"I encourage Catholics to pray fervently for the dead, for their family members and for all our brothers and sisters who have died, that they may obtain the remission of the punishments due to their sins and may hear the Lord's call: 'Come, O my dear soul, to eternal repose in the arms of my goodness, which has prepared eternal delights for you"'.
~ Pope John Paul II

February 8, 2010

The Holiness of God

The title of this post also the title of a book by Calvinist theologian R.C. Sproul dealing with (what else) God's holiness. This is something upon which Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, and probably most other theists in the world agree, so it seems a safe place from which to launch my analysis of a more turbulent doctrine (i.e. Purgatory).

As an aside before starting in on the meat of this post, my Old Testament research brought me to reread the oft-overlooked Book of Leviticus which I remember reading as a boy on my first (so far only) cover-to-cover Bible read. As a Protestant, I thought it was tremendously dull and basically pointless for Christians no longer living under the Law -- excluding a chapter or two on sexual morality. Re-reading this book with Catholic eyes was much more fulfilling. Therein lies the naissance of our priesthood, of Holy Days, and of the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ -- on the Cross and in the Mass. Cool stuff. I recommend it.

So, as I've said, God is Holy. The most common scriptural support comes from Isaiah chapter 6:
1) In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.
2) Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.
3) And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory."

This should be especially familiar to Catholics, as it forms part of the Sanctus, sung at mass just before the Eucharistic consecration. This past Sunday (much to my surprise), these verses made up part of our first reading. In Jewish liturgy, the proclamation of the seraphs is recited in the Kedushah. Need I mention the classic hymn?

Sproul makes this observation in the book (p 40) mentioned above:
“The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love, or mercy, mercy, mercy, or wrath, wrath, wrath, or justice, justice, justice. It does say that He is holy, holy, holy, the whole earth is full of His glory.”

But what is holiness, and what does it mean that God is holy? We refer to a lot of THINGS that are holy: the Holy Land, the Holy Sepulchre, holy water, the Holy Father, the Holy See, the Holy Grail, holy days, etc. There are two senses of the word holy: to be set apart for a divine purpose and to be morally pure. Holy water is set aside to protect us from evil. The Holy Father is set aside for the unique task of shepherding Christ's Church on Earth. Likewise, we may call the pope, our bishops, or the saints holy to indicate their moral purity, but we recognize that even these are poor sinners in the eyes of God. When we say that God is holy, we acknowledge that He is TRULY pure and in fact transcends our previous definition of holiness. We are holy insofar as we are imitators of Christ. Holy days are holy insofar as they are set aside for the worship and glory of God. He is the source of all holiness and the end to which holiness is directed.

Next, we will look at ritual purity in the lives of the Hebrews.

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