“The Catholic parish of St. Joseph’s — now run by the Dominican Order — worships in the oldest Catholic church building in Manhattan. Built in 1833, it served the community of Greenwich Village before there was Central Park, the Empire State building or even the subway. Far from being a museum or mere relic of the past, the parish today ministers to college students and professionals — those who have been in New York their whole lives, and those visiting just for the weekend. Each Mass is filled with women and men of different backgrounds and nationalities.
Dorothy Day prayed here. There is a soup kitchen that serves hundreds each week. A parish elementary school is right next door.
St. Joseph’s is also neighbor to the famous Stonewall Inn and has served the spiritual needs of its visitors as well. But in the face of the latest same-sex marriage ruling, the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage has frustrated activists who want religious organizations to either bring their teachings into accord with the newest cause or to be limited from full civic participation, and thus punish long-serving institutions that will not submit to their demands.
After the Obergefell decision, Time magazine writer Mark Oppenheimer was quick to declare that the state should “abolish, or greatly diminish” property tax exemptions for churches that “dissent from settled public policy on matters of race or sexuality.”
Punishing “dissent” seems a strange new role for the American government. In the mid-twentieth century, the Catholic church was a leading advocate against anti-miscegenation laws. The church was able to take a stand contrary to the state on marriage and not be penalized for it, a position now almost unquestionably supported by Americans. And despite the confidence of those like Oppenheimer, the dissenters aren’t even a minority in the more recent marriage controversy. Most Americans favor religious liberty, and a plurality oppose Obergefell.
Allowing conscientious objection is an acknowledgment that the state does not have all the answers. The state has an obligation to make laws, but the state has no obligation to be correct. The independent voices that critique the state make the state better, and should not be silenced. Lose churches, lose the independent voices that prevent the state from having an absolute say in complicated moral matters.
In addition to the alternative moral voice that the church provides, the Catholic church is one of the leading charitable institutions in the country. But this matters little to a militant ideological movement that, intending to prevent discrimination, has prevented churches from doing certain charitable activities and seeks to “ostracize” them even more. The first wave has been the shutting down of decades-old Catholic adoption services around the country, including in the Archdiocese of Washington. The next wave, hinted at by Justice Samuel Alito and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, will be universities and educational institutions — including the many Catholic schools for the underprivileged. And after that will be the places of worship themselves.
Oppenheimer identifies the real problem with dissolving tax exemptions, too, though in a dismissive and historically illiterate manner. Churches in important locations will be penalized for the simple reason of where they were built. “If it’s important to the people of Fifth Avenue to have a synagogue like Emanu-El or an Episcopal church like St. Thomas in their midst, they should pay full freight for it.” Parishes like St. Dominic’s in Washington or St. Joseph’s in Greenwich Village could be added to this list. But they were built for everyone, rich and poor, and their work should not be penalized because property values have skyrocketed as decades have gone by. Removing the tax-exempt status of churches simply adds an additional tax to regular churchgoers, and most of the congregations at these historical places of worship couldn’t sustain the property taxes for more than a few months. If they can’t foot the bill, local places of worship will simply have to close, and with them the community services they provide.
Losing a local church would be damaging to its worshippers and the community at large, but even still, the resilience of the faithful can overcome the limitations of property loss and a lack of governmental support. That said, it is in the state’s best interest to protect those voices that at the moment respectfully oppose its laws. By prohibiting faith-based conscientious objection, institutions will be limited in their ability to speak independently without fear of punishment, and some of the largest charities in America will be shuttered. Churches have defended and served the American people both spiritually and materially for hundreds of years. Now it’s time to defend the church.”
“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.” —Justin Martyr, I Apol. 67 (A.D. 150-155)
(By the way, there’s a little joke in there. The Hebrew tattoo deliberately incorrectly spells God’s name. Instead of God’s name (יהוה ), it says, ויהי , translated, “And it came to pass” or “And it was so.” Of course the joke here is that people who get Hebrew tattoos really do not know how to read Hebrew at all.)
Worship, by definition, I believe, is not about us, whether we like it, or whether it entertains us. Now, what could it be about? Think. Think. Think. Nope! Nothing. De gustibus non est disputandum. Why do we go to Mass? To get to Heaven. Not to be entertained. Not that simply attending Mass will merit us anything, but as an aid and a command the Lord has given us to perform in worship of Him. It is NOT something anyone owes us, but something, very rather, we owe HIM, in justice, in gratitude, for our very lives, and all the joys therein. We owe Him.
It is NOT optional, in fact, missing Mass for less than a really good reason, ie. illness, is a sin, a mortal sin, which kills the life of grace within; if, you want to get to Heaven. Like it or not. Plain & simple truth, whether you like it or not.
Don’t want to go to Heaven? Don’t go to Mass. We ARE in radical agreement. But, don’t expect any help in the form of grace in life, though. And, just one day, just one day, actually there are many, you just might need that grace to make it through the day, another day, ONLY through grace.
From my reading, Jesus will not say to us in our particular judgment, yeah, that’s in the deal, too, “No Mass? No problem!” That’s just how I, imho, read the scriptures. Others may agree.
That, imho, again, is NOT to say we always shouldn’t offer our best: our best preaching, our best music, our best reading, our best singing, our best worship of Him. There is nothing wrong with joyful worship. There is nothing wrong with reverential worship. We can always improve. It is the very definition of fallen human beings.
And, finally, if we are to “Love one another” as He has loved us, where better to begin in charity than in the Mass, attending despite less than inspiring preaching, rote ritual, or less than angelic music, or despite, yet another collection, or perpetual fund-raising activity, festival, parish-wide garage sale, or other trivial, distracting announcement, that seem to be an ever present obstacle to profound surrender in worship to the Divine. To, in all of this, mis-worship, cry out in our heart of hearts, just like the worshiping tax collector, Lk 18:13, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
“In an all-too-common tragedy these days, a poorly catechized Catholic attends a worship service at a megachurch, mistakenly believing the worship service simply to be a modern, non-Catholic version of the Mass. The Catholic feels emotionally drawn to the megachurch worship service and decides Mass, in comparison, is boring. A typical view might be, “Wow, I’m being fed here like I’m not being fed at Mass.”
The American Heritage Dictionary defines megachurch as “a large, independent, usually nondenominational worship group, especially one formed as an offshoot of a Protestant church. Also called seeker church.”
“Large” is right. Among the better known megachurches are Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston (attendance 43,500), Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago (attendance 23,000), and Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church (attendance 20,000) in my backyard in Orange County, California.
Many megachurches are known for their concert-style worship services, consisting of passionate preaching accompanied by emotionally driven music.
I often hear stories about local Catholics in my diocese who venture into one of Saddleback’s worship services—only to be “sold” on this new style of worship, and never again to return to the Catholic Mass.
“Something for Everyone”
From a superficial perspective it’s easy to see why ill-informed Catholics can be drawn in so easily. A quick visit to Saddleback’s Web site (saddleback.com) reveals a veritable menu of Sunday worship services to satisfy the taste of just about any self-indulgent seeker. For example, consider these six offerings, as described on the site:
Worship Center Times: You’ll engage in an array of contemporary worship music and enjoy live teaching that is video cast to our other venues.
Fuel Times: FUEL is our newest venue for young adults ages 20s to 30s (but everyone is welcome). Join us in Refinery main auditorium for live teaching, worship, food, and relationship building. All of this and more, packed into a shorter service.
Overdrive Times: This service is filled with guitar-driven, rock-infused worship sure to amplify your experience. You’ll feel like you’re worshiping in a musical concert setting! The message will follow, video cast live from the Worship Center.
Praise Times: This venue is filled with inspiring gospel music that will move your heart and encourage your spirit. The gospel choir will get you up off your feet in whole-hearted praise to God. Worship is followed by the video cast message.
Terrace Cafe Times: Grab a cup of coffee and relax in this outdoor worship environment. Located on the top of the Plaza Building, the Terrace Cafe is a perfect place to bring your friends for fellowship and a casual worship experience.
Traditions Times: Enjoy a warm, small church community and a traditional approach to worship through hymns and choruses.
Now, each of these forms of worship can be perfectly fine. The problem arises with the gross misconception that such worship is in any significant way comparable to the Catholic Mass. The truth is there really is no comparison at all.
The First Lord’s Supper
The evening before he was crucified, Jesus and the apostles shared a meal. At the Last Supper Jesus very plainly explained to the apostles how he wanted them to worship: He took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying,
“This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Lk 22:19-20)
These words must have been quite enlightening to the apostles, as they finally understood what Jesus meant when he said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn 6:54).
The apostles also understood in Jesus’ words both the authority and the commandment to “do” perpetually in worship what Jesus had just instituted: the Eucharist.
The Day of Obligation
The apostles went on to teach others this sacred, God-instituted form of worship. This is evident is Paul’s words to the Church at Corinth:
“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”” (1 Cor 11:23-26)
Paul was not at the Last Supper, so he undoubtedly received this from the Lord through the other apostles. And in this passage we read that he has already delivered it himself to the Church at Corinth.
Scripture reveals that the Eucharist was celebrated on Sundays: “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread . . .” (Acts 20:7). That the celebration took place on Sunday makes sense because Jesus was resurrected on that day (Mk 16:9).
Down through history, the Church Fathers attest that the Eucharist has been the constant and most sacred form of authentic Christian worship. In the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Catholic Church continues this form of worship and obliges Catholics to participate.
The authority to oblige Catholics in such a way was endowed to the Church by Jesus Himself. He said first to Peter and later to all of the apostles, “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19, 18:18).
The Church has always recognized in these words the authority to enact disciplinary laws which the faithful must follow. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:
The power to “bind and loose” connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgments, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles and in particular through the ministry of Peter . . . (CCC 553)
Today the obligation to attend the Mass is found in the Code of Canon Law: “Sunday, on which by apostolic tradition the paschal mystery is celebrated, must be observed in the universal Church as the primordial holy day of obligation . . . On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass” (CIC 1246 §1–1247).
Symbol or Reality?
Not long ago, Rick Warren announced, “We’re adding the Lord’s Supper . . . to 4:30 pm and 6:30 pm Sunday evening services every week!”
Some people have wondered whether “the Lord’s Supper” at Saddleback Church is the authentic Eucharist. The answer is no. The power and authority to consecrate the Eucharist has never been available to just anyone; it has always been necessary to be appointed by one of the apostles or their successors. Luke provides evidence of this: “[T]hey [Paul and Barnabas, in this case] had appointed elders for them in every church . . .” (Acts 14:23). As does Paul: “This is why I left you [Titus] in Crete, that you might amend what was defective, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you . . .” (Ti 1:5).
The term “elders” in these passages is translated from the Greek word presbyterous, from which we derive the English word priest. It is clear in the passages just cited that priests were necessarily appointed in every Church. In part, this was for the valid consecration of the Eucharist.
Since megachurches like Saddleback Church do not have priests ordained by successors of the apostles (i.e., Catholic bishops), they do not have the power or the authority necessary to consecrate the Eucharist changing its substance into the body and blood of Jesus.
Also, I’m not aware of any megachurches that recognize the life-giving presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, for Catholics the “source and summit” of the faith. In describing its Lord’s Supper, Saddleback Church’s Web site states: “The elements of bread and wine or juice are symbols of Christ’s broken body and shed blood. Communion is not a means of salvation.”
Mass Is Not Optional
There is no comparison between a modern megachurch worship service— however entertaining it might be—and the Eucharist instituted by Jesus. A person should never mistake such megachurch worship as any sort of alternative to the Mass. And, if he’s a Catholic, he must never neglect his obligation to participate in the Mass.
If a Catholic wishes to indulge in megachurch worship, and he can do so without endangering his own faith or scandalizing others, he is not explicitly forbidden from doing so. Even so, he cannot licitly participate in a megachurch communion service. This is forbidden by the Code of Canon Law: “Catholic ministers administer the sacraments licitly to Catholic members of the Christian faithful alone, who likewise receive them licitly from Catholic ministers alone . . . ” (844 §1). (Aka, “inter-communion”.)
The bottom line is this: Jesus didn’t instruct the apostles to perpetuate megachurch-style worship services, nor did He indicate that such worship would be life-giving. But He did institute the Eucharist, commanded the apostles to perpetuate it, and promised life to those who participate in it. Don’t we owe it to Him to worship as He commanded?”
I love Mormons. I do. They are sincerely the nicest people I have ever met, consistently. I have been to the Temple in SLC. I have my copies of Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price. I worked for a lovely family of Mormons, the Humphries, in Stone Harbor, NJ, when I was in high school and college. They owned an ice cream parlor called Springer’s. They still do. It is the social heart for young adults in that beach resort town. They could not have been kinder to me. I went to their local stake with them.
I know it’s hard to believe that Matt would run up to people to talk about religion, shocking, I know, but whenever I see Mormons on mission, I do. I love them. They are the NICEST people in the world!!!
If you drive around the beltway in DC, you will have the pleasure, it is spectacular, of watching a golden statue rise from the leaf canopy in spectacular fashion. It is breathtaking, and obviously, dramatically, intentional. When I returned to the civil engineering firm in Cape May Court House where I was interning that Summer in college, I promptly told the secretary there, who is a Latter Day Saint, that I had seen the Angel Gabriel on top of the Temple in DC rise from the trees!!!!! She gently informed me it wasn’t Gabriel, it was Moroni. 🙂
“After my July 27th Catholic Answers Live appearance, I was directed to an open letter written to me by a Mormon English teacher. Most of his objections are addressed in my new booklet 20 Answers: Mormonism, but I felt it would be worthwhile to respond to this critic, Jamie Huston, on this blog.
What are your sources?
Huston begins by posing ten questions based on general observations of my responses given during the CA Live broadcast. His first five questions are basically variants of the same question, “Have you done your homework?” He asks:
Have you engaged many Latter-day Saints in conversation about your claims regarding us? What have been the primary sources of your education about Latter-day Saints? How many sources have you studied and are they published by the LDS church?
To answer Mr. Huston: yes, I have done my homework. In my booklet on Mormonism, I cite primarily from the Mormon “standard works” (e.g. the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price) as well as official announcements from the First Presidency, which is the highest governing body in the LDS Church. I’ve also read extensively the work of contemporary Mormon apologists and have visited the website of FAIR Mormon, an online LDS apologetics website.
So, yes, I am well aware of the arguments made for Mormonism, as well as Mormon rebuttals to arguments made against the faith, all of which I have found unconvincing. That is not to say that I find them to be irrational or easy to refute (an attitude Huston accuses me of having in questions 7 and 10 of his post).
It means only that, after weighing the evidence, I have found the Mormon position unable to account for what we know from the Bible, from history, and from natural theology. I’m sure Mr. Huston feels that Catholicism and all other non-Mormon faiths also do not account for the available evidence, so he can’t fault me for having a similar attitude toward his faith.
Question 6 asks, “Are you aware of any accusations that have ever been made about LDS belief or practice that were distorted or inaccurate?” Yes; in fact, question 2 of my booklet corrects mistaken views people have about Mormon polygamy, temple garments, and endowment ceremonies (while respecting the confidentiality of these ceremonies).
Concerning the Strange and the Speculative
Question 8 says that some of my arguments against Mormonism rely on “strange or unappealing [details],” such as my comments about the phrase “and it came to pass” in the Book of Mormon. Huston asks if this is a good standard for judging if the Book of Mormon is true.
My comment about the phrase “it came to pass” was a passing one about the Book of Mormon. The fact that this phrase occurs almost twenty times more often in the Book of Mormon than it does in the Bible should be expected if the former were just an improvised dictation and not divinely inspired writing. (See Thomas Finley’s critique in the anthology The New Mormon Challenge of how the Book of Mormon uses this phrase.) But this wasn’t my main argument against the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
In my booklet, I showed that there are other, more serious reasons to question the Book of Mormon, including passages that are plagiarized from the New Testament (which was supposedly not available to the ancient authors of the book of Mormon) and anachronistic details about ancient America. And, yes, I have read Mormon defenses against these charges but have found them unconvincing.
For example, some Mormon apologists say that the descriptions of swords in the New World are not anachronistic, even though steel did not exist in the New World prior to Spanish colonization. That’s because some New World tribes made swords out of clubs laced with volcanic glass called obsidian. But this doesn’t explain the Book of Mormon’s description of these swords rusting (Mosiah 8:11), which glass cannot do.
Question 9 says that my analysis of the Mormon concept of God represents “digging” into “obscure and trivial parts of [the Mormon] religion.” Huston asks if this is “a tacit admission that the vast majority of Mormonism is innocuous if not actually positive?”
This raises the question as to what the “main parts” of the Mormon faith are. I would argue that God is a central part of not just the Mormon faith but of any faith. So the fact that Mormons believe that they will become gods (Doctrine and Covenants 132:20) and that God the Father has a physical body (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22), lives near a celestial object called Kolob (Book of Abraham 3:3-4), and created us with the assistance of a Heavenly Mother (Origin of Man, 1909) are not obscurities but crucial doctrines that must be evaluated.
And, no, I haven’t had to dig into some obscure archive in order to find these details. They are readily available in the standard works of the Mormon faith, particularly Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. The First Presidency taught in 1909 that alongside heavenly Father there is another divine figure called “Heavenly Mother” who was involved in creating human beings. Past LDS President Gordon Hinkley even said, “Logic and reason would certainly suggest that if we have a Father in Heaven, we have a Mother in Heaven. That doctrine rests well with me.”
Finally, the absence of compelling historical evidence for the events described in the Book of Mormon is troubling, and certainly Mr. Huston would agree that what is recorded in the Book of Mormon is not an “obscure” or “trivial” part of his faith!
The Witness of the Spirit
After his general observations, Huston addresses three specific issues I brought up in my CA Live appearance. The first is the Mormon practice of asking people to pray in order to discern if the Book of Mormon is true. I said this is a subjective and therefore poor way to discover if a religion is true, which Huston countered by citing Luke 24:32, James 1:5, and Matthew 7:7-8.
But in Luke 24, Jesus actually appeared and disappeared in front of the disciples on the Emmaus road, thus confirming his message and identity beyond what those two men felt. Matthew 7 deals only with asking for spiritual gifts, not knowledge about religious truth, and James 1:5 promises only that God will help us be wise, or apply our knowledge in prudent ways.
James does not teach us that God will give us knowledge about other religions or confirm if they are true or false simply through prayer and personal feelings. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” Instead, as 1 Timothy 3:15 says, the “the pillar and foundation of truth” is not a personal testimony but “the Church of the living God.”
Huston also says:
How do you account for the millions of people who have felt the power of the Holy Ghost testifying to them the truth of the Book of Mormon and the restored gospel? Can such a wide variety of people, over centuries and around the world, be deceiving themselves in such a consistent way? If it’s wishful thinking, when else has wishful thinking led to lives of compassionate charity and devotion fueled by sacrifice and self-denial?
But this argument could justify any religion. How does Huston account for the millions of people across the centuries who felt the spirit of God move them to embrace Catholicism, or Protestantism, or Islam, or Hinduism, or Buddhism? Don’t these faiths also possess people with lives of “compassionate charity and devotion fueled by sacrifice and self-denial”?
If this argument proves Mormonism is true, then it also proves every other major religion is true, and therefore it becomes useless as a defense of Mormonism. This also applies to Huston’s other argument: “If the Book of Mormon isn’t true, and someone prays about it, wouldn’t God clearly answer, ‘No! Get away from those lies and back to the Bible alone!’ Why wouldn’t God answer a prayer like that?”
So, according to Huston, since God doesn’t often correct people who accept the Book of Mormon, that means the book of Mormon is true. Okay, but God doesn’t routinely correct people who dismiss the book of Mormon, nor does he usually tell people who read the Qu’ran or the Catechism of the Catholic Church “get away from those lies!” Does that mean that Islam and Catholicism are true? Once again, Huston’s argument proves too much.
I agree with Huston that God can speak to someone’s heart to help him see the truth of the gospel message, but God also left us with evidence to help us determine when he actually has revealed himself. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 says we should test everything and retain what is good, not that we should pray only about important matters of faith. When Mormonism is tested for historical accuracy and sound theology, it falls short in both areas.
Becoming “Like” God, or Becoming Gods?
Huston says that the doctrine of “becoming like God” supposedly “got on my nerves,” but it’s not the doctrine of becoming like God that I found to be absurd (this is called theosis and is referenced in paragraph 460 of the Catechism). It’s the Mormon doctrine that those who follow all their ordinances will actually become gods—and, yes, we should be alarmed at a doctrine like that. Huston asks, “Which official LDS sources do you base the many extensions of this teaching that you cited?”
I’m glad he asked.
Along with the famous couplet from the fifth Mormon president, Lorenzo Snow (“As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be”), we have the words of Mormonism’s greatest prophet: Joseph Smith. Huston says I don’t have sources to back up the first half of Snow’s couplet; but in his King Follett sermon, Joseph Smith said, “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!”
Mr. Huston, is Joseph Smith wrong or right about God? If he’s right, then why not just accept Snow’s couplet? If Smith is wrong, then why should we trust the other things this so-called prophet said?
Huston explains the second part of Snow’s couplet by saying that we are “literal spirit children of God” and that “throughout the eternities of the next life, we can continue growing until we grow up to become like our Father and we will enjoy the same great blessings that make Heavenly Father God.” This includes the ability to “someday create spirit children of our own.”
But the Bible never says we are God’s literal children, only that we are his children through adoption (Romans 8:15). Jesus is the “only begotten” Son of God or the “one of a kind” Son of God (Greek, monogenous [John 3:18]). It’s true that in heaven we will share in many of God’s communicable attributes, like his holiness, but we can never become God, since God is the uncreated and infinite act of being.
We are and always will be creatures who, if we die in a state of grace, will adore the infinite God for all eternity. The Bible and Sacred Tradition never speak of us having “spirit children” in the next life, and they affirm that there is only one God, which means we cannot become “gods” (see Isaiah 43:10, Isaiah 44:8, John 5:44, John 17:3, 1 Timothy 6:16).
Joseph Smith and other early Mormon leaders were more explicit about the Mormon doctrine that believers will “become gods.” Smith said in the King Follett sermon:
[Y]ou have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation.
Smith’s successor, Brigham Young, said, “The Lord created you and me for the purpose of becoming Gods like Himself” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 3, 93.) In the twentieth century, the Mormon apostle Bruce McConkie said, “This full salvation is obtained in and through the continuation of the family unit in eternity, and those who obtain it are gods” (Mormon Doctrine, 472). The current Encyclopedia of Mormonism says, “This process known as eternal progression is succinctly expressed in the LDS aphorism, ‘As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.”
It’s true this teaching is not explicitly found in Mormonism’s standard works, but consider the words of prominent Mormon theologian Stephen E. Robinson:
It is the official teaching of the LDS Church that God the Father has a physical body (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22). The belief that God the Father was once a human being rests mainly on two technically uncanonized sources (sermons of Joseph Smith and Lorenzo Snow) which have, however, in effect become normative” [emphasis added] (How Wide the Divide?, p. 79).
Finally, I agree with Huston that the LDS Church has not defined how “spirit children” are made or who will be exalted, but what it has defined is heretical and must be rejected by orthodox Christians.
Is Jesus God or god?
Huston next says I was “flat-out” wrong in saying that Mormons don’t believe Jesus is God and demands sources for this allegation. Of course, that depends on how you define the word God. Mormons believe Jesus is “God” in the sense that we are all “gods.” According to their theology, we are all God’s literal spirit children (including Jesus) and were fashioned from eternally preexisting “intelligences” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:29).
Jesus allegedly told Joseph Smith, “I was in the beginning with the Father, and am the First-born; And all those who are begotten through me are partakers of the glory of the same, and are the church of the First-born. Ye were also in the beginning with the Father” (Doctrine and Covenants, 93:31-33).
The First Presidency taught in 1909,“The Father of Jesus is our Father also. . . . Jesus, however, is the first-born among all the sons of God—the first begotten in the spirit, and the only begotten in the flesh. He is our elder brother, and we, like Him, are in the image of God.” Jesus is our sibling because he was created like we were (which means he can’t be God, since God is uncreated).
Jesus is even the Devil’s brother, since God created both of them. The Mormon apologetics website FAIR Mormon admits, “[I]t is technically true to say that Jesus and Satan are ‘brothers,’ in the sense that both have the same spiritual parent, God the Father.”
However, to distinguish our faith from this heretical belief, Christians say in the Creed that the Son was “begotten, not made” (the term made applies to creatures like us or the angels), “one in being with the Father” and not a distinct being he created.
Huston says, “Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament. (Did you know that?).” I did, but Mormons erroneously believe that the Bible teaches the existence of two Gods, Elohim and Jehovah. Elohim is supposed to be God the Father, while Jehovah is God the Son; but this doesn’t explain passages that identify one God by both these designations. One example of this would be Deuteronomy 6:4, which says, “Hear O Israel, Yahweh [Jehovah] our Elohim is one.” Notice also that Huston restricts Jesus to being “the God of the Old Testament” as if there is a different God of the New Testament. But isn’t Jesus the God of the whole Bible?
Huston also says, even though they each have their own glorified but physical body, Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are absolutely united in all things, as both the Bible and Book of Mormon teach. Therefore, they are both God.
But if we are talking about two embodied beings, then we are talking about two gods, not one. Saying they are one being because they cooperate perfectly is like saying a miraculously cooperating Penn and Teller are one magician! Huston’s language is reminiscent of the previous LDS president Gordon Hinkley, who said of the Father and the Son, “They are distinct beings, but they are one in purpose and effort” (Gospel Principles, 37) and the LDS official website, which says, “each member of the Godhead is a separate being.”
So, if the Father and Son are separate beings (plural), and God just is being itself (singular, infinite, and undivided) then the Father and Son can’t be God. They would instead be gods, with the Father having a higher ontological status than the Son. But this contradicts Christian theology, which teaches that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three persons who exist as the one being of God. The Catechism says:
We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the “consubstantial Trinity” . . . the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another (CCC 253, 255).
Finally, I’ll close with some questions of my own for Mr. Huston:
When Jesus said the gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church (Matt. 16:18) and instructed believers to bring sinners to “the Church” (Matt. 18:17), did he mean it? If Jesus is God, then wouldn’t he have known about the so-called “great apostasy” involving the Church “falling away” from the gospel (until it was restored by Joseph Smith?). If Jesus knew that would happen, why did he speak and act as if it would not?
How many gods are there? If there is more than one god, then how do you explain Isaiah 44:8, where God says, “Is there a God besides me? I know not any”; or John 5:44, where Jesus speaks of the glory of “the only God”?
In Acts 7:59, Stephen prayed to Jesus before his martyrdom, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Would you be comfortable directly asking Jesus to receive your spirit before death like Stephen did? Would you say to Jesus, “You are my Lord and God” like Thomas did (John 20:28)? Now, it’s true Jesus taught us to pray to the Father, but where in Scripture did Jesus say we must pray only to the Father? Since Jesus taught his disciples to pray only the Our Father, do you say only that prayer, or are other kinds of prayers allowed?
Can you tell me with any certainty and specificity where the events in the Book of Mormon took place? Doesn’t it concern you that even atheistic archaeologists agree with Christians and Jews on where many major events in the Bible took place but no such agreement is found regarding the events described in the book of Mormon?
Is there anything that would convince you that Mormonism is false? If not, then why should you expect other people to leave their faiths and become Mormon when you aren’t prepared to do the same?
In closing, I thank Mr. Huston for his response and encourage him, and anyone else reading this, to evaluate the evidence and not rely on emotions, which can lead us into error.”
“#1 Gene Fadness – Boise, Idaho
Your response, Trent, is thorough, correct and well-documented. As a former temple Mormon and missionary, I can tell you that the struggle we face is getting our LDS friends to acknowledge their entire faith history and theology. It’s a young faith, but there are already clear demarcations made between “old” Mormonism and “new” Mormonism. In the last 30 years, there is great reluctance to talk about eternal progression and men becoming gods. Google the Gordon Hinckley interview with Larry King where he does all he can to gloss over it. Some LDS who truly understand their faith and history even accused Hinckley of denying an essential doctrine. The modern church “glosses” over all those unpleasant topics such as men becoming gods, how Jesus was conceived, the existence of Kolob, the reasons for polygamy or a priesthood that once excluded people of African descent. Because they believe in modern revelation they have a convenient way to deny what past “prophets” and “apostles” have written.
In my brief and very limited study of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, I learned that Hebrew, being such an ancient language is like a dixie cup of water in terms of the volume of words in its vocabulary. English is like a large drinking glass. Greek is like a pitcher. In English, we only have ONE word for love, a distinct and serious limitation of the language, for all the senses that word must capture, inarticulately, ultimately and at best. As you will read below, Greek has four.
-by Dr. Peter Kreeft, Dr. Kreeft was raised a Calvinist, Kreeft regarded the Catholic Church “with the utmost suspicion.” A key turning point was when he was asked by a Calvinist professor to investigate the claims of the Catholic Church that it traced itself to the early Church. He said that on his own, he “discovered in the early Church such Catholic elements as the centrality of the Eucharist, the Real Presence, prayers to saints, devotion to Mary, an insistence on visible unity, and apostolic succession.” The Church fathers such as Augustine and Jerome were clearly Catholic and not Protestant, he stated.
The “central and deciding” factor for his conversion was “the Church’s claim to be the one Church historically founded by Christ.” For he applies C. S. Lewis’s trilemma—either Jesus is a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord to the Church: “either that this is the most arrogant, blasphemous and wicked claim imaginable, if it is not true, or else that He is just what He claims to be.”
On the Bible issue, he refers to the church preaching that forms the basis for writing the Bible and the approval needed from the church to ascertain the contents of the Bible. To this he applied the axiom: “a cause can never be less than its effect. You can’t give what you don’t have. If the Church has no divine inspiration and no infallibility, no divine authority, then neither can the New Testament.”
His conversion took place as he asked God for help, praying that “God would decide for me, for I am good at thinking but bad at acting, like Hamlet.” It was then that he says he “seemed to sense” the call of saints and his favorite heroes, to which he assented.
…in “C. S. Lewis’s unpretentious little masterpiece The Four Loves. In it, Lewis clearly distinguishes supernatural love, agape (ah-gah-pay), the kind of love Christ is and lived and taught, from the natural loves: storge (natural affection or liking), eros (natural sexual desire), and philia (natural human friendship). All natural loves are good; but supernatural love, the love that God is, agape, is the greatest thing in the world. And part of the Gospel, the “good news,” is that it is available to us; that Christ is the plug that connects us to the infinite supply of divine love-electricity.
The old word for agape in English was ‘charity.’ Unfortunately, that word now means to most people simply handouts to beggars, or to the United Fund. But the word ‘love’ won’t do as an accurate translation of agape. For ‘love’ means to most people either sexual love (eros) or a feeling of affection (storge), or a vague love-in general. (Interestingly, we no longer usually classify friendship as one of the loves. That is probably why we seldom write great tributes to it, as the ancients did.)
To solve this translation problem, it may be necessary to insist on using the Greek word agapeinstead of any of the misleading English translations, even at the risk of sounding snobbish or scholarly, so that we do not confuse this most important thing in the world with something else in our minds, and consequently risk missing it in our lives. There is enormous misunderstanding and confusion about it today. In fact, there are at least six common misunderstandings.
(1) THE FIRST AND MOST usual misunderstanding of agape is to confuse it with a feeling. Our feelings are precious, but agape is infinitely more precious, because our feelings are not infinite but agape is. Feelings come from us, but agape comes from God as its ultimate source. Feelings also come to us, passively. They are “passions.” Agape comes from God and is accepted actively by our free choice. St. Thomas Aquinas defines it as “willing the good of the other” — the simplest definition of love I’ve ever seen. Agape is an act of the will, not the feelings. That is why we are responsible for it, and commanded to do it, to choose it. We are not responsible for our feelings. Only an idiot would command us (That’s why sexual feelings and desires, whether heterosexual or homosexual, are not sins in and of themselves. Feelings can be “disordered,” but sins can come from acting on them.) We are responsible for our agape or lack of it, for agape comes from our free will, our deliberate choice, while feelings come from wind, weather, hormones, advertisements, and digestion. “Luv” comes from spring breezes; real love (agape) comes from the center of the soul, which Scripture calls the ‘heart’ (another word we have sentimentalized and reduced to feeling). Liking is a feeling. But love (agape) is more than strong liking. God does not merely like us; He saves us, He dies for us. Agape is a deed. Love is “the works of love.”
Jesus had different feelings toward different people. But he loved them all equally and absolutely.
But how can we love someone if we don’t like him? Easy — we do it to ourselves all the time. We don’t always have tender, sweet, comfortable feelings about ourselves; sometimes we feel foolish, stupid, asinine, or wicked. But we always love ourselves: we always seek our own good. Indeed, the only reason why we feel dislike toward ourselves and berate ourselves is precisely because we do love ourselves! We care about our good, so we are impatient with our bad.
We fall in love but we do not fall in agape. We rise in agape.
Since God is agape and agape is not feeling, God is not feeling. That does not make Him (or agape) cold. Coldness is a feeling just as much as heat (passion) is. That also does not make Him abstract: a principle or an ideal rather than a Three-Person. Agape is not a feeling, not because it is less than a feeling but because it is so much more. God is agape itself, the essence of love, while feeling is only the little dribbles of love, little echoes of love, received into the medium of our emotions, our passions, our passivity. Love “overcomes” us or “comes over us,” but nothing can overcome or come over God. God cannot fall in love for the same reason water cannot get wet: it is wet. It is wetness itself. Love Itself cannot receive love as a passivity. It can only spread it as an activity. God is love-in-action, not love-in-dreams. (Remember that great line of Dostoyevski’s: “love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams” — Dorothy Day’s favorite line. (Ed. What may it ask of us?)) Feelings are like dreams: easy, passive, spontaneous. Agape is hard and precious like a diamond.
(2) THIS BRINGS US TO A second and related misunderstanding. Agape’s object is always the concrete individual, not some abstraction called humanity. Love of humanity is easy because humanity does not surprise you with inconvenient demands. You never find humanity on your doorstep, stinking and begging. Humanity never has the 20 wrong political opinions. Humanity is an idea, not a person. When five men and six women are in a room, there are only 11 people there, not 12. Humanity never occupies a room, only a mind.
Jesus commands us to love not humanity but our neighbor, all our neighbors: the real individuals we meet, just as He did. He died for me and for you, not for “humanity.” The Cross has our names written on it, not the name humanity. When the nails pierced His hands, the blood spelled out “John” and “Peter” and “Mary,” not “humanity.” When Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd, He said He “calls His own sheep by name” (John 10:3). The Gospel comes to you not in a newspaper with a Xeroxed label that reads, “Dear Occupant,” but in a handwritten envelope personally addressed to you, as a love letter from God. It is written to you alone. One of the saints says that Jesus would have done everything He did and suffered everything He suffered even if you were the only person who had sinned. He would have done all that just for you. More than that, He did. This is no “if” ; this is fact. His loving eyes saw you from the Cross. Each of His five wounds were lips.
(3) A THIRD MISUNDERstanding about love is to confuse it with kindness, which is only one of its usual attributes. Kindness is the sympathy with and the desire to relieve another’s suffering. But love (agape) is the willing of another’s good. A father can spank his child out of love. And God is a father.
It is painfully obvious that God is not mere kindness, for He does not remove all suffering, though He has the power to do so. Indeed, this very fact — that the God who is omnipotent and can at any instant miraculously erase all suffering from this world deliberately chooses not to do so is the commonest argument unbelievers use against Him. The number one argument for atheism stems from the confusion between love and kindness.
The more we love someone, the more our love goes beyond kindness. We are merely kind to pets, and therefore we consent that our pets be put to death “to put them out of their misery” when they are suffering. There is increasing pressure in America to legalize euthanasia. So far only Nazi Germany has ever legalized euthanasia. This evil too stems from the confusion between love and kindness. We are kind to strangers but demanding of those we love. If a stranger informed you that he was a drug addict, you would probably try to reason with him in a kind and gentle way; but if your son or daughter said that to you, you would probably do a lot of shouting and screaming.
Grandfathers are kind; fathers are loving. Grandfathers say, “Run along and have a good time.” Fathers say, “But don’t do this or that.” Grandfathers are compassionate, fathers are passionate. God is never once called our grandfather, much as we would prefer that to the inconveniently close, demanding, intimate father who loves us. The most frequently heard saying in our lives is precisely the philosophy of a grandfather: “Have a nice day.” Many priests even sanctify this philosophy by ending the Mass with it, though the Mass is supposed to be the worship of the Father, not the Grandfather.
(4) A FOURTH MISUNDERstanding about love is the confusion between “God is love” and “love is God.” The worship of love instead of the worship of God involves two deadly mistakes. First it uses the word God only as another word for love. God is thought of as a force or energy rather than as a person. Second, it divinizes the love we already know, instead of showing us a love we don’t know. To understand this point, consider that “A is B” does not mean the same as “A equals B.” “That house is wood” does not mean “wood is that house.” “An angel is spirit” does not mean the same as “spirit is an angel.” When we say “A is B” we begin with a subject, A, that we assume our hearer already knows, and then we add a new predicate to it. “Mother is sick” means “You know mother well, let me tell you something you don’t know about her: she’s sick.” So “God is love” means “Let me tell you something new about the God you know: He is essential love, made of love, through and through.” But “Love is God” means “Let me tell you something about the love you already know, your own human love: that is God. That is the ultimate reality. That is as far as anything can ever go. Seek no further for God.” In other words, “God is love” is the most profound thing we have ever heard. But “love is God” is deadly nonsense.
(5) A FIFTH MISUNDERstanding about love is the idea that you can be in love with love. No, you cannot, any more than you can have faith in faith, or hope in hope, or see sight. Love is an act, a force, or an energy, but persons are more than – that. What we love with agape can only be a person, the most real thing there is, because a person is the image of God, who is ultimate reality, and God’s name is “I Am” — the name for a person. If anyone says they are in love with love, that love is not agape but a feeling.
(6) A SIXTH MISUNDERstanding about love is the idea that “God is love” is unrelated to dogmatic theology, especially to the doctrine of the Trinity. Everyone can agree that “God is love” it seems, but the Trinity is a tangled dogma for an esoteric elite, isn’t it? No. If God is not a Trinity, God is not love. For love requires three things: a lover, a beloved, and a relationship between them. If God were only one person, He could be a lover, but not love itself. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, and the Spirit is the love proceeding from both, from all eternity. If that were not so, then God would need us, would be incomplete without us, without someone to love. Then His creating us would not be wholly unselfish, but selfish, from His own need.
Love is a flower, and hope is its stem. Salvation is the whole plant. God’s grace, God’s own life, comes into us by faith, like water through a tree’s roots. It rises in us by hope, like sap through the trunk. And it flowers from our branches, like fruit for our neighbor’s use. Faith is like an anchor. That’s why it must be conservative, even a stick-in-the-mud, like an anchor. Faith must be faithful. Hope is like a compass or a navigator. It gives us direction, and it takes its bearings from the stars. That’s why it must be progressive and forward-looking. Love is like the sail, spread to the wind. It is the actual energy of our journey. That’s why it must be liberal, open to the Spirit’s wind, generous.
Agape is totally defenseless against an objection like Freud’s: “But not all men are worthy of love.” No, they are not. Love goes beyond worth, beyond justice, beyond reason. Reasons are always given from above downward, and there is nothing above love, for God is love. When he was six, my son asked me, “Daddy, why do you love me?” I began to give the wrong answers, the answers I thought he was looking for: “You’re a great kid. You’re good and smart and strong.” Then, seeing his disappointment, I decided to be honest:
“Aw, I just love you because you’re mine.” I got a smile of relief and a hug: “Thanks, Daddy.” A student once asked me in class, “Why does God love us so much?” I replied that that was the greatest of all mysteries, and she should come back to me in a year to see whether I had solved it. One year later to the day, there she was. She was serious. She really wanted an answer. I had to explain that this one thing, at least, just could not be explained.
Finally, there is the equally mind-boggling mystery of the paradox of agape: somehow in agape you give yourself away, not just your time or work or possessions or even your body. You put yourself in your own hands and hand it over to another. And when you do this unthinkable thing, another unthinkable thing happens: you find yourself in losing yourself. You begin to be when you give yourself away. You find that a new and more real self has somehow been given to you. When you are a donor you mysteriously find yourself a recipient of the very gift you gave away. “There is more: nothing else is really yours. Your health, your works, your intelligence, your possessions —these are not what they seem. They are all hostage to fortune, on loan, insubstantial. You discover that when you learn who God is. Face to face with God in prayer, (not just a proper concept of God), you find that you are nothing. All the saints say this: you are nothing. The closer you get to God, the more you see this; the more you shrink in size. If you scorn God, you think you’re a big shot, a cannonball; if you know God, you know you’re not even buckshot. Those who scorn God think they’re Number One. Those who have the popular idea of God think they’re good people.” Those who have a merely mental orthodoxy know they’re real but finite creatures, made in God’s image but flawed by sin. Those who really begin to pray find that compared with God, they are motes of dust in the sun. Finally, the saints say they are nothing. Or else, in Saint Paul’s words, “the chief of sinners.” Sinners think they’re saints, and saints think they’re sinners.
Who’s right? How shall we evaluate this unless God is the Father of lies (the ultimate blasphemy)! The saints are right. Unless the closer you get to God the more wrong you are about yourself, the five groups in the preceding paragraph (from scorners to saints) form a hierarchy of insight. Nothing is ours by nature. Our very existence is sheer gift. Think for a moment about the fact that you were created, made out of nothing. If a sculptor gives a block of marble the gift of a fine shape, the shape is a gift, but the marble’s existence is not. That is the marble’s own. But nothing is our own because we were made out of nothing. Our very existence is a gift from God to no one, for we were not there before he created us. There is no receiver of the gift distinct from the gift itself. We are God’s gifts. So the saints are right. If I am nothing, nothing that is mine is anything. Nothing is mine by nature. But one thing is mine by my free choice: the self I giveaway in love. That is the thing even God cannot do for me. It is my choice. Everything I say is mine, is not. But everything I say is yours is mine.
When asked which of his many library books he thought he would have in heaven, C.S. Lewis replied, “Only the ones I gave away on earth and never got back.” The same is true of our very self. It is like a ball in a game of catch: throw it and it will come back to you; hold onto it and that ends the game.”
-by Scipione Tadolini, “St Michael the Archangel”, 1865, Marble sculpture, Rotunda, Gasson Hall, Boston College.
“Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings. The God of all grace who called you to His eternal glory through Christ [Jesus] will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little. To Him be dominion forever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:8-11
The last thing the Enemy wishes is our despair.
There is a story about Satan selling some of his tools at a garage sale he was giving. There on tables grouped by importance were his bright, shiny but deadly trinkets.
One could find tools that made it easy to tear others down. And for those who had big egos, there were lenses for magnifying one’s own importance, but if you looked through them the other way, you could also use the lens to belittle others.
An unusual assortment of gardening implements stood together with a guarantee to help your pride grow by leaps and bounds. Also in prominence was the rake of scorn, the shovel of jealousy for digging a pit for your neighbor, tools of gossip and backbiting, of selfishness and apathy.
All of these were pleasing to the eye and came complete with great promises and guarantees of prosperity. The prices, of course, were steep but a sign declared “Free Credit Extended” to all. “Take at least one home, use it. You don’t have to pay until later!” old Satan cried rubbing his hands in glee.
One prospective buyer was looking at all the things offered when he noticed two well-worn, non-descript tools standing in one corner. Not being nearly as tempting as the other items, he found it curious that these two tools had price tags higher than any other.
When he asked why, Satan just laughed and said, “Well, that’s because these two are more useful to me than the others. I can pry open and get inside a person’s heart with these when I cannot get near them with my other tools. Once I get inside, I can make people do what I choose. They are badly worn because I use them on almost everyone, since very few people know that they belong to me.”
Satan pointed to the two tools, saying, “You see, I call that one Doubt and the other Discouragement. Those will work when nothing else will.”
Resist him, solid in your faith. We used to call this Spiritual Warfare. The Lord’s love is infinitely stronger than any evil. He is God. He cannot be defeated. The Prince of Lies wishes us to believe he can defeat Him. It is a lie. Do not listen to him. With the power of prayer and trust in the Lord, banish the Liar to the void of suffering from whence he came for his rebellion against God, to which he wishes to drag us all. Resist him, solid in your faith.
Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle;
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray:
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.
By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Seraphim, may the Lord make us worthy to burn with the fire of perfect charity. Amen.
By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Cherubim, may the Lord grant us the grace to leave the ways of sin and run in the paths of Christian perfection. Amen.
By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Thrones, may the Lord infuse into our hearts a true and sincere spirit of humility. Amen.
By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Dominions, may the Lord give us grace to govern our senses and overcome any unruly passions. Amen.
By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Powers, may the Lord protect our souls against the snares and temptations of the devil. Amen.
By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Virtues, may the Lord preserve us from evil and falling into temptation. Amen.
By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Principalities, may God fill our souls with a true spirit of obedience. Amen.
By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Archangels, may the Lord give us perseverance in faith and in all good works in order that we may attain the glory of Heaven. Amen.
By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Angels, may the Lord grant us to be protected by them in this mortal life and conducted in the life to come to Heaven. Amen.
O glorious prince St. Michael, chief and commander of the heavenly hosts, guardian of souls, vanquisher of rebel spirits, servant in the house of the Divine King and our admirable conductor, thou who dost shine with excellence and superhuman virtue deliver us from all evil, who turn to thee with confidence and enable us by your gracious protection to serve God more and more faithfully every day.
Pray for us, O glorious St. Michael, Prince of the Church of Jesus Christ, that we may be made worthy of His promises.
Almighty and Everlasting God, Who, by a prodigy of goodness and a merciful desire for the salvation of all men, has appointed the most glorious Archangel St. Michael, Prince of Thy Church, make us worthy, we beseech Thee, to be delivered from all our enemies, that none of them may harass us at the hour of death, but that we may be conducted by him into the August Presence of Thy Divine Majesty. This we beg through the merits of Jesus Christ Our Lord.
-by Rev. Andrew Hofer, OP, teaches at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC. This article comes from the September 2011 issue of The Irish Rover, a newspaper produced by students at the University of Notre Dame.
““How do we reconcile God’s omnipresence with the existence and agency of the Devil and with the presence of sin and evil in general?”
A perennial problem in human thinking is the question of good and evil. How can we reconcile the presence of God and the presence of evil forces that we experience in the world? In Christianity, Gottfried Leibniz (d. 1716) was especially famous for framing the question of theodicy, that is, how to justify God when we face the problem of evil.
If God is infinitely good, all-powerful, omnipresent, and all-loving, how could there be evil forces at work in creation? Various approaches are taken to answer this today. One approach is to be silent in the face of the mystery of suffering.
For some of those who articulate an answer, it seems that God has too exalted a job description! They want to lessen God’s descriptions. God isn’t REALLY almighty, they say. He’s working out His salvation, and ours, in a complex cosmos.
An even more serious objection arising from the question of evil is that God simply doesn’t exist. This modern-sounding objection is, in fact, one that St. Thomas Aquinas considers when asking “Does God exist?” in SUMMA THEOLOGIAE Ia, q. 2, a. 3. The objection runs like this. It seems that God does not exist. If one of two contraries is infinite, the other would be totally destroyed. But this word “God” is understood to mean infinite goodness. If therefore God exists, evil couldn’t be found. But evil is found in the world. Therefore God does not exist.
Few people may go through this reasoning in a logical syllogism, but many people wonder along those lines when bad things happen. How could God let my friend suffer and die? Where was God in the September 11 attacks against America ten years ago? Individual painful experiences such as these can drive people to agnosticism or atheism.
For his part, St. Thomas answers the objection from evil concerning God’s existence with a quotation from St. Augustine: “Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.” St. Thomas continues to say that this is actually a part of God’s infinite goodness: He allows evil—and out of that evil produces good. In other words, God does not directly will evil, and when He declines to prevent it (see Job), He who made creation from nothing has a plan to make something very good out of the disorder of evil.
In responding to the question of evil, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “No quick answer will suffice…. THERE IS NOT A SINGLE ASPECT OF THE CHRISTIAN MESSAGE THAT IS NOT IN PART AN ANSWER TO THE PROBLEM OF EVIL” (309). In the world that we have, with its freedom and the misuse of freedom in sin, there are devils and sinners. God doesn’t obliterate devils after their fall, which was their irrevocable everlasting choice against God’s goodness. God created devils originally as good angels, and their own choice to turn away from Him does not cause God to destroy them. He also doesn’t obliterate us human sinners. Even when God’s own Son became man and was crucified by evil forces, by our sins, God did not obliterate His creation. He showed that the horror imposed upon Jesus could be used for our salvation. In fact, it is by “his wounds we are healed” (Isa 53:5). When we experience evil personally, when we suffer, it is an invitation to be united with Jesus, “to fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” (Col 1:24).
For nearly 2,000 years, Christians have proclaimed to the world that “Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.” His Resurrection beckons us to live by the Holy Spirit and see how no evil, however horrible it is, can be a match for God’s almighty goodness. It doesn’t make everything easy in this world. But our faith in the Resurrection, where God triumphs over ALL evil forces, sustains us. The mystery of God’s triumph calls us both to silent prayer at the foot of the Cross, and to joyful preaching of the Good News.”
“Many Catholics, especially those living in the South, have heard the question posed by Protestants. Unprepared by the Church to properly answer, they often shrug off the question or walk away.
But Catholics should not only respond, they ought to engage their questioners in discussion. That’s the position of Dr. C. Colt Anderson, dean of Washington Theological Union in Washington, D.C., and the featured speaker March 10 at St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish’s third annual theology lecture.
Originally from Georgia, Anderson said he’s faced the question. He asked the audience of mostly college students to answer, “Are you saved?” “Working on it,” responded one listener. A pretty good answer, Anderson acknowledged. Better, he said, is the response: “I hope so.”
Catholic doctrine supplies the proper foundation for response, Anderson said, and Catholics should be confident answering. “We can say we have hope, strong hope (that we’re saved), but we can’t know for sure.”
To believe one is saved is to risk a potentially dangerous smugness. “If we knew for sure (that we’re saved), it could lead to spiritual self-satisfaction … the equivalent of spiritual death,” Anderson explained. That’s because God expects us to continually grow. “We’re called to grow into being like Christ.”
He continued, “Ask yourself: Am I more faithful now than I was a year ago? Do I have more hope? Am I more loving now than I was?” Catholics must constantly be increasing in faith, hope and love, Anderson said.
“It’s not enough to think kind thoughts about hungry people. We must do something for them,” he explained.
Anderson cited references from the Council of Trent, the Catholic Church’s response to the Protestant Reformation, in his explanations. “Why don’t we make the effort to engage people about what we consider (to be) important?” He challenged listeners that, if they really believe in the possibility of eternal damnation as well as Christ’s admonition to love your neighbor, “You can’t just walk away from the question.”
To show they really care, Catholics “should try to help them.” They should explain that each person is given a gift of grace from God along with the freedom to accept it (and to love and grow in that grace), or to reject it. But, “How often do we fail to share our faith?”
And what about loving all people?
“We have to love the worst people. … We should love racists … violent people … greedy people because Christ came and loved all of us,” Anderson continued.
Just as individuals have different talents and gifts, so may the graces they receive differ, Anderson said. As an example, he noted that St. Francis of Assisi called himself the worst sinner in the world. A follower disagreed, pointing out the good Francis had done. The Italian saint demurred, saying that if the worst sinner got the grace I’ve got, he would have done a better job with it.
“Good things come from God. Sins are ours, but we don’t want to give them up,” Anderson continued.
Faith alone is not enough to save us, Anderson said. The gifts of faith, hope and love reflect the triad of the Trinity, he said, and “The Scriptures are on our side.” St. James said “Faith without works is dead.”
Asked for his thoughts on purgatory, Anderson said he doesn’t know what purgatory is, but it may be a place where “unfinished business has to be dealt with.” Sins are forgiven but there may still be lasting damage from those sins that must be addressed.
“You’re given absolution from your sins but you’ve done damage. … Some effort has to be made … Unfinished business has to be dealt with before you get into heaven,” he said.
Traditionally, Catholics have been taught to pray for the dead in purgatory — until now. “We haven’t taught this generation to pray for us,” he said.
But, Anderson said he’ll pray for people he thinks may be in purgatory. After all, “It doesn’t do any harm to pray.”
-Michaelangelo’s “Last Judgment”, Sistine Chapel
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ