Category Archives: Sin

Preaching against sin


-by Rev. Jerry J. Pokorsky

“We used to laugh at a famous story about President Calvin Coolidge, a man of few words. After returning from Sunday services, his wife asks him about the preacher’s sermon. “Sin,” Silent Cal replies. His wife pleads, “What did he say about it?” “He was against it.”

Alas, modern culture no longer allows us to oppose sin, except for those politically correct transgressions such as being “judgmental” and emitting too much carbon into the atmosphere. But do priests and others have a choice to remain faithful to Jesus?

There is an interesting correlation between our culture—including Catholic parishes—and our recognition of sin. It was easier to talk about the wages of evil in a stable culture imbued with Christianity. As secularism crowds out the influence of Christianity on culture, some Church authorities—in response to the hypersensitivities of many Catholics—place too many restrictions on preaching sin and conversion from the pulpit. Whiplash changes in the culture often challenge the prudence of thoughtful Catholic preachers.

A century ago, Church authorities, including moralists and seminary professors, were reticent in speaking—even reading—about sexual sin. The four-volume Moral and Pastoral Theology manual by Professor Henry Davis, S.J. (first edition, May 1935) illustrates pastoral prudence in questions of human sexuality. In an otherwise easy read (in English) on the natural law and the Ten Commandments, Davis writes the chapter dealing with various types of sexual sin in Latin. The readers must be priests or mature seminarians trained in the mother tongue of the Church for their preparation as confessors. But a good confessor, though he always avoids impure speech, must understand—and occasionally carefully discuss—lascivious behavior.

As the sexual revolution of the 1960s transformed popular culture, orthodox Catholic moralists relaxed the prudential censorship and discussed the details of many sexual sins to confront pervasive errors. Pope John Paul II’s “theology of the body” formed the foundation of John Paul II institutes on marriage and the family in Washington, D.C., and Rome. The institutes taught and wrote freely, providing the clergy and laity alike a firm foundation on the Church’s teaching on human sexuality.

Dissident moralists went farther. Human Sexuality, published by Anthony Kosnik in 1977 under the auspices of the Catholic Theological Society of America, justified sexual debauchery ranging from contraception and masturbation to sodomy and even bestiality. Today, senior prelates and friends of the pope openly speak about the likelihood of segments of the hierarchy approving “gay unions” soon. Several German bishops, including high-ranking ones, have declared their support of overhauling Catholic moral teaching to approve unions based on sodomy.

At the same time, many orthodox priests feel pressure to dodge these topics. They often avoid the issues not only from the pulpit, but also in church bulletins. Indeed, the culture and senior Catholic churchmen place us at a disadvantage. Irish bishop Ray Browne’s recent public apology for the sermons of Fr. Seán Sheehy on mortal sin is baffling, incomprehensible. Cross-dressed and occasionally mutilated males (so-called “transgender females”) conduct drag-show displays for children. As senior Catholic prelates call for gay unions, old-fashioned pastoral decorum prevents orthodox priests from asking obvious questions in the same public forums. (Here is an example of a forbidden question, with apologies to Latinists: An commercium ani vel fellatio vetatur post unionem gay agnitam vel ante tantum? Our moral manuals need an update.)

It is important to remember that the protection of the innocent must be a prime objective of every priest. Such conversations from the pulpit do risk violating Catholic prudence, especially with children present. Fr. John Hardon, S.J., refers in his Catholic Dictionary to the “latency period”: “The term mainly applies to the years between five and twelve, when children do not unless abnormally and unwisely aroused, react to sexual stimulation. The Church advises parents to cultivate this period for teaching children the principles of faith and training them in the moral habits they will need as the foundation of their adult Christian life.” So care is certainly called for and recklessness to be avoided.

Jesus is prudent but doesn’t mince words: “But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). St. Paul provides a similar perspective: “The men also, leaving the natural use of the women, have burned in their lusts one towards another, men with men working that which is filthy, and receiving in themselves the recompense which was due to their error” (Rom. 1:27). He adds, “For the things that are done by them in secret, it is a shame even to speak of” (Eph. 5:12). And he divorces Catholics from those who shamelessly promote willful debauchery: “But now I have written to you, not to keep company, if any man that is named a brother, be a fornicator, or covetous, or a server of idols, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner: with such a one, not so much as to eat” (1 Cor. 5:11).

Hence, the venues of preaching against sin determine the propriety of the language of Catholic morality. One size doesn’t fit all. What a moral textbook, theological article, scholarly monograph, episcopal encyclical, or even a popular internet piece permits may not be suitable from the pulpit. But carefully using Scripture as a rhetorical template accomplishes much.

So it seems that warnings against contraception, fornication, adultery, mutilation, and the gay agenda are well within the prudential rhetoric of Jesus in the Gospel and Paul in his letters. We need not expand the vocabulary to include the intimate details of sexual behavior. Indeed, for the most part, penitents in confession need not go beyond confessing such acts. The priest does not need to know—nor should he inquire about—the details.

But it is a great disservice and a violation of the Gospel for a priest to neglect the condemnation of sin, especially mortal sins that lead to the fires of hell. It’s always best to measure our rhetoric by the words of Jesus and the New Testament letters. Calvin Coolidge’s example of direct simplicity helps, too.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Mortal sin

A sin is considered to be “mortal” when its quality is such that it leads to a separation of that person from God’s saving grace. Deprived of that grace by their own free will and the free will choice to not repent of it ultimately in sacramental confession, a person places themselves outside of God’s salvation, since God is all grace and cannot stand any imperfection of that grace in His presence. In literal fact, the person choosing to deny themselves God’s saving grace becomes unrecognizable to God and therefore cast into perdition outside of God’s grace.


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

“Everyone knows—or almost everyone does—that there are morally good actions and morally evil actions. But when is an action not only wrong, but sinful? And particularly mortally sinful? After all, as St. John says, “all wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal” just as “there is sin which is mortal” (1 John 5:16,17). A mortal sin is one that “destroys in us the charity without which eternal beatitude is impossible. Unrepented, it brings eternal death” (CCC 1874). That’s what makes it “mortal,” or deadly: it cuts us off from God forever, unless it is “redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness” (CCC 1861).

Thanks be to God, not every evil action is mortally sinful. So how do we know which is which? Just as there are three ingredients in evaluating a moral action (the object, intention, and circumstances), so there are three ingredients in a mortal sin: (1) “grave matter,” (2) “full knowledge,” and (3) “deliberate consent.” And the Catechism is clear that all “three conditions must together be met” (1857).

If all three are met, it’s mortally sinful. Otherwise, “one commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without complete consent” (CCC 1862). That’s still a problem, since venial sin “weakens charity” and “impedes the soul’s progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good,” and “deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin,” but venial sin does not (of itself) “deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently eternal happiness” (CCC 1863).

What does “grave matter” mean? It means that the sin is serious. But how do we evaluate the seriousness of a sin? The Catechism is explicit about the grave nature of particular sins, including sacrilege (2120), blasphemy (2148), perjury (2152), deliberately avoiding Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation (2181), murder (2268), hatred of neighbor “when one deliberately desires him grave harm” (2303), prostitution (2355), sexual relations outside marriage (2390), and adulation that “makes one an accomplice in another’s vices or grave sins” (2480). St. Paul likewise gives lists in Galatians 5:19-21 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 of sins whose practitioners will not “inherit the kingdom of God.” But none of these lists is exhaustive.

More broadly, the Catechism says that “grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments” (1858), pointing to Jesus’ words to the rich young man. When the man asks him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”, Jesus answers, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and mother’” (Mark 10:17,19). Jesus’ clear implication seems to be that those who do commit adultery, steal, etc. shall not inherit eternal life.

Even here, there are two important caveats. On the one hand, not every violation of the Ten Commandments is a mortal sin. For instance, the person who steals a dollar is not necessarily damned. On the other hand, not every mortal sin is a direct and obvious violation of the Ten Commandments. St. Thomas Aquinas considers this objection directly in considering the sin of gluttony: “Every mortal sin is contrary to a precept of the Decalogue: and this, apparently, does not apply to gluttony.” Aquinas argues that gluttony is an indirect violation of the Third Commandment (keeping the Sabbath holy) by turning us away from holiness. That’s a strange answer, but he explains: “Mortal sins are not all directly opposed to the precepts of the Decalogue [Ten Commandments], but only those which contain injustice: because the precepts of the Decalogue pertain specially to justice and its parts.” In other words, the Ten Commandments lay out “the first principles” of the moral law; they’re not an exhaustive list of every serious sin. The right question is this: is this the kind of behavior that places something else above God or turns me away from God? If so, it’s grave matter.

In considering whether or not a sin is mortal, circumstances matter. For instance, the Catechism points out that “one must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger” (1858). Likewise, stealing from the excess wealth of a millionaire is less evil than stealing the food of a starving man. Taking the example of lying, the Catechism explains how to determine the gravity of a sin: “The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims. If a lie in itself only constitutes a venial sin, it becomes mortal when it does grave injury to the virtues of justice and charity” (2484).”

Love & His mercy,
Matthew

Sin makes you stupid

Stupidity or foolishness is a product of sin (Proverbs 24:9). In fact, the Bible associates foolishness with transgression ((Psalms 107:17; Proverbs 13:15; 17:18, 19 ), and with sins such as:

  • atheism – Psalm 13:1
  • blasphemy – Psalm 74:18
  • contention – Proverbs 18:6
  • hypocrisy – Luke 11:39–40
  • materialism – Luke 12:16–21
  • mischievousness – Proverbs 10:23
  • slander – Proverbs 10:18
  • wastefulness – Proverbs 21:20.

So, yes, the Bible says that sin makes you foolish. It explicitly says, “Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities” (Psalm 107:17). Even the common sin of “Extortion turns a wise person into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:7) Further, in Psalm 74:18 we see that enemies of God (sinners who mock and revile His name) are called “foolish people.” See also Psalm 74:22–23.

When Aaron and Miriam incurred God’s wrath for murmuring against Moses, Aaron pleaded with Moses, “Please, my lord, I ask you not to hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed.” (Numbers 12:11) Sin obviously makes one to be foolish. Moses describes the Israelites who sinned during their wilderness journey thus:

They are corrupt and not His children; to their shame they are a warped and crooked generation. Is this the way you repay the LORD, you foolish and unwise people? Is He not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you? (Deuteronomy 32:5–6)

The sinful behavior of King Saul made him to do foolish things. When he partially obeyed God’s command regarding the destruction of the Amalekites, Samuel said pointedly to him, “You have done a foolish thing” (1 Samuel 13:13). Moreover, Saul himself admitted after chasing the innocent David down to the Desert of Ziph with his three thousand select Israelite troops, “I have sinned. Come back, David my son. Because you considered my life precious today, I will not try to harm you again. Surely I have acted like a fool and have been terribly wrong.” (1 Samuel 26:21, emphasis added)

Many examples abound in Scripture which prove clearly that sin can make you stupid. Remember David’s first son Amnon. When he wanted to rape his half sister Tamar, she cried out to restrain him but he didn’t listen: “What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you.” (2 Samuel 13:13)

Even their father David confessed after he had arrogantly counted the fighting men in Israel, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, LORD, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.” (2 Samuel 24:10, emphasis added). Ever since David committed adultery with Bathsheba and killed her husband (2 Samuel 11–12), sin started to make him and his children to do foolish things.


-by Pat Flynn

“The traditional thought is that sin not only makes us weak, but stupid. Sin blunts conscience progressively over time—that is, diminishes our grasp of moral reality, impairing our ability to reason to proper moral conclusions. Consequently, sin can (and often does) lead to greater sin, along with the failure to realize not just that we are sinning, but also how awful our sinning has become.

So many of us sinners (myself included) have consciously lived through this experience. We do, at first, feel the pangs of conscience when rejecting the right course of action. We fail to choose what we know is the right thing to do; we make, as Boethius called it, a moral miscalculation, because we engage in voluntary ignorance. Should I drive even though I’ve been drinking? gives way to the need to get home quickly.

At first, we feel bad about it. We know, intuitively, that we are violating the objective moral rule. But if we keep at it, our conscience dulls. The evil becomes more comfortable, opening us up to exploring and enacting further, and often far graver, sins. We become gutsy.

This is true not just of individuals, but of society. Just as an individual, through sinning, becomes prone to further sinning and increasingly incapable of acknowledging that he is sinning—in many cases even defending his evil action as good—society can suffer the same effect. Society’s moral conscience dulls as well, leading to increasingly horrific evils and the collective rationalization of such evils as good. Do we need examples from history on this? Slavery, abortion, genocide . . . the list continues.

Here’s a more recent one. People are surprised not just that children are being hypersexualized (groomed—a perfectly appropriate word), but also that society itself doesn’t outright reject this practice. In fact, society often supports it or is indifferent to it. But why should this surprise us? Our culture, after all, has been so morally impaired for so long, especially concerning sexual ethics—so why should we expect everyone to suddenly awaken to the abject horrors foisted upon children, from putting them onto stripper poles to mutilating their genitals and injecting them with puberty-blocking hormones? I suggest that, like the individual sinner, our collective moral conscience is gravely impaired, so it should be expected that such moral atrocities occur, unencumbered by any societal roadblocks.

Thus, when one sees some abject moral evil, he finds it accompanied by obnoxious comments like, “Shame some people just aren’t capable of having an open mind.”

As if having an open mind were always inherently a good thing! (“Don’t have such an open mind your brains fall out!” -G.K. Chesterton) On the contrary, having a closed mind is often undoubtedly the best approach—including when it comes to having sexual relations with young girls as a 47-year-old man, or drinking Clorox, or mass murder, or whatever other insane notion there is to propose. The slogan of keeping an open mind in this context is just the result of somebody whose conscience is thoroughly corrupted, who cannot see the evil for what it so obviously is. You might as well say it’s a shame that someone isn’t so open-minded as to think two plus two might actually equal five. What should really be said is that it’s shame some people are not more closed-minded.

A sinful excess of open-mindedness is the predictable consequence of a life lived in sin, especially sexual sin, individually and collectively. And it’s hard to fight this problem with reason, as there is little to no reasoning to be employed against people defending abject depravity. We must have some common ground for an argument to be fruitful, but if someone’s moral faculty is so impaired that he no longer shares the same ethical framework as you, how can you make any moral progress?

As Ed Feser writes, “repeatedly taking sexual pleasure in activity that is directly contrary to nature’s ends dulls the intellect’s perception of nature, to the point that the very idea that some things are contrary to the natural order loses its hold upon the mind. The intellect thereby loses its grip on moral reality.”

Here Dr. Feser is drawing from the deposit of St. Thomas’s wisdom, where Thomas discusses the Daughters of Lust, or how someone, through repeated sexual sin especially, can suffer “blindness of mind, thoughtlessness, rashness, self-love, hatred of God.” Aquinas tells us that the more unrestrainedly bent our lower powers (or concupiscible appetites) are upon their object, the more easily distorted our higher powers—namely, reason and will—become. In other words, an unhealthy obsession with sex makes it hard to think straight. I mean, duh. Reason has almost completely checked out, except to make excuses for vile behavior.

What is the way out of this mess? God’s grace, surely. But also setting better examples and living the Christian ethic fully—especially the Christian sexual ethic—to attract those non-religious folks who are still, thankfully, repulsed by the increasing deceptive darkness that just is the logical extension of the Sexual Revolution—from the constant promotion of pornography and masturbatory practices to contraception and seeing others as mere instruments of self-pleasure to redefining marriage to feign the illusion that two people of the same sex can actually be married, and so on.

There are still many people who are seriously repulsed by what is being foisted upon children. Where will they be able to find shelter and help? Let it be the Church. By wanting to escape the darkness and make sense of this growing perversity and its origins, they may be brought fully to the light of Christ.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Quotes when tempted


mortification = mors (death) + facere (to make)

“A sculptor who wishes to carve a figure out of a block uses his chisel, first cutting away great chunks of marble, then smaller pieces, until he finally reaches a point where only a brush of hand is needed to reveal the figure. In the same way, the soul has to undergo tremendous mortifications at first, and then more refined detachments, until finally its Divine image is revealed. Because mortification is recognized as a practice of death, there is fittingly inscribed on the tomb of Duns Scotus, Bis Mortus; Semel Sepultus (twice died, but buried only once). When we die to something, something comes alive within us. If we die to self, charity comes alive; if we die to pride, service comes alive; if we die to lust, reverence for personality comes alive; if we die to anger, love comes alive.”
—Fulton J. Sheen, p. 219, Peace of Soul

“Where there is no obedience there is no virtue, where there is no virtue there is no good, where there is no good there is no love, where there is no love, there is no God, and where there is no God there is no Paradise.”
–Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina

St Thomas Aquinas, OP, reminds us that, “Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe, to know what he ought to desire, and to know what he ought to do.” Everyone is called to work toward their salvation (Phil 2:12), which is ultimately union with God. Those who take this call seriously must embark upon a journey inward to the deepest recesses of their soul. In the adventure and wonder of that journey, we work out the details of our union with our Beloved. We cling to what we need to believe, remain firm in what we truly desire, and are guided by what we know we have to do.

“Cowardice asks the question is it safe? Expediency asks the question is it politic? Vanity asks the question is it popular. But conscience asks the question is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.”
—Martin Luther King Jr

“For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18)

“Expect temptation to your last breath.”
-Saint Anthony the Great

“Only saints can save the world. And only our own sins can stop us from being saints.”
-Peter Kreeft

“Satan always tempts the pure – the others are already his.”
-Archbishop Fulton Sheen

“We always find that those who walked closest to Christ were those who had to bear the greatest trials.”
-Saint Teresa of Ávila

“Only those who do not fight are never wounded.”
-Saint John Chrysostom

“The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon.”
-
Saint Cyril of Jerusalem

“Mary, I give you my heart. Always keep it yours. Jesus, Mary, always be my friends. I beg you, let me die rather than be so unfortunate as to commit a single sin.”
-Saint Dominic Savio

“Evil can only win if you let evil in.”

-Emmalyn Elsen

“Let the enemy rage at the gate; let him knock, pound, scream, howl; let him do his worst. We know for certain that he cannot enter our soul except by the door of our consent.”
-Saint Francis de Sales

“The devil is like a rabid dog tied to a chain; beyond the length of the chain he cannot seize anyone. And you: keep at a distance. If you approach too near, you let yourself be caught. Remember that the devil has only one door by which to enter the soul: the will.”
-Saint Padre Pio

“If only we could see the joy of our guardian angel when he sees us fighting our temptations!”
-Saint John Vianney

“Must you continue to be your own cross?”
-Saint Jane Frances de Chantal

“One of our sure guides along the path of life is that we do not know when earthly life will come to an end. How important that our repentance for past and present transgressions be a daily practice.”
-Rev. Thomas J. Donaghy

“He who seeks not the Cross of Christ seeks not the glory of Christ.”
–St. John of the Cross

“He did not say: You will not be troubled – you will not be tempted – you will not be distressed. But He did say: “You will not be overcome”.”
-Saint Julian of Norwich

“We follow a guy who was hated, mocked, tortured, imprisoned, and killed… Should we expect anything less? Sin starts and ends with you.
”
-Jack Trembath

“If you are going to worship a guy who was crucified, don’t expect life to be pop and Skittles.”
-
Mark Shea

“You can’t do God’s work without suffering.”
-
Blessed Mother Teresa

“For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18)

“Expect temptation to your last breath.”
-Saint Anthony the Great

“Only saints can save the world. And only our own sins can stop us from being saints.”
-Peter Kreeft

“Satan always tempts the pure – the others are already his.”
-Archbishop Fulton Sheen

“‘Tis one thing to be tempted, another thing to fall.”
-
William Shakespeare

“Hence instead of allowing ourselves to become discouraged and fainthearted under trials which may seem to overwhelm us, let us act in the same way as we do when our bodies are sick, consult a good doctor—a good spiritual director—and applying the remedies he advises, patiently await the effects that it pleases God to give. Everything is meant for our good, and such trials ought to be counted as special graces from God. Whether or not they are sent as a punishment for our sins, they come from Him and we should thank Him for them, placing ourselves entirely in His hands. If we bear them with patience we shall receive greater grace than if we were filled with a sense of fervent devotion.”
—Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure, Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence

“A sculptor who wishes to carve a figure out of a block uses his chisel, first cutting away great chunks of marble, then smaller pieces, until he finally reaches a point where only a brush of hand is needed to reveal the figure. In the same way, the soul has to undergo tremendous mortifications at first, and then more refined detachments, until finally its Divine image is revealed. Because mortification is recognized as a practice of death, there is fittingly inscribed on the tomb of Duns Scotus, Bis Mortus; Semel Sepultus (twice died, but buried only once). When we die to something, something comes alive within us. If we die to self, charity comes alive; if we die to pride, service comes alive; if we die to lust, reverence for personality comes alive; if we die to anger, love comes alive.”
—Fulton J. Sheen, Peace of Soul

“Where there is no obedience there is no virtue, where there is no virtue there is no good, where there is no good there is no love, where there is no love, there is no God, and where there is no God there is no Paradise.”
–Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina

“When I see that the burden is beyond my strength, I do not consider or analyze it or probe into it, but I run like a child to the Heart of Jesus and say only one word to Him: ‘You can do all things.’”
—St. Faustina Kowalska, Diary

mortification = mors (death) + facere (to make)

“Above all, it is necessary to ask of God every morning the gift of perseverance, and to beg of the Blessed Virgin to obtain it for you, and particularly in the time of temptation, by invoking the name of Jesus and Mary as long as the temptation lasts. Happy the man who will continue to act in this manner, and shall be found so doing when Jesus Christ shall come to judge him. ‘Blessed is that servant, whom, when his Lord shall come, he shall find so doing’ (Matt. 24:46).”
—St. Alphonsus De Liguori, Sermons

“I never found anyone so religious and devout as not to have sometimes a subtraction of grace, or feel a diminution of fervor. No saint was ever so highly rapt and illuminated as not to be tempted sooner or later. For he is not worthy of the high contemplation of God who has not, for God’s sake, been exercised with some tribulation. For temptation going before is usually a sign of ensuing consolation. For heavenly comfort is promised to such as have been proved by temptation. To him that overcometh, saith our Lord, I will give to eat of the tree of life.”
—Thomas à Kempis, Imitation of Christ

“The Devil didn’t deal out temptations to Our Lord only. He brings these evil schemes of his to bear on each of Jesus’ servants—and not just on the mountain or in the wilderness or when we’re by ourselves. No, he comes after us in the city as well, in the marketplaces, in courts of justice. He tempts us by means of others, even our own relatives. So what must we do? We must disbelieve him altogether, and close our ears against him, and hate his flattery. And when he tries to tempt us further by offering us even more, then we should shun him all the more. . . We aren’t as intent on gaining our own salvation as he is intent on achieving our ruin. So we must shun him, not with words only, but also with works; not in mind only, but also in deed. We must do none of the things that he approves, for in that way will we do all those things that God approves. Yes, for the Devil also makes many promises, not so that he may give them to us, but so that he may take away from us. He promises plunder, so that he may deprive us of the kingdom of God and of righteousness. He sets out treasures in the earth as snares and traps, so that he may deprive us both of these and of the treasures in heaven. He would have us be rich in this life, so that we may not be rich in the next.”
—St. John Chrysostom

“Now there’s no one who approaches God with a true and upright heart who isn’t tested by hardships and temptations. So in all these temptations see to it that even if you feel them, you don’t consent to them. Instead, bear them patiently and calmly with humility and long suffering.”
—St. Albert the Great

Then the devil took Him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw Yourself down. For it is written: “’He will command his angels concerning You, and they will lift You up in their hands, so that You will not strike your foot against a stone.’” -Mt 4:5-6

Love,
Matthew

Pride – the Queen of sin


-by Dcn Harrison Garlick

“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.”

“The queen is the piece that can carry on the best battle in this game, and all the other pieces help. There’s no queen like humility for making the King surrender. Humility drew the King from heaven to the womb of the Virgin, and with it, by one hair, we will draw Him to our souls. And realize that the one who has more humility will be the one who possesses Him more; and the one who has less will possess Him less.”
—St. Teresa of Avila from the book The Way of Prayer

Love & truth,
Matthew

Pride & the Rainbow – the Queen of sin


-by Christine Flynn

““Pride Month”—the entire month of June—is now barely in the rearview mirror, with “LGBT History Month” not so far away. This means that for two entire months every year, we are compelled to glorify what Pope St. Gregory the Great called “the queen of sin”—specifically, in this case, pride in a sexual orientation that is “objectively disordered” and inclines people to “acts of grave depravity” (CCC 2357). Pride, too, is intrinsically disordered; it is a capital sin that “seeks attention and honor and sets oneself in competition with God,” disordering and damaging our relationship with our Creator and Sustainer.

Pride’s antidote, humility, leads the Christian to acknowledging God as the author of all good. It is, in a sense, the acceptance of reality—that God is good, and truth is good. And the truth is that God created the universe according to certain rules and laws. He created humans to obey certain rules and laws—not just arbitrarily, but for our own flourishing and ultimately for heaven.

In being given this gift of flourishing, we do best when we recognize where we have failed and our fallen state, which is where our failures ultimately come from. This recognition is foundational to a life of poverty of spirit. It is not the imposition of a “vengeful, bearded Sky Daddy bent on eternal damnation for anyone struggling with [insert sin of choice here].” Rather, it is grounded in objective morality, based on our nature as humans.

To attempt to circumvent, disobey, or override the moral laws of God betrays a refusal, an anti-fiat toward Him Who created us, exemplifying pride in our ability to say “no thanks” to God and pursue a course that suits our own subjective sense of morality. We set ourselves above God this way.

That certainly does not sound like something to celebrate or take lightly.

But now we are to take the sin of sexual immorality lightly—with parades, drag shows, story hours, store discounts, fundraisers, colorful merchandise, and more . . . all pointing to a refusal of God’s laws, and a proud refusal at that.

The revelers may say, “That’s not the type of ‘pride’ we’re advocating for. It’s about being unapologetic about who we are and how we love ourselves and others!” Yet it is one thing to love ourselves for who we are, accepting how God created us, and bearing daily the crosses that come from our individual proclivities to sin. This is the path to holiness. It is something else entirely that “Pride” advocates promote. These advocates want us to celebrate not the heroic efforts of the people who experience non-heterosexual attractions and are doing their level best to live in accordance with God’s law, but the sin itself, which is as disordered as celebrating any other sin.

The “I’m okay, you’re okay, we’re all okay” mentality is patently false. God made each of us in His image and likeness, but we are not He. We are all broken and sinful, able only to reflect the good that God authored and is. God gave us sexual love—the parameters of which, far from being arbitrary, are set up for our flourishing. This love is a beautiful and fruitful thing. But sexual activity removed from that life-giving context becomes disordered. We can’t expect true happiness from these disordered activities—regardless of the fleeting biological or emotional satisfaction they may provide, regardless of how the culture pushes them—any more than we can expect happiness from eating thumbtacks. Some things are just really good for us, given our nature, and some things are really bad. Not even God can change that.

Rather than justify and celebrate behaviors and desires that go against God’s plans for us, we ought to be apologetic. Each of us has turned away from God. As the Confiteor goes: “I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do.” That is what makes the sacrament of reconciliation such a stunning act of love: God fully restores us to Himself. He is the only one who can. None of our own attempts comes close.

This can be seen in one of the central emblems of the “Pride” movement: the rainbow. Biblically, the rainbow denotes God’s covenant with us—His promise that He will never again destroy creation with a great flood. He hung up His bow in the sky to show us that his “weapon” has been put to rest; He is at peace with us. God’s rainbow, too, signifies perfection: six days of creation and a seventh of rest. On the other hand, the colors in the “Pride” rainbow, as it stood for years, prior to its redesign in 2021, numbered only six—the “number of man,” a symbol of humanity’s attempts to create and work as God, but ultimately and always falling short of His perfection.

In the book of Joshua, we see man doing his own work, marching around the walls of Jericho for six days. Ultimately, it is the glory of God that makes those walls fall . . . on the seventh day (Joshua 6:1-20). In Genesis, we read that God worked for six days and rested on the seventh, blessing this seventh day and making it holy. As for us, we may labor and do all our work during the first six days of the week, but the day afterward is to be kept separate and holy—not through any effort on our own, but because of the Lord’s command (Exod. 8:8-10). On the sixth day, too, Jesus was crucified and buried. What terrible work of man in nailing the Creator of the universe to a cross! But even in man’s worst work, God was not defeated. Rather, He brought something infinitely more beautiful from it.

This is a word of caution to those who work to change God’s designs for human sexuality. As with all other attempts to effect change that isn’t in His plans, these, too, will ultimately fail.”

-Deut 30:19

Love & truth,
Matthew

Sin renders the soul miserable – Ven Louis of Granada, OP, (1504-1588)

“Thus sin renders the soul miserable, weak and torpid, inconstant in doing good, cowardly in resisting temptation, slothful in the observance of God’s commandments. It deprives her of true liberty and of that sovereignty which she should never resign; it makes her a slave to the world, the flesh, and the devil; it subjects her to a harder and more wretched servitude than that of the unhappy Israelites in Egypt or Babylon. Sin so dulls and stupefies the spiritual senses of man that he is deaf to God’s voice and inspirations; blind to the dreadful calamities which threaten him; insensible to the sweet odor of virtue and the example of the saints; incapable of tasting how sweet the Lord is, or feeling the touch of His benign hand in the benefits which should be a constant incitement to his greater love. Moreover, sin destroys the peace and joy of a good conscience, takes away the soul’s fervor, and leaves her an object abominable in the eyes of God and His saints. The grace of justification delivers us from all these miseries. For God, in His infinite mercy, is not content with effacing our sins and restoring us to His favor; He delivers us from the evils sin has brought upon us, and renews the interior man in his former strength and beauty. Thus He heals our wounds, breaks our bonds, moderates the violence of our passions, restores with true liberty the supernatural beauty of the soul, reestablishes us in the peace and joy of a good conscience, reanimates our interior senses, inspires us with ardor for good and a salutary hatred of sin, makes us strong and constant in resisting evil, and thus enriches us with an abundance of good works. In fine, He so perfectly renews the inner man with all his faculties that the Apostle calls those who are thus justified new men and new creatures.”

Love,
Matthew

Mortification

“But you, know by experience that our cross is truly full of unction, whereby it is not only light, but all the bitterness and hardship we find in our state is, by the grace of God, rendered sweet and pleasant.”
St. Bernard of Clairvaux

“I shall now speak of those means that may help us to render this necessary practice of mortification not only easy, but pleasant.

The first means is the grace of God, with which all things become easy. St. Paul supplies us both with an example and a proof of this truth.

The sting of the flesh, the angel of Satan, tormented him. Thrice he begged of God to be delivered from it, and God made this answer to him: “My grace is sufficient for thee” (2 Cor. 12:9).

Again, he says, “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). Yet, as he says elsewhere, “Not I , but the grace of God with me” (1 Cor. 15:10). We must not believe that God leaves us to our own strength in time of mortification and suffering. No!

He bears the greater part of the burden Himself, and for this reason the law is called a yoke, which is to be born by two. For Jesus Christ joins Himself to us, to help us to support it, and with His assistance, who can be discouraged?

Therefore, let nothing in the law appear to you too hard, since you will have nothing but the easiest part of it to bear. It is for this reason also that He calls it a yoke and a burden when He says, “My yoke is sweet, and My burden light” (Matt. 11:30).

For though, as regards our nature and weakness, it be ever so hard a yoke, and ever so heavy a burden, yet the grace of God renders it easy and light, because our Lord Himself helps us to bear it.

St. Bernard, in His first sermon on the dedication of a church, says that, as in the consecration the walls are anointed with holy oil, so our Savior does the same in religious souls, sweetening by the spiritual unction of His grace all their crosses, penances and mortifications.

Worldlings are afraid of a religious life because they see its crosses, but perceive not the unction with which they are anointed and made easy. “But you,” says the Saint, speaking to his religious, “know by experience that our cross is truly full of unction, whereby it is not only light, but all the bitterness and hardship we find in our state is, by the grace of God, rendered sweet and pleasant.”

St. Austin admits that before he knew the power of grace, he could never comprehend what chastity was nor believe that anyone was able to practice it. But the grace of God renders all things so easy that, if we possess it, we may say with St. John that “His commandments are not heavy” (1 John 5:3), because the abundance of grace He bestows upon us renders them most sweet and easy.

The second means which makes the practice of mortification easy is the love of God. Love, more than anything else, sweetens pain of every kind. “He who loves,” says St. Austin, “thinks that nothing is hard, and yet the least labor is insupportable to those who love not. Love alone is ashamed to find difficulty in anything.”

It is thus that those who love hunting make no account of the fatigue they endure, but rather look upon it as a pleasure. It is not love that makes the mother find no difficulty in nursing her infant?

Is it not love that keeps the wife day and night at her sick husband’s bedside? Is it not love that causes all sorts of creatures to take so much in nourishing their young that they even abstain from eating and expose themselves to dangers for their sakes?

Was it not love that made Jacob think his many years’ service for Rachel short and sweet? “They seemed but a few days, because of the greatness of his love” (Gen. 29:20).

No sooner does love appear than all pain vanishes and all sweetness accompanies our labor. A holy woman said that from her first being touched with the love of God, she knew not what it was to suffer, either exteriorly or interiorly, neither from the world, the flesh or the devil because pure love knows not what pain or torment is.

Love, therefore, not only raises the price of all our actions and renders them more perfect, but it gives us courage to support all kinds of mortification and makes us feel great ease and sweetness, even in the hardest things.

It was thus that St. Chrysostom explains these words of the Apostle, “Love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10). For he not only says (as the Saint notices) that the law and all the commandments are included in love, but that it is love which renders the observance of both most easy.

Let us therefore love much, and nothing will be able to stop us in the way of perfection. Then we shall be able to say with the Apostle,

“Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or persecution, or the sword? For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35, 38).”

Love & fortitude,
Matthew

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,
Matthew

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).

Further,

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.”


-by Fr. David Meconi, SJ

“There is a certain convenience in the Calvinistic tendency to consider oneself “totally depraved.” If this were truly one’s condition, one would never need to ask forgiveness for any particular sin. There is no specific sin to name and no specific sin to avoid next time. There is no need to grow in self-knowledge, no rush to ask for the grace to overcome any one vice, no circumstance or moment to talk about and pray over the next day. If everything is a grave sin, then somehow nothing is a grave sin. As a result, even the sincerest followers of Jesus need never admit (or confess) anything particular. Moreover, our Savior’s own words—“Therefore, he who delivered me to you has the greater sin” (John 19:11b)—would prove false. Even Christ’s warning that Sodom’s sin was more tolerable than the rejection he encountered at Capernaum (Matt. 11:22-24) would ring untrue.

But this way of looking at sin is not in Sacred Scripture nor is it the way any of Christ’s ancient Church approached sinful humanity’s need for grace. The apostles and Gospel authors understood well that some sins are clearly graver than others. For instance, John gives us an insight into how to navigate our way when looking at our own brokenness:

If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal (1 John 5:16-17).

The Latin here for a mortal sin is mortalis, and the great Christian Tradition has named the contrary to that scriptural warrant venialis, a common word meaning “not deadly” or even “pardonable,” that which is much lighter than mortalis. As such, the distinction between mortal and venial sin is not some medieval invention but a 2,000-year-old apostolic warrant by which Christ inspires us to take note of our sins and find the appropriate response in Him.”

Love,
Matthew