Category Archives: Ecumenism

Where does the Bible say everything Christians believe must be found in the Bible?


-by Trent Horn

:When Catholics and Protestants have discussions about what divides us, Protestants often pepper their Catholic friends with the question, “Where is that in the Bible?” But seldom do they stop to apply the standard of sola scriptura to their own beliefs. If they did, they would find that some of them don’t come from the Bible at all but from a theological tradition they received from a parent or pastor.

Let’s look at three examples of extrabiblical Protestant traditions.

Where does the Bible say we are not purified of sin after death?

The single most common question we receive at Catholic Answers is, “Where is purgatory in the Bible?” But Protestants who assume that Catholic doctrine about the afterlife should be spelled out explicitly in Scripture rarely apply this same standard to their own beliefs about life after death. The Protestant author William Edward Fudge writes:

While the Reformers talked about last things, they never did construct an eschatology using the building blocks of Scripture. . . . Luther and Calvin rejected the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory, for example, not because they made a thorough study of scriptural eschatology and found it missing, but because purgatory clearly contradicted the doctrine of justification that they had discovered in the Bible.[1]

Protestants typically believe that every Christian is united with Christ immediately after death, and therefore we will have no need for purification. But the passages they cite in defense of this claim, such as Philippians 1:23 (“My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better”) and 2 Corinthians 5:8 (“We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord”) do not stand up to scrutiny.

If I say, “When I am at work in the office, I am away from my family,” that does not mean the moment I leave my office I will be home with my family (I might have to endure a long daily commute, for example). Likewise, a desire to be with Christ does not prove there will be no process of purification before we achieve that desire. In fact, 2 Corinthians 5:10 teaches that we can be apart from the body but not at home with the Lord: “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.”

Where does the Bible say we should make Jesus our personal Lord and Savior?

Protestants who object to the Mass or sacraments as unbiblical and unnecessary often say that all we need to do instead is accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior and confess our sins directly to God rather than to some priest.

Setting aside the fact that the Mass and the sacraments are biblical, I would point out the idea of basing one’s faith around a personal relationship with Jesus is not. Concerning the popular “Sinner’s Prayer” (“Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I trust and follow you as my Lord and Savior”), Protestant apologists Matt Slick and Tony Miano note, “There is not a single verse or passage in Scripture, whether in a narrative account or in prescriptive or descriptive texts, regarding the use of a ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ in evangelism. Not one” [emphasis in original].

This doesn’t mean it is wrong to ask Jesus to have a personal relationship with us. It just means that this foundational Protestant belief is not found in Scripture. The Bible also never instructs us to confess our sins to the resurrected Jesus, even though almost all Christians are comfortable doing that. So Protestants who adhere to sola scriptura should rethink their belief in these things—or rethink their belief in sola scriptura.

Protestants often cite 1 John 1:9 to defend confessing sins to God (and not to a priest), because it says, “If we confess [Greek, homologōmen; root homologeō] our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” But this passage doesn’t say we should confess our sins to God alone. The context of the passage concerns what we say or confess to other people rather than what we communicate to God.

The previous verse, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” and the following verse, “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us,” describe believers speaking to one another. In fact, aside from Hebrews 13:15, homologeō is never used to describe confessing anything to God. In John’s writings, it is always used to describe confessing a belief to other men. In both the sacrament of confession and anointing of the sick, the priest does not directly forgive sin or heal, but rather he becomes the means by which God grants forgiveness or healing.

Most Protestants would agree with this thinking on something like baptism, since—like Catholics—they usually deny the validity of self-baptism. Those who believe in baptismal regeneration correctly point out that although God alone takes away sin, God does not act alone when he takes away a person’s sins through baptism. Instead, God works through other believers who baptize on his behalf. The same principle applies when God uses a minister to forgive a person’s sins through confession.

Where does the Bible say all revelation ceased after the apostolic age?

Protestants claim that the word of God is confined to what is recorded in Scripture and that no new revelation was given after the last books of the Bible were written. Catholics agree that public revelation, or the deposit of faith, ceased after the death of the last apostolic man (this includes the apostles and their associates like Mark and Luke). We disagree, however, with the idea that this truth can be known from Scripture alone. Protestants who are skeptical of Sacred Tradition should ask why they believe in the cessation of divine revelation since Scripture does not explicitly address this issue.

Some have argued that this truth is described in Jude 3, which speaks of “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints,” but this verse on its own cannot support the claim that public revelation has ceased. Protestant apologist John MacArthur says that the Greek word translated “delivered” in this verse “refers to an act completed in the past with no continuing element.” He also says the phrase “once for all” (Greek, hapax) means “nothing needs to be added to the faith that has been delivered ‘once for all.’” This would mean that the “faith” had been delivered before Jude was written, which means Jude and its teaching about the cessation of public revelation would not have been a part of that original deposit of faith.

Arguments from Jude 3 also confuse “delivering the faith” with public revelation. Jesus gave “the faith” once and for all to the apostles, but the public revelation of that faith continued for decades after Jesus’ interactions with them during the writing of the New Testament. There isn’t any explicit biblical evidence that this revelation ceased after the death of the last apostle (or that it didn’t continue for centuries rather than decades).

Catholics agree with Protestants that this public revelation did cease in the apostolic Church. The Catechism says that “no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (66). But Catholics believe this truth based on the trustworthiness of the Magisterium, which preserves God’s word in both its written (Scripture) and unwritten (Tradition) forms—not, as Protestants would have to believe, based on the clear teaching of the Bible alone.

So when Protestants ask, “Where is that in the Bible?”, you might charitably ask in reply, “Where does the Bible say everything we believe as Christians must be found in the Bible?” Then you could offer to share with them some other common Protestant beliefs that have their roots not in Scripture but in traditions—both sacred and human.”

Love,
Matthew

Bible is NEVER sola


Oral Torah = Tradition


-by Douglas Beaumont, Catholic Answers, Dr. Beaumont earned a Ph.D. in theology from North-West University and an M.A. in apologetics from Southern Evangelical Seminary, where he taught for many years before coming into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2014.

Most Protestants have no problem with God’s Revelation taking more than one form

It must be recognized that most Protestants do not have a problem with the idea that God’s revelation can take more than one form.

In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul writes, “What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (1:19–20).

Paul seems to be echoing the Old Testament book of Wisdom, which says, “For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator” (13:5). All of this agrees with the psalmist, who declared that “the heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1).

Natural and Supernatural Revelation

Catholics and Protestants agree that God makes Himself known in ways outside of Scripture

So we see in Scripture itself that God reveals Himself (clearly and to all people) through his creation, apart from Scripture. Theologians call this kind of revelation natural (because it comes through nature) or general (because it is given to all people).

In contrast, revelation that is given by prophetic utterances or recorded in inspired writings is called supernatural (because it is direct communication from God) or special (because it is not available to all people without qualification).

Catholics and Protestants agree that these two modes of revelation are both legitimate and authoritative—at least in theory. In its two millennia on earth, the Catholic Church has developed many careful distinctions, one of them being to subdivide supernatural, public revelations into those originally written (Sacred Scripture) and unwritten (Sacred Tradition).

Catholics emphasize that all truth is “God’s truth” and therefore that no revelation can truly contradict another, whereas Protestants elevate the written form above the others. But Protestants will agree that God can and does reveal himself in ways outside the pages of the Bible.

In Principle Protestants Agree: God’s revelation comes to us in more than the written form.

The Importance of Interpretation

Language is a set of signs pointing to things in reality

An important thing to note here is that regardless of their source, written words need to be interpreted. Language is a set of signs (whether oral or written) pointing to things in reality. Therefore, our knowledge of reality will determine our interpretation of words.

When I say or write the word dog, English speakers will know what I mean because we have agreed that this word refers to the animal we all recognize as a dog.

That’s pretty straightforward, but language is not always that easy to understand. Dog can also refer to a person (usually, but not always, in a negative way) or it can be a word to modify a type of day in summer or express how tired I am. Aside from the challenge of words having multiple definitions, sometimes the same meaning is applied to distinct things in very specific ways.

For example, if I say, “My wife is a peach,” no one would suspect that I had married a fruit! Instinctively, they would compare what they know about peaches and women to what I had said and infer my actual meaning (“My wife is sweet”).

This is as true of the Bible as anything else. For example, the words of Scripture describe our planet as being circular (Isa. 40:22) and as having corners (Rev. 7:1). Because something cannot be both circular and cornered, it seems clear that one of these verses was meant to be taken metaphorically. But which one? One could argue from genre types or try to dig into the original Hebrew and Greek, but in our age it is much easier to consult natural revelation (simply look at the planet!).

Catholicism Affirms: God’s public, special revelation has come to us in written and unwritten form.

Love & His will, which is perfect,
Matthew

Early Church: before ~400 AD, Christianity w/out the Bible


-please click on the image for greater detail.

-by Catholic Answers

“Question:

I recently listened to a debate on sola scriptura between a Catholic apologist and a Baptist who runs an anti-Catholic organization. The Baptist claimed the Catholic Church did not decide the canon of the New Testament at the councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397, 419). As proof he alluded to the Muratorian Fragment, saying that, since it was far older than those councils and since it contains the New Testament canon as we know it, the issue was obviously settled long before the Catholic Church made any decisions. Is it true?

Answer:

The Baptist fellow is wrong and misled the audience. The Muratorian Fragment (so-called because it represents only a portion of the actual second-century document discovered in 1740 by Lodovico Antonio Muratori), is the oldest extant listing of New Testament-era books revered by early Christians. It was written sometime between 155 and 200. Patristic scholars believe the unknown author originally wrote the list in Greek (since the Latin is very poor), but the oldest copy available is an eighth-century Latin manuscript.

Although the Muratorian Fragment is important in studying how the early Church developed the New Testament canon, it doesn’t give exactly the same list of books that was later adopted as canonical at the councils of Hippo and Carthage. The Muratorian Fragment is just that: a fragment of a larger list of books which were considered canonical or quasi-canonical during the second century.

The Fragment itself provides us with a good though incomplete idea of this early canon. Virtually the entire New Testament canon as we know it is represented but not all of it: the Gospels of Luke and John (preceded by what seems to be an allusion to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark), Acts, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Romans, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Philemon, Titus, 1 & 2 Timothy, Jude, two letters of John (since the fragment simply says “the two ascribed to John,” we don’t know which two of his three letters are meant), and Revelation.

The unknown author adds other non-canonical books to this lineup but makes clear these were not considered part of the canon: the so-called Pauline Epistles to the Laodiceans and to the Alexandrians (about which the Fragment’s author expresses his conviction that they were not authored by Paul), the Apocalypse of Peter, and the Shepherd of Hermas). The Fragment’s list is cut short abruptly with a final, enigmatic phrase which may indicate that the author had gone on to include still other non-inspired writings: “Those also who wrote the new book of psalms for Marcion, together with Basilides, the founder of the Asian Cataphrygians.”

As you can see, although the Muratorian Fragment lists most of the New Testament books, it’s missing a few (e.g. James, one of John’s epistles, most likely 3 John), and it also adds the book of Wisdom as canonical, which is very interesting from a Catholic perspective.

These facts demonstrate that, although the Fragment came close, it did not represent the actual canon of inspired Scripture. Further, there is no internal evidence in the document that it sought to represent any kind of official canon that was regarded by the Church as binding.

In the first four centuries of the Church many books, such as the seven letters of Ignatius, the Letter of Clement [the fourth pope] to the Corinthians, the Didache, and The Shepherd were revered by many Christians as inspired but were later shown to be non-inspired.

It was not until the Synod of Rome under Pope Damasus in A.D. 382, followed by the Councils of Hippo and Carthage, that the Catholic Church defined, albeit non-infallibly, which books made it into the New Testament and which didn’t. Probably the council fathers studied the (complete) Muratorian Fragment and other documents, including, of course, the books in question themselves, but it was not until these Councils that the Church officially settled the issue.

The plain fact of the matter is that the canon of the Bible was not settled in the first years of the Church. It was settled only after repeated (and perhaps heated) discussions, and the final listing was determined by the pope and Catholic bishops. This is an inescapable fact, no matter how many people wish to escape from it.”


-by Douglas Beaumont, Catholic Answers, Dr. Beaumont earned a Ph.D. in theology from North-West University and an M.A. in apologetics from Southern Evangelical Seminary, where he taught for many years before coming into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2014.

“When a skeptic argues against the Bible, he is usually not attacking the book but the ideas in the book. Skeptics are not really concerned about how many generations there are between Adam and Jesus or how many angels were at Jesus’ tomb. It is Christianity that concerns them (and hence the New Testament in particular). Since many Christians and skeptics alike consider the Bible to be the foundation of Christianity, to call its historicity, manuscript transmission, scientific accuracy, etc. into question is to call Christianity into question.

Defenses of Christianity, then, often either begin or conclude with a defense of the Bible. But what if the trustworthiness of the Bible could not be satisfactorily defended?

I don’t think this is the case, but it is worth thinking about for at least these two reasons: 1) most skeptics think the Bible has not been defended sufficiently, and 2) the case for Christianity will be even stronger if it can survive the failure of these popular methods. If the defense of Christianity is not coextensive with that of the Bible, then attacks on the latter can’t be used against the former.

I would argue that even if we lost the Bible completely, Christianity would remain undefeated. Therefore, the defeat of the Bible would not entail the defeat of Christianity.

How can we be sure of this?

First, Christianity preceded the Christian Bible. The New Testament writings did not begin until at least a decade after Christ started the Church, yet those who believed were Christians and therefore constituted the Church (1 Cor. 1:2 cf. 15:1-5).

Second, Christianity continued to exist without most of its members possessing the New Testament. Even after the New Testament started to be written and copied, its contents were not in the possession of the average believer. Even literate Christians would have to wait 1,500 years or so, when the printing press made bibles widely accessible. Even in our own time, people from many parts of the world become Christians when the Bible is forbidden or inaccessible in their own language. Yet Christianity has spread across the globe. It is possible, then, that Christianity’s message could have been communicated only orally through the ages.

Third, suppose some atheistic world dictator had every copy of the Bible destroyed and somehow made it impossible to create any future copies or to publish it online. Would Christianity disappear from the Earth? Of course not.

Before the New Testament was canonized, Christianity existed. Before it was completed, Christianity existed. Before its writing had even commenced, Christianity existed. It is, therefore, both a theoretical and a historical fact that Christianity can exist while no Bible exists.

All right, you ask: if the Bible is not necessary for Christianity’s existence, how would we know what Christianity teaches? As it turns out, we can find out pretty much everything necessary from a multitude of extra-biblical historical sources. These include:

  • Catechetical instructions (e.g., The Didache, first century)
  • Sermon messages (e.g., 1-2 Clement, A.D. 95-97)
  • Early epistles (e.g., Letters of Ignatius, A.D. 98-117)
  • Baptismal confessions (e.g., The Old Roman Creed, second to third century)
  • Bible commentaries (e.g., Theophilus’s, or the Diatessaron, second to third century)
  • Liturgical instructions (e.g., Liturgy of St. James or St. Basil, fourth century)
  • Authoritative pronouncements (e.g., ecumenical councils, canons, creeds, and definitions, fourth to fifth century).

We can see, then, that the content of Christianity, and thus most of the issues skeptics have with it, would remain even if the Bible was taken out of the equation. At a minimum, it is clear that the message that brought people into Christianity was from the very beginning that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died, was buried, and rose again. This was the message the apostles died for, the message the early Church was persecuted for, and that two centuries later brought the greatest empire on Earth to its knees.

So, ultimately, it is not the Bible but the historic Christian Church (which gave the world the canonical scriptures and their orthodox interpretation) that skeptics must defeat in order to bring Christianity down. This puts the Catholic apologist in a much stronger position than the Protestant, who must build his defense on the trustworthiness of just part of the Church’s tradition while rejecting others.

Now, this is not a reductionist attempt to shield the Bible from legitimate criticism, and or a suggestion that we should abandon defense of the Bible. There is no need! The evidential arguments for the reliability of the Bible are extremely strong (so much so that if they are thought to fail the Bible, then, to be consistent, the rest of ancient history goes with it). If nothing else, it is difficult to imagine that God would bother inspiring hundreds of pages of communication only to have it lost or corrupted before it could be disseminated!

Still less is this an attempt to downplay the importance of the Bible for Catholics. The Church holds Sacred Scripture in the highest regard—reveres it, exhorts all believers to read it deeply.

Rather, it is good simply to realize that, even without the Bible, Christianity endures. This allows us, as circumstances may demand, to benefit from a different apologetic focus: to move from defending the Bible to defending the Church that produced it. This approach neatly sidesteps issues of biblical inspiration, transmission, inerrancy, and infallibility and opens the door to more accessible and accepted pieces of evidence. The skeptic’s target becomes both smaller and more difficult to hit—all without threat to Christianity’s teachings (which are, after all, the skeptic’s real prey).

Finally, lest someone think this is some sneaky Catholic sleight of hand, even the sixteenth-century Protestant scholar William Whitaker reluctantly admitted:

“I confess that the divine Providence can preserve from destruction whatever it chooses; . . . . we may, in the same manner, infer that there is no need of the scriptures, that everything should be trusted to divine Providence, and nothing committed to writing, because God can preserve religion safe without the scriptures.”

Love,
Matthew

Depositum fidei: how Scripture & Tradition work together


-by Douglas Beaumont, Catholic Answers, Dr. Beaumont earned a Ph.D. in theology from North-West University and an M.A. in apologetics from Southern Evangelical Seminary, where he taught for many years before coming into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2014.

“All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14).

“Catholicism teaches that the doctrines contained in Sacred Scripture (the Bible) and Sacred Tradition (the Church) are authoritative because God’s revelation is the source of both. The Catechism puts it this way: “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the word of God” (97).

This means that “both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence” (82).

To some Protestants, this might sound blasphemous. The idea that anything the Church says could be on the same level as Scripture just doesn’t make sense. After all, only the Bible was inspired by God, right? How, then, can Catholics say that both must be reverenced equally?

More importantly, what happens if they come into conflict? The Protestant, in principle, does not face these difficulties because the Bible is said to hold the supreme place. As the ultimate and final level of religious authority, according to sola scriptura, when the Bible comes into conflict with any other authority it must be declared the winner.

“Where Is That in the Bible?”

Protestants hold to subtly different forms of sola scriptura. At one end of the spectrum, it is thought to mean that only the Bible may be trusted as a source for faith and practice—and so everything the Christian believes must be explicitly found in it. On the other end, it means that the Bible is simply the most trustworthy source, and so no teachings can explicitly contradict it.

Protestants’ objections to Catholic claims about Sacred Tradition will vary depending on which version of sola scriptura they hold. Some will argue that any addition of Tradition to the Bible is illicit, others will only see a problem if a particular tradition goes against Scripture. Either way, though Protestants are generally uncomfortable with an authoritative, big-T Church Tradition because they think it threatens the authority of Scripture.

Some Catholic assume that by sola scriptura Protestants mean anything not found in the Bible is off-limits for Christian faith and practice. This is not what it originally meant, but it is the way the principle is often understood by those on the more Fundamentalist end of the spectrum.

Most Protestants, though, realize that to hold such a position would be self-defeating. This is because if one believes that everything a Christian is to believe or practice must be taught in the Bible, then the teaching that everything a Christian is to believe or practice must be taught in the Bible must be taught in the Bible—but it isn’t.

Although some apologists for this more extreme version of sola scriptura may point to verses such as 2 Timothy 2:16-17—which says that all Scripture is inspired and useful—for support, such appeals to prooftexts are unconvincing. Nowhere in the Bible does it say clearly that Scripture alone is the source for all Christian faith and practice. Thus, Protestants who hold to any form of sola scriptura thereby show that at least one Christian belief (or two, if you include the canon) can be derived from something besides the Bible itself.

In Principle, Protestants Agree: Not everything that Christians are to believe must be taught explicitly in Scripture.

In Particular, Catholicism Affirms: Some things that Christians are to believe have been taught outside of Scripture.

REFLECT: Since it is practically unavoidable to believe things that are not taught in Scripture, how do we discern between them?”

Love & Christian unity,
Matthew

Biblical non-biblical traditions

“All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14).


-by Douglas Beaumont, Catholic Answers, Dr. Beaumont earned a Ph.D. in theology from North-West University and an M.A. in apologetics from Southern Evangelical Seminary, where he taught for many years before coming into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2014.

“We don’t even have to appeal to extra-Biblical doctrines or events to find accord with Protestants on the validity of extra-Biblical traditions—we can just use Scripture. In the New Testament, there are numerous affirmations of extra-Biblical traditions:

  • – The Old Testament does not name the magicians in Egypt who tried to discredit Moses, but Paul calls them Jannes and Jambres (2 Tim 3:8).
  • – Jude expects his readers to be aware that Michael the Archangel disputed with Satan over the body of Moses (verse 9) and that Enoch prophesied Christ (verse 14), but these stories are found nowhere else in Scripture.
  •  – The writer of the book of Hebrews 11:37 talks about Old Testament saints being sawn in half for their faith—but he didn’t get this from the Old Testament.

And it is not just New Testament references to the Old Testament that seem to go beyond the Bible. In Acts 20:35, Paul quotes Jesus as saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive”—yet Jesus is not recorded as having said this anywhere in the Gospels.

It seems apparent that the New Testament writers were not afraid to reference extra-biblical traditions.

This does not, of course, raise extra-biblical traditions to the level of inspiration—but it does show that unwritten traditions can be infallibly affirmed.

IN PRINCIPLE Protestants Agree: Traditions not recorded in Scripture can be infallibly affirmed (by Scripture).

IN PARTICULAR Catholicism Affirms: Traditions not recorded in Scripture can be infallibly affirmed (by the Church).

It is not uncommon to hear Protestants complain that Catholics added unbiblical traditions to what the Bible teaches. Sometimes they will even cite scriptures that disparage man-made traditions (e.g., Matthew 15:3–6). Doesn’t holding to traditions not taught by the Bible nullify the word of God?

The first thing to note here is that there is a big difference between something being non-biblical and it being anti-Biblical. Owning a cell phone is non-Biblical; worshipping an idol is anti-Biblical. Simply not appearing in the Bible doesn’t make something false. Moreover, numerous facets of Protestant worship are based on a denomination’s tradition rather than anything affirmed or commanded in Scripture.

For example, the idea of youth pastors, worship bands, meeting in Church buildings, or sitting in pews has no explicit support in Scripture. Most Protestants, however, recognize that not all Christian beliefs and practices are spelled out in the Bible. They realize that there is development and religious thought and that these sometimes lead to affirmations that, though extra-Biblical, are nonetheless authoritative.

To believe otherwise would be to reject the Church’s explanation of the Trinity at the Council of Nicaea, or the Council of Chalcedon’s definition of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Indeed, it would threaten Protestantism itself, which is a development that did not come to exist until the sixteenth century. The real problem, then, comes when a religious group teaches something that is contrary to the Bible.

IN PRINCIPLE Protestants Agree: We can affirm beliefs and practices that aren’t explicit in Scripture but developed over time.

IN PARTICULAR Catholicism Affirms: The Church can teach doctrine and prescribe practices that aren’t explicitly found in Scripture but developed over time.”

Love,
Matthew

Christian accord, Acts 1:14 – Salvation

“All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14).


-by Douglas Beaumont, Catholic Answers, Dr. Beaumont earned a Ph.D. in theology from North-West University and an M.A. in apologetics from Southern Evangelical Seminary, where he taught for many years before coming into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2014.

Is “Faith Alone” enough?

The Protestant Reformation was launched when a Catholic priest named Martin Luther thought he’d discovered something in the Bible that the Church had been missing for centuries. That discovery was salvation by faith alone—that is, apart from doing good works. This core Reformation doctrine of sola fide is a major dividing line between Catholics and Protestants.

Just like sola scriptura, this doctrine ends up dividing Protestants from each other just as much (and sometimes even more) as it divides them from Catholics. Over the years, “faith alone” has come to mean different things to different Protestants.

There are some (known as Free Grace Protestants) who have taken the principle so far that they believe even apostates can be completely confident in their salvation. At the other end of the spectrum are legalistic or Fundamentalist groups that, while giving lip service to salvation by faith alone, nevertheless demand a severe lifestyle from their members.

Nor is the debate over salvation by faith alone limited to extreme fringe groups. In fact, it began in the sixteenth century and shows no signs of letting up in the twenty-first. A recent book from one of the most popular Evangelical publishers devoted over 300 pages to an academic debate between five scholars on the nature of justification (one was a Catholic)

And justification is only the beginning. Similar debate books have been written about sanctification, pluralism, eternal security, law and gospel, and other related topics. And so as we seek accord, we will look to see if the principles that allow Protestants who disagree over salvation nonetheless to identify with one another and to worship together might call for the embrace of Catholics as well.

Are You Saved?

Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification

Although Christians sometimes think of salvation in fairly simple terms (going to heaven instead of hell), anyone who spends much time thinking or talking about the subject will quickly discover that there are numerous shades of meaning.

Nearly all Christians, even those who speak of salvation as if it occurred whole and entire at a single point in time, with no potential to ever be lost, recognize that God’s work in people typically involves a process that is extended over time.

In the Evangelical tradition that I came from, we thought of salvation in three basic stages: 1) justification, which was the point at which someone received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and thus was guaranteed heaven, 2) sanctification, which was the process by which God transformed the individual’s life from one of sin to sainthood, and 3) glorification, which was the final, complete transformation into perfection that occurred once someone entered eternal life in heaven.

Stages of Salvation

Where we differ, where we agree

Although this threefold process is described differently among Protestant traditions, most affirm something like it. A critical feature of this theology is that during each stage, the causes of and effects on one’s salvation can differ. For example, whereas the initial stage of salvation (“ justification”) might be considered a one-way act of God based on faith alone, resulting in heaven or hell, the second stage (“sanctification”) may rely heavily on the actions of the individual and only affect one’s degree of reward or punishment.

The importance of these salvation “stages” is that although Protestants will often speak of salvation as a single moment in time with everlasting effects, most agree that there is more to the story. Sola fide, in most Protestant minds, refers only to one’s initial justification. This happens to coincide nicely with the Catholic view of baptism—it is entirely faith-based, distinct from a person’s works, and instantly brings us into a saving relationship with God.

For many Protestants, the parallels break down after that because the Church teaches that saving grace can be lost or increased via works (“faith working through love” per Galatians 5:6)—but there are Protestants who teach something similar to this as well. In the end, the differences some- times come down more to terminology and fine-grained distinctions than to entirely different salvation plans as is often believed.

Finding Common Ground

We often are not as far apart as we think

In Principle Protestants Agree: Salvation is in some sense a process involving various stages, each with different requirements and effects.

In Particular Catholicism Affirms: Salvation is an ongoing process with different requirements at different stages that can increase, decrease, eradicate, or regain God’s saving grace in our lives.”

Love, and Christian accord, harmony, peace, love, and deep, true affection,
Matthew

Purgatory & 2 Cor 5:8

Every Catholic has heard the challenge:

“How can you believe that? Don’t you know the Bible says…”

It’s a challenge we have to meet. If we can’t reconcile apparent contradictions between Scripture and Catholic teaching, how can our own faith survive? And if we can’t help our Protestant brothers and sisters overcome their preconceptions about “unbiblical” Catholic doctrines and practices, how will they ever come to embrace the fullness of the Faith?

In these excerpts from Meeting the Protestant Challenge, Karlo Broussard gives an example of how to counteract the Protestant claims about Purgatory and the rapture

“At Home with the Lord”
2 Corinthians 5:8 and Purgatory

THE PROTESTANT CHALLENGE: How can the Catholic Church teach that there is an intermediate state after death, like purgatory, when the Bible says that the only place for a Christian to be (besides this life) is heaven?

Referring to a soul’s “entrance into the blessedness of heaven,” the Catechism teaches that it will enter either “through a purification or immediately” (CCC 1022). This presupposes that it’s possible for a soul to die in God’s friendship but yet not be present with the Lord in heaven.

Some Protestants view Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 as contradicting this belief. Paul writes,

So we are always of good courage; we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord…and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

Since the Bible says that for a Christian to be “away from the body” is to be “at home with the Lord,” there can’t be any intermediate state in the afterlife.

MEETING THE CHALLENGE

1. Paul doesn’t say what the challenge assumes he says.

Protestants who appeal to this passage often fail to realize that Paul doesn’t say that “to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord.” Paul simply says, “While we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord” and that “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”

Protestants may reply that although Paul doesn’t exactly say what the challenge claims, that’s what he means. Are they right? Does the logic follow? Does the statement, “We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” mean the same as, “To be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord”?

Suppose I’m at work, and I’m wishing that I could instead be away from work, and at home. Can we conclude from this that if I’m away from work, I must automatically be at home?

Doesn’t seem like it. I could be away from work, eating lunch at McDonald’s. I could be away from work, on my way home, but sitting in traffic. So, it’s fallacious to conclude from this verse that, once away from the body, a Christian must immediately be present with the Lord.

2. Even if we concede the interpretation of 2 Corinthians 5:8 that the challenge asserts, it still doesn’t rule out purgatory.

But let’s assume for argument’s sake that the interpretation this challenge offers of 2 Corinthians 5:8 is true, and that to be away from the body is to be immediately present with the Lord. That still wouldn’t pose a threat to purgatory.

First, because the challenge assumes that purgatory involves a period of time (during which we are “away from the body” but not “with the Lord”). But as we’ve seen, the Catholic Church has never defined the precise nature of the duration of purgatory. We simply don’t know what the experience of time is beyond this life. If purgatory did not involve a duration of time as we know it, it would be perfectly compatible with the challenge’s interpretation of this verse.

A second reason is that the challenge assumes purgatory is a state of existence away from the Lord. But, as we have also seen, purgatory could very well be that encounter with the Lord that we experience in our particular judgment, as we “appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10). This makes sense because Paul describes the soul’s judgment as being one of a purifying fire (1 Cor. 3:11-15). It makes sense for God’s presence, not His absence, to be part of our soul’s purification.

COUNTER-CHALLENGE: Shouldn’t you make sure that the Bible passage you use to challenge a Catholic belief actually says what you think it says?

AFTERTHOUGHT: The early Christian writer Tertullian (c. A.D. 160-220) affirms the existence of a state after death before entering heaven when he writes, “Inasmuch as we understand the prison pointed out in the Gospel to be Hades [Matt. 5:25], and as we also interpret the uttermost farthing to mean the very smallest offense which has to be recompensed there before the resurrection, no one will hesitate to believe that the soul undergoes in Hades some compensatory discipline, without prejudice to the full process of the resurrection.”

“Caught Up with the Lord in the Air”
1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 and the Rapture

THE PROTESTANT CHALLENGE: How can the Catholic Church teach that faithful Christians will experience the final trial when the Bible teaches that Christians will be raptured before such a time?

The Catechism says that that the Church “must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers,” and such a persecution will “unveil the ‘mystery of iniquity’ in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth.” And this religious deception will be “that of the Antichrist” (675).

But some Protestants believe that the Bible teaches otherwise: that Christians will not experience the persecution of the Antichrist but will be snatched up by the Lord prior to it. This is a doctrine known as the pre-tribulation Rapture.

The passage they often appeal to is 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, which reads,

For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.

Protestants argue that Paul can’t be talking about the Second Coming here, because Jesus only comes part-way down and then goes back up. Moreover, because no judgment of the nations is mentioned, like we see in Matthew 25:31-46 and Revelation 20, it must be referring to the “rapture.”

MEETING THE CHALLENGE

1. The challenge misreads the text as a partial coming-from and return back to heaven.

Verse 15 reads that the Lord will “descend from heaven with a cry of command.” But nowhere does Paul actually say that Jesus returns to heaven. If Jesus’ descent is definitive, it’s not a partial coming like the pre-tribulation rapture requires it to be.

But what are we to make of Paul’s description that the saints who are alive will be “caught up…to meet the Lord in the air”? A possible interpretation is that Paul is describing how Christians will meet the Lord in the air to escort him, in a way that is analogous to the ancient custom of citizens ushering in important visitors.

It was common for citizens to meet an illustrious person (such as dignitary or victorious military leader) and his entourage outside the walls of their city and accompany him back in. This was a way for people to honor the visitor and take part in the celebration of the visitor’s coming.

We see an example of this in Acts 28:14-15, where the brethren at Rome went out of the city to meet Paul as he approached: “And so we came to Rome. And the brethren there, when they heard of us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us.” This ancient custom also explains why the crowds go out to meet Jesus on Palm Sunday and usher him into Jerusalem (see Matt. 21:1-17).

So, for Paul, those who are alive at the Second Coming will do for our blessed Lord what the ancients did for their dignitaries: they will be caught up in the air to meet the approaching king Jesus and escort him as he “descend[s] from heaven with a cry of command” (1 Thess. 4:16).

2. The details of the passage reveal that Paul is talking about the final coming of Jesus at the end of time.

Notice that it’s not just the living who are caught up with the Lord, but also the dead in Christ: “And the dead in Christ will rise first” (v.16). That Paul speaks of the resurrection of the dead tells us that he’s referring to the end of time.

We know this for several reasons. First, Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15 that the end happens in tandem with the resurrection of the dead:

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power (1 Cor. 15:22-24).

If Paul viewed the resurrection of the dead as occurring in tandem with the end of time, and if he speaks of the resurrection of the dead in tandem with Christ’s coming in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, it follows that Christ’s coming in those verses is His coming at the end of time and not the beginning of a pre-tribulation rapture.

A second reason why we know Paul is talking about the end of time is because when he speaks about the “coming of the Lord” in 2 Thessalonians, he says that the Antichrist and his reign of evil must precede it:

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him him, we beg you, brethren, not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of His mouth and destroy him by His appearing and His coming (2 Thess. 2:1-8).

It’s clear that Paul is connecting the “coming of our Lord” here in 2 Thessalonians and the “coming of the Lord” in 1 Thessalonians 4:15, because he speaks of “our assembling to meet Him.”

So, if the “coming of the Lord” in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 must be preceded by the Antichrist and his reign of evil, those verses can’t be referring to a pre-tribulation rapture. Rather, they must refer to our Lord’s coming at the end of time, when he vanquishes all evil and condemns those “who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:12).

A final clue for this being the final day of judgment is the fact that the Lord will descend with “the sound of the trumpet of God” (v.16). Paul speaks of the same trumpet when he describes the resurrection of the dead at the end of time:

Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality (1 Cor. 15:51-53).

Since in Paul’s mind, the trumpet is associated with the resurrection of the dead at the end of time, and he speaks of it when describing the “coming of the Lord” in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, we can conclude that the “coming of the Lord” that Paul writes of in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 is the final coming at the end of time.

COUNTER-CHALLENGE: How can a text be used to support an idea when the text never mentions that idea?

AFTERTHOUGHT: The rapture is often portrayed as a “secret coming” of Jesus. But in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, Paul describes Christ’s coming with “the sound of the trumpet of God.” There is nothing secret about descending with the sound of a trumpet!

Love, pray for me,
Matthew

Sep 14 – Triumph of the Cross, Cross or Crucifix?


-St. Vincent de Paul Church. Huntington Beach, California

Often in an ecumenical chapel, the crucifix (the moment of our salvation) facing the congregation is turned around displaying a plain cross for Protestant services.  The devil in me imagines Jesus turning his back on Protestants.  😉  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.


-by Michelle Arnold, Catholic Answers

“The new empress had converted to Christianity the year before and was eager to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Her son, the emperor, although not yet a Christian himself, gave his mother permission to use the imperial treasury to buy up whatever sacred relics she could find during her stay. With that, St. Helena headed off to see the sites of Christ’s earthly ministry, intent on locating what physical relics remained from his public life.

Helena’s most important discovery is reputed to have been the cross on which Christ was crucified. According to traditional accounts, after ordering the destruction of a pagan temple built near Calvary by a previous emperor, Helena had her men excavate the site. There they found three crosses. To determine which one was Christ’s, Helena had a mortally ill woman touch each of the crosses. When the woman was miraculously healed after touching one of them, Helena proclaimed that cross the True Cross.

In honor of his mother’s find, Emperor Constantine ordered a church to be built on the site. That church became known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (known by the Orthodox as the Church of the Resurrection). Most Christians believe it to house both Calvary and Christ’s tomb. The first day that the True Cross was brought outside the church for adoration by the faithful, September 14, 335, would become the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which we celebrate today.

Protestants often are deeply uncomfortable with Catholic devotion to the crucifix, a sacramental that depicts the corpus (body) of Christ on his cross. They want to know why Catholics don’t simply have empty crosses in their churches, as is the custom in many Protestant churches. After all, they claim, Christ has been raised from the dead. Doesn’t a bare cross better show that he is risen?

Despite their affinity for crosses, many Protestants are also skeptical of the Church’s claim to possess the True Cross and to make relics from that cross available for veneration by the faithful. Not only do they doubt the authenticity of the relics, but some anti-Catholics even scorn the value of the True Cross itself. As the late Bart Brewer wrote:

It is said that if all the pieces of the [true] cross [of Christ] displayed in Catholic churches were assembled together, it would take a ten-ton truck to carry them. It is clear that most “relics” are frauds. Furthermore, there is nothing in the Bible that supports the veneration of relics, even if they are genuine.

So, on the one hand, many Protestants object to crosses that display Christ’s body in favor of bare crosses—and, on the other, they often reject the value of the True Cross itself, even if pieces of it were real. How do we as Catholics answer these objections? The story of how Helena recovered the True Cross may be useful in answering both objections.

As we saw, when Helena and her men excavated the site where Calvary had been located, they found three crosses. Naturally, they assumed that two of the crosses belonged to the two criminals executed with Christ (Matt. 27:38). Not having any interest in the thieves’ crosses, they sought to determine which cross was Christ’s and accepted a miraculous healing as proof of the True Cross.

Bare crosses alone, such as the ones Helena found near Calvary, were of no interest unless she could prove which one of them was Christ’s. The other crosses might have been interesting archaeological finds, but had no lasting value to her.

But even without Christ’s body hanging upon it, the actual cross on which Christ died is sacred because of its relation to him. Think of a throne without a king, a bench without a judge, or the presider’s chair in a church without a priest. Even when not in use, thrones, judicial benches, and presider chairs do have inherent value as symbols of the authority of the one who uses them. In like manner, the True Cross is sacred and worthy of Christian devotion because the one who used it is God himself.

From its beginning, the Church has reverenced the image of Christ on his cross and has considered the manner in which Christ died to be an integral part of the gospel. St. Paul wrote:

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:21–24, emphasis added).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that we do not merely preach Christ’s resurrection but the resurrection of the one who was crucified, which acts as a confirmation of the divinity of God the Son:

The truth of Jesus’ divinity is confirmed by his resurrection. He had said: “When you have lifted up the son of man, then you will know that I am he.” The resurrection of the crucified one shows that he was truly “I AM,” the Son of God and God himself (653, emphasis added).

When Protestants ask why Catholics use a crucifix instead of a bare cross, the answer then is twofold. We don’t separate Christ’s body from his cross because we value both his body and his cross. God the Son died as man to save the world, which means that his human body is sacred and worthy of our worship. And since he chose to die by crucifixion, the cross on which he died is worthy of our veneration because that was the means by which he saved the world. A bare cross has no value unless it is clearly his cross. As Paul said:

Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Gal. 6:14).

And not only does the cross attain value by its relation to Christ—we too can become distinguished by our connection to the cross. Have you ever seen an icon or holy card of Helena? In practically every image created of her, iconographers and artists render her as holding a cross. That’s because Helena is most readily identified by Christians not by her relationship to her son the emperor, but by her relationship to Christ and his cross.

Today’s feast commemorates not just the death of Christ (as does Good Friday) but invites us to venerate the Cross itself, by which He redeemed the world.”

Love, Jn 19:30,
Matthew

Explaining the Sacred Heart to Protestants

“Catholisplain”? 🙂 LOL


-by Michelle Arnold, Catholic Answers

“As the Easter season comes to a close and Ordinary Time opens, we encounter a slew of feast days during the liturgical “transition” period—Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi, and finally the feasts of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Church usually celebrates the feasts of the Two Hearts on the Friday (today) and Saturday following the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi).

Both feasts have theological roots and expressions of popular devotion that go back to the earliest centuries, but the feasts themselves were established more recently in Church history. The feast of the Sacred Heart was placed on the universal calendar of the Latin Church in 1856; the Immaculate Heart became a universal feast in 1944.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart focuses on God’s self-sacrificial love for humankind. For God the Son so loved the world that he allowed a spear to pierce his human heart, from which flowed blood and water for the salvation of the world (John 3:16, 19:34). The popular devotions to the Sacred Heart that are commonly practiced today were inspired by the visions of Christ reported by St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a seventeenth-century nun. Among other things, Christ asked for reception of Communion on First Fridays and for holy hours before the Blessed Sacrament.

The Immaculate Heart of Mary devotion focuses on the love of the Blessed Virgin Mary for God, and on how our own imperfect love for God, though marred by sin, can become perfected when offered to God in union with Mary’s perfect human love for him. Popular devotions associated with the Immaculate Heart are the Miraculous Medal, which was inspired by visions of the Blessed Virgin given in the nineteenth century to St. Catherine Labouré, and the reparations made for sin on First Saturdays. Interestingly, the Church initially was reluctant to establish a feast day for the Immaculate Heart, rejecting early efforts by St. John Eudes in the seventeenth century to gain approval for the feast.

Protestants sometimes object to Catholic devotions like the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts, and not only out of discomfort with Marian veneration. They also tend to see such devotions as accretions that mar the original purity of the Christian faith. They not only ask where such observances can be found in the Bible—they ask why the early Christians didn’t seem to know anything about them. Given the later origins of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts devotions, this objection might seem to have merit.

Sometimes Catholic apologists can get so caught up in trying to demonstrate that non-apostolic traditions—the lower-case “t” traditions that are not part of the deposit of the faith—are in harmony with Scripture and the practices of the early Church that we neglect to challenge the Protestant assumption that later developments in Christian piety are, by that fact, necessarily to be rejected.

One way to demonstrate to Protestants that the development of pious practices throughout Christian history can be acceptable, so long as those practices don’t contradict Christian dogma, is to point out modern Protestant pieties that were unknown in the early centuries of the Church (and that, we may note to ourselves, can appear to be improvised substitutions for lost sacraments). Let’s look at a few of them.

  • Infant baptism is one of the theological issues on which Fundamentalist Christians disagree with Catholics. They believe that baptism is only for adults, or at least for those who have reached the age of reason and are able to make “a decision for Christ.” But there seems to be a universal human need for ceremonies that welcome newborns into human society (especially spiritual society) , and thus many Fundamentalist churches offer dedication ceremonies in which new parents present their baby to the Christian community and pledge to raise the child for Christ.
  • Altar calls are a staple in many Evangelical churches. At some point during Sunday services, the preacher will invite anyone present who hasn’t yet made a personal commitment to Jesus to come forward to the altar and accept Jesus into his life as his “personal Lord and Savior.” Evangelicals consider this commitment central to the Christian life, to the point that a person’s eternal salvation is in doubt if he does not experience this moment of conversion. For Catholics, the central action of Sunday services is the Mass, and the place for a declaration of a personal need for Christ’s saving power is in the confessional.
  • At a Catholic nuptial Mass, the Eucharist is a symbol not just of the congregation’s communion in Christ but also of the newly married couple’s union in Christ. Although many Protestant communities no longer consider marriage or the Eucharist to be sacraments—calling them instead “ordinances,” things that Christ ordained to be done but that don’t actually impart grace to believers—they still feel a need to insert a ritual into the ceremony that symbolizes the couple’s unity. That’s one reason why the unity candle, in which the newly-married couple lights a candle together, has become ubiquitous in Protestant weddings (and, unfortunately, has been imported into many Catholic weddings as well).
  • Perhaps one of the more difficult aspects of Catholicism for Protestants to appreciate is that it is a layered religion that has grown and developed over centuries. Protestant apologists argue that such growth obscures the original purity of Christianity, that the development of pious customs such as devotion to the hearts of our Lord and our Lady are like barnacles on the barque of Peter—something to be scraped away.  [Ed. see St John Henry Newman‘s Essay on the Development of Doctrine]

But these pious customs are natural growth, as healthy for Christ’s mystical body as height, weight, and new muscles are for a human being who is maturing from infancy to adulthood. Christ told His apostles that his Church would grow in this way, although He used the image of the mustard seed that grows from a seed to a tree, in which “the birds of the air made nests in its branches” (Luke 13:19).

The devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, at least in their modern forms, may not have begun during apostolic times, but they are a couple of the “nests” of piety in which Catholics have been spiritually nourished for centuries.”

Love, “O Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place our trust in Thee!!” (said at grace for dinner at McCormick household since childhood)
Matthew

Marriage & Theology 3

Dr. David Anders, PhD

“Catholics understand faith differently. In Catholic doctrine, faith is a human act — a decision we make to believe what God has revealed about Himself. Now, God certainly helps the soul to believe. I don’t believe without God’s help, but believing remains something that I do. Faith is not a “blind impulse of the mind,” but a considered judgment that Christ and the Church are credible and trustworthy.

The Bible compares our relationship to God to human marriage, an analogy that helps us understand something about the relationship between faith and reason. Marriage can be a very rational decision, but it still takes trust. If a man decides that his fiancée is trustworthy, then getting married is very reasonable. But how can I find out if my fiancée is trustworthy? I can find reasons to trust my fiancée, but in the end, it’s not the sort of thing I can demonstrate with a mathematical proof. In the end, I must decide whether to trust her and get married based on the available evidence. The Catholic Church says faith is like that. There are good reasons for faith, but in the end, you must still decide.

Why does this difference matter? As a Presbyterian, it was very important for me to say that “I knew for sure” about everything: “Are you sure you are going to Heaven? Are you sure that you are saved? Are you sure the Bible is God’s word? Are you sure there is a God?” In all these cases, the Calvinist might consult rational arguments, but ultimately, he trusts the “witness of the Spirit.” In the end, his certainty comes from subjective religious experience.

In my formation as a Calvinist, I had developed the habit of identifying my emotional life with the activity of the Holy Spirit. But I was growing to doubt this idea of the “witness of the Spirit.” I didn’t know if I could be “sure” ever again. Without that certainty, I did not see how I could ever commit myself to a religious tradition. This is where St Thomas Aquinas helped me the most.

Thomas helped me see that the content of Christian faith can really be divided into two categories: There are things that we can know with certainty from reason and argument, and there are things that we believe simply on the authority of Christ and the Church. Furthermore — and this is important — there are good reasons to trust Christ and the Church. We do not just believe. These distinctions are very important to understanding what faith should feel like, or whether it should feel like anything at all.

Authentic Catholic philosophers such as St. Thomas work very hard to prove parts of the Christian faith, but they also admit freely that we can accept other parts only on authority. The Calvinists I studied with did not divide the content of the faith in this way. They considered the faith as a whole, and they dismissed purely philosophical accounts of God, the soul, or the moral life. They were not just uninterested in proving the content of even one part of Christian faith but were skeptical that setting out to do so could be valuable at all.

I recall the very text that changed my mind about becoming Catholic. Here is the essential passage from Thomas’s De veritate (On Truth):

“We are moved to believe what God says because we are promised eternal life as a reward if we believe. And this reward moves the will to assent to what is said, although the intellect is not moved by anything which it understands. Therefore, Augustine says: “Man can do other things unwillingly, but he can believe only if he wills it.”” (14.1)

In one sense, I felt a tremendous disappointment when I read this text. I saw in a flash what St. Thomas was challenging me to do: take responsibility for my belief or unbelief. I could wait a lifetime for God to compel me to believe — and I would likely die without faith. Or I could also respond freely to His invitation to believe. It was disappointing because I realized that I could never achieve the kind of certainty that comes from an immediate and intuitive experience. But it was also liberating, because I finally saw clearly that this is not a bad thing. When I read this passage, I had an epiphany more powerful than the loss I felt on the day my faith first slipped away. I saw clearly how faith could be a rational possibility without being rationally compelled.

Again, it was rather like marriage. It is not irrational to marry a woman, especially one who has demonstrated her trustworthiness. Does my wife really love me? Will she be faithful forever? Can we get over our conflicts and make a life together? What will happen if I apologize? Will she forgive me? Can I ever be happy with this woman? These questions all have answers, but they are not the sort of thing that admit of mathematical certainty.

Catholicism is similarly an invitation to a kind of relationship and a way of being in the world. Above all, I think Catholicism is an invitation to believe that our moral convictions and our desire for meaning correspond to something real — something, or rather Someone, so real that He became incarnate in the world, taking on flesh in the womb of a virgin. You can’t get more real than that.

There are good reasons to believe in the Incarnation; Catholic theology calls them the “motives of credibility.” The fulfillment of prophecy, the miracles of Christ, His Resurrection, and the profound moral influence of Catholicism on world history all testify to the truth of Christian claims. Do these reasons compel me to believe? Obviously they do not; there are many people who consider these reasons and still do not have faith. I must choose what position I will take on life, and whether to accept or to resist the arguments in favor of Christ.

The great existential challenge in the world today is whether there is any meaning at all. Childlessness, suicide, and euthanasia are depopulating whole societies that have given up on life and prefer to die quietly in bed. Japan now sells more adult diapers than baby diapers. Russia has more abortions than live births. Where would I stand? Is there any truth? Is there any love that endures? Every fiber of my being said yes. Yes, to reason; yes, to love; yes, to hope; yes, even to suffering.

I knew I had to become a Catholic.”

Anders, Dr. David. The Catholic Church Saved My Marriage: Discovering Hidden Grace in the Sacrament of Matrimony (pp. 100-103). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Love & truth,
Matthew