Dissent_magazine_US_logoIt’s no secret that, today, a lot of people disagree with the Church’s teaching on various points.

That’s no surprise. The Church, like Christ, has always been “a sign that is spoken against” (Luke 2:34).

What’s more surprising—and scandalous—is that in our age many professing Catholics reject Church teaching, even teachings regarded as infallible.

The most famous example is the Church’s teaching on contraception. Opinion polls have revealed widespread dissent from this teaching, even among Catholics.

Sometimes those seeking to justify this dissent argue that the Church’s teaching on contraception has not been “received” by the faithful, and therefore is not authoritative. (More recently, Fr. James Martin, SJ has proposed a similar argument concerning homosexual behavior.)

What are they talking about?


Reception and the Sense of the Faithful

After reviewing how the Holy Spirit assists the Church when it infallibly defines a teaching, the fathers of the Second Vatican council stated:

To these definitions the assent of the Church can never be wanting, on account of the activity of that same Holy Spirit, by which the whole flock of Christ is preserved and progresses in unity of faith (Lumen Gentium 25).

The Council teaches that the Holy Spirit preserves the flock of Christ in the unity of faith. And so, when the Magisterium infallibly defines a teaching, the Holy Spirit guides the faithful to accept—or “receive”—that teaching.

This process of reception reflects what theologians have called the “sense of the faithful” (sensus fidelium) or the “sense of faith” (sensus fidei).

According to Vatican II:

The whole body of the faithful . . . cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of faith (sensus fidei) on the part of the whole people, when, from the bishops to the last of the faithful, they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals (Lumen Gentium 12; CCC 92).

The Holy Spirit thus gives the Church—including the ordinary faithful—a supernatural sense of what constitutes the true faith, and when the Magisterium infallibly defines a point of faith, the Holy Spirit guides the Church’s members to accept or receive this teaching.


Clarifying the Sense of the Faithful

In the debate over contraception that followed Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, dissenters argued that so many Catholics rejected its teaching that the process of reception had not occurred and thus that the teaching was not accurate or authoritative.

They even used quotations from Vatican II—like the ones we have just seen—to argue their point.

This led defenders of the Church’s teaching to try to clarify the proper role of the sense of the faithful.

One point they made was that the process of reception is just that: a process. You can’t look at the immediate reaction to a teaching as a definitive guide. You have to give the Holy Spirit time to do his work in guiding the faithful.

Over time, a number of documents appeared that treated the subject of reception and the sense of the faithful.

One of the most thorough was produced by the International Theological Commission.

The ITC is not itself an organ of the Magisterium. Instead, it is an advisory body run by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Its documents are submitted to the pope and the CDF, and they are only published “on condition that there is not any difficulty on the part of the Apostolic See” (Statutes 12; cf. 11).

The ITC’s published documents—like its 2014 Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church, which was authorized for publication by Cardinal Muller—are thus considered theologically orthodox.


The ITC on Reception

The ITC notes that, despite the generally smooth reception of magisterial teachings:

There are occasions, however, when the reception of magisterial teaching by the faithful meets with difficulty and resistance, and appropriate action on both sides is required in such situations.

The faithful must reflect on the teaching that has been given, making every effort to understand and accept it. Resistance, as a matter of principle, to the teaching of the magisterium is incompatible with the authentic sensus fidei.

The magisterium must likewise reflect on the teaching that has been given and consider whether it needs clarification or reformulation in order to communicate more effectively the essential message (n. 80).


Conditions for the Sense of the Faithful

The ITC pointed out that just because a person is a Catholic doesn’t mean he is authentically displaying a true sense of faith. The fact Catholics disagree on various points guarantees that they can’t all be right, and it’s obvious that some Catholics are more faithful than others.

Through his work in our lives, God offers all the baptized guidance in discerning truth from falsehood, but we still have free will, and so we must cooperate with his work for this guidance to bear fruit.

The commission thus identified a set of criteria that an individual needs to authentically participate in the sense of faith:

a) Participation in the life of the Church
b) Listening to the word of God
c) Openness to reason
d) Adherence to the magisterium
e) Holiness—humility, freedom, and joy
f) Seeking the edification of the Church

All of these are common sense.

  • If a person was baptized Catholic but subsequently has never darkened a church’s door, he is so disconnected from his faith that he can’t be said to display a supernatural sense of faith.
  • The Faith is contained in the word of God, and so a willingness to listen to Scripture and Tradition is needed.
  • A person who is unreasonable, who is determined to hold his opinions regardless of the arguments brought forward, is not displaying the discernment needed to distinguish truth from falsehood.
  • Christ gave us a Magisterium, and a person who fundamentally refuses to listen to that Magisterium is not authentically faithful.
  • Holiness is a key goal of God’s work in our lives, and a person who doesn’t seek and display holiness is not cooperating with that work.
  • Finally, God guides individuals to build up or edify their fellow Christians, and someone fundamentally oriented toward creating division and disedification is not cooperating with him.


Opinion Polls and the Sense of the Faithful

In many parts of the world, America included, most Catholics don’t even go to Mass on a regular basis. They thus don’t seem to have the level of involvement in their faith needed to meet even the first criterion laid out by the ITC.

When you consider how many Catholics display the qualities listed above, it is clear that public opinion polls cannot be relied upon as a guide to the sense of the faithful. Thus the ITC comments that one can’t identify the sense of faith with public opinion:

i) First of all, the sensus fidei is obviously related to faith, and faith is a gift not necessarily possessed by all people, so the sensus fideican certainly not be likened to public opinion in society at large.

Then also, while Christian faith is, of course, the primary factor uniting members of the Church, many different influences combine to shape the views of Christians living in the modern world.

As the above discussion of dispositions implicitly shows, the sensus fidei cannot simply be identified, therefore, with public or majority opinion in the Church, either. Faith, not opinion, is the necessary focus of attention.

Opinion is often just an expression, frequently changeable and transient, of the mood or desires of a certain group or culture, whereas faith is the echo of the one Gospel which is valid for all places and times.

ii) In the history of the people of God, it has often been not the majority but rather a minority which has truly lived and witnessed to the faith. The Old Testament knew the ‘holy remnant’ of believers, sometimes very few in number, over against the kings and priests and most of the Israelites. . . .

In many countries today, Christians are under strong pressure from other religions or secular ideologies to neglect the truth of faith and weaken the boundaries of ecclesial community. It is therefore particularly important to discern and listen to the voices of the “little ones who believe” (Mk 9:42) (n. 118).

Therefore, one needs to think twice before one takes the latest opinion poll—whether about contraception or anything else—as a sign that a particular Church teaching has not been received by the faithful.

Obviously, many who dissent from Church teaching are regular churchgoers, and they may meet multiple criteria identified by the ITC. However, the fundamental point remains that the true sense of faith is displayed by those who are authentically faithful and not simply those who are baptized.

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Pope Francis waves to crowds as he arrives to his inauguration mass on 19 March 2013.

This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 24 September 2017 to 4 October 2017.


General Audiences


Papal Tweets

  • “Encountering Jesus can give a decisive direction to our life, filling it with meaning.” @Pontifex 28 September 2017
  • “Today is the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. Let us call on them so that we are always reminded of God’s presence.” @Pontifex 29 September 2017
  • “I have chosen this theme for World Communications Day 2018: “The truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32). Fake news and journalism for peace.” @Pontifex 29 September 2017
  • “In our times we need to pray so much – Christians, Jews, and Muslims – for peace.” @Pontifex 30 September 2017
  • “Like Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, let us learn from the humility of God who became small for us.” @Pontifex 30 September 2017
  • “Our guardian angel is a friend we do not see, but whose presence we feel. He accompanies us on our earthly journey to heaven.” @Pontifex 2 October 2017
  • “Only in the silence of prayer can you learn to listen to the voice of God.” @Pontifex 3 October 2017
  • “Like Saint Francis of Assisi, let us be transformed by the love of Christ in order to live in simplicity and joy.” @Pontifex 4 October 2017

Papal Instagram

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This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 13 September 2017 to 27 September 2017.


General Audiences


Papal Tweets

Papal Instagram

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Pope Francis is having his "Inaugural Mass"? What's happens in this Mass, and why is it important?This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 29 August 2017 to 21 September 2017.


Motu Proprio


Papal Tweets

  • “The Lord does not leave us orphans: we have a Mother, the same one as Jesus. Mary takes care of us and always defends us.” @Pontifex 15 September 2017
  • “Global action is needed in order to reduce pollution and at the same time promote development in poorer countries.” @Pontifex 16 September 2017
  • “The more Jesus occupies the centre of our lives, the more He allows us to come out of ourselves and brings us closer to others.” @Pontifex 17 September 2017
  • “Let us find the courage to purify our hearts by removing the rocks and thorns which choke the Word of God.” @Pontifex 18 September 2017
  • “Let us work together to find concrete solutions to help the poor, refugees, victims of modern forms of slavery, in order to promote peace.” @Pontifex 19 September 2017
  • “Hope is the virtue of a heart that does not close itself in darkness or remain locked in the past, but looks towards the future.” @Pontifex 20 September 2017
  • “I appeal for peace and disarmament: in this world wounded by violence, we need fraternity among peoples.” @Pontifex 21 September 2017

Papal Instagram

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francis-readingThis version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 28 August 2017 to 14 September 2017.





Papal Tweets

  • “Dear Friends, please pray for me and all of Colombia, where I will be travelling for a journey dedicated to reconciliation and peace.” @Pontifex 5 September 2017
  • “I encourage you to entrust yourselves to the Lord, who is the only one who helps and inspires us to contribute to reconciliation and peace.” @Pontifex 7 September 2017
  • “Dear young people, do not be afraid of the future! Dare to dream big! Keep joy alive, a sign of a young heart that has encountered the Lord.” @Pontifex 7 September 2017
  • “Reconciliation is consolidated by the contribution of all. It enables us to build the future and makes hope grow.” @Pontifex 8 September 2017
  • “Truth is an inseparable companion of justice and mercy.” @Pontifex 8 September 2017
  • “Today there are many who hunger for God, who hunger for dignity. As Christians, we must help them to be satiated by God.” @Pontifex 9 September 2017
  • “Our contagious joy must be our first testimony to the closeness and love of God.” @Pontifex 9 September 2017
  • “Charity helps us to know the truth and truth calls for acts of kindness.” @Pontifex 10 September 2017
  • “To “take the first step” is, above all, to go out and meet others with Christ the Lord.” @Pontifex 10 September 2017
  • “Dear Colombian brothers and sisters, thank you! I have met so many people who have touched my heart. You have done me a world of good!” @Pontifex 10 September 2017
  • “I encourage world leaders to set aside partisan and ideological interests and seek together the common good of all humanity.” @Pontifex 12 September 2017
  • “War is the negation of all rights. Let us pray for those who have the responsibility to avoid war between peoples.” @Pontifex 13 September 2017
  • “In the Cross our hope is reborn. Hope born of the Cross is different from that of the world, because it is born of the love of Jesus.” @Pontifex 14 September 2017

Papal Instagram

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reformationIn recent years both Catholics and Protestants have been puzzled by occasional mentions in the press that the two groups would be jointly commemorating of the upcoming five hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

What on earth?

Why would Catholics commemorate such an event?

Let’s talk about that.


“And So, It Begins . . .”

According to legend, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenburg, Germany.

Despite the legend, we don’t have solid evidence that he actually did this, but it is true that in 1517 Luther published a set of 95 propositions he proposed for academic debate.

Surprisingly, the 95 Theses do not refer to or sola scriptura or sola fide—doctrines that later came to define the Protestant movement. In fact, the concept of justification isn’t even mentioned in them.

Instead, they deal with indulgences, purgatory, and various Church teachings and practices connected with them.

With time, however, the debate widened to include additional subjects, and within a few years a whole host of doctrines were under dispute.

Attempts were made for several decades to reconcile the parties involved, but with time the divisions hardened, and the Protestant-Catholic split has been with us ever since.


Anniversaries of the Reformation

Whether or not Luther did anything on October 31, 1517, that date became standard for marking the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

Even today, some Protestant churches celebrate “Reformation Day” as an alternative to Halloween.

And even in groups that don’t have a problem with Halloween, there are periodic celebrations of the anniversary of the Reformation.

The centennial anniversaries—1617, 1717, 1817, and 1917—had particularly notable celebrations in the Protestant community.

Now we’ve arrived at the five hundredth anniversary—2017—and this has posed new challenges, for both Protestants and Catholics.


Mutual Animosity

In the past, it seemed obvious how the two communities should mark hundredth anniversaries of the Reformation.

For Protestants, it was obvious that they should have a big party—a celebration of Luther and his colleagues as (small “s”) saviors of Christendom, who rescued the Christian Faith from popish corruption and heresy. The Reformation was a glorious triumph, and that needed to be celebrated.

For Catholics, the reverse was true: The Reformation was a horrible tragedy, and it should in no way be celebrated. There should be no Catholic marking of the occasion, except as the anniversary of one of the darkest days in history, with the memory of Luther—the arch-heretic—thoroughly execrated.

Given the mutual animosity between the two groups, these ways of looking at the event were a given.


A Change in Attitude

The twentieth century saw a change in attitude between the two groups.

While there are still strongly anti-Catholic Protestants and strongly anti-Protestant Catholics, the two communities have, as a whole, developed much warmer relations.

A variety of factors have contributed to this warming.

In the 1500s, religion was closely tied to the local government. The principle cuius regio, eius religio (Latin, “Whose region, his religion”) meant that the religion of the local ruler would be the religion of the state.

Consequently, subscribing to a different faith could be seen as a politically subversive act, and feelings of nationalism got tangled up with religious sensibilities.

As society has become more secular, though, those tensions have eased among Christians.

Indeed, growing secularism has led Protestants and Catholics to band together. Here in the United States, Roe v. Wade led to unprecedented cooperation between the two on the subject of abortion, and more recent developments have seen the two sides uniting in mutual defense of religious freedom.

We’re also living in an age of increased social mobility and communication. People no longer spend their whole lives within ten miles of the tiny agricultural village where they were born, and they can communicate with anyone in the world via the Internet.

These factors have all led Protestants and Catholics to get to know each other better, to build bridges, and to form alliances.

Socially, we are not the enemies that we once were. Now, we’re usually allies.


“That They May Be One”

Accompanying these changes, both groups have also meditated more profoundly on Our Lord’s requirement that Christians must work to overcome differences and strive for unity.

On the night he was betrayed, Jesus spoke—repeatedly—about the need for Christian unity.

Among other points, he said that it would be by Christians’ love for one another that the world would know they are his disciples.

For Christians to be locked in conflict and mutual hostility therefore creates a barrier to the spread of the Gospel, and this came to weigh more heavily on Christian leaders as the gospel began losing ground to secularism.

Over the course of the twentieth century, Christian leaders became more and more convinced that we needed to find a way around the old hostilities and to begin rebuilding the unity we had lost.

This put the approaching five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation in a new light.


Jesus on Christian Unity

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10).

“And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11).

“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word,  that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.  The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me” (John 17:20-23).


“What Unites Us”

As Christians began to move closer together, they began a mutual re-examination and re-appraisal.

A starting point for this was the willingness to acknowledge the good in each other’s communities: Protestants acknowledged that Catholics were not all bad, and Catholics did the same for Protestants.

This applied not only to personal morals but also to our respective theologies.

In the years of conflict that followed the Reformation, attention focused on our theological differences, but we share a great deal of theology—belief that there is only one, true God, that Jesus Christ is his Son, that God is a trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Concerning Jesus, we believe in his Virgin Birth, his atoning death on the Cross, his bodily resurrection and ascension, and his Second Coming.

We believe in the general resurrection and the final judgment, in heaven and hell, in sin and salvation, in the holy Scriptures as the inspired word of God, and in numerous additional truths.

In words commonly attributed to St. John XXIII: “What unites us is much greater than what divides us.”


Purification of Memory

Preparing for the Jubilee Year 2000, St. John Paul II called for a “purification of memory.” This, he explained, “calls everyone to make an act of courage and humility in recognizing the wrongs done by those who have borne or bear the name of Christian” (Incarnationis Mysterium 11).

The jubilee year may have been a particularly appropriate occasion for this, but such a re-examination, in general terms, was already well underway.

The mutual Catholic-Protestant re-assessment meant not only seeing the positive aspects of the other party, it also meant acknowledging the flaws of our own side.

For Protestants, this meant a frank examination of Luther and his colleagues with the understanding that they could and did make mistakes.

For Catholics, it meant a look back at the time leading up to the Reformation, and the Reformation itself, with an awareness of our own forebears’ mistakes.

There were things in the Church needed of reform. That’s why we held a Counter-Reformation.

The Council of Trent did not meet simply to condemn things Protestants were saying. It has numerous decrees dealing with reforming various aspects of the Catholic Church. And there was a vast amount of reform work done in Catholic circles in the century following the council.

Both groups also have troubled histories in the years since the Reformation began. Pope Benedict XVI noted:

“Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden” (Letter, July 7, 2007).

And once the divisions between Protestants and Catholics did harden, we had the European Wars of Religion, mutual martyrdoms, and ongoing mutual persecution and hostility.


From Heretics to Separated Brethren

For centuries, Catholics and Protestants routinely described each other as heretics. Yet today this language has largely been dropped.

Why is this?

There is no official definition of the term “heresy” in Protestant circles. It is taken to mean some kind of highly unacceptable theological view, though there is no agreed-upon standard of what counts as a heresy.

Consequently, the growing acceptance of Catholics as fellow Christians, along with warmer social relations, has led most in the Protestant community to retire the term for Catholics.

In the Catholic Church, the Second Vatican Council set a new and more positive tone by referring to Protestants not as heretics but as “separated brethren.” The basis of this term is found in the fact that they are brothers in Christ by virtue of their baptism, but they are separated since they are not in communion with the Catholic Church.

While this description is accurate, is there any reason—other than politeness—to think that the term “heretic” should be avoided?

Unlike in the Protestant community, the term “heresy” has an official definition in the Catholic Church.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same” (CCC 2089).

The phrase “some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith” refers to a doctrine that has been infallibly defined by the Church as divinely revealed—i.e., a dogma.

While Protestants have been baptized and do deny or doubt various Catholic dogmas, they typically do not do so out of bad faith (Latin, mala fide) and therefore do not meet the requirement of obstinately denying or doubting a dogma.

The requirement of bad faith obstinacy for heresy has been part of the Church’s understanding for a long time (cf. Code of Canon Law [1917] 1325 §2).

Thus the Second Vatican Council remarked: “The children who are born into these communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and the Catholic Church embraces upon them as brothers, with respect and affection” (Unitatis Redintegratio 3).

Consequently, the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity indicated that people who were born Protestant did not need to make a formal abjuration of heresy upon becoming Catholic (Ecumenical Directory [1967] 19-20).

Thus Protestants are not typically referred to as heretics because they are not presumed to have committed the canonical crime of heresy.


From Celebration to Commemoration

As the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation approached, some in the Protestant community began to ask how it should be marked.

In light of the mutual re-assessments that had taken place, where both parties acknowledged each others good points and their own flaws, the previous kind of celebrations no longer seemed credible.

It would no longer do to one-sidedly portray Luther and his colleagues as glorious heroes against dark-hearted and devilish Catholic villains.

Further, one thing both groups could agree on is that something tragic happened at the time of the Reformation: It was a great rending of Christendom that did not correspond to Christ’s desire for Christian unity and that, if mortal men had acted correctly, would not have happened.

Protestants and Catholic might hold differing views about who was at fault—and many would say there was plenty of fault on both sides—but both could recognize an enormous tragedy as having occurred.

So if the kind of “rah-rah” cheerleading style of celebration wasn’t what was called for, what should the first centennial of the Reformation in the ecumenical age look like?

And who should be involved?

Some in the Protestant community made a striking proposal: It should include Catholics.

The Reformation affected all of western Christendom, and now that Catholics and Protestants again regarded each other as brothers, a way needed to be found that the two communities could mark the occasion together.

This meant holding not a celebration of the Reformation but a commemoration.


Remembering Together

To commemorate an event means to remember it together (from the Latin, cum = “together” and memorare = “to remember”).

Catholics could not properly celebrate the Reformation—which involved a grave wound to Christian unity—but they could remember and honestly assess the event with their Protestant brethren.

And so both Protestant and Catholic churchmen approached their leaders and asked if it was possible to find a way for the two communities to jointly remember—not celebrate—the event.

In the Lutheran community, that meant getting the approval of the Lutheran World Federation. And in the Catholic community, it meant the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity developing proposals that would ultimately have to be approved by the pope.


What’s a Pope to Do?

Some might think that any kind of joint commemoration of the Reformation is a bad idea, but put yourself in the position of the pope and ask what the alternative is.

Maintaining frosty silence?

Meeting requests for a joint commemoration with firm denials?

Answering press queries by saying, “The Reformation was a horrible tragedy and Martin Luther was an arch-heretic and a historical villain of enormous proportions?”

The fundamental question that confronts every pontiff is how to ensure the good of the Christian community, for Christ made Peter the chief shepherd of his Church, and that means his successors have the chief responsibility for promoting the unity among Christians that he willed.

That means that, when approaching the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation, the pope will not be looking to reinforce old divisions but to find a way to encourage Christian unity.

Thus, though joint commemoration is a delicate prospect that undoubtedly involves some discomfort, the fundamental orientation of a pope would be to look for a way to bring something positive out of the occasion.

And it’s easy to see what some of the desired elements for such a commemoration would be:

  • That it not be a triumphant celebration of the Reformation
  • That it involve our joint profession of the Christian Faith
  • That it invoke our common Christian patrimony
  • That it involve prayer for forgiveness of the wrongs committed by both groups
  • And that it ask the Lord for future growth in the Christian unity he wills

Not surprisingly, these were exactly the factors Benedict XVI named in speaking of the forthcoming event.


Benedict XVI on the Joint Commemoration

On January 24, 2011, Pope Benedict gave an address to delegates of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany in which he spoke of the 2017 joint commemoration. He said:

Today ecumenical dialogue can no longer be separated from the reality and the faith life of our Churches without harming them.

Thus, let us turn our gaze together to the year 2017, which recalls the posting of Martin Luther’s theses on Indulgences 500 years ago.

On that occasion, Lutherans and Catholics will have the opportunity to celebrate throughout the world a common ecumenical commemoration, to strive for fundamental questions at the global level, not—as you yourself have just said—in the form of a triumphant celebration, but as a common profession of our faith in the Triune God, in common obedience to Our Lord and to his Word.

We must give an important place to common prayer and to interior prayer addressed to our Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of mutual wrongs and for culpability relative to the divisions.

Part of this purification of conscience is the mutual exchange appraising the 1,500 years that preceded the Reformation, and which we therefore have in common.

For this reason we wish to implore together, constantly, the help of God and the assistance of the Holy Spirit in order to take further steps towards the longed-for unity and not to be satisfied with the results we have achieved so far.


Arrival of the Anniversary

In preparation for the anniversary, there have already been a number of concrete forms of commemoration.

Thus on October 31, 2016—the beginning of the anniversary year—Pope Francis participated in an ecumenical prayer service in Sweden with representatives of the Lutheran World Federation.

On that occasion, he said: “As Catholics and Lutherans, we have undertaken a common journey of reconciliation. Now, in the context of the commemoration of the Reformation of 1517, we have a new opportunity to accept a common path, one that has taken shape over the past fifty years in the ecumenical dialogue between the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church.

“Nor can we be resigned to the division and distance that our separation has created between us. We have the opportunity to mend a critical moment of our history by moving beyond the controversies and disagreements that have often prevented us from understanding one another.”

Additional commemorations are scheduled at events throughout 2017, and especially on October 31.

Most of these will be of brief duration, and they will largely echo themes that have already been explored.

The most substantial common statement on the anniversary, however, is a preparatory document that appeared in 2013.

Then, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation issued a document titled From Conflict to Communion: The Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017.

It is available on the Vatican’s web site, and it is the most informative joint reflection on the anniversary of the Reformation, the history that ensued, and where Catholics and Lutherans stand today.

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VULGATESt. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate is the most influential Bible translation in the history of western Christendom.

As a translation, it’s been astoundingly important—even more than the King James Version.

For many centuries, it effectively was the Bible for countless Christians.

Through long ages in the west, educated people could read Latin but not Greek or Hebrew, and there were few Bible translations in the vernacular available.

There is no getting around the fact that the Vulgate has a uniquely influential place here in the west—or that it continues to have a unique role today.

But does that make it the Catholic Church’s “official” Bible?


How would you show that?

If you wanted to show that the Vulgate was the Catholic Church’s “official” Bible, you’d need a text where the Church declares it the official one.

Otherwise, it’s not.

Since “official” is a legal status, such a text would belong to canon law, and the logical place to look for it would be in the current edition of the Code of Canon Law.

But there is no such text.

The Vulgate is not mentioned in the current Code of Canon Law. Neither is it mentioned in the original, 1917 edition of the Code. Nor is it mentioned in the 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.

So we are not off to a promising start.

We will need to look at other documents of current law and see if any of them declare the Vulgate to be the Church’s official Bible.

Before we do that, though, we should clarify an important point.


The Original Languages

Despite its influential role, the Vulgate is a translation.

It thus does not contain the text of the Bible in the original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek).

While it can play a useful role as a translation, it cannot replace the original language texts.

This is an important point, because some Catholics have placed so much stress on the Vulgate that some people have been confused on this point.


Trent’s Statement

To see this, let’s start by looking at what the Council of Trent had to say regarding the matter:

[This] sacred and holy Synod—considering that no small utility may accrue to the Church of God, if it be made known which out of all the Latin editions, now in circulation, of the sacred books, is to be held as authentic—ordains and declares, that the said old and vulgate edition, which, by the lengthened usage of so many years, has been approved of in the Church, be, in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions, held as authentic; and that no one is to dare, or presume to reject it under any pretext whatever [Decree Concerning the Edition and Use of the Sacred Books, 1546].

Or, more simply:

[This Synod] ordains and declares, that the said old and vulgate edition . . . be, in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions, held as authentic.

“Authentic” in this context means “authoritative.” So Trent is saying that, of the Latin editions available in its day, the old Vulgate was to be considered the authoritative edition for use in lectures, debates, sermons, and expositions.

Note the qualifiers: “out of all the Latin editions, now in circulation.”

Trent isn’t saying anything about original language editions. It’s just talking about Latin ones.

It also isn’t saying that the old Vulgate can’t be superseded at a later date by a newer Latin translation.

Both of these points will be important.


Pius XII’s Statement

In 1943, Bl. Pius XII commented on Trent’s statement, writing:

And if the Tridentine Synod wished “that all should use as authentic” the Vulgate Latin version, this, as all know, applies only to the Latin Church and to the public use of the same Scriptures; nor does it, doubtless, in any way diminish the authority and value of the original texts.

For there was no question then of these texts, but of the Latin versions, which were in circulation at that time [Divino Afflante Spiritu 21].

Here Pius XII does two important things.

First, he makes the point we’ve already mentioned—that the Vulgate does not “in any way diminish the authority and value of the original texts” (i.e., the ones in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek).

Second, he clarifies that Trent’s declaration “as all know, applies only to the Latin Church.”

This is important because the Latin Church is not the whole of the Catholic Church.


Non-Latin Catholic Churches

There are more than twenty other Churches—the Melkite Church, the Chaldean Church, the Maronite Church, etc.—that are also part of the Catholic Church.

These Churches—being in the East—historically did not use Latin.

Instead, they celebrated the liturgy and read the Scriptures in other languages, such as Greek and Aramaic.

Thus, rather than using the Latin Vulgate, Greek-speaking Catholics historically have used the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament and the original Greek New Testament.

Aramaic-speaking Catholics historically have used an edition in Syriac (a form of Aramaic) known as the Peshitta.

In these Catholic Churches, the Vulgate was never the primary version of Scripture.

We thus need to be careful that we don’t represent what Trent said as applying to the whole Catholic Church. It doesn’t.

As Pius XII pointed out, it applies only to the Latin Church.


Current Law?

Since the time of Trent, canon law has been completely reorganized, and thus we need to see what current law has to say concerning the Vulgate.

We’ve already seen that the Vulgate is not given any special status in the current codes of canon law (Western or Eastern), but this does not mean it isn’t dealt with in other legal documents.

In fact, St. John Paul II dealt with it in a 1979 apostolic constitution known as Scripturarum Thesaurus.

This document promulgated a new, revised edition of the Vulgate—known as the Nova Vulgata, Neo-Vulgate, or New Vulgate—which had been in preparation for some time.

In this short document, the pope makes some of the points we have already discussed—such as when he notes that “in the regions of the West the Church has preferred to the others that edition which is usually called the Vulgate.”

However, the point we are interested in is what he says to say about the legal status of the current edition of the Vulgate. Concerning it, he says:

[B]y virtue of this Letter we declare the New Vulgate edition of the Holy Bible as “typical” and we promulgate it to be used especially in the sacred Liturgy but also as suitable for other things, as we have said.

“Typical” is a term of art in canon law. To declare something to be the typical edition of a work means that it is the authorized reference edition that is to be consulted in cases of dispute.

Thus here John Paul II declares the New Vulgate to be the typical edition—or authorized reference edition—of the Vulgate.

This, not prior or parallel editions, is the one that the Church will be using.

He also promulgated it “to be used especially in the sacred Liturgy”—about which we will have more to say—and “also as suitable for other things,” the other things including “sharing the word of God with the Christian people” (at least those who speak Latin).

John Paul II thus did not declare the New Vulgate to be the official Bible of the Catholic Church.

He declared it the typical edition of the Vulgate and he authorized it for certain uses, especially in the liturgy.


The New Vulgate in the Liturgy

When the liturgy is celebrated in Latin (at least in the ordinary form), the New Vulgate is the translation used in the Scripture readings.

It is also used when Scripture is quoted in the prayers of the liturgy.

Its role also was clarified in a 2001 document known as Liturgiam Authenticam, which was released by the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW). It provided that:

[I]t is not permissible that the translations [of the liturgy] be produced from other translations already made into other languages; rather, the new translations must be made directly from the original texts, namely the Latin, as regards the texts of ecclesiastical composition, or the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, as the case may be, as regards the texts of Sacred Scripture.

Furthermore, in the preparation of these translations for liturgical use, the Nova Vulgata Editio, promulgated by the Apostolic See, is normally to be consulted as an auxiliary tool (no. 24).

Thus when the Latin Church’s liturgy is translated into vernacular languages like English or Spanish, the Scripture readings are to be based on the original biblical language but the New Vulgate is to be “consulted as an auxiliary tool.”

The document goes on to name the situations in which the New Vulgate is to be consulted. They concern things like when translators have to choose:

  • among different manuscript traditions (no. 37)
  • among possible renderings of passages that have traditionally been rendered one way in the liturgy (no. 41a)
  • how to render certain words that can sound strange in the vernacular if rendered literally (no. 43)

Because of questions that arose concerning Liturgiam Authenticam, the CDW later sent a letter which discusses the matter further. In part, it said:

[I]t is reasonable that a translator of the Scriptures should work with the original languages before consulting other versions, including the Latin.

Afterwards, however, it can only be beneficial for a translator to consider the Latin text as a window through which to view the same Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic text from the standpoint of a healthy sympathy with the best insights of the Latin Church over the centuries.

This is substantially what the recent Instruction calls for as regards the preparation of translations intended for use in the Roman Liturgy.

It was thus clear that the New Vulgate be used as an aid—an auxiliary tool—in developing liturgical translations. It does not serve as the base text to be translated.


The Accuracy of the Vulgate

No translation of a lengthy text is able to capture all the nuances found in the original language, and thus no translation is perfect in that sense.

What degree of accuracy does the Church claim for the Vulgate?

Pius XII stated:

[The] special authority or as they say, authenticity of the Vulgate was not affirmed by the Council particularly for critical reasons, but rather because of its legitimate use in the Churches throughout so many centuries; by which use indeed the same is shown, in the sense in which the Church has understood and understands it, to be free from any error whatsoever in matters of faith and morals; so that, as the Church herself testifies and affirms, it may be quoted safely and without fear of error in disputations, in lectures and in preaching; and so its authenticity is not specified primarily as critical, but rather as juridical.

Here the pontiff indicates that the Vulgate was “free from any error whatsoever in matters of faith or morals”—meaning that it contains no theological errors, for these would have been discovered in the long centuries of its use in the Church. It was therefore safe to quote without fear of theological error.

However, this does not mean it is not subject to revision and improvement as a translation of the original languages. Thus Pius XII noted that Trent did not view the Vulgate as authoritative in the Latin Church “particularly for critical reasons.” Indeed, he noted that:

It is historically certain that the Presidents of the Council received a commission, which they duly carried out, to beg, that is, the Sovereign Pontiff in the name of the Council that he should have corrected, as far as possible, first a Latin, and then a Greek, and Hebrew edition, which eventually would be published for the benefit of the Holy Church of God (no. 20).

Thus even at Trent it was asked that a corrected edition of the Vulgate be produced which would improve it as a translation, even though it already contained no theological errors.

In the same way, the Church makes no claims to unalterable perfection for the New Vulgate. The CDW explained:

While constantly defending the inerrancy of the Sacred Scriptures as such, the Church has never claimed unalterable perfection for her own officially approved Latin edition of the Scriptures, and has sought to improve that version several times.

It is not to be excluded, and indeed, it is to be expected, that such work continue in the future.


The Bottom Line

From what we’ve seen, the Vulgate historically has been an extraordinarily influential translation in the Latin Church.

It has been given special recognition by the Church, and it does not contain theological errors.

At the same time, it has always been recognized that it could be further improved, like any biblical translation.

The current edition, known as the New Vulgate, is the typical Latin edition of the Scriptures used in the Latin Church, especially in the liturgy.

However, none of this supports the claim that the Vulgate is the official Bible of the Catholic Church as a whole.

It is an important translation that the Latin Church uses for certain purposes, but the Church has not declared any single edition of the Bible to be its sole and definitive version.

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This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 24 August 2017 to 5 September 2017.


General Audiences



Papal Tweets

  • “If you pay attention to the heart, you will find you are close to the Lord and to others.” @Pontifex 31 August 2017
  • “Lord, teach us to contemplate you in the beauty of creation and reawaken our gratitude and sense of responsibility.” @Pontifex 1 September 2017
  • “Jesus is always there with an open heart. He throws open the mercy that he has in his heart. He forgives, embraces, and understands.” @Pontifex 2 September 2017
  • “It is much more important to realize how much God loves us, than how much we ourselves love Him.” @Pontifex 3 September 2017
  • “Jesus is present in so many of our brothers and sisters who suffer today like He did.” @Pontifex 4 September 2017
  • “Like Mother Teresa, may we open up opportunities of joy and hope for the many who are discouraged and need understanding and tenderness.” @Pontifex 5 September 2017
  • “Dear Friends, please pray for me and all of Colombia, where I will be travelling for a journey dedicated to reconciliation and peace.” @Pontifex 5 September 2017

Papal Instagram

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dog-picture-photo-shar-pei-puppiesSince I started reporting on the amount of weight I was losing by Intermittent Fasting (IF), I’ve had various people ask or comment about loose skin.

Some have assumed that–as I’ve lost 70 lbs now–I must have a lot of loose skin, and they’ve wondered if I’m considering having a tummy tuck.

Others have said that they want to lose weight, but they’re afraid of getting loose skin, and so they are holding back from doing so.

Some have wondered if the prospect of getting loose skin causes me any worries.

To be honest, the idea of developing loose skin never even occurred to me until people brought it up.

Further, even if it were a problem, it would not deter me. I would get down to a weight I consider appropriate for my height and build and deal with any loose skin problems at the end of the process.

I’m determined.

Click here to get information about Intermittent Fasting and how it’s worked for me.

But the good news is: the problem isn’t really materializing.

There are a few places on my body where the skin is a little loose (particularly where my limbs join my torso), but this may only be a transient phenomenon, for reasons I’ll explain.

What I can definitely say is that loose skin has not been a problem where you would think it would be–around my stomach.

Like most people who’ve struggled with weight issues, I carried a lot of extra weight around my stomach, and so a lot of that weight has now come off.

At one point, I was wearing pants with a 44″ waist, and at that point I probably weighed around 80-90 lbs more than I do now.

I’m now wearing pants with a 34″ waist, so that means I’ve lost 10″–nearly a foot–from around my waistline.

But: I do not have loose skin around my waist. I certainly don’t have any 10″ of extra skin there. Instead, the skin around my waist has shrunk with my waistline.

Why is this?

If you Google “loose skin,” you will find pictures of people who have lost weight and who now have lots of loose skin. (I don’t really suggest that you do that, BTW. Rhett and Link could feature “loose skin” as one of their “Don’t Google That” segments. That’s why I went with a picture of puppies for this post.)

It thus seems that there are ways of losing weight that result in lots of loose skin, but it appears that Intermittent Fasting does not produce this effect.

A while ago, I saw a video interview with the Canadian nephrologist Dr. Jason Fung, who specializes in IF, and he says that at his clinic, he’s never had to refer a patient for a tummy tuck.

Instead, the patients’ skin shrinks as they fast.

His idea is that the reason for this is that, as your body is looking for things it can burn for fuel, it identifies any excess skin you don’t need as something it can re-absorb and so gets rid of it.

Presumably, there is some hormonal trigger for this: Your body originally sensed that it needed to make new skin as you gained weight, and with the hormonal improvements that accompany fasting, it identifies that skin as no longer needed.

That’s why I think the few places where my skin is a little loose may be temporary.

Frankly, though, I’m just delighted to have the weight off. Health is more important than cosmetic issues, and those can be dealt with other ways if needed.

As you might imagine, it’s a little weird talking about this issue, but I’ve tried to be very open about my weight loss journey, and I wanted to report the good news to people–especially those who have been very concerned about whether they’d get loose skin–that it really hasn’t been a significant issue.

And I can go you one better: A place that you might think you’d get loose skin, and where it would be especially problematic to do so, would be your face. Extra loose skin there would make you look older.

Well, this definitely has not been a problem. I have lost weight in my face and neck–enough that people volunteer the fact they can see the weight loss there if they haven’t seen me in a while–but I definitely haven’t developed new wrinkles or sagging skin.

See for yourself.

no loose skin

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This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 13 August 2017 to 29 August 2017.


General Audiences


Papal Tweets

  • “Humanity needs hope in order to live and needs the Holy Spirit in order to hope.” @Pontifex 24 August 2017
  • “Being men and women of the Church means being men and women of communion.” @Pontifex 25 August 2017
  • “May the Virgin Mary obtain for us the grace to be enlivened by the Holy Spirit, so we can witness to Christ with evangelical honesty.” @Pontifex 26 August 2017
  • “Today how many mothers shed tears, like St Monica, so that their children will return to Christ! Do not lose hope in God’s grace!” @Pontifex 27 August 2017
  • “The Gospel invites us to answer first and foremost to God who loves us and saves us, recognising Him in our neighbour.” @Pontifex 29 August 2017

Papal Instagram

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