Category Archives: Doctrine

The Fullness of Grace


-by Br John Paul Kern, OP

“Do Catholics and Protestants both believe that we are saved by God’s grace?

Yes! And today many Christians are realizing that this is an essential point of Christian unity.

In 1999, the Catholic Church and Lutheran leaders signed a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, proclaiming together that “all persons depend completely on the saving grace of God for their salvation” (JDDF, 19).

In 2006, Methodist leaders affirmed that this statement “corresponds to Methodist doctrine.” This summer, on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, leaders of the Reformed communities also accepted this common explanation of justification by grace.

What does this groundbreaking agreement between the Catholic Church and Protestant leaders mean?

After many years of harsh rhetoric and, often, misunderstandings, the Catholic Church and several large Protestant communities have been able to acknowledge together, publicly, that we both believe that Christians are saved by grace. Acknowledging such common ground is an important step toward a fuller Christian unity.

However, many Protestants remain skeptical that the Catholic Church affirms the priority of God’s grace in man’s justification, which Luther called the “first and chief article” of Christian faith (Smalcald Articles, II.1). Additionally, the Joint Declaration itself openly acknowledges and describes differences in the way that Catholics and Protestants understand how we are saved by grace.

Unfortunately, many Catholics and Protestants alike are unfamiliar with both the Catholic doctrine of justification by grace and the teachings of the Protestant Reformers. Therefore, let us explore what we share in common as well as where we differ regarding “the Gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), to better appreciate this beautiful, saving truth in its fullness.

Common Ground: The Primacy of God’s Grace in Man’s Salvation

God, Who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)… For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast. (Eph 2:4–5, 8–9)

St. Paul knew from his own conversion that salvation in Jesus Christ comes through God’s gift of grace. Therefore, he strongly emphasized this central Gospel truth throughout his writings.

Having also undergone a radical conversion by God’s grace, St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430) famously rejected the error of Pelagius, who claimed man could save himself apart from grace.

The Catholic Church later employed St. Augustine’s teachings to refute “semi-Pelagianism”—the claim that man can earn the grace of justification by his own efforts—at the Second Council of Orange (529), and she continues to honor St. Augustine as the Doctor Gratiae (Teacher of Grace).

A thousand years later, Protestant theologians in the 16th century articulated their doctrine of justification sola gratia (by grace alone), which also emphasized the priority of grace.

When the Catholic Church promulgated her official response at the Ecumenical Council of Trent (1546–1563), she strongly reaffirmed the primacy of God’s grace. Once again, she explicitly rejected Pelagianism—the claim “that man may be justified before God by his own works… without the grace of God”—and Semi-Pelagianism.

Thus, the Catholic Church in the 16th century authoritatively agreed with the Protestant Reformers regarding the priority of grace in salvation. However, she was concerned that the Protestant doctrine of sola gratia greatly reduced the scope and power of the grace of justification by emphasizing God’s forgiveness apart from the effects of grace on man.

Therefore, the Catholic Church emphasized, and continues to emphasize, that God’s grace of justification cannot be understood in its fullness apart from:

  1. the role of grace in God’s entire plan for mankind;
  2. a radical transformation, renewal, and rebirth of the human person; and
  3. God’s elevation of man to partake of the divine nature and participate in divine life.

1. Grace is a Fundamental Part of God’s Entire Plan for Humanity

For Protestant Reformers, such as Luther, the central question was justification: how can a sinful person be justified before God? This is extremely important. However, a singular emphasis on this question often leads Protestants to view grace solely through the lens of “solving the problem” of justification.

Catholics, on the other hand, understand God’s grace not only as a merciful response to man’s miserable, fallen state after sin but also as a generous gift that God freely and lovingly chose to bestow upon Adam and Eve from the moment of their creation. The Catholic faith teaches that God created man in a state of grace, which allowed him to enjoy an intimate friendship with God, knowing and loving God in a way that would not have been possible without God’s grace.

After the sinful Fall, God’s grace restores man to a state of friendship with God and grants the forgiveness of sin. The Catholic Church teaches that God’s prevenient (prior) grace prepares, disposes, and moves man to freely receive the grace of justification, which communicates to man the righteousness of Christ. From beginning to end, it is grace that saves.

Starting at the moment of justification, Christian life is animated by sanctifying grace, which allows Christians to grow in holiness throughout their lives. Sanctifying grace includes the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, the heart of the Christian life (1 Cor 13:13), and the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Isa 11:2). Christians who follow the Holy Spirit through the gifts enjoy the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22–23), the highest of which are the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3–12).

Finally, the life of grace reaches its full fruition in the glory of heaven. It is not by man’s natural powers that he is capable of beholding the beatific vision of God but only by God’s gift of the light of glory, which is also a grace.

2. God’s Grace Has the Power to Actually Transform a Human Person

According to the Protestant Reformers, justification by grace is extrinsic to man. That is, justification describes man’s standing before God, in a sort of legal fashion, rather than the actual state of man himself. According to Luther, for example, man is justified when God graciously looks at Christ’s merit, which covers but does not destroy man’s sin, and imputes (credits) to us the “alien righteousness” of Christ, declaring us righteous by a judicial act though we remain sinners in reality. Thus, grace is simply the “undeserved favor” of God’s merciful judgment, which renders us “not guilty.”

In contrast, the Catholic faith teaches that while the wounds due to original sin still affect Christians, the grace of justification does not merely cover sin but destroys it, regenerates man to spiritual life (Jn 3:3; Titus 3:4-7), and restores his friendship with God.

Scripture recounts Jesus forgiving sins (Mk 2:1-12), casting out evil (Lk 11:14), healing (Mt 8:1-4), and raising people from the dead (Jn 11:40-44), all of which serve as powerful images for what God accomplishes in the human soul through the grace of justification.

God’s declarations match reality. God spoke the universe into being by saying, “let there be…” (Gen 1). Similarly, when God declares a person to be just and righteous, he simultaneously and actually makes that person just and righteous by the power of his grace, “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).

The grace of justification communicates the righteousness of Christ to man and has the power to actually transform man into the image of Christ (Rom 8:29). The Christian is reborn to a new life of grace infused by the Holy Spirit and is given a new heart (Ez 36:26–28), a new mind (1 Cor 2:16), and a new “nature” in Christ (Eph 4:22–24).

St. Paul explains, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). Thus, Christians transformed by grace have “put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col 3:9–10).

Therefore, “justification… is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man [2 Cor 4:16] through the voluntary reception of the grace… whereby man who was unjust becomes just [Rom 3:23-24], and who was an enemy becomes a friend [Jn 15:15], so that he may be an heir according to hope of life everlasting” (Trent, Decree on Justification, Ch. 7).

God justifies a person by an infusion of grace, which brings about a transformation of the soul from a state of sin and injustice to a state of grace, justice, and righteousness. This conversion includes a movement of the intellect toward God in faith and a movement of the will to love God and to hate sin, and it simultaneously results in the forgiveness of sin (Summa Theologica I-II, q. 113, a. 6).

Thus, in his work of justification, God’s undeserved favor actively bestows upon us the gift of grace, which has the power to actually transform us and make us righteous with the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

3. By Grace We Partake of the Divine Nature and Participate in Divine Life

The Protestant Reformers also do not emphasize what is, perhaps, the most amazing thing about grace: that God’s grace elevates Christians to share in God’s Trinitarian life of love. Luther asserted that even “the just sin in every good work” (Denzinger, 771), and “every work of the just is worthy of damnation… if it be considered as it really is” (Möhler, “Symbolik,” 22). For Calvin, even Christian acts of charity “are always defiled by impurity” (Institutes, III, 18, 5).

In contrast, St. Peter wrote, “his divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness… that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:3–4).

From the very beginning, “God… freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life” (CCC 1). That is, God created us to partake, by grace, in his own divine nature and to share in the divine life of Trinitarian love (1 Jn 4:7-16)—a life that is far above and beyond what is possible by human nature alone.

Even after original sin, God’s grace restores us from spiritual death to new life in Christ (Rom 6:4). Grace allows us to share in God’s own Trinitarian life as “adopted sons” in the Son (Gal 4:4–6) and as “children of God” (Jn 1:12–13) so that through, with, and in Jesus Christ, by the indwelling and power of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19), we may call God “Our Father” (Mt 6:9).

By grace, we are truly united to Christ as his members (1 Cor 12:12–27), and the life of the divine vine runs through us as branches (Jn 15:1–11), so that with St. Paul we may proclaim that it is now “Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). As God’s children in Christ, we cooperate with God’s grace to bear the spiritual fruit of good works (Jn 15:16–17; Eph 2:10), which glorify God.

This supernatural life of grace, which begins on earth, blossoms into the life of glory in heaven. There, the gift of faith will be transformed into sight as we behold God face-to-face (1 Cor 13:12). Our hope will be fulfilled as we possess God, our eternal inheritance and reward, celebrating the wedding feast of the Lamb (Rev 19:6-9). Yet love, the core of the Christian life, will continue, perfected, in heaven as we experience the fullness of joy praising God for all eternity (1 Cor 13:8). Thus, the life of grace will be crowned and fulfilled in eternal life.

By grace, even now, we can share in God’s life of love and, in imitation of Jesus Christ, perform the works of our Father (Jn 4:34). Let us cry out “Abba! Father!” in praise of him whose merciful love offers us, by the saving work of his Son, through the Holy Spirit, this amazing gift of grace!”

Love, & always begging for His grace,
Matthew

Sin? WTF? What’s that? Who cares? What’s the diff?

chastity

There’s a BIG diff. Holiness “integrates” the entire human person, as God intended, repairing the wounds of sin in that person and their community; and is achieved ONLY through His most merciful grace. Sin, the rebellion against God and His Holy Will, therefore, “disintegrates” the human person. We can see this now, here, in our lives through greed, lust, envy, pride, divorce, addiction, adultery, even atheism/agnosticism, heresy, and their counterparts all disintegrate the human person from what God intends. Praise His most holy name. Praise Him. Please, please pray for me in my struggles against my own temptations, that I might not be disintegrated in His sight. He has been so good to me! 🙂 1 Cor 9:27. Pray that I may turn from my sin, and LIVE!!!! 🙂

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-by Br Hyacinth Grubb, OP

¨Bob is Bob,” and “Dan is Dan;” these statements are tautologically true. Yet we also say that “Bob isn’t himself today,” and this manner of speaking gets at something profound. We can, somehow, be more or less “ourselves.” But what does that mean, exactly?

It doesn’t mean that personhood changes or disappears, or that someone becomes someone else. Rather, it is a statement about wholeness, completeness, and integrity of life; or the lack of integrity and that absence of a proper order in life—being scattered, fragmented. And there is, ultimately, only one thing that can destroy integrity: sin.

Sin wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC, 1849)

Sin is not an offense against an arbitrary standard concocted by a devious divinity. It’s an offense against reason and truth. As such, its effects are not only external, breaking the divine and eternal law, but also internal. It wounds human nature by destroying the proper ordering of life, by twisting nature to perverted counterfeits of the good it seeks. Sin makes us less ourselves.

All sin and vice lead us to lose ourselves, but some kinds more than others. This depends not only on the gravity of the offense, but also on the role that each virtue and vice plays in human life. One virtue is particularly important, and particularly neglected in our era: that of chastity. Chastity is especially important not because Christians are obsessed with controlling a particular, and personal, aspect of people’s lives, but because it reflects and informs integrity and self-possession throughout all facets of life.

The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift … Charity is the form of all the virtues. Under its influence, chastity appears as a school of the gift of the person. Self-mastery is ordered to the gift of self. (CCC 2337, 2346) (Ed. Since when I was in novitiate and missioned to St John’s food pantry in Cincinnatti, where I heard the true, true maxim, oft since reheard, “You cannot give what you do not have!”)

The proper ordering of life is, ultimately, one of self-mastery and self-gift, for “man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (Gaudium et Spes, 24). Chastity is a virtue exemplifying both self-mastery and self-gift. Self-mastery, since “the alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy” (CCC 2338). Self-gift, since “some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner,” and some profess vows “in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman” (CCC 2349, 2337). Chastity, thus, is worth our special concern.

In today’s age, in a culture of explicit and unbridled and almost unavoidable unchastity, sin has harmed each of us, distorted your integrity and mine, in a drastic way. It is no surprise that so many people are “not themselves” and are unable to gather the scattered fragments of life. It may tempt us to despair, but we are comforted by our Savior and the confidence that “where sin abounded, grace did more abound” (Rom. 5:20). It is by grace, purchased at great price, that sin is expelled, virtue gained, and our selves made whole.”

Love,
Matthew

Index of Forbidden Books: Just & Right

Index_Librorum_Prohibitorum_1

The Index Librorum Prohibitorum was a list of publications deemed heretical, anti-clerical or lascivious, and therefore banned by the Catholic Church.

The first official censorship had come in 1559 with the publication of the Index auctorum et librorum prohibitorum under the direction of Pope Paul IV. The Pauline index, as it became known, was the first in a long succession of papal indexes, forty-two in all. The purpose of these indexes was to guide censors in their decisions of what publications to authorize and which to disallow, for printers were not free to publish books without official permission.

Even today, Catholic publications of any kind, intending to speak on behalf of the Church and about Church teaching, and not just personal opinion, must bear in the front of the work the Nihil Obstat, literally, “nothing prevents”, is a certification by an official censor that a book is not objectionable on Catholic doctrinal or moral grounds. Also, the Imprimatur, “let it be printed”, is permission, granted by a bishop, that the work should be published.

It is MOST important to understand what these declarations are NOT. They do NOT endorse or validate or verify what is in the work, whatsoever. Rather, they are more of what is NOT in the work. They indicate no agreement with what is in the work, whatsoever. Amen. Feel me?

Faithful Catholics, while free to read anything today, will still inspect the work for these marks if engaging in official Church dialogue, or intending to rely on the work for catechesis or any other official Church business. Not discovering such, faithful Catholics will very likely refer to another work which does bear such marks of Church permission.

Fear not, gentle reader. This blog bears no such endorsements, therefore, if you are a faithful Catholic, you are under NO requirement to take my word for it, I checked. Since these rantings are purely mine, and I am NOT authorized to speak officially on behalf of the Church, Deo gratias, the Lord is kind and merciful, no?

Yet, I have tried to remain faithful, as my conscience and training as a catechist and student of the Church and His Gospel, dictates to me, which I ever try to bring into greater conformity and understanding of her, the Church’s, official teachings, through much prayer, reading, especially the Catechism, and conversations regarding such with faithful clerics and other informed Catholic laity. Deo gratias. I INTENTIONALLY include several very well formed and educated clerics on the distribution for this express purpose, and because I think they’re awesome, too. No complaints, yet? 🙂

School textbooks for Catholic schools must be vetted by the USCCB, known as the Conformity Review. Publishers, not being experts in Catholic doctrine or morals, are often requested or required to revise texts to more closely conform or reflect official teaching of the Church.

In January of 1562 the Council of Trent took up the issue of the Index and was deeply divided. The Pauline index had been seen by many as too controversial and excessively restrictive. After the opening speeches, the council appointed a commission to draft a new index. Although the council closed before the task of the commission was completed, the new Tridentine index was taken up by Pope Pius IV and published in 1564 by Paulus Manutius in Rome. This index constituted the most authoritative guide the church had yet published; its lists formed the basis of all subsequent indexes, while its rules were accepted as the guide for future censors and compilers.

The 20th and final edition appeared in 1948, and the Index was formally abolished on 14 June 1966 by Pope Paul VI.

The aim of the list was to protect the faith and morals of the faithful by preventing the reading of heretical and immoral books. Books thought to contain such errors included works by astronomers such as Johannes Kepler’s Epitome astronomiae Copernicanae, which was on the Index from 1621 to 1835, and by philosophers, like Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. The various editions of the Index also contained the rules of the Church relating to the reading, selling and pre-emptive censorship of books—editions and translations of the Bible that had not been approved by the Church could be banned.

Catholic canon law still recommends that works concerning sacred Scripture, theology, canon law, church history, and any writings which specially concern religion or morals, be submitted to the judgment of the local ordinary (the bishop). The local ordinary consults someone whom he considers competent to give a judgment and, if that person gives the nihil obstat (“nothing forbids”) the local ordinary grants the imprimatur (“let it be printed”). Members of religious institutes require the imprimi potest (it can be printed) of their major superior to publish books on matters of religion or morals.

Some of the scientific theories in works that were on early editions of the Index have long been routinely taught at Catholic universities worldwide; for example the general prohibition of books advocating heliocentrism was only removed from the Index in 1758, but already in 1742 two Franciscan mathematicians had published an edition of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica (1687) with commentaries and a preface stating that the work assumed heliocentrism and could not be explained without it. The burning at the stake of Giordano Bruno, whose entire works were placed on the Index in 1603, was because of teaching the heresy of pantheism, not for heliocentrism or other scientific views. Antonio Rosmini-Serbati, one of whose works was on the Index, was beatified in 2007. The developments since the abolition of the Index signify “the loss of relevance of the Index in the 21st century.”

A complete list of the authors and writings present in the successive editions of the Index is given in J. Martínez de Bujanda, “Index Librorum Prohibitorum, 1600–1966”. A list of the books that were on the Index can be found on the World Wide Web.

david_mills
-by David Mills

“It’s one of those “How could they?” facts of Catholic history that people assume shows how “medieval” the Church was — and is — and how secularism was such an improvement, especially if we get more of it. The Church abolished the Index of Prohibited Books 50 years ago this month, though she kept the idea that the bishops should guide their people’s reading and people shouldn’t read everything they wanted.

The Index is also one of those facts of Catholic history of which we’re expected to be ashamed. We’re supposed to cringe in embarrassment. The Oppressive Church banned books and every good person knows that was Bad Bad Bad, because no one has any right to tell anyone else what to read.

Let me put it this way: The Index is nothing to be ashamed of. We have no reason to be embarrassed.

No reason to be embarrassed

In this case, as in so many others, the Church was only doing what everyone does for good reasons, but the Church gets blamed for it. Nearly everyone else gets a pass. Sometimes the authorities try to protect people from themselves and protect everyone else from people doing dangerous things. I wrote about this last week in the English weekly The Catholic Herald.

The government puts a lot of effort into discouraging smoking. It bans heroin and cocaine. Very few people declare the government oppressive because it makes hard drugs illegal and chases down and punishes those who sell them. The idea of an index only sounds funny to us because we don’t think of ideas as dangerous. We recognize physical dangers but not intellectual ones.

And as I wrote, we have informal American indexes. Try to get your local library to put on its shelves The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a once infamous (and wicked) attack on the Jews. Any would-be academic who invoked Charles Murray’s book The Bell Curve, which claimed to find intellectual differences between races, will ruin his chances of getting a job in almost any university in America.

Even the Brooklyn Library, a bastion of liberal enlightenment, keeps Tintin in the Congo, an overtly racist work, in a back room behind a locked door. Schools and libraries purge books newly decided to be sexist, homophobic, etc. Publishers produce sanitized versions of books like Huckleberry Finn and many of the great and good approve.

I don’t blame them for this. They would, of course, sneer at the Church for creating the Index, and I do blame them for that. They shift the criterion. When they effectively ban a book, they’re rejecting dangerous error (or what they believe to be error), but when (50 years ago) the Church banned books she was oppressing the human mind and spirit. I do blame them for that.

But in trying to guide the people in their care, the Church’s critics were only doing what the Church was trying to do in creating the Index. Some people see things the rest of us don’t see. They see dangers we don’t see.

A rough and ready tool

An Index may have been a rough tool and one sometimes badly applied, but that’s only to say it’s a human instrument. Education and persuasion would ideally be better ways of dealing with bad ideas, but they don’t always work. People don’t hear the message, or they hear it and don’t listen, or they listen and don’t understand, or they understand and do it anyway. Some people use heroin and cocaine even when they know what the drugs will do to them.

If you think intellectual errors may be even more dangerous than heroin, you might try to ban them. I’m not saying the Index was the right response to the danger, but in the context it was a reasonable one, and one of which we shouldn’t be ashamed.

There’s a lesson here about the way the world thinks of the Church. A lot of the things the Church gets blamed for are things human institutions naturally do, and they don’t get blamed. The Church probably won’t do it perfectly, because she’s run by fallen and limited human beings, but that’s true of everyone else, too.

While criticizing sentimental businessmen, G.K. Chesterton noted that “Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are least dangerous is the man of ideas. He is acquainted with ideas, and moves among them like a lion-tamer.” Some people tame lions and the rest of us don’t. Stuck in a lion’s cage, I would appreciate a lion-tamer’s guidance, even if he says “don’t” to something I want to do, like pet the nice kitty.”

Love & truth. If it weren’t for ALL the Peace & Unity & Wisdom/Enlightenment our post-modern freedoms have brought us, I might doubt the wisdom of the Index? 😉  Just sayin’?
Matthew

“Abandon all Hope!!! Ye, who enter here!!!

the-repentant-peter_el_greco
-“The Repentant Peter”, El Greco, 1595, oil on canvas, 75.2 x 93.6 cm, Philips Collection, Washington DC, USA

nicholasschneiderop
-by Br Nicholas Schneider, OP

“Dante sees these words engraved on the archway over the Gates of Hell as he follows Virgil on their journey down through the nine circles of Hell. Dante witnesses in The Inferno how the punishments of the damned reflect their sins during life. Among the multitude of punishments, those who caused schism or division are split open, the wrathful continually fight against each other, and the lustful, blown about in a great storm, are unable to settle on anything. The sinners are living out in their punishments the actual effects of their sins, over and over again, for all eternity.

All sin is of serious concern because sin “is an offense against God” (CCC 1850). As Psalm 51 reminds us, it is primarily against God that we sin. All our sins, even our venial sins, damage our relationship with God and upset the great balance and beauty of creation. When we sin, we are “loving what God hates, and hating what God loves,” as St. Catherine of Siena describes in one of her letters. She is not concerned merely with mortal sins. Venial sins also damage our relationship with God, and, as St. Catherine writes in another letter, “Our ingratitude [to God is] shown in the sins we commit every day.”

The critical question concerning our sins is the same one Jesus asked St. Peter after the Resurrection: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15). Do we love our sins more than we love God and His forgiveness? Indeed, we commit our most common sins (including venial ones) precisely because we love them more than we love God. This is nothing new, as reading any of the Old Testament prophets demonstrates. The prophets continually complain about idols. Sometimes, the people of Israel outwardly worship God, but they also worship the idols of the land (Ed. or in their hearts!!!). The people love their idols and cannot part with them, even for God. God remains secondary because the people keep their trust in the (lifeless) idols and do not trust that (the living) God alone can provide. ( O ye, of little faith!!) The same is true of our habitual sins. We gain some passing pleasure from them that we do not want to give up. Because of this pleasure, breaking free from this attachment to sin is very hard, even if we know and can see how our idols are hurting and destroying us and our hope (name your deadly sin, and KNOW NOW WHY it is deadly). If we fail to break free from these sinful attachments, we will remain with them for eternity without any hope for liberation. (Truth is a bitch!!!)

Our Lord Jesus Christ is our hope, and He gives us the tool to break free from these sinful loves that pull us away from God: frequent and regular confession. Confession destroys the vices within us, even our venial sins, and sets us right with God. However, we are a fallen people, and the inclination toward sin and the bad habits can remain, which St. Catherine of Siena calls “rust.” We still need to fight against these tendencies which encourage us to return to our sinful ways.

One common image for sin is a shortcut through the woods that has become an alternative trail. We can stop using the shortcut, but it can take a very long time for a person to completely return to the habit of using the official path, especially if we have been regularly using the shortcut. When we run into trouble on the path, it is all too easy to take the shortcut again. The simplest way to stay on the path is not to use our power, but God’s. By returning again and again to the sacrament of confession, humbling ourselves before God, we walk no longer by our own limited power and weak will, but by God’s grace. (Trust not in your own strength!!! -Pr 3:5)

St. Peter received Jesus’s forgiveness and grace by the shores of the Sea of Tiberias. Knowing his own sinfulness as well as the love of God that overcame the shame and helplessness of those sins, St. Peter followed Jesus more closely. He also strengthened his brothers and sisters, bearing witness to the hope that can overcome our sins. We too are called to imitate St. Peter, witnessing to others the real hope of a genuine freedom that comes from scrubbing away the rust of our sins and following Jesus Christ ever more closely.” St. Peter, preferring Christ before all else, pray for us. Help us to do, to be similar, we beg, in His Most Holy Name. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

The Heresy of Pelagiansim

Bad-Boys-of-Theology-Pelagius

rc_sproul
-by RC Sproul

“Grant what Thou commandest, and command what Thou dost desire.” This passage from the pen of Saint Augustine of Hippo was the teaching of the great theologian that provoked one of the most important controversies in the history of the church, and one that was roused to fury in the early years of the fifth century.

The provocation of this prayer stimulated a British monk by the name of Pelagius to react strenuously against its contents. When Pelagius came to Rome sometime in the first decade of the fifth century, he was appalled by the moral laxity he observed among professing Christians and even among the clergy. He attributed much of this malaise to the implications of the teaching of Saint Augustine, namely that righteousness could only be achieved by Christians with the special help of divine grace.

With respect to Augustine’s prayer, “Oh God, grant what Thou commandest, and command what Thou dost desire,” Pelagius had no problems with the second part. He believed that God’s highest attribute was indeed His righteousness, and from that righteousness He had the perfect right Himself to obligate His creatures to obey Him according to His law. It was the first part of the prayer that exercised Pelagius, in which Augustine asked God to grant what He commands. Pelagius reacted by saying that whatever God commands implies the ability of the one who receives the command to obey it. Man should not have to ask for grace in order to be obedient.

Now, this discussion broadened into further debates concerning the nature of Adam’s fall, the extent of corruption in our humanity that we describe under the rubric “original sin,” and the doctrine of baptism.

It was the position of Pelagius that Adam’s sin affected Adam and only Adam. That is to say, as a result of Adam’s transgression there was no change wrought in the constituent nature of the human race. Man was born in a state of righteousness, and as one created in the image of God, he was created immutably so. Even though it was possible for him to sin, it was not possible for him to lose his basic human nature, which was capable always and everywhere to be obedient. Pelagius went on to say that it is, even after the sin of Adam, possible for every human being to live a life of perfect righteousness and that, indeed, some have achieved such status.

Pelagius was not opposed to grace, only to the idea that grace was necessary for obedience. He maintained that grace facilitates obedience but is not a necessary prerequisite for obedience. There is no transfer of guilt from Adam to his progeny nor any change in human nature as a subsequence of the fall. The only negative impact Adam had on his progeny was that of setting a bad example, and if those who follow in the pathway of Adam imitate his disobedience, they will share in his guilt, Pelagius asserted, but only by being actually guilty themselves.

There can be no transfer or imputation of guilt from one man to another according to the teaching of Pelagius. On the other side, Augustine argued that the fall seriously impaired the moral ability of the human race. Indeed, the fall of Adam plunged all of humanity into the ruinous state of original sin. Original sin does not refer to the first sin of Adam and Eve, but refers to the consequences for the human race of that first sin. It refers to God’s judgment upon the whole human race by which He visits upon us the effects of Adam’s sin by the thoroughgoing corruption of all of his descendants. Paul develops this theme in the fifth chapter of his epistle to the Romans.

“For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.” -Romans 7:19
or,
“I tried to be good, but I got bored.” 🙁 -t-shirt I own.

The key issue for Augustine in this controversy was the issue of fallen man’s moral ability — or lack thereof. Augustine argued that prior to the fall, Adam and Eve enjoyed a free will as well as moral liberty. The will is the faculty by which choices are made. Liberty refers to the ability to use that faculty to embrace the things of God.

After the fall, Augustine said the will, or the faculty, of choosing remained intact; that is, human beings are still free in the sense that they can choose what they want to choose. However, their choices are deeply influenced by the bondage of sin that holds them in a corrupt state. And as a result of that bondage to sin, the original liberty that Adam and Eve enjoyed before the fall was lost.

The only way that moral liberty could be restored would be through God’s supernatural work of grace in the soul. This renewal of liberty is what the Bible calls a “royal” liberty (James 2:8).

Therefore, the crux of the matter had to do with the issue of moral inability as the heart of original sin. The controversy yielded several church verdicts including the judgment of the church in a synod in the year 418, where the Council of Carthage condemned the teachings of Pelagius. The heretic was exiled to Constantinople in 429. And once again, Pelagianism was condemned by the church at the Council of Ephesus in 431. Throughout church history, again and again, unvarnished Pelagianism has been repudiated by Christian orthodoxy.

Even the Council of Trent, which teaches a form of semi-Pelagianism, in its first three canons — especially in the sixth chapter on justification — repeats the church’s ancient condemnation of the teaching of Pelagius that men can be righteous apart from grace. Even as recently as the modern Roman Catholic catechism, that condemnation is continued.

In our own day, the debate between Pelagianism and Augustinianism may be seen as the debate between humanism and Christianity. Humanism is a warmed-over variety of Pelagianism.

However, the struggle within the church now is between the Augustinian view and various forms of semi-Pelagianism, which seeks a middle ground between the views of Pelagius and Augustine.

Semi-Pelagianism teaches that grace is necessary to achieve righteousness, but that this grace is not imparted to the sinner unilaterally or sovereignly as is maintained by orthodox Christianity.

Rather, the semi-Pelagian argues that the individual makes the initial step of faith before that saving grace is given. Thus, God imparts the grace of faith in conjunction with the sinner’s work in seeking God. It seems a little mixing of grace and works-not-prompted-through-grace doesn’t worry the semi-Pelagian.

[Ed.  Catholicism holds ALL is grace.  The ability, the inclination to seek truth and grace is itself the fruit of God’s freely given grace.  Any good we do in this life is the fruit of God’s freely given grace, but it MUST be exercised.  It CANNOT be ignored or denied.  Faith, ALONE, is NOT sufficient.  This would be sinful, a sin of omission, as opposed to comission.]  It is our task, however, if we are to be faithful first to Scripture and then to the church’s ancient councils, to discern Augustine’s truth and defend it aright.”

Love,
Matthew

Jesus is NOT your best buddy!!!

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Rev Dwight Longenecker, Fr. Dwight Longenecker is an American who has spent most of his life living and working in England.
Fr Longenecker was brought up in an Evangelical Protestant home in Pennsylvania. After graduating from the Fundamentalist Protestant Bob Jones University with a degree in Speech and English, he went to study theology at Oxford University. He was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest and served as a curate, a school chaplain in Cambridge and a country parson on the Isle of Wight. Realizing that he and the Anglican Church were on divergent paths, in 1995 Fr. Dwight and his family were received into the Catholic Church. In December 2006 he was ordained as a Catholic priest under the special pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy. He now serves as parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, SC.

“I remember singing that sweet old gospel song, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, and I’m not denying that Jesus is our friend and brother, but there is something a bit disconcerting about being too comfortable, too familiar with Jesus. He might be the good shepherd and gentle Jesus, meek and mild, but He’s the shepherd is also the Judge and while He’s mild, there is also something wild about Him.

Aslan is not a tame lion and Christ the Tiger is not a cuddly kitten.

I’m not sure where in the New Testament it indicates that Jesus is our best buddy. When I read the gospels He certainly went to parties, was sociable and was very popular, but He is always treated either with extreme respect or with disdain and fear. Even with His apostles there is a distance. He loves people, but He doesn’t come across to me as full of bonhomie, high fives, fist bumps, and hearty slaps on the back. There is always something of the desert about Him.

Yet the predominant image of Jesus in our American Evangelical society is that of “friend and brother”. People are told they can have a ‘personal relationship with Jesus, and one gets the impression that this is of the same order as the sort of relationship you have with your best buddy from high school days. It’s almost Jesus the work colleague, or Jesus the team leader.

I’m sure that’s all well and good up to a point, but I doubt if it’s really a Scriptural image, nor is it an image that was popular throughout Church history. The closest we get to a chummy, up close and personal Jesus is the intimacy of Jesus the Good Shepherd, and certainly we Catholics love the tenderness of Jesus of the Sacred Heart.

The more dominant image in the New Testament is one of Jesus Christ glorified. The readings for the Ascension emphasize the ‘cosmic Christ’. He is the One under Whose feet God has put all things. He is the One Who has claimed dominion over all the spiritual forces in the heavenly places. He is the One through Whom all things exist, Who is in all and through all. In other words, He is Christ the King, Christ Pantocrator.

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Furthermore, He is the judge of the living and the dead, before Whom every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth.

Why is this image so neglected today, and why has it never (in my experience) been emphasized within Protestantism? Is it just that we are democratic? We’re egalitarian and want Jesus to be ‘an ordinary guy’? Is it because we are uncomfortable with all the supernatural language associated with Him being over all the ‘thrones and principalities and powers and dominions’?

Or is it the fact that Jesus–the Dreadful Judge of the Last Day makes us a wee bit, well, nervous? To be nervous of that final judgment is not such a bad thing. In fact, the Book of Proverbs says “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The proper fear of the Lord is the humble acknowledgement that we are in the presence of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus Christ is, after all, the second person of the Holy Trinity—the very Son of God, Light from Light, God from God, Begotten not made, One in Being with the Father, by Whom all things were made.

He loves me, and is my friend and brother, but He is first and foremost—as the apostles proclaim, “My Lord and My God.””

Love,
Matthew

The Creed: Credo in unum Deum & St Gregory of Nyssa, (335-395 AD), Father of the Church

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“This Creed is the treasure of our soul.” –St. Ambrose

Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem,
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty,
factorem cœli et terrae, visibilium omnium et invisibilium.
Creator of heaven and earth, of all things seen and unseen.
Et in unum Dominum, Jesum Christum,
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
Filium Dei unigenitum, et ex Patre natum ante omnia saecula.
the only-begotten Son of God, born of the Father;
Deum de Deo, Lumen de Lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero,
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God;
genitum non factum, consubstantialem Patri;
begotten, not made, one in being with the Father,
per quem omnia facta sunt.
through Him all things were made;
Qui propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem descendit de cœlis.
For us men and for our salvation, He came down from Heaven.
Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est.
He was born of the Virgin Mary and became man:
Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato passus, et sepultus est,
For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate;  suffered, died, and was buried:
et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas,
And rose again on the third day:
et ascendit in cælum, sedet ad dexteram Patris.
He ascended into Heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God, the Father:
Et iterum venturus est cum gloria, iudicare vivos et mortuos,
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead:
cuius regni non erit finis;
His Kingdom will have no end;
Et in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum et vivificantem,
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life,
qui ex Patre Filioque procedit.
Who proceeds from the Father and the Son
Qui cum Patre et Filio simul adoratur et conglorificatur;
Who, with the Father and the Son, is adored and glorified;
qui locutus est per prophetas.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
Et unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam.
I believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church,
Confiteor unum baptisma in remissionem peccatorum.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum,
I look forward to the Resurrection of the Dead,
et vitam venturi saeculi. Amen.
And the Life of the world to come. Amen.

“Gregory of Nyssa, both brilliant and holy, was recognized by his contemporaries and peers as a man who most perfectly embodied the Council of Constantinople—the council that produced the creed we call “Nicene” and recite every Sunday. The Emperor Theodosius decreed that communion with Gregory was a necessary condition of orthodoxy. As the council ended, the Fathers appointed Gregory to travel extensively promoting the formulas of the creed in places where controversies had arisen.

While in Constantinople, he complained about the condition of the city’s faith. It’s not that the people weren’t interested, he noted. In fact, they pursued their interest in theology with impressive ardor. Everyone seemed to know the Scriptures, and everyone seemed eager to interpret them. But their interpretations veered wildly because the people held themselves accountable to no authority. Gregory complained:

“Mere youths and tradesmen are off-hand dogmatists in theology. Servants, too, and slaves that have been flogged. . . are solemn with us and philosophical about things incomprehensible. . . . If you ask for change, someone philosophizes to you on the begotten and the unbegotten. If you ask the price of bread, you’re told the Father is greater and the Son inferior. If you ask if the bath is ready, someone answers that the Son was created from nothing.”

Gregory’s mission was to remedy this situation. His method was the creed.

His mission was needed and essential. If Jesus had wandered into the market and asked his haunting question, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15), He would have received many different answers. Most, it seems, would seem quite flattering if applied to mere mortals like you and me, but they would be wrong if applied to God incarnate. And wrong answers about Jesus all come with terrible implications: errors about God, about salvation, and about every dimension of human nature. Christ, after all, is the only One Who, the Second Vatican Council taught, “fully reveals man to man.”

Our times are not all that different from Gregory’s. If we go to the market, we may encounter many opinions about Jesus—one from the apocalyptic preacher on the street corner, and another from the leaflets left in the laundry, and still another from the tabloids on sale at the checkout line. Popular books treat Jesus as a guru, psychologist, Republican, Democrat.

In such a climate, what are we, in our turn, to do? Perhaps we should do the same as St. Gregory did, all those years ago. We should go forward, fortified by the creed.

If we don’t get the creed right, we don’t get Jesus right. And if we don’t get Him right, we don’t get anything right.”

—from Scott Hahn’s new book, “The Creed: Professing the Faith Through the Ages”

Love,
Matthew

We are not dung – “God don’t make no junk!”

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-by Michael Sullivan
From the Mar/Apr 2012 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

“Late one night, when St. Augustine was a youth, he and his buddies, “a group of bad youngsters,” stripped a pear tree of its fruit. They ate some of it but threw most of it to the pigs. The young Augustine didn’t steal the pears because he was hungry, or even because he desired them. He stole for the thrill of stealing. “Foul was the evil,” he said, “and I loved it.”

I had a similar experience when I was a boy: I tried to steal a toy gun even though I had $20 in my pocket—which at the time I considered a small fortune. A friend and I wandered around the toy department with a forced casualness. Our awkward movements caught the attention of a security guard, who caught us with our pockets full of loot. We didn’t steal because we couldn’t afford the toys nor because we really wanted them. We did it for the thrill. We wanted to do something evil.

If someone had asked me if I wanted to commit a sin, I would have said no. But the truth was that I was overpowered by the desire to do something wrong. The word for that is concupiscence.

When desire to do something wrong springs up within us— often without our consent—we have an opportunity to either give in or build virtue by reigning in the flesh with the will. The desire to commit a sin is not sinful in itself. The sin comes when we give our consent to the evil desire. Just as Adam and Eve didn’t sin until they chose the forbidden fruit, so with us, our temptations themselves are not sinful. This point is often misunderstood and is a major difference between Catholic and Protestant theology.

We Are Not Dung

Most Protestants consider concupiscence itself to be sinful. Martin Luther was tormented for many years by his inability to overcome his fallen nature. He found peace only in the thought that man is depraved and simply can’t avoid sin. He and other Protestant Reformers were convinced that even our good works are nothing but sin.

This doctrine is known as total depravity and is accepted by many Protestants. In this view human nature is steeped in sin, and man’s only hope for salvation is confessing his faith and believing in the Lord as his Savior. With faith, the “cloak of righteousness” covers over the filth of whatever sins may have corrupted the soul.  Luther said Jesus covers up our sinfulness as snow covers a dunghill.

This is a far cry from the Catholic understanding of forgiveness, in which Jesus wipes the sin away completely through the sacrament of confession. Luther’s teachings skewed the traditional understanding of the relationship between faith and works:

  • “It does not matter what people do; it only matters what they believe. . . . God does not need our actions” (Luther’s Works, Erlangen, vol. 29, p. 126).
  • “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but have stronger faith and rejoice in Christ, who is the  victor of sin, death, and the world. Do not for a moment imagine that this life is the abiding place of justice: Sin must be committed. . . . Sin cannot tear you from Him, even though you commit adultery a hundred times a day and commit as many murders” (A Letter from Luther to Melanchthon, n. 99, August 1, 1521).
  • Luther’s words are shocking for Catholics, as they undermine our understanding of free will. Gerard Wegemer, a professor of English at the University of Dallas and a prominent scholar of St. Thomas More, points out the dangers of such a position. Wegemer describes St Thomas More’s reaction to the works and teachings of the Reformers:
  • They deny free will and thus ascribe responsibility for evil to God, not to His creatures. At the same time, the “one special thing” they use to spice everything else is a doctrine of liberty that teaches that “having faith, they need nothing else.” . . . Luther’s denial of free will “plainly sets forth all the world to wretched living.” After all, if the way we act is not within our control, what incentive is there to struggle against one’s passions and temptations? Furthermore, if our actions make no difference to God, why should they make any difference to us? More considers Luther’s denial of free will to be “the very worst and most mischievous heresy that was ever thought upon, and also the most mad” ( Thomas More: A Portrait of Courage, Scepter, 123–25).

Invitation to Hypocrisy

Luther’s denial of free will remains a stumbling block for many good Christians who strive for virtue and holiness. This basic misunderstanding is made especially harmful when coupled with the common “once saved, always saved” mentality. The danger of this belief is that it can give rise to a disconnect between how one lives and what one believes: If it is impossible for me to overcome sin, and through my faith I’m assured salvation, then what keeps me from living a blatantly duplicitous life? Our modern culture is rife with examples of Christians—Catholics included—who go to church every Sunday and yet live in a way that is incompatible with Christ’s teachings.

We are called to serve God with all our faculties, both natural and supernatural. We must use our free will to choose what is good and holy and avoid what is evil. If we don’t have authentic free will, as many Protestants have claimed, how can we possibly live an upright Christian life? How can we freely follow Jesus’ command in the New Testament when he quoted Deuteronomy, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt. 22:37)? If all we do is fraught with sin, as the Reformers taught, why bother to strive for virtue?  (Ed. lest we be tempted to think this line of reasoning just an intellectual exercise in the hypothetical, ask Dr. Scott Hahn, a former Presbyterian minister, WHY he became Catholic?  It was the practical reality of THIS reason and its effects in present day, real life!!!)  🙁

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, on the other hand, says: The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle. Spiritual progress entails the ascesis [self-denial] and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes (no. 2015).

We have a fallen nature, but we are not snow-covered dung. Rather, as Paul said, we make up for what is lacking in the suffering of Christ (cf. Col. 1:24). So when we offer our struggles and good works to Christ, they multiply and unite with His and help to build up the body of Christ, the Church. The “dunghill” is in reality fertile soil. Our cooperation with God’s grace nurtures the soil to produce good fruit: “Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).

By making use of the sacraments, prayerfully examining our consciences each day, and aggressively working to build virtue, 1 Cor 9:27, NOT “earning our way to Heaven”, but “exercising virtue”,  ALL a gift of and TOTALLY DEPENDENT EVEN FOR EXISTENCE, OURS AND ITS, ON HIS GRACE, ALONE!!!, we can be assured that when we call upon Christ, He will aid us in our daily struggle for holiness so that we can say with Paul at the end of this life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).”  (Ed. BOTTOM LINE:  our salvation, our offering, our righteous sacrifice of any holy thing, isn’t pre-emptive salvation, but rather His Gift, the Cross, the Salvation He offers us!!!  Praise Him, Church!!!!  Praise Him!!!!  “ALL salvation is by way of the Cross!!!”  NOTHING ELSE!!!)

CUF President Mike Sullivan originally wrote this article for This Rock magazine in 2005.

Love,
Matthew

Free will

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(Ed. I think the definition of free will and the nature of man is critical to understanding Protestant vs Catholic concepts of human sinfulness, and then by reason, how to go about dealing with that, or how that should be dealt with. Catholicism takes Gen 1:31 very literally, that ALL of God’s creation is good, judged simply by the fact its Creator was God. “God don’t make no junk!” is a more modern way of, if albeit crude, of expressing this sentiment.

I have learned in my graduate theology studies from the Avila Institute that ALL of Catholic theology originates in Genesis, ALL of it; and, all biblical typology, too.)

CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

PART THREE
LIFE IN CHRIST

SECTION ONE
MAN’S VOCATION LIFE IN THE SPIRIT

CHAPTER ONE
THE DIGNITY OF THE HUMAN PERSON

ARTICLE 3
MAN’S FREEDOM

1730 God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. “God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel,’ so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to Him.”26

Man is rational and therefore like God; he is created with free will and is master over his acts.27

I. FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY

1731 Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility. By free will one shapes one’s own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.

1732 As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach.

1733 The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to “the slavery of sin.”28

1734 Freedom makes man responsible for his acts to the extent that they are voluntary. Progress in virtue, knowledge of the good, and ascesis enhance the mastery of the will over its acts.

1735 Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors.

1736 Every act directly willed is imputable to its author:

Thus the Lord asked Eve after the sin in the garden: “What is this that you have done?”29 He asked Cain the same question.30 The prophet Nathan questioned David in the same way after he committed adultery with the wife of Uriah and had him murdered.31

An action can be indirectly voluntary when it results from negligence regarding something one should have known or done: for example, an accident arising from ignorance of traffic laws.

1737 An effect can be tolerated without being willed by its agent; for instance, a mother’s exhaustion from tending her sick child. A bad effect is not imputable if it was not willed either as an end or as a means of an action, e.g., a death a person incurs in aiding someone in danger. For a bad effect to be imputable it must be foreseeable and the agent must have the possibility of avoiding it, as in the case of manslaughter caused by a drunken driver.

1738 Freedom is exercised in relationships between human beings. Every human person, created in the image of God, has the natural right to be recognized as a free and responsible being. All owe to each other this duty of respect. The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in moral and religious matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person. This right must be recognized and protected by civil authority within the limits of the common good and public order.32

II. HUMAN FREEDOM IN THE ECONOMY OF SALVATION

1739 Freedom and sin. Man’s freedom is limited and fallible. In fact, man failed. He freely sinned. By refusing God’s plan of love, he deceived himself and became a slave to sin. This first alienation engendered a multitude of others. From its outset, human history attests the wretchedness and oppression born of the human heart in consequence of the abuse of freedom.

1740 Threats to freedom. The exercise of freedom does not imply a right to say or do everything. It is false to maintain that man, “the subject of this freedom,” is “an individual who is fully self-sufficient and whose finality is the satisfaction of his own interests in the enjoyment of earthly goods.”33 Moreover, the economic, social, political, and cultural conditions that are needed for a just exercise of freedom are too often disregarded or violated. Such situations of blindness and injustice injure the moral life and involve the strong as well as the weak in the temptation to sin against charity. By deviating from the moral law man violates his own freedom, becomes imprisoned within himself, disrupts neighborly fellowship, and rebels against divine truth.

1741 Liberation and salvation. By his glorious Cross Christ has won salvation for all men. He redeemed them from the sin that held them in bondage. “For freedom Christ has set us free.”34 In him we have communion with the “truth that makes us free.”35 The Holy Spirit has been given to us and, as the Apostle teaches, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”36 Already we glory in the “liberty of the children of God.”37

1742 Freedom and grace. The grace of Christ is not in the slightest way a rival of our freedom when this freedom accords with the sense of the true and the good that God has put in the human heart. On the contrary, as Christian experience attests especially in prayer, the more docile we are to the promptings of grace, the more we grow in inner freedom and confidence during trials, such as those we face in the pressures and constraints of the outer world. By the working of grace the Holy Spirit educates us in spiritual freedom in order to make us free collaborators in his work in the Church and in the world:

Almighty and merciful God,
in your goodness take away from us all that is harmful,
so that, made ready both in mind and body,
we may freely accomplish your will.38

IN BRIEF

1743 “God willed that man should be left in the hand of his own counsel (cf. Sir 15:14), so that he might of his own accord seek his creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him” (GS 17 § 1).

1744 Freedom is the power to act or not to act, and so to perform deliberate acts of one’s own. Freedom attains perfection in its acts when directed toward God, the sovereign Good.

1745 Freedom characterizes properly human acts. It makes the human being responsible for acts of which he is the voluntary agent. His deliberate acts properly belong to him.

1746 The imputability or responsibility for an action can be diminished or nullified by ignorance, duress, fear, and other psychological or social factors.

1747 The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in religious and moral matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of man. But the exercise of freedom does not entail the putative right to say or do anything.

1748 “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1).

26 GS 17; Sir 15:14.
27 St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 4,4,3:PG 7/1,983.
28 Cf. Rom 6:17.
29 Gen 3:13.
30 Cf. Gen 4:10.
31 Cf. 2 Sam 12:7-15.
32 Cf. DH 2 § 7.
33 CDF, instruction, Libertatis conscientia 13.
34 Gal 5:1.
35 Cf. Jn 8:32.
36 2 Cor 17.
37 Rom 8:21.
38 Roman Missal, 32nd Sunday, Opening Prayer: Omnipotens et misericors Deus, universa nobis adversantia propitiatus exclude, ut, mente et corpore pariter expediti, quæ tua sunt liberis mentibus exsequamur.

Love,
Matthew

The Heresy of Universalism: how serious?

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(Ed. a great obstacle to all in properly understanding, and therefore properly having an INFORMED opinion of Catholic teaching or doctrine, is understanding the degree to which any given teaching is authoritative, the highest being a Church council of bishops, issuing documents to clarify or define teaching, which must be approved by the Pope, or no dice; think Vatican II, and then re-read your history of Christianity, and for two thousand years this has been so, back to the question regarding circumcision of Gentiles and Peter and Paul’s disagreement.

Christ DID NOT promise there would never be disagreement, or scandal, or controversy. In fact, He told us there would be these things, but NOT to fear! Because of what He would promise and do for us. He endured these negatives while still here on earth. He did promise His peace, to be with the Church always, and to send the Paraclete to protect His Church He founded from error. He even gave to its leader the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. He gave its bishops the authority to loose and to bind, and that the gates of Hell would NEVER prevail against His Church!

Clerics and religious are human. They sin, just like the rest of us. They get it wrong and have bad days. Do the wrong thing for what they misunderstand or just get plain wrong, what they want to be right or justifiable reasons. They become afraid. They doubt, they grow tired and old. They question what they have devoted their lives towards, just like the rest of us.

But, thanks be to God, very, very literally, our faith is not about clerics or religious, or Church structures, or politics, or nastiness, or even sin. It is about the God-man, Who is perfect!!! Who is worthy of all praise and adoration. Who DID save us from the fires of Hell!!! Praise Him, Church!!! Praise Him!!! Turn away from sin. Turn to Jesus, and LIVE!!! He is all perfect, all calming, all soothing, all righteousness, all contenting. He IS God, ALL sufficing, loving, and supreme. Praise Him. Praise Him, Church. Rest in His peace, which He promised, and which He gives, which the world neither understands or could fantastically imagine providing, in truth and reality. Amen. Amen. Amen.

Please understand, I have not found the app which clearly and completely defines the authoritative degree of any given chapter number in the Catechism (CCC) in an attractive GUI & easy to understand definitions of each degree of authority, but there’s an idea app-innovators!!!! AND, there are opinions, and politics!!! Human fallen nature makes it SO EASY!! Not.) 🙁

George W. Truett Theological Seminary - Faculty Environmental Portraits - 10/21/2009
George W. Truett Theological Seminary – Faculty Environmental Portraits – 10/21/2009

-by Roger E. Olson

“I have called universalism “the most attractive heresy.” For a lover of God’s love, universal salvation might seem to be necessary. (I guarantee you that some neo-fundamentalist will take that sentence out of context and attribute it to me without acknowledging what follows.)

However, I’m not a universalist. On the other hand, I’d rather be a universalist than a true Calvinist (i.e., a five point Calvinist who believes in double predestination).

Someone once asked me whether I would still worship God if somehow I became convinced the Calvinist view of God is correct. I had to say no. Sheer power is not worthy of worship. Only power controlled by love is worthy of worship.

If somehow I became convinced that universalism is correct, would I still worship God. Yes, but….

I would have to wonder how a God of love can enjoy love from creatures that is not given freely. Of course, someone might argue that, in the end, every creature will freely offer love to God and be saved (e.g., Moltmann). I would just call that optimism. There’s no way to believe that true other than a leap of optimistic hope.

Everyone harbors some heresy in his or her heart and mind. The only question is–how serious are the heresies one holds? Of course, nobody thinks they harbor any heresies (in the sense of theologically incorrect beliefs).

I agree with Swiss theologian Emil Brunner (and others) that universalism is heresy. It is unbiblical and illogical. However, that does not mean a person who holds it is not a Christian. I have never met a Christian who was one hundred percent theologically correct. Scratch hard enough and you’ll always find some heresy beneath the surface (if not on the surface). That’s true for me as much as for anyone else. If I thought I held no heresies, I’d think I had already arrived at the fullness of truth–something even the apostle Paul did not claim.

I think universalism is a minor heresy SO LONG AS it does not interfere with evangelism. (See my earlier post here about why universalism should NOT interfere with evangelism.) I also evaluate the seriousness of universalism by its context–viz., why does the person affirm it? If universalism is evidence of a denial of God’s wrath and/or human sinfulness, then it is much more serious. Barth’s universalism (yes, I believe Karl Barth was a universalist and I’ll post a message here about why later) did not arise out of those denials which is why he didn’t like the appellation “universalist.” The term is usually associated with liberal theology. In that case, as part of an overall liberal/modernist theology, I consider it very serious indeed.

Strictly historically speaking, any universalism is heresy–according to all major branches of Christianity. The Catholic church allows hope for universal salvation but not confident affirmation of it. But, of course, as Luther demonstrated, all branches of Christianity can be wrong. That is why I reject paleo-orthodoxy and any appeal to absolute authority of tradition. Tradition gets a vote but never a veto. The Bible trumps tradition. (Ed. Mr. Olson is NOT rejecting Tradition here. He is insisting, as is correct, that you cannot have either/or, ever. You MUST have and/both. Which is correct, and required.)

When universalism is believed on biblical grounds (as in The Evangelical Universalist by Gregory McDonald–a pseudonym), it is much less serious than when it is believed as part of a liberal theology that denies the wrath of God and the sinfulness of all human beings (except Jesus Christ, of course).

(Sidebar regarding neo-fundamentalism: A neo-fundamentalism is someone who will take what I have written here and claim I have affirmed universalism or at least given aid and comfort to heretics. A neo-fundamentalist, like a straightforward fundamentalist, is a person who cannot distinguish between non-absolute condemnation of error and error itself. Count on it. Some probably Southern Baptist heresy-hunting neo-fundamentalist will pick up on this blog post and spread it around as “proof” that Roger Olson harbors sympathies with universalism. That is, however, evidence of either a weak mind or ill will.)

So, what is my final word on universalism? I don’t have a “final word” on it because “it” is not all that clear. What kind of universalism? Based on what? I consider all positive affirmations of universal salvation that include denial of everlasting hell heretical. But not all are equally bad or condemnable. Some are based on confusion. Some are based on liberal theology. Some (e.g., Karl Barth’s) are based on the logic of God’s love and electing grace (viz., “Jesus is victor!”). All are wrong, but not all are equally bad.

Let me be clear. (This is necessary because of the power of neo-fundamentalists within evangelicalism today!) I am not a universalist nor do I sympathize with universalism. I am simply trying to get people to consider the possibility that not all versions of universalism are on the same level of error. There is egregious error and there is simple error. One kind of universalism (based on denial of God’s wrath and human sinfulness) is egregious error. Another kind (based on confusion about God’s love requiring his overriding free will) is simple error. I hope I don’t hold any egregious errors, but I’m sure I hold some simple errors. I am open to having those pointed out to me.”

rob-hell-nerd humor

Love & His mercy,
Matthew