Category Archives: Doctrine

The population of hell


-Hell, Hortus deliciarum, 1179 AD

As the liturgical year closes, and the readings turn decidedly more apocalyptic, I thought excerpts from this essay by His Emminence Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ, (1918-2008) might be appropriate.

“Sometimes the complaint is heard that no one preaches about hell any longer. The subject of hell, if not attractive, is at least fascinating, as any reader of Dante’s Inferno or Milton’s Paradise Lost can testify. Equally fascinating, and decidedly more pressing, is the question of how many of us may be expected to go there when we die.

As we know from the gospels, Jesus spoke many times about hell. Throughout his preaching, he holds forth two and only two final possibilities for human existence: the one being everlasting happiness in the presence of God, the other everlasting torment in the absence of God. He describes the fate of the damned under a great variety of metaphors: everlasting fire, outer darkness, tormenting thirst, a gnawing worm, and weeping and gnashing of teeth.

In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus indicates that some will be condemned. The Son of man says to the goats: “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). In the Gospel of John, which says comparatively little about hell, Jesus is quoted as saying: “The hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Father’s] voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29).

The apostles, understandably concerned, asked: “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Without directly answering their question Jesus replied: “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and not be able” (Luke 13:23-24). In the parallel passage from Matthew, Jesus says: “Enter by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14). In a parable immediately following this exchange, Jesus speaks of those who try to come to the marriage feast, but are told: “Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity. There you will weep and gnash your teeth” (Luke 13:27-28). In another parable, that of the wedding guest who is cast out for not wearing the proper attire, Jesus declares: “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). Taken in their obvious meaning, passages such as these give the impression that there is a hell, and that many go there; more, in fact, than are saved.

The New Testament does not tell us in so many words that any particular person is in hell. But several statements about Judas can hardly be interpreted otherwise. Jesus says that he has kept all those whom the Father has given Him except the son of perdition (John 17:12). At another point Jesus calls Judas a devil (John 6:70), and yet again says of him: “It would be better for that man if he had never been born” (Matthew 26:24; Mark 14:21). If Judas were among the saved, these statements could hardly be true. Many saints and doctors of the Church, including St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, have taken it as a revealed truth that Judas was reprobated. Some of the Fathers place the name of Nero in the same select company, but they do not give long lists of names, as Dante would do.

References to punishment after death in the remainder of the New Testament simply confirm the teaching of the Gospels. In the Book of Acts Paul says that those ordained to eternal life have believed his preaching, whereas those who disbelieved it have judged themselves unworthy of eternal life (Acts 13:46-48). Peter’s First Letter puts the question: “If the righteous man is scarcely to be saved, where will the impious and sinner appear?” (1 Peter 4:18). The Book of Revelation teaches that there is a fiery pit where Satan and those who follow him will be tormented forever. It states at one point: “As for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

The testimony of Paul is complex. In his First Letter to the Thessalonians he speaks of the coming divine judgment, in which Jesus will inflict vengeance “upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). In his epistle to the Romans Paul says that the impenitent Jews are storing up wrath for themselves on the day of judgment (Romans 2:5). In writing to the Corinthians he distinguishes between those who are being saved by the gospel and those who are perishing because of their failure to accept it (1 Corinthians 1:18). In a variety of texts he gives lists of sins that will exclude people from the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:3-6). And he tells the Philippians: “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

Some passages in the letters of Paul lend themselves to a more optimistic interpretation, but they can hardly be used to prove that salvation is universal. In Romans 8:19-21 Paul predicts that “creation itself will be set free from its bondage of decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God,” but the text seems to refer to the world of nature; it does not say that all human beings will achieve the glorious liberty in question. In 1 Corinthians 15:28 Paul speaks of all things being ultimately subjected to Christ, but he does not imply that subjection means salvation. He presumably means that the demonic powers will ultimately be defeated. In Philippians 2:9-10 he predicts that eventually every knee will bow to Christ and every tongue confess Him. But this need not mean a confession that proceeds from love. In the Gospels the devils proclaim that Jesus is the Holy One of God, but they are not saved by recognizing the fact.

Equally unavailing, in my opinion, are appeals to passages that say that God’s plan is to reconcile all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:19-20). Although this is surely God’s intent, He does not override the freedom that enables men and women to resist His holy will. The same may be said of the statement that God “desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Paul is apparently seeking to stimulate the apostolic zeal of missionaries who will bring the saving truth of Christ to all who do not yet believe. The absolute necessity of faith for salvation is a constant theme in the writings of Paul. I see no reason, then, for ranking Paul among the universalists.

The constant teaching of the Catholic Church supports the idea that there are two classes: the saved and the damned. Three general councils of the Church (Lyons I, 1245; Lyons II, 1274; and Florence, 1439) and Pope Benedict XII’s bull Benedictus Deus (1336) have taught that everyone who dies in a state of mortal sin goes immediately to suffer the eternal punishments of hell. This belief has perdured without question in the Catholic Church to this day, and is repeated almost verbatim in the Catechism of the Catholic Church ( CCC §1022, 1035). Several local councils in the Middle Ages, without apparently intending to define the point, state in passing that some have actually died in a state of sin and been punished by eternal damnation.

The relative numbers of the elect and the damned are not treated in any Church documents, but have been a subject of discussion among theologians. Among the Greek Fathers, Irenaeus, Basil, and Cyril of Jerusalem are typical in interpreting passages such as Matthew 22:14 as meaning that the majority will be consigned to hell. St. John Chrysostom, an outstanding doctor of the Eastern tradition, was particularly pessimistic: “Among thousands of people there are not a hundred who will arrive at their salvation, and I am not even certain of that number, so much perversity is there among the young and so much negligence among the old.”

Augustine may be taken as representative of the Western Fathers. In his controversy with the Donatist Cresconius, Augustine draws upon Matthew and the Book of Revelation to prove that the number of the elect is large, but he grants that their number is exceeded by that of the lost. In Book 21 of his City of God he rebuts first the idea that all human beings are saved, then that all the baptized are saved, then that all baptized Catholics are saved, and finally that all baptized Catholics who persevere in the faith are saved. He seems to limit salvation to baptized believers who refrain from serious sin or who, after sinning, repent and are reconciled with God.

The great Scholastics of the Middle Ages are not more sanguine. Thomas Aquinas, who may stand as the leading representative, teaches clearly in the Summa Theologiae that God reprobates some persons. A little later he declares that only God knows the number of the elect. But Thomas gives reasons for thinking that their number is relatively small. Since our human nature is fallen, and since eternal blessedness is a gift far beyond the powers and merits of every created nature, it is to be expected that most human beings fall short of achieving that goal.

The leading theologians of the baroque period follow suit. Francisco Suarez, in his treatise on predestination, puts the question squarely: How many are saved? Relying on the Gospel of Matthew, St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, and Pope St. Gregory, he proposes the following estimation. If the question is asked about all men living between the creation and the end of the world, the number of the reprobate certainly exceeds that of the elect. This is to be expected because God was not rightly known before the coming of Christ, and even since that time many remain in darkness. If the term “Christian” is taken to include heretics, schismatics, and baptized apostates, it would still appear that most are damned. But if the question is put about those who die in the Catholic Church, Suarez submits his opinion that the majority are saved, since many die before they can sin mortally, and many others are fortified by the sacraments.

Suarez is relatively optimistic in comparison with other Catholic theologians of his day. Peter Canisius and Robert Bellarmine, for example, were convinced that most of the human race is lost.

Several studies published by Catholics early in the twentieth century concluded that there was a virtual consensus among the Fathers of the Church and the Catholic theologians of later ages to the effect that the majority of humankind go to eternal punishment in hell. Even if this consensus be granted, however, it is not binding, because the theologians did not claim that their opinion was revealed, or that to take the opposite view was heretical. Nor is the opinion that most people attain salvation contradicted by authoritative Church teaching.

Mention should here be made of a minority opinion among some of the Greek Fathers. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory Nazianzen, and Gregory of Nyssa sometimes speak as though in the end all will be saved. Origen, the most prominent representative of this view, is generally reported as teaching that at the end of time, the damned, now repentant and purified, will take part in the universal restoration of all things (apokatastasis). Three centuries after Origen’s death his views on this and several other topics were condemned by a local council of Constantinople convened by the Emperor Justinian in a.d. 563. Even in his lifetime, however, Origen claimed that his adversaries had misunderstood or misrepresented him. A number of distinguished scholars down through the centuries have defended his orthodoxy on the fate of the damned. The doctrine of the eternity of hell has been firmly in place at least since the seventh century, and is not subject to debate in the Catholic Church.

About the middle of the twentieth century, there seems to be a break in the tradition. Since then a number of influential theologians have favored the view that all human beings may or do eventually attain salvation. Some examples may be illustrative.

In a “reverie” circulated among friends but not published until after his death, the philosopher Jacques Maritain included what he called a “conjectural essay” on eschatology, in which he contemplates the possibility that the damned, although eternally in hell, may be able at some point to escape from pain. In response to the prayers of the saints, he imagines, God may miraculously convert their wills, so that from hating Him they come to love Him. After being pardoned, they will then be delivered from the pain of sense and placed in a kind of limbo. They will still be technically in hell, since they will lack the beatific vision, but they will enjoy a kind of natural felicity, like that of infants who die without baptism. At the end, he speculates, even Satan will be converted, and the fiery inferno, while it continues to exist, will have no spirits to afflict. This, as Maritain acknowledged, is a bold conjecture, since it has no support in Scripture or tradition, and contradicts the usual understanding of texts such as the parable of the Last Judgment scene of Matthew. But the theory has the advantage of showing how the Blood of Christ might obtain mercy for all spiritual creatures, even those eternally in hell.

Karl Rahner, another representative of the more liberal trend, holds for the possibility that no one ever goes to hell. We have no clear revelation, he says, to the effect that some are actually lost. The discourses of Jesus on the subject appear to be admonitory rather than predictive. Their aim is to persuade his hearers to pursue the better and safer path by alerting them to the danger of eternal perdition. While allowing for the real possibility of eternal damnation, says Rahner, we must simultaneously maintain “the truth of the omnipotence of the universal salvific will of God, the redemption of all by Christ, the duty of men to hope for salvation.” Rahner therefore believes that universal salvation is a possibility.

The most sophisticated theological argument against the conviction that some human beings in fact go to hell has been proposed by Hans Urs von Balthasar in his book Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved?” He rejects the ideas that hell will be emptied at the end of time and that the damned souls and demons will be reconciled with God. He also avoids asserting as a fact that everyone will be saved. But he does say that we have a right and even a duty to hope for the salvation of all, because it is not impossible that even the worst sinners may be moved by God’s grace to repent before they die. He concedes, however, that the opposite is also possible. Since we are able to resist the grace of God, none of us is safe. We must therefore leave the question speculatively open, thinking primarily of the danger in which we ourselves stand.

At one point in his book Balthasar incorporates a long quotation from Edith Stein, now Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who defends a position very like Balthasar’s. Since God’s all-merciful love, she says, descends upon everyone, it is probable that this love produces transforming effects in their lives. To the extent that people open themselves to that love, they enter into the realm of redemption. On this ground Stein finds it possible to hope that God’s omnipotent love finds ways of, so to speak, outwitting human resistance. Balthasar says that he agrees with Stein.

This position of Balthasar seems to me to be orthodox. It does not contradict any ecumenical councils or definitions of the faith. It can be reconciled with everything in Scripture, at least if the statements of Jesus on hell are taken as minatory rather than predictive. Balthasar’s position, moreover, does not undermine a healthy fear of being lost. But the position is at least adventurous. It runs against the obvious interpretation of the words of Jesus in the New Testament and against the dominant theological opinion down through the centuries, which maintains that some, and in fact very many, are lost.

The conviction of earlier theologians that relatively few are saved rests, I suspect, partly on the assumption that faith in Christ, baptism, and adherence to the Church are necessary conditions for salvation. The first two of these conditions are clearly set forth in the New Testament, and the third has been taught by many saints, councils, popes, and theologians. But these conditions can be interpreted more broadly than one might suspect. In recent centuries it has become common to speak of implicit faith, baptism “by desire,” and membership in the “soul” of the Church, or membership in voto (“by desire”). Vatican II declares that all people, even those who have never heard of Christ, receive enough grace to make their salvation possible.

The Church continues to insist that explicit faith, reception of the sacraments, and obedience to the Church are the ordinary means to salvation. Pius IX in the Syllabus of Errors (1864) accordingly condemned the proposition: “We should at least have good hopes for the eternal salvation of those who are in no way in the true Church of Christ.” Pius XII in his encyclical on the Mystical Body of Christ ( Mystici Corporis , 1943) taught that even those who are united to the Church by bonds of implicit desire—a state that can by no means be taken for granted—still lack many precious means that are available in the Church and therefore “cannot be sure of their salvation.” Vatican II said that anyone who knows that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ and refuses to enter her cannot be saved. If we accept these teachings, we will find it unlikely that everyone fulfills the conditions for salvation.

Pope John Paul II in his Crossing the Threshold of Hope mentions the theory of Balthasar. After putting the question whether a loving God can allow any human being to be condemned to eternal torment, he replies: “And yet the words of Christ are unequivocal. In Matthew’s Gospel he speaks clearly of those who will go to eternal punishment (cf. Matthew 25:46).” As justification for this assessment the Pope puts the rhetorical question: Can God, Who is ultimate justice, tolerate terrible crimes and let them go unpunished? Final punishment would seem to be necessary to reestablish the moral equilibrium in the complex history of humanity.

In a General Audience talk of July 28, 1999, the Pope seems to have shifted his position, adopting in effect that of Balthasar. According to the English version of the text he said:

“Christian faith teaches that in taking the risk of saying “yes” or “no,” which marks the (human) creature’s freedom, some have already said no. They are the spiritual creatures that rebelled against God’s love and are called demons (cf. Fourth Lateran Council). What happened to them is a warning to us: it is a continuous call to avoid the tragedy which leads to sin and to conform our life to that of Jesus Who lived His life with a “yes” to God.

Eternal damnation remains a possibility, but we are not granted, without special divine revelation, the knowledge of whether or which human beings are effectively involved in it. The thought of hell—and even less the improper use of biblical images—must not create anxiety or despair, but is a necessary and healthy reminder of freedom within the proclamation that the risen Jesus has conquered Satan, giving us the Spirit of God Who makes us cry “Abba, Father!” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6)”

The last sentence refers to the hope of Christians for their own salvation and cannot be used to support any theory of universal salvation. But the preceding sentence indicates at least an openness to the opinion that we may hope for the salvation of all…

…They (modern theologians) grant that it is probable that some or even many do go there (hell), but they assert, on the ground that God is capable of bringing any sinner to repentance, that we have a right to hope and pray that all will be saved. The fact that something is highly improbable need not prevent us from hoping and praying that it will happen. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church , “In hope, the Church prays for ‘all men to be saved’ (1 Timothy 2:4)” ( CCC §1821). At another point the Catechism declares: “The Church prays that no one should be lost” ( CCC §1058).

One might ask at this point whether there has been any shift in Catholic theology on the matter. The answer appears to be yes, although the shift is not as dramatic as some imagine. The earlier pessimism was based on the unwarranted assumption that explicit Christian faith is absolutely necessary for salvation. This assumption has been corrected, particularly at Vatican II. There has also been a healthy reaction against the type of preaching that revels in depicting the sufferings of the damned in the most lurid possible light. An example would be the fictional sermon on hell that James Joyce recounts in his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. This kind of preaching fosters an image of God as an unloving and cruel tyrant, and in some cases leads to a complete denial of hell or even to atheism.

Today a kind of thoughtless optimism is the more prevalent error. Quite apart from what theologians teach, popular piety has become saccharine. Unable to grasp the rationale for eternal punishment, many Christians take it almost for granted that everyone, or practically everyone, must be saved. The Mass for the Dead has turned into a Mass of the Resurrection, which sometimes seems to celebrate not so much the resurrection of the Lord as the salvation of the deceased, without any reference to sin and punishment. More education is needed to convince people that they ought to fear God Who, as Jesus taught, can punish soul and body together in hell (cf. Matthew 10:28).

The search for numbers in the demography of hell is futile. God in His wisdom has seen fit not to disclose any statistics. Several sayings of Jesus in the Gospels give the impression that the majority are lost. Paul, without denying the likelihood that some sinners will die without sufficient repentance, teaches that the grace of Christ is more powerful than sin: “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). Passages such as these permit us to hope that very many, if not all, will be saved.

All told, it is good that God has left us without exact information. If we knew that virtually everybody would be damned, we would be tempted to despair. If we knew that all, or nearly all, are saved, we might become presumptuous. If we knew that some fixed percent, say fifty, would be saved, we would be caught in an unholy rivalry. We would rejoice in every sign that others were among the lost, since our own chances of election would thereby be increased. Such a competitive spirit would hardly be compatible with the gospel. (Ed. Humans? React irrationally? PUHLEASE!!!) 🙂

We are forbidden to seek our own salvation in a selfish and egotistical way. We are keepers of our brothers and sisters. The more we work for their salvation, the more of God’s favor we can expect for ourselves. Those of us who believe and make use of the means that God has provided for the forgiveness of sins and the reform of life have no reason to fear. We can be sure that Christ, Who died on the Cross for us, will not fail to give us the grace we need. We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, and that if we persevere in that love, nothing whatever can separate us from Christ (cf. Romans 8:28-39). That is all the assurance we can have, and it should be enough.”
https://www.firstthings.com/article/2003/05/the-population-of-hell

Love, with great faith in His love & mercy. To Whom else shall we go? Never deny what God can do, for you, for me, for the most manifest of sinners. His mercy is beyond our comprehension/understanding, as is His might!!! 🙂
Matthew

What is Heaven?

“The famous evangelist Billy Graham once visited a small town to preach at the local church. Before he went to the church he needed to mail a letter back home, so he went looking for the post office. He pulled his car over to the side of the road and asked a boy walking his dog where it was and the boy politely answered.

Mr. Graham then invited the boy to attend the church where he’d be preaching. He said, “You can hear me telling everyone how to get to heaven.” The boy simply replied, “I don’t think I’ll be there. You don’t even know your way to the post office!”

What Is Heaven Like?

“How do I get to heaven?” is one of the most important questions a person can ask. But what do we mean by the word “heaven?”

In some cases, the Bible uses the word “heaven” to refer to the sky, or to the place of the sun, stars, and moon. This is seen in passages like Psalm 19:1, which says, “The heavens are telling the glory of God.” Other times, “heaven” refers to the place where God dwells, as in the Lord’s Prayer, where we address “Our Father who art in heaven” (Matt. 6:9). Finally, “heaven” is used to refer to the eternal dwelling place of those who love God. St. Paul says, “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20, NIV).

Many people imagine this heaven to be a place in the clouds where saints and angels play harps for all eternity. But while the Bible does use earthly imagery like wedding feasts to describe heaven, the Catechism says, “This mystery of blessed communion with God and all who are in Christ is beyond all understanding and description” (CCC 1027). Paul, quoting the promises given to the prophet Isaiah, said, “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).

Our inexact knowledge of heaven does not mean that we are ignorant of heaven in general. According to Pope St. John Paul II, “The ‘heaven’ or ‘happiness’ in which we will find ourselves is neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity.” In heaven we won’t be angels; we will be reunited with our bodies and will experience both spiritual and physical joy in the presence of God. The Catechism teaches us, “Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (CCC 1024).”

Love, eager to join you in the Kingdom!! Pray for me!
Matthew

“Love ye, one another!!!”

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – Give me, O Lord, prompt, attentive charity for the needs of others, a charity which, for the love of You, knows how to make itself all things to all men.

MEDITATION

Everyone has some burden, more or less heavy, to bear: physical or moral weakness, the press of duties and responsibilities, fatigue or other troubles which weigh on his shoulders. Everyone feels the need of a friendly hand to help him carry this weight. This hand should be held out to him in fraternal charity, which for the love of God, knows how to be all things to all men. “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so you shall fulfill the law of Christ” St. Paul exhorts us (Galatians 6:2). A Christian knows that he is not isolated, but is a member of a unique body, the Mystical Body of Christ. “So we being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another” (Romans 12:5). This knowledge of his solidarity with the brethren makes a Christian live, not enclosed in the tiny circle of his own interests, but with his heart open to the needs and interests of others. The mystery of our incorporation in Christ is more than an individual fact; by its very nature, it is a social fact. Incorporation in Christ by grace and charity connotes reciprocal incorporation among brethren, like the branches of a vine, which, sprung from the same stock, are so closely united one to another that they live, grow and develop together. Love for Christ is the vital expression of our union with Him; the closer this union becomes, the more our love increases; so too, fraternal charity is the vital expression of our reciprocal union with the brethren in Christ, to such a point that if this charity were not living and operative, we would have to say that our union in Christ and with Christ was very weak or even absolutely null.

If charity and grace unite us to Christ in such intimate and vital relations, it is evident that we must live this union, first with Him Who is our Head, and then with our brethren, who like us have also been engrafted into Christ. Hence there will be a supernatural affection which will bind us to one another and make us one heart and one soul, ready to labor and suffer for one another, to help and sustain one another. “Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep” (Romans 12:15). Thus the Apostle teaches us to share the joys and sorrows, the cares and anxieties of others as if they were our own. They are, in fact, our own, because they are the joys, sorrows, cares, and anxieties of that one Mystical Body of Christ to which we belong and which, therefore, is ours.

COLLOQUY

“O Lord, teach me to love my neighbor with all my heart, not merely as myself, but more than myself, thus obeying Your commandment: ‘Love one another, as I have loved you.’

“Just as You, O Lord, have always preferred us to Yourself, and do so still, making Yourself our Food in the Blessed Sacrament, so You wish us to have such great love for one another that we always prefer our neighbor to ourselves; and as You have done all that You could for us, so You want us to do all we can for one another. Grant, then, O Lord, that, without giving You any offense, my love for my neighbor may be so firm, cordial, and strong, that I will never refuse to do or endure anything for his sake. Teach me to love him with my deeds, obtaining for him all the good I can, both for his soul and for his body, to pray for him, and to serve him lovingly whenever I have the opportunity. If my love were to consist only in pleasant words, it would amount to very little, and I would not be really loving my neighbor as You have loved us. To attain the perfection of love, it is not enough for me to work for my neighbor; I must also do what he wants in the way that pleases him, without showing any displeasure. By doing this, I shall acquire greater merit, because I shall be practicing the highest degree of self-renunciation” (St. Francis de Sales).”

Love,
Matthew

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

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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.

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-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.”

FBI in Your Library

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!!!

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

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-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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dwight_longnecker

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