Category Archives: Evangelical

Non-denominational Evangelical discovers the Catholic Church, Married & Muddled (Part 4 of 6)


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-by Keith Albert Little, “The Cordial Catholic” (@cordialcatholic)

“In the meantime, life took over. Maria and I got married; we bought a house, and she changed careers. The family church we’d been attending, the outgrowth of the student church where we first met, moved in to share a space with an aging Lutheran congregation. Suddenly being in a building meant for worship, as opposed to our old space in a community center, meant we were suddenly much more “traditional.”

There was an altar, although we didn’t use it, and stained glass. There were an organ and pews, and we’d even occasionally see the Lutheran pastor, at the very end of our service. He wore a Roman collar and vestments. Suddenly, my simmering interest in tradition ignited.

Around this time, too, the issue of the meaning and mandate of Christian marriage began to be widely discussed in the Protestant world, with battle lines and hot debates quickly forming. On the topic of marriage, I needed to figure out where I stood, and I wanted to base my beliefs on the Bible. Our little church community was largely undecided, leaving it up to each individual’s own theology. But I didn’t know mine; I hadn’t given it much thought. When I began to dig into the Bible, into commentaries and literature written by everyone from respected theologians to practicing homosexuals, I realized that no one had a clear answer, and nothing made much sense.

Everyone, as far as I could tell, claimed to base their perspective on the Bible, and no one agreed. It was our youth group debate all over again. We could all use the same proof texts and somehow come to widely differing conclusions. With the youth group, it was something as fundamental as how God saved our souls. Now, it was a different question but just as fundamental. The stakes were high, and the answers were equally murky.

How was it that we could all look at the same Scripture and come up with different ideas? How could this be the system for understanding our faith as God intended it? Why was knowing how to follow Christ so confusing? I didn’t get it. There was something flawed in the way we used the Bible and the way we understood our faith.

Once again, I decided to do some digging.

Later on in my journey towards the Catholic Church, I came across a quote by G.K. Chesterton in his book The Catholic Church and Conversion that really hit home. I’ll paraphrase by saying that once you decide to be “fair” to the Catholic Church, you can’t help but convert. In other words, once a person decides to truly dig into the teachings of the Church in a fair, honest, and open way, it inevitably ends in conversion. You can’t help but become Catholic. I’d liken this to a mouse trap, but in this case, the “mouse” lives!

So anyway, I decided I needed to be “fair” to the Catholic Church. After all, I’d learned enough about Catholics from skirting around the edges to know that they believed some fundamentally different things from what I believed, and if they were the same Church that put together the Bible, then they must, I reasoned, still have some claim to authority. I decided that I needed to know exactly what Catholics believed, from authentic Catholic sources.

First, I found a list of books tailor-made for non-Catholic Christians. It included works by Scott Hahn, Steve Ray, and Thomas Howard, as well as some introductory theology by Frank Sheed. It was like turning on a faucet full blast!

To begin with, I had no idea what Catholics actually believed, and hearing about Catholic doctrine, tradition, and beliefs from actual practicing Catholics felt like drawing in a great big mouthful of air after realizing I’d been holding my breath. What I was reading was eye-opening.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Non-denominational, Evangelical discovers the Catholic Church, Building the Bible, Part 3 of 6


-by Keith Albert Little, “The Cordial Catholic” (@cordialcatholic)

Building the Bible

A few things happened in my last couple of years at university that caused the nagging feeling that I was conscious of to grow into something I simply could no longer ignore.

I was working a tedious warehouse job during the summer between my third and fourth years and had heard about this brand new thing called podcasting. Only a few podcasts were available in those days, and I subscribed to one. It was a podcast about movies, television shows, and video games hosted by, it turns out, a priest. Although I don’t know what I’d imagined priests being like, I had assumed that they wouldn’t be real people, interested in hobbies like video games and TV. But through his podcast, the priest exposed me to the fact that Catholics, even Catholic priests, could be real people — and genuine about their faith, as I learned by listening to stories from his life.

Next, I began an internship. It was at the student church I’d attended for years. One day, the pastor called me into his office with an important question. Sitting me down, he asked, “Which is more important: the Bible or Tradition?” Years later, I learned that my pastor friend was on his own journey into rediscovering his former Catholic Faith as he worked on his Master’s degree, and I was his sounding board. But I didn’t know this then.

“The Bible,” I said instinctively, knowing what every kid knows in Sunday School, that the answer is always either “Jesus” or “The Bible.”

“But then who put together the Bible?” he asked earnestly. I was dumbstruck. It was a question I’d never considered.

He went on to explain that the tradition of the Church put the Bible together — that councils attended by bishops authorized by the Catholic Church — the Catholic Church! — lent credibility to the books that appear in our Bibles. It was these councils, led by the Church, that affirmed what would eventually make up our biblical canon. I was incredulous, but he was right. Tradition, he mused out loud, came first. It was responsible for putting the Bible together; therefore, it must be more important. I didn’t argue because I knew he was right. That was where our Bible came from. The original authors didn’t provide a table of contents.

That somewhat banal question, asked by a Protestant pastor, began in earnest a journey I’d been avoiding since my days in the youth group and our predestination scandal. After all, the Bible doesn’t tell us that it’s infallible, that it can be trusted as-is, that it’s the sole rule of faith that we should follow. I knew I believed these things as an Evangelical Protestant and that I’d learned them somewhere. But suddenly they seemed to be premises which were awfully flimsy. Where did the Bible say these things? And how did I know them to be true? To my horror, I didn’t have the answers. I struggled to find them.”

Love,
Matthew

Non-denominational, Evangelical discovers the Catholic Church, Calvinist Confusion, Part 2 of 6


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-by Keith Albert Little, “The Cordial Catholic” (@cordialcatholic)

Calvinist Confusion

“I knew right away that I’d been given a new lease on life. I had been spared a punishment I deserved. We had bullied that kid, and now that he was grown up and bigger than we were, I had deserved to have my lights punched out by him. Instead, God had sent me the sign I’d asked for, a sign which clearly spared me from the punishment I was due. I knew poetic justice — or mercy — when I saw it. I surrendered my life to Christ, even though I hadn’t the faintest idea what that meant.

I proceeded, then, to do all the classic things that Christian converts did back in the early 2000’s. I bought a T-shirt. I bought a WWJD bracelet and thought it was the coolest secret club ever. And I bought a Bible and began reading at Genesis. By the end of Numbers, I was so bogged down that I gave up, until someone wiser told me that I needed to start with the Gospels. “Beg your pardon?” “With Matthew,” he said. Best of all, I got connected to a great youth group at a local Pentecostal church.

Looking back, I can draw a somewhat straight line from my first encounter with Christ to my running, arms agape, into the embrace of the Catholic Church. But in that moment, it wasn’t so clear.

One of my early memories as a Christian was when Calvinism crept into our youth group conversations. It began innocently enough — someone had read something somewhere — but quickly became a full-blown scandal, with Bible passages being hotly debated over Quarter Pounders at McDonald’s on a Friday night. In retrospect, I’m grateful for how we spent our time — debating theology rather than getting drunk like so many of our high school peers — but the debate nearly tore the youth group apart.

Back then, I couldn’t figure out how we were all looking at the same passages of Scripture and coming to different conclusions. How did this make sense? And why would God make the Bible so confusing, open to so many interpretations? In the end, it was a vicious debate, and more than one of my friends walked away from church back then, convinced by the Word of God that they weren’t amongst the “elect.” It was painful to see, and it’s painful to think about it now. I made it through, but I’d never forget the confusion caused by all of us trying, on our own, to interpret our Bibles.

I began university by attending a vibrant student church that met on campus at the University of Waterloo. I remember the first time I went, seeing a lineup of 200 students snaking down the sidewalk outside the campus nightclub. It was Monday night, and the church was to meet at seven o’clock.

Truly, I owe a lot to my years at that student church. Over the course of my university career, I was very involved with the church, from small groups, to setup and decorations, to sound and video production. Through friendships forged at the church, I met a beautiful woman named Maria, who later became my wife. I dug into my faith like never before, faced with a couple of questions I just couldn’t work out.

The first came from reading C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. In it, Lewis presents a picture of the afterlife which looks a lot like purgatory. Instead of dying and suddenly being in the glorified presence of Christ and the angels, the souls of the Christian deceased slowly make their way towards God on a bus ride towards the light, through a dark and solemn land. Thinking about what I had read, I realized that Lewis’s picture of heaven, and how we transition there, made a lot more sense than mine. I’d been raised, theologically, to believe that when I died, no matter what I had done in this life, I would instantly be face to face with Christ. My sins, of course, would be wiped away, and I’d be ready to be in His presence immediately.

But that never made sense to me. When I thought about it, I wondered how would I get ready? After all, I wouldn’t suddenly be free of all my bad moods, my hurts, and hangups the minute I died. How could I bring those things with me into heaven? Lewis’s analogy of the long, slow journey by bus made much more sense. I began to understand how Purgatory could be an opportunity to prepare my heart and mind to see God. But it didn’t fit into my Evangelical theology, and that would bother me for quite a while.

I had a similar experience with Confession. It occurred to me, after encountering a passage about it in a Bible study, that we didn’t do Confession. We were told to, right there in black and white in our Bibles, but we didn’t, and I couldn’t understand why. When I asked around — my peers, my pastor, and wise people that I trusted — no one seemed to know. We just didn’t do it, and no one knew why. Like my view of the afterlife, which didn’t jibe with what I’d been taught to believe, the confusion over Confession was something I just couldn’t shake off.”

Love,
Matthew

Non-denominational, Evangelical discovers the Catholic Church, Part 1 of 6


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-by Keith Albert Little, “The Cordial Catholic” (@cordialcatholic)

“I grew up in the suburbs of Toronto, Canada in a wonderful, loving family: my sister, my Mom and Dad, and a cat we’d adopted from the pound. It was an idyllic, carefree upbringing in a home that I affectionately describe as “Christian without Christ.” That is, we were morally Christians, raised with a strong sense of right and wrong, of kindness and generosity, and of doing to each other what we’d have done to us — we just didn’t know much about Jesus.

To be fair, we did go to church a few times. It was a tiny United Church which, in Canada, is an amalgamation of several mainline denominations that merged in the 1920s. Their teaching presented a rather watered-down version of Christianity, with Christ largely out of the picture. But I wouldn’t have picked up on such nuances in those days. Instead, my memory of attending church was the childhood anxiety that I might accidentally rip off too big a chunk of bread when we went forward for communion, that and the resentment I felt when Dad got to stay home watching The Three Stooges in his pajamas while Mom packed my sister and me into the family station wagon.

It was in high school that I finally “met Christ,” and it happened in a strange way: by encountering an alleged Wiccan. I met this Wiccan at a campfire get-together with friends. It was the beginning of summer, and we were hanging out, celebrating the end of our first year of high school. The Wiccan kid, a couple of years older than the rest of us and a friend of a friend, stood out immediately with his long hair and earthy wardrobe, and I was instantly drawn to the way he talked, the content of his speech. At one point that night, he said, “Did you guys know that everything is connected and that there’s more to life than just us?”

To the ears of an unchurched, irreligious fifteen-year-old, that sounded like high philosophy, and I was hooked. I hadn’t thought those thoughts before. Suddenly faced with the reality that, yes, there was more out there than just us, that there was, probably, a greater power, something holding everything together — I was suddenly taken with the idea. I remember rushing home that night, firing up my computer, and trying desperately to find something, anything, on the Internet about Wiccans. In those days before Google, the search was fruitless. Everything I found contradicted everything else, and nothing seemed straightforward.

But it was then that I considered God. I’d heard of Him, of course, at church, but I didn’t have a clue where to begin my search for Him. Still, I knew I wanted to search, so I said a prayer. I prayed, “God if you’re there and you can accept me, send me a sign.” Incredibly, for reasons I still don’t understand, I knew that if God were real, if He were out there, I’d have to approach Him in holy fear. Although I knew nothing about sin — the concept was foreign to me at that stage — I knew that I wasn’t exactly “worthy” of God and needed a measure of forgiveness. It wasn’t long before I received my answer.

Later that week, I was walking home with a friend. We rounded a corner and came face to face with a boy we had teased years earlier. We were nerdy kids, but we had found someone even nerdier to bully — the neighbour of a friend who now was all grown up and much taller than we were. My friend, never the bravest of our crew, took off running and left me alone on the street with this kid who, it was clear, was looking for a fight. I could tell he was on drugs; he looked angry, and I was quaking in my shoes. When he cocked back a fist and said, “Where do you think you’re going?” I panicked and shouted, “There!” pointing to a house just up the block. At that exact moment, completely by happenstance, a woman pulled back the curtain at one of the windows and peered out at us. The boy knew instantly that he was caught. He panicked and ran away. I went the opposite way and ran home, saved by the woman in the window — and by the grace of God.”

Love,
Matthew

Arian Evangelical discovers the Catholic Church: Part 3 of 3


-St Nicholas, yes, THE Santa Claus, smacks Arius at the Council of Nicea, 325 AD. Unable to restrain his dispute with Arius, Nicholas approached Arius and slapped – or punched – him in the face. The bishop’s loss of cool shocked his contemporaries.  For more detail, please click on the image.


-by Mike Knapp (Mike Knapp was born in Chicago and raised on a farm in Garden Prairie, IL. He went to National Louis University to collect all their degrees finishing a doctorate in “Science and Spirituality in Public Education.” A National Board Certified middle school science teacher, he’s ending 35 years of teaching at the end of the 2018/2019 school year to start a new chapter with his wife — yet to be determined, as becoming a Catholic has really changed everything. An “elder/pastor” for over 20 years with the Bible Students he was received into the Universal Church in 2017. He’s serving as an altar boy at the Latin Mass, runs, reads, teaches graduate courses in environmental science for SCARCE and a course in particle physics for teachers at Fermilab, and goes to Feed My Starving Children regularly.)

“I was influenced by C.S. Lewis and Mere Christianity as a young Christian and always wished I could go to the closest church to where I lived, as he recommended. As I was researching the matter, I realized that, as for many others, a Catholic parish was actually the closest church to me.

This Catholic business was all very hard on my wife, Linda. Like me, she was the offspring of an elder/pastor in the Bible Students movement, and she had been an elder’s wife for over 20 years. We went to the Antiochian Orthodox church a few times, but Linda got migraines from all the incense and had difficulty with the focus on Mary. Their doctrine of communion with the saints in the Church Triumphant is hard for Protestants to accept. Protestants understand communion with the Church Militant, but not with the Church Triumphant.

I was praying in a Catholic church each morning, longing to be with Christ the way those who communed could. However, I knew that I couldn’t receive Communion in the Orthodox Church or the Catholic Church unless I converted. I found that hard. Looking back, I can see the sin of pride in myself. Since I had studied, I thought I should be an exception; I knew more than many who were participating in Communion. But now, I see the wisdom of the Church in her unwillingness to compromise on important principles.

As a substitute, I found an Anglican church (Anglican Church in North America, a “continuing Anglican” denomination) to attend on Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings, because they let me partake of their communion, which is the “thing” that originally got me going down this path. But what was the Eucharist there? The opinion varied even between their priests.

The canon at the church where I attended had Saturday morning prayer with the Eucharist and Sunday evening prayer with the Eucharist. After the Saturday morning Eucharist, he led a men’s Bible study, while his wife led a women’s group. I explained to him that I was an ex-Arian (non-Trinitarian) pastor on a journey, and he welcomed me. So, there was a period of time while I was still pastoring at my old church and also participating in the Anglican worship and communion on Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings.

In December of 2014, I resigned as elder/pastor of my church. Leaving my life, friends, theology, and just about everything else, was hard. At least I had a job. I marvel at those who leave a pastorate that then have to figure out how to put food on the table and a roof overhead!

My wife eventually came to the Anglican Sunday evening service with me. After we left the Bible Students, we attended there on Sunday mornings as well. She really loved the modern worship they blend into their liturgy. She has come to appreciate liturgy, the belief in the Real Presence, and other Catholic teachings there, but has not become Catholic. Still, she has been supportive and continues to grow in her faith. It pains both of us not to worship together, so I, as a Catholic, accompany her to the Sunday evening prayer at her Anglican church.

How could an Anglican canon help me over my prejudice against Catholicism? I learned much at his Saturday morning men’s Bible study. He was always quoting the Church Fathers and treated Catholic teaching kindly. He would point out those Catholic doctrines that he didn’t hold, but knew the Catholic Catechism and Church teachings better than most of the Catholics I’ve met. He is still a friend, and I do enjoy his sermons on Sunday night. What I like about his sermons is that he keeps to the readings for the day. He does not preach whatever he wants, but what his church has given in the readings.

I studied my way into the Church. I told one of the other pastors at my old church, “Whatever you do, don’t read Ignatius’ letters to the churches. They will ruin you.” Ignatius of Antioch laid waste my former view of Church history. Here is a man discipled by the Apostle John. He was the third bishop of that important see of Antioch, where there are bishops, priests, deacons, Eucharist, the importance of being obedient to your bishop, and so forth!

Additionally, reading Athanasius of Alexandria and his simple point on the Father and the Son being eternal (one can’t be the unchanging, everlasting Father without a Son!) helped me overcome my Arian beliefs. As I read the works of people who knew the Apostles and the first disciples, I realized there was no Great Apostasy in the early Church, except amongst those sects that kept popping up, trying to change what had been handed down.

I realized there were only two places I could truly have the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ (the divinity part being a big deal for an ex-Arian): the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. But through all my studies and experiences, I had to admit there could only be one universal Church, one I could find everywhere, one still united with a Tradition that, though a mighty oak tree today, still retains the image of the acorn of the early Church.

While attending an Anglican church, I found some online recordings of an RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) class. Going to the Catholic parish to pray had grown into a daily habit. I couldn’t stay for the whole Mass, but I could do so at least through the Liturgy of the Word. I wished that I could go up for Communion on my days off, when I could stay for the entire liturgy; what was there before me was the real thing. So close, yet so far.

I started listening to these recordings of RCIA sessions. My wife was puzzled by my listening to “Catholic stuff.” It was interesting, though, because the person teaching it had gone to Wheaton College (home of Billy Graham) and had converted to Catholicism when he started looking into Church history. He even spent time at the same Anglican church in Wheaton where we were. Linda and I went through RCIA together under him. Linda kept asking, “Where does the Bible say that?” and other, tougher questions about what was taught. RCIA could use some work in this area. Perhaps we could go back to Cyril of Jerusalem and his Catechetical LecturesOf course, in our age, this is probably easier said than done.

On tough days at school, I would also stop by the church after work to pray. There was a side chapel where you could see the Tabernacle and get into the church when the main entrance was closed. One time, I noticed a man praying there, Craig, whom I had seen at morning Mass. He always seemed serene — which I wasn’t. I now know that what I did was breaking protocol, but I turned to him and started asking him questions about the statues, etc. He answered patiently. The next week, while at morning prayer, he came to me with a Daily Roman Missal and a copy of Introduction to Catholicism for Adults by the Rev. James Socias. Craig told me, “You have some studying to do.” We developed a relationship. I was always off to the races, and he was always telling me to take some time and develop a “Catholic mind.” After becoming Catholic, I’m starting to see what he meant. Craig was my sponsor when I entered the Church.

I have dealt with Peter and Popes, Mary, and all the usual Protestant issues, and am still adjusting. Stephen Ray, Scott Hahn, Brant Pitre, Mike Aquilina, and Fr. Simon of Father Simon Says on Relevant Radio have been part of my tutelage. I still try to listen to Fr. Simon’s podcasts daily. I also go to his Patristic Palooza on the early Church each October. Another author very important to me is G.K. Chesterton. (Where were you all my life G.K.?) His wit, joy and formidable intelligence are amazing. I tell people about him all the time, saying he’s the most important author of the 20th century that you’ve never heard of.

One of the scariest realizations I came to in this journey was that if the Church doesn’t exist (as, for instance, in the Catholic Church), then Jesus failed, because He wanted us to be one, not 30,000 or 40,000 flavors (John 17). I know Jesus can’t fail. That means there has to be a Church that still is one, despite all its various languages and cultures. No other body comes close to the Catholic Church in this. In fact, I am frequently amazed at the different people who make up a congregation. In my Protestant life, they would have divided into different churches. Sadly, some of the practices being proposed by leaders within the Catholic Church today have already been tried and discarded by Protestants. As the man told King Arthur and his knights in Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail, “Look at the bones!”

Some new acquaintances recommended the Coming Home NetworkI contacted them, and Jim Anderson has been checking in on me throughout the process of my entering the Church in March of 2017 and following up since then. Just knowing there was someone who cared about me helped a lot. It was also good to read other people’s stories and realize that I was not alone in my quest. It was comforting to realize how many people who were leaders in their Protestant churches were willing to come over to the Catholic Church. With the challenges facing the Church these days, I have found that those of us who have made this journey of faith have little patience for the protestantization of the Church. Interesting timing on God’s part!

Being Catholic has meant a much more personal relationship with God. When I was confirmed (I was baptized as a child), I took the name of Elijah, my favorite prophet. We need Elijah and all the saints to help us in these times. As I wandered through those years of searching, I stumbled on the Liturgy of the Hours and daily use the Universalis app (which provides the daily texts of the Liturgy of the Hours and the Mass). I am ashamed to admit that I pray more now than when I was a pastor. Where I pray does matter. How I worship does matter. What matters is not what I want in prayer or worship, but what God wants. I think of Him constantly now. The Jesus Prayer of the Eastern Christians became a saving grace early in this transformation and is still a regular prayer throughout my days. I’m learning the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and other distinctively Catholic prayers. I feel blessed to have ancient aspects of my faith from East and West, as well as a deep love of Scripture from my Bible Student formation. I am blessed to be able to physically be with our Lord daily.

I am blessed, too, with having Catholic parishes in abundance around me. I have spent a day in prayer at St. John Cantius in Chicago, one of the most beautiful churches in the states. Last season, I was able to attend there for the entire Triduum (Thursday, Friday and Saturday of the week that precedes Easter Sunday); it was amazing, as are the parishioners there in their devotion. On Sundays, I am blessed with a parish nearby that celebrates an Extraordinary Form Mass (the old Latin Mass) as one of its five Sunday Masses.

I’m also part of a band of men who meet Saturday mornings at 7 AM to go over the Sunday Mass readings together. In addition, I’m a part of a smaller group of men who meet twice a month to study papal encyclical letters. We have just finished Casti Connubii (On Christian Marriage, by Pope Pius XI) and are now learning Humanae Vitae (On Human Life, by Pope Paul VI). After that we will tackle Pascendi Dominici Gregis (On the Doctrines of the Modernists, by Pope Pius X). Each of these encyclical letters deals with key issues of our contemporary society and culture. We also study spiritual disciplines and the Sacraments.

Our hope is to be a help to others as we deal with the ongoing dismantling of Western culture and belief in the sacred and supernatural. The fight is not between liberal and conservative, but between those who believe in God and those who don’t. The collapse of civilization is always quite inconvenient. The Church was there when it happened before, a couple of times. Here’s to her success once again!”

Love,
Matthew

Arian Evangelical discovers the Catholic Church: Part 2 of 3


-ceiling mosaic of the Arian Baptistery, built in Ravenna by the Ostrogothic King Theodoric the Great (454-526 AD), please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Mike Knapp (Mike Knapp was born in Chicago and raised on a farm in Garden Prairie, IL. He went to National Louis University to collect all their degrees finishing a doctorate in “Science and Spirituality in Public Education.” A National Board Certified middle school science teacher, he’s ending 35 years of teaching at the end of the 2018/2019 school year to start a new chapter with his wife — yet to be determined, as becoming a Catholic has really changed everything. An “elder/pastor” for over 20 years with the Bible Students he was received into the Universal Church in 2017. He’s serving as an altar boy at the Latin Mass, runs, reads, teaches graduate courses in environmental science for SCARCE and a course in particle physics for teachers at Fermilab, and goes to Feed My Starving Children regularly.)

“Following the lead of others, I encouraged our congregation’s move away from simple worship of some hymns and readings before the sermon to a more Evangelical-style worship with a band. We developed various themes and programs to try to keep people interested and coming. It was a total flop. As many Protestant churches have discovered, if you try to keep people entertained or emotionally tied, it quickly reaches the point of diminishing returns.

Now, as a Catholic, being in Jesus’ presence daily as I pray before the Tabernacle is the most important part of my day. In contrast, the way I lived out my Christianity through my Bible Student upbringing was a “head experience.” Being a science teacher as well as a pastor supported keeping everything in my head. But my real need was to live Christ in body, soul, and spirit. Getting the right program or manner of worshiping was not the main thing.

As I started studying early Church history, I encountered the early Christians and Church Fathers. These were people who lived out Jesus’ teaching and promises. I didn’t need New Age magical thinking. I didn’t need a program, a new form of worship. I needed to submit to God, worshiping the way He wanted, not the way I wanted. That is the main thing: full submission to Him, to His will. But I only realized that later.

On the other hand, I started to stop by a Catholic parish in my town on my way to work. It is the only Christian church that is open at 5:45 AM weekdays for people to pray; they have a daily 6:30 AM Mass. I was beginning to appreciate sacred spaces and places.

However, I had a hard time dealing with Catholic doctrine. I had been well-trained to dissect Catholic thought and practice — at least the caricature of it that we were taught. Catholics were (and sadly, still are) pretty easy targets to “evangelize” away from their faith. Very few Catholics I met knew their Bible, their history, or how to defend any of their practices.

So, since I “knew” that what I was looking for couldn’t be the Catholic Church, I first looked at Orthodox writers and thinkers. It is funny how our prejudices work. I couldn’t bring myself to look into the Catholic Church, but I was OK with looking into the Eastern Orthodox — all the while praying each morning in a Catholic church. People thought the Orthodox faith strange, but I didn’t get the strong reactions I did later as a Catholic.

I was blessed during my time studying Orthodoxy. The Orthodox schism of 1054 fit in with my Protestant idea of the Church “going off the rails,” but I had to move to much later the date of the “Great Apostasy.” Among Orthodox writers and saints, I could see the promises of Christ being lived out. Reading of the monks of Mt. Athos, the Eastern Fathers, the rich liturgy, and abundance of miracles, I thought that I was on the right track. I began to challenge people to look into the Orthodox faith, pointing out the wonders and beauties I had discovered.

A lot was going on at that time. I was taking classes at the Antiochian Orthodox seminary and knew my future was taking me where my brethren were unwilling to go. I had been trying to re-create the early Church, as many Protestants have, within the confines of my own church. That was not fair to them.

It didn’t take a full semester to realize that I was running into many of the same issues in the Orthodox Church that I saw in Protestant churches. The nationalism of the various sects of the Orthodox was troubling. Attending various Divine Liturgies was enlightening as well. In the Antiochian church nearby, the people were very devout. In my sampling of other Orthodox parishes, not so much. Still, the Orthodox Churches have apostolic succession and the true Presence of Christ in their Divine Liturgy. 

On the other hand, I also learned that the Catholic Church does include several Eastern forms of liturgy.”

Love,
Matthew

Arian Evangelical discovers the Catholic Church: Part 1 of 3


-Great Champions of the Catholic Faith, fierce combatants against the heresy of Arianism, the Cappodocian Fathers: St Basil and St Gregory of Nazianzus, along with Basil’s brother St Gregory of Nyssa and St John Chrysostom, fought against Arianism. For greater detail, please click on the image.


-by Mike Knapp (Mike Knapp was born in Chicago and raised on a farm in Garden Prairie, IL. He went to National Louis University to collect all their degrees finishing a doctorate in “Science and Spirituality in Public Education.” A National Board Certified middle school science teacher, he’s ending 35 years of teaching at the end of the 2018/2019 school year to start a new chapter with his wife — yet to be determined, as becoming a Catholic has really changed everything. An “elder/pastor” for over 20 years with the Bible Students he was received into the Universal Church in 2017. He’s serving as an altar boy at the Latin Mass, runs, reads, teaches graduate courses in environmental science for SCARCE and a course in particle physics for teachers at Fermilab, and goes to Feed My Starving Children regularly.)

“My family left the Catholic Church when I was in first grade. I had only one year of Catholic education. Being the oldest of seven, none of my younger siblings had any at all — and not one of them has anything to do with the Church today. My parents joined the Bible Students, a small non-denominational group, descendants of Pastor Charles Taze Russell. They are not the Jehovah’s Witnesses, as is commonly reported. The JWs really came from one of Pastor Russell’s board members, Judge Rutherford. That is a story for another day.

Sundays meant long drives to “Meeting.” Except for one faction of the movement, known as Bereans, we didn’t call it “church”; instead, we met as ecclesias. Bible Students like to use Greek, since that’s what Pastor Russell did. The groups were small (their peak was just before World War I), and they often met in homes, Masonic temples, or the local YMCA. Very few congregations owned a building.

Most Meetings were spent studying Russell’s Studies in the Scriptures, his topical Bible studies. Some “liberal” Bible Student groups, such as the Bereans, actually studied the Bible. I was blessed to be involved with all three flavors of the Bible Students at different times. I do not regret the strong love of Scripture they gave me.

Growing up in a group that is considered a cult by other Christians does tend to make you pay more attention to what is being taught. I can remember being told that I was going to hell by many a Christian as I tracted neighborhoods or worked a booth at the county fair. On the other hand, being part of a small group that is, to some extent, persecuted also gives you a sense of being special in the Lord’s eyes. I think that is a very important part of many of the smaller denominations within Christianity.

Bible Student theology is very neat and tidy. Here is the elevator version: God has a plan. As Paul tells Timothy, God wants all men to come to Christ; therefore, logically, most will. The plan is based solely on Scripture. Russell goes out of his way in the first of the six volumes of his Studies to say that he won’t look to Church Fathers or any other documents, since those are only human opinions. Jesus was a man — only a man; we did not believe in the Trinity — because He was the “ransom price” for Adam. Since Adam was a perfect man, Jesus, to be the ransom, also had to be a perfect man. Christ’s Kingdom is a literal thousand-year kingdom, where all will be raised from the dead and know God. At the end of the thousand years, all would choose either life or destruction. There is no eternal torment or any other of what we called “pagan and medieval” notions, since death and hell are tossed into the “second death.”

I grew up going to the seminars, conventions and other ways the small ecclesias would work to build up the Body of Christ. I was blessed with being around people who were very bright and knew history, the Bible, and how to think for themselves. I loved going to these Meetings and developed close Christian friendships.

In the Bible Student movement, nobody in leadership is paid. Everyone who serves the ecclesia needs an outside job. To pay the bills, I was and am a science teacher. One of the other elder/pastors I worked with was the math chair at the local high school. Another was in charge of internal sales for industry.

There are different types of Bible Students. The Dawn group was the group that formed after Judge Rutherford kicked everyone out of the Watchtower. They set up their own printing press and started The Dawn magazine. The Divine Plan faction was formed in the 1960s and 70s as a reaction to the practices of the Dawn Meetings, who had stopped using some of the volumes of the Scripture Studies. Another group, known as Free, or Berean, Bible Students, developed in the 1930s and 40s. I eventually became a deacon and then an elder in a Berean congregation. The Bereans were considered to be “out of the truth” by many in the other groups. Bereans only study the Bible, and many Bereans today have no knowledge of the Studies in the Scriptures.

When my parents entered the Bible Student world, they met with a Divine Plan group first, then with some people from that group who started a home church. As a teenager, I got to know brethren in the Dawn faction; in fact, I married a girl from there. In short, within our own denomination, we experienced the fractures of Protestantism in spades.

What does it mean to be an elder in the Bible Student movement? It means being a pastor who does the preaching, teaching, counseling, marrying, burying, and other duties of a typical Evangelical pastor — plus working full time on the outside. That is why they usually have several elders. At the time I was active in the denomination, my congregation of 100–120 had five elder/pastors.

So, how did I become Catholic? A lot of things happened all at once. I joke that things really went “wrong” for me when I led a series of sermons and studies on having Communion more than once a year at our church (Berean Bible Students would use the word “church”). It is Bible Student practice to have communion only on the 14th of the Hebrew month Nisan, the actual night of Jesus’ Last Supper. This was our “tradition.” (Yes, even non-denominational churches have traditions; they just don’t admit it.)

I could tell from Scripture that the early Church had Communion more often than our once-a-year practice, although apparently some in the early Church had an annual practice.

Then I made another mistake: I started to study Church history. It turns out that Church history, in Protestant churches and cultures, leaves out a lot of information and is quite comfortable sharing historical information that isn’t really history. One very helpful book to disabuse me of this error was Rodney Stark’s Bearing False Witness. Stark was a Protestant historian fed up with the false narrative about the Catholic Church passed off as history.

As I learned, I shared. Communion started to happen a bit more often in our church. But when your theology says it is only a symbol, Communion does not have much importance or urgency. I can remember sharing from the platform during sermons that I envied the Catholics’ ability to have Christ daily in such a literal way. Nobody agreed with that. I was the one out of step, because I had come to realize that it wasn’t just a symbol. Jesus meant what He said, and His listeners took it the same way, as is clear from John 6.

By the year 2010, I had been looking over Catholic doctrines for several years. The congregation probably wasn’t sure where I was coming from at times. Why was I looking outside our own denomination? Well, I teach science in a very challenging environment, one with extreme poverty and social and behavioral issues. I could see the disconnect between what Jesus said we should do and what I was doing.”

Love,
Matthew

Luther – Merit & Love

“Love is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part 3, Life in Christ, Section 1, Man’s Vocation Life in the Spirit, Chapter 1, The Dignity of the Human Person, Article 7, The Virtues, #1822

“…For love and a reflex movement of the mind are directly opposed to each other. In true love, as in true faith, a man moves away from his (false) self to find his (true) self. Reflexive faith, on the contrary, returns to the ego.

Since true Christian charity, or love, is primarily directed to God, it is love for God that is crippled most by the new kind of faith. Outside of pietistic movements, love for God or Christ has become widely unknown or is even expressly rejected in Protestantism. As early as 1518, Luther denied the possibility of contrition out of love for God.1 Melanchthon, the first dogmatician of Lutheranism, contended that a man suffering the accusations of his own conscience is unable to love God,2 and this view, laid down as it is in one of the Confessions of Lutheranism, has come to share in the authority that these books enjoy. Luther could say: “Love God in His creatures; He does not will that you love Him in His majesty.”3

This quotation shows that, though love for God loses its primacy, brotherly love is urged emphatically. When Luther speaks of love he almost invariably refers to love of one’s neighbor. We shall see, however, that the new orientation of his religion assigned to brotherly love a spiritual function and a theological position quite different from the place it holds in biblical and Catholic spirituality and doctrine. Love is not identical with good works, but is necessarily operative in them. Good or meritorious works are, by definition, works done out of love for God. Love is infused by the Holy Spirit, Who is the Spirit of freedom. Therefore, the Holy Spirit, love, freedom, and good works are inseparably interlinked. Faith is the basis of love…

…”Then “I do good works, love God, offer thanks, practice love of my neighbor. But this love or these works do not inform or adorn my faith but my faith informs and adorns my love.”16 The last quoted sentence implicitly polemicizes against the Catholic doctrine that the act of faith is perfected by being informed (pervaded or animated) by love.17 This doctrine is nothing but an expression of a biblical idea. In 1 Corinthians 13:1–3:7, ( Ed.  “…if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” – 1 Cor 13:2; Shema) St. Paul says that all proclamation, all faith, and all works are “nothing” without love; for it is love that believes and hopes…

…Luther has reversed the traditional doctrine. He teaches that it is not love that informs faith but faith that informs love…What he wants to emphasize is that love has no place in acts relevant to justification or in the spiritual life proper. Only after reflexive faith has been properly established can love and works be practiced…

…Now if faith, instead of being informed with love, has rather to inform love, what is the part that faith has to play in the just man’s good works? We have already mentioned Luther’s view about man’s obligation to assert that his works are pleasing to God (Chapter I, Section 3). Since the act of faith, in his opinion, amounts to performing an assertion, it is consistent that he could say, as he did in his early Protestant period, that the prime good work was faith itself.20 The assertion of the works’ agreeableness to God is the kind of faith that, according to him, is most intimately tied up with the practice of doing good works. For, as we showed above in Chapter I, assertion not merely accompanies, but even constitutes the goodness of, works. So we may comment that in Luther’s doctrine it is in its assertive aspect that faith is supposed to inform “love and works.”

But it need not be demonstrated at length that in this sort of religious practice there can be no question of love, least of all love for God. If a man, in dealing with another person, asserts that his action in relation to the other is pleasing to that person just because of his asserting that it is so, he is not realizing a true interpersonal relationship, and by no means can such behavior claim to be called love.

In Luther’s system, however, the practice of assertion and self-reflection has an important place, not only in the doctrine of faith, but also in connection with the topic of love and works. He teaches that if a man finds himself doing good works, he may take this as evidence that his faith is right, since true faith must actuate man to do good works.21 In a disputation held in 1543, Luther defended this thesis: “Love is a testimony of faith giving us assurance and enabling us to assert with certitude God’s favor. . . .”22 Here love is identified with works to the extent that one word—love—denotes both. It goes without saying that the love meant is mere philanthropy, not love for God…“I am in God’s favor.”… If he finds that he is doing such good works, he should take this as an occasion to assert his being in God’s favor a second time, in order to strengthen his certitude.23 Thus even the theology of love, after being reduced to a doctrine of love of one’s neighbor, culminates in encouraging the practices of self-reflection and assertion. Brotherly love is urged, but its theological meaning is entirely altered. Even love is not an outgoing movement from, but ultimately a return to, the believer’s ego.

Luther was not unaware of the fact that his doctrine was alien to Holy Scripture…

…Here it becomes most clear that in his instructions for the spiritual life, Luther has forgotten the most important thing: love for God.

…The Church urges the obligation that a man cooperate with God’s grace. Now this cooperation is coterminous with good works, which are actions flowing from love. Therefore, abiding by the biblical view of the interpenetration of the three theological virtues, the Church teaches that faith, hope, and charity are bestowed on man in conjunction and that without hope and charity, faith cannot lead to eternal life.33

In Luther’s system, hope is anticipated or absorbed by the certitude which he equated with faith. The distortion of the concept of faith involves a disfigurement of the notion of hope. We need not enter into Luther’s conception of hope.

It is love that presented the greatest problem to him. In assessing his polemics, we have to keep in mind that some late medieval nominalists had contended that man could, by his natural powers, love God above all things.34 Luther was only defending the Catholic position when he opposed this view.35 But after he had established his new theory of faith, he did not, unfortunately, confine himself to clarifying the doctrine of the Church concerning love as a gift of God.

His attack, in his Protestant period, was directed chiefly against the proposition that faith, in order to be justifying, must be informed with love.36 He argued that this proposition amounts to ascribing justification ultimately to love. Man, however, cannot have perfect love in this life and, consequently, justification would be impossible.

In another argumentation, Luther contends that if love has a part in justification then justification would not be a pure gift of grace but an achievement of man, wrought through the fulfilling of the commandment to love God and one’s neighbor. In short, justification would not be effected by grace and faith alone, but by the law, which would be contrary to St. Paul’s teaching.

The first argument leaves out of account the fact that, as Luther himself elsewhere admits,37 even faith—reflexive faith—is often enough too weak to achieve the salvific certitude. So the same objection that Luther leveled against the role of love in justification, could be raised against faith also.

The second argument acknowledges that faith is a gift of God, donum Dei, but forgets that the same is true of love. If, however, love is also a gift of God, then work done out of love for God is ultimately a gift of God, too. Moreover, Luther here equates good works—which are works done in the freedom of love—with works of the Law. This involves a capital misinterpretation of the New Testament. Luther himself, in his early career, had understood his Bible better, as we saw above in section one of this chapter. Finally, if faith consists, as Luther would have it, in asserting one’s own certitude of salvation, then it would be, though on the psychic level, a human achievement no less than any external “work.”

A third argument, defended in a disputation of 1543, acknowledges that both faith and love are gifts of God. But, here, love for God is totally left out of consideration, and love of one’s neighbor is again included among the works of the Law.38 Moreover, Luther argues here that love, being directed to human beings only, is prone to contracting acquisitive, “mercenary” habits. He seems to forget that a behavior which includes such habits is not charity, not Christian love at all.

The astounding weakness of, and the variations in, Luther’s arguments indicate that it cannot have been reasoning or sober exegetical effort which caused his stiff opposition to the doctrine that faith, in order to be living faith, must be informed with love….

…“We must be certain that we are holy.”40

The joint evidence of these two remarks reveals what is borne out by other statements as well, namely that Luther’s prime concern was to have at his disposal that certitude which he equated with faith and with salvation. Now there is a certitude inherent in a relationship of love also, but this is not manageable by, nor at the disposal of, either of the partners individually, since it resides in the interpersonal relationship. Hence, Luther deems it insufficient. And it is quite to the point when he argues, first, that only what he has apprehended or grasped in a concept is at the disposal of his mind; and, second, that such grasping or gripping can be performed only by the intellect, not by love…

…It must be emphasized that the idea of merit…is an essential part of the New Testament message, whose relinquishment amounts to a serious curtailment of the Gospel. Deeply imbued with the spirit of Scripture, St. Augustine has made it clear, and the Church has recognized it as her own doctrine, that “all our good merits are wrought through grace, so that God, in crowning our merits, is crowning nothing but His gifts.”43 The idea of merit is an indispensable expression of the interpersonality of God’s dealing with man. In rewarding man’s merit, God acknowledges that the goodness of man’s deeds flows from the depth of the created person, namely from charity which is primarily directed to God because it has been infused by God. Luther’s suppression of the idea of merit, on the contrary, is but another symptom of the depersonalization wrought by the reflexivity of his faith. If reward did not correspond to the worth of man’s deeds but merely followed it, with the goodness of man’s deeds remaining God’s exclusively, then God would not deal as Person with man as a person. Living interpersonality would be reduced to a dead mechanism. Man would be little different from a lifeless thing—or else the grace God bestows on him would not be a transforming power.

Luther’s second argument shows that he tries to make even the idea of reward subservient to his central tenet. He suggests that the biblical passages speaking of reward should not be taken to mean what they actually say. The hearer or reader of Scripture should interpret them as an encouragement or consolation assuring him “that his works are certainly pleasing to God.”44 Thus, even here, what matters for Luther is solely the believer’s certitude of being in God’s favor. And this again amounts to a depersonalization. Man would fail to respond as a person to God’s personal call if he used God’s promise to reward good actions as an occasion to assert the agreeableness of his works to God, and if he imagined that his deeds are pleasing to God if and when he asserts that they are so.

The twofold depersonalization comes close to a denial of an interrelationship between God and man. If God would not estimate man’s deeds as done by man but regard them as exclusively His own—that is to say, not as His gifts but as mere deposits—and if man would himself assert what he ought to leave to God’s judgment, then both God and man would act each for himself, without having personal regard to each other. On both parts there would be no freedom and no love, no freedom of love.”

-Hacker, Paul. Faith in Luther: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion (p. 84-85, 88-93, 95-97, 99-100). Emmaus Academic. Kindle Edition.

LOVE,
Matthew

1 1, 321, 18.24.
2 Apologia Confessionis Augustanae, Art.III (De dilectione et impletione legis), no.7; Art.V (De poenitentia), no.34.
3 11, 185, 5.
16 40I, 275, 12.
17 Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae II-II, 4, 3; “Caritas dicitur forma fidei, inquantum per caritatem actus fidei perficitur et formatur.” The Council of Trent has not dogmatized the term “informed with love” but has rejected Luther’s doctrine that love has no share in man’s justification. See Denzinger, no. 821.
20 6, 204, 25; 209, 33.
21 See above, Chapter III, Section 3, and Althaus, op.cit., 375.
22 39II, 248, 11. Cf. 40I, 577, 12.29.
23 10III, 225, 35.
33 Denzinger, nos. 800 and 821.
34 Heiko Oberman, The Harvest of Medieval Theology (Grand Rapids, 1967), 153 and 155. 35 1, 224, 28; 225, 3.
36 40I, pp. 164ff; 225, 23; pp. 239ff; pp. 436ff; p. 606; 40II, pp. 34–39; pp. 79ff; 39II, pp. 191–193.
37 For example 25, 331, 27; 31II, 434, 20.
38 39II, p. 238. Theses 8, 12, and 16f.
40 39II, 192, 3.
43 Augustine, Letter 194, 5, 19; Sermo 131, 8; Tractatus in Joh. Ev. 3, 10; De trinitate 3, 10. Council of Trent: Denzinger, no. 810.
44 18, 695, 14.

Merit & righteousness – part 4 of 4, merit


-by James Akin (Jimmy Akin is an internationally known author and speaker. As a senior apologist, he has more than twenty years of experience defending and explaining the Catholic faith. Jimmy is a convert to Catholicism and has an extensive background in the Bible, theology, the Church Fathers, philosophy, canon law, and liturgy.)

“A subject which is misunderstood by Protestant apologists just as much as the Catholic view of righteousness is the Catholic view of merit. A lot of this is due to the connotations the term “merit” has in Protestant minds. Normally this is taken to be a synonym in Protestant vocabulary for “earn,” however as we will see this is nothing like what the term means in Catholic theology.

In fact, it has never been what the term meant. It has only gained that connotation from its usage in post-Reformation anti-Catholic polemics. From the very beginning the term was used differently. Thus in the second century the Latin term meritum was introduced as a translation of the Greek term for “reward.”[6] In fact, it was picked over another term (merces) precisely because it lacked the legalistic connotations of meritum. Thus a document released by the German conferences of Catholic and Lutheran bishops states: “[T]he dispute about merit also rests largely on a misunderstanding. The Tridentine fathers ask: How can anyone have doubts about the concept of merit, when Jesus himself talks about ‘reward’ and when, moreover, it is only a question here of acts that a Christian performs as member of Christ? . . . Many antitheses could be overcome if the misleading word ‘merit’ were simply to be viewed and thought about in connection with the true sense of the biblical term ‘wage’ or reward (cf., among other passages, Matt. 20:1-16; 5:12; John 4:36; 1 Cor. 3:8, 14; Col. 3:24). There are strong indications, incidentally—and a linguistic analysis could provide the evidence—that the language of the liturgy does not merely reflect the true meaning of the concept of merit stressed here, but—quite contrary to the Reformers’ fears—prefers to explain what was meant through the word meritum rather than through the term merces (reward), for the very reason that merit sounds less ‘materialistic’ than reward.”[7]

The term merces does in fact have very materialistic connotations. In fact, there is a joke among Latinists concerning Jesus’ statements in the Vulgate of Matthew 6, Receperunt mercedem suam which is jokingly translated “They have received their Mercedes”—the car brand name “Mercedes” being derived from merces.

Because meritum is simply the Latin translation of the theological term “reward,” this reveals to us a fundamental unity of the doctrine of merit and the doctrine of reward, a doctrine which even (most) Protestants acknowledge since the Bible uses the term. In fact, the Bible uses very “materialistic” terms in this regard. The three key terms for reward the New Testament uses—misthos, apodidomai, and misthapodosia mean respectively “wages,” “to deliver or pay off,” “payment of wages due.” It kind of puts a new feel on things when one brings this forward into English and one sees Jesus saying: “Rejoice and be glad, for your wages are great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:12).

“He who receives a prophet because he is a prophet shall receive a prophet’s wage, and he who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s wage” (Matthew 10:41).

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your wage will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish” (Luke 6:35).

This kind of puts a different slant on it, and the New Testament is chocked full of this kind of “profit motive” language (see C. S. Lewis’ excellent essay, The Weight of Glory for a Protestant exposition of this point), though translations often obscure the fact. In fact, one may note that Protestant translations tend to translate misthos inconsistently, as “wage” whenever the context is worldly-economic and “reward” whenever it is something promised to believers by God.

Nevertheless, though the New Testament uses highly economic language in speaking of the believer’s rewards (e.g., “He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor,” 1Co. 3:8; “The Lord will repay everyone accord to his works,” Rom. 2:6), it does not in any way intend this language to be taken to mean that Christians earn their place before God.

Thus in Catholic theology, merit is in no way earning, but identical with the concept of reward. Brought about by God’s grace, acts which please God are done by Christians (Phil. 4:18, Col. 1:9-10, 1Th. 4:1, Heb. 13:16, 13:20-21) and God chooses to reward them (Rom. 2:6, 1 Cor. 3:8, 4:6, 2 Cor. 5:10, Gal. 6:6-10, Rev. 2:23, 22:12). These elements, God’s grace, the acts pleasing to God that they bring about, and the reward God chooses to give, are the key elements in the Catholic theology of merit, as we shall see.

The doctrine of merit is thus the same as the doctrine of rewards. To help Protestant readers grasp this and cut through the linguistic confusion experienced on this point because of the associations of the term “merit” in the Protestant vocabulary, they should try substituting “reward” or “rewardable action” or “to perform a rewardable action” for “merit” in what follows. This should cut through the confusion.

In the previous section, we discussed three senses of righteousness—legal, actual, behavioral.[5] In this section we will look at three forms of merit, which we will call congruous, condign, and strict.

In all three forms, there is a similarity between the action and the reward, and it is this similarity which makes it fitting for the reward to be given for that work, which is why the term “merit” is applied. In all cases of merit, an action merits its reward in the sense that the action is similar to the reward in a certain way and thus makes it fitting that the reward be given. The difference between the kinds of merit depends on the kind of similarity between the action and the reward and, correspondingly, it depends on the kind of fittingness there is that the action be given the reward.

Before looking at the three kinds of merit we are concerned with (congruent, condign, and strict), it is helpful to note two kinds that we are not concerned with.

The first of these is natural merit. Natural merit occurs when a person does an action that has natural value but not supernatural value, and which consequently deserves a natural reward. For example, if I do natural labor for an employer, that merits the paycheck I receive in return. Because I am only doing something with natural value (natural labor), the act deserves only a natural reward, such as money, not a supernatural reward, such as glory in heaven.

The only way for a natural task such as doing one’s job becomes supernaturally meritorious (and consequently receiving a supernatural reward), is if one does the natural task at least partly on the basis of the virtue of charity, or supernatural love. Charity is the principle of all supernatural merit, and the only thing God chooses to supernaturally reward. Thus if you give a cup of cold water to a thirsty person for a natural motive, such as to get him off your back or to assuage your guilt, then this will get no reward from God. However, if you perform the natural act partly from a supernatural motive, such as giving the thirsty person a cup of cold water because you supernaturally love him as a creature of God and wish to help him, then this is supernaturally meritorious and will receive a reward from God.

This principle lies behind Jesus’ statement in the Sermon on the Mount: “I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Matthew 5:44-47)

Even the unregenerate (tax collectors and heathen) have natural love for those who do good to them, and so if we have only natural love for others, we will receive no reward from God (” . . . what reward have you”). God’s love is different, it is supernatural and embraces all people, regardless of whether they do good or not. Thus he sends rain and sun (blessings in an agricultural society) on both the righteous and the wicked, on both his friends and his enemies. Jesus tells us that to be sons of our Father (i.e., to behave as Christians), we must display this same supernatural love that the Father does, and that when we do this we will receive a reward from him.

The same principle lies behind Jesus’ statements in Matthew 6 concerning doing acts of righteousness in front of men. If we do an act of righteousness in front of men, we may be tempted to do it for purely natural motives (i.e., so they will praise us or think well of us), and thus it will receive no reward. The only way for the act to be rewarded is if it is done for supernatural motives—to please God out of love for him—and thus Jesus instructs us (using typical Hebrew hyperbolic language) that if we are going to be tempted to do acts of righteousness for natural motives we should avoid the temptation by doing them in such a way that only God will know about them.

In any event, natural merit is not of interest to us at present because it gains no supernatural reward. Only supernatural merit is of concern here.

The second kind of merit we are not concerned about in this paper is demerit—that is, the kind of merit which is accrued when an action has a negative value and so it is fitting for it to receive a negative reward. This can happen in both natural and supernatural merit, and thus it can be fitting for one to be punished naturally (by being put in jail, fined, spanked or whipped or caned, etc.), as well as being punished supernaturally (by losing the joy of fellowship with God, being denied the sacraments, being tortured in spirit in this life, or going to hell in the next). Demerit is not also not of interest here because we are concerned with the sense in which the term “merit” is objected to by Protestants.

Having said that, let us now look at the three forms of merit in which we are interested—congruent, condign, and strict.

Since we are here talking about supernatural merit, the most basic sort of similarity between the action and the reward is that it is a supernatural action and so makes fitting a supernatural reward. As we said before, the only kind of actions which God supernaturally rewards are those which have a supernatural motive—the virtue of charity, which God implants in our hearts and which it is completely impossible for us to produce ourselves. In fact, according to Catholic theology each new supernaturally motivated act we do requires God to give us a special, new grace (called an “actual grace”) in order to do it. The denial of this was the position known as semi-Pelagianism, which claimed that God gave us all the grace we need at the beginning of the Christian life and that we do not need to be sustained in salvation by new grace, a position which was infallibly condemned by the Church. Thus when supernatural merit occurs, God gives us the supernatural motive to perform the supernatural act to which he then gives a supernatural reward.

This is the principle behind Augustine’s statement: “What merit, then, does a man have before grace, by which he might receive grace?—when our every good merit is produced in us only by grace and when God, crowning our merits, crowns nothing else but his own gifts to us” (Letters 194:5:19).

The basic principle of supernatural merit, therefore, the thing that makes it supernatural, is the grace which God gives to enable there to be a supernatural act in the first place, the only kind of act for which a supernatural reward is fitting.

But in some cases God has not promised a reward. A reward might be fitting, but it may not have been promised. To give a human analogy, if someone holds the door open for me while I have a load of books in my arms (a common event for me), it is fitting that I hold the door for them next time. However, I have not promised to do so, and all things being equal I am not strictly bound to do so. Thus it is fitting for me to hold the door for this person, but there is no strict obligation involved. This is, on a natural human level, what Catholics would call congruent merit.

Congruent merit occurs with respect to God when a person under the influence of actual grace does an action which pleases God but which he has not promised to reward. Some times God chooses to reward the act, sometimes not. For example, if we obey Jesus’ instruction to supernaturally love our enemies and pray for them; however, God has not promised that he will answer our prayers concerning them, and although he is pleased with the prayers we are offering out of supernatural love for them, he may not give them the blessing we are asking for them. It may simply not be God’s will for that to happen. The same is true of prayers for ourselves; even when we pray from supernatural charity we are likely only congruently meriting the thing we are asking for since God has not promised to give it.

The obvious next higher form of merit is one in which God has promised to reward the action. In this case when a person under the influence of actual graces performs the supernatural act, God is not only pleased by the act but he is guaranteed to reward it because he has promised to do so. This kind of merit is known in Catholic theology as condign merit.

One thing it is important to realize about condign merit is that, even though God has promised to reward the at, that does not mean that the act has an intrinsic value equal to the reward it is receiving. If I perform an act of charity and God gives me a heavenly reward in the next life by giving me an additional level of supernatural beatitude, the value of the act I perform in no way equals the value of the beatitude. There may be a proportionality that can be drawn between the amount of charity God’s grace has led me to exercise in this life and the amount of beatitude I get in the next life, but there is no equality between the two values.

The reasons that there is no equality and thus the intrinsic value of God’s rewards always immeasurably exceeds the intrinsic value of our merits is that, as Anselm pointed out in his Cur Deus Homo, the value of an act is proportional to the value of the person making it. Thus I, as a finite being, could never make the infinite atonement Christ did on the Cross (even if I was sinless and always had been). It took a Person of infinite value—the Son of God—to make an infinite satisfaction. Similarly, I, a finite creature, can never merit anything of infinite value, but the beatitude which God bestows upon us in the afterlife is of infinite value because it will be enjoyed for all eternity.

Thus the fundamental basis for all condign merit is God’s promise, not the intrinsic value of the human act, even when it is brought about by God’s grace. Without God’s promise we would have no claim on the beatitude God offers; however, under God’s grace we do indeed claim the promises of God, even though what he promises always infinitely outweighs what we have done by his grace.

If our actions were equal in value to his reward then what would have occurred would be referred to in modern Catholic parlance as strict merit. Strict merit is what would occur when someone gives to God something of equal intrinsic value to the reward he has promised to give. The trick is, only Christ is capable of doing this since only Christ is capable of doing things of infinite value for God. Other humans are totally incapable of this because we lack the infinite dignity of the Godhead supervening on our actions.

Thus the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “With regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man. Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from him, our Creator” (CCC 2007).

The same themes have been stressed by Catholic theologians for ages, not only by St. Augustine and his famous axiom “when you crown our merits, you crown your own gifts,” but by theologians ever since.

In the Middle Ages, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: “[W]here there is no simple right [to a thing], but only relative, there is no character of merit simply, but only relative . . . [as when] the child merits something from his father and the slave from his lord. Now it is clear that between God and man there is the greatest inequality, for they are infinitely apart, and all man’s good is from God. Hence there can be no justice of absolute equality between man and God, but only of a certain proportion, inasmuch as both operate after their own manner. Hence man’s merit with God only exists on the presupposition of the divine ordination” (Summa Theologiae Ia:114:1).

At the Council of Trent, when the mutual hostilities with Protestants were greatest, the Council fathers wrote: “Christ Jesus himself, as the head into the members [cf. Eph. 4:5] and as the vine into the branches [cf. John 15:5], continually infuses his virtue into the said justified [people], a virtue which always precedes their good works and which accompanies and follows them, and without which they could in no wise be pleasing or meritorious before God . . . [F]ar be it that a Christian should either trust or glory in himself and not in the Lord, whose bounty toward all amen is so great that He wishes the things that are His gifts to be their merits. And since in many things we all offend, each one of us ought to have before his eyes not only the mercy and goodness but also the severity and judgment [of God]; neither ought anyone to judge himself, even though he be not conscious of anything [1 Cor. 4:3-4]; because the whole life is to be examined and judged not by the judgment of man but of God, who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts and then shall every man have praise from God . . . ” (Decree on Justification 16).

In the twentieth century, theologian Michael Schmaus writes, “In this connection, it must be remembered that man cannot make any valid claim on God. Since the ‘reward’ give by God always infinitely exceeds what is due man, the word ‘merit’ can only be used analogously. Because of God’s transcendence and the resultant inequality between God and man, merit in the strict sense of the word cannot occur in the relationship between God and man.”[8]

“We would not dare to hope that God would reward the actions of the justified man if he had not promised it; our hope is based on his word. At the same time, the reward is a grace . . . . What is meant [by merit and reward] is not an extrinsic, material repayment for the pain and trouble endured in the accomplishment of good works; it is rather the intrinsic fruit of the action itself.”[9]

“All of this does not, of course, mean that like all good things, the promise of a reward from God cannot be misunderstood and misused. There is a danger that the ill-instructed Christian may hope to gather merit as a basis for bargaining with God, to use his good works as a kind of pledge which God must at once redeem. Needless to say, notions of this sort are very far from the meaning of the scriptural texts and the Church’s teaching” . . . . [That God rewards our merits] “rests on his free decision: he has promised that he will do so, and he keeps his word. Except for this divine promise, no one could flatter himself that his good works would have such an effect.”[10]

And twentieth century theologian Ludwig Ott writes: “Merit is dependent on the free ordinance of God to reward with everlasting bliss the good works performed by His grace. On account of the infinite distance between Creator and creature, man cannot of himself make God his debtor, if God does not do so by His own free ordinance. That God has made such an ordinance, is clearly from His promise of eternal reward . . . . St. Augustine says: ‘The Lord has made Himself a debtor, not by receiving, but by promising. Man cannot say to Him, ‘give back what thou hast received’ but only, ‘Give what thou has promised'” (Enarr. in Ps. 83, 15).[11]

These quotes, stretching throughout history as they do, from Augustine through Aquinas and Trent and twentieth century theologians into the Catechism of the Catholic Church, show how false and foolish the idea is that the Catholic Church teaches that we earn our place before God. Only Christ as the infinite God-man, whose infinite dignity gives his every action infinite weight, is capable of earning anything before God. So while God’s grace does bring about in Christians actions which please God and which he chooses or even promises to reward, only Christ is capable of doing before God what Protestants mean by the term “merit.” Catholics only say Christians do what God rewards.”

Love & technical precision for the sake of clarity & peace & love,
Matthew

[6] Alister McGrath, Justification by Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 70.

[7] The Condemnations of the Reformation Era: Do They Still Divide? Justification III.7.

[8] Schmaus, Dogma 6:138.

[9] ibid., 142.

[10] ibid., 143-4.

[11] Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 4th. ed., 1960, (Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books, 1974), 247.

Merit & righteousness – part 3 of 4, moral realism


-by James Akin (Jimmy Akin is an internationally known author and speaker. As a senior apologist, he has more than twenty years of experience defending and explaining the Catholic faith. Jimmy is a convert to Catholicism and has an extensive background in the Bible, theology, the Church Fathers, philosophy, canon law, and liturgy.)

“Another reason why Protestants need to accept the language of objective guilt and innocence is that the Bible itself uses this kind of language. It often speaks of guilt and innocence in terms of objective properties, such as colors or cleanliness. Scripture speaks of our sins being “crimson like scarlet” (Isaiah 1:18), and the Psalmist says “wash me with hyssop and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:7). It is also the kind of righteousness Scripture has in mind when it talks about our sins making us “unclean” or “filthy” and our forgiveness making us “pure” and “clean” before God. In these passages, guilt and innocence are conceived of as objectively real properties that cling to us just like colors and cleanliness.

So there is no reason why Protestants need to object to the metaphysical understanding of righteousness that Catholics use. In fact, many Protestants are uncomfortable with using purely legal language for justification and state quite adamantly that justification is not just a legal fiction. That God actually “constitutes” us in righteousness. The only difference on this point is that they do not use the metaphysical understanding of righteousness in order to explain what constituting in righteousness means. But there is no reason why they cannot do so and, as we have seen, there are positive reasons why they should. Thus for example Protestant authors such as Norman Geisler, who are more familiar with the principles of ontology, are willing to talk about actual righteousness being given in justification. Geisler, for example, uses the helpful terminology of speaking of legal righteousness as “extrinsic” righteousness and actual righteousness as “intrinsic righteousness.”

Catholics, for their part, have no trouble saying that a person is legally righteous before God when they are justified. If God constitutes a person in righteousness.  Furthermore, Catholics don’t need to have any problem with saying that our righteousness is brought about by a decree of God. The Catholic can be perfectly happy saying that when we are justified God declares us righteous and his declaration bring about what it says. He declares us righteous, and so our guilt is taken away and our righteousness is restored.

This is something for which there is good Biblical support for. God’s word is efficacious. It accomplishes what it says. In Genesis 1 God spoke and his word brought about the things that he spoke. He said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. He said, “Let the waters be divided from each other so that dry land may appear,” and they did. He said, “Let the waters teem with living creatures,” and they did. Furthermore, in Isaiah 55:11, God said, “[S]o shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (RSV).

God may sometimes choose to give graces which are incomplete, which do not of themselves bring about their target goal (see the essay, “Resisting and Cooperating With God“), but when God declares something to be so, it is so. God’s word is efficacious; it brings about what it says. So when God declares us righteous, we actually become righteous: we have our guilt taken away and our purity before God restored. This is true even if the righteousness that is being restored is the original righteousness which Adam lost for the whole human race.

Thus in Catholic theology the term “justification” is used to refer to the event by which we are given ontological or real righteousness. Coextensive with this, of course, is legal righteousness, for God will not treat anyone as unrighteous who is really righteous. Similarly, God will not treat as righteous anyone who is really unrighteous. As God declares in Scripture, ‘I will not justify the wicked” (Ex. 23:7)—His holiness prevents it. Thus for God to make someone legally righteous, He also must make them actually righteous; He must constitute them in righteousness. And for God to make someone actually righteous, He must correspondingly make them legally righteous.

So a Catholic need have no problems with the forensic/declaratory aspects of justification. God does indeed declare us righteous, and that is nothing with which a Catholic needs to quarrel. A Catholic also does not need to quarrel about which kind of righteousness is the cause and which is the effect, whether God declares a person legally righteous and that, by the miraculous creative power of his word, makes the person actually righteous, or whether God makes the person actually righteous and therefore declares the person legally righteous. This is a matter of indifference in Catholic theology.

Furthermore, when Catholics talk about progressive justification/sanctification, they are again thinking of God making us ontologically righteous. This is almost totally missed by Protestants when they compare the Catholic view of progressive justification to the Protestant idea of sanctification, which is in turn part of the basis on which they say Catholics confuse justification with sanctification. No, Catholics don’t. They recognize that growth in personal holiness (behavioral righteousness) is a separate and subsequent event to initial justification. The confusion is on the part of the Protestant who thinks Catholics are talking about growth in behavioral righteousness when they talk about progressive justification/sanctification. They aren’t. They’re talking about growth in actual righteousness.

This is sometimes a difficult concept for Protestants to grasp since they have heard so many sermons about righteousness being an all or nothing thing that they have trouble understanding the concept of how righteousness can grow. This is one of the things that keeps them boxed into a two-fold understanding of righteousness. However, the problem is solved when one grasps the concept of actual righteousness, which is not a one-dimensional but a two-dimensional concept.

The first dimension of actual righteousness is its level of purity, which we might refer to as the quality of the righteousness. When one becomes a Christian and is justified, one receives totally pure actual righteousness. There is no admixture of sin or unrighteousness in the righteousness God gives one. Thus in this sense one is made just as righteous as Christ, because the level of purity in Christ’s righteousness and ours is the same.

However, from this point of initial justification one’s righteousness begins to grow during the course of the Christian life. This is the hard part for Protestants to understand since they will ask, “But if we are already made totally pure, how can our righteousness grow from there?” The answer is where the second dimension of actual righteousness comes in. Righteousness does not continue to grow in the first dimension; once total purity has been received, it is not possible for righteousness to grow in that dimension. One cannot go beyond total purity in the quality of righteousness, so righteousness grows in its second dimension—its quantity.

Even though when we first came to God we were made totally righteous in the sense that we became totally pure, we have not yet done any good works, for these are made possible only by God’s grace after justification. The righteousness God have given us may be totally perfect in quality but it is not yet totally perfect in quantity. We may be just as righteous as Christ in the sense that the righteousness God has given us is just as pure as Christ’s, but it is not as extensive as Christ’s because we have not done as many good works as Christ. The tiny little good works we do in our lives—works wrought only by the grace God himself gives us—in no way compare to the huge, overwhelming, infinite good works of Christ, such as his death on the cross. So while we may have just as much righteousness as Christ in terms of its quality (total purity, by God’s grace), we do not have just as much righteousness as Christ in terms of its quantity.

It is in terms of the quantity of righteousness that rewards are given in heaven, and thus because Christ has a greater quantity of righteousness than we do, he also has a correspondingly greater reward. As Paul says: “[B]eing found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:8-10). And as the book of Hebrews declares: “Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, . . . for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). And so “in everything he [has] the supremacy” (Col. 1:18).

This understanding of the three kinds of righteousness—legal, actual, and behavioral[4]—enables us to look back at the reasoning of the Protestant apologist we mentioned earlier and see where it goes wrong. One will recall that the apologist reasoned: “Catholics believe we are made righteous when we are initially justified, but they do not believe we are made legally righteous, so they must mean that we are made behaviorally righteous at initial justification.”

Obviously this is false since the Catholic is not boxed into a two-fold view of righteousness. It is natural for the Protestant to think this, since his own thoughts on righteousness are normally limited to legal and behavioral, but in fact that Catholic believes that in justification we are given actual righteousness (and in conjunction with it, legal righteousness, for the two are co-extensive, as well as being given the first stirrings of behavioral righteousness through regeneration). The apologist then reasoned: “They also believe that we grow in righteousness during progressive justification. This has to be growth in behavioral righteousness, because legal righteousness before God cannot grow; you are either legally righteous or you are not. Thus Catholics must mean by ‘progressive justification’ what I mean by ‘sanctification’—that is, growth in behavioral righteousness.”

This is also false because in progressive justification Catholics are again talking about actual righteousness, and actual righteousness does grow in quantity though not in quality.

“However, if it is possible to grow in behavioral righteousness after initial justification, that must mean the Catholic does not believe he was made completely righteous in initial justification.”

This is false because the Catholic does believe we are made completely righteous in terms of the quality of our righteousness (both actually and, consequently, legally) at justification. The growth that occurs later is a growth of quantity, not quality.

“Thus Catholics must believe they are made partially behaviorally righteous during initial justification and then they grow in righteousness during progressive justification, which I call sanctification. Thus they confuse justification and sanctification.”

If Catholics did believe initial justification is to be identified as the event where we are made partially behaviorally righteous, followed by later growth in behavioral righteousness, then they would indeed be confusing justification with the sanctification (as Protestants use the term “sanctification”), because this would merely make justification the first stage of behavioral sanctification. However, while there is a gift of partial behavioral righteousness at the time of justification (because of regeneration, which makes us spiritually alive and no longer dead in our sins, so that the power of sin is broken in our lives and we are no longer enslaved to it, though we do still have to battle it, cf. Romans 6), this gift of partial behavioral righteousness is not what justification consists in. In Catholic language, justification consists in God making us actually righteous (and 100% righteous in terms of quality), which is either brought about by God’s declaring us legally righteous or which brings about this legal declaration.

The confusion is thus not on the part of the Catholic. The Catholic is not confusing justification with sanctification—not confusing our initial reception by God and the growth in behavioral righteousness which follows—the confusion is on the part of the Protestant apologist who has not studied Catholic theology properly (and who probably has never read Catholic sources or has only scanned them looking for “ammo” to use against Catholics, rather than trying to enter into the Catholic thought-world and understand what Catholics really mean rather than what he has been told in sermons and lectures and radio program they mean), and who has thus confused his own understanding of sanctification with the Catholic understanding of both justification and sanctification.

Unfortunately, the misunderstanding the Protestant apologist has concerning these matters leads him into other confusions as well. For example, I have talked to, debated, and read numerous Protestant apologists who, because they are confused about the growth of righteousness, ask questions like, “If Catholics believe we are only made partially righteous in justification and you do good works after this to make this righteousness grow, how do you know when you have done enough good works to go to heaven? How many good works do you have to do?”

Protestants who say this at least have a leg up on those who think Catholics believe we must do good works in order to become justified—a position which was explicitly condemned at Trent, which taught “nothing that precedes justification, whether faith or works, merits the grace of justification” (Decree on Justification 8).Catholic theology teaches we do not do good works in order to be justified, but that we are justified in order to do good works, as Paul says: “[W]e are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Justification is the cause, not the consequence, of good works.

However, these Protestants are still confused about the fact that Catholics do not teach we are made only partially righteous in justification. The Church teaches that we are made totally righteous—we receive 100% pure righteousness—in justification. Thus Trent declares: “[I]n those who are born again God hates nothing, because there is no condemnation to those who are truly buried together with Christ by baptism unto death . . . but, putting off the old man and putting on the new one who is created according to God, are made innocent, immaculate, pure, guiltless and beloved of God, heirs indeed of God, joint heirs with Christ; so that there is nothing whatever to hinder their entrance into heaven” (Decree on Original Sin 5).

This one quote alone, even without the surrounding infrastructure of Catholic theology, from which the same thing could be deduced, shows how false, foolish, based on inadequate research, and motivated by a lack of comprehension of basic Catholic theological reasons is the whole, “How can you know when you have done enough?” line of argument. Nothing beyond one’s initial justification and regeneration is needed in order to go to heaven. In fact, this is one of the arguments in the Catholic case for infant baptism. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Since the earliest times, baptism has been administered to children, for it is a grace and a gift of God that does not presuppose any human merit; children are baptized in the faith of the Church. Entry into Christian life gives access to true freedom” (CCC 1282).

And also: “Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God . . . [And thus] The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant baptism” (CCC 1250).

You don’t have to do a diddly-do-da thing after being justified by God in baptism in order to go to heaven. There is no magic level of works one needs to achieve in order to go to heaven. One is saved the moment one is initially justified. The only things one then does is good works because one loves God (the only kind which receive rewards) and not choose to cast out God’s grace by mortal sin. And even if one does cast it out by mortal sin, the only thing needed to get it back was the same thing needed to get it in the first place—repentance, faith, and sacrament, except the sacrament in this case is confession rather than baptism.

People try to make the Catholic message sound complex, but it’s really simple: “Repent, believe and be baptized; then if you commit mortal sin, repent, believe, and confess. Period.”—even a five year old child can understand that. All the exegesis and infrastructure of catholic soteriology I am giving in this work is strictly not necessary, any more than the exegesis and infrastructure found in Protestant soteriology books is either. From a Catholic perspective, repentance, faith, and baptism are just as easy to get across in an evangelistic appeal as they are for Protestants; in fact, they are easier since one doesn’t have to explain, “Okay, repentance and faith are necessary, but baptism isn’t, but it’s still really important, and so you need to do it, okay?” On the Catholic view, the message of the elements we have to preach is much simpler: Repent, believe, and in the saving waters, receive the righteousness of God.”

Love & technical precision for the sake of clarity & peace & love,
Matthew

[4] There is also a fourth kind of righteousness, historical righteousness, which is one’s track-record in terms of righteousness through history. Once historical righteousness has been lost through sin, it cannot be regained since God does not change history when he justifies us. This is something both Protestants and Catholics agree upon, and so this kind of righteousness we do not need to go into in this paper.

[5] Actual may be taken as the middle term between legal and behavioral, since behavioral unrighteous leads to actual unrighteousness, which leads to legal unrighteousness. Similarly, increased behavioral righteousness leads to increased actual righteousness, which leads to increased legal righteous (in the forensic recognition of the quantity of righteousness, though the quality of one’s legal righteousness remains unchanged).