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Meet G. K. Chesterton

Meet G.K. Chesterton

– by Shane Fuller

GK 3“He said something about everything and he said it better than anyone else.”

Gilbert Keith Chesterton, who is commonly and most often referred to as G. K. Chesterton, was born in 1874 and lived until 1936. He would go down as one of the best writers in the 20th Century.

He was born in London and educated at St. Paul’s. Surprisingly, Chesterton never attended college, but went to art school instead. He began writing when, as an art student, he was asked to contribute a few articles to an art magazine where he critiqued some new pieces. From those humble beginnings, Chesterton would go on to write over 100 of his own books, while contributing to over 200 more. He also wrote hundreds of poems, five plays, five novels, nearly 200 short stories. Chesterton, who considered himself more of a journalist than a writer, also wrote weekly columns for 43 years of his life. Few in history have been such prolific authors…and he didn’t start publishing until 1900.

Chesterton had a spouse who anchored his personality, writing, lifestyle, diet, and many other things. His wife, Frances, seems to have single-handedly kept G. K. on track with his personal schedule. One letter even has Chesterton writing to his wife about where he was, and asking her where he ought to be instead.

He was as amazing a character as any of his fictional creations. G. K. was over six feet tall, and weighed nearly 300 pounds. He wore a cape and a crumpled top hat. Almost every picture that exists of G. K. has him sporting a mustache and glasses. He
Quotation-G-K-Chesterton-religion-thankful-Meetville-Quotes-139598would commonly walk with a cane, and nearly always kept a cigar in his mouth. He was incredibly large, loud and friendly, often was bellowing out laughs through his cigar and mustache.

Chesterton continues to have the same type of impact on his world as he did with his contemporaries. For example, C.S. Lewis, who was a staunch atheist, was brought to faith through the reading of Chesterton’s little book The Everlasting Man. Another example has a man living in British-ruled India, who became inspired by a Chesteron writing, and through it was led to start a movement, which eventually ended British rule in India The man: Mohandas Gandhi. And if these accounts are not amazing enough, one can simply read the praises that came from other intellectuals of his day: George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Elliot,Dorothy Sayers, and H. G. Welles. Shaw, who had a friendly rivalry with G. K., once described him as “a man of colossal genius”. Elliot affirmed that “Chesterton deserves a permanent claim on our loyalty.”

Perhaps you’re wondering, “why have I not heard much of this Chesterton figure?” One reason may be that he has always been hard to label – either as a man of faith, or a politician. Another may be that he often put forth challenging ideas about controversial topics. For example, Chesterton is famous for arguing the cause of the common man. He was fond of defending the poor, and the family. Chesterton, always a lover of the arts, would also write often of the beauty he found in things that society would not find so beautiful. He defended Christian thought and morals in a day of growting secularism, and championed the Roman Catholic faith in the land of the Church of England. He also wrote regularly against such GK 9things as materialism, scientific determinism, moral relativism, and agnosticism. Since all of these have grown stronger since his day, it makes sense that G. K. and his arguments may have lost favor over the years.

Where does Chesterton fit in the narrative of Church history?

Chesterton began his faith journey in the High Anglican Church. We can certainly be pleased with his role in the conversion of C. S. Lewis. But, well beyond that single instance, Chesterton was publicly bold in his defense of Christian thought. Chesterton began his faith journey in the High Anglican Church, but ultimately converted to Roman Catholicism. But, he preferred to be called “orthodox” (His most widely read book to this day is Orthodoxy, in which Chesterton defends “orthodox” Christian views). From this platform of defending a traditional Christian understanding of truth, Chesteron would argue against the pride and willfulness of modernistic thought. For example, he stated that “the worship of will is the negation of will”. When one lifts up one’s own will as supreme, then one must respond to another’s will with a like deference, saying “do as you will”. This means that “I have no will in the matter” of another — meaning one’s will is acutally negated, and doesn’t matter.

GK 9aHe also defended Christian ideals like fighting for a Biblical anthropology. A popular topic in London during his time was eugenics. Eugenics proposed the termination or sterilization of people with limited mental capacity. Also, leading thinkers in London had begun to think of the poor as a race of people that had failed to produce good offspring. Chesterton was vehemently opposed to these ideas, writing books, essays, and poems in defense of those who were challenged mentally and economically.

GK 8 cathG. K. also wove himself into Christian history through his work as a biographer. In his personal study of Thomas Aquinas, Chesterton skimmed through one book … and then penned what is perhaps the greatest biography written on the man.

As for his conversion to Catholicism, Chesterton’s main reason was the church’s catholicity: He very much enjoyed being a part of something that felt bigger than him, and his country, and his century. Chesterton didn’t consider himself a child of his age, but instead a product of the truths and traditions that had survived the centuries before him.

As for this sort of thinking, who can blame him?

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Meet Tertullian

QUINTUS SEPTIMIUS FLORENS TERTULLINA

tertVery little is known about the life of the Christian apologist and writer Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullian except that which is found in his own writings and from other early historians such as Eusebious of Caesarea and Jerome. However, what can be clearly said and seen is that the prolific writings of Tertullian were instrumental in developing a rational, logical, and ardent defense against the many heresies of his day and have served to become the basis for Christian doctrine and what is now known to be orthodoxy. What will follow will be a brief look at the life or Tertullian through the eyes of church historians, both from the today and yesterday, and an examination of some of his most important writings in defense of Christians doctrine and orthodoxy.

As mentioned above not much is known about the early life of Tertullian. What is generally agreed upon is that he was born in the Roman province of Carthage located in northern Africa around 155 CE. He was converted to Christianity in Rome around 190 CE but returned to Carthage where he became an influential leader and prolific writer. The facts around his childhood, his education, and profession seem to be grounded in church tradition stemming from the writing of his contemporaries and those that soon followed him.

Regarding his childhood . . .  

mapJerome (347-420 CE) writes the following, “Tertullian, the presbyter . . . was the son of a proconsul or Centurion.”[1] This paltry statement is one of very few statements that speaks to the childhood years of Tertullian and is seen by some modern day historians as suspect. For example, in Justo Gonzalez’s introduction to the early years of Tertullian the author’s language is vague and non-committal to the facts surrounding his early years and makes no mention of the possibility of his father being a Roman proconsul or Centurion. Additionally, according to literary critic Timothy David Barnes, Ph.d, “it is unclear whether any such position in the Roman military ever existed.”[2]

Regarding his education and profession . . .  

The common belief is that he was educated and trained in rhetoric and was most likely employed as a lawyer.[3] However this too has been called into question by critics such as Dr. Barnes who asserts that many of the writing that clearly identify Tertullian as a lawyer are only fragments and belong to a contemporary of Tertullian with the a similar name. Additionally Dr. Barnes asserts that the legal expertise exhibited in the writings of Tertullian is that which would be commonly known and understood by a Roman citizen.[4]

Regarding his writings and in particular marriage . . .

Despite the vagueness of Tertullian’s childhood and upbringing it is clear that he had a keen mind and an unyielding desire to define and defend Christian doctrine and orthodoxy. This is evidenced by his radical commitment to holiness as well as the many writings that are attributed to his name. These numerous writings cover a wide range of topics and issues that faced the early church and provide modern readers with a glimpse into how the early church viewed early practices and institutions. For example Gonzalez notes that Tertullina’s De Baptismo (On Baptism) is the oldest surviving work that speaks to the early church’s view and practice of baptism and that his two letters Ad Uxorem (To His Wife) provide a glimpse into how the early church viewed marriage marriage.[5]

fragAd Uxorem Tertullian make many observations regarding marriage that many would find to be still held in the modern day Evangelical Christian Church. First, that although marriage is good and lawful, he views celibacy as being preferable. For example he writes the following,

In short, there is no place at all where we read that nuptials are prohibited; of course on the ground that they are “a good thing.” What, however, is better than this “good,” we learn from the apostle, who permits marrying indeed, but prefers abstinence; the former on account of the insidiousnesses of temptations, the latter on account of he straits of the times.[6]

Other views held by Tertullian that are still held by many today is that there will be no marriage in the resurrection, marriage is lawful but polygamy is not, marriage serves to sooth the flesh of its carnal desires, it provides the legitimate avenue for the blessing of children, and that death definitely ends the marriage covenant and returns freedom to the surviving spouse. However it is on this last observation that some modern day evangelicals might find some disagreement.

For Tertullian the motive of all Christian men and women was to live a life in pursuit of the highest good, the truest truth, holiness, and as noted above although it was good to be married it was better and more preferable to be single and celibate. Therefore, in his view, once liberty and the freedom to worship God without distraction had been returned through the death of a spouse the surviving spouse should seek to devote himself or herself to the ministry of the church. This view is not emphasized or held by many today. In fact it is common practice, and almost expected, that those who find themselves newly single will eventually remarry.

Regarding the rigorousness of Tertullian . . .

Tertullian’s rigorous pursuit of truth and of the highest good not only shaped his view of marriage but also led to his eventual break from the church and his involvement with Montanism.

Montanism was an extreme sect of early Christianity that believed that the true church had entered into a new age marked by the prophecies of Montanus who called for a more rigorous life. The attraction for Tertullian is clear as he struggled with his own sins and those of other believers. For him Montansim provided a means of explaining why sin existed in the life of the believer even after baptism as well as provided a system of dealing with those sins. Still the rigorous lifestyle of Montansim proved to be insufficient and eventually he left this order and formed his own sect, which would later be known at the Tertullinaists.[7]

It is an interesting fact that whereas the Roman Catholic Church has canonized many of his contemporaries as Saints, Tertullian’s involvement with Montanism and the formation of his own sect based on the rigors of his own writings has prevented the Roman Catholic Church from labeling him as a Saint.

Regarding Adversus Praxean (Against Praxeas) . . .

The most compelling argument for Tertullian’s contribution to Christendom is his early work in the formation of the Trinitarian view of God as a defense against the heresies of Praxeas and what would come to be know as patripassianism.[8] Tertullian writes the following against Praxeas;

That this rule of faith has come down to us from the beginning of the gospel, even before any of the older heretics, much more before Praxeas . . . especially in the case of this heresy, which supposes itself to possess the pure truth, in thinking that one cannot believe in One Only God in any other way than by saying that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are the very selfsame Person.[9]

In this seminal defense of the faith Tertullian is the first to develop the following view of God, which would serve as the foundation for the Doctrine of the Trinity, “one substance and three persons.”

trinFor Tertullian, the paradox and mystery of God, was not something to be fully understood but that did not mean that humankind could not grasp the truth of the Trinity for God himself had revealed himself in the following ways. First, there eternally existed God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Secondly, these three are not distinct gods but one God of the same substance. Finally, although they are distinct in person, or aspect, or power, they again are of one substance and fall under the names of the Father, and of the son, and of the Holy Ghost. Again Tertullian writes;

As if in this way also one were not All, in that All are of One, by unity (that is) of substance; while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three Persons-the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: three, however, not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect; yet of one substance, and of one condition, and of one power, inasmuch as He is one God, from whom these degrees and forms and aspects are reckoned, under the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. How they are susceptible of number without division, will be shown as our treatise proceeds.[10]

Throughout this work the keen legal mind of Tertullian and his expertise in the tools of rhetoric are clearly displayed as he defends and defines the doctrine that would formerly become know as The Doctrine of the Trinity. In fact Tertullian is the first writer to use the word Trinity and is also the first to begin to define the terms substance and economy that are the foundational elements of understanding how as he observes a Unity can be divided into diversity.

Concluding thoughts . . .

Anyone seeking to understand the mode and thinking of early Christianity as well as the modern views of Christian doctrine would be well served to read and study the writings of Tertullian.

In them they will find the work of a brilliant mind that was dedicated to defining and defending the beginning of the Christian faith through thoughtful and logical argument and understanding. In addition to this the reader will gain an appreciation for not only the past but also for today as many of the topics that modern day skeptics struggle with are the very same notions that skeptics of yester-year struggled with. The doctrine of the Trinitarian God was a mystery then and is still a mystery today.

By having an appreciation for and understanding of the foundational thoughts of Tertullian, believers today will be better equipped to explain the mysteries of God and perhaps remove many of the obstacles the prevent modern day skeptics from seeing Christianity as something more than a religion for the simple and unlearned, and begin to see it as it truly it – the one true path to the One True God.

– Steven Baker

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Barnes, Timothy David. Tertullian: A Historical and Literary Study. 1985 edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity. Rev. and updated, 2nd ed. New York: HarperOne, 2010.

SELECTED TRANSLATIONS

Excerpts from Tertullian’s Adversus Praxeam Chapter II provided by; http://www.tertullian.org/anf/anf03/anf03-43.htm#P10374_2906966

Experts from Tertullian’s Ad Uxorem provided by

http://www.tertullian.org/anf/anf04/anf04-11.htm#P700_173688

Excerpts from Jerome’s On Famous Men, Chapter 53 provided by; http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2708.htm

SELECTED MEDIA

Image of Tertullian provided by; http://www.higherpraise.com/preachers/tertullian.htm

Image of Ad Uxorem provided by; https://www.deutsche-digitale-bibliothek.de/item/NZD5G7XB5WFLME6VRPV4L3GC7Y3SV7UP

Map of Mediterranean Sea and Christian Area; http://www.higherpraise.com/preachers/tertullian.htm

[1] Translation of Jerome’s On Famous Men, Chapter 53 provided by; http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2708.htm

[2] Timothy David Barnes, Tertullian: A Historical and Literary Study, 1985 edition. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 11.

[3] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Rev. and updated, 2nd ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2010), Location 1715 of 9758.

[4] Barnes, Tertullian, 23–27.

[5] Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, 1699=1715 or 9758.

[6] Experts from Tertullian’s Ad Uxorem provided by; http://www.tertullian.org/anf/anf04/anf04-11.htm#P700_173688

[7] Ibid., 1780 or 9758.

[8] Patripassianism is the belief that God the Father suffered the cross with Christ. This belief is also referred to as Modalism, which asserts that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are simply modes or appearance of God.

[9] Translation of excerpt from Adversus Praxeam Chapter II provided by; http://www.tertullian.org/anf/anf03/anf03-43.htm#P10374_2906966

[10] Translation of excerpt from Adversus Praxeam Chapter II provided by; http://www.tertullian.org/anf/anf03/anf03-43.htm#P10374_2906966

 

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Meet Erasmus of Rotterdam

(This summer, The Evangelical Orphan will feature several postings from my students at Phoenix Seminary. They have be encouraged to meet long-lost relatives from our ecclesiastical family, and introduce them to us all – in class, and through this blog. We’re hoping these offerings will serve as a whet for your ongoing appetite to learn more about our history. Enjoy! -bh)

Erasmus … “The Prince of Humanists”

Erasmus - by Hans Holbein the Younger

Erasmus – by Hans Holbein the Younger

Erasmus lived in Europe from 1466 until 1536. He was a priest and scholar who loved Christ and his bride. As a predecessor to the coming reformation he contributed to it in a number of important ways, however, he never broke with the papacy or the established church. As a result his importance and role were largely downplayed for centuries.

As the illegitimate son of a Catholic priest and a physician’s daughter orphaned by the plague; Erasmus was hardly positioned for great success and glory. His early education was entrusted to a monastic group, “The Brethren of the Common Life.” Although he would later be critical of certain monastic ideals, Erasmus would go on to appreciate the discipline and order that he learned from the order.

In order to fulfill a desire to study and travel Erasmus joined the Augustinians and was ordained as a priest. Erasmus became the secretary to the bishop of Cambrai who sent him to Paris to study theology. The studies in Paris were rigorous and challenging, but his monastic upbringing prepared him for the studies and the difficulty of the studies would prepare him for his future academic works. As he studied Erasmus developed a love for his studies. It is this love that connected him with a movement of academics called the Humanists. The Humanists were men devoted to the study of the literary works of the past. They were not Humanist based on their belief of the centrality of men, rather on their devotion to the humanities.

Throughout his studies Erasmus began writing and quickly became an accomplished and prolific writer. He would write no fewer than 15 published works and by 1530 between 10 and 20 percent of the published works sold were written by him. His works included titles like; On Free Will, The Praise of Folly, On Civility in Children, Copia: Foundations of the Abundant Style, Julius Exclusus, and Handbook of a Christian Soldier. The last book was a more complete expression of his theology. Erasmus believed that all men were accountable as soldiers of Christ and used a series of military metaphors to express the call to discipline and service. He was critical of the monastic and priestly elites that celebrated their piety, but did little to call others to practical lives of obedience. He was also critical of the engagement in “the vices of the pagans” that he observed at every level of the church leadership. These criticisms would eventually lead him to speak well of Luther’s call for reform even if he disagreed with Luther’s methodology.

Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Erasmus pursued the best theologians around Europe. His studies took him to England as well. While in England he made two enduring relationships that would impact him for the rest of his life. He became fast friends with Thomas More and they remained close for the rest of their lives. The second relationship emerged after Erasmus heard John Colet preach. Colet preached from the Scriptures anew rather than the commentaries that Erasmus had studied in Paris and elsewhere. It is not clear if the theology was distinctly different, but it was clear to Erasmus that it came from a devotion to and an understanding of the text. This kindled within Erasmus a desire for an understanding of the text that was the result of deep study of the text.

For Erasmus the logical step was to seek the text in its purest form. Rather than mining the depths of contemporary understanding he sought to dig down into the text itself. To this effort Erasmus began to study Greek and to gather to himself as many manuscripts as he could find. As a result of his discipline and dedication he was able to quickly master the Greek language. He worked frantically on the New Testament and quickly produced a collected Greek new testament formed from the manuscripts. Upon completing the collection he began to translate the work in to the common language of the academy, Latin. Although the Latin Vulgate already existed at this time, Erasmus desired to improve the quality of the translation both in accuracy and in care for the language.

What Erasmus produced was a tri-linear publication with the original Greek New Testament line by line with both the Vulgate and his own Latin translation. Included in the text were his personal study notes as well. Erasmus’ express purpose for producing this document was to create a translation that would be easily translated into the common languages of the people quickly and accurately. In fact this is the most significant impact that Erasmus had on the reformation. His translation and collected manuscript work would go on to be used in the translation of the KJV version and Luther’s German translation of the bible. Erasmus invited scholars to discuss the translations and the common man to engage in the text.

Erasmus is quoted in the preface of his published translation as saying, “Would that these were translated into each and every language… Would that the farmer might sing snatches of scripture at his plough and that the weaver might hum phrases of Scripture to the tune of his shuttle, that the traveler might lighten with stories from Scripture the weariness of his journey.” Even before the Reformation took hold, Erasmus desired future where the Holy Scriptures guided and inspired all of God’s people directly.

erasmus pcAlthough Erasmus was highly critical of the corruption in the church’s leadership he never fully supported Luther. He is quoted as supporting Luther’s call for reformation and speaking well of him to the Pope, but rather than serve to promote Luther this largely only served to alienate Erasmus and the Papacy. Despite the rift between Erasmus and the Pope, he did not support Luther’s efforts. Erasmus desired the unity of the church and a call to reform the practices of the church. He viewed the dissention and disunity as equally abhorrent to the corruption inside the existing church and therefore struggled to choose a side of the argument to support. Erasmus was also able to recognize the great cost that the debate would have saying, “I doubt that either side of the dispute can be suppressed without grave loss.”

In his later years Erasmus was still pursued by both the church and the Lutherans. He continued to ride the fence between the two positions. As a result the Pope accused him of sedition and censored much of his writing and the Lutherans accused him of forsaking the gospel and called him a coward. When pressed for an answer Erasmus recognized the Pope as the Vicar of Christ and the established church as the best opportunity for unity of the faith.

It was only centuries later when the rhetoric died down that Lutherans and Catholics alike looked back and recognized the work of Erasmus. He was then understood to be a man of significant scholarly achievement and as a man who loved the Scriptures and Christ. Despite his abstaining from a fight that he feared would hurt both parties, he was a passionate man seeking God and desiring the same for all men.

Nick Fryberger

 

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A Visit to St. Mary’s

When just a child, one thing was always clear to me. “We’re not Catholic.” Then, when I became a Christian at the age of 14, in a small, fundamentalist church, the next layer was added: “Those Catholics are wrong.” 

I was told that I certainly wouldn’t want to go to one of their services. I was told they believe in works, not grace. I was told they are run by a dictatorship (i.e., the Pope), not as a good democracy (i.e., how good, American institutions, including churches, should be run). I was told that they worship Mary instead of Jesus. I was told they have to sit in a little wooden box and confess their sins to a priest in order to get forgiveness. I was told that they baptize babies, which is obviously wrong because babies don’t know that they’re saved. And, I was told that their services were really, really boring.

I grew up being told, in no uncertain terms, that Catholics are not a part of our family, the true family. I later learned that the watershed moment of this family split was called the Reformation. This was the time when there was a big ecclesiastical fork in the road, and the true Christians went right with the Protestants, and the false Christians continued left with the Catholics.

Since those days, I’ve visited many Catholic churches. I’ve read lots of Catholic literature, and some Evangelical literature with different slants on Catholicism. My conclusions? Well, I haven’t joined the Catholic church. But I do see them as family (I’m sure the Pope is relieved to hear this!).

So, I visited St. Mary’s Basilica in Phoenix recently. I thought I’d share my experience, from an orphan’s eyes.

Through the lens of my Protestant biases: Since it is “St. Mary’s”, there were an awful lot of Marys in there. Statues, paintings…it did seem to be Mary heavy, and Jesus light. There were also a lot of Francises, since this church is administered by Franciscan friars. It’s a beautiful building, which made me think of how much it cost for all the ornamentation and furnishings (and the sermon dealt specifically with inviting the poor to Jesus). The service was terrible theater — lots of long pauses, challenging acoustics, hard seats, unfocused lighting, no screens, no “normal” musical instruments. Hardly anyone acknowledged my visit (except during the “passing of the peace”).

But more to the point, right from the beginning of the service, the Word of God was central. They processed the Bible to the altar. The priest even kissed his copy of the text after reading the gospel passage in a show of veneration. The prayers and readings were thoroughly drenched in scriptural thought, especially during the set-up for the Eucharist. They read four, longer, rich passages of scripture. The message was pointed, attacking my pride, and calling me to genuine humility before God. I was led in prayer in ways that I wouldn’t have spontaneously prayed myself, which was great. I knelt. I stood. I sang. I sat in stillness.

Then, I looked at their bulletin. The ads on the back are always a bit strange to me (I guess that’s a Catholic thing…), but program announcements are compelling: a teaching article on the gospel reading, a call to those wanting a richer Monday-through-Saturday spiritual life, children’s classes, membership classes, and calls for people willing to care for the sick, work with the youth, help with the arts (!), prepare for worship, and to offer ongoing prayer support to others.

Not once during my visit was I confronted with the major points of discrepancy I have with Catholic doctrine. I was not put in a position where I was called to worship Mary. At no time did Papal authority come down on me in a negative way. Never once did the priest reference a Thomistic version of the transubstantiated host. I was never encouraged to place Biblical truth behind a man-made tradition. And in no way was I made to believe that I had to work my way to God’s favor. Instead, all was about Jesus, His headship, his presence, and His grace.

I also saw something else I don’t see very often. All kinds of people were worshiping together in this downtown gathering. Old and young, from many ethnic groups. Some seemed devout and moved, but not most. Some were obviously very poor. Some seemed totally disinterested. The great equalizer was seen in the queuing up to receive the Eucharist – all those people, regardless of who they have become, and all with different levels of mental ascent as to what was actually happening there … all streaming forward to receive Christ. What they all knew is that they needed this. And the church was there to hand them the tangible Gospel, as Jesus has told us to do. Really, simply, beautiful.

I sensed that I’m welcome here. And that this is not a dangerous place. I still don’t get everything about them, and I still have my theological questions. Like I said, I haven’t joined the Catholic church. But, I’m happy that they are a part of my family, and I think I have a lot to learn from them. We might have some insights for them, too – if we can ever get along long enough to have a nice conversation.

Thanks, St. Mary’s, for welcoming me, and inviting me to Christ.

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2013 in Contemporary Experiences

 

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