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True Catholic Faith

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A Celtic Christian Worldview (6)

After He had instructed the one holy catholic church by His Word, established it by His example, strengthened it by His grace and united it with His peace, having assumed human nature completely except in that it was not liable to punishment through sin, returning to the Father from Whom He was never away, He sat down at the Father’s right hand. From here appearing in the Father’s glory at the judgement of the living and the dead when all arise, He will give eternal punishments to the wicked and eternal rewards to the righteous.

  - The Book of the Order of Creatures I.6[1]

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.

- Hebrews 1.1-4

Parts 5 and 6 of chapter I in the Book of the Order of Creatures address the work of Christ – His incarnation, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, and return. The teaching is orthodox concerning the work of Christ, although little mention is made of His fulfilling all righteousness, except the reference to His sinlessness. The emphasis is on His bearing our sins through His suffering.

This emphasis recurs throughout the period of the Celtic Revival (ca. 430-800 AD). Celtic Christians were acutely aware of their need to be saved from their sins. They can seem sometimes to be not as clear on their need for the righteousness of Christ, although no one could ever accuse them of teaching salvation by works.

By His holy life – a fact noted by our author in the excerpt above – Jesus fulfilled all the righteousness we need to be received into the Presence of God the Father. His righteousness is the only righteousness we can ever know, claim, or hope to realize more of in this life. He taught His righteousness to His disciples, who taught it to the churches, which have received, kept, and transmitted that teaching for centuries.

By His death on the cross, Jesus bore the punishment due to Law-breaking sinners. His death was sufficient to cover the sins of every person who ever lived. If this were not so, then God would have no ground for condemning unrepentant sinners, since He would have made no provision for their salvation. Jesus’ death was so infinitely unjust and infinitely just that it was sufficient to satisfy the wrath of God against every person who has lived or ever will live.

At the same time, His death is efficient to save all who believe. When we believe in Jesus, it is by a work of the Spirit in our hearts, as Paul explains in Galatians 4.4-7. The Spirit, sent by Christ and the Father, tears out, so to speak, our stone-hard heart of sin (Ezek. 36.26, 27), and gives us a new and living heart, enabling us to love God and believe in Him.

This, too, is the work of Christ. Now He is seated at the right hand of God where He upholds the universe and all things in it, puts His enemies under His feet, gathers His chosen ones and builds His Church, and is preparing a place for all who believe, that they might dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

This, the writer notes, is the catholic faith, in which Jesus instructed His disciples by word and deed prior to His ascending to heaven in a glorified body of flesh. The catholic faith precedes the formation of the Roman Catholic Church, which did not become a working presence in the Christian movement until the fourth century. The catholic faith gives birth to the catholic Church, and only those churches which adhere to the catholic faith can be considered true churches unto the Lord.

Celtic Christians professed the true catholic faith, but they did not – until late in the 7th century – consider themselves to be under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. No church or denomination of churches which departs from the catholic faith can be considered to be true churches; and none who teach contrary to the catholic faith can be considered faithful teachers, since they put themselves outside the boundaries of faith and life established by Jesus, taught by the apostles, preserved by the Spirit, and guarded and maintained by faithful believers in all ages. The faith of the Christian Church does not change with the changing moral winds of the day. The true faith must be understood as “That which has been believed always, everywhere and by all,” as Vincent of Lerins summarized it early in the 5th century.

Christian faith is centered on Christ and His work. That’s the foundation and starting-point. But that’s not the entirety of it. What Jesus taught and the apostles handed down, and what the Church has received and taught since the days of the apostles, this also is the Christian faith. We are not free to adjust our beliefs or practices as we see fit, or to accommodate the faith to the shifting moral and cultural standards of the day. The true catholic faith remains the standard for Christian faith and life today, even as it did in the time of Christ and of the Celtic Revival.

If we believe in Jesus, we will embrace the entirety of His work, and this includes the entirety of faith as He taught it, as the apostles received and proclaimed it, and as it was once-for-all handed down to the saints. As the writer concludes in Part 7, “This is the catholic faith; which it is more profitable to believe and confess than to demolish by discussion.”

For Reflection
1. In our day – as in every age – the true catholic faith is under assault by those who want to make adjustments according to the spirit of the age. How should we respond to these people?

2.  What can we do to make sure that what we believe is in line with what Christians have believed “always, everywhere and by all”?

Psalm 19.12-14 (St. Christopher: Beneath the Cross of Jesus)
Who, Lord, can know his errors? O keep sin far from me!
Let evil rule not in my soul that I may blameless be.
O let my thoughts, let all my words, before Your glorious sight
Be pleasing to You, gracious Lord, acceptable and right!

Lord, keep me always within the path marked out by Your Word, so that I…

Your vision of God

Seeing Jesus, exalted in glory (Col. 3.1-3), is the best way to improve our vision of God. Our 28-day devotional, Be Thou My Vision, follows Scripture and Celtic Christians as they lead us to focus more consistently and clearly on Jesus. Order your free copy by clicking here.

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All Psalms for singing from
The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[1] Davies, p. 2

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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