Galatians 5:4 is a go-to text for Catholics when it comes to defending the belief that Christians can lose their salvation:
“You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.”
Notice that St. Paul says the Galatians were “severed from Christ” and that they have “fallen away from grace.” Both statements imply that the Galatians had been saved, since to be in Christ and in grace is to be free from condemnation (Rom. 8:1). Yet, these Galatians, who were looking to be justified by the Old Law, are no longer in Christ and in grace. As such, they are currently subject to condemnation, which means they lost that initial saving relationship they had with Christ.
For some Protestants, the Catholic take on Paul in Galatians 5:4 is based on a fundamentally flawed assumption. Basically, Catholics don’t understand what Paul is talking about here! They will say “Paul is not talking about a loss of salvation. He’s talking about a loss of sanctification.”
Protestant apologist Norman Geisler, in his book Four Views on Eternal Security, wrote, “they have not lost their true salvation but only their sanctification . . . they have fallen from grace as a means of living a sanctified (holy) life.”
Geisler gives two reasons for this claim. First, “they are already saved,” since they are called “brothers” (6:1) and have placed their “faith” in Christ (3:2). Second, Paul mentions only the threat of the “yoke of slavery” (5:1) and not eternal torment in hell.
How should a Catholic respond?
Our first response is directed toward the overall interpretation here. An immediate glaring problem is that it clashes with the plain sense of the text. Paul doesn’t say, “You who would seek to be sanctified by the law.” Rather, he says, “You who would seek to be justified by the law.” The Greek word for “justified” is dikaioō, the same word that Paul uses when he speaks of justification by faith in Romans 3:28, a text that all Protestants acknowledge refers to justification in the sight of the God.
Now we can turn our attention to the two points in support of Paul talking about sanctification. Galatians 5:4, the argument goes, can’t refer to salvation because “they are already saved,” since they are called “brothers” and have “faith” in Christ. The problem here is the assumption that “already being saved” (being a Christian) necessarily entails being eternally secure in that salvation.
The status of “already being saved” can just as easily be read within the Catholic framework of salvation. On the Catholic view, a believer is truly saved when he initially comes to faith in Christ and enters the body of Christ via baptism. Being a member of Christ’s mystical body constitutes all Christians as spiritual brothers and sisters. It’s just that on the Catholic view, the saving relationship with Christ that we initially enter through baptism can be lost by mortal sin.
Since the “already saved” status of the Galatians can fit within the Catholic framework, just as it can within an “eternally secure doctrine” framework, a Protestant can’t appeal to the Galatians’ “saved” status to counter the Catholic interpretation of Galatians 5:4.
What about the “yoke of slavery”? Why not hell? Well, Paul mentions the yoke (i.e., the Old Testament Law) several verses earlier, and after doing so, he says, “If you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you” (5:2). What advantage does Christ give us? Salvation! Therefore, Paul is saying that to go back to the Old Covenant—i.e., circumcision—is to cut oneself off from salvation. The reason is because Christ alone is our source of salvation (Acts 4:12). It is in this light that we must understand Paul when he says, “You have been severed from Christ” and “you have fallen away from grace.”
So, in fact, Paul does threaten the Galatians with damnation. As such, Paul teaches it’s possible for a Christian to lose salvation.”
“Remember the old saying “sticks and stone may break my bones, but names will never harm me”? Today, society is more forgiving of people who throw sticks and stones than those who dare to refer to a person using the proper pronoun. Today, names have become weaponized in the ongoing revolt against reality.
How is it that calling someone by his given name or referring to him in accord with his biology suddenly became such an egregious offense? The truth is that we are living at the illogical conclusion of an error that started a long time ago. All that was needed was for our Catholic cultural momentum to fade enough to let these old errors come to the fore.
One of these errors dates back to the Middle Ages, with an English Franciscan named William of Ockham (1285-1347), better known simply as Ockham, famous for the principle of “Ockham’s razor”. Ockham was asked by his superior to defend the case of the “poor Franciscans” before the papal court in Avignon, France. These Franciscans were called “poor” because they believed that Christ renounced all worldly goods—even his kingdom and worldly dominion—and that those who truly follow his gospel must do likewise. Pope John XXII countered that such was impossible because God saw material possessions as a good. Indeed, in the Old Testament, God legislated the proper use of property and possessions.
Ockham’s solution was that God could change His mind. He could have established material possessions as a good in the Old Testament and then later decreed that the same things are evil. What matters isn’t whether a thing is intrinsically good or evil. What truly matter is God’s will, which isn’t bound by anything—even God’s nature.
Ockham’s idea was later refined and transformed into a philosophical system known as nominalism. Nominalism gets its name from the Latin word for “name,” nomen. Ockham argued that only individuals exist and that we tend to group these individuals together under a name. For example, humanity doesn’t exist outside the mind. There are only similar individuals that our minds group together, and we put the label of “humanity” on them. In the Poverty Dispute, a nominalist would argue that God didn’t call material possessions good because they are by nature good; rather, “good” was just a name that God temporarily called certain things. Then, later on, he would call them the opposite. The nature or essence of a thing—its constitution and properties—doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is what God calls it.
According to Ockham’s thinking, the Incarnation becomes a kind of fiction. God taking to Himself our human nature is arbitrary because “human nature” doesn’t exist outside our mind. It is only a name. He could have become “incarnate” in stone, or wood, or even as a different species. If God calls it sufficient to atone for the sins of whole world, it is.
Nominalism comes to us today through the mediation of Protestantism, whose most famous founder, Martin Luther, was a self-admitted nominalist. Although he didn’t sign on to everything proposed by this philosophy, his theology in the main reflects nominalistic thought.
For example, according to Luther, God makes us right with Himself through a purely external means—namely, God legally calls us righteous even though we remain sinners. We’re not really made holy from the inside by God’s grace, but merely declared saved from the outside. Since faith is a driver of culture, the nominalism that permeated Luther’s theology spread through the lands where Protestantism dominated, seeping into everyday culture and cleaving people’s conception of reality into the world of faith, the soul, and the interior versus that of works, the body, and the exterior. (Ed. in Catholicism, interior and exterior are united and each is necessary, undivided; and nature is real both in form and in function, the natural law).
This habit of viewing reality took root, and centuries later served as a foundation for the modern feminist movement and the Sexual Revolution to bring nominalism’s will over nature to bear on the question of man, woman, and sexual identity. In her 1949 work The Second Sex, feminist Simone de Beauvoir previewed what would unfold. De Beauvoir sought to liberate women from male servitude by separating women from womanhood. Put bluntly, women are free only to the extent that they become like a man. Since female biology is so intimately tied to nature, feminine liberation must come by breaking (sometimes violently) those things that tie women to pregnancy and childrearing through abortion and state-run childcare.
But can a woman really become like a man? Are the words “man” and “woman” just labels, as nominalism holds? Interestingly, de Beauvoir rejected this type of nominalist solution because “it is easy for antifeminists to show that women are not men” (The Second Sex, p. 24).
That was 1949. The birth control pill, introduced in 1960, began to blur those differences by effectively disconnecting—indeed, virtually erasing—the connection between the marital act and procreation. By the time of the Sexual Revolution, the nominalist solution began to appear more plausible.
In the popular mind, once one of the most obvious distinctive differences between men and women (procreation) was erased, the only differences that seemed to remain were a few physiological features and stereotypes. What, then, is a man or a woman? They are labels that societies places on individuals with similar stereotypical traits. Get rid of the stereotypes, and what’s left?
It is the individual’s will. The interior feeling and thoughts of a person’s soul tells him whether he is male, female, or some other species. The body or biology is arbitrary, since abstractions like male and female don’t exist outside the mind. It is something we apply to similar things.
In other words, society has become like the god of nominalism, where the will is not bound by nature.
The nominalist move comes at a cost, because the definition of a word is itself an abstraction. That’s how, when experts in the field of gender studies, sexual fluidity, and other related fields are asked to give a definition as simple as “what is a man?” or “what is a woman?” . . . they are reduced to silence.”
“A sculptor who wishes to carve a figure out of a block uses his chisel, first cutting away great chunks of marble, then smaller pieces, until he finally reaches a point where only a brush of hand is needed to reveal the figure. In the same way, the soul has to undergo tremendous mortifications at first, and then more refined detachments, until finally its Divine image is revealed. Because mortification is recognized as a practice of death, there is fittingly inscribed on the tomb of Duns Scotus, Bis Mortus; Semel Sepultus (twice died, but buried only once). When we die to something, something comes alive within us. If we die to self, charity comes alive; if we die to pride, service comes alive; if we die to lust, reverence for personality comes alive; if we die to anger, love comes alive.” —Fulton J. Sheen, p. 219, Peace of Soul
“Where there is no obedience there is no virtue, where there is no virtue there is no good, where there is no good there is no love, where there is no love, there is no God, and where there is no God there is no Paradise.” –Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina
St Thomas Aquinas, OP, reminds us that, “Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe, to know what he ought to desire, and to know what he ought to do.” Everyone is called to work toward their salvation (Phil 2:12), which is ultimately union with God. Those who take this call seriously must embark upon a journey inward to the deepest recesses of their soul. In the adventure and wonder of that journey, we work out the details of our union with our Beloved. We cling to what we need to believe, remain firm in what we truly desire, and are guided by what we know we have to do.
“Cowardice asks the question is it safe? Expediency asks the question is it politic? Vanity asks the question is it popular. But conscience asks the question is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.” —Martin Luther King Jr
“For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18)
“Expect temptation to your last breath.” -Saint Anthony the Great
“Only saints can save the world. And only our own sins can stop us from being saints.” -Peter Kreeft
“Satan always tempts the pure – the others are already his.” -Archbishop Fulton Sheen
“We always find that those who walked closest to Christ were those who had to bear the greatest trials.” -Saint Teresa of Ávila
“Only those who do not fight are never wounded.” -Saint John Chrysostom
“The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon.” - Saint Cyril of Jerusalem
“Mary, I give you my heart. Always keep it yours. Jesus, Mary, always be my friends. I beg you, let me die rather than be so unfortunate as to commit a single sin.” -Saint Dominic Savio
“Evil can only win if you let evil in.” -Emmalyn Elsen
“Let the enemy rage at the gate; let him knock, pound, scream, howl; let him do his worst. We know for certain that he cannot enter our soul except by the door of our consent.” -Saint Francis de Sales
“The devil is like a rabid dog tied to a chain; beyond the length of the chain he cannot seize anyone. And you: keep at a distance. If you approach too near, you let yourself be caught. Remember that the devil has only one door by which to enter the soul: the will.” -Saint Padre Pio
“If only we could see the joy of our guardian angel when he sees us fighting our temptations!” -Saint John Vianney
“Must you continue to be your own cross?” -Saint Jane Frances de Chantal
“One of our sure guides along the path of life is that we do not know when earthly life will come to an end. How important that our repentance for past and present transgressions be a daily practice.” -Rev. Thomas J. Donaghy
He who seeks not the Cross of Christ seeks not the glory of Christ.” –St. John of the Cross
“He did not say: You will not be troubled – you will not be tempted – you will not be distressed. But He did say: “You will not be overcome”.” -Saint Julian of Norwich
“We follow a guy who was hated, mocked, tortured, imprisoned, and killed… Should we expect anything less?
Sin starts and ends with you. ” -Jack Trembath
“If you are going to worship a guy who was crucified, don’t expect life to be pop and Skittles.” - Mark Shea
“You can’t do God’s work without suffering.” - Blessed Mother Teresa
Catholics don’t just appeal to Matthew 16:18-19 to make this point.
They also make an argument from Luke 22:31-32. There, Jesus says, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”
Here we find are two clues that, when taken together, reveal Peter’s unique role as leader of the Church. The first is Jesus’ prayer of protection. Jesus informs the apostles that Satan desires to sift all of them, which we know from the use of the Greek second person plural pronoun, humas. When Jesus speaks of his protection prayer in the next verse, however, the Greek text switches to second person singular, sou. Jesus thus singles out Peter when he makes the promise, “I have prayed for you [Greek, sou] that your faith may not fail.” Jesus then commands Peter, and only Peter to strengthen the brethren.
If Jesus intended all the apostles to be equal in their mission of leading his Church, it’s hard to see why Jesus would have promised only Peter a special protection that’s connected to his unique command for Peter to strengthen the brethren. Peter receives a special prayer of protection from Jesus because he’s the preeminent apostle who must strengthen the others.
Some Protestant comebacks to this argument attack the inference from the unique promise to protect Peter in faith; others attack the inferred significance of the unique command to strengthen the brethren. Let’s look at one example
“Jesus prays for others as well.”
This comeback aims to undercut the significance of the prayer for Peter by appealing to Jesus’ general role as intercessor. Some Protestant apologists argue, “Jesus’ prayer for Peter is in keeping with his general intercessory ministry for all believers.” They then goes on to cite Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25 and John 17:15, which affirm that Christ intercedes for us. So Jesus was not signaling a special role for Peter but merely doing what he does for all his flock—interceding before the Father.
Answering the Comeback
It’s true that Jesus has a general ministry of intercession for all believers. But this argument ignores the context of Jesus’ prayer for Peter, which intentionally follows his telling the apostles that Satan desired to sift all of them. Jesus is not exercising his general intercessory ministry for all believers in this passage because Luke explicitly tells us the prayer is for Peter alone, even though Satan was going to test them all. That Jesus has a general intercessory role as our high priest in heaven doesn’t take away from the fact that, here, Jesus prays for Peter in a unique way. And that unique prayer reveals Peter’s unique role as chief leader in the Church.”
“There are countless things we do not know—and probably cannot know, in this life, anyway. Fortunately, there are many things we do know, or at least can know, with certainty or high probability. And so the Flashlight Principle says to use what is clear to shine light on what is unclear . . . and always to separate the clear from the unclear.
Here are some things I believe we can know either with certainty or high probability.
-That we can know things. If we couldn’t, then how do you know the meaning of these terms?
-That God exists. Reason forces us toward some ultimate explanation that escapes all categories of things requiring a cause outside themselves—and this, as so many philosophers have claimed, we call God: the pure actuality, utterly simple, transcendent absolute. Otherwise, there would be no sufficient condition for being.
-That murder is wrong.
We can also know that something is the case without knowing why or how. For example, I can know that my wife Christine loves me without knowing how or why. The “why” especially seems especially mysterious sometimes! However, my lack of knowing the “how” or “why” does not cause a single doubt of “the fact that” my wife Christine loves me, given all the evidence I have. She sacrifices for me, has married me, has given birth to our children, and constantly expresses her affection in myriad other ways, like slow-roasting cashews in the oven for me.
Of course, questions of any curious and intelligent person might be raised in the form that indicates not just a question but an objection. What I am going to suggest is the Flashlight Principle can help us avoid questions turning into objections or reasons for doubt.
If it is true that we can know that God exists, and that God is perfectly good and wise, then we can know that God has good (in fact, the best) reasons for doing anything, even if we have no idea what those reasons are. This is the Flashlight Principle at work. In this case, it prevents a question from turning into an objection because it uses what is clear to reason to illumine (or at least defuse) what is unclear to reason; it allows what might otherwise be perceived as a difficulty to be, at worst, a mystery. (Ed. “mystery”, in the Catholic definition, is not something that is unknowable, rather infinitely knowable.) In other words, by what we already know (that God exists and is perfectly wise), we can see (by reason) that God has good reasons for creating humans how and when he did, and what ever else He does, even if we have no idea what those reasons are.
Philosophers have long claimed that the concept of beings who have to be caused by something logically implies the existence of a necessary thing causing those beings. You can get the divine attributes from there. This is using reason to gain clarity: although many things in life are mysterious, at least some things, including God’s existence, can be known with great logical force.
That’s a mere summary, but it does share in a venerable tradition among the greatest minds ever to live, including Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Boethius, Aquinas, Maimonides, Avicenna, Leibniz, Clarke, and other philosophers today. You can see how many intellectual titans in the history of humanity thought not only that it is reasonable to believe in God, but also that God’s existence is logically entailed by the existence of anything. God’s existence, then, is not purely a matter of faith, but something many philosophers, then and now, consider a truth reachable by a consistent application of reason to common experience.
So it’s not necessary to doubt the existence of God just because you don’t know why he did something a certain way. To ask, “Why did God wait so long to create humanity?” is, in one sense, a perfectly good question, but in another sense, it reveals a misunderstanding of how to think about God.
For one thing, God is eternal. So there was no “waiting” on God’s part. All moments of creation are simultaneous to God in His eternity, (Ed. We say God lives in his eternal now. God transcends, exists outside of the time-space He created. So many prominent atheists, i.e. the late Stephen Hawking, Ricky Gervais, etc., display their ignorance when they stake their atheism that God is not in the universe. Of course, He’s not. A creating being, by necessity, must be, not even “exist”, for to use the word exist is to imply non-existence, or non-being, must be outside His creation, not within it! God is sine qua non.) so it is not as if God required an enormous amount of patience to get around to something more interesting. Also, it is not as if any of us had to wait, since (presumably) none of us existed until we were conceived—so who cares how much time predates us?
Whatever God’s reasons are for guiding our universe along its evolutionary timeline are probably not only something we cannot know (unless God tells us), but also something we should not expect to know. We are only one small (though extremely important) part of creation. So we should not expect to see such things, as seeing them would require a God’s-eye view. But keep this in mind: just because we do not see God’s reasons for why He created exactly as He did, that does not mean we see that God does not have reasons—let alone good reasons—for doing so. In fact, if we can see that God exists and has certain attributes (perfect wisdom, justice, and so on), then it is entailed that God does have reasons for creating the way He did—and good ones!
This is the Flashlight Principle at play: using what is clear to shine light on what is unclear, and not allowing questions to turn into (irrational) doubt.
By keeping the Flashlight in hand, we can pursue questions from a position of confidence rather than anxiety, fretting that an undesirable answer may turn up—or even no answer at all. Further, the Flashlight Principle encourages humility and intellectual exploration. It hinges upon us being able to know at least some things, including some important things, like God’s existence, through reason alone (Ed. as did the ancient philosophers) . . . but also, we cannot know everything, nor should we expect to.
In other words, life will always have its mysteries, and that’s okay. With the Flashlight Principle, these mysteries can be sources for intellectual and spiritual growth rather than confusion or despair.
So keep that Flashlight handy and well charged. Darkness is less intimidating with a source of light.”
“Pride is the queen of sin. St. Gregory the Great warns us: “For when pride, the queen of sins, has fully possessed a conquered heart, she surrenders it immediately to seven principal sins, as if to some of her generals, to lay it waste” (Moralia 87). Yet what are these seven principal sins that pride invites into the conquered heart? They are, according to Gregory, “vainglory, envy, anger, melancholy, avarice, gluttony, [and] lust.” They are the “first progeny” of pride, the offshoots of its “poisonous root.” As both Gregory and St. Thomas Aquinas note, Scripture teaches: “For pride is the beginning of all sin” (Sir. 10:15, DRA).
Pride hands the conquered heart over to her capital vices, and, as Gregory explains, each capital vice is like a general that leads an army of sins into the soul. For example, if anger is allowed to enter the soul, then it brings with it “strifes, swelling of mind, insults, clamor, indignation, blasphemies” (Moralia 88). Similarly, if avarice or greed overcomes the soul, it brings with it “treachery, fraud, deceit, perjury, restlessness, violence, and hardness of heart against compassion.” Aquinas, commenting on Gregory, explains that this is why they are called the capital sins, because capital comes from the Latin caput, meaning “head,” and the capital sins are the “head” or leaders of a host of sins (ST. I-II.84.3). The Catechism, citing Gregory, explains: “They are called ‘capital’ because they engender other sins, other vices” (1866). They are the leaders of sin in that “when they reach the heart, they bring, as it were, the bands of an army after them” (Moralia 88).
What is it about pride, the queen of sin, that opens the heart to so many other sins? Aquinas, citing St. Isidore, teaches: “A man is said to be proud, because he wishes to appear above what he really is” (II-II.162.1). Aquinas comments that a man who uses his reason rightly acts “proportionate to him,” but pride causes a man to have a disproportionate understanding of who he truly is. Therefore, the self-understanding of the prideful man is contrary to his reason and sinful (CCC 1849). It is here we may start to see how pride opens the soul to a host of sins. The humble man will seek honors in this life that are proportionate to who he truly is, yet the prideful man, having an irrational self-understanding, will be inclined to fall farther into error by seeking honors that correspond with his misperception (II-II.162.2)—like a wrestler who, believing his skill to be greater than it is, challenges a champion and is soundly defeated.
A misperception of one’s own excellence often leads one into further error. Aquinas notes that another way pride leads us into sin, even if indirectly, is that pride makes us less likely to adhere to God and his rule (II-II.162.2, 6). The prideful man says to God, “I will not serve,” and disregards the moral laws that help lead the soul into virtue (II-II.162.2). Therefore, through a disproportionate self-understanding and a disregard for God and his rule, pride opens the human heart to a host of sin.
Is pride the beginning of all sin? Aquinas, following St. Augustine, makes several key distinctions. He notes that someone could sin not through pride, but through ignorance or simply through weakness (II-II.162.2) Yet, like Gregory, Aquinas quotes Holy Scripture: “for pride is the beginning of all sin” (Sir. 10:15, DRA). How does Aquinas reconcile these two points? He observes that all sin shares in an “aversion from God” (II-II.162.7). All sin makes us turn away from God. Yet although this trait is common to all sin, it is essential to the sin of pride. Here, we may see why Gregory sees pride as the queen of sin, handing a conquered heart over to the capital vices. Pride habituates the heart to an aversion to God, inclining it to sin further. As Aquinas summarizes: “Pride is said to be ‘the beginning of all sin,’ not as though every sin originated from pride, but because any kind of sin is naturally liable to arise from pride” (II-II.162.7, Reply obj. 1).
Is pride, the queen of sin, considered one of the seven capital sins? Aquinas, following Gregory, says no. Aquinas holds that pride is a mortal sin (II-II.162.5). He explains, “The root of pride is found to consist in man not being, in some way, subject to God and His rule,” and “it is evident that not to be subject to God is of its very nature a mortal sin.” It is in fact this unwillingness in man to submit to God and his rule that makes pride “the most grievous of sins” (II-II.162.6). Pride is not, however, a capital sin—no more than a mother could be counted among her own children. Aquinas, following Gregory, states that pride is typically not listed as a capital vice, as she is the “queen and mother of all the vices” (II-II.162.8). Aquinas and Gregory make a distinction between pride and vainglory, with pride being the cause of vainglory. Aquinas writes, “Pride covets excellence inordinately,” but “vainglory covets the outward show of excellence” (II-II.162.8. Reply Obj. 1). Vainglory is a sign that the heart has already been conquered by pride.
How do we guard our hearts against the queen of sin? Aquinas recalls: “Never suffer pride to reign in thy mind, or in thy words: for from it all perdition took its beginning” (Tob. 4:14, DRA). Our Catechism reminds us that formation in virtue, especially as children, “prevents or cures . . . selfishness and pride” (1784). Above all, let us cultivate the virtue of humility, the virtue contrary to pride. If pride tempts us to have an inordinate understanding of our own excellence, then may humility lead us to an understanding of who we are under the cross of Christ (Rom. 5:8). If pride, the most grievous of sins, leads us to rebel against God and his rule, may humility teach us that the rule of Christ is gentle and brings rest (Matt. 11:28-30).
Let us combat the queen of sin and, by doing so, save our souls from her armies of sin.”
“The queen is the piece that can carry on the best battle in this game, and all the other pieces help. There’s no queen like humility for making the King surrender. Humility drew the King from heaven to the womb of the Virgin, and with it, by one hair, we will draw Him to our souls. And realize that the one who has more humility will be the one who possesses Him more; and the one who has less will possess Him less.” —St. Teresa of Avila from the book The Way of Prayer
““Pride Month”—the entire month of June—is now barely in the rearview mirror, with “LGBT History Month” not so far away. This means that for two entire months every year, we are compelled to glorify what Pope St. Gregory the Great called “the queen of sin”—specifically, in this case, pride in a sexual orientation that is “objectively disordered” and inclines people to “acts of grave depravity” (CCC 2357). Pride, too, is intrinsically disordered; it is a capital sin that “seeks attention and honor and sets oneself in competition with God,” disordering and damaging our relationship with our Creator and Sustainer.
Pride’s antidote, humility, leads the Christian to acknowledging God as the author of all good. It is, in a sense, the acceptance of reality—that God is good, and truth is good. And the truth is that God created the universe according to certain rules and laws. He created humans to obey certain rules and laws—not just arbitrarily, but for our own flourishing and ultimately for heaven.
In being given this gift of flourishing, we do best when we recognize where we have failed and our fallen state, which is where our failures ultimately come from. This recognition is foundational to a life of poverty of spirit. It is not the imposition of a “vengeful, bearded Sky Daddy bent on eternal damnation for anyone struggling with [insert sin of choice here].” Rather, it is grounded in objective morality, based on our nature as humans.
To attempt to circumvent, disobey, or override the moral laws of God betrays a refusal, an anti-fiat toward Him Who created us, exemplifying pride in our ability to say “no thanks” to God and pursue a course that suits our own subjective sense of morality. We set ourselves above God this way.
That certainly does not sound like something to celebrate or take lightly.
But now we are to take the sin of sexual immorality lightly—with parades, drag shows, story hours, store discounts, fundraisers, colorful merchandise, and more . . . all pointing to a refusal of God’s laws, and a proud refusal at that.
The revelers may say, “That’s not the type of ‘pride’ we’re advocating for. It’s about being unapologetic about who we are and how we love ourselves and others!” Yet it is one thing to love ourselves for who we are, accepting how God created us, and bearing daily the crosses that come from our individual proclivities to sin. This is the path to holiness. It is something else entirely that “Pride” advocates promote. These advocates want us to celebrate not the heroic efforts of the people who experience non-heterosexual attractions and are doing their level best to live in accordance with God’s law, but the sin itself, which is as disordered as celebrating any other sin.
The “I’m okay, you’re okay, we’re all okay” mentality is patently false. God made each of us in His image and likeness, but we are not He. We are all broken and sinful, able only to reflect the good that God authored and is. God gave us sexual love—the parameters of which, far from being arbitrary, are set up for our flourishing. This love is a beautiful and fruitful thing. But sexual activity removed from that life-giving context becomes disordered. We can’t expect true happiness from these disordered activities—regardless of the fleeting biological or emotional satisfaction they may provide, regardless of how the culture pushes them—any more than we can expect happiness from eating thumbtacks. Some things are just really good for us, given our nature, and some things are really bad. Not even God can change that.
Rather than justify and celebrate behaviors and desires that go against God’s plans for us, we ought to be apologetic. Each of us has turned away from God. As the Confiteor goes: “I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do.” That is what makes the sacrament of reconciliation such a stunning act of love: God fully restores us to Himself. He is the only one who can. None of our own attempts comes close.
This can be seen in one of the central emblems of the “Pride” movement: the rainbow. Biblically, the rainbow denotes God’s covenant with us—His promise that He will never again destroy creation with a great flood. He hung up His bow in the sky to show us that his “weapon” has been put to rest; He is at peace with us. God’s rainbow, too, signifies perfection: six days of creation and a seventh of rest. On the other hand, the colors in the “Pride” rainbow, as it stood for years, prior to its redesign in 2021, numbered only six—the “number of man,” a symbol of humanity’s attempts to create and work as God, but ultimately and always falling short of His perfection.
In the book of Joshua, we see man doing his own work, marching around the walls of Jericho for six days. Ultimately, it is the glory of God that makes those walls fall . . . on the seventh day (Joshua 6:1-20). In Genesis, we read that God worked for six days and rested on the seventh, blessing this seventh day and making it holy. As for us, we may labor and do all our work during the first six days of the week, but the day afterward is to be kept separate and holy—not through any effort on our own, but because of the Lord’s command (Exod. 8:8-10). On the sixth day, too, Jesus was crucified and buried. What terrible work of man in nailing the Creator of the universe to a cross! But even in man’s worst work, God was not defeated. Rather, He brought something infinitely more beautiful from it.
This is a word of caution to those who work to change God’s designs for human sexuality. As with all other attempts to effect change that isn’t in His plans, these, too, will ultimately fail.”
-“El sueño de San José”, Vicente López Portaña (1772-1850), Museo del Prado
“Joseph’s virtue was sublime and exceptional; therefore it was subjected to a great and singular trial. But, as he heroically surmounted this trial, so God was pleased, not only to console him, but to exalt him to a dignity of extraordinary glory. … Jesus, the Son of God … willed to recognize this virgin spouse as His father in affection, adoption, government, and education, and to be constantly obedient and subject to him. The Holy Ghost, who had operated the incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of Mary, willed that to Joseph this His spouse should be entirely confided. He was to be the zealous guardian of her virginity, her guide, her aid, her support, and her inseparable companion through all the vicissitudes of life. And where, apart from the Divine Maternity, can so great a dignity be found upon earth as that which was conferred on Joseph by the Three Divine Persons of the Most Holy Trinity?” —Edward Healy Thompson, The Life & Glories of St Joseph
“Natural love is sufficient for earthly parents, but the love which [Joseph] bore to Jesus, as His appointed father, was not a mere human love, it was also a super eminently divine love; for, in loving his Son he was exercising the most perfect love of God; since He whom he called his Son was at the same time his God. As in creatures all is finite, so all is capable of increase. What, then, may we imagine, must have been the growth of this ardent love in the heart of our saint during the long period which he spent with Jesus! Those things which tend naturally to add to human love, in him ministered fresh fuel to the divine flame within him. The constant association with the Son of God made Man and given to him as his own Son, the serving Him and being served by Him for thirty years, and, we must add, their marvelous resemblance created a bond between them which was unequaled of its kind.” —Edward Healy Thompson, p. 363, The Life & Glories of St Joseph
“This day has been made holy by the passion of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul. We are, therefore, not talking about some obscure martyrs. For their voice has gone forth to all the world, and to the ends of the earth their message. These martyrs realized what they taught: they pursued justice, they confessed the truth, they died for it.
Saint Peter, the first of the apostles and a fervent lover of Christ, merited to hear these words: I say to you that you are Peter, for he had said: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Then Christ said: And I say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church. On this rock I will build the faith that you now confess, and on your words: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, I will build my Church. For you are Peter, and the name Peter comes from petra, the word for “rock,” and not vice versa. “Peter” comes, therefore, from petra, just as “Christian” comes from Christ.
As you are aware, Jesus chose His disciples before His passion and called them apostles; and among these almost everywhere Peter alone deserved to represent the entire Church. And because of that role which he alone had, he merited to hear the words: To you I shall give the keys of the kingdom of heaven. For it was not one man who received the keys, but the entire Church considered as one. Now insofar as he represented the unity and universality of the Church, Peter’s preeminence is clear from the words: To you I give, for what was given was given to all. For the fact that it was the Church that received the keys of the kingdom of God is clear from what the Lord says elsewhere to all the apostles: Receive the Holy Spirit, adding immediately, whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven, and whose sins you retain, they are retained.
Rightly then did the Lord after His resurrection entrust Peter with the feeding of His sheep. Yet he was not the only disciple to merit the feeding of the Lord’s sheep; but Christ in speaking only to one suggests the unity of all; and so he speaks to Peter, because Peter is first among the apostles. Therefore do not be disheartened, Peter; reply once, reply twice, reply a third time. The triple confession of your love is to regain what was lost three times by your fear. You must loose three times what you bound three times; untie by love that which your fear bound. Once, and again, and a third time did the Lord entrust His sheep to Peter.
Both apostles share the same feast day, for these two were one; and even though they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles’ blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching and their confession of faith.” -St Augustine, from the Office of Readings
“On the 100th anniversary of Pope Leo XII’s consecration of the human race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, John Paul II not only renewed his predecessor’s call for all to consecrate themselves to Christ, but also connected that devotion in a special way to the New Evangelization. From their contemplation of the pierced heart of the Redeemer, he said, Christians come away with a renewed sense of mission.
What, then, can evangelists learn from the Sacred Heart of Jesus? As Pius XII noted in his encyclical letter on the topic, devotion to the Sacred Heart constitutes, “so far as practice is concerned, a perfect profession of the Christian religion” (Haurietis Aquas 106). So, in a way, the evangelist can say, “Everything I really need to know, I learned from devotion to the Sacred Heart.”
In a more specific sense, perhaps the most important thing the evangelist can learn from the Sacred Heart is the virtue of meekness. Christ himself said, in his only direct reference to his heart, “Learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly of heart.” St. Peter later added, “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet. 3:15). So it is in gentleness that the evangelist’s heart is most like the heart of Jesus.
What is gentleness? The Greek word translated as “gentleness” is also sometimes translated as “meekness” or “mildness.” For most English-speakers, though, “gentleness” is probably the most frequently used of those terms, and we hear it in a variety of contexts.
Suppose you bring a new baby home from the hospital to meet his siblings. You carefully situate him with his four-year-old sister, and you tell her, “Now, be gentle with him.”
Or suppose your six-year-old son wants to carry your grandfather’s pocket watch over to the window for a better look. You hand it to him with a warning: “Be gentle with it!”
Or perhaps you’ve just worked hard on an elaborate meal for your husband. As you begin, you say, “Tell me what you really think—but be gentle with me.”
We could imagine more scenarios, but perhaps these are enough to notice a certain commonality. Each of these cases features a difference in power or strength. The four-year-old is more powerful, stronger, even bigger than the baby, just as the six-year-old is with respect to the watch. The husband, in the third case, is more powerful than the wife, in the sense that his evaluation of her meal, and especially the way in which he communicates it, has the potential to build her up or to tear her down.
In each of these cases, the stronger must take special pains to ensure that his strength does not endanger the other. He must recognize the vulnerabilities of the other and the ways in which his strength can threaten those weaknesses, even when he bears no malice to the other. The gentle person, then, is one who protects the littleness and weakness of the other from the danger implied by his own bigness and power.
This definition of gentleness, however, fails to mention the one feature that is central to most traditional accounts. St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, teaches that meekness “moderates anger according to right reason” (Summa Theologica II:II:157). This emphasis on anger is common in the tradition, beginning as early as Aristotle.
I think a deep insight into anger ties these two definitions together. Aristotle, for example, points out that anger is a kind of pleasant emotion, because it leaves us feeling somehow superior to the object of our passion. If anger is, as Aristotle and St. Thomas believed, an apprehension of another as committing an unjust and undeserved offense against oneself, then to experience it is to see oneself in the right and the object of one’s anger as in the wrong.
And that confers a kind of advantage or relative strength over the offended party: standing on the moral high ground, he enjoys at least a moral superiority to the offender. That superiority can be used in such a way that the vulnerabilities of the offender are protected—or in such a way that they are threatened.
The traditional emphasis on restraint of anger as the defining characteristic of gentleness has a great deal of appeal. Anger, alienation, forgiveness, and reconciliation are at the heart of the moral life; learning to put these emotions and choices in the proper order is essential to any decent life with others. So the value of the virtue of gentleness first shines most brightly precisely in this arena.
But despite the fact that anger and its restraint play such important roles in the relationships among humans and between God and humanity, the moderation of anger does not exhaust the possibilities of gentleness, as our first examples above showed. We must not overlook the fact that gentleness is also called for in many contexts where anger is not the primary factor.
This larger reach of gentleness is not hard to see in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. What greater power differential could there be than that between the Word of God Incarnate, through whom all that exists came into being, and poor creatures like us? Yet the gospel tells us that he would not “break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick” (Matt. 12:20). Because his heart is meek, he tells us, his “yoke is easy” and his “burden is light” (11:30)—a burden suited to our weakness and not modeled after his strength.
Peter, as we noted before, urges Christians to imitate the gentleness of Jesus’ Sacred Heart precisely in their role as evangelists. “Always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within you,” he teaches, “with gentleness and reverence.” Why does the evangelist need gentleness?
Evangelism in Peter’s day required gentleness first because Christians suffered great persecution. The very real possibility of abuse and mistreatment provided the context for this evangelistic admonition. And since innocent Christians could only experience such persecution as the infliction of undeserved harms, their anger would inevitably require shaping and restraining so that it would serve the good of their enemies. In the same way, Christ had allowed his heart to be pierced so that the fountain of his mercy could flow to the worst of his persecutors.
Most of us will not suffer such tribulation. But we can, nonetheless, be treated in unjust ways that arouse our anger. When that mistreatment comes to us because of our commitment to the truth that is Jesus, it is especially important that gentleness restrains our anger and leads us to the forgiveness and kindness we ourselves have already found in the Sacred Heart. Failing to respond gently will not only mean falling short of Jesus’ call to learn of his meek and lowly heart; it will also undercut our evangelistic efforts. How convincing can our proclamation of the truth be if we refuse to embody it in our actions?
Evangelists need gentleness for another reason. Knowledge of the truth is itself a kind of advantage that makes its possessor stronger. Consider, for example, the computer expert. If he intends to help the inexperienced user see the truths about computing, then he has to pursue gentleness, since the demoralization he could otherwise cause is an obstacle to learning.
How much more does the theological, moral, or apologetic “expert” pose a kind of threat to the relatively unlearned! These truths strike much more closely to the heart of a person’s self-understanding. A rough, ungentle approach to learners’ instruction can leave those already committed in some way to these truths feeling not just embarrassed, but positively foolish, as though they do not even understand their own deepest commitments. Such learners are likely to abandon the pursuit of deeper understanding, seeing it at best as an irrelevancy and at worst as a calculated attempt at the evangelist’s self-aggrandizement.
A lack of gentleness threatens to undermine the evangelist’s efforts in another way, too. Since evangelists ultimately strive to bring others to an encounter with Christ that results in conversion of life, the truths they teach touch the center of their hearers’ ways of life. Those who are not already committed to these truths quite reasonably perceive them as a threat to their self-identity. That sense of danger prompts almost impenetrable defenses. And those defenses usually cannot be forced in a frontal assault. Not pyrotechnics, but gentleness wins the day. As the Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand noted, “If spoken by the meek, the word of truth which like a sword, severs soul and body, subtly insinuates itself like a breath of love into the innermost recesses of the soul.”
Devotion to the Sacred Heart contains the key to cultivating this necessary gentleness. Gentleness comes from growing in union with the heart of Jesus, as we love, trust, and imitate Him more. Von Hildebrand sees this point well, and his insight captures the true power of gentleness: “For the meek is reserved true victory over the world, because it is not they themselves who conquer, but Christ in them and through them.”
Sacred Heart of Jesus, make our hearts like unto Thine.”
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori, "God here speaks to souls through…good books“ – St Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, "You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. "Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading." –St. Isidore of Seville “The aid of spiritual books is for you a necessity.… You, who are in the midst of battle, must protect yourself with the buckler of holy thoughts drawn from good books.” -St. John Chrysostom