-by Hans Memling (around 1433–1494), The Last Judgment, triptych, from about 1466 to about 1473, oil on board,length: 2355 cm, height: 223.5 cm, width: 72.5 cm, National Museum in Gdańsk, Poland, please click on the image for greater detail
“Invincible ignorance cannot apply to all things as a possibility because of the principle of Synderesis. Synderesis is a scholastic term that states definitively and deductively that man has an innate moral knowledge, not of all things, but at the most basic level to avoid evil and to pursue the good. This as a result excludes indifference towards the good and what opposes it as evil in both natural and divine ways.
This is one of the reasons why Pope St. Paul VI said that those who do not evangelize, cannot be saved. Indifference towards the proclamation of the Gospel is indifference towards the good. Indifferentism, to St. Maximillian Kolbe was the “sin of [his] time.” But it hasn’t been corrected, and simply gotten worse since.
Understanding this through the lens of a relationship can help; as is the case when we neglect another. Parents can legally lose the right to parent their children, and even go to jail for neglect. It is a big deal. Their children are good and are owed justice, love, nurturing, and a safe environment that isn’t toxic, in order to grow. How much more is this true for the Divine-Good of the faith. To be indifferent towards the divine-good, is to be indifferent to our own end, and the ultimate good of others. Most importantly it’s indifference to the One who is owed more than anyone else.
Synderesis gives us no excuse towards a disposition of being closed toward the Divine Good. Thus, Romans teaches “there is no excuse.” There is a lot left unnuanced, but I suppose my main point is that we cannot presume innocent ignorance in man’s fallen state, and while it is a possibility, the fallen state we inherit through original sin makes it difficult to cooperate with our innate nature to pursue the Divine Good and avoid evil.
If you are pulled over for driving incorrectly and claim, “I didn’t know” you are guilty for your ignorance because you were responsible to know the law of the road prior to driving upon it. Likewise, if it be in man that his disposition is to seek the highest good, and avoid all evil, and he dies in a state not truly open to the Highest Good, then this is where Vatican II along with the entire history of the Church would say there can be no hope for salvation. Why? I suppose one reason would simply be that Salvation is you finding healing in your relationship with God, becoming fully alive as a result of being united to Him. But to not even be united to the most primordial disposition within yourself in integrity, is to will one’s own destruction. This is a radical possibility, whereas invincible ignorance about God I would think, today, as when the Letter to the Roman’s was written is less radical of a possibility.
None of this is to elate ourselves in being in the know – since to know is not sufficient for salvation, but rather to know and to love the Divine Good. And many who even know this, may not be saved, since the knowledge was not that of faith, but something that died. Faith is not the adherence to mere content, but the assent of the whole person to God in the context of a relationship. This is what salvation is: a repaired relationship with the Divine Good.
This is what as Christians we would will for others, since to love is to will the good for the other for their own sake.”
“Prior to April 2007, many Catholics had probably never heard of the International Theological Commission (ITC), a group of thirty theologians from around the world chosen by the Pope as a kind of advisory committee. But the most recent document by the ITC, published with papal approval on April 19, 2007, got a lot of attention—as well it should. Its subject is a tender one: “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized.” To Catholic parents who have lost a child to miscarriage, stillbirth, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or some other tragedy prior to baptism, such hope is a healing balm for a wounded heart.
Interest in this recent document is understandable, and most people have learned of it through the news media. While many articles written since the document’s publication summarize its contents accurately, many do not. A Google news search reveals headlines such as, “Pope Changes Church Teaching on Limbo,” and “The Church Abandons Limbo.” Such headlines can easily give the impression that 1) Limbo was a defined doctrine of the Church, and 2) the Pope has the authority to change—even to reverse—defined doctrine. A May 4 Washington Post article by Alan Cooperman included the statement “limbo is a ‘problematic’ concept that Catholics are free to reject.”
Beyond the headlines you encounter even larger problems. An April 21 Associated Press article by Nicole Winfield quotes Fr. Richard McBrien (professor of theology at Notre Dame and noted dissenter) as saying, “If there’s no limbo and we’re not going to revert to St. Augustine’s teaching that unbaptized infants go to hell, we’re left with only one option, namely, that everyone is born in the state of grace . . . Baptism does not exist to wipe away the ‘stain’ of original sin, but to initiate one into the Church.” On the other end of the spectrum, Kenneth Wolfe, columnist for The Remnant, was quoted in Cooperman’s article as saying, “The Vatican is suggesting that salvation is possible without baptism. That is heresy.”
These characterizations notwithstanding, the ITC makes no rulings (and does not have the authority to do so). “The Hope of Salvation” in fact reiterates and builds upon the Catholic tradition. It neither categorically rejects Limbo nor denies the necessity of baptism. Rather, it offers reasons to hope that God may provide a way of salvation to those little ones whose lives ended before baptism was possible.
Augustine: No Middle Ground
Debate regarding the fate of infants who die before baptism dates back to the late fourth century, and the famous conflict between Pelagius and St. Augustine. Pelagius asserted that man is capable of living a perfect moral life by virtue of his natural reason and will alone and is not wounded by original sin.
In opposition to Pelagius, St. Augustine successfully defended the reality of original sin using Scripture and the Tradition of the Church. The Apostolic practice of infant baptism was evidence of the Church’s belief that even these youngest ones stood in need of a Savior. Without original sin, baptism could only affect the forgiveness of our personal sins. Infant baptism makes no sense without original sin. In his teaching against the Pelagian heresy, Augustine affirmed the necessity of this ancient practice. If an infant died unbaptized, he died in a state of sin, and was therefore destined to eternal damnation. He denied the existence, “between damnation and the kingdom of heaven [of] some middle place of rest and happiness . . . For this is what the heresy of Pelagius promised them” (On the Soul and its Origin 1.9).
Augustine’s position is not quite as harsh as it seems. In Contra Julianum 5.11, he writes, “Who can doubt that non-baptized infants, having only original sin and no burden of personal sins, will suffer the lightest condemnation of all? I cannot define the amount and kind of their punishment, but I dare not say it were better for them never to have existed than to exist there” (qtd. in John Randolph Willis, The Teachings of the Church Fathers, 245).
Aquinas: Privation, not Punishment
Later theologians developed Augustine’s thoughts, defining damnation as essentially the deprivation of the Beatific Vision, which does not necessarily involve any positive punishment. Distinctions were made between the pain of sense, describing the torments suffered by condemned sinners, and the pain of loss, which is sorrow over being absent from God’s presence.
By the thirteenth century, the dominant view was that unbaptized infants would suffer only the pain of loss. In 1201 Pope Innocent III expressed this opinion in a letter to the archbishop of Arles. Actual sin, the Holy Father asserted, is punished by the eternal torment of hell; original sin, however, is punished by the loss of the vision of God.
This line of thinking was explored thoroughly by St. Thomas Aquinas. The Angelic Doctor consigned infants who died without baptism to the outermost borders of hell, which he called the “limbo of children.” They died without the grace of God, and would spend eternity without it, but they were not worthy of punishment. St. Thomas insisted that these little ones would know no pain or remorse. He explained this opinion in various ways. In his commentary on Peter Lombard’s Sentences, he stated that no one regrets the lack of something which he is totally unequipped to have (II Sent. , d.33, q.2, a.2). Ten years later (in De Malo, q.5, a.3) he suggested that infants would not be distraught over their loss because they simply would have no knowledge of what they were missing.
Eventually limbo ceased to be spoken of as a “border region” of hell. Hell came to be understood as a place of punishment. Limbo was not. And since it has never been a defined dogma of the Church, various theologians have understood limbo in different ways. Most views, however, would include these common characteristics: Unbaptized infants die in a state of sin and enter neither heaven nor hell but limbo, which is a state of damnation not involving pain of sense or grief of exile; indeed, a measure of natural happiness is possible, with some suggesting that the denizens of limbo enjoy a perfect state of natural happiness.
Trust in the Mercy of God
Although limbo has long been the prevailing theory, some theologians have imagined ways in which God may provide for the salvation of unbaptized infants. St. Gregory of Nyssa, in the fourth century, called the fate of these souls “something much greater than the human mind can g.asp” and found solace in the fact that “the One who has done everything well, with wisdom, is able to bring good out of evil” (qtd. in HS 12).
Cardinal Cajetan, in the sixteenth century, remarked in his commentary on the Summa Theologica (III:68:11), “that children still within the womb of their mother are able to be saved . . . through the sacrament of baptism that is received, not in reality, but in the desire of the parents.” In our own times, Cardinal Ratzinger echoed Cajetan in a 1985 interview with Vittorio Messori. “One should not hesitate to give up the idea of ‘limbo’ if need be,” the future pontiff advised. “[A]nd it is worth noting that the very theologians who proposed ‘limbo’ also said that parents could spare the child limbo by desiring its baptism and through prayer” (The Ratzinger Report 147-8).
None of these positions has been officially proclaimed by the Magisterium. Catholics are free to have varying opinions on this matter. Our present Catechism makes no mention of limbo at all, but has this to say regarding infants who die without baptism:
“The Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” allows us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism. (CCC 1261)”
The Ordo Exsequiarum (Order of Christian Funerals) contains a special rite for children who die before baptism, during which the child’s soul is entrusted “to the abundant mercy of God, that our beloved child may find a home in his kingdom.” Option D of the opening prayer begins, “God of all consolation, searcher of mind and heart, the faith of these parents . . . is known to you. Comfort them with the knowledge that the child for whom they grieve is entrusted now to your loving care.” In the Prayer of Commendation B, the priest says, “We pray that you give [the child] happiness for ever.”
Lex orandi, lex credendi: As we pray, so we believe.
ITC: Reasons for Prayerful Hope
The default position of the Church then, as expressed in her liturgy, is that of hope. “Hope of Salvation” begins with a reference to 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you . . .” This, in essence, is the purpose of the ITC document.
It is worth noting at this point that “Hope of Salvation” is not a Magisterial document. It does not require the assent of the faithful, as would a proclamation from a pope or an ecumenical council. It simply expresses the opinion of a respected group of theologians. The fact that Benedict XVI has given it his approval and has decided to publish it publicly gives some weight to the conclusions drawn by the commission. But those conclusions are not dogmatic.
In an interview published by Inside the Vatican.com on April 27, Sr. Sara Butler, one of the authors of the document, said,
“The commission is trying to say what the Catechism . . . has already said: that we have a right to hope that God will find a way to offer the grace of Christ to infants who have no opportunity for making a personal choice with regard to their salvation. It’s trying to provide a theological rationale for what has already been proposed in several magisterial documents since the Council.”
The first part of “Hope of Salvation” gives a history of Catholic teaching on this subject, and examines the key principles involved, namely: God’s will to save all people; the universal sinfulness of human beings; and the necessity of faith for salvation, along with baptism and the Eucharist (HS 9). After thoroughly examining the issues, the ITC suggests three means by which unbaptized infants who die may be united to Christ (this is not intended to be exhaustive):
“Broadly, we may discern in those infants who themselves suffer and die a saving conformity to Christ in his own death and a companionship with him” (HS 85).
“Some of the infants who suffer and die do so as victims of violence. In their case we may readily refer to the example of the Holy Innocents and discern an analogy in the case of these infants to the baptism of blood which brings salvation . . . Moreover, they are in solidarity with the Christ, who said: ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’ (Matt. 25:40)” (HS 86).
“It is also possible that God simply acts to give the gift of salvation to unbaptized infants by analogy with the gift of salvation given sacramentally to baptized infants” (HS 87). “God’s power is not restricted to the sacraments” (HS 82).
These are simply some possible ways, proposed by the ITC, in which we may imagine God offering salvation to these little children. There are others. The commission mentions the possibility of baptism of desire (in votum), with the votum offered either by the infant’s parents or the Church. “The Church has never ruled out such a solution,” we are reminded (HS 94).
But while offering these possibilities to us, the commission is careful not to overstep the bounds of Revelation. “It must be clearly acknowledged that the Church does not have sure knowledge about the salvation of unbaptized infants who die . . . [T]he destiny of the generality of infants who die without baptism has not been revealed to us, and the Church teaches and judges only with regard to what has been revealed” (HS 79).
There are some things that have most assuredly been revealed, and these articles of faith must be considered. Original sin is one of them. When contemplating the fate of unbaptized infants who die, one “cannot ignore the tragic consequences of original sin. Original sin implies a state of separation from Christ, and that excludes the possibility of the vision of God for those who die in that state” (HS 3).
“Hope of Salvation” in many places affirms the reality of original sin and the necessity of baptism. “Sacramental baptism is necessary because it is the ordinary means through which a person shares the beneficial affects of Jesus’ death and resurrection” (HS 10). The key phrase is “ordinary means.” In cases of urgency or necessity, God often provides extraordinary means to accomplish his will. Though water baptism is the ordinary means by which God transmits sanctifying grace, the Church teaches that there are other ways. The realities of baptism of blood and baptism of desire are affirmed by the Catechism (CCC 1258). Citing Gaudium et Spes, the Catechism also explains that “Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved” (CCC 1260). It is in this same context that the Catechism offers us the “hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism” (CCC 1261).
None of this, however, can be understood to imply that baptism is not necessary, for the Catechism states, “The Church does not know of any means other than baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude . . . God has bound salvation to the sacrament of baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacrament” (CCC 1257).
The necessity of baptism is echoed by the ITC. “What has been revealed to us is that the ordinary way of salvation is by the sacrament of baptism. None of the above considerations should be taken as qualifying the necessity of baptism or justifying delay in administering the sacrament” (HS 103). Sr. Butler, in the above-cited interview, puts it bluntly. “If somebody like Fr. Richard McBrien supposes that the ITC document rejects the doctrine of original sin, this is of course a mistake.” Elsewhere in the interview, she comments, “[W]e dare to hope that these infants will be saved by some extra-sacramental gift of Christ . . . We are very clear that the ordinary means of salvation is baptism, and that infants should be baptized; Catholic parents have a serious obligation.”
The conclusions of the ITC are nothing new. The Catechism tells us that it is reasonable to hope that God provides a way of salvation for infants who die without being baptized. It is a hope rooted in Christ, who instructed that we must be like children to enter the kingdom of God and said, “Let the children come to me” (Mark 10:14-15). “Hope of Salvation” simply provides possible theological reasons for this hope. The ITC readily admits that “these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge” (HS 102).
What we do know for certain is this: God has a plan. God is perfectly just and perfectly merciful. God is love. We can rest assured that whatever plan God has established for infants who die without baptism, it is more just, more merciful, and more loving than whatever we may imagine, not less.
Hope for Our Simon
It was a Tuesday afternoon in May. I was home from work, watching our three small children while my wife, fifteen weeks pregnant, went for a scheduled doctor’s appointment, then to do some grocery shopping without the kids in tow. I assumed she would be gone for a while, so I was surprised to see her pull into the driveway earlier than expected. As I walked down the driveway to help her bring in the groceries, her gaze met mine. I knew from one look that something was wrong. Really wrong.
She started to cry, so I put my arms around her. That’s when she told me. “They can’t find a heartbeat.” The next several hours were a blur. Lots of tears. Phone calls to our parents. Talking to our kids. More tears. The trip to the hospital. One more ultrasound, just to be sure. The inducement of labor. Lots of prayers. And the final delivery of our small son, whom we named Simon. His umbilical cord had been wrapped multiple times around his neck, depriving his brain of oxygen. “It just sometimes happens,” the nursing staff told us.
We are blessed to have as our pastor a very orthodox and very compassionate priest. He came to the hospital and prayed with us. The doctor who delivered our other children, also a devout Catholic, prayed with us, as well. Of course the subject of baptism came up. There was simply nothing we could do. But I desperately wanted baptism for my son. What bothered me the most about his untimely death was that I never had the opportunity to bring him into the faith, to provide for his salvation.
I knew my catechism. I knew that the Church simply didn’t know what the fate of children like Simon would be. Perhaps because of this, I quickly grew tired of the assurances offered as attempts at consolation. “He’s in heaven now,” we were told by well meaning friends. Sentiments like that rang empty. How can you be so sure of that, I thought, when the Church herself has no such assurances? I cringed whenever I was told that “God needed another angel.” God needs nothing outside of himself. And wherever he is in eternity, my son is a human being, not an angel.
Simon’s funeral Mass was held on that Friday. It was a small service, attended by family and a few friends. Our priest gave a very comforting homily, and he ended by sharing with us that he had been praying his Liturgy of the Hours immediately before the funeral. The antiphon for the midmorning reading that day happened to be adapted from Luke 24:34: “The Lord is risen, alleluia. He has appeared to Simon, alleluia.”
Of course those words were not written in reference to our Simon. Nevertheless, my heart leapt in my chest when I heard them. For our priest expressed the prayer that Christ would somehow make himself present to our little son, in a way known only to him. This is the position of the International Theological Commission: that it is reasonable to “hope that God will save infants when we have not been able to do for them what we would have wished to do, namely, to baptize them into the faith and life of the Church” (HS 103).
Our pastor offered no empty assurances. No, he gave us something much greater than that. He gave us hope.
“The idea of limbo, which the Church has used for many centuries to designate the destiny of infants who die without baptism, has no clear foundation in revelation even though it has long been used in traditional theological teaching. Moreover, the notion that infants who die without baptism are deprived of the beatific vision, which has for so long been regarded as the common doctrine of the Church, gives rise to numerous pastoral problems, so much so that many pastors of souls have asked for a deeper reflection on the ways of salvation.
The necessary reconsideration of the theological issues cannot ignore the tragic consequences of original sin. Original sin implies a state of separation from Christ, and that excludes the possibility of the vision of God for those who die in that state . . .
However, with regard to the salvation of those who die without baptism, the word of God says little or nothing. It is therefore necessary to interpret the reticence of Scripture on this issue in the light of texts concerning the universal plan of salvation and the ways of salvation. In short, the problem both for theology and for pastoral care is how to safeguard and reconcile two sets of biblical affirmations: those concerning God’s universal salvific will (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4) and those regarding the necessity of baptism as the way of being freed from sin and conformed to Christ (cf. Mark 16:16; Matt. 28:18-19).
. . . [W]hile knowing that the normal way to achieve salvation in Christ is by Baptism in re, the Church hopes that there may be other ways to achieve the same end. Because, by his Incarnation, the Son of God “in a certain way united himself” with every human being, and because Christ died for all and all are in fact “called to one and the same destiny, which is divine,” the Church believes that “the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery.”
Love, & the glorious mystery of God’s love for each of us,
-by Tim Staples, Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian televangelists. Soon after, Tim joined the Marine Corps.
“Romans 5:1 is a favorite verse for those who hold to the doctrine commonly known as “once saved, always saved”: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This text is believed to indicate that the justification of the believer in Christ at the point of faith is a one-time completed action. For the once saved–always saved believer, all sins are forgiven immediately—past, present, and future. The believer then has, or at least, can have, absolute assurance of his justification regardless of what may happen in the future. Nothing can separate the true believer from Christ—not even the gravest of sins. Similarly, with regard to salvation, Ephesians 2:8-9 says: “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.”
For the Protestant, these texts seem plain. Ephesians 2 says the salvation of the believer is past—perfect tense, passive voice in Greek, to be more precise—which means a past completed action with present, ongoing results. In other words, it’s over. And if we examine again Romans 5:1, the verb justify is in a simple past tense (Greek Aorist tense). And this use is in a context where St. Paul had just told these Romans: “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Rom. 4:3).
Righteousness is a synonym for justice or justification. How does it get any plainer than that? Abraham was justified once and for all when he believed. Not only is this proof of sola fide, says the Calvinist, but it is proof that justification is a completed transaction at the point the believer comes to Christ. The paradigm of the life of Abraham is believed to hold indisputable proof of the Reformed position.
Continue in the Grace of God
The Catholic Church actually agrees with this interpretation, at least on a couple of points. First, as baptized Catholics, we can agree that we have been justified and we have been saved. Thus, in one sense, our justification and salvation is in the past as a completed action. The initial grace of justification and salvation we receive in baptism is a done deal. And Catholics do not believe we were partially justified or partially saved at baptism. Catholics believe, as Peter says in 1 Peter 3:21, “Baptism… now saves you…” Ananias said to Saul of Tarsus, “Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). That means the new Christian has been “washed… sanctified… [and] justified” as 1 Corinthians 6:11 remarks. That much is a done deal; thus, it is entirely proper to say we “have been justified” and we “have been saved.” However, this is not the end of the story. Scripture reveals that through this justification and salvation the new Christian experiences in baptism, he enters into a process of justification and salvation requiring his free cooperation with God’s grace. If we read the very next verses of our above-cited texts, we find the writer telling us there is more to the story.
Romans 5:1-2 states, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”
This text indicates that after having received the grace of justification, we now have access to God’s grace by which we stand in Christ, and we can then rejoice in the hope of sharing God’s glory. That word hope indicates that what we are hoping for we do not yet possess.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Without a doubt, we must continue to work in Christ as Christians; it is also true that it is only by the grace of God we can continue to do so. But even more importantly, Scripture tells us this grace can be resisted. Second Corinthians 6:1 tells us that “Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain.”
St. Paul urged believers in Antioch—and all of us by implication—”to continue in the grace of God.” Indeed, Paul warns Christians that they can “fall from grace” in Galatians 5:4. This leads us to our next and most crucial point.
Future and Contingent
The major part of the puzzle that our Protestant friends are missing is that there are many biblical texts revealing justification to have a future and contingent sense as well as those that show a past sense. In other words, justification and salvation also have a sense in which they are not complete in the lives of believers. Perhaps this is most plainly seen in Galatians 5:1-5:
“For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand fast, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness.”
The Greek word used in verse 5 and here translated as righteousness is dikaiosunes/δικαιοσύνη, which can be translated either as “righteousness” or as “justification.” In fact, Romans 4:3, which we quoted above, uses a verb form of this same word for justification. Now the fact that St. Paul tells us we “wait for the hope of [justification]” is very significant. As we said before, what is hoped for not yet possessed. It is still in the future. Romans 8:24 tells us “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” The context of Galatians is clear: Paul warns Galatian Christians that if they attempt to be justified—even though they are already justified in one sense, through baptism, according to Galatians 3:27—by the works of the law, they will fall from the grace of Christ. Why? Because they would be attempting to be justified apart from Christ and the gospel of Christ. That they could not do! For “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8, cf. Gal. 5:19-21). “The flesh” is a reference to the human person apart from grace.
This example of justification being obtained in the future is not an isolated case. Numerous biblical texts indicate both justification and salvation to be future and contingent realities:
Romans 2:13-16: For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified … on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.
Romans 6:16: Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience which leads to righteousness? (Greek dikaiosunen/δικαιοσύνη, “justification”)
Matthew 10:22: And you will be hated of all men for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.
Romans 13:11: For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.
1 Corinthians 5:5: You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Are Future Sins Forgiven?
The Calvinist interpretation of Romans 5:1 not only takes the verse out of context, but it leads to still other unbiblical teaching. As we mentioned above, at least from a Calvinist perspective, this understanding of Romans 5:1 leads to the untenable position that all future sins are forgiven at the point of saving faith. Where is that in the Bible? It’s not. First John 1:8-9 could not make any clearer the fact that our future sins will only be forgiven when we confess them: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
I should note here that many Calvinists—and many of those who may not be full-fledged Calvinists, but hold to the “once saved always saved” part of classic Calvinist doctrine—respond to this text by claiming that the forgiveness of sins John is talking about has nothing to do with one’s justification before God. This text only considers whether or not one is in fellowship with God. And this “fellowship with God” is interpreted to mean only whether or not one will receive God’s blessings in this life.
This position presents a problem. The context of the passage does not allow for this interpretation. In fact, if you look at verses 5-7, John says:
“God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him, while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:5-7).”
This text makes clear that the “fellowship” spoken of is essential for us to 1) walk in the light as God is in the light, and 2) have our sins forgiven. If we are not in “fellowship,” according to verse 6, then we are in darkness. And if we are in darkness, we are not in God, “who is light and in him is no darkness” (5). Nothing in this text even hints at the possibility that you can be out of “fellowship” with God, but still go to heaven. That is, of course, unless you have that fellowship restored by the confession of your sins. This is precisely what verses 8 and 9 are all about.
The Example of Abraham
We can agree with our Calvinist friends that Romans 4:3 demonstrates Abraham to have been justified through the gift of faith he received from God. The Catholic Church acknowledges what the text clearly says: “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” referencing Genesis 15:6.
There is more to this text, however than many of our Protestant friends know. While the Catholic Church agrees that Abraham was justified by faith in Genesis 15:6 as Paul said, we also note that Abraham was justified at other times in his life as well, indicating justification to have another aspect to it. Again, there is a sense in which justification is a past action in the life of believers, but there is another sense in which justification is revealed to be a process as well.
Abraham was depicted as having saving faith in God long before Genesis 15:6. Abraham had already responded to God’s call in Genesis 12 with what is revealed to be saving faith, years before his encounter with the Lord in Genesis 15. In addition, Abraham is revealed to have been justified again in Genesis 22, years after Genesis 15, when he offered his son Isaac in sacrifice in obedience to the Lord.
Genesis 12:14: Now the Lord said to Abraham, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you…” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him. Compare Hebrews 11:6,8: And without faith, it is impossible to please God… By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called… and he went out, not knowing where he was to go.
Genesis 15:4,6: “This man [a slave] shall not be your heir; your own son shall be your heir.” And [Abram] believed the Lord: and he reckoned it to him as righteousness. Compare Romans 4:3: For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”
Genesis 22:15-17: And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself, I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven… because you have obeyed my voice.” Compare James 2:21-22,24: Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?… faith was completed by works… You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.
The Bible tells us Abraham had faith way back in Genesis 12. And according to Hebrews 11:6-8, this was not a natural faith analogous to the faith the demons have (see James 2:19), but rather a supernatural and saving faith given as a gift from God. If Abraham was not justified until Genesis 15:6, how could he already have saving faith in Genesis 12? In addition, if Abraham was justified once and for all in Genesis 15:6, why did he need to be justified again in Genesis 22 according to James 2:21? The reason is simple: According to these texts, justification is revealed in Scripture to be a process rather than a mere one-time event.”
“”Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?”
If you have ever moved in Evangelical Protestant circles, you’ve probably been asked this question. A fundamental presupposition of Evangelical theology is that each person is called to a “personal relationship” with Jesus, and it is this relationship that brings us salvation.
Driving this “personal relationship” theology is usually evangelization. Most Christians seem to believe that making Jesus more directly accessible makes him more likely to be followed. If we can present Jesus as relatable, the thinking goes, it’s more likely someone will have a relationship with Him.
In recent decades, “personal relationship” theology has crept subtly into Catholic circles. It can be found especially in Catholic youth ministries as well as apostolates directed toward college students. In Catholic circles, this “personal relationship” theology is augmented with the understanding that a relationship with Jesus comes primarily through the reception of the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and penance.
What’s often not made explicit—and perhaps often not even realized by those who promote it—is that “personal relationship” theology portrays Jesus primarily as a friend. After all, one doesn’t usually have a personal relationship with a king or a ruler, or even with a teacher. We most commonly have personal relationships with equals.
But this image of Jesus as a friend is not based in Scripture nor does it follow time-tested methods of evangelization. In the Bible, Jesus is called “friend” once: in Matthew 11:19, Christ notes that people say he’s a “friend of tax collectors and sinners.”
In John 15:14, Christ tells the apostles, “You are my friends if you do what I command you” and says they are no longer servants but “friends.” And in Luke 12:4, he refers to the disciples as “my friends.” However, other than these few references, nowhere else is Jesus presented as a friend.
Note that the Gospels do not shy away from giving Jesus titles and names. In Matthew’s Gospel alone he is referred to as “carpenter’s son,” “King of the Jews,” “Lord of the Sabbath,” “Physician,” “Son of David,” and “Son of God,” among a host of other designations. Most of His titles are prophetic or kingly, and “friend” is notably absent.
St. Paul does not present Jesus as a “friend” either. Then how does Paul portray Jesus? The answer provides a model for our own evangelization efforts today.
Let’s look at three Pauline passages: Colossians 1:12-20, Philippians 2:6-11, and Ephesians 1:3-10. All three are canticles and are the only three Pauline canticles included in the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours (during evening prayer).
Colossians 1:12-20 (Wednesday, Evening Prayer)
Let us give thanks to the Father,
Who has qualified us to share
in the inheritance of the saints in light.
He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness
and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,
in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
He is the image of the invisible God,
the first-born of all creation;
for in Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth,
visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities
—all things were created through Him.
All things were created for Him.
He is before all else, and in Him everything has its being.
He is the head of the body, the church;
He is the beginning,
the first-born from the dead,
that in everything He might be pre-eminent.
For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things,
whether on earth or in heaven,
making peace by the blood of His cross.
In this canticle, Christ is given several titles, including “firstborn of all creation,” “the beginning,” and “head of the body, the Church.” Each of these titles presents an exalted view of Christ as someone who is above creation and, in fact, in charge of creation. But it’s the title in verse 15 that is key: Christ is “the image [icon] of the invisible God.” In other words, when we see Christ, we see the omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient God himself. In theological terms, this is “high Christology,” meaning it views Christ above humanity and above all creation. Paul follows this up in verse 19 when he writes, “In him [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” The Greek word for “fullness” [pleroma/πλήρωμα] signifies a completeness or perfection. In Christ we have the one, true God made flesh.
Philippians 2:6-11 (Sunday, Evening Prayer I)
Though He was in the form of God,
Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied Himself,
taking the form of a servant,
being born in the likeness of men.
And being found in human form
He humbled himself and became obedient unto death,
even death on a cross.
Therefore God has highly exalted Him
and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
In this famous and beloved canticle, we begin with Christ “in the form of God,” that is, equal to God, as we saw in the passage from Colossians. But then there is movement: Christ is equal to God but he gives up that equality (“he emptied himself”), becoming man and even suffering the disgraceful death of the cross. Through this death, however, Christ is exalted and declared “Lord.” At His name “every knee should bow” both in heaven and on Earth. Again, we have a “high Christology.” Paul doesn’t see Christ as an equal, or someone who is simply a friend. He sees—and preaches—a Christ who is above all things. We don’t simply have a “personal relationship” with Him—we bend our knees to worship Him.
Ephesians 1:3-10 (Monday, Evening Prayer)
Blessed be the God and Father
of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who has blessed us in Christ
with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world,
that we should be holy
and blameless before Him.
He destined us in love
to be His sons through Jesus Christ,
according to the purpose of His will,
to the praise of His glorious grace
which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
In Him we have redemption through His blood,
the forgiveness of our trespasses,
according to the riches of His grace
which He lavished upon us.
For He has made known to us
in all wisdom and insight
the mystery of His will,
according to His purpose
which He set forth in Christ
as a plan for the fullness of time,
to unite all things in Him,
things in heaven and things on earth.
In this final Pauline canticle for examination, we see Paul’s vision of the work Christ has accomplished in the world. He has brought redemption and the forgiveness of our trespasses (v. 7). But most importantly, in Christ, all things in heaven and earth are united to him in the fullness of time (v. 10). Christ is presented as a cosmic figure who brings about the reconciliation of the fallen universe. Everything became disordered through the actions of Adam and Eve, but now everything is reordered to Christ as head.
The type of language Paul uses for Christ is, unfortunately, foreign to our ears. We’ve grown up thinking of Christ in the words of the Doobie Brothers song, “Jesus is just alright with me.” We live in a casual age that, at least on the surface, prizes egalitarianism. We don’t have kings or rulers; we’re all to be considered equals. So we’ve lowered Jesus to our level to make him more palatable and acceptable to those around us. Paul saw Christ as the Image of the almighty God who became man, died for us, and in doing so restored and saved the whole universe. We, on the other hand, picture Jesus—and present him—as a good buddy we can count on in times of trouble.
Has this new presentation of Jesus been effective as a means of evangelization? It seems that it has not, as our era has seen a precipitous drop in the number of practicing Catholics. A Jesus equal to us is simply not worthy to be worshipped or followed.
People today are looking for more than a good buddy. They want someone to look up to and to follow. As a culture, we’ve insisted on cutting down our heroes and leaders, but this has left a void in our hearts, because we were made to serve a king. If we begin to preach Christ as King and Lord of the universe, many may decide to follow Him. Not simply as their friend, but as their God.”
Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy.
Lord have mercy.
Christ hear us.
Christ graciously hear us.
God, the Father of heaven,
have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
God the Holy Spirit,
Holy Trinity, one God,
pray for us.
Holy Mother of God,
Holy Virgin of virgins,
Mother of Christ,
Mother of the Church,
Mother of Mercy,
Mother of divine grace,
Mother of Hope,
Mother most pure,
Mother most chaste,
Mother most amiable,
Mother of good counsel,
Mother of our Creator,
Mother of our Saviour, Virgin most prudent,
Virgin most venerable,
Virgin most renowned,
Virgin most powerful,
Virgin most merciful,
Virgin most faithful,
Mirror of justice, Seat of wisdom,
Cause of our joy,
Vessel of honour,
Singular vessel of devotion,
Tower of David,
Tower if ivory,
House of gold,
Ark of the covenant,
Gate of heaven,
Health of the sick,
Refuge of sinners,
Solace of Migrants,
Comfort of the afflicted,
Help of Christians,
Queen of Angels,
Queen of Patriarchs,
Queen of Prophets,
Queen of Apostles,
Queen of Martyrs,
Queen of Confessors,
Queen of Virgins,
Queen of all Saints,
Queen conceived without original sin,
Queen assumed into heaven,
Queen of the most holy Rosary,
Queen of families,
Queen of peace.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
have mercy on us.
Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray.
Grant, we beseech thee,
O Lord God,
that we, your servants,
may enjoy perpetual health of mind and body;
and by the glorious intercession of the Blessed Mary, ever Virgin,
may be delivered from present sorrow,
and obtain eternal joy.
Through Christ our Lord.
-by Tim Staples, Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian televangelists. Soon after, Tim joined the Marine Corps.
“In today’s (4/28) first reading for the Optional Memorial of St. Louis de Montfort, we read these powerful words from St. Paul applied to our Blessed Lord:
“He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, Whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30).
As is the case with Scripture generally speaking, there are multiple levels of meaning to this text. Christ is more than just wise, just, and holy; He IS wisdom, justice (Gr., dikaiosune/δικαιοσύνη, “righteousness”), holiness, and redemption. In this article, I want to focus on wisdom.
When Paul penned these words, he was drawing on a wealth of Old Testament Scripture that spoke of Wisdom mysteriously personified. Paul was telling us the most perfect fulfillment of these texts is found in the person of Jesus Christ. Proverbs 8:10-9:1 is a classic example (see also Wis. 7:7-14):
“Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her. I, wisdom, dwell in prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion. By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just. . . . The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. . . . Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth. . . . When he established the heavens, I was there. . . . He who finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord; but he who misses me injures himself; all who hate me love death. . . . Wisdom has built her house.”
On one level, St. Paul is bringing out Christ’s divinity. Wisdom is revealed to be eternal. “When [God] established the heavens, I was there.” John 1:1 immediately comes to mind: “In the beginning was the Word.” Wisdom here is a symbol of our divine and eternal Lord. Moreover, the text seems to symbolize under the veil of the Old Testament the eternal “begetting” of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, wherein the Second Person was “brought forth” not in time, but from all eternity in the eternal filial procession of the Son from the Father. Thus, in a strict sense, Christ alone—along with the other two persons of the Holy Trinity—can be said to be wisdom itself.
On another level, we can also see this wisdom personified as being fulfilled in the life and person of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The third-person personal pronoun leaps out for one thing. Wisdom is a “she”! Yes, the Hebrew word for wisdom is feminine (Chokhmah), but this seems to be more than just grammar. This is a descriptor of a woman who possesses wisdom on a unique scale among all of God’s creatures: “For he who finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord.” Who among women could fit the bill other than she who is “most blessed of all women,” the Mother of God (Luke 1:42)?
Elizabeth’s declaration, “blessed are you among women,” is a Hebraism that means “you are most blessed among all women” (pp. 86-87). Thus, Mary’s immaculate conception follows. Her “blessedness” would far surpass that of Eve, who was created without sin. And just as Eve’s sinfulness led to death for all of her children, Mary’s sinlessness led to life for all of her children.
Thus, Mary’s “fullness of wisdom” would seem to flow from her “fullness of grace,” given to her in preparation for her unique calling to be the Mother of God. And this is a role that did not cease with the Incarnation. Enter two more ever-so-old and ever-so-new titles of the Blessed Virgin: Seat of Wisdom and Virgin Most Prudent.
Like all the fifty-five titles of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Litany of Loreto, Seat of Wisdom is rooted in Scripture. Here’s 1 Kings 10:18-20:
“The king also made a great ivory throne and overlaid it with the finest gold. The throne had six steps, and at the back of the throne was a calf’s head, and on each side of the seat were armrests and two lions standing beside the armrests, while twelve lions stood there, one on each end of a step on the six steps. The like of it was never made in any kingdom.”
Similar to the Ark of the Covenant of Exodus 25, which finds its fulfillment in the Blessed Virgin (see 2 Sam. 6:9,11 and Luke 1:43,56,etc.), where an inanimate object finds its fulfillment in being brought to life—literally—this seat (or throne) of the wisest king to have ever lived finds its fulfillment to have come to life as well . . . in the mother of God, the Seat of Wisdom. This “seat” is more than a chair to sit in; this seat teaches wisdom to Wisdom.
Virgin Most Prudent is very much related to Seat of Wisdom. Religious art depicting Mary as Sedes Sapientiae always depicts the child Jesus seated on Mary’s lap, usually on a throne. In fact, when Pope St. John Paul II commissioned the Jesuit Marko Ivan Pupnik to create a mosaic icon of Mary, Seat of Wisdom in the year 2000, he depicted Jesus not just seated on Mary’s lap, but, from that posture, learning Sacred Scripture from Mary. Wisdom himself is being taught by the “Virgin Most Prudent.”
It boggles the mind.
Because of St. Joseph’s intimate role in protecting and raising the Savior, he is generally understood to have possessed grace and wisdom that far surpassed all men’s (other than Mary’s and those of “the man, Jesus Christ”). Yet Scripture reveals Mary’s knowledge and wisdom to surpass even his:
“And [Jesus] said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And [Joseph and Mary] did not understand the saying which he spoke to them . . . and his mother kept all these things in her heart (Luke 2:50-51).”
Neither understood perfectly, but Mary “kept all these things in her heart,” indicating a unique wisdom beyond Joseph’s. In fact, I would argue that as “Queen of Angels,” Mary’s wisdom and understanding surpass those of all of God’s creatures combined. But that is beyond the scope of what I can do here.
A final thought: In that same text from Luke, Mary (and Joseph) is implied to have commanded Jesus to leave the temple where he had been confounding the wisest Jewish scholars of the day. And he was twelve. Then Scripture says:
And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them. . . . And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor (Gr. “charity,” “grace”) with God and man.
In obeying the Virgin Most Prudent, Christ, Who IS wisdom, grew in grace and wisdom. What can we say of Mary other than what Scripture says? “The like of [her] was never [seen] in any kingdom.”
Love, pray for me to have the graces of wisdom & prudence,
“In his Confessions, St. Augustine describes how, as his conversion approaches, God had begun to scatter sparks on his life from the lives of others. Only the wind of the Spirit can fan these sparks into flame, but Augustine recounts several examples which helped move him to that critical moment when the Lord changed his heart.
Most dramatically and immediately before his conversion, Augustine heard the story of two friends of his friend Ponticianus. While walking outside the city, they wandered into a monastery where they read the Life of St. Anthony. Moved by his example, the two friends decided to leave everything and begin a life in pursuit of sanctity. Augustine was inspired but also distressed upon hearing this story. Although he was held back from the faith by his sinful attachments to worldly goods, he longed to throw all things aside like the two friends and give himself to Jesus.
Notice how widely this fire has spread before its spark landed in Augustine’s heart! The fire began in the heart of St. Anthony. When he heard the Gospel proclaimed where Jesus counsels the rich young man to leave everything and follow him, he responded by entering the Egyptian desert as one of the founders of monasticism. Upon reading about St. Anthony’s response, the two young men were set ablaze. Now, Ponticianus conducts a spark from the fire of their lives to Augustine. Through this spark, Augustine’s heart will burst into flame as the kindling long prepared by God is ignited through the wind of the Holy Spirit.
And notice too that the original fire was not started with the intention of spreading a blaze. St. Anthony’s decision to leave everything and seek intimacy with God in the desert was not motivated by the thought that he would inspire others. Nor was the decision of the young men to enter the monastery done for that reason: they simply followed the call of God in their own lives.
So what can we learn from all of this?
First, in this life we may never know the ways in which the workings of grace in our lives may become an instrumental source of grace for others. Likewise, we may never know the many people whom God has used to touch our hearts. The people who directly impact our lives of faith are only the burning trees nearest to us. Beyond them is a forest of people who helped to set them aflame.
Furthermore, we can also learn from this the importance of looking to examples in the life of faith. Reading about how God has worked in the lives of others can help to stoke the fires in our own hearts and can also help enkindle the hearts of those with whom we share the faith. As Augustine’s life bears witness, God loves to use the examples of his work in the lives of believers as an instrument to move others.
Finally, we must remember that, although we may never know the many people who helped to conduct the fire of faith to us or the many who may receive it from us, we know that the original source is the furnace of God’s love. Ultimately, only he can communicate the fire of his love even when he uses us as his human instruments. And although we may scatter the sparks of his love far and wide, it is ultimately only the grace of his Holy Spirit which can fan those sparks into glorious flame. We ask Him then to fill our hearts with His own longing to set the world ablaze.”
“The Church teaches that marriage is indissoluble. Thus, the Catechism teaches that while spouses are living, a new marital union “cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was” (1650). Those who attempt civil remarriage after divorce, therefore, “find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law.” The Church bases this teaching on Jesus’ words in Mark 10:11-12: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
Many Protestants critique this teaching for not taking into consideration what Jesus says in Matthew 19:9: “Whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery.” Since Jesus inserts the clause “except for unchastity,” it’s argued, a man who divorced his wife and married another wouldn’t be committing adultery if his wife were guilty of infidelity.
Is the Catholic Church contradicting Jesus? It seems the Church is telling divorced people they can’t remarry when Jesus says they can. [There are several points to support the Church’s teaching in light of this Gospel passage.]
One is to point out that porneia/πορνεία—the Greek word for unchastity in this verse—isn’t part of the group of words Matthew uses for adultery in his Gospel.
Porneia/πορνεία, translated as “unchastity” or sometimes “fornication” or “sexual immorality,” is different from the Greek word for adultery (moichaō/μοιχάω). In its broadest sense, porneia/πορνεία means unlawful sexual intercourse, so it can include adultery, but Matthew never uses the word that way in his Gospel. Instead, he uses moichaō and related words. For example, in the same verse of the porneia/πορνεία clause, Matthew uses moichaō/μοιχάω twice to refer specifically to adultery: “Whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery [Gk. moichatai/μοιχάω]; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery [Gk. moichatai/μοιχάω].” In 5:27, Matthew uses moicheuō/μοιχάω to refer to the literal act of adultery, in 5:28 to broaden the concept of adultery to include lust, and in 5:32 in reference to the husband making his wife an “adulteress” by divorcing her.
If Matthew thought Jesus was talking about adultery providing an exception to his teaching on divorce, why didn’t he use the word he always used for adultery? As Bible scholar John P. Meier argues, “If Matthew wishes to name adultery as a reason for divorce, he would be almost forced to employ some form of moicheia/μοιχάω [noun] to express the concept.”
Since Matthew doesn’t use any form of the Greek word that he commonly uses for adultery, it’s reasonable to conclude that Matthew doesn’t think Jesus was referring to spousal infidelity when he spoke of “unchastity.”
A second strategy focuses on the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ teaching: “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry” (Matt. 19:10).
At the time of Jesus, there were two rabbinic schools of thought as to what constituted legitimate grounds for divorce. The Hillel school, which followed the Jewish leader Hillel, believed that practically anything could be grounds for divorce. It could be something as simple as burnt food or a prettier woman. The school of Shammai, on the other hand, believed that only sexual immorality was cause for divorce.
Given this background, the disciples’ reaction that it would be better not to marry would be unintelligible if Jesus were allowing for divorce and remarriage in cases of adultery or sexual immorality. The disciples already were accustomed to divorce and remarriage, as the Hillel and Shammai schools attest. Their strong reaction suggests that they understood Jesus to be giving a new and different teaching.
For our third strategy, we can point to how Jesus’ teaching stands alone amid the thought of the age. His teaching about divorce and remarriage in verse 9 is part of his response to a question posed by the Pharisees: “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” (v. 3). Notice the phrase “for any cause.” It seems the Pharisees were testing Jesus to see which school of thought he would side with: Hillel or Shammai.
But Jesus’ response indicates that he sides with neither. He appeals to God’s original design for marriage and says, “What therefore God had joined together, let not man put asunder” (vv. 4-6; see also Gen. 2:24). In other words, it’s not that Moses allowed divorce for any cause, but “from the beginning” (v.8) it was only adultery-justified divorce. Rather, from the beginning there was no divorce: “it [divorce] was not so” (v.8). This proves that he sides with neither the Hillel nor the Shammai view on divorce and remarriage.
This context excludes the interpretation that porneia/πορνεία refers to adultery; in fact, it excludes reference to sexual immorality of any manner within marriage. For if Jesus intended the porneia/πορνεία clause to refer to any of these alternative interpretations, he would have been siding with either the Hillel or Shammai school. Instead, he gave a more radical teaching: that marriage is indissoluble. Therefore, we must conclude that Jesus didn’t intend the porneia/πορνείαclause to refer to sexual immorality within the context of the marriage bond, whether adultery or some other kind of immoral conduct.
Jesus underscores his radical view by saying no man can marry a divorced woman without committing adultery: “He who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery” (v.9; see also Matt. 5:32). This implies that no deed for which the woman is divorced, including adultery, renders her free to marry another man.
One last strategy: There are good reasons to think porneia/πορνεία instead refers to forms of sexual immorality that took place before or at the time of the attempted union, rendering it unlawful (invalid).
The Jews understood that certain sexual relationships rendered a union unlawful, meaning null and void—such as relationships of close consanguinity and affinity (Lev. 18:1-20). Only the Jewish community would know about the Levitical law concerning unlawful unions, and thus only the Jewish community would raise the question about whether these unions are an exception to Jesus’ teaching against divorce and remarriage. And Matthew, who is writing to a Jewish audience, is the only Gospel that records this exception clause.
As for porneia/πορνεία, the word is used twenty-five times in the New Testament. For only two of these do scholars even suggest it’s used for adultery: the passages that include the debated porneia/πορνεία clause concerning divorce and remarriage (Matt. 5:32, 19:9). Every other time, porneia/πορνεία refers to some sort of sexual immorality outside the lawful bounds of marriage: fornication (Matt. 15:19; Mark 7:21; John 8:41; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5; Rev. 17:2, 17:4, 19:2), incest (Acts 15:20,29, 21:25; 1 Cor. 5:1;), general sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:13,18, 7:2; 2 Cor. 12:21; 1 Thess. 4:3; Rev. 2:21, 9:21), and metaphorical impure passions (Rev. 14:8, 18:3).
Since we know from above that porneia/πορνεία can’t refer to adultery in Matthew 19:9, and every time porneia/πορνεία is used in the New Testament, it refers to sexual immorality outside the boundaries of the marital bond, it’s likely that the “porneia/πορνεία exception” in Matthew refers to sexual immorality that took place before and at the time of the attempted union, invalidating it.
We can support this interpretation by considering two things. First, it adequately explains why in these cases a man who “puts away his wife” and marries another doesn’t commit adultery. If he was never in a lawful union to begin with, he would be free to marry. This is the basis for Catholic teaching on annulments: allowing marriage for civilly divorced persons whose first “marriage” was judged not to have been valid.
Matthew’s intention in including the porneia/πορνεία exception is to clarify for his Jewish audience that Jesus was concerned with lawful marriages. His prohibition of divorce didn’t apply to those unions contracted before Christian baptism because they weren’t lawful to begin with. You can’t divorce if you were never married!
The great irony here is that rather than the Catholic Church telling people they can’t remarry when Jesus says they can, the view that the challenge implies tells people they can remarry when Jesus says they can’t. It’s not the Catholic Church that’s contradicting Jesus’ teaching. It’s the view that spousal infidelity dissolves a valid marital bond and gives grounds to divorce and remarry.
Unlike the many Christian groups that have caved to the pressures of modern society, the Catholic Church’s doctrines remain faithful to Jesus’ teaching on marriage, echoing Christ’s words: “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”
The seven sacraments: baptism, confession, eucharist, confirmation, holy orders, extreme unction, and…martyrdom. 🙂 I’m in trouble now! Actually, I’m always in trouble, no matter what, cuz I’m a man.
“Lecrae Moore grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. Single mom, drug abuse, the gangsta lifestyle – the whole nine yards. He was headed down a path to nowhere when two unexpected doses of mercy brought him a whole new life.
He had just been arrested for dealing drugs and was sitting in the back of a police car, waiting to be hauled off to jail, while the officer was searching his car for more drugs. After a minute, the officer came back, holding a Bible. The officer asked why the Bible was in this drug dealer’s car.
Lecrae admitted that it was just a good-luck charm that he got from his devout grandmother, and said, “Yeah, I need to start living by it.”
The office responded, “If you promise me you will start reading your Bible and start living it, I’ll let you go.”
Lecrae was stunned – he quickly agreed, and the officer let him go.
But change didn’t happen all of a sudden. He still struggled with his own wounds and addictions and sins. He was reading his Bible, but then would go out and party and deal drugs and hook up with women. It took one more act of mercy to change his heart…
He happened to be invited by a friend to go to a Christian retreat, where God’s grace touched his heart. From the depths of his soul, he prayed, “God, if You are real, get me out of this [sinful lifestyle] – do whatever You need to do, but don’t kill me.” A short while later, he was driving down the highway and lost control of his car, which flipped and got totally destroyed. He was wearing no seatbelt, but somehow emerged from that wreck completely unscathed. This was the (rather abrupt!) answer to his prayer, and he completely changed his life and gave it fully to Christ. Two acts of mercy – one from the police officer, and one directly from God – made him one of the best Christian rap artists in the world: multi-platinum, Grammy-winning, a powerful force for Christ.
Aquinas defined “justice” as giving to each one what we owe them. But mercy can be defined as giving someone what we do not owe them. A second chance, forgiveness with no strings attached, an undeserved kindness, a surprise gift. We are not owed these things – but they are small mercies that can change the entire trajectory of a life.
In fact, mercy can change the entire trajectory of the world. Ever since Genesis, the world needed a re-start, a do-over. And the Resurrection is that re-start. Notice what John says – “On the first day of the week…” What happened on the first day of the week? Creation began. Now on this “first day”, we see a New Creation. No longer do we see a mortal man in Adam, now we see an immortal and glorified Man in Jesus. When He encounters His disciples, how does He greet them? “Peace” – in Hebrew, “Shalom”. Shalom means far more than just peace – it means wholeness, completeness, right order. After all the disorder that we introduced into the world through sin, on Easter Sunday Christ comes to put it back in order, to undo the chaos, sin, and death. Act 1 of human history, an act written as a tragedy, is over. Act 2 has now begun, an act written by mercy.
Mercy is what allows us to participate in Act 2. Mercy doesn’t mean that our sins don’t matter; it means that our sins matter, and they are forgiven. I have found, as a priest, that people have one of two reactions when I talk about sin and mercy. Some people think their sins are too big, too horrible to be forgiven, and they fear approaching Jesus out of shame. Other people think they don’t sin at all – they say they are “pretty good people”. But both are errors to avoid. As Jesus revealed to St. Faustina, “The greater the sinner, the greater the right they have to My Mercy” – we put limits on God’s power if we don’t believe He can forgive our sins!
At the same time, St. John writes, “If we say we are without sin, we are a liar” for “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.” In fact, it says in Scripture that “the righteous man sins seven times a day.” And that’s a good man! Sin isn’t just the breaking of a rule, but falling-short of the standard of living like Christ. And none of us live like Him perfectly. We’re not as holy as we should be. So mercy is for all of us – people with huge sins, and people with daily faults who strive to be more like Jesus. That is why all of us should go to Confession, monthly if you can. Don’t wait until next Lent!
But to accept the mercy of God requires two things. First, once we have become a new creation through His mercy, we must live like we are a new creation. Mercy is not a license to sin. Sometimes we think, “Oh, I’ll commit this sin, and I’ll just go to Confession on Saturday.” My friends, that is the sin of presumption – presuming that God will give you the grace of forgiveness. No, if we wish to have mercy, we must “go and sin no more,” as Our Lord told the adulterous woman.
Second, we must extend that mercy to others. In the famous book Les Miserables, the homeless ex-criminal Jean Valjean was given lodging at the home of a bishop. He repaid such a kindness by stealing the bishop’s silverware. When police caught him, the bishop pretends that he gave him the silverware, and tells him to take the silver candlesticks he “forgot”. Moved by such an undeserved mercy, Jean Valjean becomes an honest man and uses his life to help others.
God wants mercy to come to others through us. Notice that in the Gospels He gives His Apostles (the first bishops) the power to forgive sins. He could have made it so that we pray to God directly for forgiveness, but He wants mercy to flow through human beings. That is true, not only in Confession, but also in the daily mercy that we show to others. We hold our tongue and don’t criticize our spouse for their small faults; we don’t get back at our siblings who offended us; we assume the best of others, even if they don’t deserve it. A great way to give mercy is to perform the “Works of Mercy” – feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and the like. Daily we have the opportunity to show mercy to those around us.
How many times have we received mercies undeserved? Too many to count – especially the confidence that all our sins are forgiven, every time we walk out of the Confessional. Mercy has turned the page, and given us a second chance. We have received it – now we must give it.”
“It may just be a guy thing, but young boys love to tell stories of their scars. It’s always humorous when I’m at the middle school and I just ask, “Hey, where’d you get that scar on your forehead?” and then the kid launches into an excited description of that time he was having a rock fight with his friend, and then he proceeds to show me three other scars and tell me their stories too.
Scars have stories. Even Shakespeare recognized this when he writes in his play Henry V about the warriors that fought with King Henry at the Battle of Crispin’s Day. He writes: “He that lives through this day and comes home safe, will stand when Crispin’s Day is named and will strip his sleeve and show his scars and say, ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s Day!’” For these men who fought with the king, their wounds would be their badge of honor, a testament to their courage. And Shakespeare goes on to say that any man who, out of cowardice, stayed home on Crispin’s Day would “hold their manhoods cheap” when in the presence of those brave warriors who bear the scars of the battle.
Jesus, then, to show His courage, His victory, shows His disciples His scars. Have you ever thought how odd that is? I mean, if you’re going to resurrect into a perfect Body, why not get rid of those scars in the hands and feet? Why not look perfect?
Very simple – the scars are a visible reminder of what He endured for them. When they see the scars, they see the price of repentance – but also the Victory of Christ.
As an ancient homily from the second century says, “We had left a garden; Christ returned to a garden to be betrayed and a garden to be buried. See on His face the spittle He received in order to restore to us the life He once breathed into us. See there the marks of the blows He received in order to refashion our warped nature in His image. On His back see the marks of the scourging He endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon our back. See His hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for we once wickedly stretched out our hands to a tree” in the Garden of Eden.
And consider the words of St. Theodore the Studite: “The Lord, like a brave warrior wounded in His hands, feet, and side, healed the wounds of sin that the evil serpent had inflicted on our nature.”
His wounds undo our wounds. His scars wipe away our scars. All of us have wounds and scars – we can’t get through life unscathed. Sometimes those scars are caused by other people: maybe we’ve been abused, treated poorly, bullied, hated, rejected. Maybe people we love have died. Maybe we’ve struggled with depression, anxiety, illness, fear. Maybe the scars came because we made bad choices: the guilt of our sin, the addictions we’ve developed, the broken relationships that we just can’t heal. All of us have wounds; all of us have scars. It would be impossible for any human being not to suffer or be wounded.
But wounds can either be healed or kill us. Wounds that are brought to Christ, the Divine Doctor, can be healed. Wounds that we hide, that we don’t treat, will fester and cause misery and unhappiness – and eventually the spiritual death of hatred.
We bring our wounds to Christ through prayer and Confession. Pray about it – “Lord, what are You teaching me through my suffering? How can You use it to make me more like You? What are You calling me to let go of? How can I trust You more?” This is bringing our wounds to Christ. Then, if the wound involves our own sin, we can bring it to the Lord in Confession. Sin is the biggest wound because it wounds our relationship with God – thus, Jesus’ first gift here in today’s Gospel is that “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” comes through our faith in Him.
Life is tough, and sometimes we suffer. We suffer because of other people’s choices, we suffer because of our own bad choices and our sins, and sometimes we just suffer because we’re human. But when we get wounded, we can bring those wounds to Christ. He can forgive our sins. He can heal our wounds and make them, like His, signs of victory and triumph.”
“St. Anselm’s ontological argument for God’s existence often gets a bad rap, even from many Catholics. For one thing, it can be a difficult argument to understand. Though its premises are rather simple, something about it makes us think we are being tricked. For another thing, we know that eminent authorities like St. Thomas Aquinas have expressed their discontent with the argument.
Nonetheless, I think it is wrong to discard the argument without a second thought. Indeed, I think there is still much of value to be gleaned from it. For simplicity’s sake, here’s a basic sketch of the argument:
God is the greatest conceivable thing.
But if something is only in the mind and not in reality, then a greater thing can be conceived.
So, God cannot only be in the mind.
Therefore, God exists in reality.
In short, the very idea of God necessitates His existence. Thus, the Psalmist is right when he writes, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). Whether or not this is a perfect representation of Anselm’s argument, it should serve our purposes today.
I would like to set aside for now the objections against it as an argument for God’s existence, not because it’s not an important question. It is indeed a very important question! But before defending the argument, we have to understand better what Anselm was saying. In fact, unbelievers who point out what they believe to be its weaknesses tend to miss Anselm’s meaning, and thus end up “defeating” a straw man. Engaging in an argument without clarifying meanings is never a good idea.
Christian apologists have long been frustrated to deal with popular skeptics railing against God as something other than what he truly is. Comparisons of God to the tooth fairy or Santa Claus are often flippantly made, particularly among the New Atheist types. Pathetic as such caricatures are, they betray a conception among non-believers that God is a finite creature. But for St. Anselm, that is precisely what God is not.
In an age when religious indifference is rampant and serious contemplation of spiritual things is scarce, St. Anselm’s argument is valuable because it takes on the form of a spiritual exercise.
In reality, God is not a thing at all—things in the sense of “beings in the world” have limitations. They can always be imagined to be greater in some way. But as Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe writes, “God cannot be a thing, an existent among others. It is not possible that God and the universe should add up to make two.”
What he means is that God’s mode of existence is completely different than everything else. Indeed, God is the creator of everything, and keeps it in being every moment it exists. This is the kind of God St. Anselm has in mind when he imagines “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.”
The Anselmian proof invites us to do away with the caricatures—a challenger cannot even begin to refute the proof until he seriously entertains the notion of God presented by Anselm. From that starting point, then, all lesser kinds of “divinities”—from Zeus to the Flying Spaghetti Monster—are necessarily ruled out. We must ask the question soberly: what is the greatest conceivable thing? It is certainly not a beast composed of pasta.
There is more than one way to approach the question. We can think about God as unrestricted existence—that is, existence itself. Or in Aristotelian terms, we can think about God as being pure act and no potency—which just means that God is utterly perfect and lacks all possibility of further perfection. Technically (and as St. Thomas affirmed), to think of God as existence itself is probably the best way to think about “what” God is.
But there is another way to think about what it means for God to be, as Anselm put it, “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.” Let’s think about this in concrete terms. What is greater—a God who loves everyone who loves him back, or a God who loves everyone unconditionally? Clearly the latter, for his love is perfect. Now, such “negative theology” can help us understand what God isn’t, but it proves nothing about whether such a thing exists. Still, it can help to clarify the nature of the thing considered—the first step of serious argumentation.
In his influential book, The God of Faith and Reason, philosopher Robert Sokolowski considers another contrast, one that sheds light on St. Anselm’s meaning of God. The first “god” Sokolowski asks us to consider is one who becomes greater as the result of his creation. In this first case, “god + the world” is greater than the god alone. He contrasts this version with another in which God is so great that his creation adds nothing to his perfection. In the latter case, “God + the world” is not greater than God alone. And clearly, argues Sokolowski, this latter God is a greater conception of God than the former. Indeed, no greater God could be conceived. And there are important implications that follow from this.
One implication is that if God creates but gains nothing for himself by doing so, then it follows that God’s act of creation is completely gratuitous and unsolicited. We—the created—have everything to gain by virtue of the gift of our existence.
So, aside from what it contributes to the debate about God’s existence, St. Anselm’s ontological proof helps us to re-establish who God is and what it means for us to exist. It gets us thinking about the big questions again, for we have been created for our own good by a God who is unlimited in perfection. Our lives, then, should be lived in a way that reflects uncompromising gratitude, humility, and trust in God.
If St. Anselm’s argument fails as a proof for God’s existence, it nonetheless does great service in establishing a firm starting point for determining what it is we are trying to prove in the first place. Moreover, it compels us to think seriously about whether such a grand contention could be true.
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, “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