Category Archives: Heresy

Aug 28 – St Augustine & the heretics


-St Augustine icon, by Joseph Brown, Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY, ~2009

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.

“A heresy is never totally wrong. Its just that it is never totally right. A heresy is a half truth or a truth twisted. The reason a heresy is attractive is that it always seems to make perfect sense. A heresy is a religious truth you would make up if you were making up a religion. However, Catholic truth is stranger and subtler than that, and it takes sound teaching to expose and battle the heresy.

Heresies are persistent because they are attractive, and they are persistent because they usually console the heretic in some way. In other words, it is easier to believe the heresy than the fullness of the Catholic truth. The fullness of the Catholic truth is either difficult to believe or difficult to obey or both. The heresy always offers an easy way out–either an easier way of believing or an easier way of behaving.

The first heresy Augustine battled was Donatism. The Donatists were a schism in the North African Church that were sort of like Puritanical Protestant or Jansenists. They thought the church should be pure, and should be a church of saints, not sinners. They were unwilling to accept back those Christians who, out of weakness, compromised their faith during the persecutions and they insisted that for sacraments to be valid the priest had to be faultless.

While this sort of rigorism is understandable, it doesn’t take much to see where it leads. It leads to unbearable self righteousness. “We few, we holy few. We are the remnant, the true church, the only real Christians…” Nonsense. If you think the core error of Donatism does not exist today, look a little harder. Although the name “Donatism” is now a footnote of church history there are plenty of rigorist schisms and sects and plenty of the attitude within individuals and groups in many different churches.

The fact is, most heresies, while seeming attractive, can be countered very easily with a passage from the gospel. Donatists should read the parable of the wheat and tares. The sinners and the saints grow together and God will sort it out.

The second heresy Augustine battled was Manicheanism. This false religion was started by a Persian prophet named Mani (274 AD). He blended elements of occult Judaism, Zoroastrianism and Christianity and came up with a complicated New Age kind of religion. His core heresy was dualism. He taught that the physical world was evil and the spiritual world was good. Manicheanism had a huge influence in the 3-4 centuries. We can see it in the harsh asceticism of the early monks for example.

Augustine’s teachings on the nature of evil countered this. He taught that the created world is good because God does not make evil. Instead evil is good twisted, distorted or destroyed.

While Manicheanism is also a footnote in church history, the idea that the physical world is bad and the spiritual world is good continues today. It is present in some New Age teachings and in Eastern religions and philosophies. It also lingers like an echo in elements of Christianity. It is tempting to look down on physical pleasures, and the right embrace of holy poverty can be twisted into a hatred or disgust or guilt about the goodness of the physical world.

The third heresy is Pelagianism. This is named for the British monk Pelagius (d. 420) His teaching was probably misunderstood, but if so, the misunderstanding was that he taught that the human will was not so tainted by original sin that it lost its power to do good. In other words, you can do good without God’s help. This led to the conclusion that you can get into heaven through good works.

Augustine corrected this heresy with his teachings on grace. It is God’s grace, continually working in and through creation and in and through our own lives that empowers our faith, empowers our good works and empowers the supernatural transformation of our lives.

These three heresies do us the service of bringing to light the true Catholic teaching. The created world is beautiful, good and true. If this is true, then we also, created in God’s image are good. However, that goodness is wounded by original sin. While we don’t have to be perfect at once, that is our destiny, our calling and the hard adventure on which we must embark. God’s good grace gives us the power to do this. Without his grace we are paralyzed by sin and locked in darkness. With his grace we can be free.”

Love, & His grace,
Matthew

Soli Deo gloria


-by Br Isaiah Beiter, OP

“Goodness is praised as beauty,” wrote a man long honored by the Church, East and West, though nobody is exactly sure who he is.

“Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,” wrote the apostle John.

“Soli Deo gloria”—“Glory to God alone,” cried the Reformers. And they were right, or sort of. In their desire to exalt the glory of God above all else, they were right. In their yearning to defend God’s glory from all dilution or fracture, they were right. But they were not right to forbid God from sharing His glory with His creation. Of course, I do not mean to say that this is exactly what they intended to do. But in understanding this last of the five Solae we should ask a broader question: “what is glory, and where do we find it?”

*

Let’s build the image from the ground up. When someone is good, then that person is worthy of praise. For him or her to receive praise, however, someone has to know this goodness and recognize it as good. For instance, before I praise the bravery of a soldier and the patience of a mother, I have to see them in action or at least hear about them. And if these people are especially good, beyond common experience, then probably a great many people will hear about them, and probably a great many people will see how good they are, and hopefully these people will say so. Imagine a news story about a local hero or praising a great teacher, for instance.

That loudness that belongs especially to good things, the splendor and renown that belongs to something praiseworthy, is called glory. The greater the good, the louder it is, and the louder it is, the more praiseworthy. The greater the good, the more glorious it is. This is how the Church has thought about glory. This is how the Scriptures speak, though with the nuances and poetry appropriate to each place.

So there are different kinds of glory just as there are different kinds of good. This is what the Reformers forgot in their zeal. In wanting to single out God for worship, we should never forget God’s love in sharing his goodness. God is infinite in His goodness. Creatures have a limited share. God is infinite in His glory. Creatures have a limited share in that, too. The Holy Trinity is glorified by worship and adoration, and long before the Protestant Reformation, the Church gave this worship the name latria. God can never be given too much glory. The highest of created persons, Mary and all the other saints, are glorified with a lesser honor, which the Church has named dulia. And traditionally, some saints are seen to be higher than others. Mary, the Mother of God, is the very highest. After her come the apostles, who were sent forth by Christ as the seeds of the Church.

These saints are honored, or given glory, because of a good that they have, the great good of grace, which is a share in God Himself! And lesser, simply human goods, like a great leader, can be glorious in their own small ways. All these goods, however small, are shares in God’s goodness. And all these goods, from the bottom to the top, are given by God. Jesus says to the Father, “The glory which Thou hast given me I have given to them” (John 17:22). Paul encourages us to seek this glory, speaking of God’s judgment: “to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life” (Rom 2:6-7). So what is the vision of the world that we are left with?

*

The world is filled with the glory of God! This is because He chose to fill the world with His goodness. All of it is traced back to God, the source and the giver, as the finite is compared to the infinite. Glory belongs to God alone, but He chooses to share it with us. To declare that only God has glory, or to understand those three Latin words (Soli Deo gloria) in this way, is to make God more separate from His creatures than God Himself wishes to be.

How beautiful is the sun, how splendorous, how good! It is too bright even to look upon. But it does not keep its light to itself. The sun shares its light with the moon. It is imitated by every twinkle of the stars. And the sun gives life to all below it. From the bottom to the top, the heavens and the earth shine with the light of the sun: truly, though not equally.  [Ed.  How much more the Divine?]

“There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory,” wrote the apostle Paul (1 Cor 15:41).”

Praise Him!!!  Give Him GLORY!!!!!  Clap your hands!!!  Shout for joy!!!!  Let the seas and all within it thunder praise!!!

Love,
Matthew

Sola Fide & false idols


-by Br Ephrem Reese, OP

“When people speak of “faith alone,” it’s often taken for granted that faith is opposed to works. But the Council of Trent has dealt with this false dichotomy:

“Faith, unless hope and charity be added to it, neither unites man perfectly with Christ nor makes him a living member of His body. For which reason it is most truly said that faith without works is dead and of no profit, and in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but faith that worketh by charity. (From the Decree concerning Justification, chapter VII).”

So that opposition, faith versus works, is false. “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?” (James 2:21-22).

How about a new conception of sola fide? Think, instead, this way: faith is opposed to idolatry. If we want to speak about “faith alone,” I suggest that we look to Abraham, the “father of faith.” While not directly addressing the “traditional” dispute about faith versus works, I think this may in fact reveal a deeper understanding in Scripture and the tradition.

Abraham’s father Terah, says a Jewish commentary on Genesis, made idols for a living. Sometimes he had to leave the boy Abraham in charge of the shop. Abraham would embarrass old men who came in to buy idols: “You are fifty years old and worship a one-day-old statue!”

Even better, though: when a woman came in to make an offering to the idols, Abraham took a club and smashed all of the idols but the biggest one, then put the club in its hands. He told Terah that they were fighting over who would eat the offering, and that the biggest one destroyed the rest. The real point, the rabbinic telling implies, is that Terah would have to admit that the idols were stupid and powerless, if he wanted to blame the iconoclasm on Abraham.

Idolatry is not just a Jewish concern—in the New Testament, “idol” and related words occur at least 33 times. Although this continues the Old Testament tradition, some new aspects appear. For example, idolatry is not just foolish and immoral, it also conceals demonic powers. This helps to explain some of the sexual immorality that was very clearly connected with, even institutionalized in, traditional cults.

Faithlessness in the invisible God leads directly to worship of what is more available, what is right in front of us, even if it’s a powerless piece of wood. Falling for the one who is there, rather than the One we truly love—you can see why the Bible compares idolatry to adultery (see Wisdom 14:12).

We believe in, even testify to, a God we do not see. It is necessary to turn away from what we see all around us (ahem, screens). “You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God”—this is the basic description of conversion of which St. Paul reminds the Thessalonians (1 Thess 1:9). When Paul went to Athens, the great scientific seedbed of geometry, philosophy, and democracy, “he was distressed to see that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). His speech to the Athenians puts him squarely in the prophetic tradition of Israel: God made everything, and left His traces; He wants you to seek Him; do not be distracted by the shiny things that people put before you. Finally, there will be a judgment for those who live not by faith in what is unseen but by settling for what is “made by human design and skill” (cf. 17:24-31).

The great literary critic Northrop Frye noticed that the Jewish and Christian idea of revelation as something heard but not seen has a destructive dynamic. It crushes the tyranny of the visible. “The Word not only causes all images of gods to shrivel into nothingness, but continues to operate in society as an iconoclastic force…demolishing everything to which man is tempted to offer false homage.” Abraham knew about that. As Jesus says mysteriously, Abraham saw His(Jesus’) day, and rejoiced (Jn 8:56).

We don’t see many actual idols now. But if we look around, it’s not hard to see that people are sunk, bowed down, brought to their knees, in worship of what is seen. Abraham, dutiful son, was considerate enough to discreetly destroy the local idols. Faith cast out of him any fear of the powers of this world. For his faith, God made a promise to Abraham, freeing him “to worship Him without fear all the days of his life” (Luke 1:73-75).”

Love, faith, & hope,
Matthew

Sola Scriptura


-by Br Peter Gautsch, OP

“There’s a friar I’ve known for some time now who prays frequently for the unity of the Church, a matter which is clearly very close to his heart. I’ve often been moved by this. After all, St. Augustine says in his Rule that we are to be “of one heart and one mind, in God.” He was speaking about peaceableness among religious, but it’s also true in the broader realm of faith: our many hearts and minds, in all their happy diversity, should be as one in God, one in faith.

Which brings us to sola Scriptura.

What is it? In its strictest form, it’s the Protestant doctrine that Scripture is the only source and norm of Christian faith: “Scripture alone” has authority in matters of faith. In another form, both less fideistic and less true to its name, it’s the doctrine that Scripture is the final source and norm of Christian faith: there are other valid authorities, sure, but Scripture, and nothing else, tests and judges them.

But sola Scriptura has many problems, to put it mildly. One of them is that at least one of its inescapable consequences is directly opposed to what Scripture—and in this case, Jesus himself—exhorts: “that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be perfectly one” (Jn 17:22–23).

This prayer of our Lord, of course, has little to do with revelation itself and still less with where authority in matters of faith comes from. But it’s important to consider, because ultimately the doctrine of sola Scriptura necessarily excludes this unity that our Lord prayed for. This is because Scripture often doesn’t tell us how it ought to be interpreted, and, human nature being what it is, different people tend to arrive at incompatible interpretations which can’t all be true. The first form of sola Scriptura I mentioned above doesn’t appear to have anything like an adequate answer for this problem of multiple, personal interpretations. And the second form says that when there’s a conflict, we can consult other authorities, so long as Scripture has the final word. But even this only goes so far: some persons may accept the guidance of certain authorities, but other persons may reject them “on scriptural grounds.” So the problem persists, and sola Scriptura offers no real solution.

Now Sacred Scripture is the word of God in written form—on this all Christians agree. But as Catholics, we have a yet broader notion of revelation: in addition to revealing himself in the inspired books of Scripture, God also revealed Himself in his word of truth entrusted to the apostles and handed on by them to their successors throughout history, even to the present day—this is what we call Tradition (which is itself described in Scripture: e.g., Mt 28:18–20, Mk 3:13–19, Mk 16:15, Acts 2:42, Acts 10:34–43, 1 Cor 15:1–11, 2 Thess 2:15, 2 Tim 2:1–2, 2 Pt 1:19–21). Hence we always read Sacred Scripture in light of Tradition, and we read Tradition in light of Scripture. Scripture and Tradition, together, are the supreme rule of the Church’s faith—not just Scripture alone, in isolation—because they’re two modes of the one sacred deposit of the word of God that has been entrusted to the Church. Not only that, but Scripture and Tradition both show us that Christ, in instituting the apostles as the foundation stones of the Church (Eph 2:19–20, Rev 21:14) and giving them authority to teach in His name, instituted an authoritative interpreter of divine revelation. This is what we call the Magisterium, the living teaching office of the Church.

So what about that problem of interpretation? How do we deal with incompatible individual interpretations of Scripture? If it’s true that “God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4), then sola Scriptura can’t be true, because it doesn’t give us the tools to arrive—together, in unity—at that knowledge of the truth. Simply put, the Catholic Church’s more robust doctrine of divine revelation is the only way. Sometimes the full meaning of a passage of Sacred Scripture just isn’t apparent to us. Thankfully, God reveals Himself also in Tradition and has given the Magisterium authority to authentically interpret divine revelation, whether in written form (Scripture) or handed on verbally (Tradition). Of course, the idea here isn’t that we should approach the Bible like automatons, mindlessly complying with arbitrary directives from a distant, unseen authority—we should read Scripture and interpret it and hear God speaking to us through it! But we don’t have to go it alone: instead, keeping in mind the unity and coherence of the whole of Scripture and the unity and coherence of the truths of the faith, we look to Tradition (e.g., what the Fathers of the Church or the liturgy teach us about a passage of Scripture) and to the Magisterium (e.g., whether the Church has given an authoritative, authentic interpretation of a passage of Scripture), and we shape our reading accordingly. We can know what Scripture means because God Himself tells us—but He tells us not only in Scripture itself but also in Tradition and through the Magisterium. Each of the three needs the other two.

But sola Scriptura protests. When Tradition and the Magisterium are invited to the discussion to help our understanding, sola Scriptura stands in the door, blocking their entrance. As a result, individual interpretation carries the day. And individual interpreters, with no authoritative guide other than Scripture itself, remain at odds with one another. And unity of belief is still not realized.

Ecumenical dialogue often points out the important affirmations of faith that Catholics and Protestants share, and rightly so: we should rejoice that we believe together that Jesus Christ truly is the Lord, the incarnate Son of God; that by baptism we truly do become adopted children of God; that Sacred Scripture truly is the inspired word of God, set down in writing for the sake of our salvation; and so on. But we simply must recognize the disunity in our beliefs as well, because unless we recognize our disunity, we can’t pray for the unity that Christ Himself prayed for.

This real disunity that sadly exists between Catholics and our Protestant brothers and sisters (not to mention the disunity that exists between the various Protestant denominations) is in large part the fruit of sola Scriptura. We simply can’t be of one heart and one mind in God, truly, if we don’t believe the same things about God and His revelation of Himself to us. In revealing Himself and His plan for our salvation, “the invisible God out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends and lives among them, so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself” (Dei Verbum 2). Christ’s prayer that we may be perfectly one shows us that He also wants us to have fellowship, unity, with one another—one heart and one mind, in God—as Scripture elsewhere instructs: “all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind” (1 Pt 3:8).”

Love & unity,
Matthew

Solus Christus


-by Br Hyacinth Grubb, OP

“Salvation is found in Christ alone,” asserts the final Sola of the Protestant Reformation, Solus Christus. Of course, salvation is found in Christ, and the Catholic Church has unceasingly taught just that. You need to look no farther than the Council of Trent and its Decree on Justification, the Church’s response to Protestantism, which includes this succinct and forceful affirmation:

If any one saith that men are just without the justice of Christ, whereby He merited for us to be justified;… let him be anathema. (Canon X)

So what is the Protestant claim of Solus Christus? Like the other Solae, it affirms something true and important, but at the same time it denies an important truth of Catholic doctrine. It denies the efficacy of the human mediation of Christ’s grace and salvation, especially the mediation of a priest in the sacraments. “Christ is the true and only mediator between God and man,” it insists, and thus it asserts that any human claim to mediation can only be superstitious or idolatrous.

Solus Christus is not without scriptural support. Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). St. Paul wrote that “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5). Throughout the New Testament, it is clear that salvation comes from Christ, Who became man in order to bring us to God; He is the one true mediator. The Protestant teaching of Solus Christus strongly affirms this by denying the possibility of any human action that can bring grace or salvation.

However, a more thorough exploration of Sacred Scripture reveals an image of mediation that is richer and more complex than the simple Solus Christus. For instance, preaching and giving testimony are themselves kinds of mediation by which salvation is brought to men: “For, ‘everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’ But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of Whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent?” (Rom 10:13-15). St. Paul describes preaching as the link connecting and mediating between the God who sends preachers and those who will call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.

Likewise, prayer is a mediation, as we stand as intercessors before God on the behalf of other men and women. “If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life” (1 Jn 5:16). And again: “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (Jam 5:16).

Most notably, Christ Himself appointed men to be mediators of His salvation and grace in a particular and special way through the sacraments. “He took bread, and when He had given thanks He broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me’” (Luke 22:19). Christ gave His apostles a command and a power: to celebrate the Eucharist established at the Last Supper. On another occasion, He gave His apostles a different command and power, saying to them, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:23). And finally, he gave them the Great Commission, to go and bring all peoples to Him in the sacrament of Baptism (see Matt 28:18-20).

And even in St. Paul’s First Letter to Timothy, in which he writes that “there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” we find evidence of other mediation in the same chapter. St. Paul commands “that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men” (1 Tim 2:1). So, some men are acting as intercessors and mediators in prayer for “all men.” Moreover, Paul identifies himself as “appointed a preacher and apostle,” as one who mediates the word of God in proclamation and testimony, and as one who mediates the salvation and forgiveness of God in the sacraments.

Thus it becomes evident that the interpretation of Solus Christus as denying the possibility of human mediation isn’t in accord with the whole of Scripture. Yet how are we to make sense of the claim that “there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”? It is without doubt true that no merely human work could ever hope to reach God and thus mediate between the human and the divine. But how is it possible to resolve this apparent tension found within Sacred Scripture, which seems to simultaneously appoint men as mediators and to assert the absolute uniqueness of Christ as mediator?

What is necessary is a more robust understanding of the Body of Christ. Christians are not members of the Body in the same way that citizens are members of the body politic, which is extrinsic and legal. No, Christians are members of the Body of Christ in a much deeper and more intimate manner. Grace is a participation in the divine life; it is deeply transformative of the soul as Christians are configured to Christ. Recall the parable of the vine and the branches; it is not simply a pious metaphor. We are truly grafted onto Christ and the sap of the true vine flows through every aspect of our lives. Our life becomes His, “for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). And therefore the fruit that we the branches bear is, in a real sense, the fruit that Christ the vine bears.

An appreciation for the depth and intimacy of participation in the Body of Christ resolves the apparent tension within Sacred Scripture between the many examples of mediation and the truth that there is “one mediator.” When a Christian preaches the Gospel, it is Christ’s preaching, for the individual participates in Christ’s mediation of the Good News to the world. When a Christian prays, it is Christ’s prayer to the Father, for the individual participates in the mediation of grace to the world. When a priest offers the Mass or absolves in confession, he is acting in persona Christi – in the person of Christ – making present the one sacrifice and mediation of Christ our high priest.

By preaching, by prayer, by his appointed priests and sacraments, Christ acts through the members of His body, whose participation in His life has configured them to Him at the deepest levels of their being. Yes, Christ is the one true mediator. As St. John Paul II wrote, “No one, therefore, can enter into communion with God except through Christ, by the working of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s one, universal mediation, far from being an obstacle on the journey toward God, is the way established by God Himself” (Redemptoris Missio 5). At the same time, all the baptized, and in a particularly profound way priests, are members of His body, and by virtue of their participation in the divine life of Christ, they participate in His mediation as mediators themselves. Through their actions, may the whole world be brought to the truth and the life that is Jesus Christ.”

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

No such thing as a Christian doormat

“Smells like Marcionism!!!”

My sister, God rest her soul, and ONLY because she was my sister, my second mother, was able to get away with this. She gave me a doormat with “Hello, my name is Mat!” Effin’ hilarious. I still have it and now cherish, as I cherish every evidence of her I ever had. I can’t wait to see her again, as soon as possible, please. 🙂


-by Nick Chui, is happily married and teaches history and Religious Education in a Catholic secondary school in Singapore. He has a Masters in Theological studies from the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, Melbourne, Australia.

“There is a very insidious theological idea around, especially among conscientious Christians who dearly desire to love Jesus and follow His teachings, that somehow, Our Lord’s injunction in the Sermon of the Mount to “turn the other cheek” and His shameful death on the cross means that to be a true follower of Jesus, one has a duty to accept without resistance injustice being done to oneself.

That is heresy of the most pernicious kind.

The reason for Our Lord accepting an unjust death on the cross is so as to be able to disable injustice permanently and to establish true justice. To reconcile man to God as the scriptures would say.

He did not accept death on the cross for injustice’s sake, but rather for the sake of justice.

If that is the case, then these parables about turning the other cheek take on a very different light. One accepts the unjust blow of the aggressor and offers the other cheek not so that he can be a doormat, but because that in itself is a form of resistance to injustice.

It is a form of resistance, because others watching will disbelieve the aggressor’s claim to the moral high ground.

It is a form of resistance, because the aggressor, if his conscience has not been totally killed, will hopefully recoil in horror at what he has just done.

It is a form of resistance, because the victim has empowered himself and established the moral high ground, by a conscious act of the will, not to even retaliate by force in self-defense, not because that’s not his right, but because he seeks an eschatological hope, a permanent disablement of violence of any sort.

So I urge my fellow Christians, to remember this. “Doormatism” or “Christian masochism” is a heresy.

It is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you want to truly follow Christ, fighting against injustice (whether done to yourself or to others) by just means is your duty.

And the non-violent teachings of Jesus are simply another and very noble way to establish God’s reign on earth and in your own life.

An essential part of God’s reign is that enemies can be reconciled to each other. That can only happen when justice is first established.”

Love, “Hello, my name is Mat!”,
Matthew

Imputation?

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-by Sam Guzman, “The Catholic Gentleman”

“Growing up a protestant, I was taught quite young the theological idea of imputation. That is, that Christ died in our place to bear the death sentence that we deserved, and in doing so, transferred His righteousness to us. It was a grand exchange. He takes ours sins and we get credited righteousness. But most importantly, Jesus suffered and died so that we do not have to suffer and die. We escape the cross because Jesus went there in our place.

The Catholic idea of salvation is quite different. Imputation is largely foreign to Catholic theology. Instead, Catholic theology operates on the idea of participation. That is, Christ came to earth and died on the cross, not so that we could avoid death and suffering, but so that He could transform the inevitability of death and suffering from the inside out. By communion with Him, by participation in His cross, we could receive eternal life.

After all, what is the fate of each and every human being? Death. It is the great equalizer. No matter how rich, famous, beautiful, or healthy we are, we will all die sooner or later. Death is the consequence of sin, for sin is a movement away from God Who is Life itself. Sin is therefore by definition non-Life. It is death by its nature. And because our first parents chose sin, death is the fate of every human being.

Our enemy was gleeful at our demise. He meant for our death to be eternal, and for our physical death to be the gateway into eternal doom. But Christ came and changed all that. He embraced death and death could not hold Him. He transformed it from the inside out, changing it from the gateway to eternal death to that of eternal life. In the words of the Byzantine liturgy, “He trampled down death by death.”

Put another way, Christ did not suffer and die so that we do not have to—he suffered and died so that our suffering and death could be transubstantiated into a means of life. He embraced the cross not to keep us from it, but so that our crosses could be changed from instruments of death into healing remedies that bring life.

As baptized Christians, we are members of the body of Christ. We are incorporated into Him and we live in communion with Him. This communion means that we share in His life—not by making some act of intellectual assent, but by living His life after Him. And living His life after Him requires carrying the cross after Him and sharing in His death. The cross is the price of eternal life.

This is the meaning of Jesus when He said, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple.” -Lk 14:27 Could there be any clearer sign that He did not come to keep us from the cross? No, rather He came to transform our crosses into the means of life.

Having been instructed by Christ himself, St. Paul understood this well. “I die daily.” “I have been crucified with Christ.” “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” “The cross is foolishness to them that are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God and the Wisdom of God.” The cross was always in his heart and on his lips, for it was to him, as it is for us all, the means of eternal life.

Suffering is inevitable. To varying degrees, we will all suffer. And with a similar certainty, we will all die. It could be said that a cross lies at the heart of human existence. But the cross need not be a fate to be feared. Our Lord trampled down death by death. In the greatest paradox of all, He changed death into a means of life. What was once our doom is now our salvation.

“You must accept your cross,” said the holy St. John Vianney“If you bear it courageously it will carry you to heaven.” This Lent, let us not fear or flee the cross, but carry it with love and with hope, as the means not of death but of eternal life.”

Love,
Matthew

Reincarnation?

-from Catholic Answers 20 Answers: Death & Judgment

“Reincarnation, which literally means “to be made flesh again,” is the belief that after death the soul lives on in another body. The soul might inhabit a similar body (e.g., a man’s soul enters another man’s body) or even a radically dissimilar body (e.g., a man’s soul enters a frog’s body). Regardless of what form reincarnation takes, the Catechism states:

Death is the end of man’s earthly pilgrimage, of the time of grace and mercy which God offers him so as to work out his earthly life in keeping with the divine plan, and to decide his ultimate destiny. When “the single course of our earthly life” is completed, we shall not return to other earthly lives: “It is appointed for men to die once” (Heb. 9:27). There is no “reincarnation” after death (CCC 1013).

In the third century, Origen said reincarnation was “foreign to the church of God, and not handed down by the Apostles, nor anywhere set forth in the Scriptures.” There are several arguments that support the Church’s rejection of reincarnation. First, in the fourth century St. Ambrose of Milan wrote that it would be impossible that “the soul which rules man should take on itself the nature of a beast so opposed to that of man,” or that man, “being capable of reason should be able to pass over to an irrational animal.” In other words, the migration of souls between human and animals is as impossible as the procreation of bodies between humans and animals.

Second, humans do not behave as if they possessed souls that lived before the birth of their body. The third-century ecclesial writer Tertullian put it this way:

If souls depart at different ages of human life, how is it that they come back again at one uniform age? For all men are imbued with an infant soul at their birth. But how happens it that a man who dies in old age returns to life as an infant? . . .  I ask, then, how the same souls are resumed, which can offer no proof of their identity, either by their disposition, or habits, or living?

The absence of animals and infants who act like mature adults is evidence against the theory of reincarnation. Of course, a defender of reincarnation could say that while a person’s soul inhabits a new body, his memories and personality do not. But this makes reincarnation the practical equivalent of not surviving death. It also begs the question; as St. Irenaeus argued in the second century, “If we don’t remember anything before our conception, then how do advocates of reincarnation know we’ve all been reincarnated?”

Other defenders of reincarnation offer empirical evidence in the form of “past-lives” testimony. These testimonies, such as those gathered among children by the late psychiatrist Ian Stevenson, are not convincing. For example, many of the subjects of Stevenson’s interviews were children who lived in places like India, where reincarnation is widely accepted. This means that their stories were more likely the products of social conditioning than actual memories of past lives.

Moreover, although the children in these studies were not thought to be capable of deceiving interviewers, they were capable of confusing fantasy with reality  (e.g., telling stories about imaginary friends or imaginary adventures). In fact, many of the anecdotes Stevenson shares rely on ambiguous details that are better explained by a child’s imperfect grasp of reality. Skeptic Robert Carroll offers the following example:

One case involved an Idaho girl who at age 2 would point to photographs of her sister, dead from a car accident three years before she was born, and say “that was me.” The believer thinks the two-year-old meant: “I was my sister in a previous life.” The skeptic thinks she meant: “That’s a picture of me.” The skeptic sees the two-year-old as making a mistake. The believer sees her as trying to communicate a message about reincarnation.

There is also a third argument against reincarnation, one that has been called “the population argument.” It relies on the claim made by proponents of reincarnation that new souls are never created or destroyed. Instead, souls are only “reborn” into other bodies. But, in Tertullian’s words, “If the living come from the dead, just as the dead proceed from the living, then there must always remain unchanged one and the selfsame number of mankind.” He noted (and modern science has confirmed) that there has been a “gradual growth of [the human] population.” This growth can only be explained by new souls coming into existence, and conflicts with the notion of the perpetual reincarnation of the same souls into different bodies.

Finally, scientists agree that life on earth began—at the earliest—billions of years ago. This disproves the idea that souls have been reincarnating into physical bodies for all eternity. As the Catechism says, “The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God—it is not ‘produced’ by the parents—and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection” (CCC 366).”

Love,
Matthew

Sola fides? Why is reason important? Faith & Reason

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“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” -Hamlet, I.v.

“Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam.”, “I do not understand in order to believe, rather I believe in order to understand.” – St Anselm

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-by Dr. Thomas V. Morris, PhD, Tom served for fifteen years as a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, where he quickly became a campus legend, in many years having an eighth of the entire student body in his classes.

“Truth is our tie to the world. Believing a truth, or stating a truth, is like hitting a target. Falsehood misses the mark. Truth anchors us to reality. Falsehood cuts our connection to the way things really are. We need truth like we need air, or food, or water. Falsehood, by contrast, kills.

The complete definition of knowledge

One necessary condition for knowledge is belief. (See the earlier section “Our Beliefs about Belief.”) A second is truth. (Laid out in the preceding section.) Knowledge is built on true belief. But these two conditions are not alone sufficient for knowledge. I can believe something, and my belief can be true without my actually knowing the thing believed.”(1)

“Luck never made a man wise.” — Seneca

“Philosophers insist that, in order for a state of belief to qualify as knowledge, there must be a link, a connection, a tie between the mental state of affirmation and the state of reality, which makes that affirmation true. Furthermore, this link must be of the right sort to properly justify my having that belief.”(2)

Famous Last Words: truth & reality matter!!!

“Don’t worry. It’s not loaded.”
“I’m sober enough.”
“What does this button do?”
“Are you sure the power is off?”
“The odds of that happening have to be a million to one!”
“I’ll hold it and you light the fuse.”
“You worry too much!”
“Txting & driving r not safe!!! Lol.”
“Brexit will fail!”
“Trump’s finished now!”
“Of course the Colombian people will vote for peace!”

“There is an absolute difference between truth and falsehood. And it matters!

Knowledge is properly justified true belief.

We live in a world of irrational beliefs. People believe all sorts of crazy things. Have you ever bought a tabloid newspaper at the checkout lane in a grocery store, and actually read the articles? Okay, you don’t have to answer that. But have you watched other people buy these papers? They don’t always seem to be doing it as a joke. There seems to be no limit to what some people can believe. In fact, it has often been observed that there is a strong tendency in human life for people to believe what they want to believe, whether those beliefs are even remotely rational or not.

Here is the problem. Irrational belief is belief without a reliable tie to truth. Therefore, irrational belief can be dangerous belief. Our natural tendency to believe is like our natural tendency to eat or drink. Not everything you come across is safe to eat. Not every liquid you find is safe to drink. Likewise, not every proposition that comes your way is safe to believe. Our eating and drinking should be subject to the guidance of our beliefs. And that is even more reason for our beliefs to be subject to reason.

We want to be reasonable people because reason can connect us to truth. We value rationality as a reliable road to truth, and thus to knowledge. But what is reason? What is rationality? And why exactly should we think it’s important in our ongoing quest for truth in this world?

Human reason is just the power (Ed. THAT GOD GAVE US!!! AND, APPARENTLY INTENDS US TO USE, LIFE & REALITY WOULD SUGGEST!!!!) we have to organize and interpret our experience of the world (what we see, hear, touch, taste, smell, or sense in any other way), as well as the ability to draw reliable conclusions that move beyond the confines of immediate experience. It is also the power to govern our actions and expectations in such a way that they make sense, given all the realities with which we have to do.”(3)

Love & reason,
Matthew

(1) Morris, Tom (2011-03-10). Philosophy For Dummies (Kindle Locations 986-991). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

(2) Morris, Tom (2011-03-10). Philosophy For Dummies (Kindle Locations 997-999). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

(3) Morris, Tom (2011-03-10). Philosophy For Dummies (Kindle Locations 1005, 1015-1025). Wiley. Kindle Edition.