Category Archives: Theology

Conscience Rights & Intrinsic Evil

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

“Bio-ethicists have claimed that to offer effective-referrals (government (Canada, a failed state, for example) legal requirement for doctors) for medically assisted suicide, abortion, etc. is to “formally cooperate” with an act that is intrinsically evil.

Conscience rights are an important thing worth protecting, at the civil level, and we must learn to accept the negative repercussions that come from the diversity of views that result therein. In any community it is imprudent to micromanage or coerce consciences, violently into the same value and agenda as the state. Obviously, there are some matters which involve enforcement, however when it comes to matters of conscience that are complex, and diverse, the process of informing one’s conscience should not be obstructed by coercive tactics from the government such as “losing your Job if you don’t offer an effective referral” or “You are fired because you would not provide Plan B.” There are several things that this inhibits in a mature democracy, but I will name three: (1) affective maturity, (2) individual dignity, and (3) free-speech/thought.

1) Affective maturity is where one can understand another person’s position that is contrary to their own without taking it personally. In this regard, there is an openness to the other to dialogue, and not vilify the enemy. This happens on both sides – take for instance those discussing the vaccine: it is the “mark of the beast” or the people receiving the vaccine “hate the vulnerable.” None of these are mature responses, but they are angry ones that are rooted in a type of affective-wound that has gone unhealed. Part of that maturity is living in a society where we meet professionals who don’t share our same world view, and having the patient respect that they do not have a right to force someone to do something they don’t believe in.

2) Respecting the individual consciences of others allows them to go through a process of informing their conscience, and to exercise it. Consciences are a distinctive part of a human person where their own individuality is called to humbly submit to the truth and act accordingly. In this regard we reflect on the importance of “interior freedom” where fear, coercion, and dictates are not imposed upon that individual for the sake of egalitarian conformity. Such conformity is unintelligible, especially if it rises from a type of Categorical Kantian ethical system that does not have the opportunity to nuance complex situations that may exist in each individual. For instance, there are those who cannot receive the vaccine for several reasons, some in regard to their interpretation of the data/science, others because of their medical situation as mothers, etc… but the circumstances of each particular individual needs to be respected, as well as the process by which they come to make a decision so that it can truly be their own. Without this freedom, we have slaves to fear and coercion.

3) Free-Speech and free-thought is incredibly important, because, as a subset to the previous point, it enables a person to freely examine their own reasoning without the pressure to conform to various tribes. However, if a disproportionate type of enforcement occurs, it will undermine the ability to speak, dialogue and even shed a light upon the topic being discussed. Conclusions and recommendations from others will become untrustworthy because opposing views have been silenced or oppressed.

Finally the application of all of this is to say that while the Church cannot provide religious grounds for a person to avoid receiving the vaccine, the CDF (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Holy Office, the Roman Inquisition) does clearly indicate that one should respect the conscience freedoms of others. These two should not be conflated: religious reasons, and conscience freedoms. Although there is certainly an overlapping dimension between the two, the religious aspect pertains to the moral and theological reasoning, while the conscience pertains to one’s own particular circumstances, their own philosophical reasoning, and experiences. Thus, conscience rights are more general (broader) than religious rights. These conscience rights, the CDF does believe are worthy of defending, which in a democratic country, and especially in Ontario have demonstrably been proven not to be respected. I think this is an area worthy of our efforts to reexamine.

The original purpose of this post was to explain that while I am in favor of vaccines, I respect the right for others to think otherwise. I believe we need to have healthy discussions on this matter, as a mature democratic society should, but this is unfortunately inhibited by what is already demonstrated to be a lack of liberty amongst health officials, and what is sometimes an equal-opposite reaction.”

His justice shall reign,

The demonic is real

-Gustave Dore, please click on the image for greater detail

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

“One reason that we might find it hard to believe the New Testament is because we don’t know what to do with all that talk about the devil and the demonic. Jesus drives out demons throughout the Gospels. For instance, St. Mark’s Gospel is the shortest, describing only thirteen healings, yet four of them (1:21-28, 5:1-20, 7:24-30, and 9:14-29) are exorcisms.

There are several reasons that we might struggle to believe in such accounts. Let’s briefly consider three possible objections before looking at how we might respond to them.

First, there’s the claim that belief in the devil is really an import from paganism. Elon Gilad argues in Haaretz that the Jewish belief in Satan derives from Zoroastrianism, which envisions the universe “as a battle ground between [two] opposing supreme gods[:] Ahura Mazda, the ‘wise lord,’ and Angra Mainyu, the ‘destructive spirit.’” Much of his argument is circular: for instance, he claims that the earliest biblical books don’t depict Satan but also argues that if a book does depict Satan, it must not be very old.

Gilad gets one thing right: there is an evil god of Zoroastrianism. That said, Angra Mainyu is said “to have existed ‘from the beginning’, independent of Ahura Mazda (i.e. he is coeval).” That’s not particularly similar to Satan, a creature created by God who then rebels. But still, Gilad is raising an important question: What should Christians make of the fact that many other religions do have a supreme evil figure?

Second, we might struggle with biblical accounts of possession and exorcism because such stories are common in the ancient Mediterranean world. The Lutheran theologian and New Testament scholar Rudolf Bultmann points out that we find similar accounts in non-biblical Jewish literature and in Greek literature, with authors like Philostratus and Lucian describing exorcisms. Bultmann argues that their common “stylistic characteristics” suggest that the New Testament description of exorcisms is really just “folk stories of miracles” that made their way into the Bible.

Third, there’s the idea that exorcisms are a belief of a pre-scientific age. The usual story goes something like this: back before we knew about disease or mental health, people believed that demons were responsible for physical and mental illness, but today we know better. Bultmann argues that “faith in spirits and demons” is “finished” by modern scientific knowledge.

“Likewise, illnesses and their cures have natural causes and do not depend on the work of demons and on exorcising them. Thus, the wonders of the New Testament are also finished as wonders; anyone who seeks to salvage their historicity by recourse to nervous disorders, hypnotic influences, suggestion, and the like only confirms this. Even occultism pretends to be a science. We cannot use electric lights and radios and, in the event of illness, avail ourselves of modern medical and clinical means and at the same time believe in the spirit and wonder world of the New Testament.”

Bultmann’s argument calls Jesus’ ministry into serious question, since it suggests that (1) Jesus falsely believed in demons because he was ignorant of things like disease or mental illness, (2) Jesus knew about disease and mental illness but encouraged the crowds in falsely associating these things with demons, or (3) the evangelists simply made up these healing stories. How could an all-knowing and good Jesus act as if demonic possession were a real thing if it isn’t?

In short, because demons, possession, and exorcism are all real things. As C.S. Lewis observed in Mere Christianity, modern readers balk at this kind of talk: “I know someone will ask me, ‘Do you really mean, at this time of day, to re-introduce our old friend the devil—hoofs and horns and all?’ Well, what the time of day has to do with it I do not know. And I am not particular about the hoofs and horns. But in other respects my answer is ‘Yes, I do.’” Simply put, neither modern science nor Rudolph Bultmann has actually disproven the ideas of possession and exorcism.

What all three of the above objections get wrong is that they’re too narrow. It’s true that Zoroastrians believed in a powerful evil spirit that was sort of like the devil. But so do cultures on every inhabited continent. Are we to conclude that the Israelites took this idea from all of them, too, or that they all took it from Zoroastrianism? Likewise, it’s true that possession and exorcism stories are found throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. But the same goes for cultures across the world, in both the ancient and the modern world, including places that have never been Christian. As Craig Keener explains in “Spirit Possession as a Cross-cultural Experience”:

“Possession experience is not limited to either the [New Testament] or the ancient eastern Mediterranean world. One specialist, Erika Bourguignon, has observed that spirit-possession beliefs are geographically and culturally pervasive, “as any reader of ethnographies knows.” After sampling 488 societies, she found spirit-possession beliefs in 74% of them (that is, 360 societies), with particularly high ranges in the islands of the Pacific (88%) and 77% around the Mediterranean. . . .

Transcultural elements in fact include a biological element that cannot be reduced to (though may be patterned according to) cultural models. Studies reveal “an altered neurophysiology” during many possession states. While some anthropologists note that neurophysiological studies cannot resolve whether supernatural factors might supplement natural ones, it is clear that neurophysiological changes, including hyperarousal, do occur.”

It’s worth stressing that these are cultures in which possession cases are still happening. Rather than electric lights and radios and modern medicine disproving these events, modern science reveals that something is happening on a neurological level, and it’s happening across cultures and continents, including in plenty of places that don’t believe in the Bible.

This is exactly what you should expect to see if Christianity is right about the devil and his demons. Think about it this way. The Christian claim is that there are powerful spiritual beings who do harm to human beings. If we didn’t find evidence of such beings in any other culture, that would point to this being a Christian invention. The fact that we do find evidence of such beings, throughout history and today, in places that have little or nothing to do with Christianity, is evidence of the truth of the Christian teaching.

That doesn’t automatically mean that each of these possession cases is authentic. Some of the cases of alleged possession are surely misdiagnosed cases of mental illness, after all. But the fact that some cases are misdiagnosed mental illness doesn’t mean that all of them are. After all, the fact that some cases of mental illness are misdiagnosed as physical illness, and vice versa, doesn’t disprove the existence of two distinct (but related) categories of mental and physical illness. What Christianity, and countless other religions, is saying is that there are in fact three distinct (but related) categories: mental, physical, and spiritual.

Jesus wasn’t oblivious to the fact that these three categories existed. As Matthew 4:24 puts it, when Jesus’ “fame spread throughout all Syria . . . they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.” Some of those coming to Jesus had physical and viral problems, and others had neurological problems, but others had spiritual problems. And rather than debunking this idea, the fact that we find similar-sounding beliefs in Zoroastrianism, ancient Greek culture, and across the ancient and modern world suggests that it’s true.”

-Michael the Archangel by Guido Reni, Santa Maria della Concezione, Rome, 1636, please click on the image for greater detail

“Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.”

Love & divine protection,

liar, lunatic, Lord, legend?

-please click on the image for greater detail

-by Paul Senz

“There is a magnetism about Jesus Christ. Even those who deny his divinity—deny the thing that Christians claim makes him important and influential in the first place—seem to seek any reason to be able to recognize him as important or influential, stopping short of acknowledging his divinity. People seem reluctant to abandon him or throw him by the wayside. They try to downplay his importance, but they know he is important. So they must find some other reason to admire him. We’ve all heard it many times before: Jesus was just a great moral teacher, someone who told us all to be nice to each other, and we can all learn from his example of niceness.

There are many people around the world who profess no religious belief in Jesus. “He was a great moral teacher,” they say, or “We can follow his example of togetherness and acceptance of everyone.” But they strenuously deny that he was God—in other words, they deny that he was what he claimed to be.

The problem is, if you deny his divinity, you run into a pretty thorny problem. This is a man who clearly claimed divinity for himself (see Luke 22:69; John 10:30, 10:38, 14:7-10). This is a man who, when faced with torture and execution, doubled down and assured his inquisitors that yes, in fact, he is the Son of God (see. Luke 22:70). Is it possible to deny this claim and still admire the man? If he is not God, is it possible to still look up to someone who claims such a thing for himself?

-please click on the image for greater detail

When it comes down to it, there are only three options: 1) he was who he said he was; 2) he was out of his mind; 3) he was knowingly lying. This argument has been made before, most famously by C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity, and has been called the trilemma. How are we to interpret Jesus’ claims to be divine, and what implications does that have?

Logically considered, there are a finite number of possibilities, all of which are mutually exclusive and one of which must be true. What Lewis’s trilemma does is work through the possibilities and make a case for which one makes the most sense to believe.

The trilemma is not really an airtight argument for the divinity of Jesus. It does not demonstrate the truth of this claim by appealing to any authority, or by logically and systematically laying out the reasons for believing Jesus was God. It is more like an argument in favor of believing the divinity of Jesus. Pascal’s Wager comes to mind: while not a proof for the existence of God, it is a demonstration of the reasonableness of such faith. Lewis’s trilemma is a sort of deductive demonstration: there are three options, two of which do not make sense, so the correct answer must be the third. The question is: is he Lord, lunatic, or liar?

While this is typically called the trilemma, some have presented a fourth option: legend. Here we consider the possibility that the Bible is not historically reliable, so we cannot know for sure that Jesus (if he really even existed) ever actually claimed to be God, so the accounts would be simply legendary. This option is usually not included in the conversation, as it sort of defeats the purpose and undermines the question. We could easily end any historical conversation by saying, “Perhaps the matter in question never happened.” Think about it: one could ask whether or not the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were morally justifiable and be shut down by someone saying, “It never happened, so the question is irrelevant.” This contributes nothing to the conversation. As for Jesus’ historical existence, the evidence is far too great to deny it. We must accept the fact that he claimed to be God and approach the question from there.

No one can lay out the argument as well as Lewis himself, so here is the pertinent excerpt from Mere Christianity:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

-please click on the image for greater detail

The argument was also put forward in a somewhat different context by St. Thomas Aquinas more than seven hundred years before Lewis. In Lectura super Ioannem, in the prologue to the commentary on the Gospel of John, Aquinas says John’s reason for writing his Gospel was that, “after the other Evangelists had written their Gospels, heresies had arisen concerning the divinity of Christ, to the effect that Christ was purely and simply a man, as Ebion and Cerinthus falsely taught. And so John the Evangelist, who had drawn the truth about the divinity of the Word from the very fountainhead of the divine breast, wrote this Gospel at the request of the faithful. And in it he gives us the doctrine of the divinity of Christ and refutes all heresies.”

So is the speaker a lunatic? Is he deranged, without a grip on reality? If that’s the case, no one should be taking lessons on ethics (or anything else, for that matter) from this person. Someone without a firm grasp of reality should not be looked up to for any kind of advice and could not be considered a great moral teacher.

So is the speaker a liar? And if so, does it matter? Can’t we still trust that his moral teachings are sound? Frankly, no. Someone who would intentionally lie about being God is not someone who should be trusted to give ethical advice and guidance. This person would be a narcissist in the most technical, clinical sense; a selfish, self-serving individual, lacking in compassion. Not exactly the resume of a great ethical teacher.

It would seem that third remaining option must be true: Jesus is Lord.”

Love & truth,

The First Deadly Sin: Pride 2

-Pieter Bruegel the Elder – The Seven Deadly Sins or the Seven Vices (1556-1558) – Pride (Superbia), engraving, 22.9 x 29.6 cm, British Museum, please click on the image for greater detail.

-by Dcn Harrison Garlick

“It was Pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.” – St. Augustine

“Pride is the queen of sin. St. Gregory the Great warns us: “For when pride, the queen of sins, has fully possessed a conquered heart, she surrenders it immediately to seven principal sins, as if to some of her generals, to lay it waste” (Moralia 87). Yet what are these seven principal sins that pride invites into the conquered heart? They are, according to Gregory, “vainglory, envy, anger, melancholy, avarice, gluttony, [and] lust.” They are the “first progeny” of pride, the offshoots of its “poisonous root.” As both Gregory and St. Thomas Aquinas note, Scripture teaches: “For pride is the beginning of all sin” (Sir. 10:15, DRA).

Pride hands the conquered heart over to her capital vices, and, as Gregory explains, each capital vice is like a general that leads an army of sins into the soul. For example, if anger is allowed to enter the soul, then it brings with it “strifes, swelling of mind, insults, clamor, indignation, blasphemies” (Moralia 88). Similarly, if avarice or greed overcomes the soul, it brings with it “treachery, fraud, deceit, perjury, restlessness, violence, and hardness of heart against compassion.” Aquinas, commenting on Gregory, explains that this is why they are called the capital sins, because capital comes from the Latin caput, meaning “head,” and the capital sins are the “head” or leaders of a host of sins (ST. I-II.84.3). The Catechism, citing Gregory, explains: “They are called ‘capital’ because they engender other sins, other vices” (1866). They are the leaders of sin in that “when they reach the heart, they bring, as it were, the bands of an army after them” (Moralia 88).

What is it about pride, the queen of sin, that opens the heart to so many other sins? Aquinas, citing St. Isidore, teaches: “A man is said to be proud, because he wishes to appear above what he really is” (II-II.162.1). Aquinas comments that a man who uses his reason rightly acts “proportionate to him,” but pride causes a man to have a disproportionate understanding of who he truly is. Therefore, the self-understanding of the prideful man is contrary to his reason and sinful (CCC 1849). It is here we may start to see how pride opens the soul to a host of sins. The humble man will seek honors in this life that are proportionate to who he truly is, yet the prideful man, having an irrational self-understanding, will be inclined to fall farther into error by seeking honors that correspond with his misperception (II-II.162.2)—like a wrestler who, believing his skill to be greater than it is, challenges a champion and is soundly defeated.

A misperception of one’s own excellence often leads one into further error. Aquinas notes that another way pride leads us into sin, even if indirectly, is that pride makes us less likely to adhere to God and his rule (II-II.162.2, 6). The prideful man says to God, “I will not serve,” and disregards the moral laws that help lead the soul into virtue (II-II.162.2). Therefore, through a disproportionate self-understanding and a disregard for God and his rule, pride opens the human heart to a host of sin.

Is pride the beginning of all sin? Aquinas, following St. Augustine, makes several key distinctions. He notes that someone could sin not through pride, but through ignorance or simply through weakness (II-II.162.2) Yet, like Gregory, Aquinas quotes Holy Scripture: “for pride is the beginning of all sin” (Sir. 10:15, DRA). How does Aquinas reconcile these two points? He observes that all sin shares in an “aversion from God” (II-II.162.7). All sin makes us turn away from God. Yet although this trait is common to all sin, it is essential to the sin of pride. Here, we may see why Gregory sees pride as the queen of sin, handing a conquered heart over to the capital vices. Pride habituates the heart to an aversion to God, inclining it to sin further. As Aquinas summarizes: “Pride is said to be ‘the beginning of all sin,’ not as though every sin originated from pride, but because any kind of sin is naturally liable to arise from pride” (II-II.162.7, Reply obj. 1).

Is pride, the queen of sin, considered one of the seven capital sins? Aquinas, following Gregory, says no. Aquinas holds that pride is a mortal sin (II-II.162.5). He explains, “The root of pride is found to consist in man not being, in some way, subject to God and His rule,” and “it is evident that not to be subject to God is of its very nature a mortal sin.” It is in fact this unwillingness in man to submit to God and His rule that makes pride “the most grievous of sins” (II-II.162.6). Pride is not, however, a capital sin—no more than a mother could be counted among her own children. Aquinas, following Gregory, states that pride is typically not listed as a capital vice, as she is the “queen and mother of all the vices” (II-II.162.8). Aquinas and Gregory make a distinction between pride and vainglory, with pride being the cause of vainglory. Aquinas writes, “Pride covets excellence inordinately,” but “vainglory covets the outward show of excellence” (II-II.162.8. Reply Obj. 1). Vainglory is a sign that the heart has already been conquered by pride.

How do we guard our hearts against the queen of sin? Aquinas recalls: “Never suffer pride to reign in thy mind, or in thy words: for from it all perdition took its beginning” (Tob. 4:14, DRA). Our Catechism reminds us that formation in virtue, especially as children, “prevents or cures . . . selfishness and pride” (1784). Above all, let us cultivate the virtue of humility, the virtue contrary to pride. If pride tempts us to have an inordinate understanding of our own excellence, then may humility lead us to an understanding of who we are under the cross of Christ (Rom. 5:8). If pride, the most grievous of sins, leads us to rebel against God and his rule, may humility teach us that the rule of Christ is gentle and brings rest (Matt. 11:28-30).

Let us combat the queen of sin and, by doing so, save our souls from her armies of sin.”

Love, Lord make me humble,

Semper ecclesia reformanda: chastity & celibacy

-please click on the image for greater detail

“Purity is the fruit of prayer.”
— Saint Teresa of Calcutta, quoted from the book Purity 365

Chastity as a Virtue

“The Catholic Church wants YOU to have AWESOME SEX!!!!”

Chastity is not a teeth-gritting ability to avoid violating the sexual rules. Rather, chastity is a habit of reverence for oneself and others that enables us to use our sexual powers intelligently in the pursuit of human flourishing and happiness.

“Those who are chaste are fully at peace with their bodies and their sexuality. Chastity is not best seen as the ability to keep oneself from violating the sexual “rules”; rather, it is “a dynamic principle enabling one to use one’s sexual powers intelligently in the pursuit of human flourishing and happiness.”

If chastity is a virtue, it is an aspect of character that a person can aspire to, achieve, stray from, regain. Notice that when the virtue at the top of this spectrum is chastity, there are three different ways of being unchaste—continence, incontinence and the vice of lustfulness.”
-Caroline J. Simon

“The virtue of chastity calls us, as sexual beings, to revere ourselves as creatures made in the image of God and made to honor God through our actions—through how we do have sex and do not have sex,” Matt Fradd writes. “And it calls us to revere other persons for the sake of the other person’s good and ultimate happiness. When we think about it, this loving reverence for ourselves and others is what we deeply desire.”

  • However, these truths about the virtue of chastity are easily forgotten today. There are some reasons for our amnesia.
    We are unfamiliar with the language of “virtue.” Caroline Simon notes above that chastity (like other virtues that temper human desire for pleasure) is actually an ideal trait, a settled and comfortable “peace” with our well-ordered desires and pleasures—in this case, our desires for and pleasures regarding sex. Chastity is neither mere continence (a difficult, but successful struggle against disordered desires) nor incontinence (a losing struggle); chastity is not a struggle at all. Of course, many of us continue to struggle with wayward sexual desires. But this suggests that we are not yet chaste and not yet at peace with proper sexual desire, as we want to be.
  • We experience some resentment toward morality generally and toward specific ideals like chastity. The emotion-stance of resentment “involves disparaging and rejecting what is good and strong because we feel unable to attain it,” Fradd explains. We long to be at peace with sexual desire in relationships that “accord with our human dignity and…weave into the happiness that God intends for us in this life.” But this ideal seems unattainable. “All around us we see marriages that are impermanent, personal loyalties that are problematically divided, and spouses and friends who are unfaithful. Sexuality is misused, within marriages and in singleness, in ways that are selfish, in ways that are abusive, and in ways that do not honor God,” he notes. “So, we end up despising the ideal. We call chastity ‘oppressive’; we call it ‘naïve.’Lacking the strength in ourselves and having little community support to obtain the ideal we desire, we end up resenting it.”
  • We mistakenly think chastity revolves around not having sex. Yes, during singleness and at times in marriage it is appropriate to not have sex. But abstinence is not the heart of this virtue. “Simply put, chastity is a sort of reverence: a chaste person reveres and respects the other person by making sure that before they have sex, both are united in a common aim—namely, a marriage commitment whose mutual goal is the gift of self to the other,” Fradd writes. “When people will the good for one another in this way, they do not act solely on passing desires and feelings, but rather on their commitment to help the other person attain the good and honor God.”
  • We mistakenly think chastity revolves around repressing sexual desire and not thinking about sex. This is “almost exactly backwards,” Fradd notes. Chastity has no interest
    in eliminating true sexual desire, which says, “This is my body given for you,” but it would like to rid our lives of the lust that says, “This is your body taken for me.” Furthermore, chastity has no interest in stopping our thinking about sex, but it would like for us to think carefully and well about sex. Fradd says, “The place to start is with the telos for which God created us, and why God made the other creatures and us sexual beings: ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ (Genesis 1:22, 28). This tells us that sex, sexual desire, and orgasms are good. Chastity wants us to think about what good it is that they were created for. How do they fit within God’s plan for us to love one another and honor God?”

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
— Mt 22:36-39

-by Steve Weidenkopf

“By the eleventh century, the Church found itself in great need of reform, especially the clergy, and the Holy Spirit provided a series of reform-minded popes. These popes began their ecclesial careers as monks, and many of them had spent time at the famous reformed Benedictine monastery at Cluny in France. When Bruno of Alsace was elected pope in 1049, taking the name Leo IX, he initiated one of the most comprehensive reforms in Church history.

Leo (r. 1049-1054) recognized that simply issuing reform decrees from Rome would not change clerical behavior and restore the Church, so he decided to go on one of the most important road trips in papal history. During his five-year pontificate, he spent only six months in Rome, taking his reform road show to France, Italy, and Germany. Wherever he went, Leo deposed immoral bishops and punished clerics who were guilty of simony. Although those actions were necessary, the pope recognized that the major problem with clerical behavior was infidelity to the promise of celibacy.

In the first three centuries of Church history, there was no law prohibiting the ordination of married men, and many priests were married; however, marriage was never permitted after ordination. Moreover, all priests—married, single, or widowed—practiced sexual abstinence after ordination. The first recorded Church legislation concerning clerical celibacy in the West was decreed at the Synod of Elvira in Spain around the year 300, and in 385, Pope Siricius (r. 384-399) mandated celibacy for all clergy in the West.

But despite the longstanding practice of the Church, clergy in the early medieval Church often did not live celibacy faithfully. Many priests were not properly trained or formed, and they flouted their vow of celibacy, taking mistresses and concubines who bore them children, causing great scandal. Other priests engaged in homosexual acts. All the while, bishops and abbots seemed hesitant to act and restore virtue to the priesthood and monasteries.

But one monk was not afraid, and he wrote a book in which he called for Leo IX to remove this stain of clerical immorality. His name was Peter Damian, and today (Feb 21) is his feast day.

Peter was born in Ravenna seven years into the eleventh century. His early life was marked by suffering; both his parents died when he was an infant. An older, abusive brother and his concubine took Peter into their home, where he was beaten, starved, and sent to work as a swineherd. In the midst of this tribulation, Peter took solace in Christ and developed deep piety. When he found a gold coin in the mud while tending the pigs, for example, instead of spending it on himself, Peter ran to the parish priest and paid a stipend for a Mass to be celebrated for the repose of his father’s soul.

Eventually, Peter was rescued from his horrible conditions by another brother who recognized Peter’s intellectual gifts and ensured he received an education in the liberal arts. This brother’s love and generosity influenced Peter to add his brother’s name, Damian, to his own and he henceforth was known as Peter Damian.

Peter’s devoted his life to growing closer to God, and he performed many acts of mortification to drive away temptations of the flesh. His spirituality was focused on the Cross, and he wrote, “Those who do not love the Cross of Christ do not love Christ” (Sermo XVIII, 11). He incorporated this focus into his life to such a degree that he came to describe himself as “Peter, servant of the servants of the Cross of Christ.”

In his late twenties, Peter joined a monastery, where he committed himself to personal reform and to pursuing reform within his community. He knew that reform in the larger Church and even in secular society was impossible without first focusing on the individual. Peter was appalled by the immoral behavior of the diocesan clergy and monks and endeavored to return his brother priests to virtuous living. During the time of Leo’s reign, he composed a book critical of clerical sexual immorality.

Addressed to the pope, the book (given the title The Book of Gomorrah centuries later) was not just a diatribe against sin but was also an exhortation to personal penance and a return to virtue and was written in a firm yet compassionate tone. He exhorted fellow priests who were tempted by the devil toward carnal pleasures to orient “your mind to the grave.” Even as he offered a chapter on “a weeping lamentation over souls surrendered to the dregs of impurity,” he provided also “an exhortation to the man who has fallen into sin, that he might rise again.”

He also noted that the “cancer of sodomitic impurity” was raging through the clergy “like a cruel beast,” decrying that “degenerate men do not fear to perpetuate an act that even brute animals abhor.”

Pope Leo IX favorably responded to Peter’s book and adopted many of his recommendations. Over time this work became an important part of the eleventh-century reform movement.

A few years after completing his manuscript, Peter was ordained a bishop and later created a cardinal. Peter wrote extensive letters, sometimes signing them as “Peter the Sinner” or “Peter the Sinner-Monk,” which provide a window into the soul of this important saint in the life of the Church. The life of St. Peter Damian is a model of virtue to Catholic clergy, and his words provide an exhortation and a warning for all Catholics not to let sexual vice taint the life and mission of the Church.”


Eternal now

-please click on the image for greater detail

[Ed. God is outside the realm of creation, outside our concept of time. This is fatal and all to common, Stephen Hawking et al, flaw many thinkers make, trying to reason about God within creation, which He is not. He is transcendent.]

-by Br Linus Martz, OP

“The saints in heaven all speak the same language, and they favor one tense for their verbs: the present tense. Safe from all threat of sin and defection, they sing in the eternal now of the divine glory: “To Him Who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever” (Rev 5:13). The saints live forever in the ‘today’ of heaven, sharing in the eternal life of He Who Is (Exod 3:14).

Here on earth, we too must hear God’s voice “today” and in the present moment (see Ps 95:7). This is the only real time available to us. As Saint Augustine observed, the future “is not as yet,” and the past “now is not” (Confessions, XI, 14). The present is the most real of times, and therefore the most heavenly.

However, only God can fully claim the eternal present for Himself because He alone simply is. For our part, we are either wayfarers in the world, longing for future happiness, or former wayfarers marked by our past decisions. Consequently, the grammar of human speech is always more complex. The blessed pray in the present tense, but because of their time on earth even they preface their sentences with past counterfactual conditions. A brief word on grammar will help us understand this significant point.

Counterfactuals give a false hypothetical scenario and then say what would have happened if that scenario had been real. If the train had been delayed, then he would have been late. If she had studied German, then she would have known what they were saying. If sentence diagrams brought great joy to our childhood, then we would not need these examples.

The saints, precisely because they are not the eternal God, always use their own counterfactual condition, as the psalms reveal:

If it had not been the Lord Who was on our side,
let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord Who was on our side (Ps 124:1-2).

By imagining a world without divine aid, the Psalmist vividly recalls God’s real and constant action for His people. If God had not been on Israel’s side, then her enemies would have “swallowed” her “alive”; the “raging waters” would have drowned her (Ps 124:3-5). But, thanks be to God, this premise is pure fiction: Israel’s “help is in the name of the Lord, Who made heaven and earth” (Ps 124:8).

The Church uses this same construction whenever she marvels at the gift of grace. All that we know and do by nature depends radically on God, in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). But grace elevates us still further, to live and act in an order entirely above our nature. Without grace, we could never love God with the love of charity, and we could never merit everlasting life. This supernatural life is our gratuitous participation in the life of the triune God (see 2 Pet 1:4). Jesus preached about this divine generosity when He offered His own counterfactual to the Samaritan woman: “If you knew the gift of God, and Who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” (John 4:10).

Jesus Himself is the living water and the gift of God (John 7:37-39). The saints know perfectly this divine gift. They acknowledge that their present glory rests on the reality of God’s saving grace during their earthly lives. We depend upon and can sing about this same divine help, just as the saints did and do. Whenever we strive in our “today” to go up and join them in the new Jerusalem, may we, like them, remember that God has been “on our side.”


We were made for happiness. It is our natural end. 2

Catechism of the Catholic Church
Part 3: Life in Christ (1691 – 2557)
Section 1: Man’s Vocation — Life in the Spirit (1699 – 2051)
Chapter 1: The Dignity of the Human Person (1700 – 1876)
Article 2: Our Vocation to Beatitude (1716 – 1729)
1718 The Beatitudes respond to the natural desire for happiness. This desire is of divine origin: God has placed it in the human heart in order to draw man to the One who alone can fulfill it:
We all want to live happily; in the whole human race there is no one who does not assent to this proposition, even before it is fully articulated.13

How is it, then, that I seek you, Lord? Since in seeking you, my God, I seek a happy life, let me seek you so that my soul may live, for my body draws life from my soul and my soul draws life from you.14

God alone satisfies.15

13. St. Augustine, De moribus eccl. 1,3,4:PL 32,1312.
14. St. Augustine, Conf. 10,20:PL 32,791.
15. St. Thomas Aquinas, Expos. in symb. apost. I.

Summa Theologiae I-II, Questions 1-5


“Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) is one of the towering figures in Western philosophy and theology, so great that he is even called the “angelic Doctor” by the Roman Catholic Church.  Within a twenty year span he wrote over forty books, including his masterpiece The Summa Theologica, in which he constructs a vast system integrating Greek philosophy with the Christian faith.   In the second part of this great work, as well as Book 3 of his shorter volume Summa contra Gentiles, he sets out a systematic answer to the question of what human happiness is, and whether it can be obtained in this life.   His ultimate answer is that perfect happiness (beatitudo) is not possible on earth, but an imperfect happiness (felicitas) is.   This puts Aquinas midway between those like Aristotle, who believed complete happiness was possible in this lifetime, and another Christian thinker, St. Augustine, who taught that happiness was impossible and that our main pleasure consists merely in the anticipation of the heavenly afterlife.

Thomas Aquinas was born in the castle of Roccasecca, north of Naples, to a wealthy aristocratic family. After studying at the University of Naples, however, he renounced his noble heritage, made a vow of celibacy, and determined to become a monk. He entered the Dominican order and studied with Albertus Magnus (also known as Albert the Great), who had initiated the great project of integrating all knowledge with Christianity. This meant not being afraid of empirical science or the contributions of the great Arabic philosophers, who had already synthesized the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle with their Muslim faith. Aquinas was so stout in stature, and so silent in class, that he was called “The Dumb Ox” by his fellow students. Albert however, responded: “You call him a Dumb Ox, but I tell you this Dumb Ox shall bellow so loud his bellowing will fill the world.”

Aquinas was ultimately assigned as a lecturer to various Dominican houses in Italy, but his real task was the masterpiece, his Summa Theologica, “The Summation of All Theology,” which sets out an entire book dedicated to the question of happiness. For twenty years Aquinas worked on this project, but on a night in December 1273 after celebrating Mass he experienced a mystical vision that shattered his entire aspirations. After that night he never wrote another word, and he died six months later. On his deathbed he is reported to have pointed to all of his books and said “After what I have experienced, all that is just straw.” As we shall see, this is most ironic when considering Aquinas’ views on happiness, since in the Summa one of his main conclusions is that true happiness consists in a mystical (beatific) vision of God that is only possible in the afterlife.

The Doctrine of Double Happiness

Already in his Summa Contra Gentiles, Aquinas had taken a position similar to St. Augustine’s, that perfect happiness is not possible in this lifetime. Aquinas takes seriously St. Paul’s assurance in 1 Corinthians 13:12 that “for now we see as through a glass darkly, but then we see face to face.” This world is too plagued with unsatisfied desires to achieve that ultimate good which we all seek by nature. Furthermore, God has basically created us with a desire to come to perfect knowledge of Him, but this is hidden from us while in our mortal bodies. True knowledge of God would require being able to see him directly, but this is only possible by a completely purified soul. When this occurs, we will experience the ultimate pleasure—a pure and everlasting bliss that will be the satisfaction of every human desire and the obliteration of every sadness or worry.

However, unlike St. Augustine, Aquinas goes on to maintain that we can achieve a kind of “imperfect happiness” here on earth. In this he is undoubtedly influenced by Aristotle, who argued that happiness depends on the actualization of one’s natural faculties. The highest faculty the human being possesses is Reason, from which it follows that we can achieve happiness in this life in proportion to the level of truth accessible to Reason. As he writes:

Man’s ultimate happiness consists in the contemplation of truth, for this operation is specific to man and is shared with no other animals. Also it is not directed to any other end since the contemplation of truth is sought for its own sake. In addition, in this operation man is united to higher beings (substances) since this is the only human operation that is carried out both by God and by the separate substances (angels). (Summa Contra Gentiles, book 3, chapter 37)

While the perfect realization of Truth will only occur in heaven where we will perceive God “face to face,” there is an imperfect counterpart of that vision here on earth. Thus Aquinas is lead to make a distinction between “perfect happiness” which he calls beatitudo, and “imperfect happiness” called felicitas. By making this distinction, Aquinas is able to tone down the pessimistic view of human nature expressed by St. Augustine, including the doctrine of Original Sin. As Aquinas writes, “Human Nature is not so completely corrupted by sin as to be totally lacking in natural goodness.” We have an impulse in us that seeks God and other impulses that pull us down to worldly pleasures. However, it is possible to begin the process of healing in this lifetime by exercising the natural virtues that Aristotle talks about—the virtues of wisdom, courage, moderation, justice, friendship, etc. Furthermore, God in his grace has now revealed to us three additional virtues: those of faith, love and hope. These will pull us through to the final end so long as we begin the effort.

Happiness as Knowledge of God

Aquinas is uncompromising in his view that our true happiness can only be found in knowledge of God. No other worldly good or pleasure can truly provide us with the ultimate good we seek. As he argues in the Summa Theologica:

It is impossible for any created good to constitute man’s happiness. For happiness is that perfect good which entirely satisfies one’s desire; otherwise it would not be the ultimate end, if something yet remained to be desired. Now the object of the will, i.e., of man’s desire, is what is universally good; just as the object of the intellect is what is universally true. Hence it is evident that nothing can satisfy man’s will, except what is universally good. This is to be found, not in any creature, but in God alone, because every creature has only participated goodness. Therefore, God alone can satisfy the will of man, according to the words of the Psalms (102:5): “Who alone satisfies your desire with good things.” Therefore, God alone constitutes man’s happiness.” (Summa Theologica Part 2. Q.1. Article 8)

This passage illustrates well Aquinas’ unique blend of rigorous logical reasoning with his use of Scripture which reveals to us the same truth through other means, in this case the mouth of the prophet. Nothing can contradict the Truth: hence if Reason and Revelation are valid pathways to truth, they must ultimately be reconcilable. So Reason confirms to us what we already know deep down in our hearts: that our ultimate desire lies in absolute perfection, which can only be found in God, the absolute Being.

Thus for Aquinas we must make a sharp distinction between enjoyment and happiness. Enjoyment pertains to worldly goods and physical pleasures: but these tend to be very short-lived. And even if all of our worldly desires were satisfied—even if we were to experience every possible enjoyment—we would remain unhappy, since we would still have a nagging feeling that something is missing. Today Aquinas would point to the experience of many rich people and celebrities as evidence for this truth. Despite having every worldly good—fine foods, cars, houses, vacations, friends, family—many of them remain deeply unhappy, even spiraling into the misery of drugs and suicide. Aquinas would explain this as follows: when every enjoyment is felt, the soul begins to crave for something more than mere enjoyment. But if one has no knowledge of this “something more” or doesn’t know how to go about finding it, the enjoyment turns to pain and suffering. This also explains why we see a lot of billionaires suddenly change towards the middle or end of their lives: that nagging feeling that there is something more results in charitable work or an orientation to a higher purpose in life.

One might, however, question Aquinas’ insistence that perfect happiness is only possible in the afterlife. Is it possible to purify the soul in this lifetime, so that one can possess a direct experience of Ultimate Reality? The Buddhists and Hindus certainly think so: they can point to certain individuals such as the Buddha who have obtained absolute enlightenment. And there is a mystical side to monotheistic religions like Christianity, Islam, and Judaism as well, according to which the ultimate goal is Oneness with God, which has been attained by various saints or prophets throughout history. Aquinas’ own mystical experience at the end of his life might be just such an example: perhaps he actually achieved a beatific vision of God, a vision so strong that it rendered all of his words obsolete.


Aquinas held the following views about human happiness:

  • Perfect happiness (beatitudo) is not possible in this lifetime, but only in the afterlife for those who achieve a direct perception of God
  • There can be an imperfect happiness (felicitas) attainable in this lifetime, in proportion to the exercise of Reason (contemplation of truth) and the exercise of virtue.
  • Virtue is to be divided into two categories: 1) the traditional Aristotelian virtues of wisdom, courage, moderation, friendship, etc., and 2) the theological virtues revealed to man through Jesus Christ: faith, hope, and love.
  • There is an important distinction between enjoyment and happiness. Enjoyment concerns satisfaction of worldly desire. Happiness concerns obtaining our absolute perfection, which by definition can only be found in the absolute Being, which is God.


Aquinas, Thomas; Mary T. Clark (2000). An Aquinas Reader: Selections from the Writings of Thomas Aquinas. Fordham University Press.

Aquinas, Thomas (2002). Aquinas’s Shorter Summa. Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press.

Davies, Brian (2004). Aquinas: An Introduction. Continuum International Publishing Group.

McMahon, Darrin (2006). A History of Happiness. Atlantic Monthly Press.

See also Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Aquinas

Love & His Joy, which He alone can give,

Theosis θέωσις, “Partakers in the divine nature” – 2 Peter 1:4

-by Carl Olson, Carl grew up in a Fundamentalist Protestant home and attended Briercrest Bible College, an Evangelical school in Saskatchewan, Canada. He and his wife, Heather, were married in 1994 and entered the Catholic Church together in 1997. Their conversion story appears in the book, Surprised By Truth 3 (Sophia Institute Press, 2002).

“This year marks the twentieth anniversary of my wife and me entering the Catholic Church from Evangelicalism. My upbringing skewed strongly toward the Fundamentalist end of the spectrum while hers was more mainstream Evangelical. Both of us were graduates of Evangelical Bible colleges, so we had a fairly in-depth understanding and experience of American Evangelicalism, which is a complicated and even bewildering world of denominations, para-church organizations, and movements.

My interest in apologetics started when I read works by C.S. Lewis, who played a significant role in our journey into the Church. Like so many other Evangelicals who “poped,” I worked through a wide range of questions about Mary, the saints, authority, the sacraments, purgatory, and Tradition. In fact, the very first article I ever had published was a detailed account of that search and study for This Rock (the predecessor to Catholic Answers Magazine), “Joining the Unsaved” (June 1998). The experience could be likened to being dropped into a huge and exotic forest and spending countless hours studying the flora and fauna, trying to grasp their curious and often surprising details.

During that time, I ended up writing a lengthy letter to my parents. In a way, it was like sending them a box with samples from the forest with a mixture of tree leaves, flowers, and rocks. A few years later, when I re-read the letter, I saw that my explanation of Catholicism, while still correct and on point—and there were many points—lacked a sense of the big picture. Although I was able to defend against the negative stereotypes and false concepts that good people like my parents were tossing at me, I did not and could not provide a positive, succinct picture of the essence of Catholicism.

Something was missing

This sense of incompleteness was especially strong when it came to the Church’s teaching about salvation. I knew the Church did not teach that our works alone save us, but I also knew that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). How so? I understood the importance of the sacraments; it was, after all, the reality of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist that drew my wife and me so powerfully to the Church. But, to continue the analogy, how did that fit into the bigger picture of the forest of Catholicism? In what way could the forest be brought into focus and best understood?

The answer is a word every Catholic needs to know: theosis. It is also known as deification, divinization, participation, and divine sonship. The essence of Christianity and the gospel is that the triune God, who is perfect communion, “in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1). The Father desires to give us his actual life and make us, through the Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit, true children of God. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us,” states St. John, “that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).

Now, as a young Evangelical Protestant I never questioned the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation—but I also rarely contemplated in depth what those two great mysteries had to do with me. Sure, I knew God created me. I accepted that God became man. But these were more points of doctrine than realities to be contemplated and explored. And, to be fair and blunt, that says more about my own personal failings than it does about failings in Evangelical theology. When I finally began to grasp the startling truth of theosis, I began to see and understand the details of the forest in an even more vibrant and life-changing way.

Considering this, how do essential but often overlooked truths—the subject of a detailed book I co-edited with Fr. David Meconi, S.J.—help the apologist? Here are three basic ways:

Personal relationship

Most Fundamentalists and many Evangelicals see Catholicism as a religious system based on works, ritual, and “doing stuff.” What they don’t see, first, is that they themselves—for all the talk of a “personal relationship” with Christ—take part in a system based on works, ritual, and “doing stuff.” After all, they insist on the necessity of going to church, participating in some form of communal worship, doing good works, and so forth.

The heart of Catholicism is having a personal relationship with Christ. Yes, there is a lot of debate over whether or not Catholics should use such language, but to me it’s quite simple: the triune God, who is Creator of all, is perfect communion and love. He is relationship. And Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, is one of three divine persons. So, yes, having a personal relationship with each person of the Trinity is the very essence of being a Catholic:

“O blessed light, O Trinity and first Unity!” God is eternal blessedness, undying life, unfading light. God is love: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God freely wills to communicate the glory of His blessed life. Such is the “plan of His loving kindness,” conceived by the Father before the foundation of the world, in His beloved Son: “He destined us in love to be His sons” and “to be conformed to the image of His Son,” through “the spirit of sonship” (CCC 257).

Rules, rules, rules?

Catholicism, being deeply communal, familial, and covenantal, is never satisfied by a mere legal or juridical understanding of salvation. The irony is that the Fundamentalists and Evangelicals who insist that salvation is juridical and reflects a sort of divine courtroom denounce Catholicism for being impersonal and devoid of relationship. That’s absurd. As Catholics, we always understand that laws and rules are rooted in the familial, communal nature of God, because they orient us toward our final beatitude, by God’s grace.

The reality of grace

The biggest divide between Catholics and many Protestants is the nature of grace. “Grace,” as the Catechism so succinctly states, “is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life” (CCC 1997). This is why Catholics can say that the sacraments aren’t just symbols but signs that really accomplish, by the power of God’s grace, what they signify. We insist that we don’t receive bread at Holy Communion but the very body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ.

Because we are filled, animated, and joined by the trinitarian life of God, we participate in the heavenly realities, being truly part of Christ’s body—not just in a metaphorical sense but in a way that is truly real.

If we are really “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4), then our deeds are not the works of slaves trying to impress a master but the joyful works of sons and daughters on behalf our Father, joined to Christ our Savior, aided by the Holy Spirit our advocate. Catholicism, then, is not a religion of “works righteousness” but of righteous, holy children, growing even more righteous and holy as we continue to conform to the will and way of God. Understanding this theosis is a deeply biblical and traditional view of the dense forest of doctrine and spirituality should guide the apologist in debates and conversations.”

“The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.” – St Gregory of Nyssa


Theosis θέωσις

[Ed. it is MOST IMPORTANT to note, theosis does NOT imply an ontological change. We do not become gods ourselves!  Athanasius is terribly often misquoted to say “a god”, which implies ontological change and which is blasphemy and heresy of the highest form, by the uninformed.]

-by Fr. Joseph Gill

“When Cardinal Timothy Dolan was a young priest, he was in charge of running an RCIA program for adults who wanted to convert and become Catholic. One man was going through the classes to please his wife, and he challenged Fr. Dolan almost every class on some issue or another. He seemed to be truly wrestling with the Faith. Finally, at the end of the last class, Fr. Dolan asked the man if he had any questions about the Catholic Faith. The man replied, “Yeah, there’s one thing I just don’t get.”

Fr. Dolan braced himself – would it be a hot-button issue like the Church’s teaching on birth control or marriage?

The man continued, “I just don’t get your teaching on grace. You said that God literally comes to dwell in your soul. That seems too good to be true – I must have misunderstood.”

Fr. Dolan breathed a sigh of relief and said, “You understood me perfectly – that is grace.”

Often we focus on the Father’s creation, or the Son’s death on the Cross, or the Holy Spirit inspiring the Apostles. But the entire Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is not just out there but comes to dwell in our soul through grace.

I don’t think we fully appreciate what an amazing gift this is! In Catholic theology, this is called theosis or divinization – that we become so filled with God that we resemble God, we contain God, we radiate God, we become transformed into God. As St. Athanasius put it so succinctly, “God became man so that man might become God.” What an amazing gift! Christianity isn’t about us becoming nice people – Christianity is about becoming so filled with the Blessed Trinity that we become like Him.

Now, we need to make a careful distinction. Although we are truly divinized, we are not God. We don’t stop being creatures even when the Creator has drawn us into Himself. Some New-Age followers believe that we are “all part of the divine” and that we just need to tap into the “god within”. That’s pantheism, and it is not what we believe.

Rather, we believe that, because of the free gift of God’s grace, He does three things. First, He comes to dwell in our soul. Second, He makes us adopted sons and daughters of God, which means that we share in His nature. Third, He transforms us until we start to share His glory. How remarkable! This is so much more than just “getting to Purgatory by the skin of our teeth” – this is an invitation to participate in the inner life of the Trinity?

Lest we get too abstract, let’s look at three practical consequences of this “theosis”.

First, it means that we must always live in the state of grace (that is, free of all mortal sins). St. Teresa of Avila said that if we could see a soul in the state of grace, we would be tempted to worship it! So make sure your soul is always a dwelling-place for the Trinity. This means avoiding mortal sins like missing Mass, getting drunk or using drugs, or any sexual activity outside of marriage. If we happen to fall into any of these mortal sins, run to Confession to get back into the state of grace, which will allow God to literally dwell in your soul again!

Second, since we believe that God is in our soul, we do not need to go to great lengths to pray – we can pray anywhere, and have a continual conversation with the God Who dwells within. Yes, it is often helpful to go to a church or a prayer room in your house, but even if you’re in the dentist chair or on a ski lift or sitting on the school bus, you can converse with God living in your soul. Converse with Him often throughout the day!

Third, if the Trinity dwells in me and you, then how must we treat each other? One time, St. Jacinta Marta, the young shepherd girl who was one of the visionaries at Fatima, was too sick to attend Mass. When her cousin Lucia came home from Mass, Jacinta came up to her and sat next to her, resting her head on her cousin’s shoulder. Lucia asked why she was being so affectionate, and Jacinta replied, “Since you received Jesus at Mass, being next to you is like being next to the tabernacle! I just want to pray to Jesus who is living in your soul!”

How much respect and love we ought to pay to one another if we knew the other person was preparing for eternal glory! How would we treat another person if we knew their soul housed the Triune God! This should be our attitude toward all, knowing that God desires all to become transformed into Him.

Divinization. Theosis. This teaching of our Catholic Faith is so tremendously awesome that I am speechless in the sight of such a mystery. So I will conclude, then, with words that are not my own, but come from an early church Father, St. Irenaeus: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, through His transcendent love, became what we are, that He might bring us to become even what He is Himself.”

“The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.” – St Gregory of Nyssa

Love & His Grace,

John Calvin’s total depravity. Why does evil exist?

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

“In John Calvin’s magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, he presents a view of man that is very much like Luther’s but contrary to what we find in the pages of Sacred Scripture. Calvin used texts such as Genesis 6:5—“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”—and Romans 3:10ff—“None is righteous, no not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one ”—to prove that man is utterly depraved through the fall of Adam and Eve.

Calvin’s conclusion from these texts and others was to say, “The will is so utterly vitiated and corrupted in every part as to produce nothing but evil” (Institutes, bk. II, ch. II, para. 26).

What say we?

The context of the texts Calvin used actually demonstrates the opposite of his claim. For example, if we read forward just four verses in Genesis 6, we find: “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. . . . Noah was a righteous [“just”] man, blameless in his generation” (Gen. 6:8-9). While we Catholics agree that God’s grace or “favor” was essential for Noah to be truly “just” before God, nevertheless Noah was truly just, according to the text.

As far as the quote from Romans is concerned, the greater context of the entire epistle must be understood. One of the central themes of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans is the fact that it is through “the goodness of God” that we are led to repent (cf. Romans 2:4), to be justified (Romans 5:1-2), and persevere in the faith (cf. Romans 11:22). It is solely because of God’s grace that we become truly just:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God (Rom. 5:1-2).


For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death . . . in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:2,4).

Notice the emphasis on the fact that man is made truly just so much so that he can fulfill “the just requirement of the law.” It doesn’t get any more just, or righteous, than that!

Thus, Romans 3:10ff simply does not teach total depravity in a Calvinist sense. It cannot when the context is understood.

Moreover, if we examine the verses where St. Paul paints his picture of the wicked who have “turned aside” and “done wrong,” we find he actually quotes Psalm 14:3. The next two verses of this Psalm explain who these “evil ones” are:

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord? There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous.

The Psalmist clearly refers to both evildoers and the righteous.

These and other passages from Romans tell us that Christ came to make us just, not that there are absolutely none who are just. We must stress again that it is because of the justice of Christ communicated to the faithful that their actions and, indeed, they themselves are truly made just. But they indeed are truly made just.

Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right (Gr., ho poion tein dikaiousunein/ὁ ποιῶν τὴν δικαιοσύνην—“the one doing justice”) is righteous (Gr., dikaios estin/δίκαιός ἐστιν—“is just”) as He is righteous (Gr., kathos ekeinos dikaios estin/καθὼς ἐκεῖνος δίκαιός ἐστιν—“as He is just”). -1 Jn 3:7

Scripture couldn’t be clearer that the faithful are made truly just in their being and in their actions through the grace of Christ.

The problem magnified

More grave problems arise when we begin to follow the path Calvin lays for us with his first principle. Even when considering the unregenerate, Calvin is wrong about total depravity, because Scripture tells us even those outside of the law can “do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts” (Rom. 2:14-15).

Though Catholics agree with Calvinists that grace is necessary even for those who are ignorant of the law in order for them to be just before God—in other words, this text is not saying these pagans can be justified apart from grace—the text does infer that nature is not totally depraved, because man can clearly act justly on a natural level and by nature.

But an even more grave error comes to the fore when we consider his notion of the depravity of the just.

“Depravity of the just?” Yes. That was not a typo. According to John Calvin, even those who have been justified by Christ “cannot perform one work which, if judged on its own merits, is not deserving of condemnation” (Institutes, bk. III, ch. 9, para. 9). What a far cry this is from “he that acts justly is just” (I John 3:7) or the plain words of the Psalmist, who uses similar words as found in Genesis with regard to Abraham being justified by faith: “[Abraham] believed the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). In the Psalms we read: “Then Phineas stood up and interposed, and the plague was stayed. And that has been reckoned to him as righteousness from generation to generation” (Ps. 106:30-31).

Clearly, Phineas was justified by his works and not only by faith. In other words, Phineas’s works are truly “just as he is just,” to use the words of I John 3:7.

There are a multitude of biblical texts that come to mind at this point, but here are only three:

“For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned”? (Matt. 12:37).

“By works a man is justified and not by faith alone” (Jas. 2:24).

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:13-14).

These texts do not even come close to saying all of these works were “worthy of condemnation.” They say just the opposite!

We should be clear here: All “good works” man performs that contribute to his salvation are first and foremost God’s gifts, which, along with his cooperation, truly make him just and worthy to “walk with [Christ] in white; for [he is] worthy” (Rev. 3:4) by God’s grace and mercy. But we cannot escape the biblical fact that these works are truly just and they are truly the fruit of the just man himself.

Understanding the strange

When John Calvin says man is utterly dependent upon God for every single just thought in his mind (cf. Institutes, bk. II, ch. II, para. 27), Catholics will happily agree. And they would be correct: We do agree. However, appearances can be deceiving, because there is meaning beneath those words that Catholics cannot agree with.

With Calvin, there is no sense of grace aiding and empowering our wills as St. Augustine taught and the Catholic Church teaches. For Calvin, being “dependent upon God” means our free cooperation or free will has no part to play. God does not merely empower our wills; He operates them.

In the end, this may well be the most disturbing idea stemming from Calvin’s notion of total depravity: Man is essentially God’s puppet, a notion that led to Calvin attributing both the good and the evil actions of man to God.

And mind you, Calvin rejects and ridicules the Catholic notion of God merely permitting evil and working all things together for good. In his words:

Hence a distinction has been invented between doing and permitting, because to many it seemed altogether inexplicable how Satan and all the wicked are so under the hand and authority of God, that He directs their malice to whatever end He pleases” (Institutes, bk. I, ch. XVIII, para. 1).

Evildoers do not commit acts of depravity in spite of the command of God, but because of the command of God, according to Calvin (ibid., para. 4)!

Isaiah 45:7 and Amos 3:6 are used to teach that there is no evil that occurs that is not “impelled” by God’s positive command (ibid., para. 2).

God is the author of all those things that, according to these objectors, happen only by his inactive permission. He testifies that he creates light and darkness, forms good and evil (Is. [45:7]); that no evil happens which he hath not done (Amos [3:6]) (ibid., para. 3).

As Catholics we understand, as St. Paul teaches, “[S]ince they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct” (Rom. 1:28). This means God may well remove grace that is rejected. He may also hold back grace as well, but this is, as St. Augustine said, God’s “just judgment.”

But according to Calvin’s unbiblical teaching, God does not give grace in the first place and then “impels” men to act sinfully. As quoted above, according to Calvin, God causes evil. And we are not talking about physical evil here; we are talking about moral evil. That is categorically absurd! God cannot “do” or “impel” moral evil because He is infinitely and absolutely good.

God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:8, Numbers 23:19); “He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:13) or act contrary to His nature. If God’s nature is one of love and pure being, it is absurd to say that He can “do” evil, which is by nature a lack of some perfection that ought to be present in a given nature. In fact, James 1:13 tells us that God not only cannot cause this kind of evil, He cannot even tempt anyone with evil. That is contrary to His nature.

The bottom line

When Isaiah 45:7 and Amos 3:6 say God “creates evil” and “does evil,” this must be seen only in a sense in which it does not contradict God’s nature and what is clearly revealed to us about God in Scripture. God can directly cause physical evil, such as the ten plagues he released against Egypt in Exodus. But this was an act of justice, which was morally upright and justified.

We can also say that God permits evil in view of the fact that He chose to create us with freedom. But even there, God permits evil only in view of His promise to bring good out of that evil, as is most profoundly demonstrated through the greatest evil in the history of the world: the Crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through this greatest evil God brings about the greatest good: the redemption of the world. God did not kill Christ, nor did he “impel” anyone to kill Christ.

But by virtue of His Omnipotence, He brings good out of the evil acts committed.”