Posted in theology

They crept in

By Elizabeth Prata

For certain people have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into indecent behavior and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:4).

For context, Jude is opening his letter by saying he’d wanted to speak of the faith and their common salvation, but must change his intended topic to one of discernment. He warned against false teachers in the next verses, including the one above.

There are so many parts to this verse to explore and chew on. Today, let’s look at the first phrase, ‘certain people have crept in unnoticed’. The question is, WHY was it unnoticed? Why didn’t the people notice the false teachers among them? It all starts with destructive heresies, ungodly men creeping in unnoticed. And why aren’t they noticed?

Because Christians today all too often fail to be familiar with the real thing, foregoing Bible study, quiet time, prayers, and worship, so that when the counterfeit shows up, being only subtly different from the Truth, it goes unnoticed.

Where do they creep into? They creep into houses, as was the custom of that day, and today, by television or podcast or books. They creep into the church as a tare. They creep in to the ministry as a false teacher. They creep in, and the majority of the population of the place are unaware.

At night, especially if you live in the south, or in a city apartment building in the north, cockroaches scamper about. While you sleep, they creep in to your cupboards and nibble on your food. They scuttle in, while you are sleeping unaware. They come out at night to eat and cavort over your clean counters, they creep in and you don’t notice them…until one day you spot a dropping. And another day another dropping, then a pile of droppings. Likening false teachers to cockroaches is an apt metaphor.

They creep in, they are unwelcome, they hide as long as they can, until the putrid fruit of their presence is detected. Southerners, knowing the frequency with which cockroaches like to invade, will protect the house. They have regular pest control measures. Do you want cockroaches crawling over your baby as he sleeps sweetly in the crib? Of course not! So protective measures are taken to keep the house free of pests.

So it should be with churches. Jude is a protective measure, dispensing wisdom from experience and a purity of truth from the Holy Spirit

Peter also is a protective measure against the pestilence of false teaching and the people who bring it. There is a parallel verse to Jude,

But false prophets also appeared among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. (2 Peter 2:1).

Barnes’ Notes on Peter’s verse: “[T]here were artful and wicked men who had crept into the church, pretending to be religious teachers, but whose doctrines tended to sap the very foundations of truth. The apostle Peter, describing these same persons, says, “who privily shall bring in damnable heresies.” See the notes, 2 Peter 2:1. Substantially the same idea is expressed here by saying that they “had crept in unawares;” that is, they had come in “by stealth;” they had not come by a bold and open avowal of their real sentiments. They professed to teach the Christian religion, when in fact they denied some of its fundamental doctrines; they professed to be holy, when in fact they were living most scandalous lives. In all ages there have been men who were willing to do this for base purposes.”

They creep in, and insinuate themselves into the minds and hearts of their prey. The prey, (us), are unaware they are being devoured by a predator, and when discovered can’t believe the wolf is really a wolf. “But he’s so nice!” they say. “She helped me!” they cry. “It can’t be true!” and they disbelieve this person or that certain person is really false. Like kudzu, overnight the tentacles have grown and clung on. Disentangling now is unworkable and difficult.

Meanwhile, as Barnes mentioned, what are the ‘base purposes’ for which they have crept in? We know one of them is greed. (2 Peter 2:3, 2 Corinthians 2:17). They have other appetites they want to satiate, too. (Romans 16:18). Whatever their base desires, they are immoral. Greed, lust, fame, pride…whatever it is that the false teacher seeks, they find it by preying on unwary Christians. They peddle His word for dishonest gain. They contradict holy precepts and upright living required by God of His people and especially of His ministers.

Too often we forget we are in a war. With all the talk of winsomeness and seekers and love…we forget that we give sin no quarter. We kill it. We forget that there are active and present enemies out to kill US, to draw us away, or to pollute our souls, or to deceive us. The enemy wants to destroy our witness. He wants to do anything against Christ that he can, and will stop at nothing short of God’s own boundaries to get it done.

We slay sin, we tear down philosophies, we anathematize false teachers. Those are fighting words. So, dear sister, fight!

EPrata painting

Posted in theology

Can you be an ‘ex-Christian’?

By Elizabeth Prata

EPrata photo

There’s no such thing as an ex-Christian. Look at 1 John-

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” (1 John 2:19)

John is saying here that people who ‘backslide’ and then fall away from the faith entirely, never really were saved to begin with. “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him,” (Titus 1:16).

For many professing “ex-Christians”, it starts with apostasy, something Paul said there would be plenty of in the last days.

Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. (1 Tim 4:1-3)

And before the person started falling away, in came sneaky heresies they began listening to:

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. (2 Peter 2:1)

For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:4)

So the apostate’s progression is: profess Christ by mouth… but since there was no visible fruit to show the state of grace they were claiming on the inside, they were never really saved; fail to walk closely with Jesus by procrastinating in discipleship, bible study, prayer, and/or worship, furthering the distance between themselves and Jesus; listen to or promote destructive heresies that either they knowingly or unknowingly begin to believe, start doubting Christ’s sufficiency; doubt more, and then slide to full blown renunciation and end up in a state of atheism.

Peter says “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.” (2 Peter 2:20)

Notice the words that both Jude and Peter use to describe the heresies what will infiltrate the church in the last days; “secretly” and “crept in”. The heresies don’t come into the church by way of aggressive men bellowing a ‘new doctrine’ to the delight of followers who joyfully jump their pews and run out the door to his new church. They come sneakily, secretly, subtly.

And no wonder, “Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made…” (Genesis 3:1) so satan isn’t going to capture hearts with bellicose attitudes or flagrantly detectable bad doctrine. Many of the preachers and teachers will not even openly pronounce their heresies, they will be secret within their heart and only after a while, introduced slyly, like Billy Graham. Jude’s words “crept in” also indicate something that also isn’t readily detectable and is subtle at the start.

These teachers will have a big, white smile, open their lecture with a warm joke, and tell you that Jesus was a good, moral teacher and that you deserve the best life now. They will never tell you that your best life is later and that Jesus didn’t come to be a moral leader but to seek and save the lost- And that you are lost. Others will tell you that we are all one universal consciousness, we are our own gods, and then, they will give you a car. They will tell you that if you believe in Jesus, He will make your life better, while you are seeking Him from comfy amphitheater watching a techno-sermon with a cappuccino in your hand. Seeker-sensitive churches are false on their premise because in Romans we learn that no one seeks God.

The end result of a Christian in name only – that is, one who claimed Jesus but never really believed – and is one who is at risk of being tempted by destructive heresies, and ultimately of apostasy. What comes next is atheism.

Atheism is a natural cul-de-sac in the road away from the cross. Gotquestions.org writes:

“At the same time, it takes just as much faith to believe in atheism. To make the absolute statement “God does not exist” is to make a claim of knowing absolutely everything there is to know about everything and of having been everywhere in the universe and having witnessed everything there is to be seen. [I]t cannot be proven that God does not exist. It takes just as much faith to be an atheist as it does to be a theist.”

Which, I suspect, could be one of the reasons Peter said it makes a person worse off from what they were before. After apostasy settles in and atheism rears its head, a person is well and truly now in the dangerous pits of despair, misplacing their burgeoning faith in something for a faith in nothing that will last forever.

Be careful you do not drift, make your calling and election sure.

RESOURCES

Is it Real? 11 Biblical Tests of Genuine Salvation

Can I know that I am Saved?

What is Sanctification?

Posted in theology

Medieval mystics: Conclusion

By Elizabeth Prata

Last week I’d explored excerpts from visions of four famous Medieval Mystics of the Catholic Church:

Introduction
Julian of Norwich
 (1343 – after 1416) Book: The Showings of Divine Love
Catherine of Siena (1347 – 1380). Book: The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena
Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179). Book: Scivias
Bridget of Sweden (c. 1303 – 1373) Book: Celestial Revelations

We have quite a few women running around today claiming they have been given special revelations directly from Jesus, apart from the Bible. They’ve ‘taught’ through these visions, they have written books about what they’ve learned from these visions, they go on speaking tours telling about these visions, and they preach, even to men, with these visions.

In the past I have often written against these women and against this activity. It is blasphemous, it is wrong, it is immoral, and it is sin. The point of the series was to alert Christian ladies as to who these medieval women are and to show from the Bible why their visions were error. Why? AW Tozer had praised one of them in a recent devotional posted on social media. In Three Little Wounds Tozer wrote that because of mystic Julian of Norwich “England was a better place because this little lady lived” and her book of visions was a “great spiritual contribution to the world.”

No.

Now, it grieves me that women unaware of Julian’s blasphemies would forge ahead on the basis of Tozer’s or any other person’s fervent recommendation, and then begin to think that receiving visions and revelations was all right. It happens. More frequently than one might think. And that is the way that the devil likes it. He laughs because it is not God speaking to these women, but one of his dastardly demons, masquerading as ministers of righteousness. (2 Corinthians 11:15). Either that, or the mystic’s visions are just flat out lies.

So I write against direct revelation and will do so again. It was not all right in the Bible days of Revelation. In Revelation 2, Jesus spoke against a false teacher metaphorically named Jezebel. He said she was teaching unbiblical things, leading His children astray and calling herself a prophetess. He said if she did not repent, He would kill her and her children. (Revelation 2).

God has never been accepting of people who claim to speak in His name when He has not spoken to them. It is an emptying of His name, a way of taking His name in vain. Worse, they want something, usually unbiblical and women (or men) co-opt Christ in their sin. For example, Bridget wanted the pope to stay in Rome and not move back to Avignon, so she claimed to have had a vision from the Virgin Mary that told off the Pope. Or Hildegard, when she wanted permission to move to another monastery and was denied permission, fainted into her bed with paralysis until her Abbott relented. “Hildegard attributed the condition to God’s unhappiness at not following his will regarding moving the monastery. The abbot relented and granted his permission for the move, and she recovered shortly thereafter.” (Source FaithMag). What a miracle, right? Well if God says so, I better comply! USING God to get your way is an utmost sin against His Holy Name. It literally breaks the Fourth Commandment. (Exodus 20:7).

Reformer Martin Luther pre-conversion was initially interested in these women’s visions, especially Bridget, and of their revelations because of their criticism of popes and of the Church. But as he studied them, he later dismissed Bridget and the others’ revelations as “mere ravings”.

We read of these Medieval mystics women today and might wonder over their popularity. Their hyper-focus on the bloodier parts of the Passion, their sensuous mystical union with Christ as Man and them as Bride, consummating in ecstasy, their acceptance of supposed revelations in direct opposition to what the Bible says, their usurping behavior calling out authorities and using illnesses to get their way…so easy to look back and say goodness, reject these ladies!

But aren’t the revelators of today much the same? Doesn’t Beth Moore preach to men, call out authorities, use hyper emotionalism to get her way like Julian did? Doesn’t Anne Voskamp present poetical writings in her books like Hildegard did in her lyrical songs, as a sensuous union with a mystical Christ? Doesn’t Joanna Gaines announce that the ‘Lord’ promised her fame and success, like he did to Catherine of Siena, so Catherine could do great things?

There was some sort of altruistic impetus in each of these women, and they did help the poor and the sick. But their motivations were suspect as their later life bore out.

They were also ritualistic. Aren’t Bridget’s alleged lesson from Jesus of saying 15 Our Fathers and 15 Hail Marys along with the 15 Oes, repeated over and over is supposed to honor His wounds (how about honoring HIM?), against what he said to do in Matthew 6:7? Isn’t Joel Osteen just as ritualistic when he holds his Bible aloft at the opening of all his speeches and says a certain unchanging mantra?

Ladies, all direct revelation post-canon closing is of the devil. All of it. Though some of the mystics were more ‘out there’ than others (Catherine of Siena comes to mind), anyone claiming direct revelation is deceitfully deceived. It’s either satan, bad burrito dreams, or a flat out lie. Any way you slice it, claiming direct visions from Jesus in violation of Hebrews 1:1-2, or accepting them from someone else is sin.

The Bible says the canon is closed, Jesus spoke. (Hebrews 1:1-2). He declared the Bible totally sufficient for all life. (2 Timothy 3:16). He has revealed to us all He wants us to follow. (Deuteronomy 29:29). Romans 15:4 says For everything that was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope.

Direct revelation was wrong then (when it wasn’t from God) and since the canon closed, it’s wrong now. I mention these mystics even though they are Catholic, thus not of the faith, because they are praised with veneration and feast days in the Lutheran and the Anglican church. Please be wary, and remember, the best way to spot a counterfeit is by knowing the real thing. Stay close to Jesus and His word, and you will be blessed.

Julian, Catherine, Hildegard, Bridget, medieval Mystics still famous today, sadly!

Posted in theology

Christian Mystics #4: Bridget of Sweden

By Elizabeth Prata

Introduction
Julian of Norwich
 (1343 – after 1416) Book: The Showings of Divine Love
Catherine of Siena (1347 – 1380). Book: The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena
Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179). Book: Scivias
Bridget of Sweden (c. 1303 – 1373) Book: Celestial Revelations

Bridget of Sweden. Altarpiece in Salem church, Södermanland, Sweden (restored digitally) Source Wikipedia

The mystics I’ve been looking at this week lived in the Middle Ages, are all women, and were all Catholic.

Birgitta of Sweden was born sometime in 1303, no exact date known. Her lineage was exalted- her father was one of the richest landowners of the state and her mother was distantly related to the kings of her state. But Bridget did what gals at that era were supposed to do, she married at age 14 and bore 8 children. Six of them survived infancy to become full grown. Her daughter Catherine also became a Catholic Saint.

At some point in Bridget’s adulthood and prior to her husband’s death, Bridget became known for her acts of charity. She was also summoned to the Queen’s Court to become Mistress of the Robes, AKA Lady in Waiting. There, Bridget got an eyeful and was not hesitant about proclaiming the King and Queen in later manifestos as unfit. King Magnus was heavily rumored to be homosexual and refused sexual relations with his queen. But he somehow still managed to bear two sons, one who became king of Norway and the other king of Sweden. Queen Blanche later endowed Bridget’s Order and asked for her and her husband to be buried there. Bridget accepted the money but refused the request of burial at her monastery, explaining that Blanche was “She is a snake with the tongue of a harlot, the bile of dragons in her heart and the most bitter poison in her flesh. Therefore all her eggs became poisonous. Lucky are those who never experience their burden”.

In 1341 Bridget and husband Ulf went on their pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain which was the thing to do. After their return, in 1344, Ulf died. Bridget decided to enter a Cistercian monastery in Sweden and dedicate her life to acts of charity toward the poor, homeless, and “sinners” AKA unwed mothers. Bridget tended them with great compassion, it is told. She only remained at the monastery for a short while, founded an Order of the Brigittines in Sweden, (Most Holy Savior) then decided to move to Rome, where she remained until her death in 1373.

Bridget’s visions had been occurring since her mother’s death in 1315 when Bridget was 11 years old but had been told to keep them quiet by her aunt. The visions grew more frequent as she aged and a year after Ulf died she had a whole series of them. She had been recording them all along, calling her journal Celestial Revelations. Both her confessor and her Abbott became interested and translated them into Latin.

There were two religious traditions in the medieval times, one was that in art, the Virgin is depicted in the Nativity as kneeling over the Babe. The other is the excessive focus on Christ’s Passion, with all hyper-attention to His wounds, the blood, and even gore. Catherine of Siena was fixated on this, so was Hildegard. Now comes Bridget with the same interest.

In addition to advising kings, queens and popes, another way Bridget was an Influencer, was that when her visions were published her view of the Nativity changed the depiction of the scene in all future art. In the past, Mary had been shown as reclining during birth. After Bridget’s vision, the Virgin is kneeling, has a spontaneous birth from that position, and kneels to pray to Him, who is not in swaddling clothes but naked on the ground. An ox and donkey usually accompanies her visionary scene, as does Joseph with a candle. An unearthly light emanates from the Babe. This scene with those elements as described above has become known as “The Adoration of the Child”.

The episode of the Virgin’s Adoration of Christ, which does not appear in the gospel account of the Nativity, derives from Saint Bridget of Sweden’s fourteenth-century vision of the birth of Christ. This widely read account narrates how, with the newborn still naked on the ground, the Virgin knelt in worship.

Philadelphia Museum of Art

One has to be pretty popular to have universally changed the way we view the Nativity scene FROM the Gospel account TO a woman’s alleged vision. If you research “The Adoration of the Christ Child” you will find most paintings arrange the scene as Bridget ‘envisioned’ it, and Museum statements attributing this arrangement to Bridget.

The other focus in Medieval times was on Christ’s Passion. For some reason Bridget wanted to know how many blows were on Christ’s body. She prayed constantly to be told this. Thus, ‘Christ’ allegedly came to Bridget and instructed her to the fact that he had 5475 blows. He told Bridget that if she said 15 Hail Marys and 15 Our Fathers, plus a series of prayers He would teach her, she would have honored every one of His blows after one year was concluded.

Oy.

As we might enjoy Spurgeon’s devotionals today, in the Middle Ages the devotional book of prayers Christ allegedly taught Bridget, called the Fifteen Oes, was the one to have. Oes because each prayer begins with O Jesu (“O Jesus; O King; O Lord Jesus Christ”). The devotional was supposed to be a sort of catechism to educate people on the Passion, and also penitential, to inspire sorrow for his beating and death. Sadly after publication, promises became attached to them. Promises that if one says the prayers regularly then souls will be relieved from Purgatory. And after that, Indulgences became attached, too. The popularity of Bridget’s prayer book declined during the 1500s Reformation since Indulgences were a key point on which Martin Luther opposed the Catholic Church.

Here is an excerpt of one of Bridget’s revelations:

But you, my daughter, whom I have chosen for myself, and with whom I now speak in spirit: love me with all your heart – not as you love your son or daughter or parents, but more than anything in the world – since I, who created you, did not spare any of my limbs in suffering for your sake! Yet, I love your soul so dearly that, rather than losing you, I would let myself be crucified again, if it were possible. (Source)

Here is another, where Bridget was allegedly an eavesdropper on a conversation between Christ and His mother Mary:

Then Mary, the Mother of God (who until now had remained silent) spoke: “Oh, my Lord and most dear Son, You were in my womb as true God and man. By your grace you sanctified me, who was but an earthen vessel. I beg you, have mercy on them once more!” Then the Lord answered His Mother: “Blessed be the words of your mouth that ascend like a sweet fragrance to God. You are the Queen and glory of angels and all saints because, by you, God and all the saints are made happy! Because your will was as my own from the beginning of your youth, I will do as you wish once more. (Source)

This is blasphemy. Jesus said His will was the Father’s (not the Mother’s) and by the Father’s will Jesus obeyed all that was to be done:

Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in the same way. (John 5:19).

And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39)

For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. (John 6:38)

So Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am, and I do nothing on My own, but I say these things as the Father instructed Me. (John 8:28)

Bridget influenced much of Europe, urging people to live a pious and moral life, even boldly chastising them if they did not (as she did with Sweden’s Queen Blanche and homosexual husband King Magnus). Bridget campaigned against church corruption. She, like Catherine, urged the Pope to return to Rome from Avignon. He did, but returned to Avignon three years later. Bridget didn’t hold back, and chastised Pope Urban V through a supposed revelation from Virgin Mary given to the upset Bridget. She predicted he would die if he returned to Avignon. And he did die three months later.

Bridget’s Order became famous and well endowed. Her book of revelations and the Fifteen Oes were widely circulated. As she was a contemporary of Julian of Norwich and Catherine of Siena, Cardinal Adam Easton wrote the Defensorium Sanctae Birgitta in Norwich, 1389-1391, defending the three women’s visionary and prophetic writings.

Saint Bridget is worshiped in the Catholic Church, (shrine and all), in the Anglican Communion, and in Lutheranism, where Bridget is celebrated in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) on her feast day on July 23.

Tomorrow: Conclusion. If you have read all four of these essays on the Medieval Mystics, you might have noticed similar strains. These women were all noted for pushing the bounds of womanly roles, they were discontent to remain in spheres the Bible outlines, they were mouthy, and seemed to use illness AND revelations to proclaim their visions and get their way. I’ll explain this further in the Conclusion, as well as compare them to modern mystics today.

Posted in theology

The Mystics #3: Hildegard of Bingen

By Elizabeth Prata

Introduction
Julian of Norwich
 (1343 – after 1416) Book: The Showings of Divine Love
Catherine of Siena (1347 – 1380). Book: The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena
Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179). Book: Scivias
Bridget of Sweden (c. 1303 – 1373) Book: Celestial Revelations

If you ever feel like you haven’t accomplished much, then definitely do not read about Hildegard von Bingen’s life!

Hildegard and her nuns. Unknown artist

Overview of Hildegard’s life: Wikipedia: She “was a German Benedictine abbess and polymath active as a writer, composer, philosopher, mystic, visionary, and as a medical writer and practitioner during the High Middle Ages. She is one of the best-known composers of sacred monophony, as well as the most recorded in modern history. She has been considered by many in Europe to be the founder of scientific natural history in Germany. … There are more surviving chants by Hildegard than by any other composer from the entire Middle Ages, and she is one of the few known composers to have written both the music and the words. One of her works, the Ordo Virtutum, is an early example of liturgical drama and arguably the oldest surviving morality play. She is also noted for the invention of a constructed language known as Lingua Ignota.” She also was elected Mother Superior of her abbey and founded two monasteries.

A polymath is defined as “a person of wide-ranging knowledge or learning.”

Wow! A superstar. A Renaissance woman before the Renaissance happened!

Just as with Catherine of Siena and Julian of Norwich, these women expressed themselves through their various talents and became famous for them, but the part of Hildegard’s life that I’m interested in is her visions and her theology.

As with most female ‘visionaries’ AKA women who had visions allegedly from God, Hildegard “refused to be defined by the patriarchal hierarchy of the church and, although she abided by its strictures, pushed the established boundaries for women almost past their limits.” (Source).

Almost a thousand years later, this is familiar territory.

Hildegard was born to wealthy parents in rural Germany. When she was three she later claimed that she had seen a vision of an unearthly light. Her nanny had seen nothing then or had seen anything unusual other times when Hildegard asked, so Hildegard remained silent about these visionary occurrences through the years.

As a young woman she became an anchoress, enclosed in a cell attached to a church or monastery so she could study in solitude. Her meals were given through a small window or grill. Enclosed at that time was a woman named Jutta. Jutta was just a few years older than Hildegard and Jutta took Hildegard under her wing. Jutta was charismatic, known for holiness and wisdom and so, gained a reputation. People came to see her. Her wisdom far exceeded locals and people from all ranks came to visit Jutta. At the end of her life, Jutta claimed a vision from a dead saint, Oswald, who came to tell her the end was near.

When Jutta died, at age 43 Hildegard became abbess. She still had been having visions but still kept them a secret. Until…now out from under Jutta’s shadow, Hildegard announced she had been having visions too. She started journaling these messages she was receiving. Below is a pre-Renaissance painting of Hildegard receiving a vision from heaven.

Why study scripture when it can be dropped right into your brain?

She recorded 26 total visions, put them together and called them Scivias. In 1147 the Pope declared them important and genuine. The visions seemed to coincide at the same time as her recurring bouts of dreadful illnesses.  The opinion seems to be divided as to whether Hildegard’s visions were the result of migraines or epilepsy or both. Classical migraines include seeing stars, bright lights, geometric shapes, fortification images, and her many of her visions contained those same migranous elements.

Hildegard’s theology contained characteristics that today we see as heretical. (The Catholic church itself is heretical so it is no wonder they confirmed it rather than rejected). Though, even the National Catholic Register (NCR) says that Hildegard was so far afield from the hierarchy of the church it took 800 years before they even investigated whether she should be made a saint.

Hildegard believed, according to the NCR: “There exists in the inner being of God an almost erotic balance of feminine and masculine, which is mirrored in the complementary relationship of men and women. Since Jesus took his body from a woman, it is woman rather than man who best represents the humanity of the Son of God.” (Source).

No. God revealed Himself as male, as Father, but not woman or mother.

Hildegard taught that ‘menstruation does not render a woman unclean, but the shedding of blood in war certainly renders a soldier unclean’ which is not what scripture says.

In another vision, Hildegard saw ‘God’ and His creation in the shape of an egg. “The firmament in the likeness of an egg and what it signifies: For this vast instrument, round and shadowed, in the shape of an egg, small at the top, large in the middle and narrowed at the bottom, faithfully shows Omnipotent God” and the vision goes on with further descriptions. Yet the Bible declares God is spirit. He is not egg, not oval.

In a sense, St. Hildegard of Bingen could be considered a 12th-century combination of Joan Chittister, Hillary Clinton and Joan Baez.

National Catholic Register

Being likened to Hillary Clinton is not a compliment.

In one of her visions, Hildegard claimed the Lord said, “I saw a great splendor, in which a voice came from heaven saying to me: ‘O weak mortal, both ash of ash and rottenness of rottenness, say and write what you see and hear.” That language is similar to the language Jesus used when He told John to write down what he saw and heard, (Revelation 1:19), so we can say that Hildegard was writing scripture. How can it not be scripture? The Lord orders the woman to write, she is doing so in authority of His dictum.

She said she was “directed toward the revealing of hidden things“. But all has already been revealed that God wanted revealed. Not only ‘it is finished’ but the canon itself is finalized and had been prior to Hildegard’s lifetime. (2 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 1:1-2).

Hildegard became famous for her visions and was known as “The Sibyl Of The Rhine” uttering heavenly oracles.

Hildegard was a music composer. Her music has stood the test of time. Her chants were unlike others, in that since she knew no Latin, she was unrestricted by the grammatical conventions of that taut language. Her words were more free flowing and even sensuous, using many organic metaphors in her poetical lyrics similar to the Song of Songs. Music for Hildegard was a main vehicle of connection with God and enjoying it sparked an ecstatic experience. She believed it was a direct channel from the heavenly choir above to the singer below, a connection that was lost at the Fall of Adam in the Garden and which she sought to recover. Her music to her was both a sacrament and a constant theophany, or tangible sign of the presence of God.

No, music is a command (Colossians 3:16) and a pleasure, but it is not a two way channel and it’s not to be used to evoke certain ecstatic experiences, something that is still manipulatively done to this day.

Dispensing with the scripture that says the woman should remain focused on her home duties, Hildegard went on wide-ranging speaking tours to deliver sermons to male audiences. She called for reform in the church and spoke against corruption. Women just did NOT do that in her day. But Hildegard did.

Hildegard was famous for her work not only in theology and music but also science, medicine and philosophy. Undoubtedly brilliant, yet her rebellious example of visions, usurping ecclesiastical authority, and feminism should not be followed.

Tomorrow, Bridget of Sweden.

Posted in theology

The Mystics: #2, Catherine of Siena

By Elizabeth Prata

Introduction
Julian of Norwich
 (1343 – after 1416) Book: The Showings of Divine Love
Catherine of Siena (1347 – 1380). Book: The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena
Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179). Book: Scivias
Bridget of Sweden (c. 1303 – 1373) Book: Celestial Revelations

If you’re a woman in medieval times who wants to get people to listen to you and you want to accumulate some authority or even fame, how do you do it? You claim visions.

The issue of women who claim special revelation from Christ is not a new problem. Jesus wrote against the church at Thyatira because a woman metaphorically named Jezebel was prophesying things He didn’t say and teaching falsely (the two almost always go hand in hand). In current days we have a host of women running around with claims of hearing God audibly or of receiving special and personal revelations. They get famous. They write books. They are listened to.

But in between Bible times and now, there were women in the Middle Ages who claimed to be hearing from God, too. This week I’m giving a short bio of four of the most famous mystics, along with a look at their theology. Yesterday I wrote about Julian of Norwich (England). Today I’m looking at Catherine of Siena (Italy).

There were not a whole host of careers for women in the Middle Ages. Mainly it was motherhood. Catherine of Siena’s mom gave birth to 25 children. Catherine was a twin and her sister died soon after birth. Catherine grew to be healthy. Only eleven of her siblings survived.

by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

The clergy was one profession where women had some options. They could not teach but if they’d had visions they would attain some form of notoriety and ecclesiastical authorities would pay attention. Women could become a nun, with potential for rising to level of Abbess (CEO of the cloister). They could become an anchoress, as described in the last essay, where they secluded themselves in a cell attached to a church for private contemplation and study and to occasionally dispense theological advice. Asceticism was the fastest route to fame. Catherine doubled her odds and became a visionary ascetic.

Catherine saw her first vision (allegedly) of Christ seated in glory with several of the Apostles. She was six years old. At age seven, she dedicated her life to Christ against her parents’ wishes. A rebel, now teenager Catherine refused her parents’ request to marry the widower of her sister, and she also cut off her long hair and wore ragged clothes so as to make her self less attractive as a mate. It was an ‘in your face’ move for a medieval gal. She also refused to eat. She lived in the family home, but refused to speak to them or eat at the family’s table, saying she’ll wait to eat at her real family’s table in heaven. Ouch.

St Catherine of Siena, 1888, by Alessandro Franchi (1838-1914).

Catherine experienced much grief. Her twin sister had died, her favorite older sister died in childbirth and soon she was deaf to her mother and father’s pleas to enjoy matrimony. She began a strict program of self-denial and asceticism. Catherine wore chain mail so tight it cut her hips. She refused food. She engaged in self flagellation with a whip three times a day. Giving up her bed, she traded it for a wooden bench and a stone pillow. She lost weight and became sickly. Her mother viewed it as a protracted suicide. Catherine viewed it as dedication to God.

Catherine’s refusal to eat was a medieval demonstration of holy asceticism, which some call a holy anorexia. (She did force a vomit after eating, before she quit eating altogether, except for the Eucharist). Many of the medieval mystics were “women who were both controversial and attention-grabbing in their day, and who for the most part demonstrated their holiness by fasting and starvation. In several cases, the extreme asceticism led to death” (as it did for Catherine at age 33).

She joined the Catholic order of the Third Order of St. Dominic, founded in 1216 with a purpose toward evangelism. This particular order had a level of commitment where the penitent is recognized as part of the order but they continue to function in the world. The emphasis was on ministering to the poor and the sick.

By 1300 the general altruistic fervor had dimmed and mysticism was preferred as a means of personal and theological transformation. We read that the women of the Order were at the forefront of this change. “In fact, it was often the female members of the order, such as Catherine of Siena, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Christine of Stommeln, Margaret Ebner, and Elsbet Stagl, that gained reputations for having mystical experiences.” (Source)

Catherine claimed that one of her visions was a mystical marriage to Christ. The wedding party included the Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist, Saint Paul, Saint Dominic, and King David, who played his harp. She claimed that Jesus gave her her a ring that was invisible to others, but which she could see. It was supposedly part of his foreskin from his circumcision.

Alessandro Franchi and Gaetano Marinelli, The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine, 1896.

Her theology was strange in the extreme. She was hyper focused on suffering translated to joy, the Lord as Consoler, and of His blood. She dreamed of drinking His blood and fantasized over His wounds in an uncomfortably sensuous way. In another vision she ‘saw’ Christ cutting out His own heart and replacing hers with His. Pain and blood was everything to Catherine, it represented joy and health. Catherine was graphic and sensuous about these matters, but I’ll leave them here.

Her motivation was that she wanted to suffer on earth to burn off some time in the Catholic made-up location of Purgatory, and she wanted to suffer so that she could prove her loyalty to Christ, who also suffered.

At the end of her life, Catherine felt she wanted to do even more for Christ. She pleaded to Jesus to let her bear the punishment for all the sins of the world, something Christ alone accomplished and it was finished. In the end, she had a stroke, and said a short while later she felt possessed of an alien spirit not her own. Her last word was “blood!” She was 33. (b. 1347 – d. 1380).

Over her lifetime, Catherine of Siena wrote 400 letters, many of them political as she was a negotiator and an ambassador too. The Catholic Church made Catherine a Doctor of the Church, a title given by the Catholic Church to only 37 saints “recognized as having made a significant contribution to theology or doctrine through their research, study, or writing” as the Church explains. Catherine is one of four women to be so declared. Pope Pius IX made her a patron saint of Rome. She along with Francis of Assisi are patron saints of Italy. In 1999 Pope John Paul II proclaimed her a co-patron saint of Europe.

Catherine did much for the poor and the sick, notable since the Black Plague was once again raging. However her altruistic acts came at the severe cost to her family, because she gave away their clothes and money. Without their permission.

You might think to yourself, ‘Why on earth do people praise and accept these weird women with strange tales of Christ? And praise the strange things they do in His name?’ But today, don’t we accept similar? Beth Moore brushing a strange man’s hair? Of running across the city of Houston to meet an unknown lady and give her money? Of Jennie Allen starting a movement based on a ‘voice from the sky’? Of learning where to buy a turkey?

Catherine’s theatrics, her extreme asceticism, her visions and communications from an alleged God, her strange fixation on illness and blood, her mystical marriage, were all accepted by the Catholic Church but should be rejected by right-thinking Protestants today.

Tomorrow, the medieval mystic Hildegard of Bingen.

Catherine’s book: The Dialogue of Divine Providence
Posted in theology

The Mystics #1: Julian of Norwich

By Elizabeth Prata

Introduction
Julian of Norwich
 (1343 – after 1416) Book: The Showings of Divine Love
Catherine of Siena (1347 – 1380). Book: The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena
Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179). Book: Scivias
Bridget of Sweden (c. 1303 – 1373) Book: Celestial Revelations

Julian of Norwich

Introduction here

Encylopedia Britannica says of Julian:

“Julian of Norwich, also called Juliana, (born 1342, probably Norwich, Norfolk, Eng.—died after 1416), celebrated mystic whose Revelations of Divine Love (or Showings) is generally considered one of the most remarkable documents of medieval religious experience. She spent the latter part of her life as a recluse at St. Julian’s Church, Norwich.”

Julian was definitely an “Influencer”. How so, you may ask, especially since she lived the greater part of her life as a recluse? She had visions, and she wrote them down. Her book of visions is considered the first book written by a woman in English.

Statue of Julian of Norwich, Norwich Cathedral, by David Holgate FSDC
(CC BY-SA 2.)

Julian was a Roman Catholic anchoress, which is a woman who secludes herself from all life secular and religious, and focuses in her solitude on experiencing the presence of God, praying, and studying. Anchorites and anchoresses usually lived in a sealed up cell attached to a church, with only a window to pass through food, or from which she would dispense advice. The other window would face inside to the church. Hermits wandered around and nuns lived with other nuns in a secluded community. All these are considered people living the monastic life, but an anchoress was the most monastic of all, and as a result in the Middle Ages was the most revered.

When she was 30 years old in 1373, Julian thought she was going to die. She was deathly ill, so ill in fact, that the priest came to administer last rites. At this moment while gazing upon the priest’s crucifix and breathing her next-to-last breath, Julian began to see things she claimed Christ “shewed” her. She called these “shewings.” She received 15 visions that evening while on her deathbed, and the 16th one the next morning. Healed now, she arose, became an anchoress, and wrote them down. She spent the rest of her life building a theology from these ‘shewings.’

Julian of Norwich, Divine Revelations, Chapt 1

Julian’s explanation of her wanting visions and even of wanting a near fatal illness was that she wanted to feel closer to God. She wanted to feel his sufferings.

Julian lived 40 more years. She later more fully described her vision of seeing Christ when she was on her deathbed. His crown of thorns was streaming blood, and His blood each drop as “big as herring’s scales”. This is suspicious because the glorified Jesus now operates as priest in heaven, his hand and side wound still visible (as he showed Thomas) but He is no longer on the cross and is no longer bleeding. He had said, “It is finished”. Catholics though, put Jesus back on the cross. They tie the crucifix symbol on Paul’s statement in the verse from 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” 

As we read in Aleteia, an an online Catholic news and information website which is Pope approved:

Paul preaches Christ crucified because an empty cross has no power. The cross that bears the beaten, battered, and bloodied body of Jesus Christ, however, that cross is the “power of God”. So, we “keep Jesus on the cross” because we too preach Christ crucified.”

Julian said the Christ figure that appeared to her gave her a small nut into her hand and He said that ‘it is all that is made’. She said Christ is a mother figure, the divine feminine. She says that God is IN everything. (Panentheism). She believed the human’s true self is sinless (Pelagianism) and contains “a spark of the divine”.

“Our Savior is our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come.”

Julian of Norwich

The Black Plague hit during Julian’s lifetime (1342-1416). It is the most fatal pandemic recorded in human history. The first wave hit in 1347-1353 and killed 75–200 million people. I can understand the attraction both from Julian and from the public that respected her, of hyper-focusing on God’s love during this tumultuous and scary time.

If you are familiar with this saying, it’s from Julian:

“All shall be well. All shall be well. All manner of thing shall be well.” 

This includes those suffering in hell. Julian claims the statement encompasses God’s finalizing things in the end that will make the statement true by addressing hell and punishment of souls, but God doesn’t share with Julian exactly how all will be well with those souls in the end.

Julian’s theology has mixed in some great and true sayings, but mixed in also were heretical things, such as the notion that sin doesn’t really exist and therefore man is not totally depraved. Julian struggled with the idea of sin and its logical consequence, hell. She was hyper-focused on God’s love, so the idea that He is angry with sinners and would punish them for all eternity was confusing to her. However, she stayed on just this side of heresy according to the (false) Roman Catholic church, and was never brought to trial (as Margery Kempe was).

The Bible does not call us to any sort of monastic life. Anchoresses would be considered dead to the world, so much so that a mass for the dead was held for them when they entered their cell to cement that fact. Yet the Bible calls for us to be IN the world. (Philippians 2:15, Mark 16:15). Secluding one’s self from all life whether in a cloistered community as nuns and monks were, or a lone person in a cell as anchorites were, in order to contemplate Christ, is the opposite of what we are called to do. We are to be a light to the lost, we are to gather with the saints, and we are to employ our spiritual gifts for the edification of the brethren. Pietistic asceticism is wrong. It’s just self-righteous legalism and not biblical.

It is sad that people, especially ecclesiastical authorities, would assign credibility to the visions of a woman who was so ill she was moments from death. They did in Julian’s day and they do today. You would think that Julian’s errors or even the fact of her visons no matter how likeable the content, would be a clue that all was not right with her. But no. In Catholicism (a false religion) Julian has a feast day. Anglicans and Lutherans commemorate Julian of Norwich. The Order of Julian of Norwich is a contemplative monastic order of the Episcopal Church. Julian and other mystics are highly regarded today by many. Feminists cling to her and Charismatics look to her.

Tomorrow we will look at another famous mystic, Catherine of Siena.

Posted in theology

The old Christian Mystics: Introduction

By Elizabeth Prata

Introduction
Julian of Norwich
 (1343 – after 1416) Book: The Showings of Divine Love
Catherine of Siena (1347 – 1380). Book: The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena
Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179). Book: Scivias
Bridget of Sweden (c. 1303 – 1373) Book: Celestial Revelations

I read a devotional by AW Tozer who I generally like, who lauded Julian of Norwich, who I don’t like. Julian, a woman, was a mystic. She lived in the 1300s and claimed to have had extensive audible experiences with God. When a fairly credible person like Tozer quotes a totally non-credible person like Julian, things get confusing.

I also wrote the other day about the two things in Christianity that really bug me: heavenly tourism (where people claimed to have been lifted to heaven and walked around touring the place), and direct revelations from God.

When the Tozer issue came up the other day I got to thinking how the problem of direct revelation certainly isn’t new. Mystics have always populated the faith. We read of Jesus chastising the church at Thyatira and calling out the metaphorically named Jezebel for prophesying things He never said. (Revelation 2:20).

After the Fall, God cursed the woman with wanting to usurp her husband, we’ve had it in us ever since. We want to usurp our husbands, our pastors, and God’s word.

I’ve written frequently about the of female usurpation vs. female contentment in our roles. I’ve also written about specific women’s claims of direct revelation (Jackie Hill Perry, Beth Moore, Joanna Gaines, Sarah Young, Jennie Allen, Priscilla Shirer etc).

But did you know in the medieval era there was a whole cottage industry of women cementing their place as prophetesses? These women claimed constant, deep, and frequent revelation from God. They wrote their revelations down and they personally, and their books, became famous. We can read them to this day. Julian of Norwich was one of the most famous of these prophetesses, the one Tozer quoted. Others were Catherine of Siena, Birgitta (Bridget) of Sweden, and Hildegard of Bingen. Their “contributions” to the faith were not solely restricted to writings, because these women also shaped art and music of their day and to this day. It’s safe to say they were medieval “Influencers”!

Clockwise: top left, Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Siena, Bridget of Sweden, and Hildegard of Bingen

This week I’m going to explore each of these women who were so vastly influential. I’ll take a look at their most popular ‘visions’ and revelations.

A few years ago I read Memoirs of a Medieval Woman by Margery Kempe, translated by Louise Collis. It’s hilarious, packed full of history, and gives a wonderful context for all this mystical, ecstatic revelation from these more famous mystical women whom Margery emulated and competitively tried to surpass. She is today acknowledged as a mystic in the Anglican church but not canonized as a Catholic saint. Margery lived at the end of the 1300s into the early 1400s. She actively sought to become famous through revelations, similar to today when less famous women wanting to elevate their platform, then emulate the famous influencers.

Margery was pretty insufferable, even her traveling companions along the way on their pilgrimage to the Holy Land tried to dump her again and again. Margery had 14 children and was married, but still decided she had to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. That was the thing of the day back in Medieval times, mysticism and pilgrimages. Though admittedly it was unusual for a wife and mother to gallivant off to faraway lands by herself, but that was Margery!

It just goes to show, that from the start women sought places the Bible denied them, that the more accepted or popular bad examples of females in unbiblical roles will always stand as an inspiration for other sinful women coming up to follow in their footsteps, and that having a weak and unassertive husband more easily allows a wife to go off the rails in many different ways (as Margery’s husband was and did).

So take a trip with me this week looking at famous mystics Julian, Catherine, Hildegard, and Bridget, so that when someone like Tozer or someone else quotes them, you will know not to absorb the material, but reject it. I’m also hoping to achieve the goal of showing that female mysticism is nothing new, because sin is nothing new. You know what’s coming next:

What has been, it is what will be,
And what has been done, it is what will be done.
So there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

So stay tuned this week for “Female Mystics Week”!

Posted in theology

Prata Potpourri: 2nd Commandment, JHP, Costi on Quiet Time, Dear Woke Christian v. Julie Roys, more

By Elizabeth Prata

EPrata photo

I updated my essay on The History of Quiet Time by adding this excellent 3-minute video of Costi Hinn explaining what Quiet Time IS. This is so good!

My essay “Why John MacArthur was right to say “Go Home” about Beth Moore” gained some attention and significant retweets. There is still a lot of interest in Beth Moore and of John MacArthur due to scandal reporters making up stuff about him, sadly.

It’s just a fact that discernment posts get more views than theology posts or encouragement posts. That is the way of it. And this holds true for a recent post I did on Jackie Hill Perry: Jackie Hill Perry rejects discernment talk about her false prophesying

Jason Whitaker AKA Dear Woke Christian has been focused lately in his ministry on reviewing scandal whipper-upper Julie Roys’ book, “Redeeming the Feminine Soul”. He found little Bible in it and a twisting of gender roles so as to be an unfit, unqualified, and an unbiblical tome to be avoided. He’s an insightful fellow and respectful in his approach to discernment as well as theology in general. I recommend him. He tweeted the following which I found funny:

Dear Woke Christian @MrJwhit
I like the “Fast & Furious” franchise. Someone told me they’ve made too many F&F movies. I told them that I would consider it when there are as many F&F movies as
@reachjulieroys articles on JMac. In the mean time pass the popcorn.
8:14 AM · May 1, 2022

It’s in reference to the fact that Roys has written to date at least 48 article against John MacArthur, Grace Community Church, or The Master’s Seminary. A lot. Some might even say this has become an obsession. Me. It’s me. I’d say that.

Maybe it’s time I catch up on the F&F franchise of movies…there are 9 now, right?

By the way, The BTWN guy (Tim Hurd) presented a short clip of John MacArthur from yesterday’s sermon, of which JMac providentially was in Ephesians 4:25-32. JMac answered about his online attackers citing also Romans 12, ‘Bless those who persecute you’ and Hebrews 10:30, ‘vengeance is mine’. As Tim said, “Much wisdom here.”

25Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. 26Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not give the devil an opportunity. 28He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. 29Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:25-32)

Speaking of reporters who aren’t reporters, it’s easy to appear credentialed or to actually be credentialed, to write or speak in such a way as to confirm that credibility, but still be opposed to all that Christ stands for. That is where discernment comes in. Sometimes it’s hard to know who is telling the truth, but the Bible informs our conscience, our attitudes, and His word hones our discernment radar. So does prayer. Don’t forget prayer when you’re trying to work through an issue.

On another topic, I’ve been fascinated with Chris Koelle’s rendition of the book of Revelation since it came out in 2012. It’s a graphic novel, using all the scriptures and arranging them in order. I’m uncomfortable with monkeying with scripture and confused on the Second Commandment. So I’ve held off on reading it or looking at it until I gain clarity on the issue.

This morning I listened to a FANTASTIC podcast from Scott Aniol explaining why pictures of God, the Trinity, or heaven, whether the pictures are still or moving (i.e. TV/Movies) actually harm’s one’s ability to understand God and are forbidden in the Commandment for a reason. He uses the current popular movie, The Chosen, to make his point, but the point is well taken for all images of the Trinity. His explanation, so clear and helpful is here-

Don’t give in and watch The Chosen. Your imagination will forever be shaped by the visceral potency of a cinematic interpretation of Bible narratives, and it will therefore be much more difficult to allow the words of Scripture to shape your imagination.  God gave us words. Scott Aniol explains why using any visual images of the triune God is harmful to truly knowing and loving God.By the Waters of Babylon podcast, Scott Aniol

I can’t say enough how good and clear Aniol’s half hour was. I’m going to listen to it again, actually!

I translate my written blog essays into a podcast. It’s on Anchor and elsewhere. I started doing that last April, so it’s just been a year. I’m blessed to say that I’m coming up on 100,000 plays. Thank you! If you don’t have time to read essays then take a listen on Anchor, Google Plays, PocketCast, RadioPublic, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, iTunes etc