Category Archives: Grace

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

Grace?

“With the Gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of supernatural grace makes one’s whole existence holy. This doctrine of deification, or divinization, involves a true sharing in God’s life that does not diminish our created dignity but raises our freedom above its natural capacities.

To be assimilated into the life of God in a way that perfects our humanity, the human person, as a creature, needs a gift that elevates, transforms, and unites it to the Holy Trinity. Sanctifying grace given through a new presence of the Holy Spirit in the soul is a participation in the life of God in the sense that it implicates and lifts up the very substance and nature of what it means to be a human being in the very life of God.

The theological tradition says that this sharing in divine life has a physical, formal, analogous, and accidental character. This seems odd to affirm and can easily be misunderstood. A proper understanding of these terms, however, opens up the mystery of sanctifying grace and protects it from dangerous and reductionist lines of reasoning.

We say that grace is an accidental participation in the life of God because even those who do not know God and who have rejected grace still have a soul and remain in the Divine Image. Whether or not someone has the gift of grace, his life is sacred and his dignity calls for respect. Furthermore, sanctifying grace does not physically change a human being into a wholly different creature. Human nature receives the life of God as a secondary reality, a second nature. This means that grace builds up and perfects humanity but does not replace it. This also means that as we accept the gift of grace, our frailty and inadequacy do not magically disappear. Instead, through grace we discover in our weaknesses that the power of God is brought to perfection (see 2 Cor. 12:9).

Why do we affirm that grace is an analogous participation in divine life? Analogous refers to the true relation, the harmony, the due proportion that grace establishes between creatures and God. Grace does not make us God by nature. If it did, we would cease to be human; we would cease to be at all. There would be no question of harmony or relation between humanity and divinity, between creation and creator.

To be analogous, to be in harmony, to be in due proportion requires that the soul who freely accepts sanctifying grace perfects its unique individuality before God. Affirming that grace is an analogous participation in the life of God is therefore essential for understanding justification. Grace, because it is analogous, gives real standing before God, because without standing there is no real relation. The gift of God is an analogous participation in the life of God insofar as it brings new and deeper meaning to the personal existence of the believer, establishing a real relation, while animating, healing, and perfecting the uniqueness of the individual before the Lord.

The more infused our humanity is with divine life, the greater our union with God and at the same time, the more fully human we become. Grace makes us like God to unite us to Him. This increased likeness does not diminish our humanity, and our union with God does not deprive us of our freedom. Instead the closer we draw to God, the greater freedom we enjoy, and the more we are like Him, the more the uniqueness of who we are delights His heart.

An analogous participation in God’s life opens up an understanding of relational mysticism that stands over and against various mysticisms of identity. Many systems propose an absolute being or absolute emptiness that either absorbs or annihilates the individual soul. In pantheistic systems, like that proposed by Hegel, the value of the individual is only its part in an overall process. Here, a measurable outcome yet to be realized surmounts the uniqueness of the individual: no soul is to be saved, but instead individual freedom must be overcome, made to conform. Our participation in God’s life, on the contrary, is not about mere compliance, but about a tender friendship with God, a sacred solidarity with the whole reality of heaven.

What do theologians mean by the term physical? In this context, physical does not mean simply something visible or bodily or material but instead refers to something invisible and spiritual. Grace works not extrinsic to the soul’s natural powers, but intrinsically through them, renewing the soul’s very substance. God’s nature does not impose itself from without but lifts up and expands the soul’s interiority so that the Divine Persons might dwell in it.

To participate physically in the life of God implies that the soul can be animated by a life infinitely deeper and fuller than the one that is its own by nature. It can have a second nature, a new nature within its nature, a life that is “not my own” (cf. Gal. 2:20). In the life of grace, frail human nature is physically caught up in and transformed by the immensity of divine life.

How is grace a formal participation in divine life? The form of grace is divine — it comes from God and is in God, not man. To say participation in divine life is formal affirms that the grace that makes us holy is a higher reality, above our human nature, capable of lifting our created nature into the very life of God. Divine life is a gift that is over the soul, above human existence, and its divine form lifts the soul above the limits of human nature without harming the integrity of our humanity. To say that grace is a physical and formal participation in the life of God is to say that all that is most noble, good, and true about being human is under the influence of this higher power.

This kind of participation in divine life subordinates everything that can be felt and touched, understood and imagined in human existence so that nothing can separate us from the love of God. New powers of faith, hope, and love, infused virtues, and an array of spiritual gifts lift merely human works above themselves. The grace that makes us holy elevates, transforms, and unites to God that part of us that is deeper than our bodily existence and even our psychological powers, so that through cooperation with the Holy Spirit, we can actually give praise to God. Thus, grace as a physical and formal sharing in God’s life refers to those depths and horizons of human existence and being that no science can adequately measure or examine.

Sanctifying grace involves the deepest center of the soul, reaching deeper into our human substance than any feeling, any enlightened state of consciousness, or any attitude, although it can influence all of this in the powers of the soul. This gift of holiness is an intrinsic principle at work within our nature: not an external force, not an extrinsic influence, not a power imposed over and against the natural greatness of humanity. In the very center of our being is where God physically implicates our frail human “I” with His omnipotent divine “Thou,” tenderly setting apart the very substance of who we are, subtly consecrating our very life-principle itself so that we can offer our bodies as a living sacrifice of praise.

In the form of heavenly things, the grace that makes us holy involves a sacrificial self-emptying of our humanity and a divinely humble lifting up of our frailties. Not limiting itself to the greatest and most powerful, the perfection of this eternal life is revealed in our weakness and failures. It is not the product of human effort or industry, but of trust and complete surrender. Only Uncreated Love can create this new life in the soul, but to do so, the soul must die to itself out of devotion to its crucified Master.

Through this blessing from above, God reveals His glory while protecting the integrity of human nature. Sanctifying grace raises the wonder of human dignity, helping man and woman see the greatness of each one’s created purpose. This gift from above commits the saint more deeply to promoting what is good and noble in the created order even as he is drawn closer to the Lord’s uncreated mystery.”

Love, & His grace, always,
Matthew

I have a PASSION for the virtue of HOPE!!!!: Grace & Hope

Hope

It burns.

hyacinth_grubb
-by Br Hyacinth Grubb, OP

“What do you do when those you trust let you down, when you’re confronted with human failure and frailty and faults?

Often when we think of hope, our thoughts rise to the great mysteries of the faith, as they rightly should. We hope in Christ, in His resurrection, and even in our own. But sometimes our thoughts skim too lightly through these mysteries and reduce them to abstractions which are beautiful but remote from life. We can know in some vague way that grace is active, making “all things work for the good of those who love God,” and at the same moment fail to see grace when it works in front of our eyes.

Yet grace is not an abstraction: it is a living, breathing reality that is present in the messiness of real life. Do you see it?  (I DO!!! I DO!!! CONSTANTLY!!!!) 🙂

Do you see it at work in your brother or sister, friend or coworker? (YES!!!YAAASSSS!!! PRAISE HIM CHURCH!!!  PRAISE HIM!!!) Because God is there in those moments when life hits us hardest, when people act unimaginably terribly. God is there in those thousands of moments when life grinds us down, when people live selfishly and carelessly in monstrous little ways. God is there, and He is working to transform their hearts, and ours, in ways that we can’t always know and on a schedule slower than we desire. Do you hope in Him, and in them?  (YAAAASSS!!  YAAASSS!!!)

It’s easy to give up on another person, to say, “he is who he is, and he won’t change,” to avoid him or to grit our teeth and muscle through—but this is much more than giving up on his own ability to live well. (I HAVE SEEN!!!!  I HAVE WITNESSED RESURRECTION IN THIS LIFE!!! I have.) This is giving up on God’s work in our fallible neighbors, it is despair in their potential for goodness and in God’s power to redeem. It says to Christ, hanging on the cross, “This neighbor of mine, this brother or friend, he is not worth saving, and Your sacrifice has not the power to do so.” We might never say it aloud, but each one of us has said it in our hearts. And so it is no little matter to assert that hoping in God is not merely trusting in His action in our lives, but also in His work in others.  (The last thing Satan desires is our despair.  1 Peter 5:8.  Amen.  Praise Jesus!!  Praise Him, Church!!!  Amen!!!)

This hope is not abstract but real, and because it is real, it isn’t always easy; it requires patience and fortitude. This hope is given to us by God; prayer helps us to receive it; and an intentional and active love for our neighbor keeps it alive. Sometimes it may demand, only out of love for another, a little instruction or admonishment on our part. Most of all it requires—and enables—a transformation of perspective, as we learn to see ignorant and selfish and sinful men as not only ignorant and selfish and sinful, but at the same time as subjects of the divine action that redeems them and that makes them deserving of our love and hope.”  (AMEN, BROTHER!!!  PUHREACH!!! SING IT, BROTHER!!!  SING OUT LOUD!!!!  AMEN!!!)  🙂

His love, hope, grace, and victory,
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

Irish Catholic Jansenism – #JOY is @#Heart of the Gospel!!!!!

OLPerpetualResponsibility

OLPerpetualResponsibility2

Jn 5:11

My mother, lovingly, and with the best of intentions for me, used to remind me, frequently, as a child, “The lightning is going to strike you, Mashew!!”  Ostensibly, to keep the straight and narrow.  And, “If my children lose their faith, I have failed as a mother!”  NO PRESSURE!!!

There is a severity in Irish Catholicism, cf joyless Irish nuns of discipline, i.e. Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility, Lake Wobegon, MN.  Workhouses for Wayward Girls & Truant Boys, etc.  I thought the Irish were tough, until I met the Polish in Chicago!!  Jeesh!!!  Did anyone else notice how the Polish jokes just stopped dead cold after JPII’s election?  They did.

“…Why do they call this heartless place
Our Lady of Charity?

These bloodless brides of Jesus
If they had just once glimpsed their Groom
Then they’d know, and they’d drop the stones
Concealed behind their rosaries.
They wilt the grass they walk upon
They leech the light out of a room…”
-“Magdalene Laundries”, The Chieftains, Tears of Stone, 1999

Cornelius_Jansen_by_Evêque_d'Ypres_(1585-1638)
-Cornelius Jansen (1585–1638), professor at the Old University of Louvain, painting by by Evêque d’Ypres

The heresy of Jansenism is named after Cornelius Jansen, who was the Bishop of Ypres in the early 17th century. His main work, Augustinus, was published after his death. In this work, he claimed to have rediscovered the true teaching of St. Augustine concerning grace, which had been lost to the Church for centuries. Even though he was not strictly a heretic, his writings still caused great harm to the Church.

At that time, the Jesuits were heavily preaching on the mercy of God. This was seen by some as moral laxity. Also the debates with the Calvinists had an influence on Jansen’s thoughts. Without going into the details of the “five propositions from Jansen”, this heresy essentially taught that God’s saving grace is irresistible, though not given to everyone. According to Jansen, a person could neither accept or reject this grace due to his fallen nature. Although persons, who received it, were sure of salvation. Unfortunately not everyone received this saving grace. God decreed who was saved and who was lost. Jansen denied human free will and God’s desire to save everyone (1 Tim. 2:4). Even though the Jansenists hoped to combat the moral laxity of their time through moral rigorism, their denial of human free will and God’s mercy actually promoted moral despair or a carefree, frivolous life style, since personal actions had no effect on personal salvation. Due to the duplicity of its promoters, this heresy harmed the Church for over seventy years.

Summary of Catholic Teaching on Grace & Free Will:

1) The grace merited by Christ is necessary for us for all actions of piety and the exercise of every virtue and should be asked of from God.
2) With the help of grace, all the commandments of God are possible to obey, such that a chaste and holy Christian life without mortal sin is possible. Also, without this grace, we cannot do anything that is truly good, nor even persevere in good except by grace.
3) Grace prevents and aids our wills in such a way that we owe our salvation to God’s grace; if we do fall, it should be imputed to ourselves.
4) Grace strengthens and supplements our freedom, but in no way destroys it.
5) While maintaining the existence and freedom of the will, we should nevertheless remain in a posture of humility, remembering that our will is aided by grace in ways we don’t understand.

I have been trained as a catechist that the Truth, which the Church seeks, is often found in a middle course, a middle way between extremes. This is NOT splitting the difference!!! But, rather, a sincere search for and discovery of the Truth of God. The fact of the matter is, I have been trained, is that Truth happens to often be found in the moderation of extremes.

There are two known poles regarding the theological and metaphysical interplay of grace & free will, from a Roman Catholic perspective. The first, the heresy of Pelagianism, errs in assigning too great a role to free will and debasing God’s grace; the other, of course, is that of Calvinism, in which free will is negated and the operation of grace inflated to the point that we arrive at total (or double) predestination. These extremes are the Scylla and Charybdis of the theology of grace; a truly Catholic approach to this problem must sail skillfully between these two dangers, turning neither to the left nor to the right.

michael_moreland
-by Michael Moreland
May 26, 2015

“The big story coming out of the weekend was the Irish referendum on same-sex marriage, accompanied by barely concealed glee in some quarters at the humiliation of the Catholic Church. Here’s a hypothesis to ponder about the historical reach of theological ideas and the place of Catholicism in different cultures (not so much about the substance of the same-sex marriage debate itself), even if it might not hold up in every detail to scrutiny.

As Damian Thompson writing at the Spectator notes here, the influence of Catholicism in Ireland has waned for various reasons (most especially the sex abuse scandal), and one factor he mentions in passing is “the joyless quasi-Jansenist character of the Irish Church.” Indeed, while the Church’s influence across Europe has fallen, the collapse in those parts of Europe (or places missionized by Europeans) arguably influenced by Jansenism has been ferocious: the Low Countries (we think of Jansenism as primarily a French movement, but Cornelius Jansen himself was Dutch and Bishop of Ypres), France, Quebec, and Ireland. The place of the Church in the culture of those parts of European Catholicism less tinged by Jansenism has fared a bit better: Poland, Austria, Bavaria, Italy, and, most especially, Spain and Portugal and their former colonies in Latin America and the Philippines.

I am simplifying a great deal here, of course. There was, for example, a robust Jansenist movement in parts of modern-day Italy, and, more importantly, it is hard to say how much Jansenist influence there really was in Irish Catholicism (captured by the “quasi-” in Thompson’s essay). Because of English persecution, there were no seminaries in Ireland up through the end of the eighteenth century and so Irish clergy were often trained at Jansenist French seminaries, and there might have been some Jansenist influence in the early days at Maynooth, the Irish national seminary founded in 1795. But the scope of the actual influence of Jansenist ideas on folk Irish Catholicism is much harder to determine, as Thomas O’Connor notes in his 2007 entry on “Jansenism” in The Oxford Companion to Irish History (“The frequent claim that Irish Catholicism was Jansenist-influenced springs from the tendency to confuse Jansenism with mere moral rigorism.”). Jansenism was just one (perhaps small) factor among many contributing to Seán Ó Faoláin’s “dreary Eden.”

If there is something to this, though, we shouldn’t be surprised. Jansenism—with its hyper-Augustinianism, insistence on human depravity, confused doctrine of freedom and grace, other-worldliness, and moral rigorism—was theologically pernicious (condemned in Cum occasione by Pope Innocent X in 1653 and in Unigenitus dei filius by Pope Clement VI in 1713). A Catholic culture shaped by it distorts our understanding of the human person and society, and bad theological doctrines about God, human nature, and sin can wreak havoc even if the institutional forms of the Church endure for a time. Jansenism produced a towering genius in Blaise Pascal and a minor genius in Antoine Arnauld, but it was an unfortunate development in early modern Catholicism. As we think about how to build (or re-build, as it may be) Catholic culture, we would do well to remember that joy is at the heart of the gospel, and a Catholic culture drained of such joy by Jansenism or its cousins will, when the time comes, all too easily be swept away.”

Love & the JOY!!! of the Gospel,
Matthew

Grace is terrifying

grace_group-600x400

Grace is an eerie thing: subtle, sublime, quiet, small, whispering, unassuming, tiny, easily missed, ephemeral, when new, like sweet incense, or fragrant fresh cooking, but powerful; definitely powerful force.

It gives you ‘new eyes’, new/renewed strength, resolve, to accept, to resist, allowing you to see today, in peace, subtly, like new colors, or shades thereof, the wisdom, the rightness/correctness, and accept in peace what yesterday you would have suffered to protest, easily succumbed to the temptation of? Ask St Paul, Deo gratias!!!!

What if that’s IT? I mean, what if Jesus in calling the scribes and Pharisees ‘blind’ was not using a metaphor? What if sin literally blinds us, spiritually, in a physical sense? Am I making any sense?

What if mortal sin can be felt? Not only in terms of guilt of conscience, but in loss, true loss of vitality of the Spirit to ‘see’, to understand the truth? The Truth as God sees it, ever-clearly, but we, dimly, ever so dimly in near perfect darkness, only dim momentary flashes, if you’re tuned in, receptive, prayerful? The Life of Grace? Scripture tells us no mortal can see God and live. (Ex 33:20)

I realize we are told to believe that literally. It’s just terrifying, terrifying, in the extreme to rub one’s eyes in that realization, to experience it physically/personally oneself. That grace, as subtle, sublime as it is becomes personal? Physically intimate? To oneself? Yikes!!! Holy Supernatural, literally, Batman!!!

Maybe it’s just middle age and fatigue, or, is/was yesterday’s less than healthy menu choices? Surely, other factors affect, but still. I don’t know, but terrifying nonetheless, in possibility, in reality.

Love,
Matthew

Sanctifying Grace: Transformed/Fundamentally Changed/Renewed/Reborn/Made Whole/Made Completely New, not just covered…

grace_a_way_of_life

-from http://www.catholic.com/tracts/grace-what-it-is-and-what-it-does

Sanctifying grace implies a real transformation of the soul. Recall that most of the Protestant Reformers denied that a real transformation takes place. They said God doesn’t actually wipe away our sins. Our souls don’t become spotless and holy in themselves. Instead, they remain corrupted, sinful, full of sin. God merely throws a cloak (of snow over dung) over them and treats them as if they were spotless, knowing all the while that they’re not.

But that isn’t the Catholic view. We believe souls really are cleansed by an infusion of the supernatural life. Paul speaks of us as “a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17), “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). Of course, we’re still subject to temptations to sin; we still suffer the effects of Adam’s Fall in that sense (what theologians call “concupiscence”); but God removes the guilt from our souls. We may still have a tendency to sin, but God has removed the sins we have, much like a mother might wash the dirt off of a child who has a tendency to get dirty again.

Our souls don’t become something other than souls when God cleanses them and pours his grace into them (what the Bible refers to as “infused” [“poured”] grace, cf. Acts 10:45, Rom. 5:5 Titus 3:5–7); they don’t cease to be what they were before. When grace elevates nature, our intellects are given the new power of faith, something they don’t have at the merely natural level. Our wills are given the new powers of hope and charity, things also absent at the merely natural level.”

Love,
Matthew

Grace & Catholicism – #nuffsaid

grace (2)

FredNoltie
-by Fred Noltie

“It is not news to say that many Protestants claim that the Catholic Church teaches a form of salvation by merit in contrast to their own belief in salvation by grace. This claim about the Church’s teaching is of course false, as we have observed many times at this blog. A long time ago I wrote on the same subject, and it seems like a good idea to rehearse the main points I made at that time (along with, perhaps, some additions).

That about covers the gamut, I think, but it is hardly the last word from the Church on the subject. The much-maligned Council of Trent has a thing or two to say as well. By way of summary: “…it is necessary to believe that sins neither are remitted, nor ever were remitted save gratuitously by the mercy of God for Christ’s sake” (Decree on Justification, chapter IX). Furthermore, the entire seventh chapter (see previous link) of the Decree enumerates the various causes of our justification. As anyone can see, none of them are human efforts; all of them are divine.

This hardly seems necessary since Protestants have been resorting to the “legalism” canard since the sixteenth century, but for the sake of completeness it’s worth observing that the Church today still affirms salvation by grace alone.

Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God. (CCC 1996)

And: “Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him” (CCC 153).

And: “Believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 154).

Our Protestant brothers’ claim is obviously based upon a deficit of information about the actual facts, which makes the claim invalid.”

Love,
Matthew

The Grace of Final Perseverance

joseph7

A little preamble is in order here.  Protestant understanding of grace and Catholic understanding of grace are very different.  This distinction is often overlooked and generally misunderstood, yet it is perhaps the singularly most significant separating difference between Protestantism and Catholicism.

Generalizing across Protestant denominations, mea culpa, “sola fides”, or the doctrine of “by faith alone” implies once one is “saved” by turning from sin and accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in faith, that is all that is required.  “Once saved, always saved”, as the saying goes.

Martin Luther was a preacher and author of strong hyperbole.  He is often misquoted, or quoted out of context saying “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong”, or “sin all the more” once saved.  Protestant theology is NOT recommending sin here, but rather implying no sin is stronger than the saving power of Christ.  True.

However, Catholics believe the grace of salvation, too, is freely given and unmerited.  However, Catholicism does put a bit more emphasis on free will, and while grace is a free, unmerited gift, through free will we have the power to reject His love subsequent to our initial acceptance and baptism through our actions and choices.

Think of how a human relationship works, which I have ALWAYS found to be an excellent metaphor for relating to God, and you can see more clearly the Catholic perspective.  God loves us too much to rescind the divine authority He has given us in free will.  There is no authentic love, human or divine, without free will, according to Catholicism.  Hence, the need, as Catholicism states, for the “Grace of Final Perseverance”.

“Mortal sin” is called mortal because the sin is so grave and intentional, again through free will, that it “kills”/destroys the life of grace within us.  It is the life of grace within us which is the relationship with God.  God didn’t change His mind.  We did, and proved it through our choices and actions in free will.

http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/

“Faith of our fathers, holy faith, we will be true to thee till death…”

-by Nicholas Hardesty, author PHAT Catholic Apologetics

Final perseverance is that last grace which confirms us in the Lord at the moment of death. It is a free gift of God that preserves or maintains the state of grace in our souls so that we can die in that state. You are in a state of grace when your soul is in righteous standing before God. This gift preserves that state by enabling our will to cooperate with the various means of receiving grace, namely prayer and the sacraments.

The grace of final perseverance also implies that death comes when we are in that state of grace, and not in a state of mortal sin. By that I mean, when a person prays for the grace of final perseverance, he is also praying that death will come in a timely manner, when his soul is in righteous standing before God.

According to Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, final perseverance is basically God practicing his stewardship or loving care over our souls. It is, “an ever watchful superintendence of us on the part of our All-Merciful Lord, removing temptations which He sees will be fatal to us, comforting us at those times when we are in particular peril, whether from our negligence or other cause, and ordering the course of our life so that we may die at a time when He sees that we are in the state of grace.”

Final perseverance can be seen as a single gift of grace, or as the body or collection of graces we have received throughout our whole lives, all coming together to affect our final end. As a single gift, we are reminded of the Good Thief crucified alongside Jesus, who, after living a life of sin, was compelled to convert in his final hour after witnessing the example of Jesus. The grace of final perseverance made that possible.

As a body of graces, we think of the life-long Catholic who sticks ever closer to the sacraments and is evermore devoted to prayer as his age advances and his health deteriorates. And then, when death is surely near, he calls upon the priest to make his last Confession, to receive Viaticum, and to be Anointed. In this case, the grace of final perseverance was actually working throughout his whole life, compelling him to perform the various pious practices that brought him now, in his final hour, to death in the state of grace.

What an extraordinary gift this would be to receive! Extraordinary … and necessary, since we cannot go to heaven without dying in a state of grace. What’s more, this gift only comes by way of God’s merciful response to our entreating Him for it in prayer. This is basically what we’re doing when we say in the Our Father, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (cf. CCC nos. 2849, 2854), and in the Hail Mary, “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” We are praying for the gift of final perseverance.

Scripture mentions final perseverance in several places:

Ezek 18:24-28 But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity and does the same abominable things that the wicked man does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds which he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, he shall die. 25 “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? 26 When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die for it; for the iniquity which he has committed he shall die. 27 Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is lawful and right, he shall save his life. 28 Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.

Wis 4:10-15 There was one who pleased God and was loved by him, and while living among sinners he was taken up. 11 He was caught up lest evil change his understanding or guile deceive his soul. 12 For the fascination of wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind. 13 Being perfected in a short time, he fulfilled long years; 14 for his soul was pleasing to the Lord, therefore he took him quickly from the midst of wickedness. 15 Yet the peoples saw and did not understand, nor take such a thing to heart, that God’s grace and mercy are with his elect, and he watches over his holy ones.

Mt 10:22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.

Jn 17:11 And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.

Rom 11:22-23 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even the others, if they do not persist in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.

Rom 14:4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Master is able to make him stand.

1 Cor 15:1-2 Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, 2 by which you are saved, if you hold it fast—unless you believed in vain.

Gal 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Phil 1:6 And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Phil 4:7 And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Col 1:21-23 And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, 23 provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

1 Thes 5:23-24 May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

2 Tim 2:12 if we endure, we shall also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;

1 Pet 5:10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you.

2 Pet 1:10 Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall;

In my mind, any passage that refers to the importance of enduring to the end, continuing in His kindness, standing fast, etc. is also a passage about this grace.”

Love,
Matthew

Grace Hurts

grace

Like Dietrich Boenhoffer, I hate cheap grace. I do. I despise it.  It’s a sham, a phony, a charlatan, a hypocrite – like me.

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, (it is) baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.  Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”  { p. 43-4}, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Boenhoffer, 1937.

“All my requests seem to melt down to one for grace,” -Flannery O’Connor, 1962

What did Flannery O’Connor know about suffering and grace? At the age of twenty-six, Flannery would be diagnosed (like her father before her) with systemic lupus erythematosus (“lupus”), a disabling rheumatologic condition. Through chronic pain, recurrent illnesses and medication side effects, Flannery would write with keen insight, acerbic wit and devout Catholic faith. Thirteen years later, she would die. She was only thirty-nine years old. Flannery O’Connor knew suffering and she knew grace – a mean grace.

“All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.”― Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, 1948-1964.

“I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do. What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.”

“This notion that grace is healing omits the fact that before it heals, it cuts with the sword Christ said He came to bring.”

“[The trendy “beat” writers] call themselves holy but holiness costs and so far as I can see they pay nothing. It’s true that grace is the free gift of God but in order to put yourself in the way of being receptive to it you have to practice self-denial.”

Mt 16:24

Love,
Matthew