so, and many communities enforced “blue laws” closing shops on Sundays. Any such prince or republic demanding Jewish subjects or citizens to take their obligatory Sabbath rest on Sunday would indeed, one must admit, be doing the work of Antichrist.

It is for this same reason that the Christians are not now, and never were, obligated to keep the Feast of Tabernacles, nor the Days of Atonement, nor the Feast of Trumpets, nor any other feastday of the Jewish observance, even though the Apostles were and did, as did Christ.

As to whether a Jew who becomes baptized may eat pork, or otherwise violate Jewish rules of ritual purity, I will leave to saints and theologians to answer. As I said, I believe Peter and Paul have ruled on this issue, and one may consult them.

Nonetheless, I am bemused that I never heard before such clear answers to such perennial questions: Catholics do not worship Mary, or any Saint, because we offer no sacrifice to them. Listen to the wording of the prayers offered at Mass. They are clear enough.

Christians did not change any Jewish rituals, dietary laws, nor feasts days, not a jot nor tittle, because the gentiles joining the communion were never obligated to them. On the other hand, Christ healed on the Sabbath, touched lepers, and his disciples ate without oblation.  That is also clear enough.