This year, in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I've decided to do another round of "Reformation Day Ironies." This year's theme is "Luther against the Reformation," looking at the various ways that Martin Luther spoke against the Reformation he helped to spark, including what he had to say on the papacy, teaching authority, and schism.
Contemporary Christianity is fond of pushing Jesus without the Church. Like its secular counterpart (in which people claim to be "spiritual, but not religious"), it's an attempt to have the relationship without the rules. If I'm lonely or going through a tragedy, I can pray, but I don't have to worry about fasting when I don't want to, or being associated with a bunch of fellow believers that I look down upon. But Jesus-without-the-Church is a rejection of Jesus.
Are Catholics right to pray for the dead, and to believe that such prayers can help to release souls from Purgatory? Many Christians are unaware that these doctrines are Jewish in origin, and that the Jewish practice of praying for the dead continues on to this day. Even fewer are aware that this practice of prayer is tied to a tradition of temporary purgatorial fires after death.
How important is it that all Christians operate from the exact same Bible? You may be surprised to learn that for most of Church history, the (implicit) Christian answer was "not that important." Why was this the case? And why isn’t it the case today? Because of a major shift in how Christians approached Scripture and doctrinal orthodoxy...
As the State Department has just acknowledged, we are currently witnessing the attempted genocide of Christians by ISIS. But this isn't the first (and won't be the last) time that someone tries to wipe the Church off of the map. One of the most frightening was the invasion of the Mongolian "Golden Horde" in the 13th century. We could learn a thing or two from Pope Innocent IV's response.
The "infallibility problem" in Eastern Orthodoxy is more similar to the infallibility problem in Protestantism than you may realize. In each case, rejection of centralized infallibility leaves them with fallible (and hazy) collections of infallible teachings.
The earliest recorded prayer to Mary, dating to about 250 A.D. says: "Beneath your compassion, We take refuge, O Mother of God; do not despise our petitions in time of trouble, but rescue us from dangers, only pure, only blessed one." Here's what that tells us about the early Church.
We moderns think of trial by ordeal as proof positive of the irrational dogmatism of our religious ancestors' culture. The idea of determining someone's innocence or guilt by having them hold a red-hot iron seems, well, insane. But new evidence suggests that the process worked... and might provide documentary evidence of a huge number of miracles. That modern researchers refuse to even consider this possibility reveals a great deal more about the irrational dogmatism of our own irreligious culture.
Even a number of ordinarily sober-minded Catholics have begun panicking that the Synod on the Family is about to lead the Church into apostasy. While we should always pray for the Church, and pray especially for the Synod, these fears are unfounded... and heretical.
When Richard Dawkins and American Atheists write off the Bible as a "Bronze aged book," they're only demonstrating their historical ignorance and the strength of the case for Biblical inspiration. If the human authors of Scripture were primitive ignoramuses, how do we account for the credibility of the Apostles' testimony?