A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon a blog that was linked to one of the few I follow. The topic was whether or not Christmas should be celebrated as a holiday of Christian origin. My reaction was... "WHAAAT?!?"
See, for a few minutes I thought I was reading a blog written by a Catholic. My initial thought was, "What type of weird Catholic Fundamentalism is this?" Haha. Come to find out, much to my relief, it was just plain, old Fundamentalism. I immediately thanked God I am Catholic. Let me explain.
Probably most of my few friends that read my blog will be completely bored by this conversation, but this stuff gets me going and thinking... Which I throughly enjoy! Please know too, that all my family is Protestant, so I'm really not trying to be offensive in any way. This conversation just fits very well into the whole process of why I converted to Catholicism.
Fundamentalist Christians are those that take the bible completely at face value. They are literalists to the core. When God said He created the world in 6 days, it took 6 days. Literally. There is no room for allegory here. Like most evangelical Christians, they believe if it ain't in the bible it ain't true. There is also no room for the Sacred Tradition of the Church. This is that stuff that was not written down but passed on orally by those who actually knew Christ Himself... Or later by the people who knew the people who knew Christ Himself, and still a little while later, those who knew the people, who knew the people, who knew Christ himself. That's kind of the picture.
The Early Church Fathers are the people we speak of who existed in the early Church... The ones who the apostles passed on the Tradition to, which was either written down or passed on by word of mouth as it says in various places such as St Paul's Letter to the Thessalonians- "So then brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter." (2 Thessalonians 2:15) There was no New Testament at this time because the Gospels were not yet written, and the Letters which form most of the New Testament were still under construction. When the apostles spoke of scripture, they were referring to the Old Testament Scriptures.
The New Testament was never written as a complete encyclopedia of all truth and teaching of the early Church. There is not an appendix of every doctrine or article of faith located in the back of the NT because it was never written to be a sole rule of faith. This is really obvious when you think about it. The New Testament consists of 4 Gospel accounts which tell the story of the Incarnation and the Resurrection, and the teachings of Jesus inbetween. With the exception of The Acts of the Apostles and The Book of Revelation, the rest are letters written by the apostles essentially to address certain problems that were arising within some of the early communities.
The reason it was never intended to be a sole rule of faith is that Christ really did establish a living, breathing Church who He sent His Spirit to guide and lead into all truth. As far as we know, Jesus never even told anyone to write anything down. Jesus did not. He preached orally. He preached orally, but even his preaching wasn't a complete resource... "I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come."- John 16:12-14
Another thing to consider is most people did not read back then. The printing press was not invented until the time of Martin Luther. It is actually kind of like the fuel that spread the Reformation at the rate that it did. All books had to be hand copied, so most people could not afford even a bible, which would have been Old Testament scriptures anyway. Scripture was read aloud in Jewish Temples at the time of Christ.
Catholics believe Christ did in fact establish a specific Church, and He made St. Peter the head, who was the first Pope. Jesus was asking his disciples who they thought He was and... "Simon Peter replied, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' And Jesus answered him, 'Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter,[Peter means rock in Greek] and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." All of the Popes in history can be traced back to Peter through apostolic succession.
Catholics believe in a visible Church. Jesus said, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house." -Matt.5:14-16 Why wouldn't his Church be visible in a visible world?
The Catholic Church is the only Christian Church that has existed since the time of the Apostles and for about 1500 years before the Protestant Reformation. When I read writings from the Early Church Fathers who some wrote early on, maybe less than 100 yrs after Christ died- I will have to look up the exact dates because I have forgotton- I found every doctrine was full on Catholic in it's teaching. I know, it's shocking! This is what led John Henry Newman, a Catholic convert from Anglicanism to say, "To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant." There is no other way around it.
I don't want this to be too lengthy, so I will just make one last point about this belief that Protestants have that Scripture is the only authority that can be relied upon. The statement is self-refuting. Nowhere in scripture does it say that scripture is the sole rule of faith to be relied upon. Besides that, Protestants rely on scripture themselves that CATHOLICS proclaimed to be inspired scripture... They have to first accept the AUTHORITY of the Catholic Church to accept the authority of the New Testament Books they are relying upon as their sole authority! Contradiction there. There weren't any Protestants at the Councils that met to decide which books of the New Testament were going to be included in the Canon because Martin Luther wasn't born until more than a 1000 yrs later! There is so much to say about these topics, but I am trying to be as brief as possible. My focus is Christmas, but it wouldn't make sense without at least a bare background.
So back to this blog. Basically this woman discovered that a lot of the customs associated with Christmas might be of pagan origin. There is some debate about the authenticity of these claims, but some of them could possibly be true. Things such as Christmas trees being similar to the trees that pagans cut down and brought into their homes. Like I said, there is debate about this because they site Jeremiah 10:1-5. These were trees that were cut down, carved into idols, and decorated with silver and gold. They were no longer trees but idols. Wikipedia explains some of the controversy here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_tree
Much of the controversy is derived from the Roman pagan holiday of Saturnalia which honored their god Saturn. It was celebrated close to the time of Christmas in ancient Rome starting a few hundred years before the birth of Christ. From what I read they brought evergreen branches into their homes (not whole trees) and used holly to decorate weaths and their homes. The Early Christians in Rome decorated their homes as well to avoid persecution. As the Church grew everyone continued the custom but began to associate these things with Christmas and new life. I have also heard that it may have been that the Church allowed these thing to continue in order to convert pagans to Christianity because they so loved their customs... So the Church changed the meaning of some of these practices into new things that they represent. "Behold I make all things new." Revelation 21:5
So anyway this was the topic of debate on this blog. There was even some discussion that the Catholic Church chose December 25th as the birthday of Christ to coincide with this ancient pagan holiday of Saturnalia. Like I said, there can be much debate about the actual date of Christ's birth, but the important thing is that this is when we commemorate it. The Church pronounced this would be the day it was celebrated in the early 4th century. I have read it had nothing to do with this holiday of Saturnalia, but was based somewhat on determining when Mary conceived and when John the Baptist was born and the summer and winter solstice. The Catholic Church proclaimed that this day, December 25th would be celebrated as The Mass of the Nativity of the Lord. Christmas means "Christ's Mass."
Everything started to make sense to me when I put myself in their fundalmentalist's shoes. Of course they would question Christmas or even altogether reject it because they reject the Catholic Church. I was reading the comments on the blog, and one person even went so far as to say that her family didn't celebrate Christmas because there is no mention of it in the bible.
These weren't people who were merely tired of all the commercialism that Christmas creates or rejecting Santa and his flying reindeer. They were rejecting the celebration of the Nativity flat out. They were rejecting it because they have no other authority outside their own interpretation of scripture. They were rejecting the Early Churches proclamation of the celebration. Made me sad. I commented briefly, and someone reminded me that they don't celebrate ChristMAS or any Mass. Yeah that's right.
Christmas is a feeling of hope and longing that is universally recognized. Everyone knows this feeling because God has placed something like it on every heart even if they don't know it. Most people aren't merely excited about what type of plastic, cloth, metal, or other substance they are gonna receive on Christmas... But they know, even if only subconsciously that something special and holy happened on this night.
I went to Mass on Christmas Eve, and I sat there looking at the 4 beautifully lit Christmas trees surrounding the little manger scene complete with Mary and Joseph and the shepherds... Thinking about these things amongst the singing of "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" and "O Holy Night." I was so thankful that I belong to a Church that celebrates Christmas! I was also very thankful that I belong to a Church that I can look to for guidance on all doctrinal issues as well!
It is just so obvious to me that Jesus would establish a CHURCH that everyone can look to for all types of guidance. If He established only a book, no matter how holy and sacred, it is obviously a flawed plan. A book cannot settle disputes when it was never intended to do so. The thousands upon thousands of Protestant Christian denominations proves this beyond all doubt.. And Protestantism not only leads to chaos, but taken to the extreme, the rejection of even Christmas.