Scott Hahn Unpacks The Creed

I got early access to Scott Hahn’s latest book, The Creed: Professing the Faith Through the Ages, and am pleased to say it’s another Hahn winner.

In it, Hahn shows how the Nicene Creed developed in the early Church, its meaning and effect, and its importance down through the ages even to today.

Before the Creed

Dr. Hahn starts with the Old Testament and then moves into the period of the early Church. He draws from the early Church Fathers and from history to illuminate the early heresies that attacked the Faith and how the Church responded.

Scott Hahn's The Creed
Scott Hahn’s The Creed

These heresies culminated in ones that attacked the divinity of Christ in some way, most notably Arianism. But even before the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, the Church was proclaiming the truth of Christ’s divinity.

Different bishops and Church Fathers would respond to persecutors and heretics in their area, using their owns words but defending orthodoxy against the particular attack being made. But as the heresies grew more serious and widespread, the Church needed to respond in a cohesive, standard way.

Enter Nicaea

Hahn sketches out the first Ecumenical Council, which took place in Nicaea, and how the Council Fathers drew up the first part of what we call today the Nicene Creed.

Many Catholics don’t realize that the composition of the Creed we recite today at Mass did not come exclusively from Nicaea, but instead was compiled over the fourth century at Nicaea and the second Ecumenical Council (in Constantinople, AD 381).

The first part of the Creed proclaimed the truth of God the Father and the full divinity of God the Son. Using several phrases it decreed that the Father and the Son were one in being, consubstantial. The Arians were now formal heretics, but Hahn explains that that didn’t stop them from continuing their heresy for decades to come.

After Nicaea

Dr. Hahn reveals the effects of the Council and the Creed as the 300s went on, including the rise of several “semi-Arian” heresies that needed to be dealt with.

Heretics soon turned their attention to the Holy Spirit as well, and some began denying the Spirit’s divinity! A Council was convened at Constantinople in AD 381 and the second part of the Creed was drawn up and added on, proclaiming in clear terms the divinity of the Third Person of the Trinity.

Hahn makes Trinitarian theology fascinating and accessible to lay men. Throughout the book he weaves theological insights and explains the deeper meaning behind basic doctrines that the Church has preserved in the Creed.

Many Protestants today dismiss the Creed as outdated and hidebound. How wrong they are, and Hahn devotes the necessary time to debunking their error.

I was also happy to see he included the last addition to the Creed, the filioque (proceeds from the Father “and from the Son”) which originated from the Church in the West and spread. While certainly not an in-depth treatment of the subject, he outlines the reasons why this addition is defensible historically and theologically in both the West and the East.

The Creed is a wonderfully helpful guide to the importance and development of the Nicene Creed, as well as a great primer on Trinitarian theology. May God be praised!

Book Review: The Apostasy That Wasn’t

Rod Bennett has returned with a labor of love titled The Apostasy That Wasn’t that knocks the ball out of the park.

It’s subtitle is equally trenchant: “The Extraordinary Story of the Unbreakable Church.” Let’s dig into this excellent new book.

Didn’t the Early Church Apostatize?

Bennett begins by telling the story of his first visit in the 1980s to a curious little Protestant place called the Fields of the Wood in western North Carolina.

The Apostasy that Wasn't
The Apostasy that Wasn’t

At that place, so the story went at the time, a man received a special vision from God to restore the true Church, which had fallen into apostasy over 1,600 years prior.

Sound familiar?

It should, because this is a common refrain, sung with diverse variations, of several strains of Evangelical Protestant, fundamentalist Protestant, Mormon, and other groups.

But this visit marked the start of a journey for Bennett, one that would ultimately lead him to the Catholic Church.

History Comes Alive

This book isn’t primarily about Bennett and his conversion story though. While that itself is interesting, where Bennett shines, and what the book recounts, is the history of the early Church in the 300s where it saw the Edict of Milan from Constantine, allowing Christianity to be practiced, the rise of the Arian heresy, and the heroic defense of orthodoxy from the Christians of the time, most prominently St. Athanasius.

G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy
G.K. Chesterton

Bennett showed his deft touch for writing narrative-style history in The Four Witnesses, a book that makes the time period of the late first and second centuries comes alive through the eyes of Sts. Clement, Ignatius, Justin, and Irenaeus.

This is nothing like reading a history text book.

Instead, it is like reading a compelling story, a page turner of the first order.

The only author I’ve read that rivals Bennett’s skill in this area is the late Dr. Warren Carroll. Bennett’s book actually takes a century-long slice of history from Carroll’s The Building of Christendom and magnifies the events, personalities, and conflict in much greater detail.

We learn of Antony of the Desert and his probable protege, Athanasius. We read about the rise of Arius and the heresy that he promulgated with diabolical success. We read of conniving bishops and orthodox bishops and popes who countered them. We read of the first great Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in AD 325 and how it only marked the beginning of the fight against Arianism, a fight that almost tore the Church and the Empire apart.

A Perilous Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy, we discover in Bennett’s book, isn’t a boring set of rules, carefully laid out for us ahead of time by God. Rather, as Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy:

People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad.

It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic.

The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any warhorse; yet it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely went mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to left and right, so exactly as to avoid enormous obstacles. . . .

(Is it any wonder that Chesterton became Catholic?)

Bennett exactly demonstrates just how fast and fierce the Church careened forward in those first centuries. Assailed by heresies from all sides–and from within–she swerved and dodged with supernatural celerity and came through with doctrine untarnished.

By the end of the book, Bennett returns to the Fields of the Wood, to find a toned down, more modern vanilla flavor of Protestantism than was there in the 80s. Almost forgotten was the Protestant founder and his Joseph Smith-like claim to being the vehicle through which the true Church was restored. Likewise gone are the claims that their particular group of Christians was the “true Church” in any sort of exclusive sense.

The Apostasy Bubble Permanently Burst

What Bennett has done, with aplomb and erudition, is burst the Apostasy narrative’s bubble once and for all. Protestants of all stripes believe that this apostasy happened, sometime in the early Church, even if they won’t put a date on it and won’t call it an outright apostasy.

Fields of the Wood
Fields of the Wood

Corruption “crept in,” so the story goes, and the Church eventually lost its way. Sure, they may have been some Christians here and there who were still following “biblical truth,” but most were tainted in unredeemable ways.

But one read through of The Apostasy That Wasn’t dispels that myth.

The Church almost fell into apostasy, it is true. Arianism almost swallowed her whole. But God disallowed it, and He did so in a way that can only be called miraculous.

No, the apostasy never happened. Because God promised that He would lead His Church into all truth (John 16:13). And the Bible calls the Church, the pillar and bulwark of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). The gates of hell did not prevail against it.

So the next time a Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, or fervent Evangelical Protestant comes to your door, invite them to read Bennett’s book together and discuss it. They may very well find themselves being the ones who get converted…to Catholicism!

The Blood of the Martyrs Is the Seed of the Church

I just read Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s new book To the Martyrs: A Reflection on the Supreme Christian Witness and give it my strong recommendation.

Cardinal Wuerl starts from the beginning of the Church and explores the martyrdoms that Catholics have endured down through our time.

Martyrs in Every Age

Tertullian said that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Cardinal Wuerl demonstrates the truth of that statement as he looks at the first martyrs in the early Church, including the Apostles, and how the Church grew from their witness.

tomartyrsHe moves forward in time to the various Roman persecutions, telling the story of what it was like to be a Christian during those times, how the Church grew from a tiny, insignificant thing into a powerful social, economic, and moral force in the Roman empire.

The Cardinal then heads into the 600s and did not hold back from describing the rise of Islam and its immediate persecution of Chrisitans:

Muhammad was astonishingly successful. He took many towns and oases, and he absorbed many tribes, sometimes through battles, but sometimes without any resistance at all. The key to many victories was the ferocity of Muhammad’s warriors, who had no fear of death. Indeed, they seemed to welcome it, as Muhammad had applied a traditional honorific term to his warriors who died in battle. It was a Christian term, martyr (shahid in Arabic), and it acquired a new meaning in the emerging religion known as Islam, whose followers were known as Muslims.

There is a key difference, however. The Christian martyrs laid down their own lives, but took no one else’s. The Arab warriors took many lives, including those of many Christians and Jews.

In the next chapter he jumps ahead to the Protestant Reformation and focuses on King Henry VIII. I was pleased to see here that he called out King Henry’s brutality, lust, and the grievous devastation he brought upon the Church, including countless martyrs, with Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher being the most well-known.

The Reformation paved the way for the Enlightenment, and Cardinal Wuerl describes the slaughter of Catholics during that time, including holy nuns and priests who brought the mobs to silence with their solemn, joyful witness to Christ even as they were being executed.

He then heads into the twentieth century–where more martyrs were made than in all the centuries prior–and discusses the reality of the Armenian Genocide by Islamic Turkey, the Mexican persecution and Cristero War, the Soviet Union, the Spanish Civil War, Nazi Germany, and Communist China.

But the blood shed has produced fruit already. For instance, in China:

In 1949 there were only one million Christians. Forty years of anti-religious communist rule produced some 1.2 million martyrs. The result: explosive church growth to today’s 90 million believers.”

Martyrdom Today

Cardinal Wuerl brings the reader up to the present day, and discusses the martyrdom in our age, where Islamists like ISIS make martyrs right before our eyes and upload the videos to YouTube.

And in our own country, persecution is rising. Anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice here. To think that it can’t grow into something far worse ignores history, as Cardinal Wuerl points out:

And no land is safe from a sudden resurgence of persecution. Think about the bloodiest purges of the last century. Where did they take place? Catholic Spain. Orthodox Russia. Christian Germany. Christian Armenia. They began with small encroachments that grew greater over time.

To say “it can’t happen here” is to speak from profound naiveté and ignorance of history.

In January 2012, Pope Benedict XVI warned the United States bishops of a “radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres” in our land.

To conclude the book, Wuerl connects martyrdom–witness–with Jesus in the Eucharist:

As the Eucharist is a re-presentation of Jesus’ Passion, so is martyrdom. As the Eucharist is a voluntary self-offering, so is martyrdom. As the Eucharist brings about communion, so does the act of martyrdom. As the Eucharist is given so that others might live, so are the lives of the martyrs.

Having not read any books by Cardinal Wuerl before, I didn’t know what to expect, but I was impressed by this book. It was an excellent survey of Church history and how men and women gave their lives for Christ. They didn’t go looking for death, but when it came for them, they were ready. May we be so as well!

So go check out To the Martyrs and grow strong through the example and prayers of these great saints!