THE FOUR MARKS OF THE CHURCH
THE CHURCH IS CATHOLIC
A Bible Christian and evangelical theologian by the name of C.B. Moss a few years ago wrote a book entitled The Christian Faith, An Introduction to Dogmatic Theology. In it I found a section that recommended certain types of treatment for those afflicted with what he called "Roman Fever." He says, "In dealing with those who are attracted by the claims of Rome, we should keep certain facts in mind. The first is that the chief appeal of Romanism is not made to the reason but to the imagination. That is why it is so dangerous, for it is the imagination, not reason, which leads men to act. Secondly, our case against Rome is the case of truth against falsehood, freedom against slavery. Every convert to Rome becomes an agent of a great dictatorship whose power is directed against freedom in many different forms. Thirdly, the attraction to Rome is sometimes a morbid symptom." (Call a psychiatrist here.) "I could mention cases known to me in which it was due to physical causes or mental disease. Every case of what is commonly called 'Roman Fever' should be treated psychologically and the real cause of the attraction discovered, if possible. In some cases argument only makes the patient worse." (A patient... how therapeutic!) "The claims of Rome are great indeed and to the eyes of unbelief, they appear dictatorial and tyrannical." To my eyes they seemed that way for years and years.
If the Church isn't What She Claims to be, She's Diabolical
I think we have to really be charitable in recognizing the sincerity and, indeed, the rationality of opponents of Rome because if Rome is wrong, it isn't a little wrong. Because no denomination on earth claims what Rome claims for herself. No other Church or other ecclesial community makes such pretentious demands upon her members. So, if the Catholic Church is not a supernatural organism, if it is not the Mystical Body of Christ, whose soul is the Holy Spirit, we're in trouble.
If the Church is Correct, How Blessed We Are
But if it is all that Scripture has revealed, all that tradition confirms and all that the Church has always taught, then we should count ourselves blest indeed and fortunate to be called as apostles to share the exciting truth that God the Father has not forsaken His sinful family, but through the Church has brought about a universal reunion, a great and grand family reunion which is truly beginning and spreading continually through the ages until finally we make it back to our heavenly homeland for the everlasting reunion.
Meaning of the Word "Catholic" and the History of its Use
That's what the catholicity of the Church entails, the universality of the Church. The word comes from a Greek compound "kath-holan" which means "embracing all or pertaining to the whole." The word was first used by Ignatius of Antioch in 107 A.D. in an epistle he wrote to the Church at Smyrna. It caught on quickly. In fact by 140 A.D. it was commonplace to refer to the Church as Catholic. In the account of Polycarp's martyrdom, it's spoken of that way without any sense of novelty. By the year 200, it's found in the Muratorian fragment and from there, it just becomes a standard, stock formula to describe the Church of Christ. Of course it also appears in the Apostles' Creed, which some scholars date back to the first century or the second century. So it is a very ancient and revered term indeed.
Before I go on, I want to share with you some of the key quotations from the early Church Fathers that highlight the glory of the Church's catholicity. After all, we're known as the Catholic Church and it is important to understand just how beautiful that characterization is.
St. Irenaeus in France, writing in the second century; "As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith from the Apostles, although scattered throughout the world, yet as if occupying one house, carefully preserves it." He's writing in the second century, now, from France. "For the churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor do those in Gaul, nor do those in the East, nor do those in Egypt, nor do those in Libya, nor do those which have been established in the central regions of the world."
In the third century, Tertullian could write in his Apologeticum, "If we desire indeed to act the part of open enemies, not merely of secret offenders, would there be any lacking of strength, whether of numbers or resources?" He's boasting of how numerous the Catholics are and how widespread the Church is. "We are but of yesterday and we have already filled every place among you -- cities, islands, fortresses, towns, marketplaces, the very camp, tribes, companies, palace, senate and forum. We have left nothing for you but the temples of your idols, for now it is the immense number of Christians which make your enemies so few, almost all the inhabitants of your various cities being followers of Christ."
St. Cyril of Jerusalem
St. Cyril of Jerusalem writing in the fourth century tells us that the Church is Catholic because she is spread throughout the whole world, that is, from one end to the other. Also because she universally and without ceasing teaches all of the doctrines which mankind must learn.
So, there is a geographical catholicity; that is, it's universal in terms of geography. But there's also a doctrinal catholicity, that throughout the world the same truth is proclaimed -- a truth which heals and saves mankind. Furthermore, because she directs all mankind, rulers and subjects, educated and unlettered, to the worship and reverence of God, the Church is catholic.
Perhaps nobody speaks as much of the catholicity of the Church being her glory as does St. Augustine. I have about twenty quotations. I'll spare you. But I want to read just a few to you because this is personal. For many years before I became Catholic, I boasted of how Augustinian my own evangelical Bible-believing, reformed tradition was, stemming from Luther but even more from Calvin and even more from the great Scottish "Covenanters" and the reformed communities in Europe. We always prided ourselves in being consistently Augustinian. Augustine is somebody, he's one of those saints, he's really the only saint, that everybody tries to claim for themselves. But I found the more I studied St. Augustine in his own writings, the more thoroughly Catholic he was. There was just no way to hijack him for non-Catholic purposes and uses. St. Augustine tells us, "The Church is hidden from no one for it is the Catholic Church itself which is therefore called universal in Greek because it is spread throughout the entire world. It is not allowed to anyone not to know this Church for which reason, according to the word of Jesus Christ, it is not possible that it be hidden. There are many other things which keep me in the bosom of the Catholic Church -- the unanimity of peoples and nations keeps me here, her authority, inaugurated in miracles, nourished by hope, augmented by love and confirmed by her age, keeps me here. The succession of priests from the very seat of the Apostle Peter up to the present episcopate keeps me here and last, the very name of Catholic, which not without reason belongs to this Church alone in the face of so many heretics, so much so that although all heretics want to be called Catholic, when a stranger inquires where a Catholic Church meets, not one of the heretics would dare point out his own basilica or meeting place. The name of the Catholic Church is peculiar to the true Church."
One of my closest friends from seminary, another PCA minister, I might add, was just received into the Catholic Church a few months ago and just a few weeks ago , he was officially excommunicated from the PCA. There was one man in particular who sort of served as devil's advocate, as the main antagonist and this guy practically hunted Bill down. He insisted time and again that if Augustine were alive today (and I quote): "He would be a reformed Calvinist in the PCA." I'm not sure exactly how someone in Northern Egypt would be in the Presbyterian Church of America; (that does seem rather provincial) but I shared with Bill these quotations. It was mind- boggling. It left him in shock. How could somebody say that Augustine would be anything but Catholic? He was surrounded by heretics, schismatics, separatists, sectarians. He was surrounded by sincere people who had separated from the one family of God and he said, "none of them; none of them is truly Catholic and being Catholic is the chief family trait by which I'm identified. The Church," he goes on to say, "the Church of the Christian religion is called Catholic, not only by her own members but even by our enemies; for when heretics or the adherents of schisms talk about her, not among themselves but with strangers, they willy-nilly call her nothing else but Catholic for they will not be understood unless they distinguish her by this name which the whole world employs in her regard."
Response to Objection that "Roman Catholic" is a Contradiction
Now many Bible Christians will say, "Well, I'm catholic too: small c, catholic. I'm unreformed catholic or a Lutheran catholic, or a Christian catholic, not Roman Catholic." Many people insist that to be Roman and Catholic is a contradiction because catholic pertains to the whole world, whereas Rome is just one city. That ignores the use of the term that was widespread throughout the whole world for centuries and centuries. I can't resist -- St. Augustine again: "We believe in the holy Church meaning assuredly the Catholic Church, for both heretics and schismatics call their own congregations churches; but heretics holding false opinions about God violate the faith itself, while schismatics, on the other hand, break off from fraternal charity in wicked separations, although they may believe just what we do. Consequently, heretics do not belong to the Catholic Church, which loves God, nor do the schismatics form a part of the Church inasmuch as the Church loves its neighbor."
Now, he might be going to extremes here, but notice that he is erring in one distinctive direction. His catholicity is his boast and that catholicity is Roman, that catholicity is Petrine, that is, it's rooted and grounded in Peter and the prerogatives that Jesus entrusted to him and to his successors. There are pages and pages of more quotes. This fellow also said to Bill that, "if Thomas Aquinas were alive today, he'd be a devout and staunch Presbyterian Calvinist."
Now you might laugh, but I used to say that, too. In discussing the papacy, the Pope is the successor to Peter, St. Thomas Aquinas says, "The real character of rank heresy consists in lack of submission to the divine teaching authority in the head of the Church." Now I don't hear many members of the PCA enunciating that with any clarity or any other Bible-believing -- by the way, if I'm picking on the PCA, it's because the person who introduced me brought it up. I happen to have the greatest respect and admiration, for I find very godly men in leadership and in the congregations of that particular denomination.
Thomas Aquinas Testifies to the Catholic Church
St. Thomas Aquinas also tells us, "According to the promise of the Lord, the Apostolic Church of Peter remains free from all taint of heresy or deceit in its pontiffs, the Popes, and in the full faith and authority of Peter, and while other churches are shamed by errors, she reigns the solitary Church, unshakably established, imposing silence and closing the mouths of heretics and we, of necessity for our salvation, proclaim and confess this as the pattern of holy, apostolic tradition."
That's strong language. I mean, if I used that kind of language today, I'd be in trouble. Thankfully, this sainted doctor of the Church has, but I don't know how people could possibly misconstrue this person for a Presbyterian or anything but a Catholic and a Roman Catholic at that.
So, why are we so humbly proud of being Catholics? Because that's what we can be. That's what we should be. There's a humility. There's the sense of awe that we have been blessed with an awesome grace of being members of a universal family that dates back to Christ Himself.
The Challenge of Catholicity is to See all People as Brothers and Sisters
There's a certain pride. There's a certain humility. There's a great responsibility because it is the catholicity of the Church which defines our mission. We cannot be so wrapped up as patriotic Americans that we look at Iraq or Iran or Israel or Syria or Lebanon or South Africa or Nicaragua and see an enemy nation. The Catholic faith trains us to see brothers and sisters who are not fully reconciled through the Body and Blood of Christ.
The Eucharist is the supernatural means by which this extraordinary feat can be pulled off, if we believe in that. We're Americans, we're Mexicans, we're Canadians, we're Europeans, we're English or whatever; but we are Catholics. So we see all men and women as brothers and sisters, at least potentially, St. Thomas would say, "and through the sacramental grace of the Church, it can be made actual." That is the substance of our faith and certainly it should be the substance of our hope and our work in love for unity and peace in our world. I'm just going to throw in a footnote here. I mean, we have to support our country as patriotic Americans, but at the same time, we have to recognize that peace and justice are not going to be established in the world apart from the kingship of Christ in the Church that He has established as His kingdom on earth.
We can do everything within our earthly and human means to establish and maintain justice and peace, politically, militarily and so on; but ultimately we should tell ourselves over and again that there is no way that this human race can become a unified family in justice and peace apart from Christ. Because if it could, God the Father would owe the Son an apology for sending Him to die. So, if we go to war in a few weeks, let's not lose perspective or the proper sense of proportion that the Catholic faith is meant to instill within us.
We're not talking about a humanistic or secular one-world government. We're talking about a heavenly kingdom with a colonial outpost whose embassy is in the Vatican and whose emissaries and ambassadors we are, with a heart big enough to embrace people whose race, whose ethnic and cultural customs and backgrounds are strange to us. No wonder St. Augustine could see catholicity as his one sole boast as a Christian.
Biblical Roots for "Catholic"
Now let's go into the Biblical roots of the term so we can appreciate how long it took for the family of God to reach this goal. The idea that God would bless all nations goes back into the Old Testament. We are often prone to misunderstand the Old Testament, thinking that back then, God had some sort of exclusive arrangement with the people of Israel, that they had a sort of ethnic monopoly, that they had a kind of corner on the market of God's grace, that there was a divine favoritism. Not so! Not so at all! In fact, over and over again in the law and in the prophets God keeps trying to get through to the Israelites one lesson: "I love the whole world and you, Israel", he said to Moses, "Go tell Pharaoh Israel is my firstborn son"; which means that the other nations are second-, third-, and fourth-born sons of God, "but let my son go to serve me or I'll slay your firstborn sons."
Israel Chosen to be the First of Many Nations Welcomed into God's Family
In other words, let Israel fulfill its role and responsibility as the eldest brother-nation in showing my truth and my love and my justice to all of his younger brothers. The universal mission of Israel was something that was suppressed because of racial pride, nationalism and all the same things that afflict us as proud Americans. There is nothing wrong with national pride, once it's put in perspective and kept in proportion to the universal love of our Father and the universal extent of our family.
In the Old Testament the greatest promise was given to Abraham. Genesis 22, verse 18: "As soon as God saw Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his firstborn son", (something that shows the faith that goes beyond your concern for the sustenance of your flesh and blood line). Once God saw Abraham's faith transcended his own fleshly regard for his son, He made a promise, which actually comes in the form of an oath by which God swears by Himself in verse 18 of Genesis 22: "I swear by myself, he said, (which means I put a curse upon myself; if I don't fulfill what I am about to say, may I be accursed), "that all the nations of the earth shall be blessed through your seed."
Do you know that in Jewish tradition that is one of the most neglected promises? Do you also know that in Christian tradition, likewise! There is something so deep and pervasive in every one of us and in every culture that is myopic, nearsighted, that sees one's own concerns, that sees one's own family, one's own community, one's own society, one's own nation and has trouble seeing beyond the borders, the boundaries. There's something in all of us like that. Abraham was able to drive it out and God gave him His oath that "all the nations of the earth shall be blessed through your seed."
God Establishes a Covenant with David for the Whole Human Race.
Do you know what the first verse of the New Testament is? "This is the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the seed of Abraham." "All the nations of the earth, Abraham, shall be blessed through your seed." So what is the trigger of the New Testament? What is the springboard of our hope? You got it -- that all the nations of the earth should be blest. It goes on, though, from Abraham. He's not alone. We also find in the covenant that God made with David this hope expressed time and again. In fact, when God makes the covenant with David in second Samuel 7, you can see in verse 19 David's exclamation. He's exuberant. He says, "I understand what you have given me. You have given me a torah, (the Hebrew word for law) a torah for all adam, (for all humanity). In this covenant that you have established with me, in the kingdom that you are going to give to me, you are establishing a charter, a constitution, a family order for the entire human race." He was ecstatic. Of course we see in his sin and then in his son Solomon and then in Solomon's sin the breakdown of this family order but not until God has given us the blueprint of the true kingdom of the true Son of David in the heavenly Jerusalem established by Christ.
Only in God Will the Nations Find Security and Peace
So David could describe in the Psalms how this kingdom established the covenant with him and through his son could establish God's rule on the earth. In Psalm 2, which is one of my favorites, David writes, "Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and His anointed saying, 'Let us burst their bonds asunder and cast their cords from us.'" The nations are plotting to overthrow the divine order. There's nothing new here, but what is spoken in the next verse is significant: "He who sits in the heavens laughs. The Lord has them in derision. Then He will speak to them in His wrath and terrify them in His fury saying, 'I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.'"
It's sort of like God has been horning in on their conspiratorial plot, their little quiet, back-room, smoke-filled discussions. You know, He's heard them all. He knows their plans and He says, "No, no, no, I'm going to confute you. I've set my own king. I will tell of the decree of the Lord. He said to me, 'You are my son. Today I have begotten you. Ask of me and I will make the nations your heritage and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. So, therefore now, kings be wise. Be warned, o rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and with trembling; kiss His feet lest He be angry and you perish in the wave, for His wrath is quickly kindled, and blessed are all who take refuge in Him."
Do you know there is only one hope for America? The kingship of Jesus Christ. There's only one hope for each and every country in this world -- the kingship of Jesus Christ in the kingdom of his Church. Not the United Nations, as worthy a project as it may be, not in any other league or alliance that we form, as useful as they might prove to be in the short run. In the long haul, the only nations that are going to retain stability and security are those that retain justice and righteousness in the peace of Christ.
Are we imperialists? In a sense, yes. We really are. Communism's problem is that it thinks too small. We say, "They've got a conspiracy, a worldwide conspiracy." We should frankly admit, at least among ourselves, we do, too. It's just that in this century, they have executed theirs better than we've executed ours.
David's Kingdom is a Prototype of the Kingdom to Come
The real difference, the bigger difference, is the difference between coercion and charity; between ruling by force and ruling through love and truth. That's the real challenge of our kingdom and its mission. This was the prototype, back in David's time, of a great and glorious project that Christ established; not only in Himself, not only on the cross, not only in Heaven but on earth through His Church. So we see the prophets saying the same thing over and over again. We discover that the Old Testament prophets perceived the defects in David's kingdom. They recognized the fact that the vast majority of kings in David's line were corrupt, were ruthless. They were loathsome and they were so corrupt that most of them received nothing but divine condemnation.
But that didn't stop God from using it as a prototype of His kingdom and also, notice, that Jesus Christ was not ashamed to be identified with the royal line of succession going back to David, in spite of the fact that there were many corrupt successors. This is going to be useful for us in our talk tomorrow morning as we look at Apostolic succession among the Popes and the Bishops, because the fact is clearly presented that, when God swears an oath concerning a line of succession, despite the fact that there might be corrupt successors, God is able to overcome that corruption. He is able to supersede it. He's able, in a sense, to carry on despite the sins, punishing those who are corrupt.
Isaiah, chapter 2 is perhaps the most glorious prophecy from the great prophet Isaiah concerning how David's kingdom in Jerusalem was only a prototype. "The word which Isaiah, the son of Amos, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains and shall be raised up above the hills and all the nations shall flow to the house of the Lord." All the nations shall come streaming into God's family in the latter days. Isaiah knew that it was not going to be in the present time nor in the immediate future because corrupt kings would make that impossible. They wouldn't come flowing into the house of the Lord when it was so corrupt. "But the time will come", Isaiah said, "that the house of the Lord would be established higher and stronger than any other kingdom and all the nations shall flow to it."
The Knowledge of the Lord Shall Cover the Earth
Lastly, in the Old Testament we have what I regard as the greatest series of prophecies concerning what it means to be Catholic. I mean, you could go elsewhere. There are many prophecies that I should mention: Habakkuk 2:14 promises us that the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea, which the Catholic Church is fulfilling through history. But Daniel, the prophet Daniel gives to us a great prophetic insight and hope into the nature of the kingdom's catholicity in a time of great corruption and affliction. And here in Babylon Nebuchadnezzar rules as a pagan. He has crushed Jerusalem, he has destroyed the temple, he has dispersed the inhabitants and he has taken captive people like Daniel. Then he has a nightmare and he commands that the wise men come in and interpret it. Nobody can. Daniel comes in and he interprets the dream that Nebuchadnezzar had. He tells Nebuchadnezzar that in your dream you saw this great image of a statue with a gold head and silver shoulders and bronze belly and bronze thighs and legs of iron and feet of iron and clay.
Daniel Prophecies the Catholicity of God's Future Kingdom
Nebuchadnezzar was impressed. He didn't even have to tell Daniel the dream. Daniel knew the dream, and then he proceeded to interpret it. He said, "You, O king, are the gold head, Babylon, but there will come a kingdom after you that will take over your authority." He was referring to the Medo-Persian empire which corresponded to the silver shoulders. Then he goes on to describe how the bronze belly, the Greek empire under Alexander the Great would take it away from the Medes and the Persians. Then fourthly, a great and terrible power would be raised up, the legs of iron, terribly strong, referring to the Roman empire.
Then what happens? He goes on to describe this. He says, "As you looked, a stone was cut out but by no human hand and it smote the image on its feet of iron and clay and broke them in pieces. Then the iron and the clay, the silver and the bronze and the gold all together were broken into pieces and became like the chaff on the summer threshing-floors and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them could be found." This little stone fell upon the fourth empire, the Roman empire symbolized by the iron legs, broke the feet, shattered the legs and the whole image crumbled and blew away. A little small stone; but the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. And he goes on to interpret this particular kingdom and he says, "In the days of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall its sovereignty be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it shall stand forever."
What is he talking about? Well, there is only one kingdom that came down from heaven as a small stone which the builders rejected and it became the cornerstone of the new temple. The word for stone in Hebrew, "evan", is almost the same as the word for son, "ben." So the son is the stone who came down and, through His sacrifice and through His spiritual kingdom in the Church, destroyed the fourth and final empire in Rome and brought about a worldwide empire that will last forever, whose citizens we are.
Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face and did homage to Daniel and said to Daniel, "Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery." And he gave him all these honors and he gave him great authority and power in Babylon. Can you imagine that? Jerusalem was destroyed by Babylon and God had predicted it many, many years before it happened, because of its idolatry and corruption. God said, "I am able through your suffering, obedience and faithfulness to convert the Babylonian lord and tyrant." Nebuchadnezzar ends up confessing what Jerusalem priests should have been teaching: that Yahweh is the Lord of lords and the King of kings and the great God above all other gods. That's coming from the lips of the pagan tyrant whom God's prophet converts.
Daniel goes on to highlight and, in a sense, to rev up the engines of hope in God's people for this catholic, this worldwide, this universal empire. We read, for instance, in Daniel, Chapter 4 about how Nebuchadnezzar, upon recovering his sanity recognizes that God's kingdom is the only lasting kingdom. But then in Chapter 5 we discover that after Nebuchadnezzar dies, his successor son, Belshazzar is this arrogant idiot, a tyrannical fool.
He decides to throw a feast one night and use the sacred vessels from the Jerusalem temple to party with. In the midst of his feasting, the handwriting appears on the wall and it says in effect, "Your kingdom has been weighed in the balance and has been found wanting and will be taken away from you and given to the Persians this very night." And at that time, up the river the Medo-Persians were damming up a river so they could march under the walls of the city and take it with barely a fight. So the Medo-Persians came, just as Daniel had prophesied. And they were ruled by Darius.
Daniel goes on to describe how Darius also persecuted Daniel for a while and then, as a result of discovering through Daniel's faithfulness in the midst of the lion's den, Darius issues a decree. Verse 25: "Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations and languages that dwell on all the earth, 'Peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree that in all my royal dominion, men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for He is the living God enduring forever. His kingdom shall never be destroyed and His dominion shall be to the end'."
So we have another step closer toward this catholic empire being established and realized. But in Daniel 7, we have a variation on this prophetic theme. Daniel has a night vision: four beasts that correspond to the four metals, the gold, the silver, the bronze and the iron are now seen in a different light. These four empires are seen, the first one is like a lion with eagle's wings -- that's Babylon. The second one is like a bear that devours the flesh. The third one is like a leopard because it runs with such speed -- that corresponds with Alexander the Great whose rapid rate of world conquest was unprecedented. Then this fourth beast, terrible and dreadful and exceedingly strong, iron teeth devouring and breaking in pieces everything in its way, this fourth beast that seems unbeatable, unstoppable, unconvertible stands in the way. Then all of a sudden, in Daniel's vision, we see that fourth beast conquered: "There came one like the Son of Man and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him and to Him was given dominion and glory and kingdom that all peoples, nations and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed."
The Son of Man, through His suffering, obedience and faithfulness would conquer the unconquerable fourth beast, the Roman empire. Do you know that nobody ever called Jesus the Son of Man, but Jesus almost always and invariably referred to himself as the Son of Man. Why? With this humble self-reference, "aw, just little ol' me, the Son of Man"? No, not at all. He was plugging into a deep and profound tradition from the prophet Daniel -- that the one who would conquer the unconquerable kingdom of Rome and establish an everlasting kingdom and receive worship: (not just authority: worship, which the Jews reserved alone for God), the Son of Man could somehow receive and yet not institute. Idolatry. The Son of Man would somehow be a Son of God and through His obedience would overcome these kingdoms. And that's what happened; but not until much suffering had come to the people, because so much penance was required of a wayward and hardhearted folk who presumed upon God. They in effect said, "God, you have given us your oath. You have sworn to the line of David that there would be this kingdom and that we would be on top and that we would always have dominance, that we would always have prosperity. What's wrong? You haven't delivered. We're in captivity. We're in exile and there is no Davidic king on the throne."
They didn't understand that the plan of God was for righteousness, not political domination. The reason I mention that is because many traditionalist Catholics pine away their days, longing for the days of political dominance and cultural superiority, where the Popes could crown the kings like he did Charlemagne or even Napoleon. Now that was in some ways good for the world. But it made things confusing for the Church and her true identity, because ultimately it's in opposing the world and being persecuted by the world that Christ is really exemplified in the Church. The Church really reflects Christ in times of adversity and persecution. That doesn't mean we're holy masochists looking for persecution, trying to incite affliction, trying to aggravate and bring draconian measures down upon ourselves or something. You know, "we'll build you the Colosseum if you throw us to lions, or something." Not at all.
But the people of God learned a lesson of obedience. They learned a lesson that the early Church Fathers understood even better, that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church; that when sanctity is displayed for suffering, you have a power that no earthly force can overcome. So elsewhere, Daniel 7, it talks about the Son of Man having this dominion. It tells us in particular that His kingdom and His dominion shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High. "Their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom."
Many scholars wonder at how one author could have written all of Daniel 7 because on the one hand, the Son of Man has the kingdom and all dominion, but on the other hand, in the second half of Daniel 7, the saints of the Most High receive the kingdom and the dominion. Figure it out. We're the saints of the Most High and those saints glorified in heaven and enthroned above are in spades. And all of this was set forth to the nations and to Israel. It was a well-known prophecy. In fact it became instrumental in the conversion not only of Nebuchadnezzar and Darius but also Cyrus, the Persian ruler who was presented with the prophecy of Isaiah, who lived over a century before Cyrus, and Isaiah had prophesied not only that Babylon would destroy Jerusalem, but that Babylon would be destroyed by Persia and that a ruler would be raised up in Persia who would serve God's purposes in a holy way.
God speaks to Isaiah and refers to this Gentile ruler and names him Cyrus and calls him "my anointed one." In Hebrew that's Messiah. This Gentile ruler, Cyrus, shall be my anointed one and he shall tell my people. He shall allow them to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. When Cyrus heard these prophecies and recognized his own name in these prophecies which had been given a century before, like you, he was impressed. How could you help but be impressed? Naturally, he said, "Okay, I will. I will allow you to go back to your city and rebuild the Temple" and do whatever else is necessary and so on.
Even Alexander the Great, in a sense, experienced a kind of conversion. Josephus tells us about Alexander the Great's conversion. He was intent upon laying siege to Jerusalem and destroying it like so many other cities that he destroyed. He had camped outside of Jerusalem one night with his armies, intent upon destroying it, obliterating it entirely. But he couldn't sleep that night. He kept having this nightmare. In the morning he saw this little peace party coming out from the main gate in Jerusalem, led by the high priest who was in his eighties with his long flowing beard and as soon as he saw the high priest draw near, Alexander the Great, who by his late twenties had conquered the whole known world, had been beaten by nobody, Alexander the Great standing before this feeble, old, holy priest, Alexander fell flat on his face because he recognized that man as the one who had appeared to him in his dreams. He not only spared the city, in a sense extended all kinds of privileges to the Jews, which had never been given to anybody else before by Alexander.
Alexandria, the city built in his honor in Egypt, in fact became the educational center of the world, the great library of Alexandria, and in that library were hundreds of rabbis who were free to teach the word of God. And in Alexandria, for the first time, the word of God was translated out of Hebrew in the Greek at the request of the non-Jews. We call it the Septuagint.
Jesus Establishes God's Catholic Kingdom
The word of God was getting out through the suffering of God's faithful saints; but ultimately it wasn't the Catholic empire that God intended. It wasn't the "real McCoy." So, Jesus comes; but when would He come? That was the question. Jeremiah had said you are going to have seventy years of exile and penance and then God will hear your prayer. In Daniel 9, Daniel was an old man after the seventy years had ended and as soon as he recognized that the seventy years were up, he began to pray earnestly. He asks the Lord in Daniel 9 to remember the promise that he gave to Jeremiah. He said, "Look, I know your people, my people are still sinful. I'm sorry", and he begins to repent for their sins. Then he says, " But please let us return to your city. Let us rebuild the Temple."
Seventy years are up but Daniel knows in his heart of hearts that the people of Israel, exiled in a foreign lands have not returned to God in their hearts. So what does he do? He prays all the more earnestly in confessing their sins. Gabriel the archangel comes with God's response. Seventy years, it seems, were not enough. The people had not softened their hearts. They had hardened them further. So in Daniel 9, we have what many scholars regard as being the most significant Old Testament prophecy concerning Christ anywhere.
When Would This Happen
Gabriel comes with God's response. He says, "Seventy weeks of years are decreed for you and your people." Seventy sevens, which means literally in the Hebrew, 490 more years. Seventy years were not enough. God wants to forgive you but you haven't repented. Seventy years He gave you of exile and captivity but you haven't responded. So what's He going to do? He will extend His favor to you seventy-sevens.
This is where Jesus gets the idea, "How many times should we forgive somebody?" Seventy times seven, because that's what the Father in heaven extended to the people of Israel.
"I'll give you seventy times seven more years to experience my chastening love, my discipline." So for 490 years Israel knew God's plan and listen, "490 years are decreed concerning your people and your holy city to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin and to atone for iniquity. To bring an everlasting righteousness." In other words, after 490 years or so, what's going to happen? Your holy city is going to be destroyed. Transgression will come to an end. Atonement for iniquity. Everlasting righteousness shall be established. A most holy one will be anointed. Know therefore and understand that, from the going forth of the word to restore and rebuild Jerusalem to the coming of the anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven years", and it goes on and on. But it describes how, after this time period, the See of Jerusalem shall be destroyed. Its end shall come with the flood and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed; but he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week and for half the week. He shall cause sacrifice and offering to cease.
Now what does all of this mean? It means that the people of Israel who wanted a worldwide empire that was political and military, that would put them in charge, put them on the top, didn't get what they wanted. That's why they didn't accept Jesus when He came. But they were given a timetable, a very specific timetable to know, not only when the Messiah would come but what He would do when He came and how He would be rejected and how the holy city of Jerusalem would becme an unholy city, targeted by God for destruction and punishment. So that a new and stronger covenant would be established so that sacrifice, the Old Testament Levitical sacrifices would cease.
This gives to us the time parameters, the time limits for when all of these prophecies would be fulfilled. The four metals, the four beasts would all transpire within 490 years. So, no wonder, when King Herod had heard that the Messiah had been born n Bethlehem, he went nuts; because he knew that the expectations for a Messiah hd reached a fever pitch and he knew that this Messiah would supplant his own false rule. So he had to stomp it out a soon as he could, because he knew all the people were familiar with this prophecy, with the timetable of events which were now coming to a climax.
We are Members of this Kingdom, Though We Don't Appreciate it.
We have in the New Testament something that we barely appreciate because we do not undertand the Old Testament. We don't know how long they waited, how hard they worked for the Catholic Church/kingdom of God to be established. We're sitting asleep on top of Fort Knox. We have the supernatural means and the sacraments, we have in Jesus Christ and in his Queen Mother and in all the saints of the Most High enthroned in heaven, the divine meaine means by which this kingdom has been established and is spreading throughout the earth, and we fall asleep during a homily! We tell our priests not to go too long because the Super Bowl or some other playoff game is going to be on.
Where are our priorities? I love football! Don't get me wrong. I can't wait to see the Cincinnati Bengals beaten after the Steelers didn't get in, but all my petty little prejudices must give way to the priority of God's Catholic kingdom. That really is what we're about. That is who we are. We're Catholics. We're world citizens of a worldwide universal family that reaches up to the heavens and down to the underworld in purgatory below. If only we could close our eyes and then open up the eyes of faith and see with 20/20 vision, I think we'd drop dead of a heart attack. Because we have been settling for scraps. We have been reducing our religion down to a few rote rituals, when what we have is a very glorious legacy that is meant for all.
Testimony of Historians to the Catholic Empire
Christopher Dawson, one of the great historians of the 20th century, who taught at Harvard wrote, "To the ordinary educated man looking out on the world in A.D. 33, the execution of St. Janus must have appeared much more important than the crucifixion of Jesus, and the attempts of the government to solve the economic crisis by a policy of free credit to producers must have seemed far more newsworthy and promising than the doings of an obscure group of Jewish fanatics in an Upper Room in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, there is no doubt today which was the most important and which availed most to alter the lot of humanity. All that Roman world with its power and wealth and culture and corruption sank in the blood and ruin. The flood came and destroyed them all, but the other world, the world of the Apostles and martyrs, the inheritance of the poor survived the downfall of ancient civilization and became the spiritual foundation of a new order", a 2000-year-old spiritual empire that we're the royal citizens of.
Lord McCauley, a great British historian, a non-Catholic (I believe he was Protestant), says this: "There is not and there never was on this earth a work of human policy so well-deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church. The history of that Church joins together with the two great ages of human civilization. The proudest royal houses are but of yesterday when compared with the line of the supreme pontiffs, the Popes; the line we trace back in an unbroken series from the Pope who crowned Napoleon in the 19th century to the Pope who crowned Pepin in the 8th and far beyond the time of Pepin, the august dynasty extends. The republic of Venice is gone and the papacy remains. The papacy remains not in decay, not a mere antique but full of life and youthful vigor. The Catholic Church is still sending forth to the farthest ends of the earth world missionaries as zealous as those who landed in Kent with Augustine and still confronting hostile kings with the same spirit with which she confronted Attila the Hun. Nor do we see any sign which indicates that the term of her long dominion is approaching. She saw the commencement of all ecclesiastical establishments that now exist in the world and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all." That's a non-Catholic, a historian with a historian's appreciation for the Catholic empire that God alone could have established.
Can't Use the Popes to Explain the Success of the Catholic Church
There is no way you can look at the people that have been Popes and say, "Well, therein lies the explanation." Starting with Peter, loud-mouthed Peter - pray for us, St. Peter - but we see in the Gospels especially in Mark, which Peter inspired himself; I mean, Peter is the source for most of Mark's testimony and in Mark we see the most humbling portrait of Peter of all. We see an Apostle open his mouth and change feet. We see an Apostle who is impetuous and inspired by the flesh more than by the Spirit; but an Apostle whose faith Jesus described as being so small that it was enough to enable him to walk on water. We see an Apostle who stands up and confesses Jesus to be the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God and who receives in a very gracious exchange a new name of "Rock" and a promise that he would be the foundation stone for the kingdom, the city, the Church that Christ would build.
G. K. Chesterton once said, "All the empires and kingdoms have failed because of this inherent and continual weakness - that they were founded by strong men." That's why empires fail because they were founded by strong men, Chesterton says. But this one thing the historic Christian Church was founded on a weak man, Peter, and for that reason it is indestructible. For no chain is stronger than its weakest link. No, not for that reason alone, but because the weak man now has acknowledged Christ and because Christ makes him strong.
Weak, fallible Peter was rendered infallible by Christ through the Holy Spirit. So the unbroken line of followers that constitutes the Catholic Church in the Papacy represents again, as I've said all through the day, the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit. So, as we pledge our allegiance to the kingdom of God on earth, to this royal, colonial militia of which we are a part, boot soldiers perhaps, but still we have a vital apostolic mission, each one of us: in the kitchen washing dishes at the sink, in rush-hour traffic, no matter what we are, no matter what we do; we have this humble but important task. The fact remains we are royal citizens. We are children of the Most High King.
Now I have many more things that I want to say. I want to address some things tomorrow morning, so I want you to remember the lessons from this evening. The first and most important point is that we are the family of God and because God is the father of the whole human race, God's intention is to restore the unity throughout the whole world, no matter what race, no matter what geography, no matter what strange customs.
We also recognize the fact that the people of God were prepared through the ages for what we now take for granted. We also see that the early Church Fathers, our forebears, bequeathed us a legacy of which they were justly proud and of which we should be justly proud as we humbly receive it and transmit it to our children. We are Catholics, we are worldwide citizens of a worldwide empire, the family of God.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, we give You thanks and we pray: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
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