Category Archives: Apologetics

Save your soul: study the Trinity


-Most Holy & Undivided Trinity, detail from the altar of St Ignatius Loyola by Andrea Pozzo in the church of Il Gesù in Rome, please click on the image for greater detail


-by Br Bertrand Hebert, OP

“Augustine occupies a privileged place among the Western Church Fathers that Aquinas invokes. Despite their affinity, some have proposed a division between these great theologians. Augustine’s theology is often characterized as “affective” while Aquinas is labeled merely “rational.” This distinction is misleading in many ways, and it implies that Augustine’s theology lacks reason or that Aquinas’s theology is lifeless.

For both of these theological giants, affection and reason belong together. Theology is not just something nice to think about. It matters what you think, precisely because our salvation is mediated through the mysteries of the faith.

We can see this approach in both Augustine’s and Aquinas’s writings on the mystery of the Trinity. Bridging the “gap” between reason and affect, Trinitarian theology is both an intellectual and spiritual exercise. Augustine and Aquinas both modeled this, as Father Gilles Emery, O.P. explains in his essay “Trinitarian Theology as a Spiritual Exercise in Augustine and Aquinas.” Both Doctors show how understanding the complexity of man’s mind and heart reveals an intimate relationship between us who know and love and God who is the Knower and Lover. This theological investigation can be difficult; it “exercises” the soul in a real sense. But it also prepares the soul for communion with the Triune God whose very being is Truth and Love.

For Augustine, elucidating the mystery of the Trinity requires great mental effort, but it also demands devotion. Our efforts to understand God must be informed by love because “the more one loves God, the more one sees Him” (Emery, 7). Because we are seeking the most supreme truth in such an endeavor, our souls must be trained through a kind of “spiritual gymnastics.” This theological regimen strengthens us to rise to the heights to see God and is purified through prayer, penance, and a life of virtue. Moved by God’s grace, theological study prepares us to see God in a limited way in this life and propels us to behold Him in the beatific vision. 

In his theology, Aquinas follows Augustine’s approach and builds on it. He delves into the mystery of the Trinity through speculative study, in order to enable believers to grasp the truth of God more deeply. Growing in knowledge of the Trinity both aids our contemplation and provides us with the means to defend the faith against error. Aquinas understands that by studying God, we come to recognize that our own knowing and loving is a mirroring of God Who is Knowing and Loving. This realization gives spiritual consolation to those who dwell in the darkness of this passing world, yearning for the light of the life to come.

As Augustine and Aquinas both demonstrate, true theology requires rational precision, but also an affective inclination to God. As the theologian—indeed any believer—rises to grasp the lofty mysteries of the Trinity he becomes ever more conformed to the God he seeks, and he receives already a foretaste of that vision he hopes to enjoy in glory.

Studying the Trinity stretches our minds. Theology that is both loving and rational lifts the soul in sacred study and puts one in contact with God. The shared theological approach of Augustine and Aquinas—integrating both reason and affection—is a model for teachers and students today. By seeking God through both wisdom and love, our deepest desire for God can be satisfied. God has made us for Himself, and both our hearts and minds are restless until they rest in Him (cf. St Augustine).”

Love,
Matthew

Catholics do not have to answer “Where is THAT in the Bible?”


-please click on the image for greater detail


-by Pat Flynn

“The other day, I tweeted something important: don’t forget to pray to your guardian angel. This received criticism from Protestants—for example, “Preferring to pray to an angel instead of to the one who commands them and is your Lord and Savior is cringeworthy.”Catholic users came in to clarify—Matthew 18:10, you know the drill. But here I want to say something different.

First, no Catholic thinks Scripture is the sole authoritative source to begin with, even if it is the highest authoritative source. Catholics also have Tradition and the Magisterium, and there we find the support we need for prayer to (that is, speaking to or asking for the intercession of) the angels. Catholics believe in a living, institutional, and hierarchical epistemic authority, which, according to the Faith, comes down to us by what is said: first, what is said by God eternally in His Son, the Logos, and from there what the Logos says to the apostles and then to the bishops, and right on down the line. This is the same authority that has given us the canon of Scripture, and having it is how we (as Catholics) can say, in a non-circular way, that this canon is the canon.

The Protestant position struggles seriously in this respect. After all, it seems as though sola scriptura—which is the operative rule for many Protestants—tells us we should not take as or make into doctrine anything that is not either explicitly taught in Scripture or clearly deducible from what is. The canon of Scripture itself must be a matter of doctrine for the Protestant, yet it is not something explicitly taught in Scripture or clearly deducible from what it is. It seems that the Protestant is committed to a contradiction in this matter. Nor does saying that sola scriptura is operative simply after the closing of the canon itself answer the pressing issue of how we reliably determine what the canon is or when it was closed, nor does Scripture indicate that such a paradigm shift is supposed to take place. Moreover, if the Church was able to reliably (that is, infallibly) guide us to the formation of the canon, it is contrived to then chop off that authoritative arm after the closing of the canon, especially since what counts as Scripture is only one of the epistemological issues facing sola scriptura—how to interpret Scripture and how to apply the lessons and consequences of Scripture in changing cultural contexts. Catholicism solves these issues with its expanded and more holistic notion of authority; Protestantism is refuted by them.

The other major point is this: the Protestant is frequently performing an illegitimate operation (i.e., often begging the question) by pushing the game onto his own turf when asking Catholics for this or that biblical proof text of his beliefs or practices—that is, by demanding that the Catholic play according to the rules of Protestantism. This is something Catholic convert Bryan Cross has pointed out various times: the question-begging assumption from Protestants that the Catholic magisterium’s understanding of faith and morals is no more authoritative than the understanding of any other Christian.

But the Catholic has every right to reject those “rules of engagement.” Why? Because the question is ultimately one of authority, not personal interpretation of biblical passages—which, we know, are often all over the place, not just between Catholics and Protestants, but among Protestants. If the Catholic view of authority is correct, and that authority substantiates prayer to the angels, then Catholics shouldn’t worry about proof-texting everything simply to cause the Protestant to think his beliefs and practices are less, as it were, cringeworthy. Whenever objections like these come up, the Catholic should highlight what the larger issue is; otherwise, the conversation runs the risk of being fruitless, since debates concerning biblical interpretation tend to go on endlessly with little to no productive resolution.

But maybe not entirely fruitless . . . as one can expose in such conversations many of the deeper issues inherent to the Protestant paradigm and sola scriptura in particular.

Apart from what has already been said, the Protestant position is frequently inconsistent, or at least conveniently lax in demanding the same standards of itself as it does Catholics. Returning to our example of prayer to angels, notice that the Protestant critic first demands biblical support for a position (asking angels for intercession), but then he gives a position that itself has no biblical support.

For example, our Protestant friend above tells us, “If Jesus’ instruction was a specific prayer and a model, then we would have ample reason to not veer off of that model unless we have equally comparable reason & authority to do so.” He continues, “The disagreement is that I’m stating that Jesus’ model does not allow for prayers to go to angelic beings, but rather should be directed to the Lord alone.”

But what is the biblical support for that? Specifically, what can we find in the Bible that tells us, either explicitly or through clear deduction, that if Jesus gives one model for prayer, then it is illegitimate to employ some other model unless we have equally comparable reason and authority to do so? (In asking what could constitute such an authority, this immediately puts the Catholic and Protestant right at the larger issue.) Or that Jesus’ model does not allow prayers to angelic beings just because it doesn’t include them? The answer is nothing—or at least nothing obvious.

Moreover, there is no teaching anywhere in Scripture that condemns speaking to angels. (Worshiping them is condemned, but that isn’t what Catholics are doing.) And just because Christ taught us to pray one way, there is no good biblical reason to say it is illegitimate to pray some other way. After all, Christ never prayed directly to the Holy Spirit. Ironically enough, I’ve heard Protestants claim that the apostles didn’t, either, and so (by extension) neither should we. But I know many Protestants who definitely do pray directly to the Holy Spirit. Either way, there is a claim being made that is not explicitly taught nor clearly deduced from Scripture, by somebody who demands that claims be substantiated by what is explicitly taught or clearly deduced from Scripture. What the Protestant is doing—if I dare say it—is putting out a tradition of man to reject what is the tradition of Christ’s Church.

And so the purpose of this article is not to defend, from a purely biblical perspective, prayers to angels. Various Catholics have already issued such defenses. (Joe Heschmeyer has a helpful article, and here’s Karlo Broussard on the intercession of saints in general.) Rather, the goal here is to point out the larger issues in these debates—issues that, I believe, expose several of the more fundamental incoherencies within the Protestant paradigm, while alerting Catholics to the fact they need not, and in fact should not, be pushed into debating according to the question-begging assumptions of the Protestant critic.”

Love,
Matthew

Works-Righteousness & Antinomianism


-by Fr. Samuel Keyes, raised Baptist in Mississippi, Fr. Samuel Keyes became an Anglican/Episcopalian after college. He served parishes in Massachusetts and Alabama, and then Saint James School in Maryland, before being received into the Catholic Church in 2019 and ordained in 2020–21.

Fr. Keyes is currently a professor of theology at JPCatholic and parochial administrator of St. Augustine of Canterbury, an ordinariate community in San Diego County. He is married to Gretchen with five kids.

“Whether or not you noticed the collect for today’s Mass, let me point it out:

May your grace, O Lord, we pray, at all times go before us and follow after and make us always determined to carry out good works.

It’s a clear, pithy prayer that in a single sentence summarizes God’s saving economy: grace goes before our actions, assists our actions, and follows our actions. One wonders if a serious meditation on this collect—which has been part of the Roman Rite for very many centuries—would have prevented some conflict in the Reformation era among those fretting over the supposed opposition of “grace” and “works.” Those of us raised in certain quarters perk up our ears at any mention of “works” as being good. Yet the collect places all such works well within the sphere of God’s gracious providence. In the Divine Worship missal for the Anglican Ordinariate, we pray at every Mass that we should do “in all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in.”

I point all this out, in part, because when I first glanced at the propers and readings for this Sunday, I was struck right away by the “good works” of the collect and the stories of grace and gratitude we hear in 2 Kings and Luke: the stories of Naaman (2 Kgs 5:14-17) and the ten lepers (Lk 17:11-19). It seemed interesting that the Church would simultaneously propose to us an implicit exhortation to good works and a reminder that in holy baptism—which is of course prefigured by Naaman’s ritual washing in the Jordan—we are washed clean and elevated to the life of grace by no merit of our own. But in the end, there is no real conflict between grace and good works, mainly because all good works are fundamentally graced: before, during, after. Part of God’s gift to us is the gift to do something with what we have been given and for this work to matter.

There are, at the same time, good and bad ways to respond to the gifts of grace. In both 2 Kings and Luke, the narrative gives special attention to the gratitude of the former lepers. The Samaritan leper in Luke, the one grateful man out of the ten, is a foreigner like Naaman the Syrian. So, a foreigner shows more gratitude than the people who claim this power as their birthright. Why is that?

There’s a very immediate connection we should make with the expansion of the covenant to the Gentiles through Christ. Naaman and the Samaritan are also both figures of Cornelius the centurion, who in Acts 10 receives—with awe and gratitude—the gifts of the Spirit in a way that is at first shocking and even confusing to the Jewish disciples. But we can also wonder if Jesus means to suggest here something of the default Jewish attitude towards divine grace. However final and permanent God’s promises were to the people of Israel, none of those promises translate grace into something owed. It seems almost as if the nine men in Luke think of their healing much in the way that so many modern Catholics think of the sacraments: obviously I deserve this; of course God is providing this for me; no need to make a big deal out of it.

Of course there is a real element of truth in that attitude: the sacraments are a given, in a certain sense. God has given them to us and he is not going to take them back. He is not going to send an angel from heaven and declare to the pope, “No more baptisms, we’re full up!” But their givenness, their enduring reality, does not mean that we should take them for granted any more than the people of Israel should have taken their ethnic heritage as a guarantee that they were full participants in God’s saving covenant.

That kind of entitlement really can become a “works righteousness,” wherein life becomes an accounting game I play with God. Let’s see: did first Friday devotions (check), said the rosary every day this week (check), asked for a number of Masses to be said (check) . . . so why hasn’t God given me what I want? Or, as someone asked me not that long ago, “Where did all those graces go?” And my response (internal, at least, because I’m not quite that mean) is: are we aiming for the beatific vision, or are we aiming to win some kind of cosmic video game?

There is the opposite approach, (maybe) less common among Catholics, but still a real danger, where we take for granted not the system of grace but the whole generic enterprise. This is antinomianism, the idea that what I do doesn’t matter in the least because God loves me, and He understands, and my heart is in the right place, etc.

I wonder if the principal remedy against these two opposing vices is the gratitude and thanksgiving that we see in the Samaritan and in Naaman. Because here’s the thing: on one level we might say that this healing is nothing extraordinary. It’s just what the Lord does; it’s in his nature, so to speak. But that is not the same thing as saying that I deserve it, or that I should act like it’s somehow par for the course.

It’s no coincidence that the central act of the Church for the last two millennia has been an act of thanksgiving, of Eucharist. We talk about this as the source and the summit, as the sacrament of sacraments, because it is the place where Christ Himself is present in His Church. But it is also where the Church does the thing that most characteristically makes her the Church: she gives thanks. She says, “Lord I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed.”

Our calling as Christians, however else we might imagine it, is first to be grateful, to give thanks. The Lord has put away our sins, he has called us to his service, he has given us the power to follow him in this world. Thanks be to God. Everything else follows that.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Absolute Truth for All



-Satan always disguises to appear irreproachable

I have been let go from substitute teaching at DeForest HS because I asked to not work on the infamous “Day of Silence”. Not that I would have done anything. I just wanted to avoid the situation altogether. I quietly let the school secretary, who does the scheduling, know I was a member of a Catholic religious order, Lay Dominicans, and simply please to not schedule me that day. I am sure that did not stay a secret, and shortly thereafter….

Also, one day substitute teaching at Monona-Grove HS, my duty was to administer a test. I administered the test but at least one of the questions caused me concern. Believing highly and absolutely in American ideals, I would NEVER interject my personal beliefs into a public classroom. I am a fine, happy product of public education. My public education NEVER presented me with a challenge with regards to my Catholic faith, even studying to be an applied scientist (engineer). Never. So, I would never interject let alone mention my personal beliefs unless that was somehow part of the curriculum and then only most cautiously, reticently. But, I felt this question on the test the students were taking was concerning enough I did feel parents should at least be aware of the question. I foolishly assumed, as a parent, nothing that went on in a classroom was secret from parents????!!!! Boy! Was I wrong! I allowed the students the choice of either taking the test home to share with their parents or not, never mentioning the reason I was allowing that option. Some did. Some didn’t. Boy, did the excrement hit the fan. I was summarily fired. Notice a pattern??? I don’t think it was me. I mentioned this to a neighbor and he stated his wife was a teacher and he knew all about the nonsense (nice word) (corruption?) infecting government schools. In fact, the local newspaper wrote an article about me…

https://www.hngnews.com/monona_cottage_grove/substitute-teacher-questions-limits-of-diversity/article_ad09513c-ac0e-11e6-a158-cb35f34de0c9.html



-by Casey Chalk

“A conversation between a Connecticut public school administrator and an undercover representative of Project Veritas pretending to be a journalist (Ed. Mr. Boland was pretending to be an assistant principal in a public school)—in which the assistant principal of Cos Cob School asserted that he preferred not to hire Catholics—has attracted national news attention for its alarming example of anti-Catholic prejudice. When asked what he does when he discovers an applicant to be a Catholic, assistant principal Jeremy Boland declared, “You don’t hire them.” He explained that “hardcore Catholics” are “brainwashed” and “just stuck real rigid.” (Boland was subsequently placed on administrative leave).

In one sense, it’s not terribly surprising that public school administrators like Boland would be opposed to Catholics in the workplace. Many public schools have become laboratories for radical gendersexual, and racial ideologies that have little to do with the kind of curriculum students will actually need to succeed in the world. Catholic teachers who believe that gender is static, prepubescent children should not be learning about sex, and children of all races should be treated equally are not going to be good fits in many “modern” classrooms.

But it’s also not exactly a secret that academic standards in public schools are in decline, while disciplinary problems are on the rise. Test scores in elementary school math and reading plummeted to their lowest levels in decades, according to the first nationally representative report comparing pre-pandemic student achievement to performance two years later. Children are reading less, a problem exacerbated by school closures stemming from the pandemic. Much of this (and the manifold detrimental consequences) have been covered in extensive—and often painful—detail by Catholic revert Mark Bauerlein in his books The Dumbest Generation and The Dumbest Generation Grows UpThe more that schools deviate from reading, writing, and math standards—and instead focus on turning classrooms into ideological listening sessions and social activism training camps—the less we should expect of the intellectual formation students receive.

Therein lies the sad irony: public schools administrators view Catholics as an obstacle to learning, but Catholics might very well be their best hope for maintaining a patina of intellectual coherence and respectability for their academic institutions. That is because, as even a brief consideration of the Catholic faith easily proves, the Catholic Church teaches the principles and values that are essential to the survival of American education.

Let’s start with the simple fact that the Church teaches that there is such a thing as absolute truth, and that it is knowable. “Truth is rightness, perceptible by the mind alone,” explains St. Anselm. Now, you may disagree with what the Church includes under the banner of absolute truth—such as God or the Incarnation—but her belief in absolute truth is mighty helpful when learning spelling or your times tables. Claims that math or proper grammar is somehow racist are antithetical to the Catholic tradition, which recognizes that without absolutes in such subjects as mathematics and grammar, our ability to understand any reality collapses.

The Church’s embrace of absolute truth also extends to ethics—there are right and wrong behaviors, and we should encourage the former and discourage the latter. “The dignity of the human person implies and requires uprightness of moral conscience,” teaches the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1780). Again, you might disagree with certain elements of Catholic moral teaching (perhaps on sexuality), but proper moral formation goes quite a long way to curbing disciplinary problems in the classroom. The Church teaches respect for authority, love of neighbor, and justice, all necessary to the proper running of a school.

Finally, the Church teaches that our actions have temporal and eternal consequences. “Any good or evil, done to the member of a society, redounds on the whole society,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae, II-I, Q. 21, a. 3). “A good or evil action deserves praise or blame,” he adds. Once more, you may not believe in the transcendent component to Catholic morality, but it’s mighty helpful to have Catholic educators (and students) who believe that their deeds are judged according to their effect on others and their conformity to eternal truth. Conscientious Catholics will no doubt still err, but that they are conscientious means they seek moral improvement, both for their own souls and for the good of their neighbor.

I’m only scratching the surface with these cursory comments regarding Catholics in the public square. Indeed, we have quite literally millions of examples of Catholics whose public practice of their faith has resulted in temporal benefits to all Americans, regardless of their religious affiliation. Just ask anyone who has been served by a Catholic doctor or nurse, helped by a Catholic charitable worker, or protected by a Catholic police officer or fireman. Indeed, many of the institutions we take for granted—such as hospitals and universities—have their origins in Catholicism. The Church is even responsible for science as we practice it today.

Mr. Boland and the rest of his anti-Catholic cohort in public education wouldn’t even have a school without the Catholic Church. He thinks Catholics are bad for business . . . but the business exists (and is in many respects preserved) because of Catholics. There are millions of Catholic students and thousands of Catholic teachers in public schools, and I have little doubt that many of them serve as the gum and toothpicks that keep many of our nation’s school systems together. Even those Catholics who aren’t the devout, regular Mass-attending, rosary-praying type have been inculturated into a tradition that prizes truth, service, and charity.

Public schools are in trouble. “Enrollment is down. Absenteeism is up. There aren’t enough teachers, substitutes or bus drivers,” the Washington Post observed earlier this year. I don’t think the solution will be to keep Catholics out. But keeping anti-Catholic ideologues like Boland out might help. Or at least mandate that disciplinary action and mediation include attendance at a nearby RCIA. Classes are starting soon, I hear.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Freedom of indifference vs freedom for excellence

Please click on the image for greater detail

Freedom of Indifference/ License. Freedom of Excellence/ True Freedom. The power to choose between contraries. The power to act freely with excellence and perfection. Does not recognize inclination towards good. Recognizes inclination towards good. Resides in the reason and the will. Resides in the will. Is entire from the first moment. Develops through education and discipline. Has no need for virtue. Virtue and habit are essential. Synonymous with self-assertion. Open to the common good. If the law is founded on the true and good, it creates a structure to enhance freedom. Moral law, Natural law and any form of legality is seen as constrictive to freedom.

Thomas Aquinas‘s use of the terms libero, libertas, and liberum arbitrium in the Summa theologiae gives us a wealth of information about free will and freedom. Human beings have free will and are masters of themselves through their free will. Free will can be impeded by obstacles or ignorance but naturally moves toward God. According to Servais Pinckaers, our freedom can be that of indifference (the morality of obligation) or that of excellence (the morality of happiness). The difference is that of free will moving reason versus reason moving free will. The freedom of indifference is the power to choose between good and evil. The will is inclined toward neither and freely chooses between them. The freedom for excellence is the power to be the best human being we can be. Here the rules, or what makes for a good human being, are the grounding for freedom. One who observes these rules has the freedom to become excellent. According to Aquinas, intellect and will have command over free will. This then is true freedom, and on this Aquinas and Pinckaers agree. We do not have freedom of indifference, we have freedom for excellence. Anything else makes us slaves.


-by Dr Kenneth J. Howell, a former Presbyterian converted to Catholicism. Dr. Howell holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics from Indiana University and a Ph.D. in the History of Christianity and Science from the University of Lancaster (U.K.). A Presbyterian minister for eighteen years and a theological professor for seven years in a Protestant seminary, Dr. Howell was confirmed and received into the Catholic Church in 1996. He and his wife, Sharon, have three children. They live in Champaign, Illinois.

“To many outside—and some within—the Catholic Church, it seems an oppressive institution. With its long list of dos and don’ts, the moral positions of the Church are seen as stifling. Against the background of an increasingly libertine American culture, Catholicism seems to be a throwback to the oppression of the Crusades and the Inquisition. The Church may no longer resort to threats of torture, but its moral strictures are torture enough for a populace used to freedom and liberty.

This perception of the Church contrasts sharply with the perceptions of practicing Catholics who have found freedom and liberation in the moral certitudes of the Church. When the moral positions of the Church are combined with its spiritual emphases, the faithful have often seen the Church as a haven for true happiness. The reason for these different evaluations of the Church has to do with two different views of freedom.

Why do those outside the Church see it as an oppressive institution stuck in the past, unable to change with the times? One reason is surely that outsiders believe in the freedom of indifference, whereas the Church espouses a freedom for excellence. Freedom of indifference is the notion that every person should have the unencumbered liberty to do whatever he wants unless it hurts someone else or infringes on someone else’s freedom.

In its current popular form, the freedom of indifference found classic expression in the views of nineteenth-century philosopher John Stuart Mill. Mill’s On Liberty (1859) enunciated a view that was free of metaphysical or natural grounding. The individual stands front and center in Mill’s philosophy. Governmental power cannot be used to compel people to certain beliefs, nor can prevailing public opinion be allowed to squelch individual views. The only legitimate restriction on an individual’s liberty is when he becomes a threat to others. So society may rightly limit a person’s freedom if that freedom poses harm to others. Barring that danger, Mill insisted that “over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”

Mill’s sovereignty of the individual extended even to the possibility of self-destruction. Even if the individual wishes to harm himself, society has no justification for intervention. Society should be indifferent in the face of the individual’s choices. This latter case illustrates how far Mill and his intellectual heirs are from any sense of natural rights or metaphysical grounding. Whether self-harm (e.g., by drug use) or even suicide is morally justified is not a concern of anyone but the individual.

Mill’s views, which surely were not his alone, have filtered down to the common culture of the Western world. The advocacy of abortion, physician-assisted suicide, and sexual orientation are all instances of Mill’s individualism. But there are smaller ways in which freedom of indifference is expressed in current culture. Since there is an inherent relativism and subjectivism in this view, it manifests itself aesthetically in the bromide that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. No such thing as inherent beauty exists.

Such relativist aesthetics has found its way into academia. Humanists gladly affirm that there is no good or bad literature, painting, or music. All is personal preference. In the moral sphere, no sexual arrangement is wrong if done by mutual consent. Even things once considered natural are now relegated to the category “social construction.”

Gender, once thought to be rooted in the natural makeup of the male and female sexes, has now been reclassified as a social construction, not a natural reality. Benighted psychiatrists once treated gender identity disorders as a therapeutic problem. Now the answer is surgical: “sex change” operations.

On what grounds is it argued that such operations are justified? The freedom of indifference. As long as such procedures leave others unharmed, no one has the right to tell someone what gender he is, regardless of his sex.

It doesn’t take much intelligence or hard thinking to live by freedom of indifference because of the radical individualism that underlies it. The only relevant factor is the choices and preferences of the individual.

In a statement that baffles the intellect, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in with its 1992 majority opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey by declaring, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Gone was any responsibility of the individual to examine reality, weigh arguments, and decide between competing moral frameworks. All that matters is the preferences of the individual.

Those who believe in the freedom of indifference will naturally see Catholic morality as an imposition tantamount to slavery. For those who believe that the individual is the agent and criterion of all moral judgments, public morality can at best be only a kind of social contract. And that contract ought to be minimal, reserving as much space for individual preferences as possible. In this view, Catholicism’s rich, detailed articulation of moral choices is a groundless imposition of the morality of a few upon a populace.

The Church agrees with the advocates of the freedom of indifference that individuals have to be free to make their own choices. However, utilitarians in the spirit of Mill tend to confuse the agents of moral decision-making with the question of criteria. The decades-old slogan that abortion is a woman’s choice confuses the agent with the criterion. No one doubts that it is a woman’s choice to have or not to have an abortion. That fact, however, says nothing about whether her decision is right or wrong.

Individuals must be free to make moral decisions, but this does not tell us what decisions will foster human freedom. Mill’s idea of freedom may protect an individual from society’s imposition, but it does not protect that person from the slavery of self-abuse. The reason is partly in the failure of utilitarianism to offer any account of virtue or how an individual develops in it over a lifetime. Utilitarianism and most modern forms of morality focus on moral decisions, not on human development in moral rectitude.

The ancients in general, and the Church in particular, saw that true human freedom is found not in moral indifferentism, but in a freedom for excellence. This is an interior freedom, an ability to govern oneself so as not to have to be governed from the outside. It is freedom in the form of self-mastery. The great difference between these two ideas of freedom can be pithily stated in an Augustinian fashion: “I sought happiness in freedom only to find freedom in happiness” (Quaesivi beatitudinem in libertate et non inveni libertatem nisi in beatitudine).

If we seek to be happy or blessed by the pursuit of freedom based on individual determination of right and wrong, then we only have to determine what will give pleasure. Of course, this theory fails to specify what happiness is or how it can be achieved other than self-determined pleasure. It requires little or no moral determination.

By contrast, freedom for excellence seeks to know the true nature of happiness (beatitudo) and to distinguish it from passing pleasure or self-destructive choices. The individual can study and reflect upon human experience to learn from those who have found true happiness. Upon finding it, that person can experience liberation from the need to seek happiness in destructive ways.

The difference between these two ideas of freedom can be seen most vividly with individuals in extremis. Under the influence of the freedom of indifference, it is almost impossible to believe that an individual might find happiness in a Nazi concentration camp or a Soviet prison. However, an individual who lives under the influence of the freedom for excellence can achieve a sense of interior freedom even while being severely restricted in movement and subject to inhumane conditions. Such possibilities are not pious platitudes. They are documented in the twentieth century.

Victor Frankel was a Jewish psychiatrist who was imprisoned in the concentration camp at Auschwitz and later at Dachau in World War II. He was, like his fellow prisoners, subjected to the most inhumane conditions imaginable. After the war, Frankel wrote a memoir that stunned the world. In Man’s Search for Meaning (1959), Frankel details how he found a sense of freedom in love. He noticed a difference between prisoners who possessed a rich interior life and those who did not: “Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life may have suffered much pain (they were often of a delicate constitution) but the damage to their inner selves was less. They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom” (p. 36).

Perhaps Frankel’s greatest discovery was that these “inner riches and spiritual freedom” were linked to love. In a passage where Frankel recounts his thoughts of his wife, he writes,

A thought transfixed me: For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth—that love is the ultimate and highest goal to which a man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love (37).

Victor Frankel discovered that his happiness did not lie in freedom from restraint, but that his freedom resided in his inner happiness.

Walter Ciszek, the American Jesuit imprisoned in Siberia under the Russian Soviet regime, had a similar experience. There is no better way to understand his progress toward freedom than in his own words:

Across that threshold I had been afraid to cross, things suddenly seemed so very simple. There was but a single vision, God, who was all in all; there was but one will that directed all things, God’s will. I had only to see it, to discern it in every circumstance in which I found myself, and let myself be ruled by it. God is in all things, sustains all things, directs all things. Nothing could separate me from Him, because He was in all things. No danger could threaten me, no fear could shake me, except the fear of losing sight of Him. The future, hidden as it was, was hidden in His will and therefore acceptable to me no matter what it might bring. The past, with all its failures, was not forgotten; it remained to remind me of the weakness of human nature and the folly of putting any faith in self. But it no longer depressed me. I looked no longer to self to guide me, relied on it no longer in any way, so it could not again fail me. By renouncing all control of my life and future destiny, I was relieved as a consequence of all responsibility. I was freed thereby from anxiety and worry, from every tension, and could float serenely upon the tide of God’s sustaining providence in perfect peace of soul (He Leadeth Me, 79-80).

Ciszek offers a theological dimension missing in Frankel’s account, but both testify to the superior idea of interior freedom where no human cruelty can reach. On Mill’s account of freedom, there simply could be no possibility of happiness because Frankel and Ciszek lacked social freedom. Yet, by their accounts, these two men, one a Jew, the other a Catholic, found freedom in the inner contentment of seeing the beauty resident in their inhuman conditions.

Happiness is not found in liberty—that is, in the freedom to do as pleasure dictates—but liberty is found in happiness. Or, as the ancient Romans and early Christians called it, blessedness (beatitudo).

Love & truth,
Matthew

Can you lose your salvation?

“Let’s take a look at Scripture.

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.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Left Behind, please!


-by Karlo Broussard

“Do you want to be left behind? For those of you familiar with Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series, you’re probably thinking, “Heck no! I don’t won’t to be left behind.”

Well, I’m here to tell you, “You do want to be left behind.”

The question is prompted by Jesus’ teaching about his coming at the end of time, which he compares to the days of Noah:

As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man . . . they did not know until the Flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man . . . Two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left” (Matt. 24:37-41).

Some Christians think Jesus is saying that at the end of time, before the final tribulation, he’s going to secretly snatch believers up to himself (“one is taken”)—hence the term “rapture”—and leave behind (“one is left”) the wicked to experience the final push of evil wrought by the Antichrist, after which he will come and establish the new heaven and new earth.

This “pre-tribulation” rapture doctrine originated and was developed in the early to mid-1800s by John Nelson Darby, an early leader of a Fundamentalist movement that became known as Dispensationalism. This view has influenced the thinking of not only many Fundamentalist Christians, but also Catholics. Even Catholics don’t want to be left behind.

But, like I said above, this isn’t the right answer. You do want to be “left behind.” You don’t want to “taken.” (This isn’t a Liam Neeson movie!)

Note first that Jesus compares his coming to “the days of Noah.” Well, who was swept away, or taken away, in the Flood? It was the wicked. Noah and his family, the righteous ones, were left behind on earth to experience a new creation. As smelly as it probably was, I assume you would have wanted to be left behind on that ark.

Now, someone might counter, “But couldn’t we interpret Jesus the other way just as easily: the wicked were left behind to be destroyed by the Flood, and Noah and his family were swept away?”

One problem with this reading is that Matthew explicitly identifies the wicked as the ones being “swept away” in the Flood: “For as in those days before the Flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage . . . and they did not know until the Flood came and swept them all away” (Matt. 24:38-39). If it’s the wicked that were taken away in the Flood, then it’s the wicked that will be taken away at Jesus’ coming.

Another problem with the idea that it’s the wicked that are left behind is that it doesn’t jibe with the parable of the wicked servant that follows in verses 45-51. Again, the motif of “being taken away” is present, and it’s the wicked servant who is taken:

If that wicked servant says to himself, “My master is delayed,” and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eats and drinks with the drunken, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the hypocrites; there men will weep and gnash their teeth (vv. 48-50).

Here we have a parable about Jesus’ coming. And it’s the wicked who are taken away.

Jesus’s comparison of his coming to the days of Noah immediately precedes this parable, and Jesus says some will be taken away. It doesn’t make sense that Matthew would put these two parables together if Jesus meant to mix the referents of those being taken away: the righteous in one (the coming compared to the days of Noah) and the wicked in the other (his coming compared to the master finding his servant being unfaithful). Given this context, it’s more reasonable to interpret the ones being taken from the field at his coming as a reference to the wicked.

So far, our evidence has been restricted to Matthew’s Gospel. But when we look at Luke’s version of this teaching (Luke 17:26-37), we find that there’s more.

Like Matthew, Luke records the bit about one being taken and another being left behind. The only difference is that where Matthew talks about two in the “field,” Luke speaks of two in “bed” (Luke 17:34).

After Jesus tells the apostles that some will be taken away, Luke records the apostles asking Jesus, “Where, Lord?” Clearly, the question is directed to where the people are taken, since the apostles know where they’re left behind—namely, “in the bed” (v. 34) and “grinding at the mill” (v. 35). And in response to the question, Jesus says, “Where the body is, there the eagles will be gathered” (v. 37).

If the rapturist view were correct, then the place where these individuals are taken would have to be heaven. But Jesus’ response doesn’t quite match up.

The Greek word for “eagles” is aetoi (plural of aetos). It generally refers to a large carrion-eating bird, like an eagle or a vulture. Sometimes it’s used in a sense simply to refer to the bird without any focus on the decaying-flesh-eating activity, as evidenced in Revelation 4:7, where it speaks of one of the four living creatures as an “eagle”—the same Greek word, aetos, is used.

Here in Luke, though, the emphasis seems to be on the flesh-eating aspect of the bird. The New American Bible translation concurs, as it translates aetoi as “vultures.”

Notice that Jesus says, “Where the body is, there will the aetoi gather.” If Jesus were simply referring to the bird as such, then why emphasize the “body”? It appears that what Jesus is saying is that the place where these individuals are taken is a place where decaying flesh is picked by flesh-eating birds.

That doesn’t sound like heaven!

So, rather than the righteous being taken away and the wicked being left behind, it’s the opposite: the righteous are left behind, and the wicked are taken away. The wicked are taken away to experience torment, and the righteous stay behind to experience the new heaven and the new earth, like Noah and his family.

So, next time you get asked the question, “Do you want to be left behind?” get ready for a look of confusion when you answer, “Yes! How about you?”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Unity: Eucharist & Four Marks of the Church

-by Jan Wakelin

“We often speak of the four marks of the Church: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Yet during our apologetical endeavors, it would be a missed opportunity not to bring the argument to a climax by unveiling the Eucharist as the mark of Christ’s Church par excellence. The Eucharist is the ultimate mark of Christ’s Church, for the Eucharist not only is a visible sign of each mark, but has the power to maintain the essence of what each mark of the Church represents.

First, the Church is one through the Eucharist. In October 2004, John Paul II graced the Year of the Eucharist with the apostolic letter Mane Nobiscum Domine. In it, the Holy Father recounted several instances in Scripture where Christ was leading His disciples to an understanding of a Church united in him through the Eucharist. In John 6:55, Jesus says, “My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” This was shocking to those who heard it—so much so that many left. Jesus asked the Twelve if they too would go away. Peter, speaking for the Twelve, said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” In other words, those who understood, though they were shocked by the reality of the words just spoken, refused to abandon Christ’s teaching because they would be abandoning Christ himself.

St. Cyril of Alexandria understood the Eucharist’s ability to unite us with Christ. He said, “As two pieces of wax fused together make one, so he who receives Holy Communion is so united with Christ that Christ is in him and he is in Christ.”

The Eucharist is, therefore, the sign and cause of unity because the Eucharist is Christ. It was instituted by Christ as a means of drawing us to himself. The Eucharist expresses our unity and also brings it about when we receive him worthily. The fact that we share the same body and blood makes us sisters and brothers in Christ. Even at the natural level we realize that sharing the same blood forms a family bond. Those who are too ill to participate in the Eucharistic celebration are often brought the Eucharist both as a sign of unity and to provide them with spiritual food. Blessed Theophane Venard wrote of the Eucharist, “When the body is deprived of food it languishes and dies; and it is the same with the soul, without the Bread that sustains life.”

By receiving this spiritual nourishment, we, Christ’s body, are equipped to give of ourselves to each other and to him in a more perfect way. The visible structure of the Church maintains the succession of priests who can offer the sacrifice of the Mass and consecrate bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood. “Just as the Church ‘makes the Eucharist’ so the Eucharist builds up the Church” (Dominicae Cenae 4).

The Eucharist also unites heaven and earth. Many who have lost a loved one may experience closeness to that person after receiving Communion or while in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. These feelings may be a result of a deep theological awareness that those who died in grace are alive in Christ; thus, our nearness to Christ in the Eucharist brings us nearer to them as well.

Another way of seeing this fusion of heaven and earth is to realize that when Christ instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, its sacrificial dimension was revealed. Throughout history, Christ offers himself for the salvation of all mankind—but why? So we can live with him eternally. As one family, we, who share the same divine body and blood, will share in the heavenly banquet together—perfected in love and united in that love.

Augustine said of the Eucharist, “O sacrament of love! O sign of unity! O bond of charity! He who would have life finds here indeed a life to live and a life to live by.”

Second, the Church is holy through the Eucharist. The greatest commandments are to love God and neighbor, and the greatest expression of this love is found in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is Christ, and it recalls the love he has for us—a love so great that he was willing to become one of us, suffer incredible physical and spiritual pain, and die a human death. Consuming Christ in the Eucharist has the capacity to make us more like him—and thus more holy. “For the partaking of the body and blood of Christ has no less an effect than to change us into what we receive” (Eucharisticum Mysterium 7).

Such thoughts help us to understand St. Teresa of Avila’s words that “Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out, yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good, and yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.”

Third, the Church is catholic through the Eucharist. Christ’s presence in the Church makes it catholic, or universal. He is wherever the Church is, and wherever the Church is, there is the Eucharist.

As a universal Church, we have the responsibility of being Christ to others. This means that not only must we say what he said, but we also must do what he did. Jesus admonished sinners, showed mercy, asked for repentance, and demonstrated compassion and forgiveness. He also fed the hungry, healed the sick, and encouraged the poor. He did not deny anyone because of race, sex, age, or state in life. Just as we are to be Christ to others, so we must see Christ in others. He can be found in everyone. When we see Christ in others, we find ourselves. In this way, the Church is also universal.

By participating in the Eucharistic celebration, we are reminded that the loving sacrifice that he made for us, he also made for everyone. All activities of the Church to spread the kingdom of God are linked with the Eucharist and are directed back to it. St. Peter Chrysologus said, “The Eucharist is the link that binds the Christian family together. Take away the Eucharist and you have no brotherliness left.”

Fourth, the Church is apostolic through the Eucharist. The Church is apostolic because her mission in and to the world is a continuation of the work of the first apostles, a mission given to them by Christ. Because this mission will go on until the end of time, the apostles had to make provisions for others to succeed them. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the bishops, who are the successors to the apostles, continue to teach and guide the Church today. All the members of the mystical body of Christ share in this mission and are called to activities that further God’s kingdom. This means they are to spread the gospel of Christ through works of love in their state of life. “But charity, drawn from the Eucharist above all, is always ‘as it were, the soul of the whole apostolate’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 864).

The Church is governed by spiritual fathers representing God. Throughout the Old Testament, genealogies had great importance because they identified individuals as part of a succession of people who shared the same blood and, thus, were part of the same family. Christ continued this linkage by appointing apostles to succeed him, and he gave us the Eucharist so we could all share in the same blood that our brothers and sisters in faith also shared.

So you see how Christ’s body and blood factor into each mark of the Church. The Eucharist both symbolizes the oneness of Christ’s Church and causes and sustains it. Christ is God, who alone is perfectly holy. Christ is present within the Church for which he dies, making it holy. The Church has been entrusted with the Eucharist, and therefore it has the means to make men holy by partaking in Christ. Christ’s Church is universal because he died for each and every one of us wherever we are, whoever we are, and whenever we lived.

St. John de Brebeuf, a Jesuit who was martyred bringing the Catholic faith to the natives of North America, contemplated the mystery of the Eucharist’s universality, saying,

The only external sign of our holy religion that we have is the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. . . . It seems, moreover, that God supplies what we lack and rewards us with grace for having transported the holy sacrament beyond so many seas and having found an abode for it in these poor cabins.

By bringing the Eucharist to the New World, continents were spiritually united. The Eucharist is a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice for all men, and it keeps in our mind the dignity of all men because of Christ’s love for them. The Church’s ability to trace its roots to the apostles assures us that the successors to Peter are part of our family tree and that it is the true Church. The power to consecrate bread and wine has been passed on within the family as our spiritual treasure that keeps each mark of the Church present and its identity authentic.

The reason, therefore, why the Eucharist is the ultimate mark of the Church, the mark par excellence, is that the Eucharist is Christ, Who remains in the Church; sustains it; and, through its members, draws others to himself. Because of the Eucharist, the Church maintains its marks and grows in unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolic works. The Eucharist was instituted because of the Church, and the Church is sustained and grows because of the Eucharist.

Articulating this truth to non-Catholic Christians would resonate in many hearts and draw them into this great mystery of our faith: Christ’s real presence among us. St. John Henry Newman said, “A true Christian may almost be defined as one who has a ruling sense of God’s presence within him.” How much more within us can he be than through the partaking of the Eucharist?”

Love,
Matthew

Ipsum Esse Subsistens, Essence & Being, Nothing is included in Everything


(Ed. it is helpful to go all the way back to Plato’s ideas of ‘forms’ first. The good father goes a little fast past primary definitions for the novice.)

Ipsum Esse Subsistens, Existence or Act of Existence Itself, subsistent of Itself or subsisting by Itself, i.e. God. God is being itself. God exists outside of time, i.e. transcendence. God is. God just is. (Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, q. 4, a. 2)


-by Michael R. Egnor, MD

“Metaphysics is the [philosophical] study of the basic structure of reality. It is, in Aristotle’s words, the study of being as being, rather than the study of any particular being per se. Metaphysics is the framework by which we understand reality. We can’t avoid metaphysics — every act of understanding entails a metaphysical framework, a perspective. One might say that our metaphysical perspective is that by which we understand, contrasted to nature itself, which is that which we understand.

Our own metaphysical framework is often opaque to us. We use it, like we might use an intuitive political bias, without really examining the framework we are using. We each have a metaphysical bias — it’s unavoidable, and the important question is: does our bias lead us toward or away from the truth? Gaining metaphysical insight is not easy, but it pays big dividends. It helps us to know the truth — indeed, it is that by which we know the truth.

A Rigorous and Consistent System

St. Thomas Aquinas developed a rigorous and consistent system of metaphysics. He was the first Christian philosopher to insist that faith and reason, properly understood, are never in conflict. Belief in God is not contrary to knowledge of the natural world. St. Thomas’ doctrine was controversial in his day, but it was accepted by the Church in the centuries after his death, and it became the intellectual foundation of the modern world, including the cornerstone of modern science.

Ironically, the correspondence of faith and reason is controversial today, especially in the atheist community. The denial of the compatibility between faith and reason is a lynchpin of atheist arguments for naturalism: atheists insist that science tells us the real truth about the world, and faith in God is superstition. The Thomistic reply is that genuine faith and reason both point to the same truth. The Thomistic understanding of reason and its correspondence with faith offer a powerful reply to atheistic naturalism. For readers who are interested in metaphysics and in these modernist controversies, it’s worthwhile taking a closer look at the principle that is the cornerstone of Thomistic metaphysics.

Essence and Existence

The cornerstone of Thomistic metaphysics is the doctrine of essence and existence. It is this: essence is absolutely distinct from existence. This doctrine, which St. Thomas was the first philosopher to assert unequivocally and demonstrate with rigor, has profound implications for our understanding of reality, of nature, of science and of God. What does St. Thomas mean in saying “essence is absolutely distinct from existence”?

First, definitions. Essence is that which makes something the sort of thing it is. It is, succinctly, all the characteristics that are knowable about something. The essence of a cat is everything about the cat that makes it a cat. Its cat-shape, it’s furriness, its meow, its animality, etc. Some things about the cat, things the cat may do or what may happen to it (projectile vomiting or be eaten) — are not parts of the essence of a cat. They are extraneous to it, although in rare circumstances, they may be true of it. You can see here where that modern notion of “essence” comes from. Essence is what’s important about something, what tells us what something really is. [ Ed. A cat is still a cat, maintains the “essence” of cat-ness, even when it is not projectile vomiting or being eaten. These question arise practically in artificial intelligence.]

And Now for Existence

Existence is that a thing is, rather than what a thing is. The existence of a thing is different from the essence of a thing. I can know the essence of a rock, but it is the rock’s existence by which I stub my toe. I can’t stub my toe on essence, no matter how hard it is.

Prior to St. Thomas, many philosophers considered existence to be a property of something, part of its essence, i.e. Plato. We might say that my cat Fluffy’s essence is that she is shaped like a cat, purrs and meows, likes to play with yarn, and exists.

An Utter Metaphysical Distinction

St. Thomas emphatically pointed out that existence is not, and cannot be, any part of essence. Existence and essence are metaphysically utterly distinct — existence is not a genus, in scholastic terms, but is above every genus. Existence is not a characteristic or property of a thing. It is something much more fundamental.

To understand what Aquinas is getting at, consider again my cat Fluffy. I will describe her to you: she is calico, weighs nine pounds, hates baths, purrs, says “meow” several times a day, is three years old, and is expecting kittens. If you want to know more about her, just ask. I can describe her in any degree of detail you would like.

Now tell me this: does she exist? I have given you her essence, to any level of detail you want, but the fact or fallacy of her existence is not knowable from knowing her essence. In fact, I don’t have a cat. I have a dog. But I can describe my cat completely, and you still can’t know if she really exists.

Unicorns

I can describe anything you like in whatever detail you like, but you can’t know whether it exists or not merely by its description. You can’t know existence merely by knowing essence…unicorns. Essence is not existence. [Ed. Essence meant here as a philosophical term is more than merely creative writing. We all know what an acorn is. That is its essence. That we know what an acorn is.  Specific acorns exist, but that is not what we are talking about.  We are not discussing a specific acorn when we are discussing or imagine acorns.] In modern terms, [unicorns mean] the Venn diagram of existence has no overlap with the Venn diagram of essence.

In Thomistic terms, in order for something in nature to exist, its existence must be joined to its essence. [Ed. Essence, in philosophical terms, is a reality outside the mind of any one or group of persons.  We know there are planets in the galaxy, even if we cannot currently see them.  We have an idea of what a planet is.  The abstract philosophical construct of a planet would still exist even if there were no intelligent creatures to understand the essence of a planet.  It merely requires an intelligent creature to discover the concept of philosophical essence.  Essence was there in philosophical thought all along.  When we discover a new planet its essence, the concept of planet, and its existence, the planet we found, coexist.  It is the essence of planet that even impels us to look for such a thing as a planet, having not discovered the next actual planet we find.] In fact, that is what nature is: distinct essences joined to existence. Things that exist are composites of existence and essence, and existence and essence are really distinct things [philosophically].

So what does this matter? It seems too esoteric to have any relevance to anyone not in a cloister. But its relevance is profound and extends to many aspects of theology and science [i.e. artificial intelligence].”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Can you lose your salvation? Jn 10:27-29


-please click on the image for greater detail


-by Karlo Broussard

“How can the Catholic Church teach that it’s possible for us to lose our salvation when Jesus says that his sheep always hear his voice and that no one can snatch us out of his hand?

Recall that the Catechism warns of “offending God’s love” and “incurring punishment” (2090). To fear incurring the punishment of hell implies that a person can’t have absolute assurance of his salvation. Protestants use 1 John 5:13 to challenge this belief. But there is another Bible passage that some Protestants [64] use to mount the challenge: John 10:27-29:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, Who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

If Jesus says that no one shall snatch Christians out of his and the Father’s hand, doesn’t it follow that we are eternally secure?

1. Jesus’ promise to protect his sheep is on the condition that his sheep remain in the flock. It doesn’t exclude the possibility that a sheep could wander off and thus lose the reward of eternal life.

The condition for being among Jesus’ sheep and being rewarded with eternal life is that we continue hearing Jesus’ voice and following him. Jesus teaches this motif of continued faithfulness a few chapters later with his vine and branch metaphor in John 15:4-6:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.

Just as we the branches must remain in Christ the vine lest we perish, so, too, we the sheep must continue to listen to the voice of Jesus the shepherd lest we perish.

Even the verbs suggest continuous, ongoing action by the sheep and the shepherd, not a one-time event in the past [65]. Jesus doesn’t say, “My sheep heard my voice, and I knew them.” Instead, he says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them” (v.27). His sheep are those who hear His voice in the present.

2. Jesus only says that no external power can snatch a sheep out of his hands. He doesn’t say that a sheep couldn’t exclude itself from His hands.

The passage says that no one shall snatch—take away by force—Christians out of the hands of Jesus and the Father. This doesn’t preclude the possibility that we can take ourselves out of Jesus’ protecting hands by our sin. A similar passage is Romans 8:35-39 where Paul lists a series of external things that can’t take us out of Christ’s loving embrace. But he never says that our own sin can’t separate us from Christ’s love.

Like Paul in Romans 8:35-39, Jesus is telling us in John 10:27-29 that no external power can snatch us out of his hands. But that doesn’t mean we can’t voluntarily leave his hands by committing a sin “unto death” (1 John 5:16-17). And if we were to die in that state of spiritual death without repentance, we would forfeit the gift that was promised to us: eternal life.

3. There is abundant evidence from Scripture that Christians do, in fact, fall from a saving relationship with Christ due to sin.

The Bible teaches that sheep do go astray. Consider, for example, Jesus’ parable about the lost sheep whom the shepherd goes to find (Matt. 18:12-14; Luke 15:3-7). Sure, the shepherd finds the sheep (Jesus never stops trying to get us back in His flock). But the point is that the sheep can wander away.

The same motif is found in Jesus’ parable about the wicked servant who thinks his master is delayed and beats the other servants and gets drunk (Matt. 24:45-51). Notice that the servant is a member of the master’s household. But because of his failure to be vigilant in preparing for his master’s return, he was found wanting and was kicked out with the hypocrites where “men will weep and gnash their teeth” (v.51). Similarly, Christians can be members of Christ’s flock and members of His household, but if we don’t persevere in fidelity to him we will lose our number among the elect. That Christians can fall out of Christ’s hands due to sin is evident in Paul’s harsh criticism of the Galatians:

Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you . . . You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace (Gal. 5:2,4).

If some of the Galatians were “severed from Christ” and “fallen from grace,” then they were first in Christ and in grace. They were counted among the flock, but they later went astray. Not because they were snatched but by their own volition.

Didn’t Jesus give a parable about a sheep wondering away from the flock? (Matt. 18:10-14).

Peter teaches that those who “have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”—that’s to say born-again Christians—can return back to their evil ways: “They are again entangled in them and overpowered” (2 Pet. 2:20). Peter identifies their return to defilement as being worse than their former state, saying, “The last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them” (vv.20-21). He adds salt to the wound by comparing their return to defilement to a dog returning to its vomit (v.22). Clearly, Peter didn’t believe in the doctrine of eternal security.”

Love & Truth,
Matthew

[64] See Waiss and McCarthy, Letters Between a Catholic and an Evangelical, 381; Norm Geisler, “A Moderate Calvinist View,” in Four Views on Eternal Security, ed. J Matthew Pinson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 71.

[65] See Dale Moody, The Word of Truth: A Summary of Christian Doctrine Based on Biblical Revelation (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1981), 357.

Broussard, Karlo. Meeting the Protestant Challenge: How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Beliefs (p. 74-77). Catholic Answers Press. Kindle Edition.