Category Archives: Apologetics

Converting costs: do it anyway!! Quo vadis, Domine?

Christ appearing headed to Rome to Saint Peter leaving Rome on the Appian Way, Annibale Carracci, 1601-2, The National Gallery, London, Oil on panel, 77 cm × 56 cm (30 in × 22 in), please click on the image for greater detail


-by Joseph Heschmeyer, a former lawyer and seminarian, he blogs at Shameless Popery.

“Once you’re convinced Catholicism is true, is converting really necessary? That question might sound strange to some readers. After all, if you believe that the Catholic Church really is the Church founded by Christ, why wouldn’t you convert?

Well, lots of reasons. Maybe you’re part of a solid Protestant community. Maybe converting would create serious tension in your marriage or with your parents. Maybe you would lose your job in ministry. In some of the most extreme cases, maybe you live in a country in which converting to Catholicism is a capital crime. In short, people weighing whether to become Catholic are often dealing with much more than simply answering the question, “Is it true?”

But as serious and well-grounded as those hesitations may be, the Second Vatican Council doesn’t mince words:

In explicit terms [Jesus] himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved. (CCC 846)

This is simply a restatement of what Catholics have been saying for two millennia. The Church is, in St. Paul’s words, Jesus’ “body, the fullness of Him Who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:23). To try to have Jesus without the Church is to try to have Christ the head without the body of Christ, or to put asunder what God has joined together (Matt. 19:6; Eph. 5:30-31). In short, as the Catechism puts it (795), it’s not a matter of choosing among denominations, but about accepting the “whole Christ” (Christus totus), head and body.

Significantly, we’re not talking about a person who is innocently unaware of the Catholic Church or is still trying to sort out the truth of the Catholic claim. The person who sees the truth of the Catholic claim and yet refuses to respond to it is knowingly rejecting the fullness of Christ, cutting themselves off from salvation.

If that seems like a steep cost, it should. Jesus was explicit that His message might prove destabilizing for family peace (Matt. 10:34-38):

Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

Or more pithily: “if any one comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:16). Jesus compares the decision to follow Him to that of a king deciding to go to war against an invading army twice his size (vv. 31-33). In other words, it’s not the kind of decision one ought to make lightly. It’s going to cost something.

You might object here: “I’m not saying not to follow Jesus—I’m just saying not to become Catholic!” But the whole point is that for the person for whom Jesus has revealed the truth of the Catholic Church, remaining Protestant (or Orthodox, etc.) is to cease to follow Him. It does no good to say we’re going to follow Jesus on our terms, just as it would have done Jesus’ original listeners no good to say they were going to follow the God of Abraham on their own terms. If Jesus shows you the way in which He wants you to follow him, that’s not the time to do your own thing or stay in your comfort zone. That’s the time to pick up your cross and follow Him, even if He’s leading you somewhere weird and uncomfortable (like the Catholic Church). (Quo vadis, Domine?)

Fortunately, though, Jesus doesn’t just tell us about the high cost of discipleship. He also promises us that these earthly costs of converting will be worth it. He tells the rich young man, “Go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matt. 19:21). Perhaps piqued by this mention of heavenly treasure, St. Peter then asks, “Lo, we have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?” (v. 27). Jesus responds by promising that “every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for My name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (v. 29).

In other words, discipleship isn’t just about sacrifice, but about investing, laying up for ourselves “treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt. 6:20). Converting to Catholicism can be scary, and it can be costly. But take courage: whatever it costs you will be well worth it, both in this life and in the life to come.”

Love & Truth,
Matthew

The Whole World Should be Catholic: Good Friday Solemn Intercessions


-please click on the image for greater detail

V. For the unity of Christians

Let us pray also for all our brothers and sisters who believe in Christ,
that our God and Lord may be pleased,
as they live the truth,
to gather them together and keep them in his one Church.

(Also, in the Solemn professions Jews, atheists, or those who otherwise do not believe in the Trinitarian God, etc., basically the whole world, would become Catholic. I suppose that includes even some “Catholics” who do the name no honor would become exemplar Catholics.)


-by Peter Wolfgang

“Today is Good Friday. It is the day that Catholics and other Christians commemorate the death of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which accomplished our definitive redemption.

It is also the day that Catholics pray for those other Christians to come into full communion with the Catholic Church. And “for the Jewish people” and “for those who do not believe in Christ” and “for those who do not believe in God” to do likewise.

The language of the post-Vatican II liturgy is carefully worded, but the intent is clear. On Good Friday, during the Solemn Intercessions, Catholics pray for the whole world to become Catholic.

I join in that prayer every year. Indeed, I look forward to it. I, too, believe (as the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus often put it) that “the Catholic Church is the Church of Jesus Christ most fully and rightly ordered through time.”

I, on the other hand, almost never make such claims—not because I don’t believe them, but because of where my work takes me. I run the Evangelical-associated Family Institute of Connecticut, which is part of a network of Family Policy Councils (FPCs) that exist in about forty of the fifty states. Only about five of the forty are run by Catholics.

There is no distinctly Catholic subject matter published under the auspices of my organization. But there is a lot on my personal Facebook, where I have noticed an uptick in . . . questions? . . . pushback? . . . from non-Catholic friends.

There is the Mormon friend who emails me quotes on how I should not wait until after I am dead to become a Mormon. There’s the Pentecostal minister who, over lunch, mentions his belief that the Catholic Church was founded by Constantine. There are the Evangelical ministers who are surprised when I post verses they believe to be prooftexts against Catholicism.

And, of course, there is Mary.

My non-Catholic friends are right to ask questions. I’m wrong to avoid them. We are all called “to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15).

With special attention to the one question that comes up most with my non-Catholic friends, here is why I am Catholic: in a word, the Church.

In my experience, the famous “solas” of the Protestant Reformation almost never come up in conversation. Those issues seem to be as resolved as they are likely to get. What really sticks in the craw of my Protestant friends is the Catholic Church’s claim to be the Church, the one true Church of Jesus Christ. The 2000 Vatican document Dominus Iesus uses the phrase ecclesial communities precisely because, it was argued, Protestant “churches” are not churches in the true sense—that “just as there is one Christ, so there exists a single body of Christ, a single bride of Christ: ‘a single Catholic and apostolic Church’” (16). One Lord, one baptism, one Church.

In John 17:21, Jesus prays of his disciples “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Christ surely intended for us to be one Church, not divided into separate communions.

But the Church does acknowledge “that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church.” The Church recognizes, as Dominus Iesus spells out, that “outside of her structure, many elements can be found of sanctification and truth.”

I have seen those elements “of sanctification and truth.” Indeed, in my work on behalf of the values we share, I have occasionally experienced a greater Christian love and generosity from Protestants than I have from Catholics.

Where the rubber hits the road is in the Catholic claim to be “fully” the Church in a way that other communions are not.  What, really, is the Catholic Church saying with this claim? That Protestant churches are not the Church as we understand it because they have not maintained apostolic succession and, therefore, valid sacraments.

Should not the Protestant affirm this? “That’s exactly right,” he might say. “We are not the Church as you understand it because your understanding is incorrect. We don’t need apostolic succession and those extra sacraments to be the Church. If we thought otherwise, we would not be separated from you in the first place.”

For myself, I believe that the Catholic Church is what it claims to be. It is, at bottom, why I am Catholic. If you believe what the Church claims about itself, then all its other claims—about Mary, the Eucharist, and so forth—naturally follow.

I thank God that the Church teaches that my Christian brethren of other communions are in a real “albeit imperfect” (Dominus Iesus 17) communion with me, because that is what I have experienced. These are my brothers and sisters in Christ. I love them.

And I believe that we should all be in perfect communion together as members of the Catholic Church. That it is the will of Christ: that we all be one in her, His bride.

I will pray for that when I pray the Solemn Intercessions at the Good Friday liturgy today. I will do so in the belief that the Catholic Church is what she claims to be—and in the hope that we and our separated brethren will again be one “so that the world may believe.”

Love & truth, blessed Good Friday,
Matthew

St Thomas Aquinas – the will & the intellect


-detail The Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas, fresco in The Spanish Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, by Andrea di Bonaiuto (1365-1367), Florence, Italy, please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Fr. Christopher Pietraszko, Ignitum, Fr. Christopher serves in the Diocese of London, Ontario.

“Something that is often misunderstood about St. Thomas Aquinas’ philosophical psychology is his definition of the will and the intellect. Although he calls the will the “intellectual appetite” many are concerned that he is promoting a type of robotic approach to spirituality.

To put it simply, the “intellectual appetite” to Aquinas or the “will” is concerned with two things: to know and to love. From this vantage point we can summarize the spiritual life of any Christian. The intellectual appetite is not simply a machine that wants to know, but it wants to know God so that it can love God. Aquinas makes this point rather simply when he says we cannot love what we do not know, and therefore we seek to know God more, so that we can love Him more. This makes sense out of St. Thomas who leaned his head against the Tabernacle weeping because his mind was trying to grasp more about God but was coming up against great difficulty.

Now the will can be described in more ways than that it is free, according to Aquinas. The will itself has a voluntary and involuntary dimension to it. The involuntary dimension is that it is ordered towards God as the Supreme Good. Aristotle explained this as Happiness, which is nonetheless the same thing. In every practical choice we make it is tethered to this quest for happiness in God. What is the choice, is not that our will is ultimately oriented toward God, but that we can choose the means – be it making Money or Honour or Power or Pleasure or God – our means to that end. In this way we often make grave errors, and insult God by replacing the uncreated and Supreme Good with something corruptible, created, and base in contrast to God. The voluntary dimension therefore is always in reference to the means – the path we take on our journey toward happiness. For this reason Jesus reveals to us that He is the Way – and that we ought to enter through the narrow gate. He is speaking to a rightly ordered free-will, that disposes itself to Him, and all created goods to be considered prior to Him.

If we want peace, a first step may simply be in acknowledging that what we are is only going to find its perfect rest in God. Everything else will be eaten up by the moths.”

“Love takes up where knowledge leaves off.”
–St. Thomas Aquinas

Love & truth,
Matthew

The Catholic Church, which Christ founded, determines the canon of the Bible


Devin Rose

“I have found that the canon of Scripture is the single most fruitful topic to discuss with Protestant friends. The canon is the set of books that make up the Bible—Scripture’s “table of contents”—and it is one of the most important issues between Catholics and Protestants for two reasons: first, because the Catholic and Protestant canons differ (Catholics have seventy-three books in their canon and Protestants have sixty-six); second, because Protestants believe in a doctrine called sola scriptura or “the Bible alone.”

Sola scriptura means that only the Bible is the sole, infallible rule of faith and the sole source of public revelation given by God to man. Under this doctrine, Scripture is the first, best, and ultimate depository for divine truth, as well as the only one that is without error, having been inspired by God himself, who cannot lie.

But for sola scriptura to be true, we must first be able to know which books, exactly, make up Scripture (i.e., the biblical canon). We must also know this biblical canon with a certainty strong enough to bind our consciences. After all, if we believe that God inspired books to be written such that they are without error but we don’t know which books those are, we are left in the unacceptable position of not knowing whether a given book is inspired (and therefore inerrant) or whether it is just another book written from the mind of a human being.

Martin Luther was not afraid to challenge the canon of Scripture. He relegated four New Testament books to an appendix, denying that they were divinely inspired. Though this alteration of the New Testament wasn’t adopted by the Protestant movements, his alteration of the Old Testament was, and by the end of the Reformation Protestantism had removed seven books (the deuterocanonicals) from the Old Testament canon.

This means if Protestantism is true, God allowed the early Church to put seven books in the Bible that didn’t belong there.

Why Protestants changed their canon

The Protestants rejected the books for several reasons, two of which we will focus on here. The first was a “problematic” passage in 2 Maccabees, and the second was their desire to go “back to the sources”—ad fontes—which to them meant using the same books that the Jews had decided upon.

2 Maccabees included a laudatory reference to prayers for the dead, a practice that the Catholic Church had encouraged for assisting the souls in purgatory. Recall Luther’s protest of the sale of indulgences to remove the temporal punishment due for already forgiven sins—punishment that must be paid before a soul would be fit to enter heaven. Luther and the Reformers rejected purgatory, so all that was connected with it also had to go: indulgences, prayers for the dead, and the communion of saints (which includes those both living and asleep in Christ).

The Reformers pointed out that these seven books were not included in the Jewish Hebrew Bible. For that reason, they argued, the books should not be accepted by Christians. Some Protestant apologists seek to bolster this claim by mentioning the theory that, around A.D. 90, a council of Jews at Jamnia explicitly rejected these books. (The consensus among modern scholars is that the Jews closed their canon closer to the end of the second century A.D.)

Others like to point out that some Church Fathers rejected one or more of these books. They strengthen this argument with the testimony of Josephus and Philo—two Jews from the first century—who also did not accept them.

Why the deuterocanonicals are inspired

Because Catholicism is true, the church Christ founded, and not the Jews, possessed the authority and divine guidance to discern the Old Testament canon.

A little historical background is needed here. The first Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, used during Jesus’ time, was called the Septuagint. It was an evolving set of books that was added to from the third century B.C. until the time of Christ. It remains the most ancient translation of the Old Testament that we have today and so is used to correct the errors that crept into the Hebrew (Masoretic) text, the oldest extant manuscripts of which date only from the ninth century.

The Septuagint was used extensively in the Near East by rabbis, and in the first century the apostles quoted prophecies from it in the books that became the New Testament. It was accepted as authoritative by the Jews of Alexandria and then by all Jews in Greek-speaking countries.

By the time of Christ, the Septuagint contained the deuterocanonical books. The majority of Old Testament quotes made by the New Testament authors come from the Septuagint. In fact, the early Church used the Septuagint as its primary Old Testament source until the fifth century. Its importance cannot be overstated.

Historical evidence also shows that there were multiple, conflicting Jewish canons at the time of Christ. Protestants claim that the Hebrew canon was closed at the time of Christ. But let’s stop and think about that: How could the Jews close their canon when they were still awaiting the advent of the new Elijah (John the Baptist) and the new Moses (Jesus)?

Recall that Malachi 4:5 tells us that God would send a new Elijah the prophet: “Behold I will send you Elias the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” We know from John 1:19-25 that the Jews were eagerly awaiting this new Elijah, as well as the new Moses.

Since many prophets in the Old Covenant had been inspired by God to write books, it only makes sense that the Jews would expect these two great prophets to write books as well. Closing the Hebrew canon before the prophets’ advent, then, would have been unthinkable.

Timothy Michael Law, in his new book When God Spoke Greek, has demonstrated that the Jews did not close their canon until the second century A.D. This fact renders the (alleged) Jewish council’s decision at Jamnia moot. It should be noted that most scholars today doubt that any such council ever took place.

But even if it did, would Jewish leaders possess the authority to make a decision binding upon the Christian Church? Those Jews who had accepted Christ had already become Christians. The remainder had no authority to decide anything about divine truth, as that authority had passed to those filled with the Holy Spirit (i.e., the apostles). The same goes for the opinions of Josephus and Philo. The Jews did not have the authority to decide the canon. The Church did.

Law also shows that the Greek Septuagint is a witness to an, at times, even more ancient textual stream of the Hebrew scriptures when compared with the Masoretic text. Ironically, this meant that the Reformers goofed when they relied upon the Masoretic text and the (truncated) Hebrew canon in their attempt to go “back to the original sources.” They should have used the Septuagint translation and included the seven deuterocanonical books! Thus the argument that Christians should base their Old Testament off of the Hebrew Bible rather than the Greek Septuagint is dubious.

Regarding Church Fathers doubting the deuterocanonical books, it is true that several rejected one or more of them or put them on a level lower than the rest of Scripture. But many, including those with doubts, quoted them as Scripture with no distinction from the rest of the Bible.

The broader fact is that the testimony of the Fathers was not unanimous on the Old Testament canon. Even Jerome, the great biblical scholar, early in his career favored the Hebrew canon but then changed his mind and submitted his opinion to the wisdom of the Church, accepting the deuterocanonicals as Scripture (ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf203.vi.xii.ii.xxvii.html).

Finally, it should be pointed out that Protestants seeking to defend their canon based on historical evidence—even if they are convinced they have found sufficient proof—run into an insurmountable problem: Nowhere in Scripture does it say that this is the way to know which books belong in the canon. Such a criterion for choosing the canon in fact contradicts sola scriptura, because it is an extra-biblical principle.

A consistent Protestant argument for selecting the canon of Scripture, then, must itself come from Scripture, which would create a circular argument. Unfortunately—but providentially—no such instructions from God exist. No table of contents is found in any biblical book. No scroll with a table of contents is considered inspired by Protestants (or by Catholics).

The self-authenticating canon

Most Protestant apologists realize that all their stalwart arguments have iron-clad rebuttals. And so many have abandoned those arguments and cling to their last remaining bastion: They claim that the inspired books authenticate themselves. This idea is so widely used that it is worthy of a lengthy explanation.

The self-authenticating canon means that a true Christian can read a given book and easily tell whether it is inspired by God or not. The Holy Spirit dwelling within the Christian would witness to the book’s inspiration. This theory did away with the need for trusting the corrupted early Church or for tracing the messy history of the canon’s development. Instead, you as a faithful Christian simply picked up your Bible, read the books, and listened for the inner witness of the Spirit telling you that the books were inspired by God.

Similarly, you could theoretically pick up a non-canonical epistle or Gospel from the first or second century, read it, and note the absence of the Spirit’s confirmation of its inspiration. As Calvin described it:

It is utterly vain, then, to pretend that the power of judging Scripture so lies with the church and that its certainty depends upon churchly assent. Thus, while the church receives and gives its seal of approval to Scripture, it does not thereby render authentic what is otherwise doubtful or controversial. . . . As to their question—How can we be assured that this has sprung from God unless we have recourse to the decree of the church?—it is as if someone asked: Whence will we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter? Indeed, Scripture exhibits fully as clear evidence of its own truth as white and black things do of their color, or sweet and bitter things do of their taste. . . . those whom the Holy Spirit has inwardly taught truly rest upon Scripture, and Scripture indeed is self-authenticated (Institutes of the Christian Religion, I, vii.1, 2, 5).

Calvin makes two claims here. First, that the Church does not give authority to Scripture but rather Scripture has authority by the fact that God inspired it; second, that a Christian can know the canon from the Holy Spirit’s testimony within him, not by trusting a decision of the Church.

Calvin’s first claim has never been contested by the Catholic Church, the Orthodox churches, or any Christian. It is a straw man: The Church teaches that it received inspired texts from God (through human authors) and that God guided it in discerning which among many texts were truly inspired. The Church is thus the servant of written revelation and not its master.

Calvin’s second claim has become the common answer from Protestants who can’t concede that a corrupt Church selected the canon. There’s an element of truth to it: Surely the Holy Spirit does witness to our souls when we read the Bible. But Calvin sets up a false dichotomy here: Either the Church, by discerning the canon, imagines itself in authority over Scripture, or the canon is self-evident to any Christian. Calvin replaces the belief that God guided the Church in selecting the canon with the belief that God guides me or you in selecting it. He forces his readers to choose between these options, but in fact they are both false.

History contradicts Calvin’s claim

There is no principled reason, in Scripture or elsewhere, to believe that God would guide me or you in this discernment but not the Church. Moreover, Calvin’s subjective criterion for discerning the canon is surely impractical and unrealistic. How would a person seeking truth but not yet indwelt by the Holy Spirit know which books to read to find truth? What about a new Christian who had not learned to distinguish the inner voice of the Spirit from his own? At what point after his conversion would a Christian be considered ready to help define the canon? If two Christians disagreed, whose inner judgment would be used to arbitrate their dispute and identify the real canon?

Another problem with Calvin’s claim is that the facts of history contradict it. As we have seen, the selection of the canon was not an easy, debate-free process that ended with the close of written revelation in the early second century. Rather, the canon emerged slowly through a laborious process, with differing canons being proposed by different Church Fathers during these centuries.

If the canon were obvious and self-evident, the Holy Spirit would have led each of them to the same canon. Yet even these faithful, Spirit-filled men, so close to the time of the apostles and Christ himself, proposed different canons. It was not until almost A.D. 400 that the canon was settled, and it contained the seventy-three books of the Catholic Bible. When, more than 1,100 years later, the Reformers changed the canon by rejecting the seven deuterocanonical books (and Luther unsuccessfully tried to discard others), it was another example of intelligent and well-meaning Christians disagreeing about the “self-authenticated” canon.

The books of the canon are not obvious merely from reading them. Martin Luther should prove that to Protestants, since he was the founder of the Protestant Reformation, and yet he tried to jettison four books from the New Testament.

The Church discerns the Old Testament

This means that neither the New Testament nor the Old Testament is self-authenticating. And so we come full circle back to the question of the deuterocanonicals. Weighing this evidence, any open Protestant should be able to admit that the only thing keeping him back from considering these books as inspired by God is the Protestant tradition that rejected them. Is that tradition from God or from men?

The Church’s careful discernment of the canon settled on including the deuterocanonical books. And, with some occasional doubts, the books were consistently included in the canon from the 300s through the 1400s. In fact, the ecumenical council of Florence in the mid-1400s reaffirmed their inclusion in the Old Testament canon. This was long before Martin Luther and the first Protestants and lends further evidence that the Church accepted these books as inspired and did not “add” them to the canon in response to the Reformation, as many Protestants claim.

If Protestantism is true, then for more than a thousand years all of Christianity used an Old Testament that contained seven fully disposable, possibly deceptive books that God did not inspire. He did, however, allow the early Church to designate these books as Sacred Scripture and derive false teachings such as purgatory from their contents. Eventually, God’s chosen Reformer, Martin Luther, was able to straighten out this tragic error, even though his similar abridgment of the New Testament was a mistake.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Sola Scriptura 2


-by Jimmy Akin

“One of the stickiest points in Catholic-Protestant debates is what is meant by the Protestant term sola scriptura, or “Scripture alone.”

Protestant apologists assert the doctrine but are often reluctant to offer a precise definition of it. Most will say that it does not mean certain things and will make a general stab at saying what it does mean, but I do not know of a Protestant apologist who has offered a complete and precise definition.

Thus, Catholic apologists are left in the unenviable position of critiquing an imprecise assertion. They commonly critique what they perceive most Protestants to mean by sola scriptura, which brings on nigh-inevitable charges of misrepresenting “the Protestant position.”

The problem is that there is no single Protestant position on sola scriptura. The term is used different ways, the details of which vary. But there seem to be two major ways the idea is interpreted.

Two Definitions

At times the phrase is taken to mean that we must be able to derive from Scripture alone all of the theological truths that God wished to reveal to mankind—and even all of the religious practices in which Christians should engage (i.e., that Scripture is “sufficient for faith and practice”).

Other times a more restricted claim is made: that we can derive from Scripture alone all of the truths that are needed for salvation.

When the doctrine of sola scriptura is not under cross-examination, though, a more robust understanding is employed, and Evangelical Christians are trained to ask reflexively for a biblical basis whenever any theological idea or religious practice is proposed. Thus when Evangelicals talk with Catholics, they identify a particular Catholic doctrine or practice they disapprove of and then ask, “Where’s that in the Bible?” For example, an Evangelical may select a topic such as purgatory (a theological belief) or praying to saints (a practice) and demand a biblical basis for it.

Necessary for Salvation

Note that, strictly speaking, neither of these appears to involve a truth that is necessary for salvation: God exists; God is a Trinity; Jesus is God the Son; Jesus died on a cross for our sins; and we need to repent, believe, and be baptized to be saved—in other words, truths connected directly with the gospel.

Purgatory is not connected with the gospel in that way. Neither is praying to saints. A Protestant asking for biblical bases for these would seem to be using a more expansive understanding of sola scriptura than just the idea that Scripture states or implies all truths necessary for salvation. He seems to be expecting Scripture to contain bases for all theological truths and religious practices.

If the same individual retreats, when sola scriptura is being questioned, to the more modest understanding of it, then it is fair for the Catholic to note the inconsistency and ask him to choose one understanding of the doctrine and stick with it.

If he chooses the more expansive understanding, then he endorses a position that is much more difficult to defend. As many works of Catholic apologetics have shown, nobody in the pages of Scripture itself operated on the principle that all belief and practice should be derivable from Scripture alone. It’s hard to find passages that could be construed as teaching this idea, and it is easy to find passages that indicate the contrary, such as Paul’s exhortation to his readers to heed all of the traditions they had received, whether they were written in his letters or conveyed orally (2 Thess. 2:15).

If, though, the Evangelical chooses the more modest interpretation of sola scriptura, then he will have to let go of many common Protestant objections to Catholicism. If only truths necessary for salvation have to be given a biblical basis, then he would not be able to object to purgatory or praying to saints or Marian doctrines or other Catholic beliefs and practices that have been criticized since the Reformation. He might still disagree with Catholics on these, but he would not be able to fault a Catholic for not providing a biblical basis for them.

Infallible Teachings

An Evangelical might say, “Wait a minute: If a Catholic denies the existence of purgatory, which the Church has taught infallibly, that would be a grave sin. If he did it with adequate knowledge and consent, his grave sin would become mortal, and he would lose his salvation. Thus, for a Catholic, things such as purgatory are necessary for salvation.”

It’s true that a Catholic would commit a mortal sin under the circumstances just named, but that does not make purgatory a truth “needed” for salvation. If you have mere moments to evangelize a dying man, there are certain things that he needs to be told for the sake of his salvation: the truths mentioned above about God, Jesus, and how to respond to God’s offer of salvation.

Purgatory is not one of those. Purgatory may be an imminent reality for the dying man, but it is not necessary for him to know about it in order to accept God’s offer of salvation. If he has a while to live, he should be taught the fullness of the faith, including purgatory. But if he is in danger of death, he most needs the core facts of the gospel.

Ya Gotta Have Faith

Purgatory and similar beliefs are related to salvation in a different way: The reason it would be sinful to deny them is that it involves a rejection of the virtue of faith. God has taught them and empowered the Church to propose them infallibly to the faithful. Because that has happened, our faith in the working of God demands that we give assent to them. To refuse to do so, with adequate knowledge and consent, is to reject faith in God. One might still believe in the existence of God—and any number of other individual teachings of the faith—but the virtue of faith that unites us to God is extinguished if we reject his authority to teach us in the manner of his choosing.

A parallel can be proposed in an Evangelical context: The Bible clearly teaches many things that are not directly required for salvation. For example, it teaches the existence of angels. The reality of angels is not itself something that you need to know to get into heaven.

If you have a short time to evangelize a dying man who, by some fluke, has never heard of angels, you don’t have to take time away from telling him about God to make sure he knows about angels. Angels may be about to escort him to the pearly gates, but he doesn’t need to know about them in advance. The existence of angels is thus something that Scripture teaches, but it is not a truth necessary for salvation.

But suppose the dying man knows that the Bible teaches the existence of angels but refuses to believe it. Suppose he also knows that God is the author of the Bible and that God teaches the existence of angels, yet he still refuses to believe it. Does that man have faith in God? He may acknowledge God’s existence, he may want to be saved by God, but classical Protestant theologians would not say that a man who acknowledges God’s existence but refuses to accept what he knows to be God’s word has faith in God—certainly not saving faith.

Modest Interpretation

The question for the Evangelical thus remains whether such beliefs require a biblical basis. If they do require one, then we arrive back at a hard-to-defend interpretation of sola scriptura whereby everything we are expected to believe must have a biblical basis.

But what if the Evangelical really were willing to stick with the more modest interpretation? Suppose he said, “Okay, I don’t agree with Catholics on teachings such as purgatory, but I recognize that they are not necessary for salvation, so I won’t demand that Catholics produce a biblical basis for them.”

He might also say, “In Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8, Paul makes it clear that a person can sin by violating his conscience even when he mistakenly believes he is required by God to do or not do something. Paul even speaks as if such individuals may not be saved. So I can acknowledge that a person who believes the Catholic Church has been authorized to teach infallibly for God would sin and jeopardize his salvation if he rejected the ‘infallible’ teachings of the Church, even if they are not necessary in themselves for salvation.

“I just want to maintain,” he might conclude, “that there must be a biblical basis for every teaching that is in itself necessary for salvation. That’s all I mean when I talk about sola scriptura. What would a Catholic say about that?”

A Catholic Perspective

I don’t know any Evangelicals who are this startlingly consistent in advocating the modest interpretation of sola scriptura.

A Catholic would not use the term sola scriptura—which is historically contentious and highly prone to misunderstanding—but he certainly can agree that the basic facts of the gospel and how to respond to it can be derived from Scripture. A Catholic would add that these facts need to be understood in the light of Sacred Tradition and that the Church’s intervention may be necessary to make sure they are understood correctly.

Indeed, Peter warns that “no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation” (2 Pet. 1:21) and says of Paul’s writings that “there are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures” (3:16). But despite these qualifications, the basic facts necessary for salvation can be given a biblical basis.

It would be interesting to know how far such an Evangelical would be willing to rethink matters: If he’s willing to confine sola scriptura to just the basic facts needed for salvation, then what principles are to be employed in determining the rest of his theology?

The Catholic Church has a few he might want to consider.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Anti-Catholic science fiction


Clerical Catholic Scientists/Engineers
Lay Catholic Scientists/Engineers
St Albert the Great, OP
Msgr Georges Lemaitre, Father of the Big Bang Theory
Rev Gregor Mendel, Father of Modern Genetics
Pope to scientists: faith does not hurt science, it leads to greater truth


-by Steve Weidenkopf

“This past September, Apple TV+ launched an ambitious science fiction television series described as “based on the award-winning novels by Isaac Asimov” that “chronicles a band of exiles on their monumental journey to save humanity and rebuild civilization amid the fall of the Galactic Empire.”

The show takes its name, Foundation, from the first of three Asimov novels originally published as short stories from 1942 to 1950. Asimov received the prestigious Hugo Award for best all-time science fiction series in 1966 for the novels. Decades later, he added several prequels and sequels to the body of work. The books were considered notoriously difficult to adapt to film, as efforts by studios in the late 1990s and mid-2000s failed to achieve results. However, Apple TV acquired the rights in 2018 and ordered a ten-episode season. Released to mostly positive critical reviews, Apple ordered a second season last month.

Foundation purports to tell the story of the coming end of the Galactic Empire, ruled by three clones of the emperor, Cleon I. Imperial power rests with the seemingly consistent cloned rulers, who enforce galactic peace through extreme violence. However, trouble erupts when Hari Seldon, a university professor of mathematics, develops the theory of “psychohistory” (“a predictive model designed to forecast the behavior of very large populations”) that he claims foretells the fall of the empire. Arrested and tried for treason, Seldon confronts the cloned emperors and predicts the impending collapse of peace, security, and order in the galaxy. The TV show chronicles the adventures of the imperial clones, Seldon’s band of exiled followers, and the impending collapse of galactic society.

No book can be understood without reference to its author and what influenced him. Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) was born in Russia, but his family moved to the United States when he was a boy. He earned advanced degrees in chemistry, which led to a position as a professor in biochemistry at Boston University. Asimov enjoyed creative writing from an early age and was drawn to science fiction. Although raised in an Orthodox Jewish home, Asimov rejected his family’s faith, became an atheist, and embraced the Enlightenment ideals of humanism and rationalism. He was named “Humanist of the Year” in 1984 by the American Humanist Association, an organization dedicated to establishing a “progressive society where being good without a god is an accepted and respected way to live life,” and served as its president from 1985 to 1992. Asimov continued to write and speak on scientific topics until his death in 1992.

Asimov found inspiration for his Foundation narrative after reading Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon (1737-1794) was an English Enlightenment scholar who was raised Anglican, converted to the Catholic Faith at Oxford while a student, and then reverted to Protestantism when his outraged father sent him to Calvinist Switzerland to regain the “true” faith. Later, after meeting Voltaire, the French skeptic and enemy of the Church, Gibbon embraced skepticism and rationalism. In his famous work on the Roman Empire, Gibbon posited the theory that the Church enfeebled the once mighty imperial structure. He speculated that the Church’s objection to Roman immorality and its failure to embrace the Roman way of life disrupted the unity of the empire.

According to Gibbon, the teachings of the Catholic Church produced a “servile and effeminate age,” where Roman imperial society was undermined by the clergy and its insistence on living Christian virtues. He argued that the political life of the empire was radically changed by the adoption of the Christian faith as the official (and only) religion in the empire in the late fourth century. Emperors, Gibbon opined, were distracted by worthless and ridiculous religious disagreements, which hampered their ability to deal with the rising political and military situation on the imperial borders.

Gibbon’s theory on the decline and fall of the Roman Empire became the standard narrative in the English-speaking world and found favor with Enlightenment thinkers with an animus against religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular. Enlightenment intellectuals believed that the Church was a negative influence in the world and that the collapse of the Roman Empire produced a thousand-year “triumph of barbarism and religion” that was finally broken with the return of the classical knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome during the Renaissance. The Frenchman Denis Diderot (1713-1784), an Enlightenment leader, summed it all up when he famously quipped, “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”

The influence of Enlightenment intellectuals, and especially Gibbon’s work, is clearly seen in the first episode of Foundation, when Hari Seldon stands in the docket during his treason trial. Seldon predicts the collapse of imperial civilization within five centuries (Rome collapsed at the end of the fifth century) followed by a dark age of barbarism and violence consisting of 30,000 years, which Seldon argues can be reduced to a thousand years with the creation of an Encyclopedia Galactica, a compilation of human knowledge that can be used by future generations climbing out of the post-imperial dark ages as a “foundation” for the re-establishment of civilization. After rebels detonate suicide bombs, initiating events that may lead to the empire’s demise, the emperors decide to spare Seldon’s life and send him along with his followers into exile on a remote planet, where they will compile their Encyclopedia Galactica to ride out the impending dark ages.

Now it’s time to set the record straight. Although the Foundation Apple TV+ series is a well written show containing majestic set pieces, beautiful cinematography, stunning computer-generated graphics, and a cast of fascinating characters brilliantly acted, its foundation (pun intended) rests on a tired anti-Catholic historical myth about the role of religion and the Church in the collapse of ancient civilization.

Contra the show’s writers—and Isaac Asimov, and Edward Gibbon—embracing the Catholic faith did not cause the collapse of the Roman Empire. The early Church did not desire the downfall of the established political order and in fact supported the Roman state, spiritually through prayer and materially by individual Christians joining the army, working as imperial officials, and paying their taxes.

The empire persecuted the Church and tried to eradicate it for numerous political, religious, and social reasons. The Church’s moral teachings certainly placed it at odds with Roman culture, and there is no doubt that these were a cause of Roman animosity against the Church. Ten general persecutions exploded against the Church in its first four centuries of existence. The Great Persecution under Diocletian in the early fourth century was undertaken at a time of relative peace and stability in the empire and certainly did not distract the emperor from more important affairs of state, as Gibbon claimed. By the time of the western imperial collapse in the late fifth century, Rome had made peace with the Church and embraced its teachings for over a hundred and fifty years.

So if the Church was not responsible for the “fall” of Rome, who or what was? The key to understanding the question of why Rome collapsed is found in the Roman army, which underwent a series of transformations that doomed the longevity of the empire. The Roman army of the early empire comprised Roman citizens who saw military service as a central piece of citizenship. The army, totaling 300,000 men, focused on a perimeter defense on the borders of the empire to protect the 60 million imperial inhabitants. But by the third century, the Roman army had become a professional entity with recruitment primarily drawn not from citizens, but from slaves and poor free men. Recruiting became difficult, so imperial bureaucrats developed the idea of offering the Germanic tribes on the imperial borders entrance into the empire in exchange for military service. By the fifth century, the Roman army in its vital components was staffed by ethnically German warriors, raised in the empire and self-identifying as Roman but not beholden to the wealthy Roman nobility nor the imperial bureaucracy.

The empire collapsed in the West in the late fifth century because it was exhausted from five hundred years of imperial rule. Romans lost confidence in their society. Central bureaucratic control from Rome collapsed in the West in the late fifth century, and power fell into the hands of the local Roman military commanders—again, ethnic Germans. These local chieftains were forced to forge a new identity and societal structure when the last Western emperor was overthrown in the late fifth century. Contrary to what the Enlightenment thinkers claimed—and the line of thought that provides the grist for Foundation—the Church, with its bishops and dioceses (organized according to the imperial governmental structure), provided the Romans a chance at unity in belief, practice, and life.

No one needs to be convinced that Foundation is a work of fiction. But unfortunately, in our age, rife as it is with animosity against the Catholic Church, what does need spelling out is that Foundation is based on fiction, too—not true history, but the tendentious work of bitter philosophers and historians with an axe to grind against the one institution mandated by God to produce hope and light in a chaotic world.”

It was the Catholic Church that saved and preserved Western civilization despite the collapse the what was left of the western Roman Empire beneath it.

Love & truth,
Matthew

Praying to saints

The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs, by Fra Angelico, 1423-4, The National Gallery, London, please click on the image for greater detail


-by Karlo Broussard

“We as Catholics often take great pride in what we believe—rightly so, since it is the truth. But that pride sometimes can be challenged when we dabble a bit in theology, reflecting further upon those beliefs only to discover that some of them seemingly conflict with each other.

Here is an example: Catholics believe that the saints in heaven have wills that are perfectly conformed to God’s will. We also believe that the saints intercede for us, praying to God for help on our behalf. But if the saints’ wills are perfectly conformed to God’s will, then what difference does it make whether they intercede for us? Isn’t there a contradiction here?

St. Thomas Aquinas addresses this apparent incompatibility in the Supplement to his Summa Theologiae (72:3, ad 5). Here’s one way of showing the tension:

P1: The saints conform their wills perfectly to the will of God.

C1: Therefore, the saints will only what they know God to will.

P2: Prayer necessarily involves what someone wills.

C2: Therefore, the saints pray for only what they know God to will.

P3: What God wills can be done without the saints praying for it.

C3: Therefore, the saints’ prayers are not efficacious for obtaining anything.

Aquinas accepts every step of the argument except at the end, where it jumps from premise three to conclusion three. Just because God can bring about some effect without the saints praying for it, that doesn’t automatically mean that the saints’ prayers aren’t efficacious to obtain anything.

His reason is that God could will that the prayers of the saints be the means by which he brings about an effect. In other words, God could will the saints’ prayers to be secondary causes of goodness and of help in our lives.

Aquinas appeals to Augustine as his authority on this point. Referring to the saints, he writes:

Nor is their prayer fruitless, since as Augustine says (De Praed. Sanct. [De Dono Persever. xxii]): “The prayers of the saints profit the predestinate, because it is perhaps pre-ordained that they shall be saved through the prayers of those who intercede for them”: and consequently God also wills that what the saints see him to will shall be fulfilled through their prayers.

To put it simply, God may will that some blessing not be given except through a saint’s intercessory prayer.

Perhaps we can shed further light on this by understanding that God’s providence involves willing not only certain effects to take place, but also the causes from which those effects will be brought about. That is to say, God wills a pattern of cause-effect relationships.

Now, the eternal decree that determines which causes will bring about which effects includes human acts. These actions are an essential part of God’s plan. In the words of Aquinas, they “achieve certain effects according to the order of the divine disposition” (Summa Theologiae, II-II:83:2).

Consider an example. God decreed from all eternity that I would have a fried egg for breakfast this morning. This eternal decree included the egg being produced in a way that involved my wife’s act of love to cook it for me (she’s so sweet), along with all the other ways in which a fried egg comes about: the egg is cracked, put into the frying pan, and cooked by the frying pan through the gas stove. My wife’s help, along with all the other natural processes of cooking an egg, was willed by God to be a part of the cause-effect pattern.

The same is true with intercessory prayer, whether we’re talking about the prayers of Christians on earth or in heaven. Intercessory prayer is simply one human action among many (e.g., my wife cooking the egg) that God wills to be a cause of certain effects in his divine plan.

Intercessory prayer requests from God what he has willed from eternity, to be bestowed by that intercession. As philosopher Brian Davies explains, “God may will from eternity that things should come about as things prayed for by us”—or, for our purposes, the saints.

In other words, it’s possible that God wills some events to occur only as a result of the saints’ intercession. For example, God may have eternally decreed to heal the cancer of a loved one, but only on the condition that persistent requests for a miracle be made through the intercession of a particular saint.

It doesn’t matter whether we know that the effect is conditioned by the request. The point is, it’s possible, so we make the request, hoping God wills the saints’ intercession to be a cause of the effect. If it turns out that he did not will it so, then we trust that God has good reasons for his choice. This is why Christians pray, “Thy will be done.”

But if God wills the saint’s intercession to be the cause of the desired effect, then it would be true to say the saint’s prayer made a real difference. It would have made a difference by being an essential part of the cause-effect pattern God has eternally decreed.

The real causal power that the saints’ prayers have in God’s eternal plan is not at all different from the real causal power my wife’s actions had in producing a fried egg this morning. Her help was essential for the fried egg because that is how God arranged it to be from all eternity. God has created a world in which fried eggs come to be in a specific way.

Similarly, with regard to the saints’ intercession, some events will occur only as a result of their help through intercessory prayer, because that is the specific way God has arranged things. God has created a world in such a way that our actions, including prayer, serve as real game-changers in the history of the world.

The bottom line is this: there is nothing in the saints’ conformity to the divine will that makes it incompatible with the saints’ intercessory prayer being an effective help in our lives. Their petitions are arranged by God to be part and parcel of his divine plan—a great honor God bestows upon them as real causes of good for others. And that’s a belief that we can rejoice in!”

Love,
Matthew

Merit in Heaven? Merit from Heaven? The Treasury of Merit


-please click on the image for greater detail


-by Karlo Broussard

“Sometimes, when we dabble in theology, we discover that some of our beliefs seemingly conflict with each other, challenging the pride we have in our beliefs. One example of a possible contradiction involves the intercession of the saints and their conformity to God’s will. You can find that one here.

The saints’ conformity to God’s will is not the only apparent obstacle to belief in the intercession of the saints. The saints’ inability to merit anything in heaven is another. St. Thomas Aquinas presents the objection this way:

Whosoever obtains something by prayer merits it in a sense. But the saints in heaven are not in the state of meriting. Therefore they cannot obtain anything for us from God by their prayers (Summa Theologiae Suppl. 72:3 obj 4).

The standard view in Catholic theology is that in order for a person to merit something, he must still be in this life, so departed human souls—including the saints—can no longer merit.

Here are some biblical passages that theologians have traditionally appealed to for support of this teaching:

  • Hebrews 4:10: “For whoever enters God’s rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his.”
  • Revelation 14:13: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth. ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’”

Now, St. Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 3:8 that the wages we receive are proportioned to our labor. He writes, “He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor.”

So, if the Bible teaches that our labors cease when we die in the Lord, and our wages are proportioned to our labors, then it follows that our wages for our labors are fixed upon death. And since “wages” here traditionally has been viewed to include the gift of charity, we can conclude that our degree of charity is fixed upon death, and thus we can no longer merit because charity is the principle of merit.

There are a few different possible answers to this objection that Aquinas identifies.

First, as he writes, “although the saints are not in a state to merit for themselves, when once they are in heaven, they are in a state to merit for others” (ST Suppl. 72:2 ad 4). In other words, rather than their charity benefiting themselves, it’s beneficial for others.

A second possibility is that the saints in heaven can assist others by virtue of the merit they acquired while here on earth. Aquinas writes, “For while living they merited that their prayers should be heard after their death.”

This is consistent with what the Bible says about how the value of our charitable works remains with us as we enter heaven. Remember Revelation 14:13 above. The value of the good works of those who die in grace continues to exist as they exist in heaven.

Catholic teaching on the treasury of the Church is rooted in this biblical teaching. In paragraphs 1475-1477, the Catechism explains the Church’s treasury as follows:

In the communion of saints, “a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things.” In this wonderful exchange, the holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others. . . . We also call these spiritual goods of the communion of saints the Church’s treasury. . . . The “treasury of the Church” is the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ’s merits have before God. . . . This treasury includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. . . . In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints.

So Catholic teaching on the treasury of the Church provides us with an answer to this objection, and Aquinas’s thought runs parallel to it.

A third possible response is that the objection assumes that prayer obtains things only by way of merit. But, Aquinas argues, this is not true. Prayer can also obtain things by way of impetration, which simply means “by request or entreaty.”

Prayer is meritorious when there is a certain proportion between our prayer and that which we seek to obtain through the prayer, such that the thing we seek through the prayer is given as a reward. For example, Paul teaches in Romans 2:6-7 that eternal life will be given to those “who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality.” The reason why eternal life is a proportionate reward for our good works is that, according to Philippians 2:13, it is God who is at work in us, “both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Or, as Paul puts it in Galatians 2:20, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” The supernatural reward of heaven has a proper proportion to the supernatural value that God gives our good works by acting in and through us.

Obtaining something through prayer considered merely as a request (impetration), on the other hand, depends not on a proportion between the value of the request and that which is sought, but rather on the liberality of the person from whom we’re requesting something. In other words, whatever is sought by the request is not in any way due to the person who’s making the request. Whether the thing sought is obtained is entirely up to the person of whom the request is made.

So we can conclude with Aquinas that although the saints in heaven might not be able to obtain some good for us through meritorious prayer, they can still do so through prayers of impetration—prayers by way of request or entreaty.

The apparent conflict, therefore, between the intercession of the saints and their inability to merit in heaven is just that: apparent. A healthy Catholic pride in this belief can remain.

Sep 30 – St Jerome of Stridon (347-420 AD) – the man who translated the Bible from Hebrew & Greek


-by Baroque Painter Jacques Blanchard’s Saint Jerome was made in 1632 and the original painting is in Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest. The original size of the work is 145,5 x 116 cm and is made of oil on canvas., please click on the image for greater detail

-by Jaspreet Singh Boparai

“…We know quite a bit about (Jerome’s) life because he couldn’t help discussing it at length, in letters, treatises, commentaries and even the introductions to his translations of the Bible. The Catholic Church not only recognised him as a saint: it declared him to be one of the four first Latin-language Doctors of the Church.

His learning and intelligence were quite literally legendary. In the Middle Ages Jerome was said to have once been lecturing to students in Bethlehem when a lion approached. His students fled in terror; he saw that it was limping and removed a thorn from its paw. Thereafter he was followed everywhere by a tame pet lion. The story has never really been believed, at least among the learned; but the lion has been associated with Jerome as a symbol ever since. Perhaps this reflects certain aspects of his personality: you read his writing and cannot help but think, A saint? Him?


-Penitent Saint Jerome, Bernardino Luini, 1525 (Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan, Italy).

Saint Jerome of Stridon

Saint Jerome (AD 331–420), the man who translated the Bible into Latin, was born at Stridon in Dalmatia during the reign of Constantine the Great (r. 306–37). His home, and at least some of the family estates, appear to have been destroyed by invading Goths in 379.

Jerome’s parents were Christian, but did not bother to have him baptised. They insisted on speaking Latin at home, although they lived in the provinces. Later in life Jerome would complain of continuing to remember stray vocabulary from his “barbarous native language”, including the name of the unappetising beer that was brewed both locally and in the neighbouring province of Pannonia. Jerome appears to have learnt enough of the local Illyrian dialect to shout at peasants and slaves.

In a letter (AD 382) he admits that during his childhood and early youth he had been a glutton for luxurious food; he considered this to be the most difficult vice to drop when he chose to adopt a more ascetic manner of living.


-Saint Jerome in His Study, Albrecht Dürer, 1514 (Kupferstich-Kabinett, Dresden Castle, Germany).

Jerome in Rome

Jerome’s parents sent him to Rome to be educated under the famous schoolmaster Aelius Donatus, who remains well-known as the author of grammatical textbooks, as well as literary commentaries on the works of Terence and Vergil that summarise a great deal of earlier scholarship.

Donatus trained his pupils thoroughly according to his own fastidious literary tastes. Although his own prose has been described as dry, bland and wholly colourless, he at least had strong opinions about what good writing should be. From Donatus, Jerome acquired a passionate devotion to strict grammatical correctness.

Having left the school of Donatus at around the age of sixteen, Jerome began his formal rhetorical training. He appears to have thrived, relishing every available opportunity to challenge his fellow students to debates, which he treated as verbal duels. Later in life he would remember with pleasure how carefully he groomed himself at this point in his life, particularly when preparing to deliver practice orations in front of his rhetoric master.

Jerome appears to have been destined early on for a career at the Bar. He frequented courts of law, and mastered all the legal materials and techniques of argument that were to feature so frequently in his many writings, particularly where he threatened to sue his opponents. He never formally studied philosophy, but memorised many philosophers’ names, often in the original Greek.

As a student in Rome, one of Jerome’s greatest pastimes involved copying library books, as a relatively inexpensive means of creating a library of his own. He also bought many books, but many hours were spent writing out copies of his own in this way. The library that he began to build would never leave his side, even when he later retired into a cave; this handwritten collection would develop into one of the most important private libraries of his day, when Roman literary culture was already beginning to shrivel and decay.


-Saint Jerome, Leonardo da Vinci, 1483 (Vatican Museums).

“Have mercy on me, a sinner”

Books were not his only pleasure. During this period Jerome appears to have indulged in a range of unspecified activities which later caused him to be disgusted with himself; these are not catalogued in any of his later writings in which he castigates himself for his corrupt adolescence and early manhood. His most specific autobiographical description of the period describes the young Jerome as “befouled with the squalor of every type of sin”.

Jerome’s occasional lapses of self-mastery affected much of the course of his life. During a period of enforced self-isolation he was afflicted by powerful visions of sins that he thought he had abandoned, many of which appear to have involved saltatrices (dancing girls). In a letter to his friend Pammachius (AD 393) he admitted that if he exalted virginity to the skies, it was in admiration of what he had lost. Self-recrimination features in much of his correspondence.


-Saint Jerome in the Desert Tormented by Memories of Dancing Girls, Francesco de Zurbarán, 1639 (Royal Monastery of Santa Maria of Guadalupe), please click on the image for more detail

Jerome appears never to have endured a phase of petulant disbelief even as a teenager; he was not a baptized Christian, however, until his mid-twenties (or possibly even his early thirties). Yet he was evidently drawn to the religion of his parents. In his Commentary on Ezekiel he records his Sunday habit of visiting the tombs of all the Apostles and Martyrs in Rome with a small group of fellow students. The darkness in the crypts was total; the heat, humidity and terrifying blackness reminded them of the line from Psalm 55:

Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into Hell: for wickedness is in their dwellings, and among them.

In Jerome’s own translation:

Veniat mors super illos, et descendant in infernum viventes: quoniam nequitiae in habitaculis eorum, in medio eorum.

The friends also remembered the latter part of the second book of Virgil’s Aeneid, and Aeneas’ frantic night-time stumbling through the burning ruins of Troy:

horror ubique animo simul ipsa silentia terrent.

(Aeneid 2.755: “Dread from every side fills my heart, whilst the very silence causes alarm.”)

Jerome leaves Rome

In 367 AD, Jerome and his childhood friend Bononus settled together by the “half-barbarian banks of the Rhine”, likely in the imperial city of Trier. During this period Jerome had much leisure to continue augmenting his library, although Trier does not appear to have been a centre of learning. He was already thirty-six years old.

In this “ghastly backwater” Jerome had leisure to observe what he considered the “primitive customs”, “clumsy language” and “unappetising food” of various Germanic tribes. He never forgot his first sight of the Attacotti, uncouth natives of Ireland, who sometimes ate human flesh, and had a taste for the buttock-meat of stolen livestock – they never seem to have acquired the skill of animal husbandry for themselves. The Irish “savages”, as he described them, were probably on display in captivity at the imperial residence.

According to Saint Augustine, Trier unexpectedly became an early centre of monasticism at around this time. The movement allegedly began when a pair of bored imperial courtiers stumbled (perhaps literally) over a copy of Saint Athanasius’ Life of Saint Antony of Egypt, a hagiographical account of how an illiterate holy man became the first Christian hermit. Athanasius’ work made the life of a monk appear highly attractive to the two courtiers. They settled in a hut outside the city walls of Trier and began to attract followers.

It is unknown whether the two courtiers mentioned by Augustine are Bononus and Jerome. If so, someone else must have taken over the monastery, because Jerome left Trier to visit his family in Stridon.

He had not been home in years. His younger sister, now in her early teens, was conducting herself in a manner which led him to describe her as “wounded by the devil” and “spiritually dead”; this led to a protracted quarrel with Jerome’s maternal aunt Castorina. St Jerome’s relationship with his parents cooled. He was also disenchanted with the Christian community at Stridon, describing it as boorish, rustic, greedy, materialistic and led by a bishop (Lupicinus) who was admirably suited to such a degraded people, whom he led in the manner of a blind man leading other blind men into a pit, as in the Biblical parable (Matthew 15:13-14).

Jerome pressured his sister to take religious vows, possibly at the convent in nearby Emona, and ended up breaking permanently with most of his extended family. Leaving home forever, he visited the city of Aquileia (near Venice). Bononus came with him; his old classmates Rufinus and Heliodorus were already there. The trio decided to settle together to form a sort of informal monastery (as it were).

The bishop of Aquileia appealed greatly to Jerome. There were many energetic Christian reformers in the city; they did not compromise on doctrine, dogma or the importance of orthodoxy. Jerome congratulated the bishop on cleansing the city of heresy. Pious ascetics were more than welcome in Aquileia. Among Jerome’s new friends was Paul, who was almost a hundred years old, and also had an extensive collection of books, many of which Jerome copied out himself.


-Jerome in his study, Colantino, 1445/6 (National Museum of Capodimonte, Naples, Italy).

Unknown adversaries

In 373, a crisis erupted. In letters Jerome complained of being relentlessly hounded by an unnamed enemy. Doors slammed shut in his face. We do not know why his reputation was so suddenly blackened, though he appears to have done something shocking, offensive and completely unforgiveable in the eyes of the community of nuns at Emona. They never replied to his letters begging their forgiveness, and pleading that they not judge him too hastily or give ear to malicious gossip. In at least one letter he admitted that he had done wrong and had to ask for their pardon.

Jerome and his three friends were compelled to leave Aquileia and go their separate ways. Rufinus sailed away to Egypt; Bononus became a hermit on a rocky island in the Adriatic; Heliodorus went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Jerome decided to make his way to the Holy Land as well. They all appear to have had a distinctive motivation for leaving; the others’ reasons appear to have been unconnected to the scandal that drove St Jerome away from his new home.

Disillusioned and bitter, Jerome resolved to take his library with him into the wilderness. He would spend the rest of his life as a penitent ascetic near Jerusalem. But first he would make a tour of the East. He stopped in Antioch at the home of his friend Evagrius, a rich and influential priest, and ended up staying for over a year.

His health had suffered during his journey; he spent part of his convalescence studying Aristotle with a private tutor. But he fell into a state of mental and spiritual turmoil, torn by conflicting desires, and wracked by vacillation and remorse. He still enjoyed pagan literature, and knew he remained susceptible to pleasures of the flesh; he felt too unworthy and sinful to isolate himself as a hermit, or join a community of holy monks.


-The vision of Saint Jerome, Louis Cretey, mid-17th century (private collection, France).

The vision

At Lent 374 AD, while bedridden with a wasting illness, he had a terrible nightmare, which he later recounted in a letter (Epistle 22, to Saint Eustochium, section 30). In the dream he was dragged before a tribunal. A bright light blinded him. The Judge asked him what he was. “A Christian,” he replied. “Liar!” the Judge retorted. “You follow Cicero, not Christ – your heart lies where your treasure is.” The judge ordered him to be flogged. St Jerome was tormented more by guilt than by the lashes of his torturer, and cried out for mercy. Bystanders interceded, pleading on his behalf for mercy, begging that he be allowed a chance to mend his ways. He swore an oath:

“Domine, si umquam habuero codices saeculares, si legero, te negavi.”

“Lord, if ever again I possess worldly books, or read them, I shall have denied Thee.”

He was released.

Jerome woke up. His back and shoulders were swollen, and covered with welts and bruises.

For at least a decade Jerome kept his promise and refused to read pagan literature. Of course he had already memorized his favorite Classics long since. Eventually he found means of modifying, then drastically reinterpreting, his oath; despite his promise, he appears not to have dispersed a single volume of his book collection.

When he had fully recovered from his illness, Jerome revised his plans: instead of making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem he would join the hermits in the Syrian desert. He pressured his friend Heliodorus to join him. After long, sometimes fraught discussions, he managed to drive Heliodorus back to Italy, then went to the desert alone.

The desert

The solitary hermits of the desert were not really solitary. Near Chalcis the barren landscape teemed with gangs of cave-dwellers and hermits, most of whom were dirty, uneducated and eccentric. They wore squalid garments made of hair, ate raw herbs and sometimes loaded their bodies with chains. One hermit was said to have lived for thirty years on a diet of barley bread and stagnant muddy water. Another kept himself alive in an abandoned cistern with a diet of five dates a day. The hermits wanted to subdue their bodies, break their own wills and crush every last carnal impulse. To that end they reduced all eating and drinking to a minimum, and deliberately made their sleep difficult. This was how they atoned for their sins and brought themselves closer to God.

Jerome’s hermit-cave was not entirely unfurnished. Although he slept on the bare earth, and sought to discipline his rebellious body by reducing it almost to a skeleton, he was still capable of receiving and entertaining regular visitors, including his friend Evagrius. Also, he brought his entire library with him to his cave, and employed several assistants to copy out books for him. He had leisure to teach himself the rudiments of Hebrew. There appears to have been at least one private tutor in his entourage.


-Saint Jerome writing, Caravaggio, 1606 (Borghese Gallery, Rome, Italy).

In the desert Jerome’s correspondence was more extensive than ever; he wrote a great many letters asking for the forgiveness of those he had offended, and attacking those who would not forgive him. He concluded a long note to his aunt Castorina by warning her that if she continued to refuse to reply he would consider himself absolved of all wrongdoing. For all his desire to leave the world and the temptations of society, Jerome appears to have hated being alone. The fires of lust had not been extinguished either. Nobody wanted to join him in the desert – not even the friends to whom he wrote elaborate letters praising the ascetic life and its spiritual joys.

During the winter of 376/7, Jerome began to realise that he was unpopular among the hermits in the surrounding desert. He wrote a letter to Pope Damasus complaining about the acrimonious disputes about the Trinity into which he had been dragged by neighbouring hermits, who had the gall to question his orthodoxy. Jerome was particularly exasperated by how quarrelsome everybody else was. The entire Eastern Church seemed to him chaotic, self-contradictory and needlessly argumentative. Everybody he spoke to wanted to engage in a shouting-match about Christian doctrine. Pope Damasus’ reply is not recorded.

A few months later, Jerome wrote another, shorter letter to the Pope. His mood had not improved. Now he felt more persecuted than ever. The nameless adversary who had relentlessly pursued him in Aquileia continued to hound him; three separate Christian factions wanted to claim him as their own; his neighbours among the desert monks had become a menace. He found himself the target of threats, abuse and insinuations; his life as a solitary hermit was becoming intolerable. His many enemies were trying to silence him, which was why he wrote so many lengthy letters. Evidently somebody wanted to get rid of him; he and his team of copyists and his private Hebrew tutor no longer felt welcome among the hermit community in the desert. Pope Damasus’ reply is not recorded.

Jerome had lost all his illusions about monks, and began publicly to condemn their hypocrisy and arrogance, particularly after he returned to Evagrius’ house in Antioch before Easter 377. He stayed for another year, licking his wounds whilst enjoying Evagrius’ hospitality.


-Saint Jerome in his study, Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1480 (Church of Ognissanti, Florence, Italy).

Retreat from the desert

This second extended period in Antioch was fruitful: Jerome produced his first major literary work in Latin, a biography of a hermit whom he claimed as the real founder of Christian monasticism, twenty years before Saint Antony of Egypt. The book evidently alienated not only Jerome’s former neighbours in the desert but also Evagrius, who had written a noted biography of Saint Antony of Egypt. Jerome also began to gain renown as the author of controversial pamphlets. Evagrius asked him to leave.

Jerome arrived in Constantinople at the beginning of 379. He claims to have become a disciple of Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, bishop of Constantinople; though he is nowhere mentioned in Gregory’s voluminous corpus of surviving writings, even in passing.

At Constantinople Jerome embarked on his career as a literary translator, beginning with the Chronicle of Eusebius of Caesarea, the bishop who has long been regarded as the father of Church history. Jerome’s translation included numerous editorial interjections meant to correct the original work, bring it up to date, or else simply share the translator’s own opinions and knowledge with the reader. It is a mark of this translation’s qualities that it was popular in areas of Mediaeval Europe that remained untouched by the Renaissance.

Jerome was not so much a historian as an enthusiastic lister of facts, not all of which were judged critically for accuracy, veracity or relevance to the subject at hand. His historical essays are distinguished by the author’s loyalty to personal friends, and extensive revelations of Jerome’s preferred opinions, preoccupations of the moment and fluctuating emotional state. Occasionally the tone is inexplicably violent.

Incessant reading and translation nearly blinded Jerome. His eyesight suffered further due to a shortage of stenographers. In the aftermath of the Gothic invasion of Stridon in 379, Jerome’s family temporarily cut off his allowance. He was forced to carry out his own copying for some time.


-Saint Jerome, Christoph Paudiss, 1656/58 (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria).

The joys of bureaucracy

In 382 Jerome accompanied Paulinus, Bishop of Antioch, to Rome. Back in the Eternal City he had the opportunity to meet many of the figures to whom he had been writing frequent long letters; these included Pope Damasus himself. The Pope decided to put him to work as a papal secretary.

Jerome thrived as a bureaucrat. He found a great deal of spare time for personal projects: the Pope was over eighty, and encouraged his new secretary to spend as much time as possible distracting himself on his own. It was Pope Damasus’ idea to encourage Jerome to go off and translate the entire Bible into serviceable Latin, preferably in a monastery somewhere. Before starting that project in earnest, Jerome decided to improve on existing ‘Old Latin’ translations of the New Testament.

Jerome’s improved versions of the Gospels led to howls of protest. He responded by describing his critics as “two-legged asses” who preferred to lap up muddy rivulets when they could have drunk, as he did, from the pellucid fountain of the Gospels’ original Greek. This was his way of criticising their mastery of Latin as well as Greek: the ‘Old Latin’ translations of the New Testament were poorly written even by the standards of Late Antiquity. Whilst Jerome did not think highly of St Paul or the Evangelists as prose stylists (none, after all, had been educated by Donatus) at least they were superior to the uncouth early Christians who had first tried to render these texts into Latin. Jerome began to amass further enemies in some number.

During this sojourn in Rome, Jerome became intimate with a small circle of aristocratic Christian widows, whom he encouraged in their tendencies towards strict asceticism. His most devoted follower was Saint Paula of Rome, one of the very richest women in the Empire at the time. Her daughter Blaesilla had been seriously ill; Jerome encouraged her to take on strict ascetic discipline; she died. Saint Eustochium, Paula’s other daughter, managed in the end to live almost as long as Jerome did.


-Saint Paula with Saints Eustochium and Jerome, Francesco de Zurburán, 1638/40 (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, USA).

For the first time in his life, Jerome was fashionable, and much sought-after, if only by old women in mansions. He often had influence over their daughters as well. Certain pious young women began to receive inordinately elaborate letters encouraging them to rigorous chastity and self-mortification – there were dangerous desires and appetites to repress and suppress. One of Jerome’s most inspired rhetorical performances of the period is addressed to a wealthy teenage virgin, whom he strongly encourages in chastity with repeated warnings about the temptations of lust. These are described with great variety and imagination. Not long after writing this letter he was forced to leave Rome.

Pope Damasus died on 11 December 384. With his main patron out of the way Jerome was open to scrutiny by his enemies, who began to investigate his relationships with his various devout lady-followers. The Church opened an inquiry into his activities. Jerome was eventually acquitted; his name was fully cleared; but he was now less celebrated than ever, having declared Rome as the great harlot arrayed in purple and scarlet that had appeared in the visions of St John at Patmos (Revelations 17.1-6).

Farewell to Rome

Even as he stood on the deck of the ship that would take him from Rome’s port at Ostia to Jerusalem, Jerome was seen dictating a long, vehement letter of self-defence to one of his richer widow-followers. Several of his pious lady-friends decided to accompany him to Jerusalem, including Paula and Eustochium. The precise size of his entourage is unknown, but they appear to have had a large ship to themselves; their luggage included Jerome’s entire library.

Jerome and his entourage spent a year touring the Holy Land; they stopped for a month at Alexandria so that Jerome could listen to the lectures of the blind theologian Didymus, who had been a pupil of the vegetarian teetotaller Origen, who was later regarded as a heretic. Rufinus had also studied with Didymus, though for rather longer.

Paula and Eustochium would never leave Jerome’s side; they built a monastery for him outside Jerusalem, with an extensive library to house all his books. The convent that they built for themselves had at least fifty nuns; Jerome’s monastery retained considerably fewer long-term residents.

Jerome’s old friend Rufinus had established a monastery of his own by the Mount of Olives. He too had a wealthy widow to support his activities: his patron was Saint Melania the Elder. Both men’s monasteries copied out books; Rufinus’ subordinates often found themselves employed to expand St Jerome’s library even further.


-Saint Jerome and the lion, Rogier van der Weyden, 1450 (Detroit Institute of Art, MI, USA).

Bursts of activity

Jerome was not necessarily suited to the role of Abbot; he was particularly exercised by the need to be hospitable to foreigners. Even so, he was remarkably prolific in Jerusalem. Paula was a much more reliable source of income than his family. He began to compose commentaries on individual books of the Bible to supplement his continuing translations. His commentaries feature numerous frank descriptions of those who had offended him, or challenged his opinions. The commentaries on St Paul’s Epistles are a particularly rich resource for data on the personal habits of bishops whom he regarded as unsuitable for their duties.

During this period of unprecedented creativity Jerome took it upon himself to compile authoritative reference works on subjects that he had recently introduced himself to; his collection of Hebrew etymologies is limited in its application, though inventive in its way, and features a notably low proportion of invectives directed against now-forgotten contemporaries. This work inspired him to begin translating the Old Testament into Latin directly from Hebrew, without reliance on the Greek Septuagint (itself of the 3rd century BC) as an intermediary text or starting-point, except where strictly necessary.


-Saint Jerome in his study, Antonello da Messina, 1475 (National Gallery, London).

Jerome began this work in 390; he announced that he had completed the task in 392, though he overestimated the speed of his progress by fourteen years or so. These Bible translations were circulated book by book, and evidently caused widespread consternation throughout the Church, a fact to which Jerome draws attention in the often-vituperative prefaces to his versions of Samuel, Isaiah and the Psalms in particular.

Jerome’s most celebrated original work, De viris illustribus, is a chronological catalogue of 135 distinguished Christian writers beginning with Saint Peter (who died between AD 64 and 68) and ending with Jerome himself. An influential friend of whom we know nothing is said to have pressed Jerome to write this.

While defective from a scholarly point of view, and in some respects utterly reprehensible, De viris illustribus is illuminating on the subject of Jerome himself, even by the general standards of everything he wrote. He held an unusual number of men in contempt, including Saint Ambrose of Milan; that said, this work is generally less overtly libellous than his pamphlet on Christian chastity from this period. The tract caused considerable embarrassment to Jerome’s remaining friends in Rome. Whilst it is in places shockingly crude and coarse, Jerome was surprised to learn that it outraged many readers and added to his collection of enemies.


-“St. Jerome,” from the workshop of Marinus van Reymerswaele, ca. 1489 – ca. 1546, oil on wood, height, 101 cm (39.7 inches), width, 129 cm (50.7 inches), Swedish Nationalmuseum, please click on the image for greater detail

Controversies and strife

Around the beginning of 393, Jerome began to fall out, first privately, then publicly, with his old friend Rufinus. The origin of the dispute is itself disputed, although Jerome’s derogatory remarks extended beyond Rufinus himself to Melania as well as the local bishop, who eventually tried to retaliate by having Jerome and his monks expelled from Palestine by imperial command. But the minister instructed to carry this instruction to the Roman administration was stopped outside Constantinople and cut to pieces by a Gothic general (27 November 395).

Multiple attempts at mediating the conflict failed. Jerome published a blistering attack on the bishop, ridiculing him on personal as well as doctrinal grounds (January 397). Yet the bishop refused to be drawn into the controversy. In the end, Melania engineered a reconciliation on Easter Sunday 397; Jerome and Rufinus were forced to shake one another by the hand and declare that all had been forgiven. Both men were so humiliated that their mutual resentment only grew deeper. After a quarter-century in the Holy Land, Rufinus decided to leave the monastery that Melania had built for him, and moved back to Rome.

Rufinus had not intended to renew hostilities from Rome. But for whatever reason he decided to produce an expurgated Latin translation of one of Origen’s more hotly disputed texts, toning down or leaving out passages that might have outraged many faithful Christians. Why Rufinus felt compelled to translate this work in particular has never satisfactorily been explained. He tried to cover himself by insinuating in the preface to his translation that Jerome, as a former student of the blind Didymus, was more than friendly to Origen’s ideas. Jerome’s reaction was perhaps predictable.

-Saint Jerome in his study, Pieter Coecke van Aelst, 1530; Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, USA).

The ugly and protracted scandal that surrounded Origen’s work at the end of the fourth century was based to a great degree on Church politics. Pope Anastasius I (r. 399-402) was not well-read in theology, although even he could see that there were theological problems in Origen’s work; he decided to end the dispute by condemning Origen and all his current followers.

Rufinus blamed Jerome for vindictively spreading rumours about his unorthodox opinions, claiming that he was not a heretic but a mere innocent literary translator producing a controversial text purely for the sake of the intellectually curious who did not have the Greek to read Origen’s original work. He noted that even Jerome himself had praised – and indeed translated – Origen. This was not wise. Jerome was not instantly provoked; but inevitably he would respond.

Rufinus laboured for two years on his Apologia against Jerome, which circulated widely from 401. Whilst lacking in dialectical verve, the pamphlet was highly effective. It made extensive use of documents, evidence and common-sensical logic. But the reply, the two-book-long Apologia against Rufinus, appeared at great speed even by Jerome’s usual standards. This was a brilliant polemic, displaying a relatively cool control of tone that is without parallel in Jerome’s oeuvre. The perpetual sneer of mild contempt, and the only occasional descent into slanging, demonstrate an artistic discipline of which Jerome had hitherto rarely seemed capable.

Penitent Saint Jerome, Albrecht Dürer, 1496 (National Gallery, London).
Some months later, Jerome felt compelled to add a third book to the Apologia against Rufinus. Rufinus regarded this as even more violently insulting than the previous two books, despite Jerome’s announcement in the preface that he had decided to refrain from abusing his opponent, citing St Paul’s reminder (Romans 12.19ff.) that a Christian ought not to seek revenge. On these grounds, he instructed the reader not to consider all the criticism of Rufinus’ wealth, mendacity, cowardice, pedantry, literary incompetence and so on, to be merely vengeful. Jerome thought that old men should not invent calumnies against the elderly, in the way that thugs slander gangsters, whores slander prostitutes and buffoons slander clowns.

For all the apparent poison and vitriol, Jerome held out what was, by his standards, an olive branch to his lifelong friend. But in the wake of this addition to the pamphlet a reconciliation was unlikely. In response, Rufinus tried to maintain a dignified silence. Jerome continued to denounce and ridicule his former friend even after he was dead.


-Saint Jerome at prayer, Orazio Gentileschi, late 16th century (Museo Civico d’Arte Antica, Turin, Italy).

The end of anger

In 404, Paula died, having consumed her entire vast fortune. Eustochium was left with crippling debts; another patron was urgently needed to save his monastery and Eustochium’s convent from starvation. Meanwhile, Alaric the Visigoth was terrorising the Empire; Ostrogoths and Vandals invaded and pillaged Italy as well as Gaul. Jerome was terrified: he understood just how difficult it would be from now on to solicit donations for his monastery.

In a letter of 407 Jerome counselled a wealthy Dalmatian, Julian, whose family had been brutally wiped out by invaders, to respond to all these tragic deaths by stripping himself of all possessions and remaining property and embracing Christ-like poverty. Similar appeals are found throughout his surviving correspondence from the period.


-The last communion of Saint Jerome, Giambattista Tiepolo, 1732/3 (Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, Germany)

Throughout the last dozen or so years of his life, Jerome relied increasingly on Origen’s work as an aid to producing commentaries. Not because he necessarily agreed with what he found in Origen; on the contrary he was fuelled by a desire to contradict and deride Origenism. Origen’s errors obsessed him, and not merely because they provided a convenient vehicle for proxy attacks on Rufinus, who died in Sicily in 412, much to his former friend’s openly-expressed satisfaction. Jerome’s few remaining friends in Rome were militantly anti-Origenist. This too does not explain his fanatical monomania, and late-life animus against a writer who died eight decades before his birth.

From around 414 onwards, Jerome began a campaign of aggression, the last of his life, against the “menacingly effeminate” heretic Pelagius, who was as simperingly passive-aggressive as St Jerome was active-aggressive. Within a few years Pelagian teachings would be declared heretical. But Jerome’s literary warfare was interrupted in 416 when his monastery and the convent of Eustochium were attacked and set on fire by a mob of hooligans. Monks and nuns were brutally assaulted; one deacon died in the violence. The attackers were thought to be uneducated lay Christians who were attracted to Pelagius’ message.


-Saint Jerome writing, Caravaggio, 1607 (Co-Cathedral of Saint John, Valletta, Malta).

Jerome’s library was destroyed in the fire. He personally blamed his old enemy the Bishop of Jerusalem for enabling this attack, and doing nothing to stop it when it was going on. The Pope agreed with Jerome, and sent a blistering, humiliating rebuke to the bishop. But Jerome was shattered by the attack. His health rapidly declined. So did Eustochium’s. She died on 28 September 420; Jerome died two days later, on 30 September, in his ninetieth year.

Jerome prayed all his life to be released from his great vice of anger. He was, if only in death. Let his life stand as the ultimate proof that quite literally anybody can become a saint.”

Love,
Matthew

Being made righteous by God is more than a legal standing, it’s a reality


-by Karlo Broussard

“Some Protestants believe, contrary to Catholic teaching, that our justification doesn’t consist in us being intrinsically righteous. Rather, God merely declares us righteous, whereby we receive Christ’s personal righteousness, and God treats us just as he treats Christ. In other words, God sees Christ when he sees us.

To make their case, these Protestants will often appeal to 2 Corinthians 5:21, where Paul writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Just as Christ is said to be sin when he wasn’t, so the argument goes, so too sinners are reckoned to be righteous (“become the righteousness of God”) when they aren’t. And if we’re reckoned righteous without being intrinsically righteous, then it must be Christ’s righteousness that we receive.

Let’s see how we might respond to this argument.

Key to the argument is its interpretation of the term sin. It interprets sin as literally referring to actions that contravene God’s law. But we have good reason to think Paul is referring to something else here—namely, a sin offering.

In the Old Testament, the term “sin” (Greek, hamartia) is often used to refer to a “sin offering.” Consider, for example, Leviticus 4:33:

If he brings a lamb as his offering for a sin offering [Greek, hamartia], he shall bring a female without blemish, and lay his hand upon the head of the sin offering [Greek, hamartia], and kill it for a sin offering in the place where they kill the burnt offering.

(The English translator inserted the third “sin offering” above for clarity. There’s no corresponding hamartia in the original text, so the third “sin offering” above does not translate hamartia only in a technical sense.)

Other passages include Leviticus 5:12 and 6:25. Isaiah 53:10 directly applies hamartia to the suffering Messiah, who is expected to make himself a sin offering: “Yet it was the will of the Lord to bruise him; he has put him to grief; when he makes himself an offering for sin [Greek, hamartia].”

It’s against this Old Testament backdrop that Paul speaks of Jesus as being “made sin.” And he does so within a context where he speaks of Christ reconciling the world back to God:

  • 18: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”
  • 19: “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.”
  • 20: “We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

Given this context of Christ’s reconciliation and the Old Testament usage of hamartia to refer to a sin offering, it’s reasonable to interpret Paul’s use of hamartia in 2 Corinthians 5:21 as referring to Jesus, the suffering Messiah, becoming the atoning sacrifice for the redemption of the world rather than being considered something he’s not: sin itself.

Since the fundamental assumption of the argument that we’re considering here is false, it fails to justify (yes, the pun is intended) the idea that we can be reckoned righteous when we’re not actually (intrinsically) righteous.

This leads to a second response. Given our above interpretation that “sin” refers to “sin offering,” notice that Paul doesn’t think Christ is “considered” a sin offering; rather, Christ actually is the sin offering. Jesus bore our sins as the sacrificial victim so we could be reconciled back to God, as Paul teaches in the preceding verses (vv. 18-20). If Christ actually is the atoning sacrifice and is not merely “considered” to be so, and our “becoming the righteousness of God” is parallel to that, which many Protestants affirm, then we should interpret our becoming righteous as actually becoming righteous rather than being merely considered or reckoned righteous.

Protestant New Testament scholar N.T. Wright concurs:

The little word genōmetha in 2 Corinthians 5:21b—“that we might become God’s righteousness in him”—does not sit comfortably with the normal interpretation, according to which God’s righteousness is “imputed” or “reckoned” to believers. If that was what Paul meant, with the overtones of “extraneous righteousness” that normally come with that theory, the one thing he ought not to have said is that we “become” that righteousness. Surely that leans far too much toward a Roman Catholic notion of infused righteousness?

It’s important to note here that Catholics do not believe that the phrase “becoming the righteousness of God” means we become the righteousness that is God’s own righteousness in virtue, being pure existence. Rather, the idea is that the righteousness that we receive when we’re justified is a righteousness that comes from God, since it is he who makes us just. This is the sense that Paul has in mind in Philippians 3:9, where he writes, “That I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

Now, it’s possible that the phrase “becoming the righteousness of God” refers not to something about us, but rather to God’s own righteousness, or faithfulness to the covenant, being manifest in the world through us. This is how Paul uses the phrase “the righteousness of God” in Romans 3:25-26: “This [Jesus’s expiatory death] was to show God’s righteousness . . . it was to prove at the present time that he is righteous.” So Paul could be saying in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that God has manifested his righteousness (fidelity to the covenant) by saving us through Christ, who is the promised sin offering (“sin”) that reconciles the human race back to God.

Although this interpretation of the phrase “becoming the righteousness of God” excludes 2 Corinthians 5:21 as positive evidence for God making us actually righteous, it remains the case that 2 Corinthians 5:21 does not support the teaching that we, as justified Christians, have only our legal standing changed before God.

So, as Catholics, we need not change our view of justification based on 2 Corinthians 5:21. We can still believe that when God justifies us, he makes us intrinsically righteous by his grace. In the words of Paul, he makes us a “new creation,” with the old passing away and the new having come (2 Cor. 5:17).

Love & truth,
Matthew