Venerate my sanctuary, says the Lord our God (Leviticus 19:30). Why should we? Well, first off, because He says so. It is His will. And it is our duty as His people, to follow His will. Yet, for those of us that need to understand why we need to obey Him before we obey Him (Lord, have mercy), in venerating God’s sanctuary, we worship Him. Honor given to a type passes to the prototype.

As tactile beings with senses, we need to have this sort of dynamic in worshipping the invisible God. In the Mosaic covenant, the people of God fulfilled this commandment by building and adorning the tabernacle and temple, by carrying before them in a worshipful procession the ark of the covenant (which was also richly adorned), and by praying towards Jerusalem—each of these forms of veneration being appropriate to worshipping God’s particular presence in the Holy of Holies. In the new and everlasting covenant, the people of God fulfill this commandment in ways that are appropriate to God’s particular presence in His Incarnate and  Eternal Word, Jesus Christ. We venerate His virgin mother whose womb became His tabernacle; whose flesh became His flesh—the means by which He dwelt among us and accomplished our salvation. We venerate His saints in Heaven, who attained salvation through the infused dwelling of the Holy Spirit within each of them (being therefore temples of that same Holy Spirit). And, we venerate His tabernacles in the Churches and Cathedrals where He now dwells among us “to the end of the age” in the Most Holy Eucharist. We venerate His sanctuary, and therefore offer Him worship that is pleasing to Him

We will go into his tabernacle: we will adore in the place where his feet stood. Arise, O Lord, into your resting place: you and the ark, which you have sanctified. Let your priests be clothed with justice: and let your saints rejoice.

Psalm 132


This IS my body...this IS my blood

“The chalice of benediction which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? And the bread which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord?” 1 Corinthians 10:16

“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread, and giving thanks, broke and said: Take and eat: This is my body, which shall be delivered for you. This do for the commemoration of me. In like manner also the chalice, after he had supped, saying: This chalice is the new covenant in my blood. This do, as often as you shall drink, for the commemoration of me. For as often as you shall eat this bread and drink the chalice, you shall show the death of the Lord, until he come. Therefore, whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 11:23-27

Tonight is the Mass of the Lord’s Supper… the night that Christ instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of His body and blood during the Jewish Passover meal so that what happened on Golgatha once, might be given to many for all time (Hebrews 10:10).

Notice that after Christ said “this is My Body,” or “this is My Blood,” He didn’t follow up with: “April Fool’s”.

“He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life, and I will raise him up in the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” John 6:54-56

Christ Pantocrator, Mt. Sinai, 5th-6th Century A.D.

In modern day ecumenical efforts made by most unity-driven Christians, the following topic either goes half-defined or altogether overlooked. Yet, sadly, it is one of the most misunderstood and most off-putting parts of Catholicism to most Protestants. The topic of Icons and Sacred Images is something very near and dear to my heart. It was actually the last thing I had to reconcile before becoming Catholic­ – thinking before that it was wrong and completely idolatrous. Now, however, I see it as one of the most relevant elements to an authentic Christianity… one that finds its roots, as all parts of Catholicism do, in God Incarnate.

Introduction to Sacred Images

Utilizing images to facilitate Christian worship is part of an ancient formula. Among the broader Protestant realms of Christianity, this formula has been revoked. By employing the motif of the Incarnation, I intend to demonstrate the relevancy of Sacred Image usage for those parts of Christendom that now consider it archaic and useless. I will explore the influential studies of St. Athanasius and St. John of Damascus, as well as more contemporary academic works, to shed both historical and philosophical light on the ancient practice, its theological framework, and the misconceptions associated with its observance.

In most cases, discussions like these necessitate a clear and distinct audience to be directed towards. Yet, to do so would prove impossible. Given the nature of most Protestant traditions, which often describe the Church as an invisible and spiritual communion of believers from every denomination, one cannot seek out a tangible party to have this dialogue with and avoid excluding another. The only thing that consistently and visibly unifies Protestant traditions, in my humble opinion, is that they are not Roman Catholic. All one can do then is broaden those traditions opposite of one’s own into a single category of Christian faith, or in this case: those who have no faith in the Roman Catholic Church. So, the audience this thesis calls forward is a mixture of both my Catholic brethren, who need an internalized knowledge on these matters, and those of my Protestant brethren, who object to Sacred Images used in worship.

In Salvation history, the Incarnation of God was integral to the grounds through which we as the people of God attain Salvation. The Incarnation, as most well know and profess, was wrought for the sake of man to the glory of God and was realized by the Word of God becoming flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Consider the sheer complexity and effectually profound nature of this most Sacred of mysteries. Let us not only grow in intellectual discipleship, but let us also stand in awe of the power of God and His self-giving act of Incarnate Love.

God, by His nature, is eternal and infinite. He has no beginning. He has no end. He dictates the transcendent and the sensorial. He created us. He dictates the makeup of our reality. What is most real to us? How can we as finite and limited and inherently flawed beings realize what is real? As implied in the word “sensorial,” what is most real to us naturally as a component of our humanity is realized in our senses; in this case, our sense of sight.

In Catholic and Eastern Orthodox sanctuaries you cannot go far before seeing iconic triptychs, statues, crucifixes, and other visual depictions of Christ and the Saints. Since the earliest recorded periods of Christian history, Sacred Images have decorated places of worship and Christian households to make worship an experience of the senses and the mind, in perpetuated understanding of the Sacred Image: Jesus Christ. This often-challenged reality has been a consistently implemented one, which has proven itself an essential element to Catholic and all Orthodox Christian traditions throughout the centuries.

The Virgin of Guadalupe

Upon looking back to when I first became aware of Christian Orthodoxy visually, that is, as seen in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions, I remember being viscerally offended. While finishing homework after school one day, I caught the tail end of a News special that showed a group of elderly women crowding around a particular depiction of the Virgin Mary known as The Virgin of Guadalupe. As the footage progressed, one after one each woman kissed the image and appeared to be praying to it. To my young Evangelical Christian slash Jewish perspective this was heretical. What these women were doing was idolatrous and completely unbiblical. Yet, as I was informed soon after, these women were practicing a Christian tradition that historically outlasted my own. This surprised me. I wondered how these women and other Catholics could be so blind to this obvious sin, and for so long. This simple after school moment became integral to the trajectory my life has taken. It, in more ways than one, led me to the Faith tradition that I am a part of now. It was this chance moment that proved causal to my desire for knowledge of Church History–which ultimately led me to the Catholic Church.


The Iconoclasm

The year was AD 726. The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church was in full and corporate communion between the geographic regions of the East and the West. Six ecumenical Church councils had been previously conducted, each one with the purpose of defining fundamental and unifying doctrine and of combating and protecting against heresy (Catholic Encyclopedia). It was in this year that the Byzantine Emperor, Leo III, ordered images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the Saints destroyed throughout the Byzantine Empire (John of Damascus, 7). This event, which formally lasted about a century long, became known as the Iconoclasm. Though history is unclear as to what finally spurred Leo into political action, we do know that he justified his edicts by declaring that the usage of images was: idolatrous, in contravention of the second commandment and a stumbling block to the conversion of Jews and Muslims (Louth, 7). Now, it should be said here that the historical context of the Byzantine Empire at this period was a bit complicated. Leo’s imperial reigns on the Church were starting to loosen and he was aware of the “drain of manpower” at hand (Anderson, 27). Scholars agree that at this time the political climate of the Iconoclasm, “involved more issues than an attack on the…practices connected with images” (Anderson, 27). These issues, incidentally, were the burden of the Christian Monks.

The most faithful proponents and defenders of Sacred Image usage at this time were the monastic religious, who began to really take visual and corporal shape in the Latin and Byzantine parts of the Church during the 8th century. The Eastern monks were often targeted by Byzantine Imperial rule because, by Church and Imperial law, they were immune to taxation and were therefore an economic burden and threat (Anderson, 27). Because of Leo’s attacks, the monks frequently opposed the imperial will. This was the case especially when the Iconoclast edicts claimed to be “an attempt to purify a religion which had become sullied by superstitions and magical practices” (Anderson, 27). So, we may be safe to say here that perhaps it was the monastic religious community of the Byzantine Empire that was sought out by Leo for reasons unrelated to the Iconoclasm and then put on trial in an attempt to redeem Leo’s power over the Church in his empire.

The Objections

Now let us consider the Protestant objections to Sacred Images; those of which do not differ much in substance from that of the Iconoclasm’s. These objections are relevantly coupled as: (a) Sacred Images are a direct violation of the Second of the Ten Commandments and (b) are therefore causally idolatrous. The Second Commandment reads, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6, NASB). As anyone can see here, there is more than just one commandment in these verses. In fact, throughout the Decalogue, there are more than just Ten Commandments. Yet, traditionally Judaism and Christianity have grouped what looks like more than ten ordinances into ten categorical commandments of moral law. For instance, in the second commandment we see 4 ordinances:

1) You shall not make for yourself an idol

2) or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth

3) You shall not worship them

4) or serve them

These ordinances are interrelated and interdependent within the categorical context of idol worship, which is why the Church Fathers saw it fit to group them as one of the Ten Commandments (St. John of Damascus). The first ordinance is the root of the rest. It sets up the context in a strict sense. The sense is so strict that it is what makes each of the ordinances in the Second Commandment compatible in the one category they have been traditionally grouped in. Usually, when this verse is held up against Sacred Images, it is divided up rather than maintained in its categorical context. As was the practice of Leo in the 8th century, and currently in many Protestant Christian circles, the Second Commandment is often limited to its first two ordinances when utilized in this discussion,

1) You shall not make for yourself an idol

2) or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.

So, it would seem that the Most High banned any kind of image or likeness from being made, not just idols. Yet, as we see in scripture He did just the opposite. The God that gave this commandment also commanded graven images of Cherubim onto the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:18 NASB), images of pomegranates and cattle to decorate the Temple (1 Kings 7 NASB), and a bronze serpent on a pole to be looked upon for healing in the desert (Numbers 21:5-9 NASB, John 3:14-15 NASB). So, at this point we must ask ourselves: is God a God of contradiction? No, He is not. God is a God of context.

Dividing up the Second Commandment causes obvious contextual problems for the first part of the Protestant objection. Again, for the Israelites, the context of each ordinance of the second commandment was and is idolatry (worshipping that which is not God as God). So, for this objection to be legitimate, we Catholics/Orthodox would have to be “worshipping and serving” the images we make as if they were God or gods. Yet, as St. John of Damascus explains, we do not.

St. John of Damascus

St. John of Damascus

St. John of Damascus, the Doctor of Sacred Art, as is formally the title given to him by the Catholic Church (Catholic Encyclopedia), was at the Church’s vanguard against the Iconoclasm and wrote three treatises on what he calls, “the divine images” (St. John of Damascus). In sum, he roots his arguments in the Incarnation of the Word of God made flesh: “Who first made images? God himself first begat his Only-begotten Son and Word, his living and natural image, the exact imprint of his eternity; he then made human kind in accordance with the same image and likeness” (St. John of Damascus, 103).

The orthodox practice of utilizing Sacred Images in worship does not, as result, causally implicate the sin of idolatry. There is a form of worship that comes about when engaging images religiously, and this form is seemingly directed towards the image. Yet, this is not idolatry or a form of meditative polytheism. It is a form of honor, directed at whom and what the image ultimately depicts.

The honor given to Sacred Images is a form of veneration. “Veneration (bowing down) is a symbol of submission and honor” (St. John of Damascus, 27). Scripturally and linguistically there are two forms of veneration. The first form, as St. John describes it, “is a form of worship, which we offer to God, alone by nature worthy of veneration” (St. John of Damascus, 27). This is the veneration that contextualizes the Second Commandment. This is not, however, the form of veneration that contextualizes Sacred Images.

The second form of veneration, which is the form offered to Sacred Images and to the Saints in Heaven, “is the veneration offered on account of God who is naturally venerated, to his friends and servants, as…Daniel venerated the angel; or to the places of God, as David said, ‘Let us venerate in the place, where his feet stood’” (St. John of Damascus, 28). We can see this form of veneration in verses like Proverbs 31:30 where King Solomon says, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised” (NASB). The word “praised” here does not mean to worship a woman akin to this description as God or a god, but to celebrate her as one who fears God, and therefore as one who directs others in her fear towards God by her example. Furthermore, the two forms of veneration can be narrowed down to even simpler degrees. When we worship God, we directly venerate Him according to His nature. When we honor the Saints and Sacred Images, we indirectly venerate God on “account of” His nature–which creates and renews Man in the Divine Image of His Son.

St. John applies this structure to the practice of image veneration by saying “should I not therefore, make an image of the one who appeared for my sake in the nature of flesh, and venerate and honor him with the honor and veneration offered to his image?” and in the same manner, “should I not make images of the friends of Christ, and should I not venerate them, not as gods, but as images of God’s friends? For neither Jacob nor Daniel venerated the angels who appeared to them as gods, neither do I venerate the image as God, but through the images of his saints I offer venerations and honor to God, for whose sake I reverence his friends also, and this I do out of respect [for them]” (St. John of Damascus, 102).

Introduction Incarnate

Taking a step back even further in Christian history, we find the ultimate precursor to Sacred Image usage in worship: the Incarnation. Aside from the New Testament authors and their studies on the nature of the Incarnation, the Church Fathers really grasped this facet of Christology in a significant way.

In the 4th century A.D., there was a Greek-Alexandrian Patriarch named Athanasius who composed a doctrinal epistle called On the Incarnation of the Word. The reason for his written work was to confront and uproot the heresy of Athanasius’ age: Arianism. Arianism presupposed that there was a time when the Son of God, “once was not” (St. Athanasius, 19). The originator of this teaching, an Alexandrian presbyter named Arius, based his related homilies off of the assumption that Christ had one nature, not two in a hypostatic union as later defined by the first Nicene council. According to Arius, God the Son was not “eternally begotten of the Father” and had actually entered His original existence on the day of His Virgin birth (Athanasius, 2).  This presented a dilemma that was obviously incongruous with scripture and the traditional teaching of the Church. So, St. Athanasius took it upon himself to write his succinct yet powerful epistle, On the Incarnation of the Word, as a point of putting face to the intent of God in the Incarnation and why the nature in which it occurred was necessary.

St. Athanasius

St. Athanasius

In terms of necessity, Athanasius had two main arguments for the Incarnation. Both of his arguments pertained to “the divine dilemma,” that being the fall of man, and “the divine solution” that being the Incarnation of Almighty God. The essence of the first argument involved the corruptibility of humanity fallen. Since the original sin of Adam, humankind was stripped of its divinely intended incorruption and was given over to the powers of death and sin. Being that our originally created nature was rooted in God’s Image, that which is incorruptible and good, the self-giving love of God was put into play for the reconciling of our now corrupted image. Athanasius resolves this argument by saying, “for this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered the world” so that mankind would have the opportunity to return to their intended state of incorruption (St. Athanasius, 33).

St. Athanasius’ second argument engages the loss of understanding of the nature of God amongst men, which was also an effect of Adam’s sin in the fall. This type of argument is often misconstrued as a semi-Gnostic one because it involves the overarching theme of the need for understanding. However, contrary to Gnosticism, this argument points to our understanding as being only a road map back to God and not an end in and of itself… which is exactly what Sacred Images do in effect. They are not “ends” but modes of worship, which perform as roadmaps pointing towards the only One deserving of our worship. If this is idolatry and therefore evil, then by nature all modes of worship are evil since they all point our focus towards God in an indirect way. In the words of St. John of Damascus, as he says repeatedly throughout his treatises on images, “Either therefore reject all veneration or accept all of these forms with their proper reason and manner” (St. John of Damascus, 28). Athanasius proposes, “What then was God to do? What else could he possibly do, being God, but renew His Image in mankind, so that through it men might once more come to know Him? And how could this be done save by the coming of the very Image Himself, our Saviour Jesus Christ?” (St. Athanasius, 41).

The Crucifixion

The Crucified Christ

So, according to St. Athanasius, God needed to renew His image in mankind that we might regain our native state of incorruption and come to know Him once more. This, God accomplished in the life, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus of Nazareth. When it comes to the death of Jesus, no image is more familiar to the Christian’s visual pallet than the Crucifixion. Consider the aesthetic of this image. Consider the aesthetic of God in the flesh being crucified. Nothing is more of a conceptually driven image of God’s love than this. Think of how we would perceive, from a Sacred Image, God’s love in the sacrifice of Christ if He were sentenced to another kind of death. Say, death by poison or death by the sword. There is an inherent depth to this very visual, very purposeful, part of God’s plan. The arms of God: stretched, welcoming. His hands: opened with the same loving intent, to catch and cast out our sin. His Body: hanging upright and securely fastened to His Passover, just as secure as His resolve to ransom us from our corruption. Consider the Cross itself. As G.K. Chesterton notes in his book Orthodoxy, the vertical and horizontal lines of its shape are met with a perpendicular contradiction in the structural middle–a “paradox” (Chesterton, 13). When we gaze upon where the beams meet and cross we are reminded that Faith is a paradox. It is a mystery that ultimately transcends us. It is a mystery that causes our complete reliance on God’s providential plans for each of us even though we could never fully comprehend their full scope. This Sacred Image is so crucial to our Faith now as it was to those who witnessed it first-hand. Additionally, since we today were not there to witness the Crucifixion let alone the Incarnation first hand, a Sacred Image like this one includes us in that moment. It gives us glimpses into how it must have felt to see “the exact imprint of God’s image” carry out the Divine Solution. Of course, it could never be to the same extent as the actual historic occurrence, however all Sacred Images function in a surrogated extension which does not replace the actual, but furthers its sensorial reality.

Throughout this post, I have included images. It seems to me that this thesis would prove irrelevant if I did not do so, and that it would ultimately fail. Visual association is what the Church, really God, has deemed as crucially important to His saving work and our understanding of it. Why would it not be crucially important to an argument that seeks to renew the rational and spiritual understanding for why Christianity had Sacred Images in the first place? If I had not included images, in my humble opinion, it would be tantamount to the Iconoclasm’s discrediting of such images. Once again, I would be stripping these “Divine Images” of their usefulness and ultimate purpose. Which was and is to redirect us back to God via our senses.

A Familiar Face

In addition to the arguments addressed previously, I would like to propose another in the same tone, yet requiring a farther stretching reach of Faith. One of the oldest Icons of Christ is the Christ Pantokrator. This image is depicted at the beginning of this post, dated between the late 5th to 6th century A.D., and shows the living Christ clutching the written Gospel and raising his right hand in blessing (The Sacred Image, 229). This Sacred Image of Christ is mostly used to decorate the inner domes of Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, as if He were looking down upon us in perpetual blessing and reminder of the Gospel’s written and spoken message. What I would like to address here is the actual likeness of Christ; His hair, His beard, the bone structure of His face, His eyes, and even His expression. The whole visual likeness of Christ in this Sacred Image, and in other ones associated with Him, has a look of similarity across the board. Is this coincidence? I propose that it is not. I propose that Sacred Images of Christ and the Saints have another purpose altogether making their usage really worthwhile; and that is that these images retain a percentage of how the historic persons depicted actually looked. This could be argued either way and I do not present this empirically. Still, one must admit that the odds are there, since Sacred Images are so ancient. Who knows? Perhaps alongside the oral traditions meticulously preserved by the Apostles and their successors, there existed a maintained visual tradition of how Christ looked. And, inherently, maybe the Church kept this practice throughout the ages with the Saints as well. So, why avoid the possibility of seeing the face of Christ and His friends, our Mothers and Fathers in Faith, as they were when they paved the way before us?

Concluding Remarks

In conclusion, the orthodox sects of the Church have never allowed the worship of images of Christ and the saints, but the veneration or honoring of them. It was because of the teachings of St. Athanasius and St. John of Damascus that led the Church to her ongoing understanding of the nature of God and the nature of His incarnate Word. Which, epistemologically developed by the facilitation of Sacred Images—both Incarnate and hand-graven—in worship. In closing this post, I would like to leave a bit of wisdom from St. John of Damascus’ On the Divine Images. Found near the end of the first treatise, St. John says, and I will end with this,

“Of old, God the incorporeal and formless was never depicted, but now that God has been seen in the flesh and has associated with human kind, I depict what I have seen of God. I do not venerate matter, I venerate the fashioner of matter, who became matter for my sake and accepted to dwell in matter and through matter worked my salvation, and I will not cease from reverencing matter, through which my salvation was worked. I do not reverence it as God—far from it; how can that which has come to be from nothing be God?—if the body of God has become God unchangeably through the hypostatic union, what gives anointing remains, and what was by nature flesh animated with a rational and intellectual soul is formed, it is not uncreated.” (St. John of Damascus, 29)


Anderson, Jeffrey C. “Byzantine Panel Portrait.” The Sacred Image East and West. Vol. IV. Chicago: University of Illinois, 1995. 1-302. Print.

Athanasius, St. On the Incarnation (De Incarnatione Verbi Dei). New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary, 1975. Print.

Catholic Encyclopedia. Catholic Church, 2000. Web. 2009. <http://www.newadvent.org/&gt;.

Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy. Vancouver, British Columbia: Regent, 2004. Print.

Church., Catholic. Catechism of the Catholic Church with modifications from the editio typica. New York: Doubleday, 1997. Print.

John of Damascus, St. Three Treatises on the Divine Images (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press Popular Patristics Series). New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary, 2003. Print.

The Sacred Image East and West. Vol. IV. Chicago: University of Illinois, 1995. 1-302. Print.

***Disclaimer: Yes, I have used the following analogy in a previous post’s introduction…but here it is in a different light.

Matthew 16:18-19

It was the second week of the first grade. My peers and I settled into our seats, and our Teacher, Mrs. Kahlil, began to etch strange glyphic symbols onto the chalkboard. I had remembered seeing these symbols elsewhere, like on the television and in the newspaper funnies, but I still had difficulty making them out. Once she had finished her transcription, Mrs. Kahlil began to sing in a paced yet rhythmic way, “A-B-C-D, E-F-G, H-I-J-K, LMNOP.” In accordance with this song’s memorization, through the fashion Mrs. Kahlil introduced to us that second week, my class soon learned the entire English alphabet and were then able to apply it on our route towards literacy. Upon reflection of this childhood experience, I am given an illustration of how to define the proper relationship between Scripture and “tradition”.

Across the Christian board, our understanding of the proper relationship between Scripture and tradition varies. The Evangelical understanding, as expressed in various denominations, is in strict priority. To most, the broadest understanding of this priority is Scripture first, tradition third–following reason and preceding experience. All things considered, I would partially concur with this understanding. I disagree however, with how “tradition” is defined in most anti-Catholic Christian circles.

First and foremost, we define scripture. To employ the Catholic perspective, I will mostly use the Catechism of the Catholic Church. To employ the Evangelical Protestant perspective, I will use my own experiences in such institutions and some popular Protestant sources. Catholics and Evangelicals would agree that, “all branches of the orthodox Christian faith affirm the story of salvation centering on Christ; the authority of the Bible as God’s written word…the necessity of salvation; and the call to mission” (Stackhouse, 42). Still, what the “Bible as God’s written word” subsists of; there is no affirmation by “all branches of the orthodox Christian faith”. McGrath, a Protestant Evangelical scholar, seeks to define what the books of Scripture are. He claims, as most Protestants do, that there are 66 books of the Bible (McGrath, 160). While Catholics believe that there are 73 (with 7 not found in the Hebrew Bible and Protestant Old Testament, but are found in the Catholic Old Testament) (CCC, 40). This definitive point, differs epistemologically in terms of historical basis.

McGrath says, “A comparison of the contents of the Old Testament in the Hebrew Bible on the one hand, and the Greek and Latin versions (such as the Septuagint or Vulgate) on the other, shows that the latter contain a number of works not found in the former,” he then goes further saying, “Following the lead of Jerome, the sixteenth-century reformers argue that the only Old Testament writings which could be regarded as belonging to the canon of Scripture were those originally included in the Hebrew Bible” (McGrath, 160). At what point, however, did this “original” canon come into existence and at what point did it close? Historically, there is no official origin or close of the Hebrew canon and I think that most scholars would have consensus on this. The closest we can come to a close of any kind is in the Pharisaic Council of Jamnia.

According to J. N. D. Kelley, a popular Protestant specialist on the Patristic era, the Council of Jamnia was the first documented Sanhedrin council that had an obvious issue with the extra books of the Greek Septuagint (Kelley, 54). This council was held 30 years after the destruction of the second temple and it met to resolve Jewish law predicated on the existence of a temple in Jerusalem, and to reinforce the remnant of whatever Pharisaic leadership was left in Israel at the time (Kelley, 54). The ultimate end of this council, led to a reformulation of the so-called “Hebrew” canon, reaffirmed by Jews and Protestant Christians today as inspired. This is where problems arise. The Council of Jamnia issued its edicts of canon alongside its rejection of God’s Messiah, Jesus. Therefore, covenantally, the non-believing Jewish leaders presiding over the council were in a state of infidelity. This presents a problem especially because while this council had rejected the deutero-canon’s canonicity, the early Church fathers did not. This is a crucial obstacle that most Protestants have to reconcile: that they are ultimately siding with those who sided against the Patristic and Apostolic Christian Church. Kelley says further,

It should be observed that the Old Testament thus admitted as authoritative in the Church was somewhat bulkier and more comprehensive than the [Protestant Old Testament]…It always included, though with varying degrees of recognition, the so-called Apocrypha or deutero-canonical books. The reason for this is that the Old Testament, which passed in the first instance into the hands of the Christians was…the Greek translation known as the Septuagint…most of the Scriptural quotations found in the New Testaments are based upon it rather than the Hebrew…In the first two centuries…the Church seems to have accepted all, or most of, these additional books as inspired and to have treated them without question as Scripture. Quotations from Wisdom, for example, occur in 1 Clement and Barnabas…Polycarp cites Tobit, and the Didache: Ecclesiasticus. Iranaeus refers to Wisdom, The History of Susannah, Bell and the Dragon, and Baruch. The use made of the Apocrypha by Tertullian, Hippolytus, Cyprian and Clement of Alexandria is too frequent for detailed references to be necessary. (Kelley, 53)

Most Protestant Evangelicals seem to believe that the deutero-canon (the seven extra books of the Catholic Old Testament) was “added” to the canon of Sacred Scripture at the Catholic Council of Trent in the 16th century. This presumption is false. The councils of Rome, Hippo, and Carthage, which all occurred in the last 20 years of the 4th century, canonized all 73 books of the Catholic Bible (Denzinger). It was the Council of Trent that had to reaffirm the 73-book canon to define it against the Protestant Reformation, which rejected it (CCC, 40). Furthermore, the Jewish leaders at Jamnia also rejected the deutero-canon because its books did not exist in the original Hebrew language. Yet, since the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls at Qumran, we now know that each of the seven books had Hebrew originals. With this more comprehensive definition of what Sacred Scripture subsists of, and what it has subsisted of historically, let us turn back to tradition.

Again, ecumenically, bad definitions and bad epistemology often lead to a dividing line. To Evangelicals, tradition is every interpretive, hermeneutical, and ritualized application of the word of God revealed in His Son that has been grasped for the entire two millennia of the Church’s existence. In this case, tradition should obviously be in strict secondary or tertiary priority to Sacred Scripture. Yet, there have always been two ways of using the word “tradition” in orthodox Christianity.

One of the uses of “tradition” has been previously defined. This form is the “little-t” tradition. In the Catholic Church, the “little-t” tradition is different from what I call the  “big-t” tradition, that is, Sacred Tradition. As written in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “[Sacred] Tradition is to be distinguished from the various theological, disciplinary, liturgical, or devotional traditions, born in the local churches over time. These are the particular forms, adapted to different places and times, in which the great [Sacred] Tradition is expressed. In light of [Sacred] Tradition, these traditions can be retained, modified, or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church’s magisterium” (CCC, 32). Sacred Tradition, which is in question here, comes from “the apostles and… what they received from Jesus’ teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. The first generations of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living [Sacred] Tradition” (CCC, 31). Sacred Tradition is the “spoken word of the apostles’ preaching,” handed down in ordained succession (CCC, 30). Sacred Tradition is the “example they gave, by the institutions they established” (CCC, 30). Sacred Tradition is finally, “what they [the apostles] had received—whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit” (CCC, 30). In regards to “big-t” tradition, or rather Sacred Tradition, the Catholic Church teaches she “does not derive…certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and [Sacred] Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence,” because they both flow from the same “divine wellspring, [and] come together in some fashion to form one thing and move towards the same goal” (CCC, 31).

Going back to that second week of first grade, the analogy I would like to present can be adapted like so: Mrs. Kahlil was the divine wellspring of revelation. What she transcribed on the chalkboard was her inspired written word. What she handed down to us in the form of a song was the Sacred Tradition we second grade disciples used to utilize and relay her written word. What ultimately came out of coupling the two was literacy, or in this case, academic salvation.

Concluding, most if not all Protestant Christian circles profess what is called sola scriptura, that is, scripture alone is the only infallible teaching authority for the Church. Yet, in this doctrine we find two gaping holes. First, scripture was dependent on Catholic councils practicing Sacred Tradition to receive its canonization. This is because Christ gave us an infallible and indestructible Church that can bind and loose (Matthew 16:18-19, 1 Timothy 3:15), which while acting in extension of Christ’s gift, gave us the entire scriptures in the 4th century. In other words, Christ, the living Word of God, did not leave us the written Word of God. Christ left us an infallible Church, which then gave us our infallible scriptures. The latter did not replace the former, it enhanced it. Second, the Protestant Bible is lacking seven books. So what is professed as the primary ecclesial authority for Protestant Christianity is not only lacking an infallible interpretive authority (i.e. the Church; 1 Timothy 3:15), it is lacking almost 10 percent of its inspired resources.


Church, Catholic. Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) with modifications from the editio typica. New York: Doubleday, 1997. Print.

Denzinger, Henricus. Enchiridion Symbolorum —Definitionum et Declarationum de Rebus Fidei et Morum, n. 179. 33rd edition. 1965, Verlag Herder KG, Freiburg.

Grenz, Stanley J. Theology for the Community of God. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Broadman & Holman, 2000. Print.

Kelly, J. N. D. Early Christian Doctrines. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978. Print.

McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology, An Introduction. 3rd ed. Oxford, Connecticut: Blackwell, 2001. Print.

Stackhouse, Jr., John G. Evangelical Futures, A Conversation on Theological Method. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000. Print.

For from the rising of the sun even to the going down, my name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to my name a clean oblation: for my name is great among the Gentiles, says the Lord of hosts.

Malachi 1:11

Be also as living stones built up, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 2:5

Regarding the Eucharist … Let no one eat and drink of your Eucharist but those baptized in the name of the Lord; to this, too, the saying of the Lord is applicable: Do not give to dogs what is sacred. On the Lord’s own day, assemble in common to break bread and offer thanks; but first confess your sins, so that your sacrifice may be pure. However, no one quarreling with his brother may join your meeting until they are reconciled; your sacrifice must not be defiled. For here we have the saying of the Lord: In every place and time offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a mighty King, says the Lord; and my name spreads terror among the nations.

The Didache (Attributed to the 12 Apostles) circa 90 A.D.

When my fiancée and I were received into the Catholic Church this past June, nothing excited us more than being allowed to fully celebrate the Eucharist. I remember a lot of things about the context of that moment when we took our Communion. The look of joy on the face of our Presider and Father in Christ, the stillness of the moment when he handed me the Body of our Lord, the spiritual weight of the covenantal Cup, the scent of Holy Oil still drying on my forehead, and the look of beauty and peace on the face of my betrothed. The moment of my First Communion is something I will never trade, and I relive it every Sunday.

Initially, I had intended to put all of what I wanted to say about the Eucharist in one post. But upon reflection that would make a monster of a post, so I have decided to write it in parts. In these posts I will mainly use as support: the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Sacred Scripture it cites (CCC). I could always summarize and relay through the many dictums of past and present as well as strictly defend through a formula of apologetics to explain the Catholic Eucharist, but most people have heard all of that. What I want to do here is teach directly out of the CCC in sections, and unpack them as thoroughly and as dynamically as possible. So let’s boogie.

All of what I cite here comes out of part two of the CCC: “THE CELEBRATION OF THE CHRISTIAN MYSTERY,” section two: “THE SEVEN SACRAMENTS OF THE CHURCH,” chapter one: “THE SACRAMENTS OF CHRISTIAN INITIATION,” article three. In this post, I will cover the first section under article three entitled “THE SACRAMENT OF THE EUCHARIST”. It acts as a kind of introduction to what the Church teaches about the Sacrament. Also, on each of these posts I will provide a bit of scripture and a quote of an early church father at the top. This will support the notion that the Catholic Eucharist is the Eucharist that Christ and the Apostles intended.


1322 The holy Eucharist completes Christian initiation. Those who have been raised to the dignity of the royal priesthood by Baptism and configured more deeply to Christ by Confirmation participate with the whole community in the Lord’s own sacrifice by means of the Eucharist.

1323 “At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet ‘in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.”

–CCC, Part II, Sect. II, Chap. 1, Art. III

Right off the bat, there are three main things that the catechism, or teaching, of the Catholic Church presents here, with each flowing into and out of one another. First, the Eucharist is the Sacrament that completes Christian initiation. This will be unpacked more specifically in later posts but I would like to touch on it here. The Eucharist is the doorway to full communion with the Church and with God, hence its ancient name: Holy Communion. In Christ’s life, death and resurrection, God has moved to reconcile all things to Himself. By His nature, God is one and unified. So, it would only make sense that He would choose to reconcile all things in an equally unifying way; hence “reconcile”. This, again, He has done in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ–in whom we have supreme victory over sin and death. The Eucharist therefore is a unified re-presentation (not a re-enactment) of this supreme victory and therefore a “perpetually” opened door for us to be reconciled to each other and to our God; that we may “participate with the whole community in the Lord’s own sacrifice by means of the Eucharist” in an ongoing way. Again, it is not that Christ is crucified over and over again; it is that through the Eucharist the one sacrifice of Christ is redistributed, continuing to heal us with the same atonement God prescribed on the cross.

The next main part, flowing from the previous one, has to do with “At the Last Supper [on the Jewish feast of Passover], on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood”. We all remember the scriptural accounts of this very First Communion. Perhaps, the most common one comes from St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread, and giving thanks, broke and said: Take and eat: This is my body, which shall be delivered for you. This do for the commemoration of me. In like manner also the chalice, after he had supped, saying: This chalice is the new testament in my blood. This do, as often as you shall drink, for the commemoration of me. For as often as you shall eat this bread and drink the chalice, you shall show the death of the Lord, until he come. Therefore, whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-27) This verse amongst others in 1 Corinthians will be further examined later. Now lets look at the last part of this teaching… The Eucharist is, “a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet ‘in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us”. Using bullet points, lets look at each of these realities:

The Eucharist is…

• A sacrament of love

–      The Eucharist is a sacrament (an outward signs of inward grace, instituted by Christ for our sanctification) of love because it unites us with the great act of love, that is, Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

–      To read more about the sacraments themselves click here

• A sign of unity

–      In which we are not only communed to one another, but also with Christ Himself, Who becomes fully present in the bread and wine.

–      It makes us one body (1 Corinthians 10:17). This is why only a Catholic can take the Catholic Eucharist. The one bread confers you into the one body. You cannot be outside of the body and eat of the one bread because the two are predicated on unity. If one were to do so, this would promote disunity. And the Body of Christ cannot be divided because Christ Himself cannot be divided (see 1 Corinthians 1:10-13). This is called closed communion. Many non-catholic Christians have a problem with closed communion. If you believe what the Catholic Church teaches about the Eucharist, become a Catholic and you will receive the body and blood of Christ in union with the mystical body of Christ. If you don’t believe what the Catholic Church teaches about the Eucharist, don’t gripe about not receiving it. Sorry to be so blunt.

• A bond of charity

–      Again, we are united with Christ and with each other. This promotes the Holy Spirit to work through us in loving deeds. Mother Teresa once wrote, “We cannot separate our lives from the Eucharist; the moment we do, something breaks.  People ask, ‘Where do the sisters get the joy and energy to do what they are doing?’  The Eucharist involves more than just receiving; it also involves satisfying the hunger of Christ. He says, ‘Come to Me.’ He is hungry for souls”, and also, “Jesus has made Himself the Bread of Life to give us life. Night and day, He is there.  If you really want to grow in love, come back to the Eucharist, come back to that Adoration”.

• A Paschal banquet ‘in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us

–      the word “Paschal” is a Koine Greek transliteration for “Passover”. In the New Testament, Christ is often referred to as our Paschal Lamb (In Hebrew; Korban Pesach). This occurs most explicitly in 1 Corinthians 5:7, but also implicitly in verses like John 1:29, 1 Peter 1:19, and Acts 8:32. For Christ to be called the Paschal Lamb or the Lamb of God, there would have to be two things that He would have to fulfill in the Passover sacrifice. First, once sacrificed, to cover the doorposts on the houses of the Israelites in blood so that they would not suffer God’s wrath (Exodus 12:7). Second, to be eaten with haste (Exodus 12:8, 11). The two conditions would need to be met for the Passover sacrifice to be complete. Since Christ is our Passover Lamb, it only makes sense that He would fulfill both conditions completely. This is why the Eucharist is called our Paschal banquet, in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.

Well, that is all for the first post. Stay tuned for the next….we have only scratched the surface.

NEW YORK, DEC 11, 2009 (Zenit.org).- A group of New York university students were the first to see a compilation of new evidence on Pope Pius XII’s efforts to save Jews during the Holocaust.

The response of one rabbinic student, Noah Greenfield, was to be “inspired to help in any way I can to set the record straight.”

Greenfield was giving his impression after seeing a presentation from the New York-based Pave the Way Foundation, a group that aims to promote interreligious dialogue.

The founder, Gary Krupp, has brought to light some 7,000 pages of documentation showing how Pius XII worked to save Jews during World War II. The foundation is working on a nomination of the Pope for the Yad Vashem title of “Righteous Among the Nations.”

The presentation of this evidence was made Tuesday at Yeshiva University to a group of about 70 students. This was the first public presentation for many of the documents.


Greenfield said that “Gary Krupp’s meticulous documentation convinced me that not only was Pope Pius XII innocent of all charges against him, but that he was the shining exemplar of humanity, faith and courage during the Holocaust.”

The research shows how there was worldwide affection and appreciation shown Pius XII until a fictitious 1963 play, called “The Deputy.”

The students expressed their amazement at seeing how a single play was able to overshadow proof of the Pope’s efforts.

Krupp, himself a Jew, said his research has shown him that “the only phrase that fits the actions of Pope Pius XII in his personal efforts to save the Jewish people from the Nazi onslaught is ‘borderline fanatical.'”

He explained: “[The Pope] acted to save as many Jews as he could, even to use trickery to send Jews to countries that said no Jews [could] be admitted. Pacelli ordered false baptismal papers to be issued to the refugees and called them ‘Non Aryan Catholic-Jews,’ and then many were allowed to emigrate to countries like Brazil, the U.S. and Canada.

“Had these people been really baptized then they would have simply been referred to as Catholics. Many critics have misinterpreted this deception and stated that Pius XII only worked hard to save converted Jews.”

Krupp further stated that one characteristic of the Holy Father’s work merits special acclaim: “[H]is life saving efforts were done anonymously, which in Jewish tradition is the highest form of charity. He did this when literally no other religious leaders or political leaders of the era did anything by comparison.”

Pope John XXIII

Pope John XXIII

“We realize now that many, many centuries of blindness have dimmed our eyes, so that we no longer see the beauty of Thy Chosen People and no longer recognize in their faces the features of our first-born brother. We realize that our brows are branded with the mark of Cain. Centuries long has Abel lain in blood and tears, because we have forgotten Thy love. Forgive us the curse which we unjustly laid on the name of the Jews. Forgive us, that with our curse, we crucified Thee a second time in their flesh.”

Pope John XXIII.

Blessed be God in His promises. Blessed be God in His providence. Blessed be God in His chosen people, Israel. Blessed be God in His elect, the Church. Blessed be God in His Son. Blessed be God in His Son’s vicar, the Bishop of Rome. Blessed be God in our immaculate Mother and her prayers for her children. Blessed be God in His love, the person and fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Blessed be God in His redemption. Blessed be God in His mercy and forgiveness. Blessed be God now and ever and to the ages of ages.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccáta mundi, miserére nobis.

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