DAVE ARMSTRONG SAID:
Lately, a great deal of controversy has occurred over the information that has come about concerning Venerable Pope John Paul II's penitential practices and self-mortification. The usual suspects have been mocking this; for example, see two pathetic anti-Catholic examples (one / two). Be forewarned that the second has an absurd, offensive sadomasochistic theme. Elsewhere, the same person claims that the martyrdom of St. Sebastian as depicted in Catholic art "betrays the homoerotic and sadomasochistic undercurrent in major streams of Catholic piety".
Mortification has a long history of use in the Catholic Church, as most people are aware. But is there any biblical justification for such a thing? The answer (as usual) is yes. The most obvious parallel is the common biblical motif of sackcloth
Ezra 9:3-5 (RSV): When I heard this, I rent my garments and my mantle, and pulled hair from my head and beard, and sat appalled.  Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of the returned exiles, gathered round me while I sat appalled until the evening sacrifice.  And at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garments and my mantle rent, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the LORD my God,
Jeremiah 41:5 eighty men arrived from Shechem and Shiloh and Sama'ria, with their beards shaved and their clothes torn, and their bodies gashed, bringing cereal offerings and incense to present at the temple of the LORD.
1 Corinthians 9:27 but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
[cf. NIV, Beck: "beat"; NEB: "bruise"; Williams: "beating and bruising"; Barclay: "batter"; NASB: "buffet"; NRSV: "punish"; NKJV: "discipline"; Wuest: "I beat my body black and blue and make it my abject slave"; Amplified: "I buffet my body -- handle it roughly, discipline it by hardships -- and subdue it"; Goodspeed: "I beat and bruise my body and make it my slave"; Moffatt: "I maul and master my body"]
The Apostle Paul and Ezra were clearly major deranged masochists, just like Venerable John Paul II.
How scandalous (!) that a pope would actually follow biblical models, while Protestants mock same . . . Truth is always stranger than fiction.
It takes a while to untie this tangled knot of errors:
i) One of the standing ironies of Armstrong’s apologetic method is the way he quotes Scripture to “prove” Catholicism. Needless to say, this methodology is self-refuting inasmuch as it presupposes the perspicuity of Scripture.
ii) Dave fails to draw some rudimentary distinctions between what the Bible describes, prescribes, proscribes, and permits.
iii) Apropos (ii), much of Scripture consists of historical narratives. OT history was set in the ANE. As such, the Bible frequently describes ANE customs.
Take the use of sackcloth. This isn’t distinctive to Israel. It was also employed by Israel’s pagan neighbors (e.g. Isa 15:3; Jer 49:3; Ezk 27:31; Jonah 3:5).
As such, there’s nothing inherently holy, much less prescriptive, about the use of sackcloth. At best, this is adiaphorous.
iv) Likewise, as Scripture points, fasting and ritual mourning (i.e. sackcloth) could easily degenerate into mock piety and dead formalism (Isa 58:3-7).
What the hypocrites in Isa 58 fails to appreciate–which God, through the prophet, explains–is that such rituals are, at best, symbolic tokens of what ought to be the corresponding attitude or action. As such, these rituals are nothing in themselves. Rather, they are merely emblematic signs which point to something else. That’s what matters.
v) Given Armstrong’s failure to distinguish between Biblical descriptions and Biblical prescriptions, we should conclude from 2 Kgs 6:30-32 that premeditated murder is sanctified by the preparatory use of sackcloth.
vi) Mourners often engage in irrational or self-destructive behavior. Likewise, supplicants, if left to their own devices, frequently take their “devotions” to harmful extremes.
That’s why the law of Moses expressly and repeatedly forbad self-mutilation and other forms of self-injury or disfigurement (Lev 19:27-28; 21:5; Deut 14:1).
Not surprisingly, grief-stricken Jews sometimes forgot these prohibitions. In the heat of the moment they reverted to the social customs of the day.
But because the Roman Church flagrantly disregards the teaching of Scripture, it ends up codifying pagan perversions. In Catholic spirituality, piety and immorality become indistinguishable.
vii) As for 1 Cor 9:27, this is figurative language. As the Catholic Bible scholar Joseph Fitzmyer explains:
“Despite the images that the two verbs convey, Paul is employing contemporary vivid athletic images that express the self-restraint and discipline necessary to achieve a goal, and these he applies to his apostolic task (See Papathomas, ‘Das agonistische Motiv,’ 240-41, who shows that Paul’s use of such terminology conforms well with the athletic contests of his day and the motivation that inspired them)…Cf. his use of athletic imagery and the goal of life in Phil 3:12-16,” 1 Corinthians (Yale 2008), 374.
In other words, Paul is using sports’ metaphors to illustrate the walk of faith. This has nothing to do with literal self-flagellation or other forms of physical self-mortification.
viii) In addition, Catholic “self-mortification” is grounded in the traditional Catholic misinterpretation of Col 1:24. (For a corrective, see Moo’s recent commentary.)
But, clearly, none of the copy/paste catena of OT quotes that Dave has posted had in mind “filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church”–even if, ad arguendo, we were to grant the Catholic appropriation of the Pauline text.
So his appeal to the OT is grossly anachronistic in light of the Catholic dogma which actually underwrites its masochistic brand of self-mortification.