Category Archives: LDS

Explaining the Sacred Heart to Protestants

“Catholisplain”? 🙂 LOL


-by Michelle Arnold, Catholic Answers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marriage & Theology 3

Dr. David Anders, PhD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I knew I had to become a Catholic.”

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

Love & truth,
Matthew

Theology & Marriage 2

Dr. David Anders, PhD

“The Catholic ideal of married life is rigorous and difficult. Catholic spouses are to surrender their own selfish interests in service to a transcendent goal — to bring one’s spouse and one’s children to God. Sometimes that self-surrender calls for enormous and painful sacrifice, just as Jesus sacrificed Himself on the Cross for the sake of the Church. Most importantly, the Catholic Church recognizes Christian marriage as a sacrament, which means that God promises us the grace to meet those difficult demands.

Early Protestants, on the other hand, simply denied that marriage is a sacrament. Instead, they threw up their hands and asserted that the demands of Catholic marriage were too difficult. Therefore, they called for a relaxation of those demands and an end to the Church’s control over marriage. Protestant thought went on to emphasize more strongly the sexual dimension of married life, and eventually the romantic element as well, while deemphasizing the role that suffering plays in union with God.

My Protestantism offered me little solace in the face of a hopeless marriage, but Catholicism seemed to offer me a way to reconceive my suffering. Suffering willingly embraced becomes sacrifice, and sacrifice can bring a deeper experience of God’s grace….

I started thinking about the differences between Protestant and Catholic notions of sex and marriage. I discerned four major differences between the two traditions:

1. The Catholic tradition opposes both contraception and sodomy in marriage. Most Protestants allow them.
2. The Catholic Church exalts virginity, celibacy, and perfect continence over marriage. The Protestant tradition has always rejected this.
3. The Catholic Church does not allow Christian divorce and remarriage. Although Protestantism values lifelong fidelity in a broad sense, Protestant tradition has always allowed divorce in at least a few circumstances, such as adultery.
4. The Catholic Church regards Christian marriage as a sacrament that conveys grace. As a sacrament, Christian marriage (not all marriage) ought to be governed by Church law.

Protestant tradition, rather, has always asserted that God ordains marriage, but not as a sacrament. For Protestants, marriage is a civil institution rightly governed by civil law. Protestants and Catholics have different views of marriage, I came to understand, because they have different views about the foundational concepts of morality, spirituality, salvation, and human happiness. Catholics believe that the ultimate end of human life is loving union with God and neighbor. Aided by grace, we ought to bend every fiber of our being toward that end. Catholic ideas about marriage and contemplative life reflect that lofty calling.

The Protestant tradition also extols loving union with God but has always been more skeptical about the Christian’s moral potential. Catholics take quite seriously Christ’s command to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Relying on God’s grace through prayer and the sacraments, and through diligent cooperation with grace, Catholics believe that all God’s commands can be obeyed. By contrast, the Protestant tradition teaches that sin always remains and that perfect holiness in this life is impossible. Early Protestants argued, therefore, that we ought to relax the discipline of Christian life (including marriage) to accommodate human weakness…

Catholic marriage: “It is a love which is total — that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner’s own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself.” –Pope Paul VI, encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (July 25, 1968), no. 9.

If you approach married life in that way, it becomes impossible to objectify your spouse for your own gratification. Instead, you beg for God’s grace and bend every fiber to order your life toward this transcendent goal. You would be willing to bear suffering, abstinence, and abnegation if they serve that great good. You would, in fact, learn to imitate Christ…

The ideal of celibacy reminds all Christians that the goal of life is spiritual friendship, not personal aggrandizement or pleasure seeking. A few Christians can take up that life in radical detachment from the world, but many more Christians live spiritual friendship through marriage.

The Christian ideal of marriage was very different from the ancient Roman practice. Pagan society expected chastity of women, but not of men. Roman men were allowed prostitutes and concubines, and then to avoid the unwanted consequences of such promiscuity they resorted to forced abortions, infanticide, and rudimentary and extremely harmful contraceptives. Women suffered disproportionately from these practices, which became one of the reasons Roman women were more likely than men to become Christian. The Catholic doctrine on chastity was liberating.

The Catholic Church advocated personal commitment to God over all other social commitments, even for women. This was a particularly radical idea in patriarchal Rome, where women were expected as a matter of course to acquiesce to the will of men. The Church, however, venerated virgin martyrs, such as St. Lucy, who went to their deaths for refusing to marry against their will. Unlike many other cultures of the era, canon law has refused from the very beginning to recognize the validity of forced marriage.

“How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice. They are as brother and sister, both servants of the same Master. Nothing divides them, either in flesh or in spirit. They are, in very truth, two in one flesh; and where there is but one flesh there is also but one spirit. They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they visit God’s church and partake of God’s Banquet; side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another; they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts. Unembarrassed they visit the sick and assist the needy. They give alms without anxiety; they attend the Sacrifice without difficulty; they perform their daily exercises of piety without hindrance. They need not be furtive about making the Sign of the Cross, nor timorous in greeting the brethren, nor silent in asking a blessing of God. Psalms and hymns they sing to one another, striving to see which one of them will chant more beautifully the praises of their Lord. Hearing and seeing this, Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives His peace. Where there are two together, there also He is present; and where He is, there evil is not.” –Tertullian, “To His Wife,” in Treatises on Marriage and Remarriage, Ancient Christian Writers Series, no. 13, trans. William P. LeSaint, S.J. (Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1951), 35–36.

…The differences between Protestant and Catholic teaching on marriage have their roots in two fundamental issues. First, the Protestant Reformers thought that Catholic teaching on human sexuality was just too difficult. Second, the Reformers resented the authority that the Catholic Church exercised over Christian marriage. The way they tried to solve these “problems” theologically was to naturalize Christian marriage, removing it from the realm of the supernatural. A major part of the Reformation, therefore, was an attack on the sacramentality of Christian marriage.

The Reformers never denied that God instituted marriage at the creation of Adam and Eve. They simply denied that Christ elevated marriage to a sacrament. “Marriage is a good and holy ordinance of God,” Calvin wrote, “and farming, building, cobbling, and barbering are lawful ordinances of God, and yet are not sacraments.” –Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.19.34.

…In 1 Corinthians 6, St. Paul teaches that Christians must not engage in sexually immoral behavior. That is not terribly surprising. What is surprising is the reason he gives. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” Paul writes, “Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!” (1 Cor. 6:15).

In this text, Paul teaches that a Christian’s very body has been permanently changed in a way that identifies him with Christ and thereby affects his sexuality. The Christian literally carries the body of Christ with him into the marriage bed. While I found the idea to be somewhat arresting, I quickly saw that it had profound implications for the doctrine of marriage. If two baptized people got married, then Christ would necessarily be implicated in a very profound, very intimate way in their union.”

Anders, Dr. David. The Catholic Church Saved My Marriage: Discovering Hidden Grace in the Sacrament of Matrimony (pp. 53-56, 58-59, 63-64, 67-68). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Love,
Matthew

Bibliolatry


-by Steve Weidenkopf

“In his 1929 book Survivals and New Arrivals, Hilaire Belloc examined the forces attacking the Catholic Church and its role in society. He put them into two chief categories: “survivals,” those “old forms of attack” that continue to be used by the Church’s enemies but are, in the main, on their way out; and “new arrivals,” the newer forms of attack that focus primarily on the Church’s moral teachings rather than its theological doctrines.

Among the “survivals” was a holdover from Protestantism Belloc termed the “biblical attack.” Its key element, he wrote, is “Bibliolatry”—elevating the Bible to the level of an idol. It is Bibliolatry that is the root of the myth that the Church locked and chained Bibles in medieval churches to prevent the laity from reading them. The implication of this myth is that if medieval people had been able to read the Bible for themselves, they would have recognized that the Catholic Church’s teachings are false and would have sought to free themselves from the yoke of Rome.

The notion that the Church restricts access to Scripture to control its interpretation comes from the Saxon monk-turned-revolutionary Martin Luther. Luther published three famous treatises in 1520 in response to the bull of Pope Leo X (r. 1513–1521), Exsurge Domine, that condemned many of Luther’s teachings.

In An Appeal to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, Luther exhorted Emperor Charles V and the German nobility to reject papal authority and establish a national German Church in opposition to Rome. He argued that Rome had built three “walls” around itself to maintain its hold on Catholics. He identified these walls as the following false teachings:

1) that the spiritual power is greater than temporal power;

2) that only the pope can authentically interpret Scripture; and

3) that only the pope can call an ecumenical council.

He warned the German nobility that they must be aware “that in this matter we are not dealing with men but with the princes of hell.”

To Luther, the belief that the pope is the only interpreter of Scripture (which is not in fact Church teaching but rather Luther’s erroneous understanding of it) was “an outrageous fable” and is not rooted in the only authoritative source of divine revelation that Luther recognized, Scripture itself. Instead, he put forth the idea that all Christians should be able to interpret Scripture for themselves, a doctrine that would lead to a multitude of rival Protestant denominations.

It is widely believed that, to facilitate the lay reading of Scripture, Luther was first to translate the Bible into German. He was not. The first Bible in the German vernacular was produced [Ed.  by the Catholic Church] in the eighth century at the monastery of Monse. By the fifteenth century, there were 36,000 German manuscript bibles in circulation, and a complete printed Bible in the German vernacular appeared in 1529, five years before Luther’s translation was published. In short, the Church made Scripture accessible to laymen long before Luther and the Reformation did.  [Ed.  The Catholic Church does not have a problem with the Bible in the vernacular.  It has an issue with bad translations and the sufficient education to appreciate in context what one is reading.]

There is, in fact, a sense in which the Bible is the product of the Catholic Church, as it was the bishops of the Church who decided which books circulating in the fourth century would be considered canonical. Indeed, the Church took great pains throughout its history to guard, defend, and preserve Scripture. Pope St. Damasus I (r. 366–383) first took up the task of publishing a vernacular version of Scripture, and he employed his brilliant yet irascible secretary St. Jerome (342–420) to accomplish the task. Jerome learned Greek and Hebrew to properly translate the word of God into the vernacular Latin.

His translation, which became known as the Vulgate, was not well received in North Africa, where a riot erupted over his version of the book of Jonah. Widespread acceptance of the Vulgate in the Church took time. Perhaps part of the resistance can be attributed to the long memory of the Church. Jerome’s new translation came less than a hundred years after Diocletian initiated the Great Persecution. One of his edicts mandated the surrender of all copies of the sacred writings, an event so destructive that its memory remained with the Church long after the persecution ended. The Church maintained a great respect and love for the sacred word, as evidenced by the efforts of monks to preserve it.

The sixth century was witness to the activity of a uniquely saintly man who renounced his worldly life to become a hermit. His reputation for holiness attracted many followers, and soon thereafter St Benedict of Nursia (480-543 AD) founded a monastery at Monte Cassino. Benedict’s vision for his monks was rooted in the idea that monasticism was a “school of divine service” in which the monk committed himself to a life of obedience focused on a routine of work, prayer, study, and self-denial. Benedict’s monks preserved and maintained Western civilization through their painstaking work of copying ancient Greek and Roman manuscripts, as well as devoting time to copying and illustrating Scripture.

Working in the scriptoriums of Benedictine monasteries in the Middle Ages was not easy. It took nearly a year to copy a Bible manuscript. The process was laborious and wearisome; as one monk recorded, “He who does not know how to write imagines it to be no labor; but though three fingers only hold the pen, the whole body goes weary.” Any copying work the monk did not finish during the day had to be completed at night, even in the cold winter months.

Bibles were not only copied but richly and beautifully illuminated with elaborate images. Bible illumination began in the fifth century with Irish monks who painstakingly prepared the skins of calves, sheep, or goats into vellum that was used for the manuscripts. The famous Lindisfarne Gospels manuscript, copied and illuminated in the eighth century, was the work of one scribe who used 130 calfskins and took five years to complete the work. The amount of labor that went into each copy of the Bible led to preventing their theft either by locking them in containers or chaining them to desks. In other words, these were security measures, not efforts to keep Scripture from the faithful.

Indeed, protecting an expensive Bible by securing it allowed greater, not lesser, access to it. Moreover, the Bible was usually placed in a public area of a church so those who could read could peruse its pages. The first mention of this protective policy occurs in the mid eleventh century in the catalogue of St. Peter’s Monastery in Weissenburg, Alsace, where it was recorded that four Psalters were chained in the church. Moreover, the practice was not exclusive to the Catholic Church: Protestants also utilized the well-known security measure, as evidenced by the chaining of the Great Bible (also known as the Chained Bible) published by command of King Henry VIII of England in 1539.

The Real Story

The Protestant principle of sola scriptura led to the myth that the Catholic Church kept the word of God from the faithful to maintain its authority; the chaining of bibles in medieval churches was seen as evidence of this. It also led to the false claim that Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible into German was the first such vernacular edition; in fact, there had been many vernacular editions preceding Luther’s, including St. Jerome’s Vulgate.

It was the Church that, far from suppressing the Bible, determined the canon of its books and then preserved and authoritatively interpreted the written word of God throughout its history. Catholic monks painstakingly preserved the sacred writings and beautifully illustrated them throughout the medieval period. These priceless manuscripts were chained or locked up in churches not to prevent their use but to protect against theft, thus allowing greater access to them, which was standard practice in both Catholic and Protestant churches until the printing press enabled mass production of bibles.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Theology & Marriage

Dr. David Anders, PhD

“I hoped one of us would get hit by a bus. (I didn’t care which one.)…Murder, maybe. Divorce, never.”

“Thomas à Kempis, the author of The Imitation of Christ, once wrote that it is pointless to debate brilliantly about the Trinity if, by being an arrogant ass, you are displeasing to the Trinity[, and] that is [also] the Catholic point of view.”

“I once asked an attorney who handled both criminal defense and divorce cases if he was ever afraid to defend murderers, rapists, and other serious offenders. “Oh, no,” he said. “Often, you are the only person supporting the accused and they are genuinely grateful. What really scares me are the divorces. You wouldn’t believe how vicious these people can get.””

“With God’s help, prayer is a battle against ourselves. Prayer is where we cast off self-deception, artifice, pride, and egotism. Prayer is where we learn to stand naked before God and transparent to ourselves. Prayer is where we take up the Cross of Christ, allow ourselves to be slain, and entrust our resurrection to God alone.”

“The Church, for a Catholic, is a divine reality, the presence of Christ in the world…The Catholic Church sees Herself as the living embodiment of Jesus, as Christ’s real presence in the world. “Whoever beholds the Church,” said St. Gregory of Nyssa, “beholds Christ.”

…How could something so human — so full of incompetence and flesh and pride and ambition — be the living presence of God in the world?…

I caught a glimpse of something I had never seen before. Salvation isn’t just about going to Heaven when you die, escaping the world, or simply having a personal relationship with Jesus. It’s about being Christ in the world, embracing life with both hands, and raising it all up with as many people as possible in transcendent joy. “Whoever beholds the Church beholds Christ.” That mediocre priest, that baby, that grandmother, that college student, and even that corrupt medieval pope: Could God be present in that? Could a man love that?…

Being Catholic — being Christ in the world — doesn’t exempt you from flesh and blood, even from ambition, pride, and sin…It is a life visibly marked out by and for transcendence.”

“In Catholic thought, contemplation means having a deep, intuitive, almost experiential awareness of God through the life of prayer…the Church teaches that marriage is also a kind of full-time Christian spirituality, and one that offers a deep, interior experience of God.

Keeping this mystical dimension of marriage in view is absolutely necessary if we are to understand how to approach suffering in marriage. For many people today, the fact of personal pain would seem to justify almost any decision meant to relieve that pain. Are you in a difficult marriage? Then why not leave and try something else? Have you discovered that your sexual urges don’t line up with the demands of heterosexual or monogamous marriage? Why deny yourself satisfaction? But the Catholic Faith teaches that such suffering can be supremely meaningful, leading even to a mystical union with God.

One of my major concerns in writing this book is to urge suffering couples to a vigorous practice of the Catholic Faith. My hope is that Catholic couples will discover new strength for their marriages and that non-Catholic couples will consider what the Catholic Faith has to offer…my aim is to point married couples beyond the tools of psychology or natural marriage and to help them embrace a transcendent vision of Christian conjugal life….

I saw our lives potentially bound together through the mystery of suffering, and reshaped through the mystery of redemption. I felt that the universe was giving me a choice: Will you embrace suffering and redemption, or will you shelter yourself through the pursuit of pleasure?…

But I was coming to realize how the Protestant understanding of grace, assurance, faith, and salvation obscured my awareness of myself. Protestant teaching asserts that everything we do is sinful, but everything is forgiven — if we are “saved.” This is not a doctrine that encouraged me in critical self-examination or growth in virtue. By focusing so heavily on my general depravity, sinfulness, and inability to save myself, I felt strangely freed from responsibility to root out individual faults.

In studying Luther and Calvin, I found, however, that my experience was not unique. John Calvin was a man who confessed the sinfulness of humanity but was incapable of confessing his own personal fault. In tens of thousands of pages of material by and about him, I do not recall Calvin ever admitting wrong, apologizing, or taking responsibility for failure. Calvin divided the world into the elect and the reprobate, the pious and the impious — and he was always on the right side while his enemies were always on the wrong side.

Unlike Calvin, Luther had a tormented conscience; he felt he could never do anything right, and it was this profound guilt that drove him to concoct his new theology. Luther was so convinced of his ineradicable corruption, guilt, and sinfulness that he despaired even of God’s grace to change him. Even to try could lead only to frustration. The solution for Luther was not to focus on ethical behavior toward others but on absolving one’s own conscience.

It really is an extraordinary position. “Whoever wants to be saved,” Luther said, “should act as though no other human being except him existed on earth.” In an important sense, the Reformation doctrine of grace flows from this one man’s attempt to assuage his conscience. Luther articulated a brand-new theology, one that simply denied human freedom and insisted that man plays no role in his own salvation.

Now, to say that Luther and Calvin were flawed men is not surprising or informative. We could say that about anyone. Far more important to me was what I learned about how their flaws worked their way into Protestant theology, and ultimately into my life. There were cracks in the foundation of my religious tradition and those cracks found their way into my heart.

What does all this have to do with my marriage? I was discovering that my Protestant theology did not provide an adequate moral compass, sense of hope, or spiritual inspiration to meet the challenges of marriage. My historical studies further shook the foundations of my worldview, challenged me to deeper self-examination, and forced me to explore new answers to my moral malaise.

I became convinced that Reformation theology advanced neither Luther nor Calvin, as human beings, toward holiness. I began to see their theology, rather, as a highly sophisticated form of self-justification. In one sense this was an easy conclusion to reach, since I found in Luther and Calvin the very same flaws I found in myself. Therefore, if I was going to advance out of my morass, I was going to need different guides. Eventually, these concerns pushed me to seek holiness in the Catholic tradition and in the Catholic sacrament of marriage.

The intellectual history of Protestantism became for me a mirror in which to contemplate my own moral and spiritual dilemma. My tradition formed me to expect absolute assurance about salvation, regardless of my own behavior. Revealed in the lives of my Protestant mentors, though, I began to see how this attitude could have harmful effects not only on marriage, but on all manner of social relations.

I came to believe that my mentors and heroes in the faith had been worse than socially awkward: They had been dangerous ideologues, immune to criticism, utterly cocksure, and willing to impose their views with deadly force. This discovery was disquieting, to say the least. I always thought Catholics were the tyrants and ideologues, leading crusades and inquisitions and so forth, but now I was seeing the seed of interpersonal tyranny in my own tradition…

The Puritans of New England attempted to build an entire civilization on the distinction between the elect and the reprobate. Around the same time, the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), which was composed in England to provide an authoritative guide for building such a Protestant civilization, promised that the elect can have an “infallible assurance” of their election.

In Protestant thinking, “elect and reprobate” is not the same thing as “good and bad.” Instead, it is having “true faith” that distinguishes the elect from the reprobate. The elect, by virtue of having accepted that faith, can be infallibly certain that they are elect, even when their lives are morally disordered in other ways. Put crudely, you can meet an arrogant, self-righteous, lecherous egotist who knows for sure that he is one of God’s elect, destined for Heaven.

I was that egotist.”

Anders, Dr. David. The Catholic Church Saved My Marriage: Discovering Hidden Grace in the Sacrament of Matrimony (pp. 8, 11, 13, 29-30, 34-35, 44, 49-51). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Love & truth,
Matthew

Justification/Sanctification


-please click on the image for greater detail

We must have sanctifying grace in our souls if we’re to be equipped for heaven. Another way of saying this is that we need to be justified. “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).

The Protestant misunderstanding of justification lies in its claim that justification is merely a legal declaration by God that the sinner is now “justified.” If you “accept Christ as your personal Lord and Savior,” he declares you justified, though He doesn’t really make you justified or sanctified; your soul is in the same state as it was before, but you’re eligible for heaven.

A person is expected thereafter to undergo sanctification (don’t make the mistake of thinking Protestants say sanctification is unimportant), but the degree of sanctification achieved is, ultimately, immaterial to the question of whether you’ll get to heaven. You will, since you’re justified; and justification as a purely legal declaration is what counts.

Unfortunately, this amounts to God telling an untruth by saying the sinner has been justified, while all along He knows that the sinner is only covered under the “cloak” of Christ’s righteousness. But, what God declares, He does. That’s a primary and distinguishing difference between mortals and the divine. When God speaks, it is, it happens, it is so. “[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” (Is. 55:11). So, when God declares YOU justified, He makes YOU justified. YOU, not by some disguise, even the disguise of His only begotten Son, but ACTUALLY, ACTUALLY YOU!!!! Any justification that is not woven together with sanctification is no justification at all.

The Bible’s teaching on justification is much more nuanced. Paul indicates that there is a real transformation that occurs in justification. This is seen, for example, in Romans 6:7, which every standard translation—Protestant ones included—renders as “For he who has died is freed from sin” (or a close variant).

Paul is obviously speaking about being freed from sin in an experiential sense, for this is the passage where he is at pains to stress the fact that we have made a decisive break with sin that must be reflected in our behavior: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:1-2). “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness” (Rom. 6:12-13).

The context here is what Protestants call sanctification, the process of being made holy. Sanctification is the sense in which we are said to be “freed from sin” in this passage. Yet in the Greek text, what is actually said is “he who has died has been justified from sin.” The term in Greek (dikaioo) is the word for being justified, yet the context indicates sanctification, which is why every standard translation renders the word “freed” rather than “justified.” This shows that, in Paul’s mind, justification involves a real, experiential freeing from sin, not just a change of legal status, a legal disguise. And it shows that, the way he uses terms, there is not the rigid wall between justification and sanctification that Protestants imagine.

According to Scripture, sanctification and justification aren’t just one-time events, but are ongoing processes in the life of the believer. As the author of Hebrews notes: “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:14). In regard to justification also being an ongoing process, compare Romans 4:3; Genesis 15:6 with both Hebrews 11:8; Genesis 12:1-4 and James 2:21-23; Genesis 22:1-18. In these passages, Abraham’s justification is advanced on three separate occasions.

Can Justification Be Lost?

Many Protestants go on to say that losing ground in the sanctification battle won’t jeopardize your justification. You might sin worse than you did before “getting saved,” but you’ll enter heaven anyway, because you can’t undo your justification.

Calvin taught the absolute impossibility of losing justification. Luther said it could be lost only through the sin of unbelief; that is, by undoing the act of faith and rejecting Christ, but not by what Catholics call mortal sins.

The truth is if you sin grievously, the supernatural life, the sanctifying grace, in your soul flees back to God. Sin is mortal in that it kills the life of God’s supernatural grace in us. It’s not so much God’s grace is vanquished, but moreso, it flees sin since it belongs to and is only in accord with the divine life, and nothing else. God’s eternal life giving grace cannot/will not co-exist with serious sin. It is impossible. Nature abhors a vacuum, it fills it.  Grace also abhors the vacuum of sin, it abandons the soul so stained.

Sin is the absence of God’s grace. Evil is the absence of good, of God. Both sin and evil are vacuums. They are not ontological beings unto themselves, but absences of grace and of good and of God. God’s grace, His Life in YOU cannot tolerate the vacuum of sin in YOU or in Heaven. God’s grace in you must be full, Lk 1:28. Otherwise, just like the Blessed Virgin Mary, Immaculately conceived, without the vacuum of original sin, God could not dwell, literally, within her or us.

We MUST have His life giving grace, His sanctifying grace within us, to be saved, to be united with the Godhead in eternity, Heaven. We then are truly justified, not covered in some disguise, but truly mirroring God in His own grace, personally; His eternal gift to us in Jesus Christ.

Love & truth,
Matthew

What is sin? What is grace?

Q. What is personal sin?

In contrast to original sin, personal sin represents the sins that we individually commit and for which we are personally responsible.

We all have a general sense of what personal sin is—that it involves doing something wrong, something evil, something we should not do. However, theologians have studied the concept, and the Church has a refined understanding of what sin is.

Put in general terms, sin is “an abuse of the freedom that God gives to created persons so that they are capable of loving him and loving one another” (CCC 387). Stated another way, it is “an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods” (CCC 1849).

In other words, we can become so attached to various good things—like pleasure, possessions, or popularity —that we make choices that put these things over the love we should have for God and for our fellow human beings. When we do this, we sin.

All sin involves an unloving choice based on disordered desire, or concupiscence. Originally, this word referred to any intense form of human desire, but in Christian thought it has taken on a special meaning. “St. John distinguishes three kinds of covetousness or concupiscence: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life” (1 John 2:16)” (CCC 2514).

This triple concupiscence subjugates man “to the pleasures of the senses, covetousness for earthly goods, and self-assertion, contrary to the dictates of reason” (CCC 377).

When we are led by disordered desire into making unloving choices, the resulting sin will be one of two types: mortal or venial.

The first type is known as mortal sin because it produces spiritual death. It destroys the virtue of charity in our hearts, charity being the supernatural love of God that unites us to Him spiritually. By being separated from God in this way, mortal sin puts us in a state of spiritual death.

“For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent” (CCC 1857).

The first of these conditions means that the sin must involve a matter that is grave in nature. “Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: ‘Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother’ (Mark 10:19)” (CCC 1858).

Some sins automatically involve grave matter. This is the case anytime an innocent human being is killed and any time an act of adultery is committed.

If grave matter is present, there are still two other conditions that need to be fulfilled for a sin to be mortal. “Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God’s law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice” (CCC 1859).

Various factors can diminish or remove the knowledge and consent needed for a sin to be mortal. “Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. . . . The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders” (CCC 1860).

When a person commits a sin and one or more of the conditions needed for it to be mortal are not present, the result is a venial sin (CCC 1862). Venial sins offend and wound the virtue of charity, but they do not destroy it, which is why they are not mortal (CCC 1855). They thus do not lead to spiritual death.

When our sins are mortal, however, our souls are in jeopardy, and we are in urgent need of God’s grace.

Q. What is grace?

Looked at one way, grace is the antidote to sin. It is what God provides us to overcome both original and personal sin.

“Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life” (CCC 1996).

We need grace because of the condition of spiritual poverty that we are born into as a result of original sin. In this state of separation from God, wounded human nature will not allow us to seek God and come to him. He must take the initiative by seeking us and giving us the help we need to freely choose him. Thus Jesus tells us, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).

Fortunately, God wants all men to have this opportunity. He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4), and so he offers all men the grace necessary to be saved (CCC 1260).

God did not have to do this. He does it freely, out of his love for all men, and we must freely choose whether or not to respond to his grace and accept his love. “God’s free initiative demands man’s free response, for God has created man in his image by conferring on him, along with freedom, the power to know him and love him. The soul only enters freely into the communion of love. God immediately touches and directly moves the heart of man. He has placed in man a longing for truth and goodness that only he can satisfy” (CCC 2002).

The particular helps that God gives us at certain moments in life—helps to come to him, to do good, or to resist sin—are known as actual graces (CCC 2000). They can take many forms. When someone preaches the gospel and we are moved to respond, that is a grace. When we see someone in need and are moved to help, that is a grace. And when our conscience warns us that something we are about to do is wrong, that also is a grace.

Actual graces appear at particular moments in our lives, but there is another kind of grace, which remains with us over the course of time. This is known as sanctifying grace.

“Sanctifying grace is the gratuitous gift of his life that God makes to us; it is infused by the Holy Spirit into the soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. Sanctifying grace makes us ‘pleasing to God’” (CCC 2023-2024).

When a person has sanctifying grace, he is said to be in a state of grace. In this state, he is united with God spiritually and said to be in God’s friendship. If he dies in the state of grace, he will go to heaven (though he may need to be purified first in purgatory).

When we come to God and are saved and justified, God gives us the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity (CCC 1991). Of these, charity is the most important (1 Cor. 13:13). It is the virtue “by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God” (CCC 1822).

Charity always accompanies sanctifying grace, and when one is eliminated, so is the other.

This is why mortal sin “results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell” (CCC 1861).

In addition to sanctifying grace, God also gives us additional gifts of grace to help us live the Christian life and be of service to others.

Our salvation is thus entirely a product of God’s grace, from the graces that lead us to turn to him, to the state of grace in which we are saved, to the graces that he gives us to live the Christian life, to help others, and to bring them to him as well.

Love, pray for me,
Matthew

Assurance of salvation?

from: https://www.catholic.com/tract/assurance-of-salvation

“There are few more confusing topics than salvation. It goes beyond the standard question posed by Fundamentalists: “Have you been saved?” What the question also means is: “Don’t you wish you had the assurance of salvation?” Evangelicals and Fundamentalists think they do have such an absolute assurance.

All they have to do is “accept Christ as their personal Savior,” and it’s done. They might well live exemplary lives thereafter, but living well is not crucial and does not affect their salvation. But is this true? Does the Bible support this concept?

Scripture teaches that one’s final salvation depends on the state of the soul at death. As Jesus Himself tells us, “He who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 24:13; cf. 25:31–46). One who dies in the state of friendship with God (the state of grace) will go to heaven. The one who dies in a state of enmity and rebellion against God (the state of mortal sin) will go to hell.

For many Fundamentalists and Evangelicals it makes no difference—as far as salvation is concerned—how you live or end your life. You can announce that you’ve accepted Jesus as your personal Savior, and, so long as you really believe it, you’re set. From that point on there is nothing you can do, no sin you can commit, no matter how heinous, that will forfeit your salvation. You can’t undo your salvation, even if you wanted to.

Take a look at what Wilson Ewin, the author of a booklet called There is Therefore Now No Condemnation, says. He writes that “the person who places his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and his blood shed at Calvary is eternally secure. He can never lose his salvation. No personal breaking of God’s or man’s laws or commandments can nullify that status.”

“To deny the assurance of salvation would be to deny Christ’s perfect redemption,” argues Ewin, and this is something he can say only because he confuses the redemption that Christ accomplished for us objectively with our individual appropriation of that redemption. The truth is that in one sense we are all redeemed by Christ’s death on the cross—Christians, Jews, Muslims, even animists in the darkest forests (1 Tim. 2:6, 4:10; 1 John 2:2)—but our individual appropriation of what Christ provided is contingent on our response.

Certainly, Christ did die on the cross once for all and has abundantly provided for our salvation, but that does not mean that there is no process by which this is applied to us as individuals. Obviously, there is, or we would have been saved and justified from all eternity, with no need to repent or have faith or anything else. We would have been born “saved,” with no need to be born again. Since we were not, since it is necessary for those who hear the gospel to repent and embrace it, there is a time at which we come to be reconciled to God. And if so, then we, like Adam and Eve, can become unreconciled with God and, like the prodigal son, need to come back and be reconciled again with God.

You Can’t Lose Heaven?

Ewin says that “no wrong act or sinful deed can ever affect the believer’s salvation. The sinner did nothing to merit God’s grace and likewise he can do nothing to demerit grace.” But when one turns to Scripture, one finds that Adam and Eve, who received God’s grace in a manner just as unmerited as anyone today, most definitely did demerit it—and lost grace not only for themselves but for us as well (cf. also Rom. 11:17-24).

Regarding the issue of whether Christians have an “absolute” assurance of salvation, regardless of their actions, consider this warning Paul gave: “See then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in His kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off.” (Rom. 11:22; see also Heb. 10:26–29, 2 Pet. 2:20–21).

Can You Know?

Related to the issue of whether one can lose one’s salvation is the question of whether one can know with complete certainty that one is in a state of salvation. The “knowability” of salvation is a different question than the “loseability” of salvation.

From the Radio Bible Class, listeners can obtain a booklet called Can Anyone Really Know for Sure? The anonymous author says the “Lord Jesus wanted his followers to be so sure of their salvation that they would rejoice more in the expectation of heaven than in victories on earth. ‘These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God (1 John 5:13).’”

Places where Scripture speaks of our ability to know that we are abiding in grace are important and must be taken seriously. But they do not promise that we will be protected from self-deception on this matter. Even the author of Can Anyone Really Know for Sure? admits that there is a false assurance: “The New Testament teaches us that genuine assurance is possible and desirable, but it also warns us that we can be deceived through a false assurance. Jesus declared: ‘Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord” shall enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 7:21).”

Sometimes Fundamentalists portray Catholics as if they must every moment be in terror of losing their salvation since Catholics recognize that it is possible to lose salvation through mortal sin. But this portrayal is in error. Catholics do not live lives of mortal terror concerning salvation. True, salvation can be lost through mortal sin, but such sins are by nature grave ones, and not the kind that a person living the Christian life is going to slip into committing on the spur of the moment, without deliberate thought and consent. Neither does the Catholic Church teach that one cannot have an assurance of salvation. This is true both of present and future salvation.

One can be confident of one’s present salvation. This is one of the chief reasons why God gave us the sacraments—to provide visible assurances that he is invisibly providing us with His grace. And one can be confident that one has not thrown away that grace by simply examining one’s life and seeing whether one has committed mortal sin. Indeed, the tests that John sets forth in his first epistle to help us know whether we are abiding in grace are, in essence, tests of whether we are dwelling in grave sin. For example, “By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not do right is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10), “If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20), “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3).

Likewise, by looking at the course of one’s life in grace and the resolution of one’s heart to keep following God, one can also have an assurance of future salvation. It is this Paul speaks of when he writes to the Philippians and says, “And I am sure that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). This is not a promise for all Christians, or even necessarily all in the church at Philippi, but it is a confidence that the Philippian Christians in general would make it. The basis of this is their spiritual performance to date, and Paul feels a need to explain to them that there is a basis for his confidence in them. Thus he says, immediately, “It is right for me to feel thus about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” (1:7).

There are many saintly men and women who have long lived the Christian life and whose characters are marked with profound spiritual joy and peace. Such individuals can look forward with confidence to their reception in heaven.

Such an individual was Paul, writing at the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day” (2 Tim. 4:7-8). But earlier in life, even Paul did not claim an infallible assurance, either of his present justification or of his remaining in grace in the future. Concerning his present state, he wrote, “I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby justified [Greek,, dedikaiomai]. It is the Lord Who judges me” (1 Cor. 4:4). Concerning his remaining life, Paul was frank in admitting that even he could fall away: “I pummel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27). Of course, for a spiritual giant such as Paul, it would be quite unexpected and out of character for him to fall from God’s grace. Nevertheless, he points out that, however much confidence in his own salvation he may be warranted in feeling, even he cannot be infallibly sure either of his own present state or of his future course.

The same is true of us. We can, if our lives display a pattern of perseverance and spiritual fruit, have not only a confidence in our present state of grace but also of our future perseverance with God. Yet we cannot have an infallible certitude of our own salvation. There is the possibility of self-deception (cf. Matt. 7:22-23). There is also the possibility of falling from grace through mortal sin, and even of falling away from the faith entirely, for as Jesus told us, there are those who “believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away” (Luke 8:13). It is in the light of these warnings and admonitions that we must understand Scripture’s positive statements concerning our ability to know and have confidence in our salvation. Assurance we may have; infallible certitude we may not.

For example, Philippians 2:12 says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” This is not the language of self-confident assurance. Our salvation is something that remains to be worked out.

What to Say

“Are you saved?” asks the Fundamentalist. The Catholic should reply: “As the Bible says, I am already saved (Rom. 8:24, Eph. 2:5–8), but I’m also being saved (1 Cor. 1:18, 2 Cor. 2:15, Phil. 2:12), and I have the hope that I will be saved (Rom. 5:9–10, 1 Cor. 3:12–15). Like the apostle Paul I am working out my salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), with hopeful confidence in the promises of Christ (Rom. 5:2, 2 Tim. 2:11–13).”

NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004

IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004

Love, trusting in His mercy & promises, I would say, “Praised be Jesus Christ!!!!  True God & true man.”,
Matthew

Are you saved?


-by Tim Staples, Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian televangelists. Soon after, Tim joined the Marine Corps.

“Do you know you’re saved so that if you were to die right now, heaven would be absolutely certain for you?” This “all-important” question is designed to bait Catholics into an ambush. When I speak at conferences around the country, I often ask the attendees how many have been asked that question by a Fundamentalist or Evangelical: Usually, over half of my Catholic audience raises a hand.

If the Catholic responds as any good Catholic would by declaring he cannot—apart from a special revelation from God—have metaphysical (or absolute) certainty concerning his salvation, the Protestant then springs his biblical trap, 1 John 5:13: “I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” Next he tells the Catholic that if he will but “confess with [his] lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in [his] heart that God raised him from the dead, [he] will be saved” (Rom 10:9-10). All we need do is confess Jesus as Lord, and salvation is assured. We can know it with certainty. Salvation is guaranteed regardless of anything we may do or not do in the future. What a deal!

The Catholic Response

Step One: The Greek word for knowledge (eideitei) in 1 John 5:13 does not necessarily equate to absolute certainty. We use the verb know the same way in English. For example, I may say I know I am going to get an A on my Greek exam tomorrow. Does that mean I have metaphysical certainty of this? Not at all. What I mean and what the verb know can be used to indicate is that I have confidence that I will get an A on my test tomorrow because I have studied the material thoroughly and I know it well.

The context of 1 John makes it abundantly clear that this is how “knowledge” is being used in 1 John 5:13. In the next two verses, John draws a parallel between the certainty we have concerning our salvation and the certainty we have when we petition God in prayer: “And this is the confidence which we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of Him.”

Does this mean we have absolute certainty we will receive what we ask for when we make requests of God in prayer? Obviously not! John says we can have “confidence,” but not absolute certainty. We cannot always know with strict certainty that our request is truly “according to His will.” Moreover, Psalm 66:18 informs us: “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” And 1 John 3:22 says, “. . . we receive from Him whatever we ask, because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him.” Can we always be certain we have not “cherished iniquity” in our hearts, or that we have not done anything that may have displeased the Lord?

Step Two: Our salvation is contingent upon many things according to the Bible. This indicates the certainty of our salvation is not absolute. Just a few examples include 1 John 1:8-9: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The text says we will be forgiven if. Thus, the sobering truth is: Unconfessed sin will not be forgiven. And the Bible is very clear that no sin can enter into heaven (see Hb 1:13; Rv 21:8-9, 27).

I have heard it said that if is “the biggest little word” in the English dictionary. Well, Scripture has lots of ifs. John, for example, also says: “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is what He has promised us, eternal life” (1 Jn 2:24-25).

This passage is plain. Our eternal life is contingent upon our choosing to abide in God. Can we choose the opposite? Absolutely! John goes on to explain: “No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has either seen Him or known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right is righteous, as He is righteous. He who commits sin is of the devil . . . No one born of God commits sin . . .” (1 Jn 3:6-9).

On the surface, this text seems odd. We have already heard John say that everyone who is born of God does sin. Indeed, “all” sin. Yet, here he says those who are born of God do not sin. Is John contradicting himself? No: John makes a distinction between mortal and venial sins in this same epistle. In 1 John 5:16-17, John gives us remarkably plain definitions of both mortal and venial sins. “If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal . . . All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal.”

In this context, we can reasonably conclude the one who is born of God does not commit mortal sin. If he were to do so, he would be “cut off” from the body of Christ and would need to be restored via confession to a state of grace (Cf. Gal 5:4, Eph 3:3-6, Jn 20:21-23). Three more texts about the contingency of salvation bolster the argument:

  • 1 Corinthians 15:1-2: “Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast—unless you believed in vain.” (See also Matthew 24:44-51; Luke 12:41-46; Romans 11:22; Hebrews 3:6;14; Revelation 2:10; 25-26; 3:1-5; 22:18-19, for many more “ifs” and contingency clauses.)
  • Colossians 1:21-23: “And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before Him, provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard . . .”
  • 2 Peter 2:20-22: “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first . . . It has happened to them according to the true proverb, the dog turns back to his own vomit, and the sow is washed only to wallow in the mire.”

The Evangelical Counter

In response, the Protestant apologist will sometimes say these texts do not indicate one who was truly saved could actually lose his salvation. The one who, in the end, did not continue with the Lord, never really knew the Lord in the first place. He only knew about the Lord. But this line of reasoning does not hold up under scrutiny. In 2 Peter 2, the Greek word used for knowledge is epignosei. This word means “knowledge,” but it denotes an experiential knowledge. This text is very clear that the persons referred to have “escaped the pollutions of the world” through this “experiential knowledge” of Jesus. Only a personal relationship with Jesus can have this effect. Merely knowing about Jesus cannot do that. Moreover, the image Peter uses in verse 22 is of the sow having been washed in water. Water is the symbol Peter uses for baptism in 1 Peter 3:20-21. The connection seems obvious. The sow—female pig—which had been cleansed represents a person cleansed from sin; the sow returning to the mud represents the Christian returning to sin.

When seen in the fuller context of 2 Peter, this point becomes unmistakable. In 2 Peter 1:2-4, Peter begins with a description of Christians:

“May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge [epignosei, experiential knowledge once again] of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge [epignosei] of Him Who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.”

One cannot help but see the parallels between these two texts. The same Greek words, epignosei, apophugentes, “having escaped from,” and a form of kosmos or “world,” are used to describe what Christians have been freed from, as well as to describe the one who then goes back to his old ways and ends up worse than he was before he ever knew Jesus.

These are just a few texts among the scores we could examine, but the bottom line is Scripture is crystal-clear on this point: Once saved does not mean always saved. In Matthew 6:15, Jesus tells us that “if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” It does not matter how “born again” one may be or how many experiences one has had, if he does not forgive others, he will not be forgiven, according to the text. And remember—as we have seen—no sin can enter into heaven (cf. Hb 1:13, Rv 21:27). Further, the Bible says we can “fall from grace” (Gal 5:1-5, Heb 12:14-16), be “cut off” from the vine from which we receive divine life (Jn 15:1-6, Rom 11:18-22), have our names removed from the Lamb’s book of life (Rv 22:19), and it assures us over and over again that if we commit certain sins and we do not repent of them, we will not go to heaven (cf. 1 Cor 6:9-11, Gal 5:19, Eph 5:3-5, Rv 21:6-8).

Not Once, But Many Times

But what about Romans 10:9-10? Doesn’t the Bible say if you believe in your heart and confess Jesus with your mouth you shall be saved? Yes it does, but that doesn’t mean we need only confess faith in Christ one time. The Bible uses the same Greek word for confess, homologeitai, in multiple places and emphasizes we must continue to confess Christ if we are going to be finally saved. For example, in Matthew 10:22, 32 Jesus says, “You will be hated by all because of my name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.. . . Therefore everyone who confesses me before men, I will also confess him before my father who is in heaven. . . .” (NAB). The context here is one of holding fast to our confession until death (see also 2 Tm 2:12 and Heb 4:14; 10:23-26).

Finally, confessing Christ is done not only in word, but also in deed: “If any one does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tm 5:8).

Notice, the man who neglects his family for selfish pursuits denies Christ in his actions. And as we have seen, the Bible records in many places extensive lists of sins whereby we can deny Christ, such as 1 Corinthians 6:9-10: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Scripture never says the saved can do these things and still go to heaven.”

Love, and His mercy, trusting in the promises of the Lord,
Matthew

Sola Scriptura is unbiblical


-by Tim Staples, Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian televangelists. Soon after, Tim joined the Marine Corps.

During his four-year tour, he became involved in ministry with various Assemblies of God communities. Immediately after his tour of duty, Tim enrolled in Jimmy Swaggart Bible College and became a youth minister in an Assembly of God community. During his final year in the Marines, however, Tim met a Marine who really knew his faith and challenged Tim to study Catholicism from Catholic and historical sources. That encounter sparked a two-year search for the truth. Tim was determined to prove Catholicism wrong, but he ended up studying his way to the last place he thought he would ever end up: the Catholic Church!

He converted to Catholicism in 1988 and spent the following six years in formation for the priesthood, earning a degree in philosophy from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook, Pennsylvania. He then studied theology on a graduate level at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, for two years. Realizing that his calling was not to the priesthood, Tim left the seminary in 1994 and has been working in Catholic apologetics and evangelization ever since.

“Sola Scriptura was the central doctrine and foundation for all I believed when I was Protestant. On a popular level, it simply meant, “If a teaching isn’t explicit in the Bible, then we don’t accept it as doctrine!” And it seemed so simple. Unassailable. And yet, I do not recall ever hearing a detailed teaching explicating it. It was always a given. Unchallenged. Diving deeper into its meaning, especially when I was challenged to defend my Protestant faith against Catholicism, I found there to be no book specifically on the topic and no uniform understanding of this teaching among Protestant pastors.

Once I got past the superficial, I had to try to answer real questions like, what role does tradition play? How explicit does a doctrine have to be in Scripture before it can be called doctrine? How many times does it have to be mentioned in Scripture before it would be dogmatic? Where does Scripture tell us what is absolutely essential for us to believe as Christians? How do we know what the canon of Scripture is using the principle of sola scriptura? Who is authorized to write Scripture in the first place? When was the canon closed? Or, the best question of all: where is sola scriptura taught in the Bible? These questions and more were left virtually unanswered or left to the varying opinions of various Bible teachers.

The Protestant Response

In answer to this last question, “Where is sola scriptura taught in the Bible?” most Protestants will immediately respond as I did, by simply citing II Tm. 3:16:

“All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

“How can it get any plainer than that? Doesn’t that say the Bible is all we need?” Question answered.

The fact is: II Timothy 3—or any other text of Scripture—does not even hint at sola scriptura. It says Scripture is inspired and necessary to equip “the man of God,” but never does it say Scripture alone is all anyone needs. We’ll come back to this text in particular later. But in my experience as a Protestant, it was my attempt to defend this bedrock teaching of Protestantism that led me to conclude: sola scriptura is 1) unreasonable 2) unbiblical and 3) unworkable.

Sola Scriptura is Unreasonable

When defending sola scriptura, the Protestant will predictably appeal to his sole authority—Scripture. This is a textbook example of the logical fallacy of circular reasoning which betrays an essential problem with the doctrine itself. One cannot prove the inspiration of a text from the text itself. The Book of Mormon, the Hindu Vedas, writings of Mary Baker Eddy, the Koran, and other books claim inspiration. This does not make them inspired. One must prove the point outside of the text itself to avoid the fallacy of circular reasoning.

Thus, the question remains: how do we know the various books of the Bible are inspired and therefore canonical? And remember: the Protestant must use the principle of sola scriptura in the process.

II Tim. 3:16 is not a valid response to the question. The problems are manifold. Beyond the fact of circular reasoning, for example, I would point out the fact that this verse says all Scripture is inspired tells us nothing of what the canon consists. Just recently, I was speaking with a Protestant inquirer about this issue and he saw my point. He then said words to the effect of, “I believe the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth as Jesus said in Jn. 16:13. The Holy Spirit guided the early Christians and helped them to gather the canon of Scripture and declare it to be the inspired word of God. God would not leave us without his word to guide us.”

That answer is much more Catholic than Protestant! Yes, Jn. 16:13 does say the Spirit will lead the apostles—and by allusion, the Church—into all truth. But this verse has nothing to say about sola scriptura. Nor does it say a word about the nature or number of books in the canon. Catholics certainly agree that the Holy Spirit guided the early Christians to canonize the Scriptures because the Catholic Church teaches that there is an authoritative Church guided by the Holy Spirit. The obvious problem is my Protestant friend did not use sola scriptura as his guiding principle to arrive at his conclusion. How does, for example, Jn. 16:13 tell us that Hebrews was written by an apostolic writer and that it is inspired of God? We would ultimately have to rely on the infallibility of whoever “the Holy Spirit” is guiding to canonize the Bible so that they could not mishear what the Spirit was saying about which books of the Bible are truly inspired.

In order to put this argument of my friend into perspective, can you imagine if a Catholic made a similar claim to demonstrate, say, Mary to be the Mother of God? “We believe the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth and guided the early Christians to declare this truth.” I can almost hear the response. “Show me in the Bible where Mary is the Mother of God! I don’t want to hear about God guiding the Church!” Wouldn’t the same question remain for the Protestant concerning the canon? “Show me in the Bible where the canon of Scripture is, what the criterion for the canon is, who can and cannot write Scripture, etc.”

Will the Circle be Unbroken?

The Protestant response at this point is often an attempt to use the same argument against the Catholic. “How do you know the Scriptures are inspired? Your reasoning is just as circular because you say the Church is infallible because the inspired Scriptures say so and then say the Scriptures are inspired and infallible because the Church says so!”

The Catholic Church’s position on inspiration is not circular. We do not say “the Church is infallible because the inspired Scriptures say so, and the Scriptures are inspired because the infallible Church says so.” That would be a kind of circular reasoning. The Church was established historically and functioned as the infallible spokesperson for the Lord decades before the New Testament was written. The Church is infallible because Jesus said so.

Having said that, it is true that we know the Scriptures to be inspired because the Church has told us so. That is also an historical fact. However, this is not circular reasoning. When the Catholic approaches Scripture, he or she begins with the Bible as an historical document, not as inspired. As any reputable historian will tell you, the New Testament is the most accurate and verifiable historical document in all of ancient history. To deny the substance of the historical documents recorded therein would be absurd. However, one cannot deduce from this that they are inspired. There are many accurate historical documents that are not inspired. However, the Scriptures do give us accurate historical information whether one holds to their inspiration or not. Further, this testimony of the Bible is backed up by hundreds of works by early Christians and non-Christian writers like Suetonius, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Josephus, and more. It is on this basis that we can say it is an historical fact that Jesus lived, died, and was reported to be resurrected from the dead by over 500 eyewitnesses. Many of these eyewitnesses went to their deaths testifying to the veracity of the Christ-event (see Lk. 1:1-4, Jn. 21:18-19, 24-25, Acts 1:1-11, I Cr. 15:1-8).

Now, what do we find when we examine the historical record? Jesus Christ—as a matter of history–established a Church, not a book, to be the foundation of the Christian Faith (see Mt. 16:15-18; 18:15-18. Cf. Eph. 2:20; 3:10,20-21; 4:11-15; I Tm. 3:15; Hb. 13:7,17, etc.). He said of his Church, “He who hears you hears me and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk. 10:16). The many books that comprise what we call the Bible never tell us crucial truths such as the fact that they are inspired, who can and cannot be the human authors of them, who authored them at all, or, as I said before, what the canon of Scripture is in the first place. And this is just to name a few examples. What is very clear historically is that Jesus established a kingdom with a hierarchy and authority to speak for him (see Lk. 20:29-32, Mt. 10:40, 28:18-20). It was members of this Kingdom—the Church—that would write the Scripture, preserve its many texts and eventually canonize it. The Scriptures cannot write or canonize themselves. To put it simply, reason clearly rejects sola scriptura as a self-refuting principle because one cannot determine what the “scriptura” is using the principle of sola scriptura.

Sola Scriptura is Unbiblical

Let us now consider the most common text used by Protestants to “prove” sola scriptura, II Tm. 3:16, which I quoted above:

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

The problem with using this text as such is threefold: 1. Strictly speaking, it does not speak of the New Testament at all. 2. It does not claim Scripture to be the sole rule of faith for Christians. 3. The Bible teaches oral Tradition to be on a par with and just as necessary as the written Tradition, or Scripture.

1. What’s Old is Not New

Let us examine the context of the passage by reading the two preceding verses:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood (italics added) you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

In context, this passage does not refer to the New Testament at all. None of the New Testament books had been written when St. Timothy was a child! To claim this verse in order to authenticate a book, say, the book of Revelation, when it had most likely not even been written yet, is more than a stretch. That is going far beyond what the text actually claims.

2. The Trouble With Sola

As a Protestant, I was guilty of seeing more than one sola in Scripture that simply did not exist. The Bible clearly teaches justification by faith. And we Catholics believe it. However, we do not believe in justification by faith alone because, among many other reasons, the Bible says, we are “justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24, emphasis added). Analogously, when the Bible says Scripture is inspired and profitable for “the man of God,” to be “equipped for every good work,” we Catholics believe it. However, the text of II Tim. 3:16 never says Scripture alone. There is no sola to be found here either! Even if we granted II Tm. 3:16 was talking about all of Scripture, it never claims Scripture to be the sole rule of faith. A rule of faith, to be sure! But not the sole rule of faith.

James 1:4 illustrates clearly the problem with Protestant exegesis of II Tim. 3:16:

And let steadfastness (patience) have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If we apply the same principle of exegesis to this text that the Protestant does to II Tm. 3:16 we would have to say that all we need is patience to be perfected. We don’t need faith, hope, charity, the Church, baptism, etc.

Of course, any Christian would immediately say this is absurd. And of course it is. But James’s emphasis on the central importance of patience is even stronger than St. Paul’s emphasis on Scripture. The key is to see that there is not a sola to be found in either text. Sola patientia would be just as much an error as is sola scriptura.

3. The Tradition of God is the Word of God

Not only is the Bible silent when it comes to sola scriptura, but Scripture is remarkably plain in teaching oral Tradition to be just as much the word of God as is Scripture. In what most scholars believe was the first book written in the New Testament, St. Paul said:

And we also thank God… that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God… (I Thess. 2:13)

II Thess. 2:15 adds:

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions you have been taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.

According to St. Paul, the spoken word from the apostles was just as much the word of God as was the later written word.

Sola Scriptura is Unworkable

When it comes to the tradition of Protestantism—sola scriptura—the silence of the text of Scripture is deafening. When it comes to the true authority of Scripture and Tradition, the Scriptures are clear. And when it comes to the teaching and governing authority of the Church, the biblical text is equally as clear:

If your brother sins against you go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone … But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you … If he refuses to listen … tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Mt. 18:15-17)

According to Scripture, the Church—not the Bible alone—is the final court of appeal for the people of God in matters of faith and discipline. But isn’t it also telling that since the Reformation of just ca. 480 years ago—a reformation claiming sola scriptura as its formal principle—there are now over 33,000 denominations that have derived from it?

For 1,500 years, Christianity saw just a few enduring schisms (the Monophysites, Nestorians, the Orthodox, and a very few others). Now in just 480 years we have this? I hardly think that when Jesus prophesied there would be “one shepherd and one fold” in Jn. 10:16, this is what he had in mind. It seems quite clear to me that not only is sola scriptura unreasonable and unbiblical, but it is unworkable. The proof is in the puddin’!”

Love & truth,
Matthew