Habitual Sin and the Grace of the Sacraments

Jul 25th, 2011 | By | Category: Blog Posts

In a class at Reformed Theological Seminary I had a professor address the issue of internet pornography among seminarians. According to my professor, around fifty percent of seminary students view internet pornography on a weekly basis. I’m not sure where this stat comes from, but I do not doubt its accuracy. I appreciated my professor’s willingness to address this issue. Having been a member of three different PCA churches, and now a local Catholic parish, I have never heard the issue truly addressed from the pulpit. Yet, this is a habitual sin that is destroying marriages and numbing the consciences of those who are in its grip. It’s an issue too big to ignore.


Virgin of the Annunciation
by Guido Reni (early 17th century)

This is also a subject where Catholics and Reformed Christians find strong agreement. We both recognize the gravity of this sin. Unfortunately though, this is not the case with all churches. In high school, before my conversion through Young Life, I occasionally attended a Methodist church where there was little mention of sin, Christ, or redemption. One of my most poignant memories is a conversation between a group of other students and a member of the church staff who was defending his subscription to Playboy Magazine. He argued that the magazine honored women by showing their beauty. Stories like this should make all Christians weep, but it should also highlight the fact that Catholics and Reformed Christians are fighting the same battle.

Since coming into the Catholic Church I’ve tried to maintain relationships with my Reformed friends as best as possible. As these relationships have continued to grow I’ve also been able to form deep friendships with Catholics as well. In the context of these relationships I have been struck by the different approaches of these groups in the fight against habitual sin. For the Reformed the battle seems to be fought primarily through Bible study, accountability groups, prayer, and attentiveness to solid preaching. For the Catholics, however, the sacraments are paramount. This is not to say that Catholics do not love accountability groups, Bible study, preaching, and prayer.  When it comes to how we believe God is transforming us, however, Catholics take comfort that their Savior is healing them through the sacraments.

This is not because Catholics believe the sacraments have magical voodoo powers to cure. On the contrary, we believe that the sacraments are where we encounter Jesus Christ, and the means He established by which we are more deeply united with Him and grow in sanctification. As I reflect on my own struggles with various forms of habitual sin throughout my entire Christian life, I realize that I’ve always known what I needed. I’ve always known the answer: more of Jesus.  Union with the living Christ is the ultimate remedy for the sickness of sin. This is what Christ offers us in the sacraments: deeper union with him.

This does not mean that Catholics are more sanctified or that they necessarily sin less than Protestants. The tragedy of the recent sex scandal within the Catholic Church demonstrates this point all too well. Though certain priests were partaking of the sacraments, they were still living in a horrible pattern of habitual sin. But this is precisely why the Catholic sacraments are not magic. An unrepentant man can partake of the sacraments and still be an unrepentant man. This reality can be seen in Jesus’ own ministry. For some, an encounter with Christ meant judgment, not forgiveness and transformation. The grace offered to us in the sacraments is resistible. And the measure of grace we receive through the sacraments depends on our disposition. The greater our love for Christ, the more grace we receive from Christ through the sacraments. Conversely, those who approach the sacraments in mortal sin and without contrition, receive no grace from the sacraments.

For years I prayed that God would free me from particular habitual sins. However, I never expected this prayer to be answered in the form of the Catholic sacraments. Yet this is where Christ has met me and this is where I believe He will continue to transform me. I am speaking here from experience and am fully aware of the limited strength of an experiential argument. Nonetheless, I have to share my story. When God does something incredible it is hard not to tell others. My hope and prayer is that my own story will encourage you to continue reading Called To Communion and further consider the claims of the Catholic Church, especially as you consider your own desire to grow in holiness for Christ.

Tags: , ,

92 comments
Leave a comment »

  1. Yes, people far too often forget that one has to be properly disposed to receive a sacrament: that without this disposition it will not work. With that dispostion in the recipient, the sacraments work wonders. I cannot see how people can live without them.

  2. I also overcame habitual sin after becoming Catholic, thanks in large part to the sacraments.

    I remember when I learned from the Catechism that each time I received the Eucharist, Jesus strengthened me against future mortal sin. And, experientially, it is true.

    Of course, constant vigilance is still required, as the devil prowls around like a lion…but the grace of the sacraments is real. Thanks for sharing this!

  3. I have had a similar experience, losing habitual sin, arriving in an unexpected way: I would confess the same sin (having failed in a firm purpose of amendment) and began to discover that I did not want to confess the same sin to my confessor. I wanted to make a good confession. I stopped doing that sin. I assumed it was grace.

    That has now happened more than one occasion. The grace of embarrassment was unexpected, but not unwelcome.

    Thanks be to God.

    dt

  4. I grew up without any religious concepts whatever, and became a Christian at age 27, Reformed by 30 – and a Catholic at 53.

    I cannot say – wish I could! – that my many, horrid habitual sins evaporated instantly. Nevertheless, deeply ingrained habits of sin of all sorts – not only sexual – that I had scarcely even fought during my 25 years as a Protestant, began to weaken immediately – some, indeed, did dramatically disappear, but most not – but by the time I had been a Catholic for five years, my wife and children expressed themselves astonished. And things have continued to improve over the last ten years or so.

    I did, indeed, as a Protestant, try various counsellors, etc. I am convinced that the ‘worst’ – but valid – Reconciliation by the ‘worst’ priest – gives you something unattainable by any other means from the best counsellor. I now go to Confession weekly. I have many, many habits of sin left, but – thank God! – they are now sins of weakness, and I cannot tell you with what longing I yearn for that final purgation which – please God! – I will experience after death. The most wonderful truth about Purgatory is that we will no longer be able to sin – non posse peccare.

    jj

  5. When it is a matter of doubt whether a sin is mortal or not due to the person’s culpability, St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church, advises people to error on the side of caution, not liberty, and go to confession.

  6. This view is striking for me as I make my way into the Church. This understanding of grace being given to us through the sacraments is powerful and also is the key to grasp the reality of partaking the Body of Christ.
    However, the emphasis on the reaction of the Christian to the sacramental reality as being fundamental to its effectiveness is something I never thought about and it’s something incredibly aligned to St. Paul’s view on repentance and regeneration as the believer comes to be one in Christ.
    Finally, this sacramental reality is really the perfect fullfilment of Christ’s promise to be with us until the end of times, as the Church provides us with all the sacraments and mainly the Eucharist literally every day.
    Thanks Jeremy and other CTC writers for the great effort of presenting the Catholic faith in a deep and clear way.

  7. for me, this post is timely.

    Let me say from the outset: I’m not Catholic but I have been considering the Church’s claims. My background is in a charismatic, then reformed protestant church. I’m also a regular lurker here and on Devin Rose’s blog. In fact, I’m just finishing Devin’s book.
    Last night, before C2C posted this, I wrote a reply to Devin’s blog post on sexual addiction, but then chickened out. The gist of that now deleted reply was, if the Catholics (and the Church of the East) are right about the Eucharist, then it makes sense that eating the true body and blood of Christ would nourish and heal the sin-sick soul. As Adam and Eve ate the flesh and blood of the fruit and brought death to our race, so eating the flesh and blood of our Lord would bring wholeness and life. If the bread and wine were only symbolic, then it seems that nourishment and healing would be only symbolic, not truly getting down deep into our body and soul.

    But even while I read and ponder the posts here and other Catholic apologetic sites – and find the arguments compelling, – I can’t help feel like a total hypocrite trying to research the claims of the Church while continuing to wrestle with – and give in to – some very grave, habitual sins.

    Truth be told, I feel kinda silly posting this here, since it doesn’t seem like the place to receive spiritual guidance. But since all of you have wrestled with habitual sin, and all of you have wrestled with the claims of the Catholic Church, maybe someone can offer some wise counsel. I guess I just feel adrift.

    Blessings,
    Rider of Rohan

  8. Hi Rider of Rohan,

    Thanks for commenting. No need to feel silly. I don’t know how much “wise counsel” I have to offer, but I certainly would encourage you to meet with a priest and hopefully from there come into the Church when the time is right. I think you will find the Sacrament of Reconciliation revolutionary in your fight against habitual sin.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  9. @Rohan:
    I think one thing I learned of importance as a Catholic is that Reconciliation is not just in order to get your sins forgiven. It is strengthening against the weakness of concupiscence, that tends us to sin.

    I remember, 23 December, 1995, when I knew I was to be received into the Church the following day, I had to go to Confession for the first time. I went in to Father really dreading the experience. I was trembling, in fact.

    I came out fifteen or so minutes later wanting to shout, to tell my Reformed friends to run, not walk, to the nearest priest and beg to be received – “you don’t know what you’re missing!”

    That said, the Mass itself is the centre of the whole thing. I had – amongst other gross sins which I am not going to retail in a public forum :-) – a terrible temper. My wife and children lived in fear of the next blow-up.

    I became a Catholic. Everything ought to go fine now, right?

    In some ways things became worse.

    About two years into my becoming a Catholic, I went to the priest at the local Newman Centre (I work at Auckland University), asking for advice – maybe he knew of a counsellor.

    What he advised, instead, was for me to go see the priest in charge of the Catholic Charismatic Centre here. That priest said he would say a Mass for the “Healing of the Family Tree” for us. Over the next couple of months, I was to write out – for myself – a kind of general confession. On the day – evening, actually – with my wife and three of our four children, and two Protestant friends as well, we went. Father said Mass, praying for a removal of all binding evil. He burned my general confession.

    I felt a little let-down, actually. There was nothing particularly dramatic about the Mass. It was in his office, not even a church. It was the “Charismatic Centre” but there was nothing particularly Charismatic about it.

    Within a few weeks, I knew I had changed. My wife and kids can testify to that. Oh, I can still get a bit upset. But no one around me lives in dread of that any longer – and ‘a bit upset’ is all, and even that is rare.

    And our two Protestant friends were Catholics within a year.

    God works through these mysterious, invisible, things called the Sacraments. They really are independent of the minister administering them. They are ex opere operato. Please God, they have saved my marriage – saved it and made it the most wonderful thing.

    I pray for you in your search. You said:

    I can’t help feel like a total hypocrite trying to research the claims of the Church while continuing to wrestle with – and give in to – some very grave, habitual sins.

    You have come to the right place, mate! It is not those who are well who need the Physician, but those who are sick. Come. The way is narrow and the gate is strait, but it is sure and you will receive the strength you need to walk it – and it leads to everlasting life.

    jj

  10. Rider of Rohan,

    “But even while I read and ponder the posts here and other Catholic apologetic sites – and find the arguments compelling, – I can’t help feel like a total hypocrite trying to research the claims of the Church while continuing to wrestle with – and give in to – some very grave, habitual sins.”

    I love your name, and the symbolism I think it implies. I am a Rider as well, from the Reformed (PCA) world. I joined the Church last December. I had a habitual sin eliminated by Christ in the Eucharist like bunker buster missile. Even before I recieved Him in the Eucharist, a few months before my reception into the Church, I began to think about the grave evil of the mortal sin I was commiting, and I dreaded potentially profaning the Lord’s Body and Blood. I also dreaded the thought of having to hypocritically confess the sin over and over to my priest. This imperfect contrition was a good first step for me.

    One word helped me to gain initial mastery of the sin: HELL.
    Simply put, the sin I was commiting was worthy of hell. And I didnt want to go there. Do you want to? No? Then stop. Sounds harsh, but that simple train of thought is the only thing that helped me to have imperfect contrition initially, and to stop commiting that sin. Now I realize that my motive was imperfect, but in God’s mercy, that is all that is required to recieve absolution! And the thing about the sacraments is that more and more the desire for that sin has gone away, and God has changed the imperfect contrition to perfect contrition in that area! Praise God!

    Eph 2:10:
    For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus in good works, which God hath prepared that we should walk in them.

    I am no longer even tempted to commit it, which is far more than I had hoped for. This leaves me free to focus on other sins.
    I commited that sin 3 times after becomming Catholic, and each time I felt the flames of hell lick my heels. (this is how you learn confession times in many parishes around your area!) The last time I came crawling to the confessional like a dog and left like a … well, like a Rider of Rohan! For the past 6 months, I have been totally free from even the desire for that sin. I know how much it “offends thee my God, who art all good and desreving of all my love.” No longer do I only fear the “pains of hell”, but I truly desire to not offend God in that way. He gives me everything when He gives me the Eucharist, how could I continue to sin so boldly? Now don’t start collecting my relics quite yet, I still have plenty of sin to spare, but this particular sin was mortal and habitual. It simply had to go. To me it is a miracle that it went away so quickly after so many years of struggling. Catholicism is intense that way.
    I pray you have the same miracle brother and that you ride home to the Catholic Chruch!

    David Meyer

  11. Rider,

    if the Catholics (and the Church of the East) are right about the Eucharist, then it makes sense that eating the true body and blood of Christ would nourish and heal the sin-sick soul. As Adam and Eve ate the flesh and blood of the fruit and brought death to our race, so eating the flesh and blood of our Lord would bring wholeness and life. If the bread and wine were only symbolic, then it seems that nourishment and healing would be only symbolic, not truly getting down deep into our body and soul.

    You will like the depictions of Tree of Life and Death

    HERE,

    and HERE.

    Notice Mary, the New Eve, succeding where the old Eve failed.

  12. Rider of Rohan,

    That is an awesome handle.

    No worries about chickening out, either. I do it all the time, and sometimes it is best to keep personal stuff private.

    Just know that I entered the Catholic Church without all my ducks being lined up in a row. I had only been baptized (in my Baptist church) a little over a year before my first confession, but I had much to confess. Even after becoming Catholic, it took years to overcome my worst habitual sins.

    Don’t give up. Don’t lose heart. God will continue to forgive and help you.

  13. Rider,

    Thanks for your honesty and transparency. I am a fellow lurker and occasional poster of comments/questions at CTC. I also came from a charismatic background to Reformed and now contemplating the claims of the RCC. Maybe it wasn’t coincidence that you chose to post your comment here today. I empathize with your feeling “adrift”, as I have for too long been discouraged, adrift on those waters that exist between Protestantism and Catholicism. I will commit to praying for you what I have been praying for myself – the clear vision to see the path of Truth and the courage to follow wherever it leads, trusting in the infinite goodness of our Lord. Please keep me in your prayers as well.

    Burton

  14. (Figure I’ll keep the trend of LOTR handles going)

    Rider,

    I’m right there with you. I came into the Catholic Church last Easter from a Baptist background, and pray that God will continue to guide you as you seek His truth.

    I also have struggled with certain habitual sins for a long time. Since becoming Catholic and receiving the sacraments of Reconciliation, Confirmation, and Eucharist, I have made some progress in dealing with these sins, but by no means am I free of them. As Jeremy said, the sacraments are not magic; we can resist the grace they give us. Also, I did not have a powerful wave of emotion after my first confession (or really any confession) other than that I was not as nervous as I thought I would be. So don’t expect God to necessarily act in a dramatic or emotional way. But I am confident that God will forgive again and again and again and again and again and again and… (you get the picture) and that if I keep coming to Him, He can eventually give healing and victory. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” In fact, that’s one of the things I’ve recently been convicted of, because I haven’t been frequenting the sacraments as often as I can.

    Even just on the purely human psychological level, I find Confession to be very helpful. However, confession is not fun – I never think, “I need to go to confession. Yay!” It’s sort of like going to the dentist. It’s not fun, but you know you need to do it, and it bugs you until you go, and once you’ve gone you feel a lot better. Being able to go and vomit out all of the sickness inside of you (metaphorically) and walk out knowing that you are clean and whole (and that what you have confessed is absolutely confidential, which is not guaranteed with accountability groups) is a great gift that Christ has given us. I love the formula the priest prays over me: “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

    It’s also true that being embarrassed about having to confess the same sins over and over again can be a psychological incentive to change your behavior. This hasn’t been something that has come up with me too often, however, since our parish is blessed with multiple priests, so usually there are 2 or 3 priests hearing confessions and it is a “first-come, first-served” system, meaning there’s no easy way to make sure you get the same priest every time. However, something I’ve struggled with is that if I sin once and know I won’t be able to get to confession for a few days, my mind will start telling me, “Well, you’ve already sinned once, you might as well go ahead and have your fun until you can go to confession.” Can anyone relate to this or share any suggestions on how to combat it?

    As for feeling hypocritical – that’s just being able to look at yourself honestly. The only Christians who aren’t hypocrites are the ones in heaven, because all of us if we look at ourselves honestly see the ways in which we fail to follow the Christ we claim to love and worship. Whenever I am tempted to give in to hopelessness, I find Romans 7 and 8 to be very helpful: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! … There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 7:24-25a, 8:1)

    Forth Eorlingas!

  15. Faramir, (re:14),

    In relation to what you wrote here, I can relate, as a former “Reformed Baptist” who returned to the Catholic Church last year (and who had quite a long confession to make upon returning, and who still goes regularly to confession, and who has an appointment for confession tomorrow afternoon!):

    However, something I’ve struggled with is that if I sin once and know I won’t be able to get to confession for a few days, my mind will start telling me, “Well, you’ve already sinned once, you might as well go ahead and have your fun until you can go to confession.” Can anyone relate to this or share any suggestions on how to combat it?

    Faramir, I have struggled with this thinking, too, at times since my return to the Church. Just tonight, I had a thought regarding this line of thinking, a thought that I firmly believe to be from the Holy Spirit, as to my best understanding, it is in conformity with Catholic teaching on how we are to regard ourselves, both individually, as Catholics, in relation to Christ, and together, as His Bride, the Catholic Church. The thought is as follows:

    Christopher, if you were married (currently, I am not), and you sinned by yelling at your wife, and you were not able to go to confession for a few days, would you think to yourself,”Well, since I can’t go to confession right now, I’ll just continue to yell at my wife for the next few days. Moreover, maybe I’ll even beat her, to *really* plumb the depths of sin against her and God”?

    God forbid that I would ever even think such things!! However, when I allow myself to fall into serious sin, and I continue in it, simply because I am not able to go to the Sacrament of Penance/Reconcilation for a few days, I am relating to God, my Creator, Redeemer, and the Eternal Lover of my soul, much as a violent husband “relates” to his abused wife.

    I share these thoughts, not to cause anyone to fall into despair, but rather, to remind myself and all of us, of :

    1. The horror of sin.
    2. The need to avoid it (especially, but not at all exclusively, mortal sin), out of love for the God, supremely revealed in Jesus Christ, who has died for us and redeemed us.
    3. The importance of the Sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation.

    I’m going, tomorrow afternoon, by appointment with my parish priest, praise be to God. I need to remember that God’s mercies are ever new in this Sacrament, even, and especially, when I choose to fall into serious sin. I’m not ashamed to say that I need the Church. Everyone needs her, objectively speaking, even those who think that they hate her. I love Christ and His Church, the Catholic Church. (I’m crying, as I write this. Love can do that to a man.)

  16. I swear, if the Catholic Church’s sacraments could give me even an ounce of power over my habitual sin, I would leave Geneva and sign on the dotted line tomorrow (because in this city, soteriology is stipulative when what I need is participation).

  17. Gents,

    Praise be Jesus Christ! He meets us, communes with us, heals us in the Sacraments (promises) of his abiding presence. In the Sacraments, He continually affirms our humanity and shows his solidarity with us by not forcing us into the isolation of self-reliance and psychological games.

    In my own life, the Sacraments put a “nail in the coffin” of what the Lord was already working in me before I came into the Church. Despite my best efforts and pious discipline, I could never truly “kick” that which Satan sought to be the cause of my ruin. By His grace, and his grace alone, he has healed me and continues to heal me from the effects of a life of sin.

    As St. John Chysostom reminds us:

    “In those days, when the destroying angel saw the blood on the doors he did not dare to enter, so how much less will the devil approach now when he sees, not that figurative blood on the doors, but the true blood on the lips of believers, the doors of the temple of Christ.”

    I’m a former Pentecostal (Trinitarian), and that right there might get me dancing like David again (2 Sam 6:14).

    Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us, that we would always respond to the call of your Son in the Holy Sacraments of His Church. Amen.

  18. Gollum,

    They really can, and do. Both my wife and I noticed significant (and in some cases stunning) changes in ourselves and in each other in our struggle against sin, in the first two years after we received the sacrament of Confirmation and started receiving the Eucharist and the sacrament of Penance regularly. What I noticed in myself was that the desire to sin was weaker, and that the desire not to sin was much stronger. Of course I still sin, and now I notice sins in myself I used to not even notice. But it is clear to my wife and I that morally we have made significant positive steps since we were received, in areas in which we had made no progress for all the prior years we were married. And in my discussions with other Catholics, especially persons who either were received, or reverted (where there is a definite ‘starting point’) I find almost invariably that they notice a significant positive difference in themselves with respect to sanctification, in the first two years of regularly receiving especially the Eucharist and the sacrament of Penance. The accounts in the comments above don’t surprise me at all. They are commonplace. A friend who was received into the Church this year told me that he can’t believe how much he has changed (morally); he began to notice the change even before he was received, and he was PCA for the ten years prior.

    Your ‘participation’ comment is exactly right. Another thing in my experience (in the move from Reformed to Catholic) is that as Reformed, at least in practice, my way of appropriating Christ for sanctification, was primarily through my mind, my intellect. I would meditate on verses, and recall them to mind, and reflect on the definitive work of Christ accomplished for me. I never thought of the Supper as a means of sanctifying grace (in the Catholic sense of the term ‘sanctifying grace’); I thought of the Supper as another form of communicating the same truth of the Gospel, a truth that I already knew through Scripture, but [apparently] needed to be reminded of not just through weekly sermons, but occasionally through a kind of simple pantomime, in which what Jesus had done for me was illustrated to me symbolically through bread and wine. And this illustration is powerful, as an illustration. But illustrations are still teaching tools. It was still sanctification through informing the intellect. The only other factor was prayer, but prayer to overcome sin x is a private, individual thing; it isn’t something given to one from the outside, from the Church. And accountability groups were helpful in the sense of providing a place to share struggles, and provide empathy, but they offered no power to overcome sin.

    So sanctification through “Word and sacrament” in my Protestant experience, boiled down to an attempt at sanctification through learning, or at least a frequent propositional reminder of what I had already learned. The Word will not return void, I continued to tell myself. I thought that the more I meditated (pondered) on the Gospel of what Christ had done, the more I would be grateful, and my gratitude would effect sanctification. So, sanctification and saying no to sin was still fundamentally, for me, something I assumed would be a rational response to truth understood deeply. The idea was, the more deeply I understood the truth of what Christ had done for me, the more I would turn away from sin, by reason of gratitude. So the key to sanctification was elevating gratitude, by continually turning back (mentally) to what Christ had done for me.

    Now as a Catholic, as I look back on that, I see that as a period in which I was relying on knowledge to sanctify me. In that way, it was a kind of gnosticism (i.e. salvation by knowledge). I know Reformed folks will take offense at that, but that’s really how it looks from a [Catholic] sacramental point of view. The particular knowledge that was supposed to sanctify me was not secret, so it is not like the old gnosticism in that sense. But, it was ‘secret’ or hidden in the sense that it wasn’t fully in me, and so my task was to get it more deeply into me, by regularly hearing the word and receiving the Supper and reflecting continually on what Christ had done for me. That’s just what Sunday morning was for (besides fellowship), getting the truth of the gospel more deeply into me — that is, into my mind, my understanding. Then, if that truth was sufficiently in me, out of gratitude to Christ I wouldn’t want to sin.

    In practice, the “law gospel” paradigm left me ambivalent. On the one hand, I was informed by the law that God hated sin. That, along with my conscience, motivated me to struggle (deep inside) against sin, and made me aware of my guilt for having violated that law. On the other hand, I was told that it was all already paid for, that nothing could keep me out of heaven, that my going to heaven in no way depended on my degree of sanctification, and that my present sin would not detract in any way from my happiness in heaven. That tended to make me treat sin in a rather casual manner (from my present point of view). The idea was, It’s all under the Blood. To have faith in Christ and His work meant, in my mind, not quite “sin boldly,” but at least: Don’t let your sins bother you; trust that it’s all already forgiven — that’s how you exercise faith in Christ, by trusting that all your sins (past, present, and future) are all already forgiven. That’s just what faith in Christ is. In practice, that tended to work out like this: faith in Christ means sweeping my sin under the rug in my mind.

    But, at the same time I knew that sanctification is important. That’s why I say I was ambivalent. But sanctification by way of knowledge really reduces to sanctification by will-power. When grace is mere favor, then grace is not participation in the divine nature. And in that case, to receive grace is, in practice, to acquire knowledge of God’s divine favor for me. So even the Protestant Supper conceived as a means of grace is really only a means to learn about God’s favor, not to receive the divine life. (This is what “spiritually receive and feed upon Christ” meant, in practice, for me, given that grace was merely divine favor.) The struggle for sanctification, without the aid of the sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance, looks something like this:

    But, will-power just isn’t enough. This is essentially what St. Augustine was arguing, against the Pelagians. If grace is more than mere divine favor, and is also a divine gift coming into the soul, that we receive through the sacraments, then the sacraments become more than mere teaching aids; they become means by which we receive and participate in the very Life of God. And because the Life of God does not reduce to propositions in my intellect, the sacraments are therefore mysteries (sacramenta); they transcend our understanding, because what we receive through them is something that infinitely transcends us, just as Christ’s divine nature was hidden, in a sense, under His human nature. In receiving this grace (i.e. this Life of God) in the sacraments, sanctification is no longer through will-power alone (informed by an intellect aware of the gospel). Rather what we receive in the sacraments is God Himself, who lives in us (John 14:23); this is the “power that works within us” (Eph 3:20, Col 1:29, Phil 2:13), driving away darkness and evil. There is no greater power than that.

    But why or how, is such divine power in the Catholic sacraments? (I’m thinking especially of the Eucharist and Penance, because of their direct role in ongoing sanctification.) It has to do with apostolic succession. Christ’s Apostles speak in His Name, in His Person — in Persona Christi. And the successors of the Apostles likewise speak in Persona Christi when they administer the New Covenant sacraments Christ established in His Church. When they speak in Persona Christi, “This is My Body,” Christ is speaking, and His Word does not return void, but accomplishes what He intends. When the priest makes the sign of the cross in front of me, and says to me, “I absolve you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” he is speaking in Persona Christi, and Christ Himself is saying this, and doing this. And so in this way, these sacraments have divine power, not just by way of my understanding the words or my understanding the meaning of the symbols, but by Christ’s divine words accomplishing in me what Christ says. Fr. Barron explains this well, with respect to the Eucharist:

    I hope I’m not being patronizing — I don’t know where you are in all this. But, I hope that you keep searching and digging. May God give you the grace to grow more deeply united to Himself, and grow in the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14).

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  19. Hi everyone,

    Please forgive me for the off-topic comment.

    I have been lurking and reading on Called to Communion for a little over a month now. I am a Protestant (PCA) who has been exploring the Orthodox Communion for a little over a year. Recently this has expanded into an exploration of the Catholic Communion.

    I am wondering:
    1) Could anybody pass on the e-mail addresses of Perry Robinson and Monk Patrick?
    2) Bryan Cross, could I have your e-mail address?

    My e-mail is joel.haas ‘at’ gmail ‘dot’ com

    Thank you !!

  20. Prior to my conversion, I despaired that I could overcome certain sins. I sensed I had to just “live with it.” Perhaps God blessed certain people with sanctity and purity — but not me. To me this was evidence of my “totally depraved” nature with little hope of redemption this side of heaven.

    Today, several years after converting, I know what it means to be “free” in Christ. Jesus, through the power of the sacraments, has delivered me from my old ways. Ten years ago I would have never believed this kind of spiritual progress is possible. Either the sacraments truly have miraculous powers, or they have one heck of a placebo affect.

    I suspect this is why so many converts are so zealous — not because of their intellectual journey, but because of the change that Catholicism has brought about in their lives. And it is so exciting that Jesus’ command to “be perfect” is not just hyberbole, but a direction we can move continually toward thanks to the power of Jesus in the sacraments to destroy sin.

    That being said, the closer we become to God, the more apparent the distinction becomes between He and us. I believe that’s why Paul could say he is the “chief” of sinners, which is how I feel as well, despite what I can recognize objectively as spiritual progress.

    A recommendation to my fellow Catholics: Daily reception of the sacraments. You will fall head over heals in love with our Lord.

    Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.

  21. It was literally the phrase, “Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them” that drew me out of evangelical Pentecostalism and into the Roman Catholic Church. I knew I was a sinner. Due to my conversion I was much better than before it, but I still sinned and needed forgiveness. The “pray to God and He will forgive you” method of confession simply appeared wrong-headed in the face of scripture. Jesus was saying one thing, and I was saying something else. If I had to pick the right interpreter, I had to pick Him.

    Of note, my wife, the daughter of Presbyterian lay missionaries, became Catholic after we were married, and not under any push from me. Having decided that the Catholic Church was telling her the truth, she made her first confession and came out of the confessional in tears. I asked her what happened. She told me that she had been forgiven, and had recognized the difference between the “go to God” practice previously used, and use of the priest/confessor who could act with our Lord’s own authority. She dumped everything and it was lifted off of her shoulders by Someone Who could bear that weight.

    It is one of the greatest gifts given to the Church for the good of God’s people, and I speak from my own experience and observation.

    Cordially,

    dt

  22. Gollum,

    You don’t have to leave Geneva for what you’re looking for. That’s why the Supper is termed a means of grace. RC’s and Prot’s don’t agree on some important things on the Supper, but any good Reformed church ought to teach that we receive grace when we receive the Supper. The whole idea of the Real Presence in Calvinistic sacramentology is that it is a participation in God’s grace. I’m sorry you and others apparently did not receive this teaching in Reformed churches but read Calvin or the Reformed Confessions and creeds.

    Consider the following:

    WCF 29.1 Our Lord Jesus, in the night wherein He was betrayed, instituted the sacrament of His body and blood, called the Lord’s Supper, to be observed in His Church, unto the end of the world for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of Himself in His death, the sealing all benefits thereof unto true believers, their spiritual nourishment and growth in Him, their further engagement in and to all duties which they owe unto Him; and, to be a bond and pledge of their communion with Him, and with each other, as members of His mystical body.

    WCF 29.7 Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements, in this sacrament, do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally but spiritually, receive, and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death: the body and blood of Christ being then, not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet, as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses. (WCF 29:7 WCS)

    WLC 168 What is the Lord’s supper? A. The Lord’s supper is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine according to the appointment of Jesus Christ, his death is showed forth and they that worthily communicate feed upon his body and blood, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace, have their union and communion with him confirmed; testify and renew their thankfulness, and engagement to God, and their mutual love and fellowship each with other, as members of the same mystical body.

    (WLC 1:170 WCS)
    How do they that worthily communicate in the Lord’s supper feed upon the body and blood of Christ therein? A. As the body and blood of Christ are not corporally or carnally present in, with, or under the bread and wine in the Lord’s supper, and yet are spiritually present to the faith of the receiver, no less truly and really than the elements themselves are to their outward senses; so they that worthily communicate in the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, do therein feed upon the body and blood of Christ, not after a corporal and carnal, but in a spiritual manner, yet truly and really, while by faith they receive and apply unto themselves Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death.

    Now will a Catholic agree with everything contained therein? No. But it should be noted that any fair presentation of the Reformed perspective of the Supper must admit that the Reformed believe that the Supper is a real participation in the person of Christ (we partake of his flesh through the Spirit though we do not believe the elements to be changed into his flesh and blood. In my own mind there is not great difference here between the RC and Prot positions).

    You may find other reasons to leave Geneva, Gollum, but the Reformed affirm that the Supper is a means of grace given to believers to combat sin.

  23. Went to confession this morning. “Oh happiness, there’s grace enough for us and the whole human race!”

    Thanks to everyone for their encouragement and testimonies.

    Tagging on to Bryan’s response, in the evangelical world it can often seem that the only real answer to struggling with sin is, “Stop it!” Or perhaps more accurately, “Stop it, but it’s not really that big a deal anyway since once saved, always saved.” I always felt like sanctification was really just extra credit: well and good, but not absolutely necessary for salvation. That’s why when I discovered the Catholic understanding of justification, sanctification, and salvation, it all made so much sense. It’s not that it’s faith plus works; it’s realizing that faith and works are really the same thing, they’re two sides of the same coin, and that if you don’t have one then you don’t have the other.

    What’s more, only the Catholic understanding gives our actions any real meaning. In a “once saved, always saved” understanding, you’re bowling with bumpers up, you’re shooting blanks, you’re gambling with play money because nothing is really at stake. In this as in so many areas, one word that accurately sums up much about Catholicism is “reality” – we make real choices that have real consequences that really affect our salvation. Now there’s no safety net, we’re shooting live ammo; realizing that should affect the way we make our decisions (it turns out I’m a very slow learner, but I’m getting there).

  24. Bryan,

    In practice, the “law gospel” paradigm left me ambivalent.

    That’s how it feels for me, but I don’t know if it’s me who is being ambivalent because I’m a horrible person, or if it’s the law/gospel paradigm that’s making me that way. What I do know is that, for all its biblical obviousness, the guilt-grace-gratitude thing hasn’t made one d@mn bit of practical difference in the way I live. And I am ashamed of that.

    But sanctification by way of knowledge really reduces to sanctification by will-power.

    I wish I had a nickel for every time I secretly thought to myself, “What if this whole Christianity thing is a hoax? I mean, what if it all reduces to telling people to be good while giving them no real power to do it?” In other words, for all our talk of grace, what it feels like is law.

    But I’ll be honest, I read the comments here and (unlike you) I am surprised at what a difference the RCC has made in people’s lives. It’s just that I doubt it would work that much in mine.

  25. Refpot,

    Isn’t it ironic that the WCF only makes sense if the Catholic Church exists. In other words, the phrase “not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine” would be superfluous if the WCF was simply trying to expound what is obvious in Scripture. Instead, the clause speaks to a reality that exists, persistently so, outside of the WCF, of which the confession will always owe her very existence.

    Maybe I’m over-stating it. But further, your citations say that we participate with Christ spiritually “not corporally”. Can his spirit be present without his corpus? Or rather, can you participate in the “body and blood of Christ” without the corpus of Christ? Is there such a thing as a “truly and really” Christ’s body and blood, but not “truly and really” his corpus present to us?

    Obviously one can believe anything one wishes to believe and, in fact, Christianity to many is nothing but a big fairy-tale anyways. If it is his body and blood, but not “truly and really” his body (corpus), in what sense is it true and in what sense is it real? Certainly we don’t think that in John 6:63, our Lord was referring to himself and that his flesh, his corpus, counts for nothing, do we?

  26. RefProt,

    You don’t have to leave Geneva for what you’re looking for. That’s why the Supper is termed a means of grace.

    Yeah, I am familiar with what the Reformed confessions say, my point was only to say that in my life the Supper doesn’t make any difference practically. It’s like, if this whole thing were a lie and this ritual was just man-made, how would I know it? Because I can’t point to any power I derive from it to substantiate the Supper’s divine origin or anything.

    In fact, your comment is telling. You say that the Supper “is termed” a means of grace, but that is what I was complaining about in my first comment. In Geneva, all that matters is what we call stuff: I am not righteous but I can be “declared” so by imputation; God doesn’t infuse grace into me, but just “considers” be righteous, etc. In fact, because of the whole Creator/creature distinction I will always be more unlike God than like him (almost as if Jesus never even assumed a human nature).

    I’m rambling now, but I hope this helps show why I said above that this whole stipulating-and-declaring-and-calling-me-what-I’m-not approach isn’t working. I need a truly perichoretic and participatory share in Christ, and of that kind of thing Reformed theology is way too suspicious.

  27. Dear Gollum,

    Having the 7 Sacraments is like being at a hospital. Having less than 7 is like being at a surgery center. For those of us with critical, life-threatening illnesses, we need the hospital. There is no way the surgery center has enough medicine and expertise to meet the demands of the illness. For example, I went to an out-patient clinic for something that I should have seen a specialist for and therefore I live in pain almost every day because of it.

    My very dear friend recently came into the Church. He had been to almost every out-patient clinic Christianity has to offer. He was a poster-child for the good Christian guy, but behind closed doors he was someone COMPLETELY different. Needless to say, the first confession exposed a lot, and subsequently after one year of treatment (Confirmation, Confession, Eucharist), he is finally more free of sin than he has ever been. In fact, I would consider him a model of chastity and discipline now. It’s really incredible! He went from being an addict his whole life to walking in the power of the Gospel.

    Come on home! The Father is ready to hear your Confession, has a ring ready (Confirmation), and will slaughter the calf (Eucharist). All you have to do is come home.

    Praying for you friend,

    Brent

  28. I like the Lord of the Rings theme going so I thought I’d continue it… oh wait.

    Refprot-

    This might be off topic. I apologize if it is. The theology isn’t bad as far as I can tell (though it might be lacking), but what constitutes The Lord’s supper in the reformed tradition? If my friend and I decide that we want to partake in the Lord’s supper and all the grace that you say comes from it, can we just start breaking bread? If so, then rather than making one’s way to Church on Sunday could they just as a family break bread and receive all the grace and help to combat their sins? Or is there need of a minister who has been sent to lead this worship that is needed?

    I really don’t know as I am a cradle Catholic.

  29. Gollum wrote: But I’ll be honest, I read the comments here and (unlike you) I am surprised at what a difference the RCC has made in people’s lives. It’s just that I doubt it would work that much in mine.

    Gollum, faith is a gift. If you, a singular created being, believe in an uncreated Triune Being, you already have faith. That faith stretches to accommodate what He is telling you about Himself, and about how He wants to live with and work in you. He won’t ask you to do something that cannot be done. He won’t offer you a gift that you cannot accept. He offers a benefit to you in the best sense of the word benefit. He wants your every good.

    If faith comes by hearing, there are now a virtually uncountable number of times I have heard the priest/confessor extend our Lord’s forgiveness to me, returning me to His good grace. What a benefit!! May this good gift come to you.

    Cordially,

    dt

  30. Hello, RefProt. You wrote:

    “[A]ny fair presentation of the Reformed perspective of the Supper must admit that the Reformed believe that the Supper is a real participation in the person of Christ (we partake of his flesh through the Spirit though we do not believe the elements to be changed into his flesh and blood. In my own mind there is not great difference here between the RC and Prot positions).”

    But A.A. Hodge, in his commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith XXIX (the chapter on the Lord’s Supper) writes,

    “Hence, also, it follows that believers do, in the same sense, receive and feed upon the body and blood of Christ at other times without the use of the sacrament, and in the use of other means of grace–as prayer, meditation on the Word, etc.”

    If Hodge’s analysis is correct, then Westminster’s view of the Eucharist as a “means of grace” seems quite different from the Catholic view, don’t you think?

  31. Brent #27,

    Well said. I like your hospital analogy. Thank you.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  32. Gollum, (re: #24)

    I can relate to your cynicism. I was only two years out of seminary, having received a prestigious award at graduation, and already I was at a point where I stopped going to church for a year, because in some ways the ecclesial system seemed ridiculous to me. I was in graduate school at the time, studying medieval philosophy — St. Augustine, St. Anselm and St. Thomas. But I would go to [Protestant] church on Sunday and the whole thing (except for the reading of the Scripture) seemed to me to be what I called “man-talk,” man’s opinions about things. The whole service was oriented to informing the mind, and yet I knew that I could be getting a much better, richer, mind-informing education by staying home and reading St. Augustine, St. Anselm or St. Thomas. (Yes, of course I was aware of the injunction not to forsake the assembling of yourselves together, but I could do that too, by getting together with some fellow Christian grad students, and talking philosophy and theology over beers and cigars in the backyard under the stars.) The Sunday morning thing all seemed like a waste of time, insofar as it was all oriented toward my intellect, from the minds of other men who were often less informed about theological questions than I was [yeah I know that sounds arrogant], when there were so many better ways I could inform my intellect, just by going to the SLU library a few miles down the road, and reading all the great saints and doctors and theologians in Church history. That’s when I stopped going to church. I was jaded. I hadn’t lost my faith in Christ, but I could see no more point in going to church, because to me it seemed to be nothing more than a reading, and a lecture with songs mixed in, and a time when various persons came to the microphone to give a report on the teen ministry, the college ministry, updates on our missionaries, etc. (I have written about this in my interview with the late Michael Spencer, i.e. iMonk; the links to the whole interview are here, see “Part 1.”)

    Discovering the sacraments (first in an Anglican church), in the beauty of the liturgy, rescued me. Somehow, I knew that it had to be this way — that church couldn’t be so entirely propositional, so focused on knowledge and intellect. It made no sense that Christ would humble Himself to become man, live a human life, suffer and die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, only to leave us with a message, and not with the power to overcome sin. If the message wasn’t the power, He had to have left another way for us to receive that power. And then in the Church Fathers (the more I studied them) it become clear to me that this was the way He was giving Himself to us now; this is the way He established by which we participate in His Life, and He enters into ours. At that point (this was four years before becoming Catholic), I said to my wife, “I’m never going back to a non-sacramental liturgy.” I said that because I knew it was powerless, unhelpful, and not even what historical Christianity looked like. To me, the Reformed ecclesial system was beginning to look more like a product of Renaissance Humanism than of the historic ‘catholic’ Church (whatever that was — which was also unclear to me at the time).

    I don’t know your situation (feel free to write me privately — use the ‘Contact’ tab above), so I don’t know why you think you wouldn’t be benefited greatly by the Catholic sacraments. If the Catholic sacraments truly are the divinely established means by which we receive sanctifying grace in our soul (and are not just tutors to our intellects of the truths concerning what Christ has done for us), and if sanctifying grace is participation in the divine nature, then that divine power is surely capable of transforming any person, even yourself. Perhaps you think that your cynical/jaded stance is something you would carry with you, even toward the Catholic Church and her sacraments, and that this would nullify their efficacy. Perhaps. But, I don’t see pure cynicism in what you have written. I mean, you sound to me somewhat like where I was when I stopped going to church. My cynicism at the time wasn’t toward God or Christ. It was toward the religious system I was in; it didn’t go all the way down. When I was able to disentangle myself from that system, and get some distance from it, then I found in myself that child-like faith that had been there along, hidden under the cynicism. I didn’t say it in the iMonk interview, but at that first Anglican liturgy, where I was sitting in the back, all by myself, my face was wet with tears during most of it. The sacramental orientation of the whole liturgy (even though, at the time, I did not know that it was an invalid Eucharist), disarmed my cynicism, bypassed my critical scrutinizer-of-propositions, and allowed me to take small steps of faith, which eventually led to the Catholic Church. When I became convinced that the Catholic Church is who she claims to be, I could not approach the Catholic sacraments with cynicism. Even if I approach them with mustard-seed sized faith and charity, I know that in them I am receiving sanctifying grace. And the change in my life testifies to this as well.

    Of course I don’t think anyone should approach the Catholic sacraments in a “I’ll try them and see if they work” sort of way. But, I don’t see any good reason to believe that if you were to become convinced of the identity of the Catholic Church, and sought to enter her because of her identity as the Church Christ founded, that so long as you did not place an obstacle between you and the grace of the sacrament, you would not be empowered by sanctifying grace to overcome mortal sin and live in the profound joy and freedom of holiness. All the evidence (of which I am aware) suggests that if you were to become Catholic for the right reasons, and were to make diligent use of the Catholic sacraments, you would benefit as have all of those writing on this thread who have been through this transition. It is a bit like taking the red pill. You can look at us, and see what we are telling you about the Catholic sacraments, and see (somewhat) what kind of persons we are, but you won’t experience this yourself until you do it yourself. We will be here to support you as best we can when/if you do.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  33. Bryan,

    Thanks for your words.

    It’s not that I completely reject the RCC, it’s just that it all sounds kind of too good to be true. And I guess I just picture a Catholic version of myself as being pretty much the same as I am now.

    I guess what I’m afraid of is joining “the dark side” and becoming more arrogant than I already am (because then I would be in the one true church), but just continuing on in the same habitual sins that I have struggled with all my life. But then, I don’t think it would be right to join the RCC simply because of its promise to help me conquer my demons, either.

    I guess what I’m saying is that a move like this would have to be the end of the road, leading either to victory or agnosticism. I can hide in Geneva with its simul iustus et peccator, but if I am received into a church that won’t let me be a snow-covered pile of crap any more (Luther’s analogy, not mine), but if I continue to be one, then I can see myself just giving up on Christianity altogether.

    And that’s what scares me.

  34. RefProt (#22)

    I have a couple questions about what you said. In March of last year, in a conversation with me, R. Scott Clark wrote on his blog (which blog he has now taken down):

    We Protestants don’t have “created grace” we have “favor” with God. It’s not a “thing.” It’s not some “stuff.” It’s God’s attitude toward us. Full stop. (here’s a copy of the conversation)

    Now, in comment #22 above you wrote:

    but any good Reformed church ought to teach that we receive grace when we receive the Supper. The whole idea of the Real Presence in Calvinistic sacramentology is that it is a participation in God’s grace.

    What exactly does it mean to “receive grace” or to “participate in God’s grace” in the Supper, other than to come to a greater/deeper awareness of God’s favor toward us? If grace is nothing more than divine favor, as Clark says, then how can “receiving grace” or “participating in grace” be anything more than coming to be more deeply aware of God’s favor toward us? What does it even mean to talk about receiving grace, except to acknowledge that God is favorably disposed toward oneself?

    What exactly does the WCF mean when it refers to:

    the sealing all benefits thereof unto true believers, their spiritual nourishment and growth in Him

    In other words, what actually happens during the Supper, when a benefit of Christ’s work is sealed unto a true believer? How is he or she actually different than before this sealing? What does he or she have more or less of? And what is this “spiritual nourishment and growth” if not a growth in the understanding of what Christ has done?

    Also, what exactly does it mean, to:

    inwardly by faith, … spiritually, receive, and feed upon, Christ crucified …. they that worthily communicate feed upon his body and blood, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace, …. feed upon the body and blood of Christ, not after a corporal and carnal, but in a spiritual manner….

    If”spiritually feed upon Christ” mean something other than grow in understanding of what Christ did for us, and our corresponding gratitude for what He did for us, then what exactly does it mean? What exactly does it mean to “feed upon His body and blood … in a spiritual manner”? And what does it mean for “the body and blood of Christ” to be “spiritually present to the faith of the receiver”?

    You wrote:

    But it should be noted that any fair presentation of the Reformed perspective of the Supper must admit that the Reformed believe that the Supper is a real participation in the person of Christ (we partake of his flesh through the Spirit though we do not believe the elements to be changed into his flesh and blood.

    What does it mean to “partake of His flesh through the Spirit”? What does it mean that the Supper is “a real participation in the person of Christ”?

    Here’s the bottom line: Do you know what you are talking about when you put forward such phrases, or are these just Reformed clichés that sound good but only ‘work’ so long as nobody asks what they actually mean?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  35. Gollum,

    You are over literalizing what I mean by the word “termed”

    The RCC “term” things as well. There is clearly participatory language used to describe the Supper. It is not merely as Bryan indicated another way to preach the Gospel (though it is that too. RCC and Prots can agree right?) but is a real participation in Christ.

    Brent,

    This is where understanding what the Reformed are saying is so important. The elements are not transformed into Christ’s body. However, the Spirit, in the sacramental union, unites us to Christ’s person (human and Divine). This is not Nestorianism as you charge, but rather a nuanced view of the Real Presence. If the Reformed said we are only united to Christ’s divinity that would be Nestorian.

    I’m not sure I follow what you’re saying about the WCF. The same thing could be said about Trent’s language on the Supper discussing the “Protestant errors.” Of course it’s going to address the theological controversies of the time, don’t all creeds, councils, and confessions?

    Dumbledore,

    You will see in the WCF that the proper officiant of the Supper is an ordained minister. So you and your friend cannot just decide to have the SUpper. Furthermore, the Confession explicitly condemns private uses of the sacrament because the sacrament is a sign of the existential and spiritual union of believers. Therefore, the believers of a parish are called to partake of the Supper if the Supper is being served.

    Finally, someone said,

    “But A.A. Hodge, in his commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith XXIX (the chapter on the Lord’s Supper) writes,

    “Hence, also, it follows that believers do, in the same sense, receive and feed upon the body and blood of Christ at other times without the use of the sacrament, and in the use of other means of grace–as prayer, meditation on the Word, etc.”

    If Hodge’s analysis is correct, then Westminster’s view of the Eucharist as a “means of grace” seems quite different from the Catholic view, don’t you think?”

    Yes, the view is different from a Catholics but doesn’t vitiate against the Reformed’s understanding of the Supper. I’m not sure that I would press things as far as Hodge, but at the same time there is an element in which we are united to Christ through the means of grace.

    And in the context of this conversation (and particularly Bryan’s assertions about when he was Protestant), Bryan’s view as a Reformed Protestant was demonstrably deficient given the Confessions and Hodge’s quote.

    Participation is an essential element to the Reformed eschatology and soteriology. It is not the same as Rome, but Rome does not have an monopoly on what participation is.

  36. Bryan,

    I don’t have time to full respond, but thanks for the interaction.

    Simply stated, as much as I respect people at WSC I’m not on board with their Law/Gospel distinction. I’ll try to elaborate more but my work responsibilities restrict time.

    Thanks again, Bryan.

  37. I remember the Saturday in early October 1993 – spring in New Zealand – when, in fear and trembling, I stammered to my wife that I had something I had to tell her. It took me a few goes to get it out, and she told me later that she thought I was going to confess adultery – which, in a way, from our Reformed point of view, I was. I had, on 22nd September previous, just finished reading, more or less simultaneously, Newman’s ‘Apologia’ and his ‘Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine’ – and had listed to Scott Hahn’s conversion tape (in secret, with earphones, quickly switching to the radio if anyone came along – like watching pornography).

    I told her what I had been doing, and hinted that this was serious, that there was a possibility I might have to become a Catholic. She was shocked, horrified, really. I don’t know why I said what I said next – maybe the Holy Spirit – but I put my arms around her and said, “Our marriage will never be the same again.”

    It has not been – and I do not mean in any negative way.

    God is so good. We, with our children, were received into the Church at Christmas Eve, 1995.

    Miracles happen.

    jj

  38. RefProt,

    Participation is an essential element to the Reformed eschatology and soteriology. It is not the same as Rome, but Rome does not have an monopoly on what participation is.

    How do you square this with Van Til’s dialectic? If the Creator and creature are forever distinct, such that there will never be any intersect of the two, then setting aside the incarnational issues this raises, in what sense can the sinner be said to actually and ontologically participate in Jesus’ divine life?

    And if your answer is, “We don’t ‘ontologically’ participate, we participate covenantally,” then I’ll just return to my original complaint, namely, that all Reformed theology can do is stipulate, call me something, or apply a label, and that just doesn’t cut it when you’re struggling with habitual sin.

  39. @Gollum:

    I guess what I’m saying is that a move like this would have to be the end of the road, leading either to victory or agnosticism.

    Exactly what I said to my wife at a certain point in 1994, when I was struggling with the whole thing. I said to her that I didn’t know how this was going to pan out eventually, but that I was sure of one thing: either I would end up a Catholic, or else … well, I thought I might be sort of a Quaker, just listening to the inner light or whatever. If the Catholic Church wasn’t what it claimed, then I did not think I could ever believe in any sort of authoritative revelation again.

    jj

  40. RefProt

    You will see in the WCF that the proper officiant of the Supper is an ordained minister. So you and your friend cannot just decide to have the SUpper. Furthermore, the Confession explicitly condemns private uses of the sacrament because the sacrament is a sign of the existential and spiritual union of believers. Therefore, the believers of a parish are called to partake of the Supper if the Supper is being served.

    Thanks for the clarification. This, however, seems to put you in a rather difficult situation. Who, in your mind, has the authority to ordain? If it could be demonstrated to you that the pastor of your church was not “properly ordained” (whatever that might mean. I’m sure we could talk about that later in another thread) and therefore unable to properly officiate this sacrament would you seek out a Church whose minister was properly ordained to receive this grace to defeat sin in your life? Better yet, if it could be established that there was reason to doubt, even just a little bit, the proper ordination of your pastor would you find one that was certain or at least more certain? It seems that if grace and the ability to conquer sin is at stake you would want as much certainty as possible.

    I really do wonder about these questions. I’m not just asking them to be difficult.

  41. Gollum said:

    I guess what I’m saying is that a move like this would have to be the end of the road, leading either to victory or agnosticism. I can hide in Geneva with its simul iustus et peccator, but if I am received into a church that won’t let me be a snow-covered pile of crap any more (Luther’s analogy, not mine), but if I continue to be one, then I can see myself just giving up on Christianity altogether.

    I reached the same point in my journey, although for me in came when thinking through the question of authority: either the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded, or there is no way to know with certainty anything regarding faith since it’s all just human opinion (“man-talk” as Bryan called it).

    Deciding to take the plunge and join the Catholic Church is, in the end, a leap of faith (pardon the somewhat mixed metaphors). When I stood before the priest and said, “I believe and profess all that the Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God,” I didn’t have any guarantee that the next day the Pope wouldn’t declare that abortion is OK or that they wouldn’t take me down to the secret room and make me worship Mary. But in the course of my journey, I had become more and more convinced that if I put all my trust in Jesus, He would not lead me astray. The constant call of Christ, echoed recently by Blessed John Paul, “Do not be afraid!” kept leading me on until eventually I was able to make that leap of faith.

    So you’re absolutely right, Gollum: the choice ultimately is the Catholic faith or no faith. And on Judgment Day, we will all stand before Christ as either a victorious, resurrected, glorified new creation or as a pile of crap (all the snow will be melted away).

    I say this not to discourage you, but to point out how right you are that there is no middle position. I myself have several times despaired that Christ can really do what he promises to do. But when I look back on the times I have let Him lead me, I see that He has never let me down. What I am gradually coming to realize, and what I hope that you will realize to, is that ultimately to doubt your ability to be freed from sin is to doubt Christ Himself: all He said and He has done. Just this week we heard in the Gospel reading about the man who sold all he had to buy the pearl of great price. Jesus really is good enough, big enough, strong enough, faithful enough, merciful enough that He is worth giving up everything for. If anything is too good to be true, it’s Jesus. But He is that good and He is the truth.

    Pope Benedict expressed this in his homily when he was inaugurated as pope:

    “Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? . . . No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.”

    So my encouragement to you and to myself would be: you may be skeptical that God can really change you. But take Him at His word. Take the risk. Make the leap. Go all in. Drop your nets and follow Him. Some here have shared of rather dramatic changes that occurred in their life, for others (such as me) it has been more gradual, but it’s real. Jesus is real, and He really can do what He promised. So whether or not you eventually find your way to the Catholic Church (and I hope you do), I urge you to throw off the part of you that wants to look at this and judge it on its practicality, its rationality, its feasability, and just dive in. There’s a Casting Crowns song that talks about this:

    “Just how close can I get, Lord, to full surrender without losing all control?
    Fearless warriors in a picket fence
    Reckless abandon wrapped in common sense
    Deep water faith in the shallow end
    And I am caught in the middle.”

    Christianity is beyond human logic, reason, and common sense, and if we try to analyze it that way we just end up neutering it, rendering it helpless to save us, which seems to be exactly where you are and I once was. I pray that God will give you the grace to be able to trust Him and follow Him wherever He leads, no matter how scary, how unknown, or how impossible it may seem.

    P.S. I hope I haven’t come across as if I’ve got this all figured out and am talking down to poor-pitiful-you. I completely empathize with you, Gollum, and I still have my days when I feel the same way. This is just what I’ve experienced and what has gotten me to the point where I am now, which is still a long long way from heaven.

  42. @Gollum,

    Catholicism or agnosticism. There it is. I once embraced the later. Through many years of (first) philosophical and (later) theological wanderings, I have come to embrace the former. One can never rest within the spaces that lay between these two. When the epistemic, ontic and revelatory fog clears – there really are just two shores upon which to dock your boat. Hope to help you tie up this side of the Tiber someday; the other shore is really quite depressing despite a sort of rudderless freedom that one finds attractive – for a while.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  43. @Ray:

    Catholicism or agnosticism. There it is.

    Newman got in trouble for saying, in various places, that for the person who was intellectually consistent, there was no settled middle ground between Catholicism and infidelity.

    jj

  44. @JTJ (#37),

    I nearly came out of my seat when I read your description of the secretive means you used to dabble in things Catholic. Fearing the worst for my marriage, I employed this shameful tactic for several years. When I spilt the beans about my secretive “habit”, my wife (after she calmed down) joked that she in some ways wished I had been looking at porn, as that might have been easier for me to get over than this “Catholic thing”.

    I am currently deciding whether of not to start RCIA in the fall (false start last year – couldn’t get past the infallibility thing and my darling wife wasn’t doing well with it). ‘fraid I might have to pull the trigger on this thing soon, but often get caught in a semi-paralytic state about it. I do find the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s power in the RCC to be compelling.

    Please pray for me.

    Burton

  45. RefProt (re: 35)

    If you don’t have time to answer, that’s fine. I still want to consider one claim you made. You wrote:

    Participation is an essential element to the Reformed eschatology and soteriology. It is not the same as Rome, but Rome does not have an monopoly on what participation is.

    No doubt Rome does not have a monopoly on what participation is. But surely English speakers do. I’m reminded of Humpty Dumpty’s dialogue with Alice:

    There’s glory for you!’
    ‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory”,’ Alice said.
    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘
    ‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.
    ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
    ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
    ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

    If you define ‘participation’ in such a way that even a mere forensic or covenantal relationship is a form of participation, and then claim that your position includes participation because there is a covenantal relationship between God and creature, your position would be no different [in substance] if you had denied that your position involved ‘participation,’ but involved only a forensic or covenantal relationship between God and man. So semantics is doing all the work here. The question is whether extrinsic relations are rightly called participation relations.

    When we speak of participation, we often mean something much more [ontological] than a mere extrinsic relation. The organs of a body, for example, participate in the life of that organism; they are [parts of] that organism, not merely extrinsically related to it. To define ‘participation’ such that it refers not only to ontological relations but also to all extrinsic relations would reduce the meaning of the term ‘participation’ to the present meaning of the word ‘relation,’ and thus essentially eliminate the need for the term ‘participation,’ since [by the stipulated definition] there could not be any relations that were not participatory relations. As Incrediboy points out, when everything is super, then nothing is super. In other words, when every relation is by definition ‘participatory’ then the term ‘participatory’ does not add anything to the term ‘relation,’ and is thus evacuated of meaning. So in this way your semantic claim here stipulatively eliminates the distinction between participatory relationships and non-participatory relationships, and such an elimination is a methodological denial that there is such a thing as ontological participation. In that respect, it seems to me that your semantic claim begs the question, i.e. assumes precisely that the covenantal view of union is right, and that the ontological conception of [participatory] union is false.

    I wonder what you think of Chapter 18 of Michael Horton’s recent book, The Christian Faith. The title of this chapter is “Union with Christ,” and in it, he defines union with Christ as covenantal, and rejects an ontological union (which he describes as ‘fusion’). But this ontological union is what we [Catholics] are talking about when we speak of receiving grace in the sacraments. We are not talking about the strengthening of a promise between God and man. Nor are we talking about a growth in knowledge of what God has done for us. Nor are we talking about an elimination of individual identity or claiming that in heaven Christians cease to be creatures. By no means. Rather, through the Catholic sacraments we are growing in our ontological participation in the divine nature, such that we, by divine condescension and gift, come more and more to have God’s nature as our second nature. This is why we are truly called sons of God by adoption. The adoption is not merely stipulative, but by the sacraments we truly are made to share in the divine nature, such that by His gracious gift, we become sons of God through ontological union with the Son of God. This is what the tradition means by ‘theosis’ and ‘deification.’ See my “Horton on Being Made One Flesh with Christ.” My point here is that if you think Horton is wrong (about the nature of union with Christ), then it seems to me that you are distancing yourself from the Reformed tradition. But if you think Horton is right, then it seems that you can’t rightly call your position ‘participatory,’ because even though God gives us gifts (on that view), we are not ontological sharers in the divine nature, and the relation between God and creatures remains extrinsic.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  46. I know exactly how Gollum and Burton feel, and am there myself. My wife and I bounced around in protestant churches for years — first in Pentecostalism, then a congregational church, then the PCA, and a brief stint in an AMIA church. All these years, I’ve held in the back of my mind that if the current church experiment doesn’t work out, I could always move up the ecclesial ladder, so to speak — although I never for a moment thought Catholicism would be where we’d end up. In other words, I always had a fallback plan — something to keep a safe distance between the dissatisfaction of my protestant experience and what I knew loomed at the end of the road if I could not find truth on the way — some sort of “be a good person” agnosticism.

    Well, we’ve reached the end. And it did not end where I thought it would. We will start RCIA this fall (praise God for CTC, among many other things), and I could not be more excited. I know full well that if Catholicism isn’t true, then the best I can do is self-fueled humanist agnosticism. But I believe it is true. I feel a little like Peter — I have no place else to go, for Christ (and his Church) have the words of eternal life.

    These last two years, I’ve had the same experience as Burton and JTJ — first “hiding” my study of the Church from my wife (and everyone else) as though it were something dirty. When I first told my wife that I might have to become Catholic, she thought I was crazy. She has since experienced a remarkable change of heart. We’ve got a ways to go, but at last I feel like I’ve found my home.

  47. Faramir (re:#41),

    I join you, and so many here, in prayers for our friend in Christ and lover of LOTR, Gollum! I just wanted to offer a thought on what you wrote to him here:

    Deciding to take the plunge and join the Catholic Church is, in the end, a leap of faith (pardon the somewhat mixed metaphors). When I stood before the priest and said, “I believe and profess all that the Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God,” I didn’t have any guarantee that the next day the Pope wouldn’t declare that abortion is OK or that they wouldn’t take me down to the secret room and make me worship Mary. But in the course of my journey, I had become more and more convinced that if I put all my trust in Jesus, He would not lead me astray. The constant call of Christ, echoed recently by Blessed John Paul, “Do not be afraid!” kept leading me on until eventually I was able to make that leap of faith.

    As Catholics who have professed that we believe all that the Church teaches, we actually do have a guarantee that the Pope will never officially teach that deliberate, procured abortions are morally allowable. For a Pope to officially teach such a thing, as Pope, would be for him to teach grave sin as being morally licit. To do so would violate Papal infallibility, which is a dogma (understood as it is actually defined in the Church, not as many misunderstand it, obviously) of the Church. If the Church truly is guided by the Holy Spirit, the official teaching of the Church will not “change course,” in matters of faith and morals, and suddenly delare that abortion is morally licit.

    Catholicism is a reasonable faith. It can be reasonably investigated. Reason alone won’t take us to *all* truths of the Faith, but it cannot be simply said “Christianity is beyond reason, logic, and common sense.” This would make the choice to become Catholic a fideistic one. The choice for Gollum to become Catholic or not is not a choice that involves a shirking of reason and logic. Logic (although definitely not logic alone, by any means!) actually *helped* many people here to become Catholic, and it helped me to return to the Catholic Church last year, after almost fifteen years that involved a period as an epistemological skeptic, and then, several years of Protestantism (first, as an “Arminian,” and later, as a “Reformed Baptist”).

  48. Christopher (re #47):

    I completely agree, and thank you for your clarification. I may have gone too far in my rhetoric: I certainly didn’t mean to imply that Catholic faith is opposed to reason. For me as well as everyone who writes for this site, the claims of the Catholic Church are certainly reasonable and those reasons compelled me to the decision I had to make. I was merely trying to point out that when reason has presented you with the evidence, there is still an act of the will involved: one must choose either to accept that evidence and make whatever changes are necessary because of it, or to ignore that evidence. I was trying to implore Gollum to not be afraid to make that choice when he came to it.

    As for the unchangibility of Catholic doctrine, of course you are completely right and I do not worry every day whether the Magisterium will attempt to change the deposit of faith. What I was trying to get at is that it is a certainty based on faith, not on knowledge. I don’t have a time machine, so I don’t have empirical knowledge that the pope won’t change some doctrine. But my faith is the “certainty of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. I know that the teaching of the Church will not change in the same way I know that God is a Trinity, that Jesus Christ is true God and true man, etc.: not because I can empirically verify those facts, but because I have faith in the One who tells me them.

  49. Almost Catholic,

    I will be in prayer for you as you and your wife enter RCIA this fall.

  50. Just a quick note to say thank you to all for your charitable and encouraging responses. I will definitely remember you in my prayers, especially those of you who are floating in the same choppy waters between Protestantism and Catholicism (Burton, Gollum, et al.)

    pax Christi,
    A Rider of the Mark

    (…canters off to join the restive Rohirrim)

  51. Congratulations, Almost Catholic! Burton and Gollum, I am praying for you!

    Reading the stories here of Protestants “hiding” much of their study of Catholicism from others only makes me marvel, all the more, that I ever *did* return to the Catholic Church, by God’s grace– because I didn’t hide my study and was quite vigorously challenged throughout it!

    I’ll share some of that story, here, for anyone who is convinced, or all-but-convinced, of the truth of the Catholic Church, and who may need the encouragement to not take the possible “easier road” of remaining in a Protestant fellowship, in the face of opposition (a road that would involve mortally sinning against God, if one is convinced of the truth of the Church).

    During 2009, and for part of 2010, I was working, a good many hours weekly, in a volunteer capacity in the non-denominational, Calvinistic fellowship of which I was a member at the time. I was out of (paid) work (having a physical disability and being unable to drive were factors), but I was very happy to be deeply involved in this ecclesial body. One of the elders was actually training me to become a “nouthetic,” Reformational counselor, in the vein of men such as Jay Adams, to an extent, and Paul and Ted Tripp. I had benefitted from their writings myself and wanted to help others in this vein. Ergo, the training with the elder (whom I still love and miss.. more on this later). I was a committed and happy five-point Calvinist Christian– with absolutely *no* thought of ever returning to the Catholic Church, which I had left almost fifteen years ago.

    One day, while working in my volunteer cubicle, surrounded by Calvinist leaders/friends all around the room, I suddenly thought, seemingly out of nowhere, “What about Peter Kreeft?”

    (I had read a bit of Kreeft’s work, many years ago, as a Catholic but had all but forgotten about him as a Calvinist– during which time, I would have much rather read works of Puritan theologians and, for contemporary authors, John Piper, Carl Trueman, and Michael Horton. Basically, in my mind, almost anything which was “Reformed,” or at least “Reformed-leaning,” was intrinsically better than anything Catholic. Not that we Calvinists couldn’t learn at all from “Romish theologians,” to use Abraham Kuyper’s phrase– but it was simply better to read “sound, Biblical” authors, and thus, to avoid being influenced by “Catholic heresy and idolatry.”)

    Such was my thinking that morning, in the cubicle, at the office of my Calvinist fellowship. Suddenly though, unexpectedly, the thought came– “What about Peter Kreeft?” It was unsettling; I was actually frightened to follow the thought. “We Calvinists (in my circles at least!) insist that such a man as Peter Kreeft , a ‘consistent Catholic’ who actually believes and follows what the Catholic Church officially teaches, is not a ‘true Christian’ who holds to the ‘Biblical Gospel’. He does not truly know and love Christ in a saving way, because he explicitly denies what we believe to be ‘the Gospel’. How is it, then, that he truly seems to know and love Christ, as much as any Calvinist??” (More of my general, and unsettled, thinking… Kreeft’s a Trinitarian, his “mere Christian” apologetics are quite good, he writes wonderfully and very Christocentrically about prayer… but he also denies the Reformed, “Biblical” understanding of the Gospel, and he’s a “consistent Catholic,” so he believes the stuff about Mary, the saints, purgatory… so how can he seem to clearly love Christ so much? Can such a man be “saved”– or *not* saved?? )

    This is all in the context of my having read very, very little of the writings of Peter Kreeft as a Calvinist. Somehow though, these thoughts of his warm Christ-centeredness were coming back to me, uninvited, and really, *unwanted*, on that particular day. The voices of my Calvinist elders (from my previous community in Washington, D.C., and where I was now, in New Mexico), quickly began ringing in my ears. “Stay close to your leaders. Check in with them. Be careful of what you read. The Catholic Church does not teach the Gospel.”

    In line with these thoughts, I soon went to the elder who was training me in “Biblical Counseling” and told him of my unsettling earlier thoughts. He was visibly unsettled, himself, that I was even asking questions about the Catholic Church, but I assured him, in no uncertain terms, that I was *not* thinking about returning to the Catholic Church. I just wanted to settle my questions. Would he be willing to meet with me to talk and study through them? He was happy to hear that I was still happily Protestant, and still firmly a Calvinist, no less, and he warmly agreed to begin meeting with me to study Catholism (while also still continuing my “Biblical Counseling” training.) I was relieved. I loved and worshiped Christ, I loved “the (Reformed) Gospel,” and in a human-to-human “guy” ense, I loved my friend, this elder. I was glad that our friendship was not in danger and was even more glad that he loved me enough to meet with me on an ongoing basis– partially because, I knew (and agreed with him at the time!) that he did not want me to fall into “Catholic heresy.”

    For the next several months, he and I met, usually on a weekly to bi-weekly basis, often for for two to three hours at a time (sometimes more). In these meetings, we prayed together, that God would not lead us into error, and we studied Scripture, the early Church Fathers, Protestant and Catholic apologetics, other sources, etc.

    As the meetings continued, over months, I began to see the Biblical coherency of Catholicism. The Biblical exegesis of the Fathers and the Catholic Catechism started to make more sense of the whole counsel of Scripture (more so than the “elder-rule polity, believer’s baptism-only, symbolic memorial Lord’s Supper, five-point Calvinist” thinking which was taught as being “Biblical” in my current fellowship). I began to see the validity of, and the attestation to, Catholic Sacred Tradition in the early Church Fathers, and explicitly and implicitly in Scripture.

    As I saw these things, I started to question my elder friend. Why were we so convinced, within this local community/ fellowship, that the Protestant (Lutheran) formulation of the Gospel is *the Gospel*, and that Catholics are wrong and heretical, when Catholic Biblical exegesis on justification seems to make more objective sense of the texts? Aren’t the early Fathers clear about apostolic succession as a non-negotiable for ecclesiastical leadership? What about these texts, in the New Testament and in the Fathers, which clearly affirm priestly authority, granted by Christ, to forgive and to retain sins? What about the early Fathers’ understanding of the Church as one, visible, publicly identifiable Church– which so contrasted with our view of “the Church” as local fellowships, but really, more so, the “true Christians” who are *in* those local fellowships, scattered across the world?

    As I had these questions and thoughts, and I began to voice them to my friend, the meetings slowly became more contentious– and, at least for me, a bit tense. The “Biblical Counseling” training stopped, and the meetings became deadly-serious examinations of the Bible, of the early Fathers, and for me, of the question(s) that I once never dreamed of asking– “Is Protestantism actually God’s will for His people– and, if so, *how so*?”

    Over time, as the Biblical exegesis and study of the early Fathers continued, both in these meetings, and out of them (for hours and hours, each day, for me, for months), I realized, with shock and some pain, that I probably could never be a Protestant again– and that I could not, now, call myself a Protestant, and I needed to resign from my volunteer work at the fellowship and actually *leave* the assembly. This was incredibly painful– and embarrassing to me, as one who had once been a loved and respected member of this community. I had to leave though. I could not, in good conscience, continue on, singing songs whose theology I could not affirm (in part, not in whole, but still), reciting historic creeds (such as the Nicene and/or Apostles’ Creed(s)), written by men who *meant* some of the words, writing them, differently than we did, saying them. I just could not stay there anymore.

    Where to go though? Was I absolutely convinced that the Catholic Church is Christ’s True Church? Not yet… I still struggled with some of the Catholic dogmas/beliefs/practices regarding Mary. I couldn’t quite see where she and they *fit in* as part of an overall picture that was so incredibly Biblical. Also, to be honest, I went through a period, for about two months, of something clode to epistemological despair. If I had been *this wrong* about Protestantism in general, and Calvinism in particular, of which I was once so utterly convinced, could I ever be sure that I was right about *anything* again?

    However, in this darkness, God was calling me– and increasingly, I sensed that it was through the Church, the Catholic Church (that which I had detested and fought against for years), and that to *not* return would be disobedience to God and mortal peril for my soul. I still didn’t quite “understand” some of the Marian teachings/practices– but this Church had proven me wrong everywhere else where I had once differed with her (thinking the Bible to differ with her), and I wasn’t going to prove my confusion about Mary right. I wasn’t seeing something (more than one thing, likely) as I should have about her and her place in the Church’s thinking– and I couldn’t use this confusion, on my part, to justify my continued schism from the Church. I had to quit Protesting, no longer “in heart,” but still in my body, in my physical absence from the Church– and *come home*.

    I inally did so in the summer of last year– while living with an “ex-Catholic,” Calvinist roommate who was still a committed member of our former Protestant ecclesial community (the one in which I had once begun training to be a “Biblical Counselor”– and in which I was taught to “share the Gospel with Catholics). My roommate was far from the only “ex-Catholic” in this ecclesial community. Two other were in ministry leadership positions– one of them being my once very close friend, the aformentioned elder with whom I met for months. He continued to be a Protestant, I returned to the Catholic Church, and in the eyes of him, the other elders, and more than a few members of that community (whom I all still love and deeply miss), I have shipwrecked my faith, abandoned the Gospel, and am no longer to be considered a brother. This is a form of “church discipline” which, two years ago, I would have firmly agreed should be applied to Protestants who return to the Catholic Church (or who become Catholic). Over the past year, it has been applied to me, and it has not been easy.

    With that said– I have been back in the Church now for almost a year, and I do not regret my journey, and where it has led, at all. Has it been challenging? Yes. I still miss my many Protestant friends who no longer treat me as a brother in Christ (not all of them, to be sure, but most). In large part, I haven’t yet found the warm, enthusiastic circle(s) of Catholic friends for which I long (except for over the internet!). However, I am *in the Church*, Christ’s Church, founded by Him. I am no longer “imperfectly joined” to the Church, as a Protestant who left the Church, almost fifteen years ago, after very poor catechetical formation (for the most part), and with little true understanding of what I was leaving. I am now a believing, practicing Catholic– and I am loved personally by Christ, whom I receive, literally, true Body and Blood, in the Eucharist, and I am loved and prayed for by the communion of saints, including Christ’s own Mother, and my Mother, the Mother of all Christians, whether or not they all recognize her as such! It is glorious to be Catholic. On the local parish level, there are still struggles– most of all, for me, internally, with my own sin, but not entirely. Still, I have more victory over personal sin, more love for others, and more intimacy with Christ than I have had in years. If you are still reading these words, and you know what you need to do, and that is, to come home to the Catholic Church– stop waiting. Just come home.

  52. As long as we are on the topic of sin, especially habitual sin, may I ask a question about french kissing? Tim Staples received a question on it yesterday, and I was surprised at his condemnation of it. Let me explain.

    The Catholic Church has not stipulated any teaching on french kissing, but it has taught that one should avoid near occasions of sin. Non-married couples, therefore, should avoid “stimulation” that should otherwise only be exclusive to the marital act. That seemed to be the basis for Staples’ caution of french kissing. I have problems with that. While I agree that directly stimulating actions that lead one to sexual lust should be avoided, determining what those actions are is entirely separate question and one not touched on by the Church – and so, that determination belongs to the realm of reason and prudential judgment. What is a near occasion for sin for one person may not be the same for others, and while french kissing could certainly be an occasion for sin, I don’t think it is always and for everyone an occasion for sin.

    Thoughts?

  53. Brent #25:

    You wrote:

    Isn’t it ironic that the WCF only makes sense if the Catholic Church exists. In other words, the phrase “not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine” would be superfluous if the WCF was simply trying to expound what is obvious in Scripture. Instead, the clause speaks to a reality that exists, persistently so, outside of the WCF, of which the confession will always owe her very existence.

    That’s rather like saying that the Nicene Creed’s consubstantiality clause speaks to a reality that exists, persistently so, outside the Creed, of which the Creed will always owe her very existence.

    You continued: “Maybe I’m over-stating it.” I think your instinct was right.

    You asked: “But further, your citations say that we participate with Christ spiritually “not corporally”. Can his spirit be present without his corpus?” To which the answer is, yes.

    Christ is now bodily absent from us, but spiritually present with us:

    Romans 8:9 But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

    John 14:25-26
    These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

    -TurretinFan

  54. Faramir and Christopher (re:14 & 15):

    I have also struggled with this mentality. “Well I sinned anyway, may as well enjoy the sin some more before Saturday confession”.

    Christopher, your advice is very helpful. I never thought of anything like that example of wife abuse. Thank you.

    Interestingly, last night when I went to bed, after pondering this very issue and David Meyer’s good advice to fear the pit as well, I opened to this passage which I had never read before in Sirach 5 (verses 4-9):

    Say not: “I have sinned, yet what has befallen me?” for the LORD bides his time.
    Of forgiveness be not overconfident, adding sin upon sin.
    Say not: “Great is his mercy; my many sins he will forgive.”
    For mercy and anger alike are with him; upon the wicked alights his wrath.
    Delay not your conversion to the LORD, put it not off from day to day;
    For suddenly his wrath flames forth; at the time of vengeance, you will be destroyed.

  55. If it could be demonstrated to you that the pastor of your church was not “properly ordained” (whatever that might mean. I’m sure we could talk about that later in another thread) and therefore unable to properly officiate this sacrament would you seek out a Church whose minister was properly ordained to receive this grace to defeat sin in your life?

    This was a big question for me in my journey out of the PCA and into the Catholic Church.

  56. RefProt,

    I understand your point. I know I believed and taught that the sacraments were a means of grace when I was reformed. As a Catholic I have to say we didn’t really believe it. It was the correct answer in catechism class but that is where it ended. When people were struggling with sin nobody ever suggested partaking of the Lord’s Supper more often. When the Lord’s Supper was made less frequent nobody pointed out were were choosing to receive less grace. I notice this now because Catholics talk all the time about how the Eucharist helps them get closer to God. Reformed people never talk that way. They mention how communion makes the service longer. They talk a lot about what communion is not. But I don’t remember ever hearing someone talk about how communion is a powerful source of grace in his life. So you are right to point out their theology has some good points and maybe Brian was not totally fair with it. But there is a night and day difference between Catholics and Christian Reformed in term of their relationship to communion.

    Brian,

    I understand where Tim is coming from. He has a point because he is talking to teens who are not really good at discerning these things. Still when my wife and I were dating we were both virgins and serious about chastity. We did french kiss and I don’t see it as a near occasions of sin. But we were both 29. If we were teens it might have been different.

    One question related is when should we date at all. If you are dating with no serious prospect of marrying in the next while you have to wonder about the wisdom of it. Dating is not for recreation. It is to find a spouse. Marriage is for procreation. So if you are not ready to have children with someone in the near future you should not be dating. Then a lot of these questions about what 15 year-olds should do on a date go away.

  57. Bryan, RE: #45

    The participatory (ontological)/extrinsic (covenantal) distinction is new to me. I have been in a Reformed church (PCA) for only about 3 years now and am familiar with most aspects of covenantal theology.

    A question arises: the Bible uses several analogies to demonstrate Union with Christ. One of those is that of the relationship of the head to the rest of the body. Christ is the head and we are His body. This certainly seems to suggest ontological unity over extrinsic unity. However, the other main analogy used for Union with Christ is that of the groom to his bride. It can even be argued that the whole purpose of the institution of marriage is precisely to point to that Union of Christ to His people. Now, on the surface at least, this kind of union is certainly covenantal. I am wondering if the Catholic position entails seeing the Sacrament of marriage as ontologically uniting the husband and wife, and interpreting such passages as Matthew 19:6, Mark 10:8, and Genesis 2:24 accordingly.

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  58. Getting off-topic a bit, but:

    David H. said (#54):

    I opened to this passage which I had never read before in Sirach 5 (verses 4-9):

    Say not: “I have sinned, yet what has befallen me?” for the LORD bides his time.
    Of forgiveness be not overconfident, adding sin upon sin.
    Say not: “Great is his mercy; my many sins he will forgive.”
    For mercy and anger alike are with him; upon the wicked alights his wrath.
    Delay not your conversion to the LORD, put it not off from day to day;
    For suddenly his wrath flames forth; at the time of vengeance, you will be destroyed.

    It’s funny, I was reading Sirach a couple months ago and was convicted by that exact same passage. It was my first time reading Sirach; I found sections of it to be very beautiful other parts to be very down-to-earth. For example:

    Study the generations long past and understand;
    has anyone hoped in the LORD and been disappointed?
    Has anyone persevered in his fear and been forsaken?
    has anyone called upon him and been rebuffed?
    Compassionate and merciful is the LORD;
    he forgives sins, he saves in time of trouble.
    –Sirach 2:10-11

    But also:

    With a dragon or a lion I would rather dwell
    than live with an evil woman.
    Wickedness changes a woman’s looks,
    and makes her sullen as a female bear.
    When her husband sits among his neighbors,
    a bitter sigh escapes him unawares.
    –Sirach 25:15-17

    Who said the Bible isn’t funny? A good warning to a single man like me; it sounds like the author was speaking from experience, especially the bit about the “bitter sigh.”

  59. T-Fan #54,

    That’s rather like saying that the Nicene Creed’s consubstantiality clause speaks to a reality that exists, persistently so, outside the Creed, of which the Creed will always owe her very existence.

    Yes, you are right, and that is true, and now you are affirming that the Councils were not the Church getting together out of nowhere to expound the Scriptures but rather in a response to heresy (a real thing that exists a part from the Council). Nor, even more, were the councils pretending to be exhaustive catechisms (like the WCF). But, and to my point, the Nicene Creed does speak in the negative of the heretics but rather only in the positive (e.g., “We believe”). Sure the CC has canons that condemn heretics, but in our positive teaching we do not say things like: “not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine”–and it is not a part of the positive teaching in the WCF. I just found it interesting, and I like to think about these kind of observations within a larger scheme of data and not all alone by themselves where they might seem more inconsequential.

    You are missing my point about Christ’s body. Refprot said that Christ’s body and blood is “truly and really” present in the Supper. I don’t know what Romans 8:9 has to do with this, and I will concur with you that Christ’s Spirit is a Spirit. But Christ is not a Spirit and the Holy Spirit and Christ are different persons of the Blessed Trinity (one Ascended the other Descended). So, my question is can his “body and blood” be with us “truly and really” without a corpus?

  60. Faramir (re:#48),

    Thanks so much for the clarification on your statements and views, regarding faith and reason. I am completely “tracking” with you. More importantly, we are both in agreement with the authoritative teaching of the Church! God bless you.

  61. Almost Catholic, in my above post (#51), I congratulated you, but I should also add that I am praying for you. My journey out of (most of of my past) Reformed circles (I was “disciplined” out, one might say), and back into the Catholic Church, has had its challenges, but being back where I need to be (where we *all* objectively need to be) has been more than worth all of them. Burton and Gollum, I’m praying for you too.

  62. David H. (re:#54),

    I’m glad that that example was helpful for you. Praise be to God, my brother. Thank *you* for that very helpful passage from Sirach. It is very sobering and will be helping to me in fighting and resisiting habitual sin. The aforementioned appointment with my priest (for the Sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation, amd for spiritual direction) was wonderful. What a joy! Not always a “happy, easy” joy but a joy nonetheless! I can’t wait to receive the Eucharist tomorrow at Daily Mass!

  63. Bryan,

    I must disagree with Clark and side with the WCF. To my understanding, the Three Forms of Unity do not adopt the language of the WCF so perhaps Clark holds to a different view of grace than the WCF.

    WLC #77
    “Wherein do justification and sanctification differ? Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification, yet they differ, in that God in justification imputeth the righteousness of Christ, in sanctification his Spirit infuseth grace, and enableth to the exercise thereof; in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued: the one doth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation; the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.”

    Bryan, you ask me:

    “What does it mean to “partake of His flesh through the Spirit”? What does it mean that the Supper is “a real participation in the person of Christ”?

    Here’s the bottom line: Do you know what you are talking about when you put forward such phrases, or are these just Reformed clichés that sound good but only ‘work’ so long as nobody asks what they actually mean?”

    These are not Reformed cliches but Reformed systematics. I think that they speak for themselves, but I’m more than happy to elaborate on areas of disagreement or ambiguity.

    What the Reformed mean when they talk of the Real Presence is that Christ’s one person is communicated to us in the Supper but that the elements themselves do not transform. So we can sacramentally say that we are eating the body and blood of Christ because we are united to Christ’s person by taking the sacrament by faith. And because in sanctification grace is infused in us, I find it perfectly within bounds of the WCF and a logical consequence that the sacraments infuse the grace of God in us.

    And what is this grace other than the person of Jesus Christ? When I say that the Supper is a real participation in the person of Christ I mean that we are not simply told that we are united to Christ, but that we are also partaking of his flesh and blood in the Supper. The Supper truly is mystical and mysterious and is a great gift of God! It not only is a picture of the Gospel, of God’s blood shed for us, but also is a symbol and participation of the real union we have with Christ that is infused in us and makes us participate in the Divine energies.

    This gets to Gollum’s question about ontological participation. We can say that we participate in the energies of God. I think that we can both agree here, but Van Til’s Creator/Creature distinction is still maintained because the energies are never subsumed into the essence. That would be a contradiction of terms.

    And Dumbledore, while not completely on topic, you raise an important question I am wrestling with right now. Who has the right and authority to ordain? Rome and the East have interesting answers, but I’m not sure that I feel comfortable with the heirarchy of the church defining ordination. I am after all still a Protestant. But I understand that there are certain fundamental problems with the Protestant position and I’m currently trying to figure that out.

  64. *helpful*, not “helping,” that is!

  65. Sorry guys, I have missed some clarifying questions in my response. I just left the webpage open from my last comment.

    Bryan, you are right to sense that I disagree with Horton on union. As much as I appreciate Horton, I disagree with him on union. Are you aware of the debates within Reformed theology? There are many in the Reformed tradition who accuse WSC of Lutheranism. I’ll let others determine whether or not that is true or not, but I can at least tell you that my soteriological understanding is in a different strand than Horton’s. Perhaps we are two different streams of Reformed theology, something that JV Fesko has convincingly argued.

    Yet, there are varying traditions and I do not agree with Horton. If you want some reading on the various developments of union within Reformed theology see William B. Evans, “Imputation and Impartation: Union With Christ in American Reformed Theology.”

    Finally, Bryan you say,

    “We are not talking about the strengthening of a promise between God and man. Nor are we talking about a growth in knowledge of what God has done for us. Nor are we talking about an elimination of individual identity or claiming that in heaven Christians cease to be creatures. By no means. Rather, through the Catholic sacraments we are growing in our ontological participation in the divine nature, such that we, by divine condescension and gift, come more and more to have God’s nature as our second nature.”

    Let me cite you an extended quote by J. Todd Billings, “United to God through Christ: Assessing Calvin on the Question of Deification” Harvard Theological Review 98:3 (2005) 315-34 on Calvin’s Eucharistic theology,

    “While Calvin develops a wide-ranging theology of participation, his strongest language of participation relates to the sacraments. The sacraments are not empty symbols, but they involved the ‘communicating of Christ,’ for in them God ‘truly executes whatever he promises and represents in signs.’ the Sacraments are gifts, not to be venerated in themselves, but received in gratitude and faith. The grateful response of believers is rooted in Trinitarian sacramental theology, such that they receive the gracious pardon of the Father, having been united to Christ and empowered by the Spirit to live a new life of gratitude. Thus through the sacraments believers truly participate in Christ; they do not simply imitate Christ or partake of his benefits. In baptism and the Lord’s Supper, believers participate in the person of Christ, ingrafted into his body. Calvin’s development of the biblical themes of union, adoption, ingrafting, and participation give a strongly ‘catholic’ character to his theology of deification…Calvin teaches that the final end and goal for humanity is a Trinitarian union of humanity with God (323-324).”

    The Reformed tradition and Calvin in particular emphasize the importance of the Sacrament in our union with God. It is a covenantal participation, but it is also ontological. This is an element of the Reformed tradition and it is tragic that this element is obviously being neglected in Reformed churches.

  66. RefProt,

    I’m at a conference, so I’ll keep this brief — but don’t mistake my shortness for rudeness. :-) You wrote:

    These are not Reformed cliches but Reformed systematics. I think that they speak for themselves, but I’m more than happy to elaborate on areas of disagreement or ambiguity.

    I’m glad you are willing to elaborate areas of ambiguity.

    What the Reformed mean when they talk of the Real Presence is that Christ’s one person is communicated to us in the Supper

    What does it mean that a person is communicated to us? Using vague language to explain vague language does not clarify anything — it merely replaces one Reformed cliché with another. Where else in our human language do we speak of one person being communicated to another? Can you give me an example, so I understand what you are saying?

    So we can sacramentally say [snip]

    Hold on. What does it mean to “sacramentally say”? Is ‘sacramentally’ an adverb here? If so, how does it modify that verb? What is the difference between sacramentally saying x, and non-sacramentally saying x?

    Again, you’re still using Reformed clichés.

    that we eat body and blood of Christ because we are united to Christ’s person by taking the sacrament by faith.

    First, I don’t know what sort of union you are talking about when you say “united to Christ’s person.” And second, how does that sort of union (whatever it may be) entail that you are in any sense eating Christ’s body and blood? The conclusion seems to be a non sequitur, i.e. “We are united to Christ’s person [in some sense]; therefore it follows that we are eating His body and blood.”

    And because in sanctification grace is infused in us, I find it perfectly within bounds of the WCF and a logical consequence that the sacraments infuse the grace of God in us. And what is this grace other than the person of Jesus Christ?

    Again, what does it mean for a person to be infused into us? Is this a relational union (as friends are united to each in the heart), or is it an ontological union, or spatial union (i.e. Christ is co-present within us), or what?

    When I say that the Supper is a real participation in the person of Christ I mean that we are not simply told that we are united to Christ, but that we are also partaking of his flesh and blood in the Supper.

    I know you are saying that you are partaking of his flesh and blood, but I don’t yet see how this isn’t (according to your sacramentology) anything more than words, because if you were only growing in your love for Christ (through receiving the Supper), but you weren’t actually partaking of His flesh and blood, what would be different? How would it not be exactly the same as it is right now?

    but also is a symbol and participation of the real union we have with Christ that is infused in us and makes us participate in the Divine energies.

    First, what is a “participation of a real union”? The phrase doesn’t even make sense. That’s why it seems to me that you are using clichés. Second, where in the Reformed confessions does it say that through any sacrament we participate in the “Divine energies”? And third, what do you mean when you say you “participate in the Divine energies”? Just replacing theological phrases with other equally undefined theological phrases doesn’t explain anything.

    I hope you see why I’m asking these questions — I’m trying to uncover the hollowness of theology-by-undefined-terms-and-clichés.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  67. Refprot –

    And Dumbledore, while not completely on topic, you raise an important question I am wrestling with right now. Who has the right and authority to ordain? Rome and the East have interesting answers, but I’m not sure that I feel comfortable with the heirarchy of the church defining ordination. I am after all still a Protestant. But I understand that there are certain fundamental problems with the Protestant position and I’m currently trying to figure that out.

    Good luck in your search for truth on this subject. If I were ever to seriously entertain leaving the Catholic Church for a protestant denomination this would probably be one of the largest stumbling blocks in my way. Thanks for the honesty and I hope you’ll stick around CtC so that all of us can reach a deeper understanding of this issue.

  68. Christopher,

    I think you did say it — in the first line — but I will take it twice!! Thank you (and you too Tom — love the podcasts and hope we get to meet in person someday!)

    The experience you describe is very similar to my own. I too have been meeting regularly with a good and sincere PCA friend to discuss these things. Our meeting have not been contentious (though we don’t always agree) but they have helped me sort out my own questions and beliefs in a structured way. And I too have always wondered how I could make sense of Peter Kreeft (and Mary Ann Glendon, and Francis Beckwith, an more recently Hadley Arkes, and so many others) who embraced Catholicism while living Christian lives more authentic than my own.

    This process has not been without some sadness — there are certainly friends who think I’ve taken leave of my senses — and I expect there will be more to come. Despite this, I have such great joy — more than I have felt in years — in finally feeling that I have come home.

    I’ll stop now before I wander too far off topic — though to loop back to the post, I am so looking forward to confession. Even as a protestant, for many years I have wished for some way to unburden myself of my many sins, and I know now it is not far off. Praise God!

  69. RefProt: What the Reformed mean when they talk of the Real Presence is that Christ’s one person is communicated to us in the Supper but that the elements themselves do not transform

    Are you saying that the Reformed believe that the Eucharist is true God and true bread? If that is what the Reformed really believe, would you please cite any Early Church Father that taught that the Eucharist is true God and true bread.

    Catholics believe what the ECF’s taught, namely, that Christ is true God and true man, and that when we receive the Eucharist, we receive Christ – body, blood, soul and divinity. No ECF ever taught that the Eucharist is true God and true bread!

  70. Turretin Fan #53,
    Do you think the Divine Persons are restricted to location?
    Do you think the right hand of the Father is a location?
    Can Christ be present somewhere without his human nature?
    Is Christ’s deified body physically limited?

    John of Damascus from Bk4 Ch13 of On the Orthodox Faith:

    “The body which is born of the holy Virgin is in truth body united with divinity, not that the body which was received up into the heavens descends, but that the bread itself and the wine are changed into God’s body and blood. But if you enquire how this happens, it is enough for you to learn that it was through the Holy Spirit”

    “The bread and the wine are not merely figures of the body and blood of Christ (God forbid!) but the deified body of the Lord itself: for the Lord has said, “This is My body,” not, this is a figure of My body: and “My blood,” not, a figure of My blood.”

  71. I am a little late to this party but would like to share similar observations regarding supernatural victory over habitual sin since my reversion to the Catholic faith.
    I became Catholic 7 years ago and started going to confession regularly and receiving the Eucharist.
    Without wanting to boast, (because he that thinketh he standeth, take heed…) I have been free of one particular sin of the flesh and have also found freedom in other areas as well. At some point long ago in my walk with the Lord I gave up thinking I could ever be free, but now as a Catholic I too have had less desire to sin and more desire to not sin as one of the above commenters has posted. I have fallen in love with Jesus more and more as a Catholic Christian and have come to understand the importance of trying to live a holy life. I want to be a saint now, though I am still very far from it! Nevertheless I have a new hope that with this miraculous grace available to me in the sacraments, we can truly be free from our burden of sin.
    Since we have become Catholic, there is a level of trust in our marriage that didn’t exist before our conversions.
    To my Protestant brothers, all I can tell you is what my lovely revert/convert wife has said: “Confession alone is reason enough for any married woman to want her husband to become Catholic.”
    And that my friends, says it all.

  72. Mateo,

    I’m not sure how you could understand what I said and think that I’m saying the elements are true bread and true God. That is simply ludicrous.

    The Reformed position is that we feed on Christ in the Supper through the Spirit. The elements themselves do not become human or divine, but they do unite us to Christ by faith.

    Perhaps I can explain in more detail what I mean in a response to Bryan. Time doesn’t allow much right now, but I’ll quickly Bryan that some of my ambiguity was due to my anticipation of the Nestorian accusation. There were also a few typos as well. More on that later though.

  73. RefProt: The elements themselves do not become human or divine …

    If the substance of the bread is not changed by the prayers of consecration, then the bread remains true bread. Blessed bread, perhaps, but still true bread.

    RefProt: … but they [the elements that make up true bread] do unite us to Christ by faith.

    So then Christ is substantially present, body, blood, soul and divinity when the Eucharist is consecrated? This is what every Early Church Father taught, and it is believed by the Oriental Orthodox, the Eastern Orthodox, and the Catholic Church.

    RefProt: I’m not sure how you could understand what I said and think that I’m saying the elements are true bread and true God. That is simply ludicrous.

    I agree that a doctrine that teaches that the Eucharist is true God and true bread is ludicrous. But you are the one that is saying that the Eucharist is true bread, and that you feed on Christ when you partake of the consecrated bread. If you are not saying that the consecrated bread remains true bread, could you please say that explicitly?

    Pontificator’s Eleventh Law: It doesn’t matter how vigorously you protest your belief in the eucharistic real presence: if you are not willing and eager to prostrate yourself before the Holy Gifts and adore, worship, and pray to the glorified Lord Jesus Christ, present under the forms of bread and wine, you really do not believe in it.

    http://pontifications.wordpress.com/pontificators-laws/

  74. RefProt,
    You said:
    “The Reformed position is that we feed on Christ in the Supper through the Spirit. The elements themselves do not become human or divine, but they do unite us to Christ by faith.”

    And yet the unworthy who partake, according to St. Paul, are united to Christ not for blessing but for judgement, in the act of eating and drinking. Faith is not what energizes the sacrament, but the very presence Christ himself.

  75. Mateo seems to be adopting the mindset of a materialist like Richard Dawkins in which only the physical is real and the spiritual imaginary.

  76. David Gray: Mateo seems to be adopting the mindset of a materialist like Richard Dawkins in which only the physical is real and the spiritual imaginary.

    David, my initial reaction to this comment was one of bafflement. Why in the world would you make such a comment? But now I think I see the problem. For Catholics, the term the “real presence” has a very specific meaning that perhaps you don’t know. I think the misunderstanding might be over the way the word “real” is being used here, as in, the opposite of the real presence of Christ would be the imaginary, or unreal presence of Christ.

    REAL PRESENCE. The manner of Christ’s presence in the Holy Eucharist. In its definition on the subject, the Council of Trent in 1551 declared that “in the sacrament of the most holy Holy Eucharist is contained truly, really, and substantially the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ” (Denzinger 1636, 1640). Hence Christ is present truly or actually and not only symbolically. He is present really, that is objectively in the Eucharist and not only subjectively in the mind of the believer. And he is present substantially, that is with all that makes Christ Christ and not only spiritually in imparting blessings on those who receive the sacrament. The one who is present is the whole Christ (totus Christus), with all the attributes of his divinity and all the physical parts and properties of his humanity. (Etym. Latin realis, of the thing itself; extramental + prae-esse, to be at hand, to be immediately efficacious.) See also SACRAMENTAL PRESENCE.

    Modern Catholic Dictionary
    by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

    http://www.therealpresence.org/cgi-bin/getdefinition.pl

    When two or more are gathered in the name of Christ in, say, a prayer meeting, Christ is spiritually present – Christ is really there in his divinity- but the mode of his presence at a prayer meeting is not the same as his Sacramental presence in a validly consecrated Eucharist.

    I once was with my my Southern Baptist friends when they had their Lord’s Supper service in their church. ( I am not sure that the Lord’s Supper service is the term that Southern Baptists would use for this ritual). The SB pastor knew that I was Catholic when he presided at this service, and for my benefit, he made a point of explaining that the bread (which tasted like matzoh) and the grape juice that they were receiving was just bread and grape juice. The whole service was very pious, and the congregation took what they were doing seriously, it seemed to me. I felt I received a blessing by being there. And why not? The Baptists were gathered in the name of Jesus, asking for God’s blessing, and they were doing what they had been taught with reverence. So why wouldn’t Christ be there spiritually giving everyone gathered in his name a blessing? The SB pastor was right though, what they ate in their Lord’s Supper service was true bread and true grape juice. It saddens me that these sincere Christians are like the children of Essau – children cut off from the blessing and the birthright because of the sins of their spiritual fathers. Their birthright as validly baptized Christians is the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and their birthright has been given away for a bowl of porridge, namely, the mere traditions of men. You don’t know how much I long for my SB friends to receive more than just bread and grape juice at the Lord’s Supper!

    Every Protestant is like a child of Essau – a child that has lost the blessing and the birthright because of the sins of the Reformers of schism and heresy. The blessing and the birthright given away for the mere traditions of men, and that is a great tragedy that has befallen the children of the Reformation.

  77. @Faramir #14

    “However, something I’ve struggled with is that if I sin once and know I won’t be able to get to confession for a few days, my mind will start telling me, “Well, you’ve already sinned once, you might as well go ahead and have your fun until you can go to confession.” Can anyone relate to this or share any suggestions on how to combat it?”

    Let’s start with two basic facts of classical theism:

    – God is infinitely good. Actually God is absolute and infinite goodness itself. He wants the absolute best for you.

    – God is infinitely wise. Actually God is absolute and infinite wisdom itself. He knows exactly what is best for you.

    Therefore, when God tells you to act in a certain way, either to do something or to not do something, acting accordingly is the best course of action you can take FOR YOUR OWN GOOD. Once again, God wants only the best for me and knows perfectly what I have to do (or not do) to achieve it.

    Thus, sinning amounts to taking one of these positions in front of God:

    – “You are just an oppressing tyrant who doesn’t really want the best for me.”

    – “You are good and do want the best for me, but I happen to know better what’s good for me.”

    In other words, to commit any particular sinful act is not bad for you because God forbids it. Rather, God forbids it because it is bad for you. Of course, it is bad for you because it is contrary to human nature, which has been created by God. So the “badness” is not a property that is “imposed” to God from “outside”.

    Thus, a “vital” faith in God (as opposed to a purely “intellectual” faith) implies doing his will. Because it implies believing existentially (not just intellectually) that what He commands you to do (or not do) is the absolute best for you. Acting contrary-wise is self-destruction, is like a diabetic eating pizza.

    Accordingly, repentance must include sorrow for having distrusted God, for not having had vital trust that He wants only the best for me and knows perfectly what I must do to achieve it.

    Notice that in the above I have not even mentioned anything specifically Christian. Now add the fact that God is so good that He gave up his Only Son to bear our iniquities, and it becomes irrelevant whether you can confess next Sunday or you are marooned in a desert island and will not be seeing a priest for a very long time.

    And by the way, after a mortal sin you do not need to wait to confession to regain salvation, since you can make an act of perfect contrition (which BTW additionally voids the already nonsensical idea of “taking advantage of time” to commit additional sins.) Quoting from the CCC #1451-2:

    Among the penitent’s acts contrition occupies first place. Contrition is “sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again.”

    When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called “perfect” (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible.

  78. I will copy part of a comment I posted some time ago in the thread of “Imputation and Infusion” because it might be relevant here. There is a passage from Ezekiel whose straight interpretation clearly supports the Catholic doctrine on this subject:

    “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

    The statement “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you” refers precisely to the new creation, the infusion of sanctifying grace. Now, “infusion” may give the erroneous impression that sanctifying grace is a kind of “fluid”, which it is certainly not. Quoting from IMHO the best reference on the subject, the catechesis from Fr John Hardon SJ:

    Sanctifying grace is, first of all, not a substance but an accident. … It is a quality, since it makes the soul qualitatively different than it was or would be without such modification. … Most important, sanctifying grace is a habit. This means a permanent and not transient quality, by which the soul is disposed for a supernatural life.

    Continuing with the quote from Ezekiel, the statement “I will put my Spirit within you” refers to uncreated grace, divine indwelling, which is infinitely greater than sanctifying grace as it is God Himself. Quoting from another page by Fr Hardon:

    In considering sanctifying grace we have been considering created grace. But there is another grace, greater than sanctifying grace: Gods gift of Himself to us. … The fact that the Blessed Trinity dwells in the just is beyond question. … All theologians agree that this indwelling is common to the three Persons. And most of them hold that it is specially attributed to the Holy Spirit only by appropriation.

    Thus sanctifying grace is oriented to, and a result of, divine indwelling. It is a “foundational” work whereby the Holy Spirit “upgrades” the soul making it capable/worthy of being inhabited by Him.

    I find this analogy useful: a soul in sin (even original sin) is like a ceramic vase molded out of soft clay. It cannot hold water. When exposed to fire, it gains the quality of hardness and thus becomes capable of holding water. Similarly, the fire of the Holy Spirit makes our soul capable of being inhabited by Him, the living water who gives life, with sanctifying grace in our soul being the hardness of the vase. The sacraments in this analogy would be the ovens where the vases are exposed to fire (and filled with water, which is not possible in the physical world at the same time.)

    And an act of perfect contrition with the purpose of confessing when possible is an emergency oven that we can use when on the road (or on an inland).

  79. Aaron (re: #57),

    I think your question is answered in our recent article on the sacrament of marriage: “What Therefore God Has Joined Together: Divorce and the Sacrament of Marriage.” “The two shall be become one flesh” is not a mere covenantal union. Every time we look at a child, we see an ontological union of the two parents.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  80. Hey Bryan,

    Really just getting around to this now, sorry for the delay.

    You say:

    “What does it mean that a person is communicated to us? Using vague language to explain vague language does not clarify anything — it merely replaces one Reformed cliché with another. Where else in our human language do we speak of one person being communicated to another? Can you give me an example, so I understand what you are saying?”

    I’m trying to anticipate the Nestorian objection that we are only united to Christ’s divinity and that we are not also united to his flesh. The Reformed believe that through the sacrament we are united to Christ’s whole person (thus my language of the whole person) and it is not appropriate to divide him. That is Nestorian. But the Reformed argue that Christ is present through the Spirit. The elements are set aside from their common use, but they themselves are not changed, but they are given a new eschatological significance.

    Then you say:

    “Hold on. What does it mean to “sacramentally say”? Is ‘sacramentally’ an adverb here? If so, how does it modify that verb? What is the difference between sacramentally saying x, and non-sacramentally saying x?”

    Perhaps we just speak a different language here that I am unaware of, but in my own mind this makes perfect sense. A sacrament (for the Reformed) is a sign and a seal. There is a sacramental union where the sign and the thing signified are so closely related that what can be said of one thing can be said of another, but the sign and thing signified are not the exact same thing. As a Ref. Prot, I see the Catholic Real Presence as a conflation of what a sacrament is. The sign actually becomes the signifier, vitiating the sacrament. If you want, we could do exegetical work with Paul in 1 Cor 11 where he affirms that the elements are bread and wine that are partaken.

    Then you say,

    “First, I don’t know what sort of union you are talking about when you say “united to Christ’s person.” And second, how does that sort of union (whatever it may be) entail that you are in any sense eating Christ’s body and blood? The conclusion seems to be a non sequitur, i.e. ‘We are united to Christ’s person [in some sense]; therefore it follows that we are eating His body and blood.'”

    Again this is the relationship between sign and thing signified. The sign still remains a sign, and yet the sacramental union between the bread and the body (and the clear connection between John 6) indicates that when we eat the bread, it represents Christ’s body. What the Holy Spirit does is unite us to Christ through the Supper. The Supper is offered to an end, namely, to remind us of our union and further confirm AND deepen that existential relationship.

    Then you say,

    “Again, what does it mean for a person to be infused into us? Is this a relational union (as friends are united to each in the heart), or is it an ontological union, or spatial union (i.e. Christ is co-present within us), or what?”

    This is admittedly unclear, and I honestly don’t even know what I was thinking when I wrote this. Mea culpa! What I think I was trying to affirm is that the relationship is truly strengthened. It is a means of grace that both signs and seals the reality to us. When we take the Supper by faith, we are brought nearer to Christ.

    Then you say,

    “I know you are saying that you are partaking of his flesh and blood, but I don’t yet see how this isn’t (according to your sacramentology) anything more than words, because if you were only growing in your love for Christ (through receiving the Supper), but you weren’t actually partaking of His flesh and blood, what would be different? How would it not be exactly the same as it is right now?”

    I’m really not sure how to articulate myself more here,

    “First, what is a “participation of a real union”? The phrase doesn’t even make sense. That’s why it seems to me that you are using clichés. Second, where in the Reformed confessions does it say that through any sacrament we participate in the “Divine energies”? And third, what do you mean when you say you “participate in the Divine energies”? Just replacing theological phrases with other equally undefined theological phrases doesn’t explain anything.”

    Sorry for any imprecision but I’m simply trying to indicate that there is a real union with Christ to the believer in the Eucharist. It is a sign of this union but it also is a seal. When received by faith, it accomplishes what it signifies. Yet my view does not necessitate a change in the bread in order for the Spirit to seal our union with Christ.

    I was not precise in my discussion of the Divine energies and I appreciate you pointing that out. I understand that the essence/energies distinction has its own meaning in polemical theology and I misappropriated it here. Likewise my description of “infusion” is one that I regret. The point I was actually trying to make is that there is an existential union that occurs in the Supper, over against the claim that there it is just the Word in a symbol. I want to affirm that the Sacrament does contain what the Word says about our union with Christ, but likewise it is to be affirmed that the sacrament is a sign and seal.

    The reason I evoked the “Divine energies” is because I still want to keep a creator-creature distinction in this unity in the Supper. But I’m not sure using that language is actually very beneficial or necessary here.

    I’m sure this doesn’t solve our problems and I may have been imprecise elsewhere. One of the reasons I take value in posting here is to be able to refine my own theological reflection from people who disagree. I find that often you can learn more about your own philosophy or theology by trying to dialogue with those who disagree. I appreciate your patience (both in waiting for a reply and with my imprecision). God bless.

  81. Hello RefProt (re: #80)

    Thanks for your note. I know I’m probably being perhaps slightly annoying, but I want to get behind these terms and phrases, to understand exactly what you are saying. I had asked you what it means “that a person is communicated to us.” You replied:

    The Reformed believe that through the sacrament we are united to Christ’s whole person (thus my language of the whole person) and it is not appropriate to divide him. That is Nestorian.

    I agree that through the sacraments we are united to Christ’s whole Person. The question I’m asking is not what percentage/part of Christ are we united to, but rather what it means for a person to be communicated to us.

    But the Reformed argue that Christ is present through the Spirit.

    I agree that the Holy Spirit is present, but I’m not asking whether the Holy Spirit is present; I’m asking what it means for a person to be communicated to us. If it just means that the Holy Spirit “is communicated to us” then that just pushes back the question: What does it mean for the Holy Spirit to be “communicated to us”?

    The elements are set aside from their common use, but they themselves are not changed, but they are given a new eschatological significance.

    Zwingli would agree. But none of this answers the question I asked.

    I wrote:

    “Hold on. What does it mean to “sacramentally say”? Is ‘sacramentally’ an adverb here? If so, how does it modify that verb? What is the difference between sacramentally saying x, and non-sacramentally saying x?”

    You replied:

    Perhaps we just speak a different language here that I am unaware of, but in my own mind this makes perfect sense. A sacrament (for the Reformed) is a sign and a seal. There is a sacramental union where the sign and the thing signified are so closely related that what can be said of one thing can be said of another, but the sign and thing signified are not the exact same thing.

    If by “sacramentally say” you merely mean “say with organic symbols [i.e. bread and wine] rather than with verbal symbols [i.e. words and propositions], then once again, Zwingli would gladly agree.

    As a Ref. Prot, I see the Catholic Real Presence as a conflation of what a sacrament is. The sign actually becomes the signifier, vitiating the sacrament. If you want, we could do exegetical work with Paul in 1 Cor 11 where he affirms that the elements are bread and wine that are partaken.

    Arguing by way of definitions always pushes us back to the question of authority, because it requires us to ask by whose authority this definition is given, to which all other Christians ought to submit. Do you really want to go there? I can tell you where that would go; it would go right to apostolic succession and the lack thereof on the part of the Reformed community. (At least, that’s where I would take the conversation, if it came down to a question of authority.)

    According to the Catholic Church, which we (Catholics) believe to be the very Church Jesus Christ founded, a sacrament is “an efficacious sign of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us through the work of the Holy Spirit.” (Catholic Catechism glossary) Similarly, the Catechism of the Council of Trent teaches that “A Sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible grace, instituted for our justification.” In that same place the Catechism defines a Sacrament as “a thing perceptible to the senses, which one the ground of Divine institution possesses the power both of effecting and signifying sanctity and righteousness.”

    Nothing in those definitions requires that the thing signified be substantially different from what is perceptible to the senses. The grace that is given through the sacrament is invisible to our senses; so the sacrament always remains a sacrament (i.e. mystery) because what is visible to the senses signifies (but does not make sensible) the invisible grace given through the sacrament. The grace received always remains mysterious to us (in this life), just as Christ’s divine nature always remained hidden ‘under’ His human nature to His disciples.

    You said:

    we eat body and blood of Christ because we are united to Christ’s person by taking the sacrament by faith.

    To which I replied:

    First, I don’t know what sort of union you are talking about when you say “united to Christ’s person.” And second, how does that sort of union (whatever it may be) entail that you are in any sense eating Christ’s body and blood? The conclusion seems to be a non sequitur, i.e. ‘We are united to Christ’s person [in some sense]; therefore it follows that we are eating His body and blood.’

    You then replied:

    Again this is the relationship between sign and thing signified. The sign still remains a sign, and yet the sacramental union between the bread and the body (and the clear connection between John 6) indicates that when we eat the bread, it represents Christ’s body. What the Holy Spirit does is unite us to Christ through the Supper. The Supper is offered to an end, namely, to remind us of our union and further confirm AND deepen that existential relationship.

    I don’t deny that in the Reformed system the bread and wine represent Christ’s body and blood. But Zwingli said as much. When I ask you what sort of union you are talking about (when you say “we are united to Christ’s person”) you respond by saying that “What the Holy Spirit does is unite us to Christ through the Supper.” But the nature of that union is precisely what I am asking you to explain. So it does no good to explain “united to Christ’s person” by saying that the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ. It repeats the term in question (‘united’) with the same term (‘unite’).

    As you may have seen in my “Sinclair Ferguson comment,” in the Reformed system there is no middle position between fusion on the one hand, and mere covenantal union on the other. Hence, when you start talking about an “existential union,” you are saying something that, in the Reformed system, is either semantic gibberish, or is incompatible with the Reformed system, since there is no room in the Reformed system for grace as a “participation in the divine nature.” But there is no other way (I can see) to make sense of an existential union with Christ (where our very existence/being is His own) except by participation in the divine nature. In other words participation in the divine nature is the only option between covenantal [i.e. extrinsic] union on the one hand, and Creator-creature distinction-erasing fusion on the other hand.

    You wrote:

    What I think I was trying to affirm is that the relationship is truly strengthened. It is a means of grace that both signs and seals the reality to us.

    When you say “signs and seals the reality to us” what other than “reminds us of what Christ did for us” does this mean? How is it anything other than a cognitive reminder?

    You wrote:

    When we take the Supper by faith, we are brought nearer to Christ.

    What I am asking is what is the meaning (in Reformed theology) of being “brought nearer to Christ.” Christ is in heaven, in Reformed theology. So how does the sacrament actually bring us nearer to Christ, except by reminding us of what Christ did for us? “Nearer” is spatial language. So what does it really mean, ontologically, in Reformed theology, to be brought “nearer” to Christ through the Supper?

    Sorry for any imprecision but I’m simply trying to indicate that there is a real union with Christ to the believer in the Eucharist.

    And what I’m asking you to explain is the nature of that “real union.” If it is merely covenantal union, then how does it get stronger when a person receives the Supper?

    It is a sign of this union but it also is a seal. When received by faith, it accomplishes what it signifies.

    What exactly is accomplished, every time you receive the Reformed Supper? If Christ already died and paid for all your sins (past, present, and future) [see “Reformed Imputation and the Lord’s Prayer“], and if all His righteousness was imputed to you at the moment you believed, and if grace is (as the Reformed community maintains) only divine favor, then what more can you receive in the Supper, except a cognitive reminder of what Christ has already done for you? Does something come unsealed between receptions of the Supper? Whatever it is that gets “sealed,” why isn’t it perfectly sealed the moment you first believe? What even does this sealing do? These again are the jargon phrases that I’m trying to get behind.

    Yet my view does not necessitate a change in the bread in order for the Spirit to seal our union with Christ.

    I’m just wondering if you even know what it means for “the Spirit to seal our union with Christ.” Weren’t you already united with Christ by faith the moment you believed? Was that union imperfect or something, such that the Spirit must keep making it more perfect every time you receive the Supper? Might you lose your salvation if you don’t seal it up quarterly? If not, then what benefit do you get from getting the seal reapplied, or patched up, or perfected, however often you receive the Supper? What do people with imperfect seals suffer, for not having perfect seals when they die? How many sealings does it take to make the seal perfect?

    The point I was actually trying to make is that there is an existential union that occurs in the Supper, over against the claim that there it is just the Word in a symbol.

    I know you are asserting it, but I’m trying to understand what you mean by that assertion. As I said above, I don’t see any room for it beyond covenantal union, except by the Catholic notion of participation in the divine nature.

    I want to affirm that the Sacrament does contain what the Word says about our union with Christ, but likewise it is to be affirmed that the sacrament is a sign and seal.

    I do not understand that statement. If what the Word (I presume by ‘Word’ you mean Scripture) says about your union with Christ is already true, then the sacrament cannot effect it, but only signify it (i.e. remind you of it).

    I appreciate your patience (both in waiting for a reply and with my imprecision).

    I think I’m the one who should be thanking you for your patience, because I’m pestering you with questions. I’m not meaning to be a pest — during my own seminary training I came to be dissatisfied with mere jargon and phrases that everyone used without question; but we (in that community) never looked behind these terms and phrases. And that only works as long as you’re in a community that takes those terms and phrases as almost properly basic, as infallible dogmas or impenetrable first principles. It was the same with sola scriptura. You just didn’t question it. You never looked behind things like that. Otherwise, you didn’t belong there. So there was no rational attempt to explain or get behind these terms and phrases and working principles (e.g. sola scriptura). Accepting them all without question was the precondition for membership in the community. To begin to look behind them was thus to call into question the legitimacy of the community itself, to begin the process of thinking outside the community and (in my case) eventually leaving that community.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  82. Bryan,

    I haven’t followed every post in this thread so I apologize if I’m repeating. But, as a person coming into the Church from Reformed Protestentism, I found your dialogue with RefProt regarding grace and sacraments to be very enlightening. I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around some of the Reformed and Catholic distinctions with the sacraments. One thing I began to appreciate in the Reformed tradition vs. baptist and more fundamentalist churches was their adherence to “sacraments” as opposed to “ordinances.” As a matter of fact, Keith Mathison’s book on Calvin’s view of the Lord’s Supper was very eye opening to me in regards to a sacramental view. It was actually the keyhole for me to be open to the Catholic Church. Now, however, viewing it through the lens of the Church and this current dialogue, I’m beginning to see the fallacies with the Reformed idea of grace in the sacraments, similarly the same fallacy with solo and sola distinctions.

    To further help my understanding, would it be safe to ask, “what does it mean to have Christ’s righteousness imputed to me?” (of course following the protestant understanding of how salvation is determined). Would this not imply that if his righteousness is truly imputed to me, I can no longer sin? I understand Luther’s snow covered dung heap, but what does that truly mean from a physical aspect of the here and now instead of an ontological positional aspect? Do I truly sin, or not? Can I ever grow in grace if all Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to me? Or am I misunderstanding the position of imputed righteousness from the Reformed position?

    Thanks for all your work you have done here. I’m not a frequent poster but I am a avid reader of this site. Your site has helped my journey home!

  83. MJV, (re: #82)

    Congratulations! We all rejoice greatly with you that you are coming into the Church. Thanks very much for your comments.

    Imputation from a Reformed point of view is extra nos, i.e. outside of us. That means that we are not talking about what is in us, but what is in our ‘account.’ From the Reformed point of view, what is in our ‘account’ as God sees it, is the perfect obedience of Christ, even though internally we are full of sins, each of which is deserving of eternal punishment in hell. So, Reformed imputation does not mean that we can no longer sin. It means that our sin (past, present and future) is no longer counted against us, since it was all already paid for on the cross, and can’t be punished twice. In the Reformed view, God sees us as if we had lived the perfect life of obedience Jesus lived. Michael Horton describes it this way:

    The Reformation way of putting it was, simul iustus et peccator – “simultaneously justified and sinful.” This was the Reformation debate more than anything else. Rome agreed that the sinner is saved by grace – but by grace transforming the unrighteous into righteous, the unholy into holy, the disobedient into the obedient. Depending on how one appropriates and makes use of this grace, one could eventually be accepted by God. Not so, said Luther and Calvin. Even on a good day, the average Christian is wicked. The believer, however, does not await a verdict in the future; he reminds himself of the verdict already declared: “not guilty.” He lives each day as though he had fully satisfied the requirements of the law. And to enjoy this promise, he does not have to meet certain criteria for growth in grace. Before he can be confident in this promise, he need not “clean up his act.” More than this, he knows he can’t clean up his act to the degree that he can make enough progress to be accepted or approved by sanctification. (Putting Amazing Back into Grace, pp. 166-167)

    This notion is a denial of grace (as a participation in the life of God poured out into the heart of the believer), and a denial of the power of the Gospel. The New Covenant does not make us holy; it merely covers over our sin, same as the Old Covenant. It denies that we receive grace (as participation in the divine life) and agape through the sacraments. The New Covenant sacraments leave us no better off than did the Old Covenant sacraments.

    On that same page Horton has a cartoon intended to depict simul iustus et peccator. In the cartoon we see a man sweating and trembling, holding a sign that says ‘Sin!’. The man is standing in the shadow of the cross, with an arrow showing that from “God’s View”, the man is hidden, because the man is standing behind the cross. Here’s the cartoon:

    In that book Horton writes:

    “When we try to add our own concoctions to God’s already perfect remedy, we spoil the whole thing and incur His wrath. (p. 64)

    Why do we insist on having something to do with God’s gift? Why can’t we just say, “To God alone be glory” – and really mean it? Any reference at all to “our part” immediately tends to make for a salvation by works, not grace; hence, salvation would be a product of humans and God, rather than God alone. (p. 158)

    “Luther’s greatest frustration was reading and hearing calls to holy living.” (p. 177)

    So, not only can we sin while in a state of imputed righteousness according to Reformed theology, we sin damnably all the time, and yet it in no way diminishes our righteousness, because God is looking at our account, wherein our sins have all already been punished, and into which has been transferred the perfect obedience of Christ. (Of course, I should add that if one then becomes Catholic, this shows that the account swapping never took place; but if one then returns to Reformed theology, and dies that way, this shows that the account swapping had in fact taken place.)

    Can one grow in grace from a Reformed point of view? From the Reformed point of view one can grow in holiness; this is called sanctification. But there is no way to grow in grace, because grace is merely divine favor. The only sense in which one can grow in grace is to believe more firmly and deeply that Christ’s account has been swapped with one’s own. Divine favor is not something that can be infused into anything. (See “Nature, Grace, and Man’s Supernatural End: Feingold, Kline, and Clark.”)

    The primary problem with this teaching is that it requires God to doing something that God cannot do, i.e. deceive Himself. God is Truth, and He cannot lie. (See “A Parable for Philosophers” — which title should be understood as a parable for lovers of wisdom. ) God sees us and knows us as we are, even more deeply than we know ourselves. And He will judge us on that Day as we actually are. Because He is Truth, He cannot believe or declare that we are something other than we are. He cannot believe or declare that we are perfectly righteous, when He knows that we are not perfectly righteous. Likewise He cannot blame Christ for our sins, while knowing that Christ is innocent. (See the first five comments in the “Aquinas and Trent: Part 6 thread. See also comment #41 in the “Catholic and Reformed Conceptions of the Atonement” thread. )

    Swapping sins and obedience between persons is something that God cannot do, because sins and obedience do not exist separately from persons, like a ball or a rock that can be passed around. A sin is by its very nature an act of a particular person, and therefore always remains the sin of this particular person. An act of obedience likewise always remains the act of this particular person. It cannot be made into the act of another person. Another person can be influenced by the act, or inspired by the act, and carry out that same type of act, in which case there are then two distinct acts, one only in kind. But in that case there has still been no swapping of acts. My acts, like my soul, necessarily always belong to me. They cannot be swapped with someone else. And for this reason, culpability and praiseworthiness cannot be swapped between persons, because culpability and praiseworthiness belong to the acts, and acts cannot be swapped.

    This is why Christ’s acts necessarily always belong to Him. They can only come to belong to me insofar as I come to participate ontologically in His Life. (But participation in the divine life is not an option in Reformed theology (see comment #81 just above, and see “Horton on being made “One Flesh with Christ”.”)

    Nor can God be deceived (or deceive Himself) into believing that I lived Christ’s earthly life, or that Christ deserved punishment for my sin (and that of all the elect). God can neither lie nor deceive Himself. So He cannot believe that anything is other than what it actually is. Only for fallible persons can what is thought to be in the person’s account be different from what the person actually is. For God, being omniscient and Truth, necessarily what is in your account is what you are, period. That’s just what ‘the account’ is, namely, the truth about you.

    What happens in this Reformed system is that the deception must go on even through the moment of Judgment, as (unintentionally) illustrated in this video I’ve posted here before:

    In this system Final Judgment is, essentially, bypassed, because in the Final Judgment God doesn’t see our works, but only Christ’s work (our works have already been punished on the cross). But, then, in heaven, how can we have intimacy with God, if He doesn’t know us as we really are? If the deception goes on into eternity, then we can never be intimate with God. And that reduces heaven to an extension of this present life, the purpose of which is to separate by a probationary test the sheep (i.e. those who love God and whose righteousness exceeds that of the Scriptures and Pharisees, and who keep the whole law (cf. James 2:10) ) from the goats. (See “The Gospel and the Meaning of Life.”)

    In order to be intimate with God, we need to be truly righteous, not just counted as righteous even though in actuality our hearts are wicked. The problem here is that this Reformed system makes holiness and obedience optional. That was the same option the serpent gave Eve in the garden. Of course in Reformed theology obedience is not said to be optional, but in fact, given that in Reformed theology God doesn’t see our sins but only sees Christ’s perfect righteousness, and given that all our sins (past, present and future) are already punished, obedience is optional, because nothing hangs on our obedience. And that’s just what it means for something to be optional.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  84. Bryan,

    Thanks for your reply. As a student of Reformed theology, I indeed understand the position of “account” swapping and imputed righteousness. Now as a Catholic, I’m trying to reconcile all these issues together. It’s amazing how difficult it is once you’ve been so ingrained in a particular line of theology to “undo” it. Now as I’ve been avidly studying Catholic theology the lines sometimes blur (unfortunately).

    I guess my question could have been better presented because it really was in line more with sanctification. You stated:
    Can one grow in grace from a Reformed point of view? From the Reformed point of view one can grow in holiness; this is called sanctification. But there is no way to grow in grace, because grace is merely divine favor. The only sense in which one can grow in grace is to believe more firmly and deeply that Christ’s account has been swapped with one’s own. Divine favor is not something that can be infused into anything. (See “Nature, Grace, and Man’s Supernatural End: Feingold, Kline, and Clark.”)

    But how do you grow in holiness divorced from grace? If it’s simply “believe more firmly and deeply”, is that truly holiness or just mental assent with behavior modification as it’s end goal? I know that in Reformed theology the Word of God is considered a “means of grace.” I guess that’s true to a certain extent. How does the Catholic view the Word of God in terms of grace? For example, I know that at baptism (according to the Catholic position) initial grace is received. How then is grace received for one to believe prior to baptism for a convert? In other words, if an adult came to faith but had never been baptized (I assume through some form of preaching/teaching of the Word of God which would lead to repentance) how would he have the initial grace to believe and repent? This is an issue that I still need some clarification on.

  85. MJV, (re: #84)

    Yes, if grace were merely divine favor, then the only way to grow in grace would be to believe more firmly and deeply that God’s favor is directed toward oneself. Growth in grace would be reduced to growth in knowledge.

    In Catholic doctrine, God gives actual grace to all men. He can use anything as an occasion or means by which He gives this grace and thus moves the hearts and minds of men. But it is important to distinguish between actual grace, by which God moves the intellect and will of man, and sanctifying grace, which is our participation in the divine nature, and which is not external to us (as actual grace is a movement from without), but is a disposition in our soul. (I have explained the distinction in more depth in “A Reply from a Romery Person.” ) Sanctifying grace is received through all the seven sacraments, though baptism is necessary for receiving the other sacraments. Sanctifying grace can be received even prior to the reception of the sacrament of baptism, in anticipation of the sacrament, by the work of the Holy Spirit, just as Cornelius and his family received the Spirit before they received the sacrament of baptism. This is also why Catechumens who died prior to receiving baptism could have hope of salvation, since the Church recognized that they could receive sanctifying grace (without which no one can enter heaven) even prior to the reception of the sacrament, through the desire for the sacrament. See my post titled “Justification: The Catholic Church and the Judaizers in St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  86. Bryan,

    I think part of the problem with terminology may be in defining what grace actually is. While I do not have time to substantively delve into that here, I would like to know how you define grace. If grace is not unmerited favor, then what is it?

    Now perhaps this unmerited favor is distributed differently and in different ways, but I’m not sure how you yourself define grace. As a matter of fact, it seems that Rome defines it nearly the same way Protestants do.

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

    For the Reformed, we conceive of grace as something that we receive in our union with Christ. Grace can never be conceived outside of one’s union with Christ. So as the WLC 77 notes, in justification, Christ righteousness is imputed to us, and in sanctification we are infused with grace. But right before that sanctification is defined (WLC 75) as “the powerful operation of his Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, renewed in their whole man after the image of God; having the seeds of repentance unto life and all other saving graces put into their hearts.”

    Rome and Geneva affirm that grace is unmerited favor (full-stop) IN THE SENSE that this is the definition of the term. The question then shifts to, how is this unmerited favor dispensed? For Rome it is dispensed through the sacramental system in the church–which she claims Christ established and works in. For the WCF it is connected to the believers union with Christ by faith. Both affirm that there is an existential change in the believer though it seems as if Rome conceives of this in a strongly ontological sense (nature vs supernature) while the Reformers conceive of it in terms of sin vs holiness. (I understand I’m painting with a broad brush here but I’m trying to be brief).

    All of this said, I think that your reduction of the Reformed faith to mere mental propositions is not accurate. And this can then apply to what I’ve said to the Supper as well. This union which we have with Christ puts to death our body of sin and renews us to the image of God. While you may not agree that this is true, it is a vibrant aspect of Reformed spirituality.

  87. RefProt (re: #86)

    Yes, I agree that part of the problem involves different definitions of grace. You asked, “If grace is not unmerited favor, then what is it?” See comment #3 in the “Pelagian Westminster?” thread, where I answered that question in more depth. In the Reformed system, grace is divine favor, full stop. But in Catholic doctrine grace is not only divine favor, but also the help God gives to us because of His favor toward us, and including (at its apex) the gift of participation in the divine nature. The gift infused into our soul, whereby Christ lives in us, and we in Him by way of participation, is the gift of sanctifying grace.

    You wrote:

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

    That paragraph includes not only divine favor, but also the undeserved help (i.e. actual grace) God gives us to respond to His call, and finally becoming partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life, and that partaking is sanctifying grace. (See the next paragraph, i.e. paragraph 1997, which is speaking about sanctifying grace, and shows that grace is not merely divine favor, but also “a participation in the life of God.”) So the Catholic conception of grace is much thicker than is the Reformed conception of grace, because the Catholic conception includes not only divine favor, but the supernatural gifts that God gives to us out of His favor, and especially the gift of participation in His own divine life.

    For the Reformed, we conceive of grace as something that we receive in our union with Christ. Grace can never be conceived outside of one’s union with Christ. So as the WLC 77 notes, in justification, Christ righteousness is imputed to us, and in sanctification we are infused with grace. But right before that sanctification is defined (WLC 75) as “the powerful operation of his Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, renewed in their whole man after the image of God; having the seeds of repentance unto life and all other saving graces put into their hearts.”

    The problem that Clark and Horton have recognized is that such statements as “infused with grace” and “saving graces put into their hearts” are incompatible with conceiving of grace as divine favor (full stop). Therefore rather than revise their conception of grace to allow infusion (since divine favor cannot be infused), they withdraw from such statements, as you can see in Clark’s statements at the link I just cited.

    The question then shifts to, how is this unmerited favor dispensed? For Rome it is dispensed through the sacramental system in the church–which she claims Christ established and works in.

    No. There is no such thing as “dispensing favor.” Favor is an attitude or disposition of a person. It is not something that can be dispensed. It can be shown or revealed, but not dispensed. What is given to us in the sacraments of the Catholic Church is not divine favor but the result of divine favor, namely greater participation in the divine life.

    For the WCF it is connected to the believers union with Christ by faith. Both affirm that there is an existential change in the believer though it seems as if Rome conceives of this in a strongly ontological sense (nature vs supernature) while the Reformers conceive of it in terms of sin vs holiness. (I understand I’m painting with a broad brush here but I’m trying to be brief).

    As I’ve been asking you in this thread, what exactly is this existential change in the believer, if grace is mere favor?

    All of this said, I think that your reduction of the Reformed faith to mere mental propositions is not accurate.

    I haven’t claimed that “the Reformed faith” reduces to mere mental propositions. I have claimed that if grace is mere favor (as Clark and Horton and other contemporary Reformed theologians claim) then growing in grace can be nothing other than growing in knowledge of that favor.

    This union which we have with Christ puts to death our body of sin and renews us to the image of God. While you may not agree that this is true, it is a vibrant aspect of Reformed spirituality.

    Since the “union” with Christ allowed in Reformed theology is only covenantal, and not in any way ontological, therefore it cannot put anything in us to death, or renew anything in us. I agree that these phrases (e.g. “puts to death our body of sin” and “renews us to the image of God”) are part of the Reformed tradition, but if grace is mere favor, and sacraments are means of grace, then it would follow that what puts to death our body of sin and renews us to the image of God is knowledge of God’s favor. Now, if you want to say that the Holy Spirit operates through the sacraments to give us something other than knowledge, then I think you’re on the right track. But we would need to discuss what it is that the Holy Spirit gives us. If He gives us a participation in the divine life, then you have distanced yourself from Clark and Horton’s notion of grace (and your own, apparently) and come closer to the baptismal regeneration position that presently has the Reformed world in an uproar (since Peter Leithart was acquitted today).

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  88. I for one do not have any clue how anyone can read through Romans 6 7 & 8, take them at face value, and not conclude that when I was baptized I became a different person in Christ Jesus.

    Regardless of confessions, Fathers, catechisms, etc.

    Beyond that, Strong’s concordance defines charisma as “the divine influence upon the heart as reflected upwards into life”

    I’m pretty confident all of the reformed accept Stong’s concordance for other things, why can’t they just read and accept that?

  89. I was reading about the Church Militant, Church Suffering, and Church Militant, and came across this interesting quote on Wikipedia:

    ‘In the Protestant understanding, there is only a two-fold division: the church militant and the church triumphant. The purification of believers takes place in this world and is completed “in the twinkling of an eye” at the moment of death when the believer enters glory in the same way as will happen with those believers alive on earth at the time of the Second Coming. Departed believers are with the Lord (Php 1) and await the physical resurrection of the dead (Revelation 6, 7 et al.) – there is no period of purification and no such place as purgatory.’

    In the Catholic faith, what is the reason that purification is completed in some number of “days”, or at least in some amount of time, after death, rather than “in a twinkling of the eye” at the moment of death? I would like to hear any insight you have.

  90. Jonathan,

    The “twinkling of an eye” is from 1 Cor 15.52 and refers to the glorification of the resurrected body.

    The Church has never taught dogmatically about the quality of temporality in purgatory. The scope of de fide teaching on purgatory is actually quite limited. (See CCC 1030-31.)

    As to the “days”: It used to be the Church’s practice to assign a certain number of “days” to partial indulgences. To my understanding, this was never intended to correspond to a literal number of 24-hour periods in purgatory. The “days” refer to the ancient penitential disciplines of the Church, which involved spending lengthy periods of time among the order of penitents before full reconciliation with the Church was achieved. An indulgence of “300 days” meant that worthy reception of this indulgence was equivalent to 300 days of penance according to the ancient discipline. Unless I’m mistaken, it was at least in part the susceptibility of this practice to misunderstanding on the part of the faithful that led the Church to stop assigning specific numbers of days to partial indulgences.

    Hope that helps.

    in Christ,
    TC

  91. Hey Bryan,

    Since you linked to this post, I figured I would track back and take a look at our conversation. We clearly touched on a number of subjects and I do not have the requisite time to engage in a protracted dialogue (maybe at a later point we can continue to discuss the precise nature of Reformed sacramentology), although I do believe that if we can define grace, it begins to clarify some of the other issues. I just want to quote the refrain that you have struck over and over.

    Since the “union” with Christ allowed in Reformed theology is only covenantal, and not in any way ontological, therefore it cannot put anything in us to death, or renew anything in us.

    The problem that Clark and Horton have recognized is that such statements as “infused with grace” and “saving graces put into their hearts” are incompatible with conceiving of grace as divine favor (full stop). Therefore rather than revise their conception of grace to allow infusion (since divine favor cannot be infused), they withdraw from such statements, as you can see in Clark’s statements at the link I just cited.

    I have claimed that if grace is mere favor (as Clark and Horton and other contemporary Reformed theologians claim) then growing in grace can be nothing other than growing in knowledge of that favor.

    I tried to express (though it appears not clearly) that your assertions about Reformed notions of grace are not really expressive of Reformed theology in its fulness. I understand some of the assertions that Clark and Horton have made regarding grace and I think that they are not being robustily confessional in their consideration of what grace is.

    For the Reformed, grace is both imputed and infused (WLC #77). Consider the strong language of WLC #75

    What is sanctification? A. Sanctification is a work of God’s grace, whereby they whom God hath, before the foundation of the world, chosen to be holy, are in time, through the powerful operation of his Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, renewed in their whole man after the image of God; having the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces, put into their hearts, and those graces so stirred up, increased and strengthened, as that they more and more die unto sin, and rise unto newness of life.

    And then in the WSC #35
    Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

    I could produce quotes from Calvin, Turretin, and other reformers to bolster the claim as well. While it is true that for the Reformed grace is “divine favor” it does not mean that grace cannot be infused into a believer. To deny that it can is to deny the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster standards.

    I’m willing to understand you more on this, but it seems to me that you are caricaturing the Reformed position so that it fits your critique. For the sake of argument lets consider that I am right and that you have not accurately represented the Reformed model, how much different do you believe your argument looks?

    Looking forward to your thoughts, Bryan.

    RefProt

  92. RefProt, (re: #91)

    You’re right that among the early Reformers the term “saving graces” was used. I noted as much in comment #3 of the “Pelagian Westminster?” thread, and in #87 above. But Clark has a good reason for wanting to use a different term for what the WLC refers to as “saving graces.” See Sinclair Ferguson’s statement in comment #54 of the “Nature, Grace, and Man’s Supernatural End” thread. Ferguson’s position is the contemporary Reformed (and Protestant) position. I see it over and over coming from Reformed leaders, not just Clark and Horton. Timothy George says something similar in his book Amazing Grace. In fact, I can’t think of a single Reformed leader who would take issue with what Ferguson says there.

    The reason Clark does not want to use the term ‘grace’ for what the early Reformers were referring to when they used terms like “saving graces” is that what they were referring to is entirely different from what in Catholic theology is meant by the terms ‘actual grace’ and ‘sanctifying grace.’ In Reformed theology these ‘saving graces’ are God working in us to repair our fallen nature. So we could more accurately describe them as divinely wrought repairs to our human nature. In Reformed theology nothing divine is actually “infused” into us; rather, God works in us to repair what is fallen to its original nature. That’s why it is misleading (given Reformed theology) to speak of graces being infused into the believer; it is like saying that a repair was infused into your car at the shop. Repairs are not the sort of things that are infused; repairs are made, effected or accomplished, not infused.

    In Catholic doctrine, grace is ordered to our supernatural end, and human nature is not itself fallen, as I have described in “Nature, Grace, and Man’s Supernatural End: Feingold, Kline, and the Clark.” So in Catholic doctrine grace is rightly described as infused, because it is not a repair, but is a participation in the divine nature, not something we have by nature, or effected by repairing something we have by nature.

    Of course Clark is not denying sanctification, and not denying that the Spirit effects sanctification through Word and sacraments. So he is not denying the selections from the WLC and the WSC to which you refer. He is trying to avoid semantic confusion between the Catholic understanding of grace as infused participation in the divine nature, and the Reformed notion of the Spirit working in us to repair our fallen human nature. See pages 575-579 of volume 3 of Bavink’s Reformed Dogmatics. Repairing our fallen nature does not entail that there is any ontological union with Christ, or any participation in the divine nature, i.e. theosis. So, I don’t see that the statements to which you are referring (in the WSC, WLC, etc.) falsify anything I said. No Reformed person I know would ever say that God doesn’t sanctify believers, and nothing I said, so far as I can tell, entails or implies that Reformed theology denies that God works in believers to sanctify them. So if sanctification is all that is meant by “infusion of graces,” then of course Reformed theology affirms that. But, at that point we’re meaning something so different by “infusion of grace” that we’re equivocating and possibly misleading, for the reasons I’ve just explained. And that’s what Clark is trying to avoid, it seems to me.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

Leave Comment

Subscribe without commenting