From Calvin to the Barque of Peter: A Reformed Seminarian becomes Catholic

Nov 21st, 2011 | By | Category: Blog Posts

This is a guest post by Jason Kettinger. For the past ten years Jason Kettinger was a member of the Presbyterian Church in America. He received baptism in 2001, and spent his college days as a fruitful member of Reformed University Fellowship, before graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a degree in political science in 2005, and beginning studies at Covenant Theological Seminary. On the vigil of Easter 2011 he was received into full communion with the Catholic Church by Archbishop Carlson at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. He subsequently discontinued his seminary studies, and is presently pursuing a Master of Theological Studies (MTS) through the Institute for Pastoral Theology of Ave Maria University. He also enjoys impersonating a freelance writer, and lives with his brother, sister-in-law, and nephew in Saint Louis, Missouri.


Jason Kettinger
Easter Vigil, 2011

As we survey the interesting “space” that is the internet, we find intellectual pursuits and human interactions of varying quality. This is no less so in the field of religion, where the Lord Jesus Christ is often obscured behind a veil of ignorance and even needless hostility. It is my sincere hope that this meager contribution be a step toward affirmative dialogue and reconciliation.

With my purpose stated, the humble reader turns to ask the question he wants to know: Why? What makes a Reformed future pastor toss it all aside, and become Catholic? That is of course complicated, but I’ll try to explain. The story is really one of the harmony and convergence of truth, and the place where that convergence led was the Catholic Church.

The story begins with God, as it always does. What do we do when we offend God, who has graciously given us all things? Even in light of Christ’s sacrifice for us this turns out to be a deeper question than it seems. A friend once remarked that the sacrament of Reconciliation “does do justice to the existential reality of sin.” Every Christian I know, and every Christian community of which I have been a part, understands and attempts to take account of the individual and personal dimension of sin. The individual and corporate experience of union with Christ tells us that we cannot be cavalier about sin. Our relationship with Christ is bilateral, real, and demanding. We all have done business with God; I’m not surprising anyone here, I trust.

The church family from whom I’ve learned the most taught me that what we did mattered; we had a liturgy that reflected the reality of what I’ve just written. Before we enjoy the benefits of sonship, we have to acknowledge our sins, and allow God to restore us. Then we are exhorted to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel. Then we shared the meal which proclaimed our restoration: the Eucharist. We didn’t fear to call it that, because if Eugene Peterson can do it, so can we. We were intentionally liturgical; we were intentionally ecumenical; we were doggedly Eucharistic. We believed that our life in prayer with God would lead us to ask new questions, and that the answers could lead us to revise aspects of our Reformed tradition. At the same time, if the Reformers or others gave us anything, it was that “faith once delivered to all the saints.” Truth doesn’t change; truth stands the test of time; the Church of Jesus Christ is old; His truth is both old and new. We were creedal, because the gospel was given to us, and we will give it in turn. There is a Great Tradition, we said, and we’re only a part of it. We read not only Calvin and Edwards but also O’Connor and Chesterton. I might have heard it a thousand times: “The Church did not start in 1520.” Continuity. Love. Simplicity. Jesus. There are so many stories I could tell. Just know that when I left for seminary in 2005, the unity of all Christians wasn’t some pie-in-the-sky dream; it was how we lived, and what we worked toward. Need I say more about that?

So I had an instinct for unity, and a tendency to express my theology in liturgical action. I was political, which is another way of saying I wanted my faith to make a difference in the world. We chalked up theological disagreements as historical anachronisms that awaited the clarity of God’s grace, which would show a truer, deeper unity in the times to come. I didn’t yet see the tensions which were coming to the fore.

I admit, I always enjoyed being branded as “dangerous.” But what struck me as I read more about liturgy and covenant theology was how warmly these theologians spoke of Jesus, how liturgical action was the way they not only experienced God’s love, but declared it. It was missional. If on some gut level they spoke with such resonance about the Christian life I understand, how bad could they be? If one reflects on what we’re saying here, it’s that liturgy has an ability to speak a language that bridges traditional hostilities.

If we begin theology with the simplicities of liturgy, and work outward, it is highly possible that we will face tensions with traditional formulations. The question we ask is what we will do about it. I’m not a systematic theologian; in the truest sense, I am an evangelist. The life of prayer, the liturgical life, needs settled truth to ground it as we reach out in faithfulness to God. I have never been averse to correction. What I began to experience and to attempt to describe was the inability to reconcile a contradiction, between righteousness imputed and righteousness shared. Essentially, something had to give. Either the righteousness of Christ was imputed to me by faith and fully completed, leaving the life of the church and repentance a good, but not necessary step by us, or Chapter 15 of the Westminster Confession of Faith was more correct: repentance and perseverance are an absolute requirement of the Christian life. It absolutely could not be both, despite how much we may insist on it. The buzzword “union with Christ” only makes it worse. Imputation either puts God in union with manifestly unholy people, or the participation suggested by the life of sanctification undercuts the truth of imputation extra nos. You have to choose.

What I do dare to say is that these sympathies in the direction of continual necessary repentance do undercut the principled basis for the Reformed separation in the 16th century. Why? Because we had insisted that true participation (as it was articulated in medieval Catholic theology) denigrated the work of Christ and the reality of our victory in Him. We had no cause to pretend otherwise, nor to smuggle in that which we opposed in the vanity of having a “fully-orbed” theology. Does this protest still have merit? What should we do if the battle-cries we raised once have no correspondence to our Christian lives? It is a life grounded in experience; we would not dare say that our liturgy, sustained by the interplay of repentance and forgiveness, of humility and exaltation, was a formality. In fact, this was both its liveliness, and its danger. Now on the table as never before are issues of apostasy and sacramental objectivity that never would have been asked among the Reformed. In one sense, there has always been a variety of perspectives within Reformed theology, and tensions therein. But never before have the tensions demanded an answer. Against the backdrop of my basic view of church history — continuity — the tensions or contradictions became such that questions like, “Why do we seek forgiveness for sins we say have already been forgiven?” are brushed aside at one’s peril.1 What I’m illustrating here is a tension between historic and systematic theology, and lived experience in the pews.

If we might criticize some people with a certain lack of precision, a riposte with no good reply is that we don’t need answers to questions that no one is asking. What we were fighting about is the sacramental life versus an historic faith, with due respect, that is at its core anti-sacramental. If any of the sacraments have an objective character, the Church which gives them must also. Our communities were forged in the white-hot fire of theological disputation; our fathers in Protestant and Reformed faith would not share this new tolerance. If we have been led here because the law of prayer is the law of faith, I reasoned, it is a cause for serious discussion. I need only allude to those Reformed congregations who have opened their Lord’s Supper to Catholics and Orthodox to show that we have arrived at such a moment.2 Even if the occasion only served to sober the hasty when such people refrained in obedience to their communities, the discussion will occur by necessity. In any case, we can see that the questions of the 16th century are giving way to the questions of the 21st. At the least, I assert that the issue isn’t on the front-burner. If so, maybe it’s time to lay down arms. For me, I could not stand apart on the strength of a slogan that meant nothing. Not even out of loyalty.

But what of the basic claim of the Reformers, that they had better captured the spirit and intent of the Church Fathers? It’s true that they were not ignorant of them. As for me, I knew nothing of the Fathers on their own terms. It had to be an open question, if I were to be intellectually honest. After all, any group can read history in such a way as to vindicate themselves. And this leads directly to the question of history, and because salvation history is at issue primarily, we are asking, “What is the Church?” This was a question like a shard of glass in my heart starting in 2006. The magnitude of the social and political issues we are facing absolutely demands that we reject most forms of “co-belligerence” as insufficient, because the answer to all of them is Christ; it is our love, it is our striving together in Christ and for Christ that can answer these problems. And they stem from existential questions surrounding the identity and purpose of man. If Christians do not answer these in the same way, how will people know that it is Christ who meets them? Moreover, if we do not accept one another as brothers, which Christ shall they follow? But do we dare force one another to adopt differing paradigms of the Church and salvation? How could that be anything but a failure? We may rightly say there is much that unites us. But if those things do not impel us toward one another, they are folly at best, and a violation of our consciences at worst, if we pretend the differences aren’t real. On both sides of the Catholic-Protestant divide, we conceive of the Church and of history in very different ways. Which view of history and Church does justice to the ancients?

Confessionalism may indeed preserve those ancient elements of truth which predate the schisms, but it does a terrible job of indicating how we are to pursue unity practically. This was the second thing I realized: being confessionally Reformed is in contradiction with the very definition of the Church found in the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter XXV.3 An invisible Church cannot define itself, or what it believes. But the certainty of Reformed distinctives depends on the authority of a visible Church. There is a quotation attributed to one John L. Girardeau within the essay “The Discretionary Power of the Church” that took my breath away every time I read it. It reads in part:

The delivery of Christ’s doctrines and commandments by men does not make them the doctrines and commandments of men. … Their dogmas are not man’s, they are God’s dogmas.

I’ve got to drop the guard a bit, take leave of that measured tone for which this site is known, and I beg your pardon if it sounds rude, but does that sound like an invisible church to you? Take your pick: Either the Westminster divines re-constituted the visible community that Christ established (which was obviously contrary to what I had been taught, not least the promise of Christ in Matthew 16:18) or we cannot be reasonably certain that our conclusions are more than opinion; that is, there could be also more fundamental truth possessed by those who are not us. In fact, our very definition presupposes that that is the case. In the twenty-fifth chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith, the first article tells us that the catholic church is invisible. The second article, by contrast, strongly asserts the visibility of that church. Moreover, the fifth article in this same chapter discusses the purity and truth of various “Churches” on Earth. First, which of the first two articles actually controls here, so that we might find out where we ought to reside, and what we are to believe? Second, what authority did this assembly have to make such a determination? The fifth article utterly depends on the invisible church asserted in Article I, but the comfort of being in the supposed household of God comes from Article II. Which is it? And who are they?

“Ah,” says the alert reader, “but Scripture is our guide.” We’ll get to that. For now, the guest post by Fred Noltie will be my answer. All this is to say that one question would not leave me alone, and it is the question that people of my generation are asking: “What is the Church?” The traditional definition for the Reformed is fine to a point, and that point is where our distinctives meet their doom against the presumption of historical continuity. If our communities as Protestants existed and subsisted on the unstated premise of ecclesial deism, then the concrete action taken in regard to history to explain it is what I call “ecclesial plagiarism.” The ancients may be dead, but we owe them at least the right to tell us what living for Christ was actually like before we retroactively re-write them into a history more amenable to the community we inhabit. I have already said that my fundamental approach to history was and had to be continuity. This is often claimed to refute the charge of schism. I had warmly sung “The Church’s One Foundation” for years as a prayer for unity, unaware that my own ecclesial commitments prevented me directly from ever realizing my hope. That may seem unfair, but I do believe the creeds themselves help explain it.

In that wonderful but critically unexamined tutelage of sympathy and continuity with history, the creeds figure prominently. In even the popular mind, we recite the creeds in solidarity with our ancestors in the faith, and even with those Christians who are separated from us. This is largely a lovely expression of catholicity, and would pass without a mention if not for the minor inconvenience of Sola Scriptura. As a principle, it does not admit any external authority for the creeds. The final authority is presumably Scripture, and the creeds would function as a norm only after they had been tested by it.

But as I heard one elder speak about the creed (the Apostles’, in this case) I came to realize — as though I had been hit by a brick in the face — the truth of this assertion that welled deep within me, first, after I read Mathison’s The Shape of Sola Scriptura, and now loudest in Sunday School just days before I entered the Catholic Church: “Derivative authority is a sham.”4 The elder said in effect that if we wanted to edit the creeds (to delete the word “catholic” as I recall) we could, because the Creed wasn’t Scripture. I saw then that Mr. Cross’s claim contra Mathison was true. There is no real, principled distinction between the “Solo Scriptura” that Mathison abhors, and the Sola Scriptura that he commends. If there is a difference in practice or in result, it has to do with the person’s own piety, and God’s grace lovingly keeping him from a more severe individualism. In fact, the chapter in Mathison’s book on the error of Solo Scriptura almost made me Catholic by itself. Why would I pay as much attention to the text, context, place in the canon, authorial intent, and myriad other things in order to rightly handle the word of truth, and completely ignore the same with respect to the creeds? This is the ecclesial plagiarism I mentioned. If I edit the creed, it no longer functions as an authority over me, but I over it. In this sense, we cannot say we are in solidarity with anyone, either today or long ago, in the recitation of the creeds as Protestants. Why would the ecclesiology which gave it birth and the battles therein be incidental to its meaning? Can I think that St. Augustine is with me when I spurn the Church to which he submitted?5 Thanks be to God for various creeds and their use in Protestant communities. But it is not altogether clear that a principled creedalism actually exists apart from the Catholic Church and the individualism of “me and my Bible.”

I have made two perhaps frustrating assumptions: that the Church of Christ is visible, and that the Catholic Church today is that Church. I can only say that Petrine primacy was rather easily established from the Fathers,6 and that patristic authors on the Eucharist and apostolic succession cast more than a reasonable doubt on both the authority of my community to believe otherwise (and still be the Church) and the antiquity of those particular beliefs. Some might say that I have been a rebel from day one, and there is some truth in that. However, even as I actively investigated Catholic claims, and explored Catholic life, I never lost sight of Christ Jesus. I found Him there as I went; I pleaded with Him to guide me. I gave Jesus every question.

Even as I entered RCIA last August, I was uncommitted. Yes, I had dared to walk on the dangerous ground of uncertainty of all but Jesus. Yes, I put my career on hold, and then ended what it would have been. Yes, I struggled, and hurt, and cried, and prayed. You bet, I was afraid. It wasn’t as bad as what Francis Schaeffer went through, and though he took a different path, I thank God that I never doubted Jesus as he did. I knew Him, and He knows me. But the heart of it all is that Jesus asked me to surrender everything to follow Him, even to Rome, and the vicar who sits on Peter’s chair. The intellectual and historical collided with the personal; I had to do it in the peace of conscience. In that peace, and for that peace.

The most damaging chimera, the most serious error of the Reformation, is Sola Scriptura. It caused me to kidnap our ancient brethren in the faith, to claim them as my own against their wills. I had to ask my own heritage boldly, “Who asked us?” and be willing to live with the reality that no one did. I could not live with a hermeneutic that couldn’t silence the Baptist down the street (and bring us into harmony) much less the heretic. I had to face the reality of Christian division, and the reality that these divisions were caused by false principles I’d inherited from a movement I’d thought necessary. Its animating principle conspires to make invisible and without doctrine the Church we’d rightly claimed as our mother, outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. The old saw that, “If I’m wrong, I’ll be on me knees tomorrow morning outside the Vatican doing penance” is just a toothless phrase if one’s hermeneutic of Scripture, history, and Church disallows the very consideration that one is wrong.

My beloved brethren in Christ Jesus scattered in many places, let us prayerfully consider whether the convergence of truth now leads us to begin again, to return home in peace.

Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mother

  1. See “Reformed Imputation and the Lord’s Prayer.” []
  2. For example, see Trinity Kirk’s “On Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Reformed Catholicity.” []
  3. See WCF XXV. []
  4. See, for example, “C. The Delusion of Derivative Authority.” []
  5. Think of his statement to the Donatists, “You know what the Catholic Church is, and what that is cut off from the Vine; if there are any among you cautious, let them come; let them find life in the Root. Come, brethren, if you wish to be engrafted in the Vine: a grief it is when we see you lying thus cut off. Number the Bishops even from the very seat of Peter: and see every succession in that line of Fathers: that is the Rock against which the proud Gates of Hell prevail not.” (PL 43.30.) See also his statement against the epistle of Manichaeus quoted in The Chair of Peter: D. Fifth Century. []
  6. See, for example, Steven Ray’s book Upon This Rock. Other relevant works can be found in “The Papacy” section of Suggested Reading.” []
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241 comments
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  1. Welcome home, Jason!

  2. Jason, this is a deeply thoughtful, penetrating, and also moving, essay. Thank you, brother. Hopefully, I will have opportunities to share the insights therein with my Reformed friends. I don’t really have more to add, at this point, other than Welcome Home!!

  3. WOW!! Awesome!

  4. Welcome, Brother! May the Lord bless you all the days of your life!

    Here is another conversion story people might be interested in.

  5. Wow Jason. Thank you very much. Beautifully written and nicely explained.

    Welcome home.

    dt

  6. Good post Jason! Always interesting to hear from a different perspective!

  7. Well done, sir. And, welcome home!

  8. Welcome home!!

    “if one’s hermeneutic of Scripture, history, and Church disallows the very consideration that one is wrong.” contains so much.

    I was recently engaging in a discussion with a Calvinist friend and she was interested in how it was that I could submit to all the teachings of the Catholic Church whether or not I was aware of them, understood them or agreed with them. Her paradigm doesn’t allow for this type of submission. It’s rather a strange contrast that Catholics affirm infallible Sacred Tradition while fully admitting that they themselves could be wrong/ignorant of the Truth, meanwhile (from what I understand) the Calvinist would say that no tradition is infallible meanwhile holding that everything they believe as an individual lead by the Holy Spirit is capital T True.

    Thank you for your elegant essay, and again, Welcome Home.

  9. Yes, this strikes our Reformed brethren as a bit tidy. But that’s why the actual authority implicit in Sola Scriptura needs to be discussed, and that’s why I appreciate Fred Noltie’s post so much.

  10. This is an amazing testimony. I am always struck by those who are raised in those Protestant communities–Anglican, Reformed, Baptist, and so forth–who take pains to live out the Christian faith as they understand it, who try to follow Christ with all their mind and heart…and wind up finding Him in the Catholic Church.

    Thank you for your journey with others, and may God grant you peace as you continue to seek him.

    Alypius

  11. “He also enjoys impersonating a freelance writer”

    Not true. You are no impersonator, but the real thing. Great testimony. You put into words something I have always strongly felt, whether on the Reformed or Catholic side, but I could never quite articulate it:

    The magnitude of the social and political issues we are facing absolutely demands that we reject most forms of “co-belligerence” as insufficient, because the answer to all of them is Christ; it is our love, it is our striving together in Christ and for Christ that can answer these problems.

    Well said. And if the answer is Christ, then the answer is the Church. The ONE Church. Co-belligerence is a far cry from the Church of Jesus Christ in all her glory stomping around by the power of the Spirit. It amounts to mans attempt to change the world with Christ in the passenger seat. It wont work. We need to focus on real unity instead of co-beligerence. That seems counterintuitive and non productive to most, but I really believe that is the best way.

  12. What is more consonant with faith than to recognize that we are naked of all virtue, in order to be clothed by God? That we are empty of all good, to be filled by Him? That we are slaves of sin, to be freed by Him? Blind, to be illumined by Him? Lame, to be made straight by Him? Weak, to be sustained by Him? To take away from us all occasion for glorying, that He alone may stand forth gloriously and we glory in Him? John Calvin

    Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin. Psalm 32, as quoted by Paul the Apostle

  13. Ed quotes Calvin:

    “What is more consonant with faith than to recognize that we are naked of all virtue.”

    I’ve always been fascinated by this theme in Calvin – the doctrine of radical dependence as a criterion of Orthodoxy. It seems to me that Schleiermacher was essentially correct in his interpretation of Calvin – radical dependence has an intuitive, hermeneutical priority over grammatical-historical exegesis, as well as a primacy over tradition.

    I think the Catholic answer would be “Nothing is more consonant with faith than to believe whatever God reveals.”

  14. Ed,

    Good to “see” you again as always. I think we can agree that Christ is our wisdom and our righteousness (1 Cor 1:30) in the sight of all peoples. The question is, how? The Reformers disputed with the Church about the effects of the Fall on man’s nature, which led to all the other conclusions. The problem is this: If they were right, the Church was entirely wrong on salvation for its entire history, forget the 16th century. The Catholic Church has always had a synergistic view of salvation. The questions to the Reformers then are these: What authority do you have to believe and teach contrary to what has been taught and held from the beginning? What justifies an entirely new understanding of the Church and how Christians arrive at truth? And, given the fact that much sin and many abuses were taking place, even so, what makes the Reformers different than the Donatists, who formed a schism in response to unholiness in that time?

  15. To David, re the presumed Catholic answer,

    How do you deduce the thing revealed is from God?

    Re Schleiermacher’s take on Calvin (of which I’m not familiar): for the person who is awakened to their condition, the need for righteousness is not mere intuition forcing an hermeneutic over anything. It is an acute awareness that they are unclean and in need of cleansing. Their conviction comports with experience and certainly with the assessment of the Law and the Prophets.

    Hi Jason,

    Good to see you as well.
    I do not think the Church has an unbroken history of synergism. The reformers did not form a schism. Luther was excommunicated. But all that aside, I simply stand with Calvin on Christ and His finished work. It is not a theme I find fascinationg, it is an absolute need that I have. Whether others stand along side Calvin is not that important to me, I only hope that you and others, stand in Christ.

  16. [...] A Reformed Seminarian becomes Catholic – Jason Kettinger, Called to Communion [...]

  17. Ed,

    How do you define schism? The Church does tend to excommunicate heretics and schismatics; the alternative would be to endorse them. I’m no patristics or history scholar, but I can take a small sample (which is what I did) to show the consistent synergistic strand in theology. Origen, Augustine, (whose inclinations toward monergism were not endorsed by the Council of Orange) Aquinas, the Council of Trent, and into the present day. It’s harder to accept if one equates synergism with a detraction from the glory of Christ, but to do this is a mistake. Once I saw the consistent strand especially from Thomas to Trent, I became aware that the burden of proof had shifted.

    Why should we accept Luther/Calvin’s description of the nature of man and salvation, when by their own admission, they departed from more than a thousand years of received teaching?

  18. [...] To read his whole story, click here. [...]

  19. Hi Jason,

    Where do Calvin and Luther admit they departed from that teaching? From the history with which I’m familiar, Calvin and Luther believed Rome departed from monergism. Aquinas to Trent is pretty late in church history. Clavin and Luther believed the Bible’s description of man’s fallen condition.
    If Luther and Calvin are heretics, then why do you regard reformed Christians as brethren? I don’t call Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses brethren. Tell me plainly if you believe me, your former seminary professors, your former pastors, your evangelical friends, my daughter Steph, my wife Judy, my pastor Dan Doriani, are damned for trusting nothing of ourselves but only in Christ for our salvation. This is not about theological precision or superior grasps of nuanced church history, it is simply about Jesus satisfying God’s wrath for me. I stand in Jesus my High Priest, my Prophet, my King. I look to no other, especially not myself, for peace with God.

    Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever more. Amen

  20. Ed,

    Feel free to answer my questions before I answer more of yours. :) I found Calvin plainly stating that our nature was corrupted in Book II, chapter I of the Institutes. Luther spoke similarly in On the Bondage of the Will. One of the main problems with this view is that a man with a corrupted nature is not a man, and certainly not able to be held culpable for what he does in a state like that. Man has great need of God, but if he is not free in some sense, he is not culpable.
    I obviously am not in the business of pronouncing damnation on people, especially those I love, and neither is the Catholic Church. Please see articles 817-819 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. (Note that you’ll find the definition of schism in article 2089.)

  21. Also, Aquinas is instructive, because he’s before most of the corruption commonly cited to justify the Reformation. If the Council of Trent relied on St. Thomas (Summa Theologica) so heavily, it shows at least that Trent didn’t come up with something new to cover for sins of that time. In other words, it wasn’t “poisoned fruit from a poisoned tree,” as it were.

  22. Jason wrote (#20):

    One of the main problems with this view is that a man with a corrupted nature is not a man, and certainly not able to be held culpable for what he does in a state like that. Man has great need of God, but if he is not free in some sense, he is not culpable.

    This is exactly right. If sin is part of human nature, either Christ was a sinner or He was not human. Ergo sin is not part of human nature (because He was human, and He was not a sinner).

    With regard to human freedom, Reformed favorite St Augustine makes it completely clear that God is not just if He punishes men for things they do without free will:

    It would not be just to punish evil deeds if they were not done willfully. [On Free Choice of the Will, Book I]

    and:

    I cannot see that it can be doubted that souls have free choice in willing. God judged that men would serve him better if they served him freely. That could not be so if they served him by necessity and not by free will. [Of True Religion, xiv, 27]

    and:

    In another place I say, “Sin is so much voluntary evil, that there would be no such thing as sin unless it were voluntary.” That may appear a false definition; but if it is diligently discussed it will be found to be quite true. [Retractations for Of True Religion]

  23. Hi again,

    To answer your question re Calvin and Luther “admitting” they departed from a thousand years of received teaching: To my knowledge they did not “admit” to departing from historic or apostolic teaching. In other words, they did not say, “We are teaching new doctrine and we admit it”. Of course they taught radical depravity, but this was not in their view a new teaching. It is replete throughout the Bible and particularly in the OT recitations of Paul in Romans 3, as well as his depiction of people as dead in sin and children of wrath (Eph 2:-3).

    The following comments re corruption show a continued misunderstanding of our teaching on sin and its extent. Radical and pervasive depravity infects every part of a person, including their ability to please God or advance toward Him. The heart itself is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick (Jer 17:9). This sinful condition does not render a person non-human but does render a person incapable of self-improvement.

    You say that a man with a corrupted nature is not a man and not culpable. Is man corrupted in any way? If so, how, and to what extent? And to what extent does man depend on God for salvation.

    No one says sin is a part of human nature. Sin is not intrinsic to being human, sin is the condition of humans who have rebelled. That condition is such that there is now no one good, not even one; no one who seeks after God. Humans now act freely according to their corruption and unrepentant rebellion; they freely sin in accordance with their sinfulness. Sin is an inherited condition, right? We are fallen in Adam (Ro 5:12). This is not something we opt for at birth, yet this is the way it is. It is the just death sentence that God has imposed. Did you choose to be born a sinner? No, because you were not given a choice. Do you deny you were born a sinner? Was there ever an opportunity for you to not sin? Has not this sin invaded every aspect of your being?

    I believe we sin voluntarily because we sin in harmony with the condition we inherited from our first parent. But even civil courts punish, to some degree, involuntary evil. As in involuntary manslaughter. There is recompense even for acts that are unintentional if the damages are serious enough. But our sin is not unintentional, we go to it gladly, or foolishly, or even miserably.

    Let’s try it another way. If you are truly free, were you ever free to not sin? If so, why did you? Why does everyone? Even more, if you are free, why don’t you stop sinning today? I’m asking this of all of you, not just Jason.

    Jesus is not sinful and he is still human because sinfulness is not intrinsic to being human.

    You say man has great need of God. I say man has entire need of God.

    Is complete dependence upon God’s mercy extravagant? Is our faith in Him alone inordinate? Is our rest in the finished work of Jesus frivolous?

    So again, I concur with Calvin:What is more consonant with faith than to recognize that we are naked of all virtue, in order to be clothed by God? That we are empty of all good, to be filled by Him? That we are slaves of sin, to be freed by Him? Blind, to be illumined by Him? Lame, to be made straight by Him? Weak, to be sustained by Him? To take away from us all occasion for glorying, that He alone may stand forth gloriously and we glory in Him?

    By citing Calvin, whom I find pastoral, I’m not meaning to make you or anyone else a Calvinist. But I do hope to encourage you to fix your eyes on Jesus, the champion and perfecter of faith.

  24. Ed,

    Does man have an obligation to accept the Gospel? I take it as a given that the answer is an emphatic “Yes!” for both of us. Let us look to John’s third chapter on the whole to see that both the obligation and the consequences for failure to do so are there. I would also stipulate that we agree on the plain meaning of Acts 4:12. And with respect, no Catholic worth his salt will ever say, “I’m free to rely on myself.” The suggestion to the contrary–whether by ignorance or malice–is not going to go without challenge. Back to the point, if man is obligated to accept the gospel, and will be judged for not doing so, this presupposes that man, even in his most pitiable state, aided by grace, is able to accept the free offer of salvation. Anything less is arbitrary on the part of God, i.e., that He has created a class of men in a state that they cannot escape, and then judged them for it. Even in the form of depravity you describe (which was also my understanding) it doesn’t escape the problem. If grace is irresistible as you claim, and it is only given to some, (also a claim of Reformed theology) then God damns arbitrarily some people for a condition that He has brought about. May it never be!

    Now, the Reformers denied that man after the Fall had free will because they wished to give God all the glory. This, I admit, is an admirable goal that we all share. But if God not only gets all the glory, but He also does all the work, (the definition of monergism) He alone is responsible for the outcome. Thus, man is not culpable. With respect, the problem appears thus: Either Reformed theology leads to arbitrariness on God’s part, or universalism (because He won’t judge those who aren’t responsible if He isn’t arbitrary). The point of this article was to explain why my practice of Christianity and reflections upon history in light of it, led me to seek communion with the Catholic Church. I’m not an apologist, nor can I explain her theology in all its detail. What I have done is put Calvin’s presumed authority and continuity with the early Church to the test. Because Protestantism (and its various ecclesial bodies) relies on the interpretive insights of one or many of the Reformers, their authority in any one case is of primary concern. Again, feel free to answer any of the other questions I’ve raised on that score. But it does not do to accuse any of us Catholics of trusting someone other than Christ simply because we do not agree with Calvin. I hope that I (and the others here) can answer any questions or misunderstandings about the Catholic faith, or help you find the answers.

  25. Quoting: But I do hope to encourage you to fix your eyes on Jesus, the champion and perfecter of faith.

    So does that mean you don’t accept Roman Catholic teachings which focus away from Jesus as the champion and perfecter of faith (eg, Mary as co-redeemer, Saints as mediators for us, indulgences for comfort of sins, pergatory as a place to cleanse the sins that Jesus died for etc)

  26. Peter,

    Accepting the issues as you frame them would force Catholics to become Protestants, and submit to the theological reductionism that this represents. A Catholic does not see those as detractions from Christ; quite the opposite. We see everything He gives us as his love for us. Gifts out of the abundance of the Love that sent Him to the cross. What else can I say?

  27. Peter, (re: #25)

    When other Christians participate in bringing a person to Christ, or, as St. Paul put it, fill up in their body what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings for the sake of His Body, the Church (Col 1:24), this does not “focus away” from Christ, but glorifies Christ all the more, because God is most glorified when He gives greater goods to His creatures, including the great good of participating in His own work of redemption. So when Christians (whether on earth or in heaven) pray for each other, this does not take the “focus away” from Christ; it further glorifies Christ who by His cross and resurrection has given to men even this great gift of participating in His work of redeeming the whole world.

    As for your comment about purgatory, Christ by His Passion made superabundant satisfaction for the eternal punishment of every man’s sins; that’s a satisfaction that no mere man could ever make. But sin has a two-fold dimension, not only being an injustice against God and therefore deserving ‘eternal punishment,’ but also an injustice against fellow creatures, and thereby incurring the requirement of temporal punishment. In respecting our dignity, God has graciously given us the opportunity, either in this life or in purgatory, to make satisfaction for the injustices we have committed against other creatures. I explained the distinction between eternal punishment and temporal punishment in this section of the post titled “St. Thomas Aquinas on Penance.”

    An indulgence is not “for comfort of sins;” I have explained what an indulgence is, and what is its basis, in “Indulgences, the Treasury of Merit, and the Communion of Saints.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  28. Well he obviously wasn’t reformed otherwise he would have held a higher view of scripture, as it is impossible to hold on to the bible (excluding the Apocrypha, which was added in the 1500′s!) and subscribe to the majority of catholic dogma such as mary being the co-redemptrix with Christ – 1 Timothy 2:5; purgatory which doesn’t even exist in the OT and NT Cannon and is only alluded to in the apocrypha; the popes word being of equi value to scripture Rev 22:18 and Deut 12:32! The cannon is closed with revelation and as I have pointed out the apocrypha was only added at the council of trent as an attempt to respond to the reformation! refusal of priest to marry 1 Tim 4:1-8. Christ atoned for our sin, and thus Gods grace is free, unearned and unmerritted – Eph 2:1-10. The list is endless, however you can check out for more information! http://www.moriel.org/Discernment/5Q_6_Catholic/01_Intro.html

  29. Hi Ian (re: #28),

    Feel free to direct your posts to Jason himself, since he is as present as you and I in this discussion, and more than capable of responding to the challenges you list above. Speaking about him as though he is absent suggests that your interest lies elsewhere than in constructive and reconciliatory dialogue–point scoring, perhaps. The first paragraph in the ‘Posting Guidelines’ here explains in more detail.

    In the grace of Christ,

    +Chad

  30. @chad:

    I’m not attempting bring an ecumenical solution to catholic and protestant issues, but more highlighting the heretical issues that still exist post the reformation! Most importantly, your own pope even refers to the ‘Catholic Church’ as the only true church (paraphrasing as I don’t have the quote to hand)! Its not point scoring, but more exposing the false teaching of the catholic church, who pertain to all my previous points as dogma, thus making them a point of conflict! my appeal would be not just to jason but you all, is to return to scripture and that alone. I can assure you this is not an attempt to drive a wedge, but mearly point out that jason you have serious issues theologically if you can happily swing from reformed theology to Catholicism!

  31. Not sure any of this reads like reconciliatory dialogue. That normally begins with a confession of past wrongs rather than an assertion of present right.

    Jason, you clearly offer a far from charitable reading of Luther (and other Reformers) who were excommunicated from the church having legitimately questions the abuse of indulgences. They then had to decide: ‘Are we still in Christian? Are we still in Christ?’ If the authority of the Church excommunicates me (ex-communions me) then what authority do I have to cling to? Athanasius called the Bible the Divine Scriptures and used it against the Arians (who at some points had ascendancy in the early church) so in many ways established the pattern for the Reformers… Yet, if you read Calvin closely you see that Calvin did not abandon tradition (note how often he quotes the Fathers) but simply placed tradition as a subordinate standard.

    You take issue with faith alone arguing that it is incompatible with the Westminster Divines talking of continuing in faith and repentance. Yet, that clearly isn’t the case, true faith alone saves us, because faith being a gift of God (re Ephesians 2) unites us to Christ by the Spirit making him the Lord of our lives. Growth in grace (God’s gift) daily is a consequence of faith and evidence of saving grace, not a cause of grace. Otherwise, we have little gospel ‘good news’ and just a repackaged religion to offer the world.

    With eyes fixed upon Jesus,

    James

  32. RE comments 28/30: “the apocrypha” could not have been added at Trent, 500 years post-Great Schism, as the Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church are agreed on most of it as being scripture. I’m sure you’re aware that the Orthodox are not in the habit of accepting 16th century Catholic councils as authoritative.

  33. Ian,

    I hope you will stick around and directly engage the content of the articles written here. I am sure there is an article that addresses each of the assertions that you have made in your comments in some way.

  34. Hi Ian (re: 30),

    You wrote:

    I’m not attempting [to] bring an ecumenical solution to catholic and protestant issues, but more highlighting the heretical issues that still exist post the reformation!

    Your explanation just is what is meant by the words ‘point scoring’, and precisely what is discouraged by the first paragraph in the ‘Posting Guidelines’, which I linked for you above. You want to make assertions without placing them in the context of a conversation in which someone may push back on them, perhaps showing you that you’re mistaken about this or that historical situation (the extent of the canon, and when, for instance).

    You then write:

    Its not point scoring, but more exposing the false teaching of the catholic church, who pertain to all my previous points as dogma, thus making them a point of conflict!

    When you make assertions about someone, instead of explaining your reasoning and your interpretations of Holy Scripture to him, point scoring is precisely what you succeed in doing, and exposing the falsity of his position is precisely what you fail to do. If you want to expose the falsity of some doctrine or other, you’ll need to offer more than your assertion that ‘X is wrong!’ And you’ll need to appeal to an object of authority beyond your own personal opinion about what Holy Scripture means, since we are all able to do that, and have, many of us defending our positions with thorough exegesis, just as Prasch attempts to do in the website you’ve linked above. Alternatively, each of your assertions reduces to ‘X is wrong because I [and my personal interpretation of Scripture, and those who agree with that interpretation] do not agree with it.’

    In the grace of Christ,

    +Chad

  35. of course we can always reduce down everyones point down to interpretation if we really want to, i can give you a full theological reason d’tre, and I shall do tomorrow. and defend my position on why the apocyrpha should not and is not Holy Writ, as nor is ANY THING any pope has said, does say or will ever say! However, i never have to defend the OT and NT cannon, making the full and complete cannon, as it stands firm on its own!

  36. Dear Ian,

    Since the canon “stands on it’s own”, I recommend starting with The Canon Question article. You told us to “return to Scripture” alone, so let’s start by talking about what constitutes Scripture. If you want to talk about that or “why” the books of the Bible that are in my Bible are not in yours, I would recommend posting a comment in the combox of The Canon Question article. Before you do so, I recommend reading the comments to make sure one of your points has not been substantially addressed. Also, a good article to consider if you want to talk about the claim of “returning to Scripture alone” is Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and The Question of Interpretive Authority.

    God bless,

    Brent

  37. Quote: Accepting the issues as you frame them would force Catholics to become Protestants, and submit to the theological reductionism that this represents.

    Theological reductionism is not when we bring the church back to the saving Gospel of Ephesians 2 that we are saved by grace alone. That is what Luther argued against the abuses of the church.

    It was said that indulgences were NOT for the comfort of sins, then what were they for. They bought time out of purgatory.

    And I cannot scripturally see how a 2 tier sin atonement is possible. Christ died for ALL sins, once for all – as it says in Hebrews 9:26ff –
    “But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.?

  38. Hi Ian (re: #35),

    You wrote:

    of course we can always reduce down everyones point down to interpretation if we really want to

    If I thought that was the case, I wouldn’t bother to post anything. And your declaration that it is the case leaves me wondering why you bother to post anything.

    You also wrote:

    i can give you a full theological reason d’tre, and I shall do tomorrow. and defend my position on why the apocyrpha should not and is not Holy Writ, as nor is ANY THING any pope has said, does say or will ever say!

    That is a mighty task for a Sunday! We’ll look forward to reading more than more assertions sometime soon, either here or here, after you’ve accounted for the various refinements in the lengthy combox sections.

    In the grace of Christ,

    +Chad

  39. Peter: re#37

    I Cor 3, 10-15:

    10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

    Here Paul is speaking of how we live our lives after we are saved in Christ (building on the foundation). Note that he describes things of greater and lesser value (gold vs. straw). These are our works, which will be judged for their worthiness. Those which are unworthy will be “burned up” though the person who performed these works (“he himself”) will be saved “as one escaping through flames.” This is precisely the Purgatorial purification the Catholic Church teaches and it has a solid Scriptural foundation. This residue of unworthiness stands between us and complete union with God after death because He cannot unite with anything that is not holy.

    The Atonement is not two-tier, but the effects of sin are, as Bryan explained in #27. You must understand that sin has both eternal and temporal consequences to be able to grasp the teachings about Purgatory (and confession, penance and indulgences). Imagine you break someone’s window and you go to them to apologize, and they forgive you – does that alone set things right again? Don’t you also have to have the window repaired? That is, you must not just seek forgiveness, but you must complete reparations to fully discharge your obligation to justice. This is an imperfect but helpful analogy to allow you to understand what Bryan wrote in #27.

    Pax Christi,
    Frank

  40. All -

    Some new visitors have made a presence on this topic, which is a great thing.

    However, I do want to highlight that as we’ve been at this for quite a while we have amassed an index where one can find previous (and ongoing) discussions related to many of the issues raised here.

    For instance, as Chad pointed out, we have already presented the Catholic view of the canon of scripture in substantial detail here. You’ll note that there are hundreds upon hundreds of comments. So, Ian, if you want to discuss ‘the canon’ in any detail, you would need to raise your questions and/or arguments in that discussion. Also, James Church, we have many articles and discussions on scripture, authority and tradition. On that, you might start with the discussion in Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura and the Question of Interpretive Authority.

    This is not to say that such comments cannot be raised in this discussion but as we’ve already spent a lot of time talking about those things it would be neater to keep those conversations separate.

    Happy Thanksgiving to all.

    Sean Patrick

  41. Frank said:

    Imagine you break someone’s window and you go to them to apologize, and they forgive you – does that alone set things right again? Don’t you also have to have the window repaired? That is, you must not just seek forgiveness, but you must complete reparations to fully discharge your obligation to justice.

    But purgatory isn’t about “reparations”, it’s about punishment as has been posted elsewhere on this blog. As far as I know once I die it is impossible for me to make any sort of reparation to anyone I have hurt. And I also suspect that once I die, I will be so much more full of God’s love that I will not want anyone punished for anything they’ve done to me. If they are an unrepentant person, I will just feel sad for them, that they never knew God, and if they are a Christian, I’ll readily forgive them as I know others are forgiving me.

  42. Frank said:

    Here Paul is speaking of how we live our lives after we are saved in Christ (building on the foundation). Note that he describes things of greater and lesser value (gold vs. straw). These are our works, which will be judged for their worthiness. Those which are unworthy will be “burned up” though the person who performed these works (“he himself”) will be saved “as one escaping through flames.” This is precisely the Purgatorial purification the Catholic Church teaches and it has a solid Scriptural foundation. This residue of unworthiness stands between us and complete union with God after death because He cannot unite with anything that is not holy.

    Purgatory is allegedly punishment for temporal sin. But the passage here says nothing about punishment for sin – instead it talk about God judging our works after we die. This passage also says nothing about purification either. No sin, no punishment, no purification of the individual. Doesn’t sound like purgatory to me. No offense, but this look like reading back Catholic theology into scripture.

  43. Jason, you clearly offer a far from charitable reading of Luther (and other Reformers) who were excommunicated from the church having legitimately questions the abuse of indulgences.

    They did ask legitimate questions but they went way beyond that. There was a very long list of doctrines they opposed. Not least of which was opposing the legitimacy of the pope and the bishops. When someone does that then they have essentially excommunicated themselves. If you are not willing to accept leadership from the church’s leaders then what does it mean for you to say you are in the church?

    Athanasius called the Bible the Divine Scriptures and used it against the Arians (who at some points had ascendancy in the early church) so in many ways established the pattern for the Reformers…

    All the fathers had great respect for scripture but they didn’t use the scriptures against the church. They harmonized the two. The Arians never had the pope or an ecumenical council on their side so “ascendancy” needs to be defined merely in term of numbers. Declaring popes and councils to be wrong based on their interpretation of scripture is not what St Athanasius or any church father did. So there was no pattern being followed by the reformers. The fathers set an example of obedience. The reformers disobeyed. Not the same thing.

    Yet, if you read Calvin closely you see that Calvin did not abandon tradition (note how often he quotes the Fathers) but simply placed tradition as a subordinate standard.

    But what would happen when you pointed to something from the fathers that Calvin opposed? Would he take that as correction and change his theology? No. He would just declare that father to be wrong on that point. He did that on many, many points. So what does “subordinate standard” mean? You either commit yourself to harmonize the two or you don’t.

  44. Steve G,

    You miss the point. God is judging people’s works. But He does not just send people to heaven or hell. There is a group that goes to heaven yet it’s work is judged inadequate in some significant way. How would a protestant interpret that? What is the reward and what are the flames if 1 Cor 3:14,15?

  45. Ian (re: #28)

    Welcome to Called To Communion. You wrote:

    Well he obviously wasn’t reformed otherwise he would have held a higher view of scripture, as it is impossible to hold on to the bible (excluding the Apocrypha, which was added in the 1500′s!) and subscribe to the majority of catholic dogma

    Regarding the canon, the fourth session of the Council of Trent followed the very same canon listed in the General Council of Florence in 1442. That’s enough to refute your claim that the books not found in later Protestant Bibles were added in the 1500s.

    Regarding your claim that it is impossible to hold on to the Bible and affirm all Catholic dogmas, all the Catholics in this discussion are a refutation of that claim, since we all affirm that Scripture is God-breathed, and that not a single Catholic dogma contradicts any verse of Scripture, including any verse in the books Protestants recognize as canonical.

    such as mary being the co-redemptrix with Christ – 1 Timothy 2:5;

    I wrote a post on that subject titled “Mary as Co-Redemptrix,” and if you wish to discuss that doctrine, that’s where you should direct your comments. We are all co-redeemers, insofar as by God’s grace we have been granted the opportunity to participate in our own salvation, and in the salvation of others.

    purgatory which doesn’t even exist in the OT and NT Cannon and is only alluded to in the apocrypha;

    An assumption you are making is that a doctrine must be explicit in Scripture in order to be a doctrine of the Church. But that assumption is not itself in Scripture. The Church has always recognized that the Tradition allows for a development of understanding in the written word of God. See “Sola Scriptura: A Dialogue Between Michael Horton and Bryan Cross. VIII. Scripture and Tradition.”

    the popes word being of equi value to scripture Rev 22:18 and Deut 12:32!

    The Church does not teach that the Pope’s word is equivalent to Scripture. Scripture is God-breathed, while even the Pope’s most authoritative statement is not God-breathed, even though protected from error.

    The cannon is closed with revelation

    The Catholic Church also believes and teaches that the canon is closed. See CCC 65-67.

    refusal of priest to marry 1 Tim 4:1-8.

    According to the Catholic Church, an absolute prohibition on restricting marriage is not the meaning of 1 Tim 4:1-8. That is, the Catholic Church has always understood the “forbidding marriage” error St. Paul refers to not as a qualified marriage restriction to clergy, but as an unqualified prohibiting of marriage (i.e. no one may marry), which does not therefore entail the error of a celibacy requirement for certain ecclesial offices, just as it does not entail that the Church’s restricting marriage to one man and one woman, the entering into marriage only of those who are not impotent, not mentally retarded, not sufficiently consanguineous, not already married, etc. are errors. In other words, just as St. Paul’s statement here does not make it wrong for the Church to restrict marriage to one man and one woman, to those who are not impotent, not too closely related, not already married, etc. so St. Paul’s statement here does not make it wrong for the Church to require celibacy for certain ecclesial offices. I addressed this in more detail in the first part of comment #880 of the Solo Scriptura thread. If you are really interested in understanding the Catholic position on clerical celibacy I recommend Christian Cochini’s The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy and Stefan Heid’s Celibacy in the Early Church.

    Christ atoned for our sin, and thus Gods grace is free, unearned and unmerritted – Eph 2:1-10.

    Yes, Christ atoned for our sins. See “Catholic and Reformed Conceptions of the Atonement.” And yes, grace is free, and no one who is without sanctifying grace can merit anything; that’s why Pelagianism is a heresy. But once a person is in a state of grace, he can merit an increase in sanctifying grace, as I explained in “The Doctrine of Merit: Feingold, Calvin and the Church Fathers.”

    As for the website you linked, if you have any particular questions, we would be glad to answer them.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  46. Peter (re: #37)

    You wrote:

    And I cannot scripturally see how a 2 tier sin atonement is possible. Christ died for ALL sins, once for all – as it says in Hebrews 9:26ff –
    “But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.?

    Yes, Christ died for all sins. But Christians still suffer pain, disease, and death. Even though pain, disease and death came into the world through sin, and even though Christ died for all sins, yet He chose to allow Christians to suffer, and this suffering is not needless or gratuitous. Similarly, sin has both a vertical (against God) and a horizontal (against creature) component, each a form of injustice. Sin against God is an infinite injustice and deserves a eternal punishment, an eternal separation from the God who is eternity. But sin against a creature is not an infinite injustice, because no creature is infinite. So the punishment for a sin against a creature is not an eternal punishment, but a temporal punishment. And just as Christ allowed us to suffer in our bodies, even though He died for all our sins, so likewise He allowed us to pay the temporal punishment due for our injustices against other creatures, whether we pay in this life or in purgatory. He did this because He respects our dignity, the dignity of making right what we have wronged, insofar as we are able. The passage in Hebrews is about Christ’s sacrifice of Himself to the Father, to make satisfaction to the Father for our offenses against the Father. So that is fully compatible with Christ allowing us to make satisfaction for the temporal punishment due to our offenses against other creatures, and requiring that temporal punishment of those who have no made such satisfaction, before they can receive the Beatific Vision.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  47. Steve G: re#41

    You take my analogy a bit too literally, Steve. I was using this ordinary situation to illustrate the twin debt that sin incurs. Breaking someone’s window is not a sin (unless it was intentional) and the debt owed for the broken window is not one resulting from sin. But you still need to do two things to make it right after breaking the window: apologize (‘repent’) and get it fixed (‘pay the temporal debt’). So read the analogy within its limits.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about sin (CCC 1472):

    …it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.

    Those injured by sin cannot forgive this debt since no man can forgive another of the consequences of his sin. So your comment about not wanting others to suffer for sins they’ve committed against you is a commendable and charitable thing, but not within your power to grant. They may injure you, but they sin against God and God only.

    Pax Christi,
    Frank

  48. Steve, (#41)

    You wrote:

    But purgatory isn’t about “reparations”, it’s about punishment as has been posted elsewhere on this blog.

    Punishment and reparation are not mutually exclusive because just punishment suffered willingly restores justice between the person wronged and the wrongdoer. And justice is a good. Hence just punishment suffered willingly gives a good to the one wronged. Just punishment suffered willingly likewise restores order to the community, and so contributes a good to the common good.

    And I also suspect that once I die, I will be so much more full of God’s love that I will not want anyone punished for anything they’ve done to me. If they are an unrepentant person, I will just feel sad for them, that they never knew God, and if they are a Christian, I’ll readily forgive them as I know others are forgiving me.

    It does not belong to you to cancel Justice or take the place of Justice. But in love you can aid this person in fulfilling Justice, in the way I described in the last part of comment #4 in the Doctrine of Merit thread.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  49. Steve G: re #42

    Perhaps it is my use of words is to blame, but you have again taken my explanation in a more literal sense than St. Paul’s words warrant. I thank you for helping me to choose my words with more precision.

    The “gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw” is meant to be part of the metaphor of house building, beginning with the metaphor of the “foundation” – salvation in Christ. Building the house is living our life. We can live our life in such a way that we build the house up with meritorious deeds or out of acts displeasing to God – or as is the case with nearly everyone, a combination of these. Those that build us up in sanctifying grace will survive the fire, but those that displease God and injure our communion with him will burn away (“the fire will test the quality of each man’s work”).

    The passage may not speak directly of sin, but you must surely be aware that metaphors of all kinds are used to imaginatively illustrate a point in Scripture.

    If this passage does not metaphorically describe the purification of Purgatory, then tell me, what is the fire, what is the reward, and what is the building, and what are the “gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw”?

    Pax Christi,
    Frank

  50. Steve and Ian,

    Hey guys from a fellow protestant. Purgatory is one of those doctrines which is pretty misunderstood by Protestants. Basically it just says that once you get forgiveness from GOD there are still consequences to be worked out. Those might be worked out in a temporal framework or, if the timing of our departure from this world is inconvenient to working thme out, in an eternal framework. To the best of my knowledge, there is not a lot more to the doctrine. Many of the teachings around purgatory by Tetzel and others were false and expressly condemned by the Church authority of the time.

    As far as I have been told there is no teaching regarding “how long” someone stays in purgatory or even how the consequences of our actions are “quantified” it is very likely that in the eternal state existing on the other side of the vale of tears that these questions don’t even make sense.

    You might try reading CS Lewis’s Great Divorce as it is a fascinating and entertaining view on the topic. A quote from Lewis on the topic is as follows:

    “What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best were unmentionable to him? . . . “I believe in Purgatory. . . . Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, ‘It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy’? Should we not reply, ‘With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleansed first.’ ‘It may hurt, you know’—”Even so, sir.’”

    Along with that is a scene from a favorite movie of mine, “The Mission,” showing the weight of the consequences for our sins and what it means to have another forgive us (even if GOD has already given us forgiveness)

  51. Dear Jason,

    Thank you for taking the time to write and share this article. Perhaps, Lord willing, one day you could write more about “the question that people of [our] generation are asking: ‘What is the Church?’” I mean, I’d like to hear more about the fact that people of our generation are left asking the question. I know the answer to the question itself.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  52. I also find the earlier comments of “Welcome Home” very demeaning of other denominations as if they are not true Christian Churches and that one is only home in the Church when they are in the Roman Catholic Church.

  53. Peter (re:#52),

    I was a convert to the Catholic Church in the mid-90s. Not too long after converting, for various reasons, I fell away from Christ and the Church. Eventually, I spent several years as a “Reformed Baptist” Protestant Christian. Last year though, I returned to the Catholic Church, after seriously studying her claims and teaching, at some length, and coming to accept her authority as the teacher and guardian of historic, apostolic Christianity. Part of the reason that we, as Catholics, say “Welcome Home” to Catholic converts is that we believe the Catholic Church to be the Church that Christ Himself founded, ordaining His apostles as the first ministers of that Church. This may sound like an absolutely absurd claim to you. If so, then I ask you to consider the words of St. Irenaeus, from 189 A.D., as quoted from his work, “Against Heresies”:

    “But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul—that church which has the tradition and the faith with which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world. And it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition” (from Against Heresies, 3:3:2).

  54. @Peter:

    I also find the earlier comments of “Welcome Home” very demeaning of other denominations as if they are not true Christian Churches and that one is only home in the Church when they are in the Roman Catholic Church.

    The sometimes painful fact is that either the (Roman – so-called only because it is the Church in Communion with the Bishop of Rome, the Pope) Catholic Church is what it claims to be – the Church which has the unique character of having been established by Christ and being intended by Him to be the home of all Christians – or else the claim is false.

    If the claim is false, then I, for one, have more sympathy with those non-Catholics who consider the Catholic Church to be a synagogue of Satan, and who think that becoming a Catholic is tantamount to being damned – as, indeed, the more straight-thinking of my Protestant friends did and do think when I became a Catholic – than I have for those who kindly feel that, well, the Catholic Church has some serious errors, but, after all, we all love Jesus, so they are a real church.

    If that claim of the Catholic Church to be uniquely intended by Christ as the home for all Christians is, in fact, false, then, it seems to me that that claim is analogous to Jesus’s claim to be uniquely the Son of God, and the Way, the Truth, and the Life – salvation for all men. If that claim is false, then, surely, the Jews were right to consider it the worst sort of blasphemy: Liar, Lunatic, Lord.

    But if, on the other hand, the Catholic claim is true … why, then, you can hardly expect Catholics to say anything other than ‘Welcome home!’ to those who acknowledge the truth of the claim, and obey the necessary call of conscience to become Catholics.

    So it seems to me that when you say you think “Welcome Home!” is demeaning to other Christian groups, you are in effect asking Catholics to abandon their belief in the ‘home-ness’ of the Catholic Church. But … if they did that, then either they just don’t understand what the Church claims – do you? – or else they must leave the Church, if they are not to be hypocrites.

    The truth of that claim is, of course, a matter for discussion. But I do not think you should assume that Catholics believe that claim, and yet think that Catholics should not talk as though they did not believe it. That option is not open for honest men.

    jj

  55. Dear Peter,

    Though the Catholic Church does recognize distinctions between communities according to the validity or invalidity of their ordinations (we typically call them Holy Orders) and thus, their sacraments, it is not intended as an insult. Especially in my case, understanding the Catholic Church’s authority and teaching brought an end to my protest. To be Protestant is to understand oneself to be engaged in protest. I take it as an axiom that the communities we formed at the Reformation were never intended to be permanent. So when I speak of a “return home,” I’m not being triumphalist or exclusionary; I am suggesting that I did not understand what the Catholic Church had taught, and that the life of faith demanded a re-evaluation of the separation on my part. Jesus had prayed in John 17:21 that we be one, as He is one with the Father. This contribution and this whole story of mine is about that.
    I would ask the other commenters here to provide the links to the articles about the sacramental priesthood and the like, because I don’t know how to do that! :)

  56. Peter, (re: #52) 

    I’m wondering whether you are aware that the Catholic Church believes and teaches that she is the Church Christ founded, and that to be in any religious community that is not in full communion with the Catholic Church is to be in schism from the Church Christ founded. See, for example, Questions 2, 3, and 5 in Responsa quaestiones released in 2007.

    In comment #25, you claimed that the Catholic teachings “focus away from Jesus,” and in that respect you implied that your own beliefs are superior to the doctrines held by Catholics. But here in #52 you complain that when Catholics welcome home a Protestant who returns to the Catholic Church, you find this “demeaning” to Protestant denominations, by treating them as not in full communion with the Church Christ founded. Apparently you want Catholics never to claim that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded, because you find that demeaning to Protestant denominations, while you want free reign to claim that your own interpretations of Scripture are superior to Catholic doctrines. Well, why should we grant a double standard, such that Catholics are not permitted to express their Catholic beliefs about the Catholic Church, while you are free to criticize Catholic beliefs? If you want to criticize Catholic doctrines (and you are welcome to do that here), then you should be prepared to have Protestant claims criticized here. If you are offended when anyone criticizes a Protestant claim, then you’re probably not ready to engage in these kinds of conversations, in which Protestants and Catholics subject each other’s positions to critical evaluation, in a spirit of grace and charity.

    In general, when someone claims that he holds a better position than one’s own, the truth seeker’s response is not to complain that this demeans one’s own position, but to find out whether his position is true, and embrace it if is it true, or refute it if it is false.

    Following up Jason’s most recent comment, see the quotation from Carl Truman in “Reformation Sunday 2011: How Would Protestants Know When To Return?,” and see also “Holy Orders and the Sacrificial Priesthood.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  57. Bryan, re post 56,

    The Roman Catholic church believes many things but that doesn’t mean they are from Christ.
    Celibacy of clergy when Peter in fact had a mother in law, the assumption of Mary which is not in any Scripture, Mary as co-redeemer when there is no other name by which we are saved.

    Christ established THE church, not the Roman Catholic Church. The church is the Body of Christ and wherever Christ is present there the church is present. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit as Paul tells us and thus Christ dwells in and through each Christian.

  58. Dear Peter,

    First of all, I think you may have missed the point of Bryan Cross’ comment. He was not making an argument that the Catholic Church was the Church that Christ established. He was just pointing out that you were doing the same thing you accuse us of.

    Furthermore, most of the people saying “Welcome home” are converts. They call the Catholic Church home because, to them, it feels like home. In their protestant denominations they didn’t feel like they were at home. Most of them were always evaluating their pastor’s personal interpretation of scripture against their own personal interpretation of scripture. In the Catholic Church, they aren’t doing that. They have reached the end of their search. They feel like they are at home.

    But that isn’t why I’m writing.

    As a Celibate, Catholic priest I’d like to share some personal reflections on celibacy in the priesthood. I really don’t understand why protestants get so up in arms about that one. You, and other protestant friends I have, like to quote first Timothy with the implication that the Church has “Forbidden” priests like me to marry. This is simply not the case. Nobody has forbidden me to marry. Nobody has forbidden any priest to marry.

    I have been invited, by God through his Church, to sacrifice marriage for the sake of the Kingdom. When God sends me an invitation, I usually say yes, and I did. When I was ordained a deacon, last January, I made a promise that I would freely enter into celibacy. Nobody forced me to do it. I entered into this obligation.

    But Celibacy is not a doctrine. It is a custom. It could change. Thus, the fact that Peter had a mother in law is irrelevant. But I’m curious, why no mention of St. Paul who remained single and encouraged others to do so. Is anyone at your church vowed to a single life? It seems like at least somebody in Protestantism should take this seriously, but I don’t really see anyone who does.

    Now that that is out of the way, I’d like to share with you a frustration that so many fellow Christians (Catholic and protestant alike) are unable to recognize the amazing fruit that this bears in my life. Celibacy is the most profound witness I have of my faith in Christ. And it is a very good witness. Not long ago I was at a little pub with a friend of mine and a small group of people started asked, “Are you really a priest?” (I’m pretty young looking, and there just aren’t many priests as young as I look). I said yes. After working through their shock and disbelief that I could actually sacrifice marriage, we had a pretty good talk about faith and the meaning of sexuality. It is a discussion I wouldn’t have had if I was not celibate. People know I’m pretty serious about Jesus because of this gift.

    Furthermore, my witness as a celibate reveals that you can have a joyful, happy life, without sex. This is helpful in my ministry to people who struggle with sexuality. For example, High Schoolers who want to fornicate can’t tell me that it is impossible to wait. It is possible. I live it in my own life. Not only is it possible, but I also (hopefully) show that it is possible to have peace and joy as a celibate as well.

    I love my celibacy. It isn’t easy all the time, but neither is chastity within marriage. I’m happy that the Church, in her wisdom, supports us so strongly in this discipline even so far as making it mandatory. If it wasn’t mandatory I probably wouldn’t have thought of it.

  59. Dear Fr. Ochs,

    Thank you for what you have given up to serve the Church. I marvel at how busy my priests are, and marvel at the clear practical benefits of celibacy.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  60. Peter, (re: #57)

    Regarding priestly celibacy, I recommend the two books I mentioned in comment #45 above. The Latin Church’s discipline of priestly celibacy is fully compatible with St. Peter having a wife, for the reasons explained in those texts.

    Regarding the Assumption of Mary, I discussed that in “Solemnity of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven.” A doctrine need not be explicit in Scripture in order to be a doctrine of the Church. Tradition allows for a development of understanding in the written word of God. See “Sola Scriptura: A Dialogue Between Michael Horton and Bryan Cross. VIII. Scripture and Tradition.”

    Regarding the Catholic understanding of Mary as co-redemptrix, I wrote a post on that subject titled “Mary as Co-Redemptrix. Protestants tend to misunderstand the Catholic doctrine, by construing the redemptive work as n% by Christ, and (100-n)% by Mary. But in actuality, the Catholic doctrine is that every contribution to Christ’s redemptive work granted to any creature, including to Mary, is a gift merited first by Christ’s salvific work. We are all co-redeemers, insofar as by God’s grace through Christ we have been granted the opportunity to participate in obtaining and working out our own salvation, and in the salvation of others. But the redemptive role Mary has been granted as the Mother of God, is unique, for the reasons explained in that post.

    You wrote:

    Christ established THE church, not the Roman Catholic Church. The church is the Body of Christ and wherever Christ is present there the church is present. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit as Paul tells us and thus Christ dwells in and through each Christian.

    Yes, wherever Christ is present, there is the Catholic Church. But that does not mean that wherever Christ is present, every human present is in full communion with the Catholic Church. Every organism has both a soul and a body, and thus both an invisible aspect and a visible aspect. The Church, as the Body of Christ, likewise has both an invisible aspect and a visible aspect. The Holy Spirit is the ‘soul’ of the Church, and is thus the invisible aspect of the Church. The Church is also visible, through a visible hierarchy. (See “Christ Founded a Visible Church.”) So a Protestant who has received the sacrament of baptism, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, is joined to the Catholic Church because he has been given a measure of the very soul of the Catholic Church. But, so long as this person remains separated from communion with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, he remains in schism from the Catholic Church, because the Church Christ founded is not a merely invisible Church, but a visible Church, from which it is possible to be in schism, or excommunicated, as Christ describes in Matthew 18. Therefore it is not enough to believe in Christ, or to be baptized; every Christian must seek to be in full communion with (and thus not in schism from) the visible Church Christ founded.

    And that visible Church isn’t any denomination or set of denominations founded by mere men in the sixteenth century. It is the Catholic Church that has been present since the first century, governed by the bishops in communion with the episcopal successor of St. Peter in Rome, the same magisterium that composed the ecumenical councils of the first millennium. Any heretic in the history of the Church could have claimed to be part of the Body of Christ, because it is easy to claim to be part of the Body of Christ. Similarly, any person in schism from the Church Christ founded could claim to be not in schism from the Church, but to be in full communion. (See, for example, St. Optatus on Schism and the Bishop of Rome.”) Anyone can define ‘the Church’ so that it includes themselves, so that by definition they are not in schism from the Church, and so that their own set of beliefs are within the “pale of orthodoxy.”

    So what is needed to make your claim objective, and not merely self-serving (such as any schismatic or heretic would make to justify their position), is a principled answer to the following question? If you were in fact a Christian in schism from the Church Christ founded, and not in full communion with the Church Christ founded, how would your situation differ from your present situation? (See “We don’t need no magisterium: A Reply to Christianity Today’s Mark Galli.”)

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  61. Yes, Tom. The above only scratches the surface. We have two priests at my parish (not far from yours, btw… assuming you still live where you entered the Church), and if we were both married and had families we’d have to have at least one more to do the work. Three priests with families. That is a huge financial burden on the people of God. (Most Catholics quickly jump on board with celibacy once they recognize what married priests would mean to their wallet)

    It gets even crazier when you consider that I’d probably lean towards a bigger family. Can you imagine the negativity that might ensue once I celebrated number 4,5, or 6? (I wonder if protestant pastors face these struggles when they plan their family. I think it would be interesting to see what kind of pressure is put on them in this regard)

    If the Church was to abandon celibacy, we’d have have much smaller Churches and the burdens of running these parishes would increase greatly.

  62. Ah, ye… in matters of the soul and right orientation of the will to that of God’s Will, we ought do anything but offend. Silly. What is sick is tearing the Body of Christ to pieces for ego’s sake. The schismatics need to come home. We are all brothers and sisters in Baptism… but to deny your Mother is foolish. She loves you and waits for you to come home.

  63. Dear Peter (re: #57),

    You deny that what the Catholic Church teaches necessarily comes from Christ. Very well, but that denial does nothing to further the dialogue we aim to promote here at Called to Communion. Since Catholics believe that the Catholic Church does teach Christ’s doctrines, and is preserved from error when so teaching, it would be more useful if you were to articulate why you deny that what the Catholic Church teaches necessarily comes from Christ.

    Without articulating the basis for your denial, you gave several examples. Fr. Ochs already addressed priestly celibacy. You assert that the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is not contained in Scripture. However, the Catholics here would not agree — we would point to Scriptures about her Assumption, especially Revelation 12. More to the point, since we do not approach or interpret Scripture the same way (nor have the same canon!), we would really need to back up a step or two before settling any dispute with simple resort to: ‘that’s not contained in Scripture.’ As to your example of Mary as co-redemptrix, I’m not quite sure what you meant to say. If you mean to refer to the belief (of some) that she is mediatrix of all graces, this is still an area of Catholic belief that is open to debate amongst Catholics. So even if we assume for argument’s sake that it is extra-biblical, it does not further your attempt (through examples) to demonstrate that the Catholic Church teaches things not of Christly origin.

    You said, “Christ established THE church, not the Roman Catholic Church. [Etc.]” Please interact with Jason’s comments pertinent to this, your particular Protestant claim. Off the top of my head, I can think of his section in which he discusses the Westminster Confession, Ch. XXV, on the invisible church. If you have not read his article prior to commenting, you really should.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  64. what strikes me most is the Sola Scriptura Christian relies on, well, the New Testament as assembled by Catholic Bishops w/ the Authority of Apostolic succession… guided by the holy Spirit. I don’t get it… why rely on those crazed Papists’ Bible as the sole Authority… when, in a lifetime, a single man (minister) can assemble his very own “theology” and assign whatever “wisdom” he has gleaned in the span of a lifetime (a whole single lifetime!). Goofy is what it is.

    I would add. How precisely did that Bible survive the fall of the Roman Empire? Whose martyrs shed their blood to make sure the Bible would survive to today? Oh, right… Papists! I guess we could file this in the “no good deed goes unpunished” category. Ingrates.

  65. Dear Fr. Ochs,

    Not that financial pragmatics are what decide the issue, of course, but I think you are right that Catholics would notice the impact on their wallets. (Or, rather, they would notice other diocesan efforts fall off the plate.) This is particularly noticeable in our increasingly unaffordable parochial schools, sans religious teachers.

    I entered the Church at Our Lady Star of the Sea, in Bremerton, WA; we moved to the Archdiocese of Washington this past summer, and are registered at St. Bernadette’s in Silver Spring (Msgr. Smith).

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  66. @Peter:

    Christ established THE church, not the Roman Catholic Church. The church is the Body of Christ and wherever Christ is present there the church is present. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit as Paul tells us and thus Christ dwells in and through each Christian.

    Naturally, Peter, you do not accept the Catholic understanding of the Church – but it is unreasonable of you to complain about the fact that Catholics do accept the Church’s teaching about itself – and that they then consider the Church to be Home.

    jj

  67. Randy said:

    There is a group that goes to heaven yet it’s work is judged inadequate in some significant way. How would a protestant interpret that? What is the reward and what are the flames if 1 Cor 3:14,15?

    All Christians their works judged and the this determines our rewards in heaven, though not heaven itself. The flames symbolize the testing of our works. You’ve got a long ways to go to get purgatory out of this verse.

  68. John wrote : … it is unreasonable of you to complain about the fact that Catholics do accept the Church’s teaching about itself – and that they then consider the Church to be Home.

    It is not unreasonable to complain when in the eyes of fellow Christians they see me as part of a Schism from the Church that Christ established.

  69. Peter, (re: #68)

    It seems to me that the Donatists could have said the same thing to St. Optatus (see “St. Optatus on Schism and the Bishop of Rome.”) But that wouldn’t have refuted St. Optatus’ argument that the Donatists were, in fact, in schism from the Church Christ founded. So here too, merely complaining about being viewed as in schism from the Church Christ founded does not show that you are not, in fact, in schism from the Church Christ founded. In order to show that you are not in schism from the Church Christ founded, you would need first to specify the principled criterion (or criteria) by which persons in full communion with the Church Church founded are differentiated from persons in schism from the Church Christ founded, and second show that according to that criterion (or criteria) you are in full communion with the Church Christ founded.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  70. @Peter:

    It is not unreasonable to complain when in the eyes of fellow Christians they see me as part of a Schism from the Church that Christ established.

    Peter, you are saying that Catholics should act as though they did not believe what they believe.

    My Muslim friends think I am an idol-worshipper. This is because I worship Christ, and they think He is a creature. If they are right, then of course I am an idolator. It is not hurtful for them to call me an idolator. I would be unreasonable to complain about it. Naturally I would love to persuade them that Christ is the Son of God, and to be worshipped. But would I not be guilty of foolishness to tell them they shouldn’t call me that – given that that is what they believe?

    So the Catholic thinks you are, indeed, in schism from the Body of Christ. The Catholic – I, for example – may be wrong. But you and I cannot even discuss whether I am right or wrong in this if I cannot start by telling you that is what I believe.

    jj

  71. But John we are not talking about Muslims and Christians. We are talking about Christians and Christians. It sounds like Roman Catholics do not believe other denominations to be Christians because they are not part of the Church that Christ established.

    There is only one Church, and that is the church that confesses Jesus Christ as Lord as Paul says to the Corinthians and Luke says in Acts 4:12.

    I’m not sure if that is what you’re saying though.

  72. Frank said:

    Perhaps it is my use of words is to blame, but you have again taken my explanation in a more literal sense than St. Paul’s words warrant. I thank you for helping me to choose my words with more precision.

    Sorry but I can only read what you post, not your mind :)

    The “gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw” is meant to be part of the metaphor of house building, beginning with the metaphor of the “foundation” – salvation in Christ. Building the house is living our life. We can live our life in such a way that we build the house up with meritorious deeds or out of acts displeasing to God – or as is the case with nearly everyone, a combination of these. Those that build us up in sanctifying grace will survive the fire, but those that displease God and injure our communion with him will burn away (“the fire will test the quality of each man’s work”).

    The passage may not speak directly of sin, but you must surely be aware that metaphors of all kinds are used to imaginatively illustrate a point in Scripture.

    The problem is that Paul uses the term “works”. While the passage is a metaphor in many ways, the word “works” is not a metaphorical term. Paul is describing the testing of our works that we have used in building on the foundation laid by Christ. Some works will be worthy, others will not. It says nothing about sin. If Paul had meant that we were being punished for our sins, don’t you think he would have stated so? In addition, it is the works being tested – there is absolutely no mention of punishment (other than loss of reward related to the works). Indeed, it says the Christian will “escape” so it doesn’t sound like the Christian is suffering any direct punishment here as supposedly happens in purgatory.

    If this passage does not metaphorically describe the purification of Purgatory, then tell me, what is the fire, what is the reward, and what is the building, and what are the “gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw”?

    As I stated earlier our works as Christians are being tested by God, exactly as Paul states. The fire represents the testing, the rewards are whatever our varying rewards in heaven will be, the foundation is Christ, the building could be a number of things (our individual Christian life, the church, etc.), the “gold, silver, etc” are the works being tested (quality indicated via metaphor). There’s not need to metaphorically read purgatory into this when Paul is pretty clear about what he is saying.

    The problem here is your statement: “This is precisely the Purgatorial purification the Catholic Church teaches and it has a solid Scriptural foundation.” First off, it isn’t “precise” (at best its a metaphor subject to interpretation) and secondly, it’s not a solid foundation. Metaphors can help to explain or elucidate doctrines taught elsewhere in scripture but you don’t have that. There is no plain and clear teaching of purgatory in scripture. Instead you have this passage which talks about our works being tested, not punishment for sin after death.

  73. @Peter:

    It sounds like Roman Catholics do not believe other denominations to be Christians because they are not part of the Church that Christ established.

    I gave the Muslim example only to say that the beliefs a person has must colour what he thinks and how he behaves.

    The Catholic Church is very clear about who is a Christian. A person who has been baptised in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is a Christian.

    But this is not the same as saying that every Christian is in the same situation as every other Christian. A Christian who is engaged in serious sin, for example, is to be treated differently from one who is not – as both St Paul and St John – and Jesus (Matthew 18) tell us.

    Now the Catholic Church believes that being a Christian is not the end of the story. To share fully in the new life that Christ has given us in Baptism we need to be in full Communion with His Church – and the Catholic Church believes that that Church is not just the collection of all those who Confess Christ, but is, in fact, the collection of those who are, ultimately, in Communion with the (Roman, in your word :-)) Catholic Church.

    And if that is so, then, of course, Christians who are not in that Communion are in a problematic state – and that state is schism. It should not be seen as some sort of insult. It’s like the doctor who really believes that swelling in your side is cancer, and that, if not treated, may cause you serious harm.

    The doctor could be wrong. The Catholic Church could be wrong. Obviously I don’t think it is, or I wouldn’t be a Catholic. But the only point I wanted to make was that we should be discussing whether the idea that you ought to be in full Communion with the Roman Catholic Church or not is true – not whether someone is being insulting by telling you that you ought to be in that full Communion. He is just telling you what he thinks is true.

    By all means, if he is wrong, convince him. But it won’t help to accuse him of doing something that he ought to know is wrong – when he thinks he has good reasons for doing it and is, in fact, being charitable in telling you so.

    That’s all :-) 7:42PM here in New Zealand and I am about to go off to the Tyburn Monastery near me and spend an hour in prayer – and then come home and go to bed :-) Talk to you tomorrow, maybe!

    jj

  74. @Steve G:
    You might be putting too much into the punishment aspect of Purgatory. I do remember, when I was deciding whether to become a Catholic or not, seeing that passage in I Corinthians 3, and realising that it speaks of (1) a time of testing (2) of works (3) for those who are certain of Heaven (4) after death (5) characterisable by the metaphor of fire. I’m not sure the Church’s dogma would say any more than that about Purgatory. Much of the rest is attempts by theologians to understand the idea, to put it into context – but not dogma. You might be able to do better – but the Scriptural teaching seems pretty clear.

    I remember I believed in Purgatory after reading C. S. Lewis on the subject, when I had still 25 years to go before I became a Catholic – and would have been horrified at the thought at the time, if such a thought had ever occurred to me.

    jj

  75. I don’t want to derail a discussion in progress, but just a note to Peter in #71 because your concern is one I’ve had myself, and heard from loved ones in the past: the Catholic Church does not teach that Protestants are not Christians, but it does teach that the various Protestant denominations are not true churches (instead referring to them as “ecclesial communities”). Indeed, in Catholic terms, Protestant Christians are considered “separated brethren”––Christians who are separated (or “in schism”) from the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church founded by Christ. Yes, it is a serious matter, but no, it does not mean that Catholics don’t consider Protestants to be Christians.

    I began with almost exactly the same questions and concerns as you several years ago. Most were because of my inadequate understanding of what (and why!) the Catholic Church actually teaches. Keep digging, brother, and keep asking questions. Above all, pray unceasingly and earnestly seek the Truth, regardless of whether it is comfortable when found.

  76. Tom Brown,

    Hello, brother! I just moved back to the Silver Spring area two months ago, and I’m attending St. Bernadette’s and am about to register as a parishioner. Small world! We should meet up sometime!

  77. Peter- I’d like to jump in here briefly and say that I think I certainly understand what you’re saying, considering what it is you presumably believe about the Bible, salvation, etc. However, it must be noted that many, maybe most, of the Catholics here (myself included) were once NOT Catholic, and for some time had been (ignorantly) not in communion with the Catholic Church. When we were fortunate enough, however, to learn of the true nature of the Catholic Church (that the Catholic Church claimed to be the single Church founded by Jesus Christ Himself, complete in its nature from the moment of its founding) we had decisions to make. For many of us, though the change involved family conflict and sometimes even career changes, it became quite apparent what had to be done! I have enjoyed reading your thoughtful, faithful interaction here. Keep it up. Herbert Vanderlugt

  78. Steve G: re#72, said:

    The problem here is your statement: “This is precisely the Purgatorial purification the Catholic Church teaches and it has a solid Scriptural foundation.” First off, it isn’t “precise” (at best its a metaphor subject to interpretation) and secondly, it’s not a solid foundation. Metaphors can help to explain or elucidate doctrines taught elsewhere in scripture but you don’t have that. There is no plain and clear teaching of purgatory in scripture. Instead you have this passage which talks about our works being tested, not punishment for sin after death.

    Fair enough. I will excise “precise” from my statement: this is the Purgatorial purification the Catholic Church teaches.

    I disagree that the foundation is not solid, as this passage forms one of the principal scripture references to which the early Fathers referred in their writings on Purgatory – such men as Tertullian, Cyprian of Carthage, Cyril of Jerusalem, John of Chrysostom and Augustine to name just a few of the Fathers of mid-late antiquity.

    That there is no doctrine given the name “purgatory” in Scripture is no more a problem than that the word “Trinity” appears nowhere in Scripture. Indeed, nowhere in Scripture are we told we must use only Scriptureto understand the teachings given to us in the Deposit of Faith. It is not the doctrine but your methodology that is flawed.

    Some imagine that the Catholic Church has an elaborate doctrine of purgatory worked out, but there are only three essential components of the doctrine: (1) that a purification after death exists, (2) that it involves some kind of pain, and (3) that the purification can be assisted by the prayers and offerings by the living to God. Other ideas, such that purgatory is a particular “place” in the afterlife or that it takes time to accomplish, are speculations rather than doctrines.

    The onus here is on you, Steve, to show how a belief held by Christians for 1500 years could be overturned by the authority of mere men in the middle of the 16th century relying on nothing more than a personal interpretation of Scripture.

    Pax Christi,
    Frank

  79. Steve G

    All Christians their works judged and the this determines our rewards in heaven, though not heaven itself. The flames symbolize the testing of our works. You’ve got a long ways to go to get purgatory out of this verse.

    Actually you are pretty close. Heaven has rewards? Then it has flames too? These rewards and flames are determined by our holiness at the time of death? If not, what is it determined by? If so, how is this different from purgatory see as “the mud room of heaven?” That is you are in heaven but still being effected for a time by your previous life on earth. We don’t normally talk about purgatory as being part of heaven because scripture says nothing impure can enter heaven. But if you get by this terminology issue what you have said might be equivalent to purgatory.

  80. First time commenting here (though I often read the posts). I respect the work you guys do here even if I strongly disagree with many of the conclusions you reach. As one who has thoughtfully and prayerfully considered the claims of the Catholic Church (as many of my friends and family have converted to Catholicism in recent years), I hope my comments will come across in all the grace and humility, with which I intend them.

    Jason,

    In the original article, you stated:

    “What I began to experience and to attempt to describe was the inability to reconcile a contradiction, between righteousness imputed and righteousness shared. Essentially, something had to give. Either the righteousness of Christ was imputed to me by faith and fully completed, leaving the life of the church and repentance a good, but not necessary step by us, or Chapter 15 of the Westminster Confession of Faith was more correct: repentance and perseverance are an absolute requirement of the Christian life. It absolutely could not be both, despite how much we may insist on it. The buzzword “union with Christ” only makes it worse. Imputation either puts God in union with manifestly unholy people, or the participation suggested by the life of sanctification undercuts the truth of imputation extra nos. You have to choose.”

    I appreciate you concern on this point, but I do not think you have framed the dichotomy accurately. I think you are correct to point out that imputation undercuts our most basic/natural motivation for the “repentance and perseverance” to which Christ clearly commands us. If we have already been justified, reconciled to God and assured of eternal life, self-preservation/self-interest is no longer a compelling motive for us to live righteous lives as we are commanded to. We have no need to pursue our own justification before God because we have already been “declared righteous”.

    However, I am not sure why this would lead us to believe that imputation is incompatible with the “absolute requirement” of repentance and perseverance. It seems that what we need is an appropriate motivation to pursue these things since we cannot pursue them out of self-preservation. I think that Scripture is clear as to what our primary motivation should be for all that we do as Christians: “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” As Augustine put it, “Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.”

    We could go back and forth all day with theological/exegetical arguments on the topic of justification and I have no desire to do so (quite frankly, I would be out of my league). But when it comes down to actually living for Christ in our daily lives, the question that I find inescapable is this: What is our most fundamental motivation for obedience to Christ? Am I obeying Him out of self-preservation [i.e., because if I disobey Him, I might be committing a mortal sin (or starting a process that could lead to mortal sin - CCC 1863), for which I am subject to "eternal punishment" (CCC 1496) should I fail to make proper penance]? Or am I obeying Christ because I love Him and “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3:8)?

    I think that’s the real dichotomy. As the Apostle John puts it: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). Within the Catholic Church’s understanding of justification, I find it impossible for one’s most fundamental motivation for obedience to be anything other than fear of God’s wrath. If “eternal fire” (CCC 1035) is still a possible outcome for us, as the Catechism makes clear, how could we ever not fear it? On the other hand, if God intended for us to grow in our love for Him, reconciling us to Himself by crediting His own righteousness to us and securing our place as His adopted children would create a pretty helpful platform for that relationship to build upon.

    Thanks in any case for sharing your story.

    Peter

  81. Peter, re#80

    You do strike a most charitable and humble tone and it was a pleasure read your comments.

    The dichotomy you describe is a real one and the Church acknowledges the reality of it in a number of ways.
    Do you know, from the Act of Contrition, the lines “O My God I am heartily sorry for having offended thee and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend Thee, who art all good and deserving of all my love”?

    Everytime we go to Confession, we are confronted with this dichotomy. We pray all our lives to make a “perfect act of contrition”, which is sorrow for sin solely and exclusively for love of God. As we grow in sanctifying grace, we strive to more closely approach the reality of this perfect act of contrition. This is an aspect of what I believe St. John is describing when he writes, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” We seek to perfect our love of God (charity) as we grow in grace through prayer and the Sacraments.

    It is not, for any except perhaps the occasional Saint, just either/or. Any honest Christian would admit there is always a mixture of motives. These motives are not mutually exclusive, but exist in a fluctuating tension.

    As we celebrate Advent we are reminded that Christ’s coming has a twofold meaning. He comes as Redeemer, but He also comes as Judge — Christ himself identifies with both these roles with throughout the Gospels.
    Even “the righteous” shall be judged and we do ourselves no good by developing a Christology that does not take full account of Who Jesus tells us He is.

    In His Love,
    Frank La Rocca

  82. Peter,

    Do we know each other? Second, what is your definition of imputation? It highlights for me the reality of an easy mistake to make: the sense of God’s merciful benevolence toward us versus the absolute legal declaration of our vindication before God. No person could fail to see the love God has for all of us, no matter our state, if he reads the Scriptures. (We hope.) But the offer of sonship to people is distinct from enjoying its reality. No one doubts that it flows from Christ’s work on the cross; rather, the dispute with the Reformers was about how that redemption was applied. What kind of faith justifies us? The Reformers failed to distinguish between faith formed by love and dead faith (such as James decries) because their view of how the Fall affected humankind meant that we were unable to participate in our justification. They made an arbitrary distinction between justification and sanctification as a result (leaving the latter as the part we participate in). Even if the process of being made holy were highly encouraged (and it is, largely) it’s very hard to see how that is necessary if we have been clothed with Christ’s righteousness from outside ourselves. If we pursue salvation–communion with God–because we have not yet attained it, as the Scriptures say, how can we follow those who say we have already attained it? If we say that love (agape) is the difference between living faith and dead faith, we are in agreement with the Council of Trent (and not the Reformers).
    The Catholic Church teaches that her sacraments not only signify God’s merciful love toward us, but bring about that loving relationship. (CCC, 1127-1128) No son of the Church should ever fear judgment if he desires mercy and does not work against it.

  83. Dear Christopher,

    What a blessing — please e-mail me at thosbrown at gmail.com, as I’d very much like to get together.

    Dear Herbert,

    I’d also be honored if you could contact me. I’m curious if you have CRC connections (pardon the stereotyping!).

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  84. Jason (re: 82),

    First let me say that I don’t think your accusation of being “arbitrary” is fair at all. As I’m sure you know there are all sorts of texts in Scripture which speak of us being justified and saved apart from our works and being justified by faith but unto good works (Eph 2 for instance). And yes, I have read numerous RC attempts to interpret these verses to say that actually we are saved/justified in the Pauline sense partially by good works. I don’t want to get into an exegetical debate but merely point out that the Reformers position was hardly arbitrary, any more than the position of Trent was. I think the position that Trent eventually came to from the scores of positions on justification within the RCC was highly flawed, but it would not be fair to say that it was arbitrary. Both positions were the result of different exegetical assumptions and starting points.

    Secondly the Reformers did distinguish between dead faith and living faith. You can perhaps see this more clearly in the works of later Reformers than earlier Reformers (read the Puritans on good works for instance). We are not saved by a dead faith. As I hope you know from whatever classes on soteriology you took before going to the RCC, regeneration logically precedes justification. That is, God does not save unregenerate people. We Reformed hold to the position that that the works that proceed from a regenerate heart do not contribute to justification (since Christ’s works are sufficient to accomplish this purpose), but it does not logically follow from this that our position on justification is one where the individual in question is justified by a dead faith.

    Even if the process of being made holy were highly encouraged (and it is, largely) it’s very hard to see how that is necessary if we have been clothed with Christ’s righteousness from outside ourselves. If we pursue salvation–communion with God–because we have not yet attained it, as the Scriptures say, how can we follow those who say we have already attained it? If we say that love (agape) is the difference between living faith and dead faith, we are in agreement with the Council of Trent (and not the Reformers).

    I’ve read so many such statement from Protestants turned Catholic and I always wonder about why these new converts struggled so much to see something which seems quite obvious to the 99.9+% of those of us Reformed folks who have studied soteriology seriously from an exegetical and historical perspective and yet have remained Reformed. There is no contradiction whatsoever between saying that works do not justify and yet works are all important in the Christian life. And why should there be any sort of contradiction? Well, obviously there is in your mind and some others of those who have gone the Roman route. And I have struggled to understand what the issue is. My theory is RC’s have drawn the conclusion that for the Reformed the doctrine of justification is the lynchpin upon which all the rest of Reformed dogmatics turns. Thus once justification is complete works must play an inconsequential place in the Christian life since God’s wrath has already been satisfied. Works become a nice add on for the Protestants but not something central to the faith. Am I getting close here, Jason? If so then maybe you can already guess how I would answer the Catholic assumption here, but I will let you respond first.

    Cheers for now…..

  85. Andrew,

    Works are not a significant worry for me theologically, and they never were. Nor is wrath. We all know God’s mercy in Christ turns away wrath. The question(s) for me center around the contradiction (yes, that strong word is most necessary) inherent in Reformed theology between justification already accomplished, and the real threat of punishment for failure to persevere. Something has to give. Repentance is either a pious formality that assuages our guilt and demonstrable lack of faith in the finished work of Christ (Berkhof) or the threat is real. If the threat is real, then Chapter XI of the WCF is necessarily false, because something more than acceptance of that finished work is required. God cannot punish the same sins twice. Because you presumably believe that the death of Christ was actually efficacious and not merely an offer (with all the means ordained thereunto), that is the difficulty. The arbitrariness is another discussion, but naturally arises in light of the monergistic nature of salvation in Reformed theology. God has already announced his saving intentions toward mankind from the first, culminating in the Cross. If He grants regeneration that precedes faith and finally guarantees it only for the elect, then He alone is responsible for the damnation of the rest. ‘Tis true, He owes us nothing. But it is also true that He has chosen to redeem. In so choosing, He is obligated by his own nature not to be arbitrary.
    As for authority, the claim from both sides of the dispute in the 16th century was continuity with the ancient Church. Thus, we ask, “What was the ecclesiology, soteriology, and practice of the ancient Church?” And in 3 major aspects–primacy of the bishop of Rome, apostolic succession, and the Eucharist–the Reformers were at odds with the ancients. ‘Tis true, we could sift through history finding evidence to bolster our Reformed convictions, but the point is to see who’s correct in the claim of continuity. Quite frankly, the only way to escape the force of the evidence is to assume the pervasive discontinuity that the Reformers themselves caused. Didn’t mean to re-write my article here, but I must also say that without the Sola Scriptura problem, I never would have seen all this. The existence of many different Protestant communities claiming the same authority from the same source and process while answering fundamental questions differently put the lie to the continuity claim, to say the least.
    If justification is not the heart of Reformed theology, may I assume you concur with the Council of Trent?

    Regards in Christ,
    Jason

  86. Peter G, (re: #80)

    Welcome to Called To Communion.

    The ‘dichotomy’ you are talking about is a real distinction, but not a mutually exclusive dichotomy. For example, I don’t have to choose between Comtean altruism and Randian egoism. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus’ statement already shows that genuine love for another does not eliminate but presupposes love for oneself; it does not reduce to egoism or altruism. And the same is true with love for God. In loving God, we do not have to forego love for ourselves, since that would be to cease imitating God, who loves us. Similarly, when God loves us, He does not have to cease loving Himself, or only ‘love’ us as a means to loving Himself. St. Thomas Aquinas addresses this in Summa Theologica II-II Q.25 a.4, in which he answers the question “May one love oneself out of charity?”

    This is why perfect contrition does not remove or eliminate the genuine and rational motivation of “dreading the loss of heaven, and fearing the pains of hell.” Here for example, is an act of contrition:

    ——————————————–
    O my God,
    I am heartily sorry for
    having offended Thee,
    and I detest all my sins,
    because I dread the loss of heaven,
    and the pains of hell;
    but most of all because
    they offend Thee, my God,
    Who are all good and
    deserving of all my love.
    I firmly resolve,
    with the help of Thy grace,
    to confess my sins,
    to do penance,
    and to amend my life.

    Amen.
    ——————————————–

    Notice that it includes both motivations; we are contrite not only because our sin offends God who is all good and deserving of all our love, but also because we dread the loss of heaven and fear the pains of hell. Rationally, the one thing most to be feared of all fears, is hell, which is everlasting separation from God; there is no greater evil. But there is no reason why in this present life the two motivations cannot both be simultaneously present, or should not both be simultaneously present.

    I recommend going to “Lawrence Feingold on Sanctifying Grace and Actual Grace,” scrolling down to the Q&A following the second lecture (i.e. the one on Actual Grace), and start listening in the seventh minute to the discussion on perfection contrition, and how it includes (and retains) the motivation present in imperfect contrition.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  87. Peter G,

    One more thing. Regarding 1 John 4:18, and the incompatibility of love and fear, the type of fear referred to there is servile fear, not filial fear. St. Thomas explains this in his question on “The Gift of Fear” in Summa Theologica II-II Q.19. Notice that filial fear remains even in heaven. “The fear of the Lord is holy, enduring for ever and ever.” (Psalm 18:10)

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  88. Jason/Frank- Thanks you both for you thoughtful responses. I appreciate the opportunity candid yet charitable dialogue.

    Jason- I do not believe we know each other. Feel free to get my email from the administrator if you want to connect “off the record”.

    Out of my league or not, here are some thoughts…

    [Much of this I had already written in various emails to friends/family; I've tried to tailor it to your specific concerns but forgive me if it sounds awkward at points. Some of this may overlap with Andrew's comments (#84) and I have not included a response to any of Jason's most recent comment (#85); nor to Bryan's comments (#86 & #87). Also, I hope you will not find all of the Scripture references distracting or take them to be some sort of proof-texting. I simply desire - as I'm sure you do as well - to ensure that my beliefs are grounded in Revelation..."that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." - 1 Corinthians 2:5]

    My definition of imputation: God “declares” that we are righteous (as I understand it, that is the basic meaning of the Greek word for justify) solely on the basis of the righteousness of God and of Jesus Christ Himself (Romans 3:21-31, Galatians 2:15-21, 1 Peter 3:18 etc.) which is credited to us (Romans 4:4-8, Galatians 3:1-14, etc.) as a result of true faith in Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:9, Romans 9:30-32, etc.).

    Clearly our works do work together with our faith and indeed complete our faith (James 2:24). This is because our faith works through love (Galatians 5:6). In other words, our works/obedience flow out of love for Jesus (John 14:15) and this love is the natural result of, necessary companion to, and essential component of faith in Jesus. Faith that does not include this love is not real faith. Loves completes faith and in that sense it is perfectly legitimate to say (as Augustine essentially does) that we are justified by “faith with love”.

    However, this does not imply that either our faith in Christ or our love for Him contribute to/constitute part of the basis upon which God declares that we are righteous in his sight. We are declared righteous on the basis of a righteousness that is 1) credited to us by God (Romans 4:6, etc.) and 2) finds its source outside of us in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:9, Romans 5:19, etc.). The basis upon which God declares us righteous has nothing to do with the means we employ (faith with love) and everything to do with the object to which those means cling (Jesus and His righteousness).

    You wrote:
    “What kind of faith justifies us? The Reformers failed to distinguish between faith formed by love and dead faith (such as James decries) because their view of how the Fall affected humankind meant that we were unable to participate in our justification. They made an arbitrary distinction between justification and sanctification as a result (leaving the latter as the part we participate in).”

    [Sidenote: In reference to Andrew's point, to have assumptions and starting points in the first place is the very definition of arbitrary. Revelation, however, is not artbitrary. It is divinely revealed truth. So to read Genesis 1 and say "God created everything" is no more arbitrary than to look at my hand and say "I have 5 fingers". What is arbitrary is to deviate from what Revelation teaches. Obviously Catholics and Protestants disagree on what constitutes Revelation but - minor qualifications not withstanding - we do agree on that the New Testament is part of it. But that is another topic for another day.]

    You say that the reformers arbitrarily distinguished between justification and sanctification. As I see it, there are 3 main problems with this assertion: 1) As I mentioned, justification is – by definition of the Greek word itself – a declaration of righteousness. This declaration can only be made by God; it is necessarily not an action we can participate in. 2) Furthermore, there are several places where New Testament explicitly presents justification as a past tense event (cf. Romans 5:1; Titus 3:7; Luke 18:14; Romans 4:3; 1 Corinthians 6:11; etc.). If, in fact, justification is an lifelong process (as the Catechism presents it), then the NT authors were simply incorrect to tell believers that they already “have been/were declared righteous”. Either that or (and I do not mean this to be disingenuous or combabtive; just trying to think through all the logical options) God did not really mean “I declare that you are righteous” when he declared certain believers to be righteous as the NT text repeatedly and plainly states. 3) Finally, the NT consistently presents a “credited” righteousness as the basis for our justification. In fact, to my knowledge, the NT never explicitly grounds justification upon anything other than this credited righteousness. To do so would require a command to the effect of “work out your JUSTIFICATION with fear and trembling”; or a statement such as “not ONLY having a righteousness of my own but ALSO the [credited] righteousness that comes though faith in Christ”. I know of no passage in Scripture that makes this sort of connection (even the “justified by works” language in James 2 seems to be a simple confirmation of the quality of Abraham’s faith, not an inclusion of Abraham’s works into the the righteousness that is credited to him); but I am open to suggestions on this point if such a passage does indeed exist.

    May I humbly suggest it is the Catholic Church that arbitrarily imports obedience Christ’s commands into the scope of our justification. By claiming that justification includes “sanctification and renewal of the interior man” (CCC 1989) the Church dislodges our “faith with love” from its proper scriptural function as the means by which we take hold of Christ’s righteousness and inserts it instead into the to the basis upon which God grants justification. In other words, a few drops of our own righteousness/merit get sprinkled in with Christ’s perfect righteousness and together they form the foundation of the peace between us and God and of our reconciliation to Him. In all sincerity, I simply do not see how this can be avoided if we adhere to the Catholic Church’s conception of justification (as explained by the Catechism).

    You wrote:
    Even if the process of being made holy were highly encouraged (and it is, largely) it’s very hard to see how that is necessary if we have been clothed with Christ’s righteousness from outside ourselves.

    Must holiness be an essential part of our justification in order for us to view it as necessary or required? Is obedience to Christ commands necessary primarily because we need it in order to be justified? Is the necessity of obedience determined be the needs of we who are commanded or by the identity of the God who gives those commands. Again, this seems to be a question of not of “whether” but of “how” and “why”? The question is how and why do we obey Christ’s commands which are clearly binding on us. Must we be self-interested in order to obey? Is self-preservation/self-justification the only sufficiently compelling motive for us to live righteous lives? Is it not far more Christlike, scriptural, and beautiful to obey purely of love, in spite of a lack of self-interest? (cf. Philippians 2:1-11; Luke 22:42; etc.).

    And yet, as Frank pointed out, all Christians struggle with mixed motives to one degree or another. We all engage in self-justification in practice. But it seems that the major difference between the Protestant’s self-justification and that of a Catholic is that the we ultimately know that our capacity for to cooperate with God’s grace could never be strong enough to enhance the reconciliation that which Christ has already achieved for us (Romans 5:10-11; etc.); nor weak enough to alienate us from it (Romans 8:38; etc.). In other words, we know that we will never be good enough to make God loves us any more than he already does in Christ. For the Catholic, I am honestly not sure how you would approach this. Not only does God’s love hinge on your obedience but his wrath does also. Looking to Christ for grace cannot inspire too much confidence if one believes that Christ has only succeeded in enabling you to help Him save you, rather than actually saving you. While I appreciate the evident humility in the words the Act of Contrition, I would contend that “dreading the loss of heaven and the pains of hell” is awful weight that Spirit-adopted heirs with Christ were never meant to bear (Romans 8:12-17).

    This is why I find the reformed doctrine of imputed righteousness to be truly beautiful. It frees us from all forms of self-justification: both from the fear of God’s just wrath and from the need to prove ourselves worthy of His love and mercy. Being free from self-justification, in turn, frees us to pursue obedience to Christ not as fundamentally a means to an end, but rather as an opportunity to know and experience Christ Himself. He becomes both the motivation for and the goal of our obedience. Far from undermining obedience, I find that more deeply I embrace the doctrine of imputed righteousness, the more I am driven to love Christ and to serve Him and his church purely out of a that deep life-changing love.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

    Peter

  89. John Thayer Jensen says:

    You might be putting too much into the punishment aspect of Purgatory.

    Bryan Cross has said specifically that Purgatory is punishment for temporal sins. It’s not me putting too much into the punishment aspect.

    The Catholic Encyclopedia says in the first line:

    Purgatory (Lat., “purgare”, to make clean, to purify) in accordance with Catholic teaching is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God’s grace, are, not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions.

    That seems pretty explicit to me.

    No offense but I see your response as rather common from Catholics when confronted with Purgatory by Protestants. “Oh, it’s not about the punishment, it’s about purification and/or cleansing”. That seems rather obfuscating to me.

  90. Steve G: re #89

    Here, Steve: from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Please note especially the language describing “temporal punishment”:

    What the Catechism of the Catholic Church says on “Purgatory:”

    1031. “The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. [Cf. Council of Florence (1439): DS 1304; Council of Trent (1563): DS 1820; (1547): 1580; see also Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336): DS 1000.] The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire. [Cf. 1 Cor 3:15; 1 Pet 1:7.] As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come. [St. Gregory the Great, Dial. 4, 39: PL 77, 396; cf. Mt 12:32-36.]”

    1472. “To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the ‘eternal punishment’ of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the ‘temporal punishment’ of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain. [Cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1712-1713; (1563): 1820.]“

    You seem to think purification and temporal punishment are mutually exclusive. No offense, but I see your response as typical of Protestants who seem incapable of anything but “either/or” thinking when it comes to critiques of Catholic thought and teaching.

    Pax Christi,
    Frank

  91. Franks said:

    I disagree that the foundation is not solid, as this passage forms one of the principal scripture references to which the early Fathers referred in their writings on Purgatory – such men as Tertullian, Cyprian of Carthage, Cyril of Jerusalem, John of Chrysostom and Augustine to name just a few of the Fathers of mid-late antiquity.

    Just because a scripture is used by the Fathers doesn’t mean it was used correctly. I’ve demonstrated that the verses speaks about the judging of works, not the punishment of temporal sin, which is the purpose of purgatory. There’s no way you get purgatory out of this unless you presuppose it and read it back into the passage, and even then it doesn’t fit.

    Just a side note about the Fathers, whom you cite in support. Augustine clearly says he is guessing or speculating. Nowhere does he say this is something handed down from the apostles. In fact he says:

    “And it is not impossible that something of the same kind may take place even after this life. It is a matter that may be inquired into, and either ascertained or left doubtful, whether some believers shall pass through a kind of purgatorial fire, and in proportion as they have loved with more or less devotion the goods that perish, be less or more quickly delivered from it.” (The Enchiridion, 69)

    And Tertullian? Jacques Le Goff, a scholar of purgatory says the following:

    “Between Tertullian’s refrigerium interim [a region of the afterlife some believers go to] and Purgatory there is a difference not only of kind – for Tertullian it is a matter of a restful wait until the Last Judgment, whereas with Purgatory it is a question of a trial that purifies because it is punitive and expiatory – but also of duration: souls remain in refrigerium until the resurrection but in Purgatory only as long as it takes to expiate their sins.” (pp. 47-48)

    In a number of cases, when you examine the Fathers more closely, you see that their “purgatory” does not equal “Catholic purgatory”.

    That there is no doctrine given the name “purgatory” in Scripture is no more a problem than that the word “Trinity” appears nowhere in Scripture.

    The issue isn’t whether the word is mentioned, the issue is whether any verses in the Bible are an adequate basis for the doctrine of Purgatory – that’s what we were discussing. So far, I’ve seen nothing to lead me to believe there is adequate basis in scripture.

    Indeed, nowhere in Scripture are we told we must use only Scripture to understand the teachings given to us in the Deposit of Faith. It is not the doctrine but your methodology that is flawed.

    Now you’re moving the goalposts. Originally, you said that purgatory had a “solid scriptural foundation”. Now that the foundation is slipping, you now say, “Well, we don’t need scripture anyway”. So can I assume now that we agree that there is no firm foundation for purgatory in scripture?

    Some imagine that the Catholic Church has an elaborate doctrine of purgatory worked out, but there are only three essential components of the doctrine: (1) that a purification after death exists, (2) that it involves some kind of pain, and (3) that the purification can be assisted by the prayers and offerings by the living to God. Other ideas, such that purgatory is a particular “place” in the afterlife or that it takes time to accomplish, are speculations rather than doctrines.

    Sorry, there is more than that. The primary purpose is punishment for temporal sins as stated by Bryan here and in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

    The onus here is on you, Steve, to show how a belief held by Christians for 1500 years could be overturned by the authority of mere men in the middle of the 16th century relying on nothing more than a personal interpretation of Scripture.

    The onus is on you to prove that purgatory was held as a belief for 1500 years. You’ve assumed what you have yet to prove. I’ve already shown that a couple of the Fathers you cite did not believe in the Catholic version of purgatory. I can provide more if necessary. Let me end with this quote from historian Philip Schaff:

    “These views of the middle state in connection with prayers for the dead show a strong tendency to the Roman Catholic doctrine of Purgatory, which afterwards came to prevail in the West through the great weight of St. Augustin and Pope Gregory I. But there is, after all, a considerable difference. The ante-Nicene idea of the middle state of the pious excludes, or at all events ignores, the idea of penal suffering, which is an essential part of the Catholic conception of purgatory. It represents the condition of the pious as one of comparative happiness, inferior only to the perfect happiness after the resurrection. Whatever and wherever Paradise may be, it belongs to the heavenly world; while purgatory is supposed to be a middle region between heaven and hell, and to border rather on the latter. The sepulchral inscriptions in the catacombs have a prevailingly cheerful tone, and represent the departed souls as being ‘in peace’ and ‘living in Christ,’ or ‘in God.’ The same view is substantially preserved in the Oriental church, which holds that the souls of the departed believers may be aided by the prayers of the living, but are nevertheless ‘in light and rest, with a foretaste of eternal happiness.’ Yet alongside with this prevailing belief, there are traces of the purgatorial idea of suffering the temporal consequences of sin, and a painful struggle after holiness. Origen, following in the path of Plato, used the term ‘purgatorial fire,’ by which the remaining stains of the soul shall be burned away; but he understood it figuratively, and connected it with the consuming fire at the final judgment, while Augustin and Gregory I. transferred it to the middle state.”

  92. Frank said:

    You seem to think purification and temporal punishment are mutually exclusive. No offense, but I see your response as typical of Protestants who seem incapable of anything but “either/or” thinking when it comes to critiques of Catholic thought and teaching.

    Not at all. I don’t think they are mutually exclusive. But it bothers me when Catholics take the stance you describe. Many time they talk up the purification (as has been done here several times already) but ignore the punishment aspect. If you are going to be honest, you should mention both, not one.

  93. @Steve G:

    No offense but I see your response as rather common from Catholics when confronted with Purgatory by Protestants. “Oh, it’s not about the punishment, it’s about purification and/or cleansing”. That seems rather obfuscating to me.

    I didn’t at all say that it wasn’t about punishment, only that the details of the popular view of Purgatory are not part of the teaching.

    ‘Punishment’ is a very broad term. I do not see how purgation from the effects of sin should not be considered punishment.

    jj

  94. Peter G.,

    At the risk of snark, I take no comfort in the pronouncements of those who lack the authority to pronounce. The love of God in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit is a great gift, and is the means and the end of true life. I want to meet Christ in the very Church which is his Body, not presume that I have met him under the guidance of “thieves and robbers.” As I Catholic, I do not concede that Revelation is confined to the pages of the New Testament, and even if it were, I doubt any of us are competent to mine its riches with the exactitude and authority required to tell other Christians what they ought to do.

    This is why my coming in to the Catholic Church is an ecclesial decision, not primarily a doctrinal one. Though I was decent with my Greek not long ago, to get into an exegetical battle on the point would be unwise and counterproductive. :) At the moment, I wonder if papal spies have taken my Nestle-Aland NT, because I lack the authority to teach theology! :) In any case, if Holy Mother Church tells me not to believe that righteousness is imputed to me, I do not believe it. I do not see any good reason to fear what the Church teaches about justification, as if she could misunderstand the very mysteries she has been entrusted to ponder and protect. I thought my article did an OK job of explaining the reasons why it was unreasonable to stand in dissent with the Reformers against the backdrop of the assumption of continuity. As I mentioned before, I think love is the highest and best motive to do anything. What you must ask yourself is whether your concurrence with St. Augustine (which I share) is matched by concurrence from the Reformers. The short answer is “no.” I’m just a storyteller, not an exegete or theologian, but it seems like you are trying to agree with the Council of Trent without knowing it.
    I cannot verify or test subjective claims about feelings of the love of God, but I do say that the idea that Catholicism is based on fear in any way is not true. Why should I fear, when only my rejection of the Church’s motherly guidance unto the feet of Christ is the only thing that will keep me from Him? My challenge is this: What Church are you talking about?

  95. Peter G (re: #88)

    I have briefly described the fundamental problem with the Reformed notion of imputation in comment #83 of “Habitual Sin and the Grace of the Sacraments.”

    The Catholic doctrine regarding imputation is that God counts us as righteous by immediately infusing sanctifying grace, faith, hope, and agape into our souls through the sacrament of faith (i.e. baptism), so that when He declares us righteous, it is because He has truly made us righteous. Although we have not devoted an article specifically to the topic of imputation, to see an explanation of the Catholic doctrine, I recommend reading “St. Augustine on Law and Grace,” as well as “Does the Bible Teach Sola Fide?” as well as “Why Calvin did not recognize the Distinction between Mortal and Venial Sin.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  96. Bryan, thanks for your thoughts. I’ll take a look at some of these resources. If I could offer a just few thoughts in response…

    You wrote:
    The ‘dichotomy’ you are talking about is a real distinction, but not a mutually exclusive dichotomy.

    In practice, yes, I agree. As you put it, “there is no reason why in this present life the two motivations cannot both be simultaneously present, or should not both be simultaneously present.”

    The question I was hoping to raise was not whether or not there is a real tension between these motivations nor whether or not the Catholic Church’s teaching and liturgy preserves both motivations. As you clearly demonstrated, both must be answered in the affirmative. The question is whether or not the reality of this tension and the Catholic Church’s endorsement of it are in line with reality as God intended it to be. Does the New Testament commend (or, at minimum, allow for) both motivations to us in our pursuit of obedience to Christ?

    And, just to clarify, I do not mean to suggest that pursuit of obedience in is not in our personal best interest. I can’t imagine anything more regenerative for the human soul than to “grow up into Christ.”

    You wrote:
    Regarding 1 John 4:18, and the incompatibility of love and fear, the type of fear referred to there is servile fear, not filial fear…Notice that filial fear remains even in heaven.

    This is a very important and helpful point. Reverent fear of God in all His awesome glory should never be far from Christ’s disciples. Indeed, this type of fear is a perfectly legitimate, helpful, and even desirable motivation for pursuing obedience to Christ: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). As you noted, we will never outgrow our need for this kind of fear.

    I am also in full agreement with you that it is servile fear – we might call it terror fear – that 1 John 4:18 deems incompatible with love (cf. 2 Timothy 1:7, Romans 8:12-17). And yet, I couldn’t help but wonder, is it not precisely this servile, terror fear that the Catholic Church commends to you in the Act of Contrition: “I dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell.” As you said, “Rationally, the one thing most to be feared of all fears, is hell, which is everlasting separation from God; there is no greater evil.” How could the prospect of eternity in Hell ever inspire anything in us other than this servile, terror fear? And how can the Catholic Church teach us to both “dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell” AND love the God who is “deserving of all my love” even though the NT clearly teaches that these things are diametrically opposed to each other. They may not be mutually exclusive in practice but they are clearly mutually pernicious.

    For your consideration, I think 2 Corinthians 4:14-15 offers a good summary of what I am trying to get at here about love vs. self-preservation: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

    Thanks again for the constructive dialogue.

    Peter

  97. Jason, you said:

    Works are not a significant worry for me theologically,…

    Well I hope I was able to resolve your concerns about works and holiness in the Reformed system as you expressed such concerns to Peter in #82.

    The question(s) for me center around the contradiction (yes, that strong word is most necessary) inherent in Reformed theology between justification already accomplished, and the real threat of punishment for failure to persevere. Something has to give…..

    As with your previously expressed statement about works, your concern about repentance can be resolved by noting that justification is not the lynchpin upon which all of Reformed theology turns. Catholics and misinformed Reformed folks seem to draw such inferences which is unfortunate. Let me ask you to assume for the sake of argument that the Scriptures do indeed teach that we are justified solely on the merits of Christ alone. Given this now, does it logically follow that no repentance is necessary, or is it still possible that when we sin we grieve God and need to be restored to His good graces, even though God has completely forgiven us? Isn’t this just the question/point that is being raised in WCF XI.5? So, if there is no necessitating reason to connect repentance to a lack in our justified state before God, where is the problem? It seems to me that your worry was caused by focusing on just one dimension of repentance, so try thinking about repentance outside of the context of our ultimate state as justified before God or not.

    And to anticipate one possible objection here I am not suggesting that repentance has nothing to do with justification. Far from it. See my previous comment about the logical connection between regeneration and justification.

    Concerning perseverance, when we speak of persevering, from the biblical and Reformed perspective, it is not we who persevere but Christ who perseveres for us. It is Christ who assures us that none of His sheep will perish, it is not the sheep that are promised that they can persevere on their own behalf. That being said, apostasy is a very real issue and we all know those who once professed faith, maybe for many years, and now have fallen away. But we don’t repent so that we don’t fall away because we are in some sort of semi-justified state; we repent because we have displeased God and as noted before, life in the Reformed and scriptural mindset is much more than just getting justified.

    As for authority, the claim from both sides of the dispute in the 16th century was continuity with the ancient Church. Thus, we ask, “What was the ecclesiology, soteriology, and practice of the ancient Church?” And in 3 major aspects–primacy of the bishop of Rome, apostolic succession, and the Eucharist–the Reformers were at odds with the ancients. ‘Tis true, we could sift through history finding evidence to bolster our Reformed convictions, but the point is to see who’s correct in the claim of continuity.

    Well I don’t think I mentioned authority, but OK I’ll bite. The question you ask is a fair one but brings up similar sort of debates we get into concerning sola scriptura – how do we interpret the tradition of the Church? And I suppose first we have decide how “ancient” we will get first. The more ancient we get the less we see anything that sounds like the Medieval RCC that the Reformers tangled with, or so it would seem to me. You and I could go back and forth over what constitutes evidence from the ECF’s because there are an infinite number of ways to interpret the tradition of the Church, even within the very diverse world of Roman Catholicism, and you have now landed on one of these interpretations. In your move to the RCC you have exchanged one particular interpretation of Scripture for one particular interpretation of Tradition. The discussion over sola scriptura, when it is properly understood, can help to get resolve the problem over competing interpretations by pointing out that the first debate ought to be concerned with what, historically and biblically, is the ultimate standard for the Church. But generally the Catholics miss in their attempts to formulate the debate by passing over the historical question of the infallible standard of the Early Church.

    If justification is not the heart of Reformed theology, may I assume you concur with the Council of Trent?

    My comment was along the lines that there is more to Reformation theology than justification and not everything must be tied to justification. Justification is one of the doctrines that is central to Reformed theology.

  98. Steve G (re #91):

    You wrote:

    Now you’re moving the goalposts. Originally, you said that purgatory had a “solid scriptural foundation”. Now that the foundation is slipping, you now say, “Well, we don’t need scripture anyway”. So can I assume now that we agree that there is no firm foundation for purgatory in scripture?

    I am not moving the goalposts. I am directing the discussion to what I perceive as the principal difference in how you and I arrive at discerning truth in these matters. You appear to be stating that unless the doctrine is spelled out in Scripture, you will doubt its truth. So for you, it is Sola Scriptura. For me, as for all Catholics, it is Scripture and Tradition. The foundation for the doctrine of Purgatory is found in Scripture, but it is a foundation – not the whole edifice. The full understanding of the doctrine developed as the Church Fathers and Doctors meditated upon the idea and grew to understand it more fully and clearly. So it is not surprising that such an early Father as Tertullian has some things wrong; and it is not surprising that so great a Doctor as St. Augustine would have the humility to admit he did not yet grasp this mystery in its fullness.

    You wrote:

    Let me end with this quote from historian Philip Schaff:

    “These views of the middle state in connection with prayers for the dead show a strong tendency to the Roman Catholic doctrine of Purgatory, which afterwards came to prevail in the West through the great weight of St. Augustin and Pope Gregory I. But there is, after all, a considerable difference. The ante-Nicene idea of the middle state of the pious excludes, or at all events ignores, the idea of penal suffering, which is an essential part of the Catholic conception of purgatory. It represents the condition of the pious as one of comparative happiness, inferior only to the perfect happiness after the resurrection. Whatever and wherever Paradise may be, it belongs to the heavenly world; while purgatory is supposed to be a middle region between heaven and hell, and to border rather on the latter. The sepulchral inscriptions in the catacombs have a prevailingly cheerful tone, and represent the departed souls as being ‘in peace’ and ‘living in Christ,’ or ‘in God.’ The same view is substantially preserved in the Oriental church, which holds that the souls of the departed believers may be aided by the prayers of the living, but are nevertheless ‘in light and rest, with a foretaste of eternal happiness.’ Yet alongside with this prevailing belief, there are traces of the purgatorial idea of suffering the temporal consequences of sin, and a painful struggle after holiness. Origen, following in the path of Plato, used the term ‘purgatorial fire,’ by which the remaining stains of the soul shall be burned away; but he understood it figuratively, and connected it with the consuming fire at the final judgment, while Augustin and Gregory I. transferred it to the middle state.”

    I am not sure what you’re getting at by citing this. There have been and are differences between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church on a number of matters, including, it would appear, Purgatory. Schaff seems to state fairly accurately what the developed Catholic view of Purgatory is.

    Now you have mentioned a few times the purgation/punishment issue and I’m not really sure why. Is it that you do not believe in one or the other of these elements of the doctrine? You’ve already said you think Catholics should “talk up” both aspects. The passages I gave you from the Catechism – which in all this, my great admiration for Bryan Cross notwithstanding (he is not a part of the Magisterium) – are the sole authority by which I (and you) should determine what the Church teaches and that which Catholics are required to believe as a matter de Fide.The Catechism summarizes the teaching of the Councils of Florence and Trent, which in turn crystallize the thinking of the Church as the doctrine developed.

    Finally, you wrote:

    I’ve demonstrated that the verses speaks about the judging of works, not the punishment of temporal sin, which is the purpose of purgatory.

    With all due respect, you have demonstrated no such thing. You’ve only demonstrated that your private interpretation of this scripture does not accord with the developed Catholic doctrine founded on its reading of that (and other) passage from Scripture.

    Pax Christi,
    Frank

  99. Peter G, (re: #96)

    There is no tension or conflict or incompatibility between loving God and loving oneself, for the same reason that there is no ‘tension’ in Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself. That’s just what true love is, neither altruism nor egoism, nor reducible to some combination of the two. That’s what I explained in my previous comment. I have a paper on this coming out some time next year. Love of benevolence/friendship does not eliminate love of concupiscence (or what Pope Benedict in Deus Caritas Est refers to as ‘eros.’) It takes it up into itself.

    You wrote:

    Does the New Testament commend (or, at minimum, allow for) both motivations to us in our pursuit of obedience to Christ?

    Yes, Jesus commands us to “fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt 10:28; cf. Luke 12:5) And the repentant criminal on the cross says, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?” (Lk 23:40) St. Paul writes of “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (1 Cor 7:1) Elsewhere he commands, “be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” (Eph 5:21) And “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12) And St. Peter writes, “conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth.” (1 Peter 1:17) And the angel says, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.” (Rev. 14:7) This kind of fear of God is commanded, and so it cannot be incompatible with love for God.

    You wrote:

    is it not precisely this servile, terror fear that the Catholic Church commends to you in the Act of Contrition: “I dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell.” As you said, “Rationally, the one thing most to be feared of all fears, is hell, which is everlasting separation from God; there is no greater evil.” How could the prospect of eternity in Hell ever inspire anything in us other than this servile, terror fear? And how can the Catholic Church teach us to both “dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell” AND love the God who is “deserving of all my love” even though the NT clearly teaches that these things are diametrically opposed to each other. They may not be mutually exclusive in practice but they are clearly mutually pernicious.

    Yes, fear of punishment is servile fear. But servile fear is not incompatible with love for God, because we can have two non-contradictory motivations at the same time. We can be avoiding sin for two reasons at the same time: for love of God, and to avoid punishment. They are not “diametrically opposed to each other,” for the same reason that love for neighbor is not diametrically opposed to love for oneself. When love is finally perfected (in the Beatific Vision), then there will be no more servile fear. Hence 1 John 4:18. St. Thomas wrote:

    This servility, however, does not belong to the species of servile fear, even as neither does lifelessness to the species of lifeless faith. For the species of a moral habit or act is taken from the object. Now the object of servile fear is punishment, and it is by accident that, either the good to which the punishment is contrary, is loved as the last end, and that consequently the punishment is feared as the greatest evil, which is the case with one who is devoid of charity, or that the punishment is directed to God as its end, and that, consequently, it is not feared as the greatest evil, which is the case with one who has charity. For the species of a habit is not destroyed through its object or end being directed to a further end. Consequently servile fear is substantially good, but its servility is evil [Et ideo timor servilis secundum suam substantiam bonus est, sed servilitas eius mala est.]. (Summa Theologica II-II Q.19 a.4.)

    It is not the [fear of punishment] per se that is bad, but fearing punishment because the good to which the punishment is contrary is loved as the last (or highest) end. That’s incompatible with charity. But one can fear punishment because the good to which the punishment is contrary is a recognized good, but not one’s last or highest end. And that kind of fear of punishment is compatible with charity because it is compatible with loving God as one’s last or highest end.

    You wrote:

    For your consideration, I think 2 Corinthians 4:14-15 offers a good summary of what I am trying to get at here about love vs. self-preservation: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

    The meaning of “no longer live for themselves” does not mean hate themselves or be indifferent to their own well-being or cease to love themselves. It has to do with hierarchy; who is loved most? When we love God above all other things, then and only then do we love each creature (including ourselves) rightly, to the right degree, in the right manner, and in the right order. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with self-love; self-love is good and required. Anyone who goes to hell is sent to hell because of loving self over God, not for loving self. But those who love God more than they love themselves love themselves far more than those who love themselves more than they love God.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  100. Andrew (re: #97)

    You wrote:

    Given this now, does it logically follow that no repentance is necessary, or is it still possible that when we sin we grieve God and need to be restored to His good graces, even though God has completely forgiven us?

    Grieve God? Here’s Horton’s depiction of the situation:

    Either God is peeking around the cross, or He is not. If He is peeking, then you are still under divine wrath, because Christ’s righteousness doesn’t fully cover you. But if He is not peeking, then He is not grieved. I explained this dilemma in the last paragraph of comment #94 of the “Reformed Imputation and The Lord’s Prayer” thread.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  101. Thanks Bryan. This is all very interesting. The Thomas quote and your explanation of it were especially thought-provoking, if still somewhat confusing. In the words, Michael Scott, “Explain it to me like I’m 10 years-old…OK, now explain it to me like I’m 5 years-old.” Thomas’ words were the adult version, your explanation was good for the 10-year old, but I’m afraid I still need to hear it at the 5 year-old level. In particular, I think my confusion is in relation to the phrase “the good to which the punishment is contrary”. I don’t mean to presume on your time & energy, but if you could flesh out what that means in this context that would be helpful.

    Peter

  102. Peter G, (re: #101)

    In Summa Theologica II-II Q.19 a.6, St. Thomas answers the question “Whether servile fear remains with charity?”.

    He answers in three paragraphs. I’ll explain them one at a time. First he writes:

    Servile fear proceeds from self-love, because it is fear of punishment which is detrimental to one’s own good. Hence the fear of punishment is consistent with charity, in the same way as self-love is: because it comes to the same that a man love his own good and that he fear to be deprived of it.

    I think you agree that self-love is not contrary to love for God. We don’t have to hate ourselves, or be apathetic about ourselves in order to love God. On the contrary, if we love God, then for His sake we should love ourselves. Servile fear, which is fear of punishment, proceeds from self-love, because punishment is detrimental to our own good, which we love. But, since self-love is compatible with love for God, and since fear of punishment proceeds from self-love, therefore fear of punishment can be compatible with love for God.

    St. Thomas continues:

    Now self-love may stand in a threefold relationship to charity. On one way it is contrary to charity, when a man places his end in the love of his own good. On another way it is included in charity, when a man loves himself for the sake of God and in God. On a third way, it is indeed distinct from charity, but is not contrary thereto, as when a man loves himself from the point of view of his own good, yet not so as to place his end in this his own good: even as one may have another special love for one’s neighbor, besides the love of charity which is founded on God, when we love him by reason of usefulness, consanguinity, or some other human consideration, which, however, is referable to charity.

    Here St. Thomas lays out three possible ways in which self-love can be related to charity (i.e. agape). In the first way, self-love is contrary to charity, as when man loves himself above God, and make his own well-being his highest end. In the second way, self-love is included in charity, as when a man loves himself for God’s sake and in God (as we’ve discussed above). And in the third way a man may love himself with a natural love, but without making himself his own highest end. And this too is compatible with charity, i.e. with loving God as his highest end.

    Now St. Thomas is going to bring this three-fold distinction (in the ways that self-love can be related to charity) to bear on fear of punishment, because since fear of punishment proceeds from self-love, and since there are different ways self-love can be related to charity, therefore there are different ways in which fear of punishment can be related to charity. So he writes:

    Accordingly fear of punishment is, in one way, included in charity, because separation from God is a punishment, which charity shuns exceedingly; so that this belongs to chaste fear. On another way, it is contrary to charity, when a man shrinks from the punishment that is opposed to his natural good, as being the principal evil in opposition to the good which he loves as an end; and in this way fear of punishment is not consistent with charity. On another way fear of punishment is indeed substantially distinct from chaste fear, when, to wit, a man fears a penal evil, not because it separates him from God, but because it is hurtful to his own good, and yet he does not place his end in this good, so that neither does he dread this evil as being the principal evil. Such fear of punishment is consistent with charity; but it is not called servile, except when punishment is dreaded as a principal evil, as explained above (A2,4). Hence fear considered as servile, does not remain with charity, but the substance of servile fear can remain with charity, even as self-love can remain with charity.

    Fear of punishment can be included in charity, since charity loves union with God, and therefore fears separation from God, and thus fears the punishment which is separation from God. That corresponds to the second kind of self-love in the preceding paragraph.

    But fear of punishment is contrary to charity when this fear proceeds from a self-love in which the self is loved as the highest end, and thus loss of one’s natural goods (health, comfort, etc.) is feared as the greatest evil. In other words, when the self is loved in the place of God (as one’s highest end), then the fear of punishment that proceeds from that sort of self-love is the sort of servile fear that is incompatible with charity. That corresponds to the first sort of self-love described in the preceding paragraph.

    Lastly, St. Thomas describes a kind of fear of punishment that is compatible with charity, but which does not proceed from charity, but from a natural self-love that is distinct from charity, but is compatible with charity (i.e. can be had together with charity). That corresponds to the third kind of self-love described in the previous paragraph.

    I hope that helps answer your question, and clears up any confusion in my previous comment.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  103. Luke 12:4-5

    I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.

    So Jesus does not say never be afraid. He says have your fears ordered. Fear most hell or the one who can put you in hell. Then the rest of the fears are in proper perspective. The fear of physical death is real but less than the fear of hell.

    Notice how Jesus words would make no sense of He was a Calvinist.

  104. Bryan (re: 100),

    You are making exactly the same mistake that Jason made twice in our conversation. You are speaking of repentance within the context of justification as if that is the only context that it can be spoken of. I showed Peter how he could resolve his struggle without any contradiction. I think maybe he got it the first time, he has not responded back yet on the second occasion.

  105. Andrew, (re: #104)

    That doesn’t escape the dilemma I presented in #100. Either God peeks, or He doesn’t. Which is it?

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  106. Andrew, could you give me an example, an analogue of some kind, of a situation in which it would make sense to repent for some offense which you never committed and of which you’re not guilty? You’re insisting that one can repent despite the fact that your theology holds you entirely blameless… in which case I see why Bryan responds by saying either God peeks or He doesn’t. As I see it, only if God the Father “peeks” past the Cross, could your repentance find any context whatsoever. I am NOT being patronizing here. I am genuinely interested to hear of an example of repentance finding its place outside of a context in which there has been some kind of offense. Thank you, Andrew!

  107. That doesn’t escape the dilemma….
    Sure it does, Bryan! The context of the cartoon is justification. It says so plain and clear. But I am speaking outside of the context of justification. In the context of justification we are saved apart from works and thus God does not “see” our works. Outside of the context of justification God does “see” our works. That is, God does not work synergistically with our works to obtain justification, but He does work synergistically with our works outside of this context. It’s two different conversations and two different contexts.

    Paul has exactly the same challenge when he speaks of law and works in Romans and elsewhere. He speaks about us being saved apart from works within the context of justification, but then immediately answers the objection that works do not matter by saying that the law and works and holiness have great benefit. But this later use is outside of the context of justification. Just as in the case above it’s two conversations and two contexts.

  108. Andrew, (re: #107)

    It’s two different conversations and two different contexts.

    But one and the same sinner, and one and the same God who knows all things in one and the same thought. The notion that God doesn’t peek past the righteousness of Christ when He is thinking about our justification, but He does peek past the righteousness of Christ when He thinks about our sanctification, subjects God to schizophrenia, since what He knows about us when He thinks about our sanctification, He remains ignorant of when He thinks about our justification. As a Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, do you think positing schizophrenia in God is the best answer a defender of Reformed theology can give to this dilemma?

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  109. Bryan (re: 108),

    It sounds like you are inferring something from the cartoon you cite that no Reformed theologian would agree with. The cartoon is a meant as a didactic tool to demonstrate the completeness of Christ’s sacrifice. It’s not meant to say anything about what God knows or does not know. Of course God knows all things and God knows our sins. So no, He does not remain ignorant during justification. Surely you must understand that this is not what is being conveyed here. What IS being conveyed is that God forgiveness these sins apart from any of our works that we might contribute. When we speak of what God “see” this is a manner of speaking, a linguistic device, not something that was meant to be taken literally.

    There is no contradiction to saying that God takes sin seriously and yet God forgives our sins freely, that is apart from our works. Christ’s perfect life and perfect death is sufficient.

  110. Andrew, could you give me an example, an analogue of some kind, of a situation in which it would make sense to repent for some offense which you never committed and of which you’re not guilty?

    Herbert,

    Nobody is saying we “never committed” sins. If we never committed a sin or sins then yes, we would have nothing to repent of. But we have committed sins and the question is what the basis is that God forgives us these sins. Is the satisfaction to atone for these sins based on 1) just our works, or 2) just on the perfect work of Christ apart from our works , or 3) some combination of our works and Christ’s? And then if we are convinced that number 2 is correct, are we then saying that our sins don’t matter? My contention is that we are justified part from our works but that this forgiveness of sins does not mean that God does not care about our sins. The explanation I am giving is just that that Paul gives in Romans after declaring that we are justified freely. Yes, our sins are conversed by Christ but this does not mean that sin if of no account in the eyes of God.

    Any analogy I could come up with would be very rough since the forgiveness of the creatures sins by our creator is a unique event in the cosmos and nothing is really like it.

  111. Andrew, (re: #109)

    You wrote:

    What IS being conveyed is that God forgiveness these sins apart from any of our works that we might contribute.

    Actually, Reformed theology claims not only that all one’s sins (past, present, and future) have been forgiven, but also that the perfect obedience of Christ’s life has been permanently imputed to the believer, so that in God’s eyes, by this imputation the believer is and ever will be as righteous as Christ is. And therefore even when the believer sins, God is and ever will be as pleased with the believer as He is with Christ. That’s why claiming that God is “grieved” when the believer sins is to attribute schizophrenia to God, since it claims that God is simultaneously grieved by the believer’s sins, and as pleased as punch with the believer, on account of Christ’s righteousness having been imputed to him. Or it diminishes the righteousness of Christ, or the transitive efficiency of the imputation process, by making that imputed righteousness insufficient to please God. “I know you have been clothed with My Son’s perfect righteousness, but you know, that’s just not a good enough propitiation, and its not a good enough righteousness. I’m still deeply grieved and offended by all your sins. You need even more righteousness than My Son’s perfect righteousness permanently imputed to you when you believed.” So which is it: Does God have schizophrenia (pleased as punch over your righteousness and simultaneously grieving over your sins), or was Christ’s righteousness insufficient to truly please God, so that you need to add your own righteousness to Christ’s imputed righteousness, or did the imputation process only make you less than 100% righteous, so that you still need to receive more of Christ’s perfect righteousness?

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  112. Andrew,

    I’ve been taught in seminary (a very confessional Reformed seminary, mind you) that the Reformation was primarily about justification sola fide. In fact, if there’s anything that the Reformed and Lutheran did agree on against Rome, it was the centrality of justification sola fide. There’s a reason the doctrine was considered the ‘articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae’ by Luther as well as Calvin. In other words, the Reformers were clear that the same grace that justifies us also sanctifies us (cf. G.C. Berkouwer’s Faith and Sanctification, or Peter Dathenus’s Pearl of Christian Comfort or Edward Fisher’s The Marrow of Modern Divinity, or Peter Martyr Vermigli’s treatise on Justificaton and Predestination, among other things). This strange dichotomy you pose between justification and sanctification (as if former were monergistic and the latter synergistic) just does not jive with traditional Reformed teaching at all.

  113. Andrew, I do indeed appreciate your direct response to me. Thank you. But I must say that the way you pose things, though I think I have some idea of what you’re trying to relay, doesn’t seem to present a solid basis for “the reformation” itself. That is, your ideas seem so nuanced, so necessarily subjective, interpretative, that I can’t imagine them being the basis for Luther’s stance at Worms, for example. As Joshua Lim suggests, your nuanced argument seems to be something other than the foundation upon which the Reformers based their schism. As a lay person, then, with zero theological training, I simply feel inclined to side with Catholicism. I don’t see how “Reformed theology,” without a clearer “slam dunk” case could draw me away from the historical/logical/Biblical case presented by the Catholics (God bless them)… indeed it didn’t (as I was confirmed in the universal faith at Easter Vigil 2008)! Thanks, though! Herbert V.

  114. That’s why claiming that God is “grieved” when the believer sins is to attribute schizophrenia to God, since it claims that God is simultaneously grieved by the believer’s sins, and as pleased as punch with the believer….

    Bryan,

    I don’t know where you are getting the idea that we think that God is “pleased” with our sins. Both Catholic and Protestant believe that God takes our sins seriously but that God can and does forgive us these sins. So it is possible in both systems to grieve God and yet to be in a forgiven state. The point of distinction is whether or not the basis of forgiveness is Christ’s merits or ours or some combination. If it is Christ’s merits and not ours this does not cause the system to implode. God is perfectly free to justify us apart from our works.

  115. Joshua (re: 112),

    I’ve been taught in seminary (a very confessional Reformed seminary, mind you) that the Reformation was primarily about justification sola fide

    The disagreement over justification between the position of the Reformers and what later became the official position of the RCC (at Trent) was key to the Reformation. But this is a different thing than saying that justification sola fide is the lynch pin upon which all of Reformation theology turns. One of the problems that I see is that Catholics try to understand the Reformed statements on works, repentance, and holiness solely within the context of justification as if that such things can only be understood in this context. Do you see what I’m getting at? The chief end of man is not to get justified, it is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. I don’t know what your experience was but education in a Reformed seminary does not begin with understanding justification, it begins with understanding Scripture, the nature of God, the decrees of God, the covenants etc. You probably know the general order. The doctrine of justification is then subsumed within this system. That means we can look at something like works within a context our general responsibility to God without discussing at that point what the relationship of works are to justification.

    The distinction between justification and sanctification we make is just what Ephesians 2 makes – we are saved by grace through faith that we might be reconciled to God. But, we are saved unto good works. God’s grace is certainly involved with both our justification and sanctification, but it is only the later where our works are operative.

  116. Andrew M.,

    I am a protestant. As a protestant, please help me to understand II Thessalonians 2:13 in light of the protestant theologogy regarding the separation between sanctification and salvation.

    “But we ought always to thank GOD for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning GOD chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth..”

    I personally find such scriptures incredibly difficult to shoehorn into the typical Protestant Monergism. However, they seem to fit hand in glove with the Catholic ideas of Covenantal Partnerships of Grace….

    If you choose to answer this post, please address the scripture at hand…

    Thanks!

  117. Andrew,

    Thank you for that. I understand what you’re saying, and by pointing out the importance of justification by faith alone for Reformed theology, I was not intending that that’s all one should study if one is to be ‘Reformed.’ But I am saying that Reformation began and was sustained by its disagreement with Rome on justification sola fide. This is the heart of the Reformation.

    As Turretin wrote, “[Justification] is called by Luther ‘the article of a standing and a falling church’… By other Christians, it is termed the characteristic and basis of Christianity–not without reason–the principal rampart of Christian religion. This being adulterated or subverted, it is impossible to retain purity of doctrine in other places. Hence Satan in every way has endeavored to corrupt this doctrine in all ages, as has been done especially in the papacy. For this reason, it is deservedly placed among the primary causes of our secession from the Roman Church and of the Reformation.” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, II., p. 633).

    With regard to the Magisterial Reformers, historically speaking, I’m not convinced that their respective understandings of other doctrines, especially sanctification, can be conceived of apart from their understanding of justification sola fide. They were trying to be biblical, yes, but they were also trying to be coherent. Did the Reformers only teach justification? Of course not. But that’s where they fundamentally diverged from the Church, and that’s why if justification sola fide is wrong, then there’s very little the Reformation actually has to offer. Melancthon himself said that if the Pope were to concede justification sola fide, he would not have problems reuniting with the Catholic Church.

  118. Andrew,

    If it is Christ’s merits and not ours this does not cause the system to implode. God is perfectly free to justify us apart from our works.

    The question, Andrew, is whether or not in justifying us he makes us righteous or only declares us righteous (extra nos). If he does not make us righteous (intra nos) upon declaring us righteous, then he is a liar or schizophrenic. That is what Bryan is getting at. Now, you can go on and claim that God call us righteous but in fact does not make us righteous. However, what we are claiming is that God does what he says. He does this, not just in his mind or on His scorecard, but in reality. We are what he says we are. What you appear to be claiming is that God simultaneously calls us righteous while at the same time acknowledging that we are not righteous.

    Protestant view:
    1. A is X (in the mind of God)
    2. A is not X (in reality)

    Catholic view:
    1. A is X (in the mind of God)
    2. Thus, A is made X

    You are right that we share #1. The disagreement is about the implication of our competing views of #2. We acknowledge that Reformed theology adds on a notion of sanctification, repentance, etc. It’s obviously in the theology. However, what we are wondering is how exactly it can make sense–not just something added on unnaturally–in relationship to the Reformed view of Justification. If the good works are works won by Christ, the fruit of Christ’s merits, why cannot he crown them with everlasting glory if they be found in me? That is all we (Catholics) are saying. They are our possession not as something a part from Christ, but in lieu of our union to Him. But it is for good works that we have been created (Eph 2:10), and as St. Paul says, “despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? but after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up for thyself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his works: to them that by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and incorruption, eternal life”.

    Regards,

    Brent

  119. Andrew, (#115)

    Have you read Origen’s commentary on Romans? How about something from Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas? Even a passing familiarity (like mine) with the earlier work will present a significant challenge to your assumption that medieval Catholicism’s soteriology deviated from the early Church. Quite simply, there was nothing for the Reformers to “recover,” because the Church had always taught a synergistic view.

  120. Joshua L.

    There are some Protestant’s (I am one) who would contend that the theologic issues were NOT the heart of the reformation. The heart of the reformation was the rejection of the corruption of the current clergy of the time. It was personal moral corruption that drove the reformation. The theologic novelties that arose were clumsy attempts to justify what was done.

  121. Andrew M.,

    You wrote, in response to Bryan’s comment #111:

    I don’t know where you are getting the idea that we think that God is “pleased” with our sins.

    Bryan’s comment does not even remotely imply that on the Reformed view God is pleased with our sins. It almost looks as though you are deliberately misconstruing what he wrote, especially since you supply ellipses, instead of quoting the rest of the sentence. Here it is, in full:

    That’s why claiming that God is “grieved” when the believer sins is to attribute schizophrenia to God, since it claims that God is simultaneously grieved by the believer’s sins, and as pleased as punch with the believer, on account of Christ’s righteousness having been imputed to him.

    Despite appearances, I don’t believe that you are deliberately twisting Bryan’s words to suit your own purposes. But it bears pointing out that you are misunderstanding what he wrote.

  122. Jeremiah,

    You as an individual are free to believe what you want about why the Reformation should have occurred, but historically speaking Luther was quite clear that the corruption in the Catholic Church was not the heart of the matter (whether this is so from a sociological perspective, however, is another issue). The Reformation, according to the Reformers was about doctrine, foremost, rather than corruption (which they saw as simply a manifestation of the deeper theological issues).

    If the issue really was corruption, as you say, then the Reformation was very unsuccessful given the rampant corruption in Protestant (especially Anabaptist) churches not long after the Reformation began. And if the issue is corruption, the Catholic Church did, in fact, address those particular points at the Council of Trent, issuing some of its own reforms and so, on that score, there is little reason to continue to refuse to join oneself to her.

  123. Dear Jeremiah (re #120):

    I have also heard this from Protestant friends.

    What I have asked them in response is to consider what God did during times of corruption in Jewish history, say during the time of Judges:

    In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

    He called Samuel. And what did he say to Samuel – “separate from Israel and form your own new religion”? No, he told Samuel to reform Israel without forming a schism.

    Had Martin Luther done this, the corruption in the Church could have been cleaned up without destroying the visible unity of Christianity. It was not necessary to separate and it was a tragedy for Christianity that he did.

    May we all heed the prayer of John 17 and work to reunite as the one true Church.

    Pax Christi,
    Frank

  124. Josh,

    The moral corruption was the beginning point and drove the bus. The theologic issues were brought in, in an effort to add weight and teeth to the complaint. Martin Luther was not sitting around meditating and suddenly decide he had a problem with Catholic doctrine. If you read the 95 thesis (as I’m sure you have) they point primarily to moral corruption. As the conflict widened, they began to more deeply assess the broader theologic picture. In my opinion this is where they went off the rails. As for the Anabaptists, they appear mainly to be opportunists in the conflict and were roundly disliked by all sides. Whatever the case there, the political forces of the time were such that once the conflict hit a certain point there was not going to be a turning back even if moral reform happened.

    Frank,

    That is one example. Another example is Rehoboam and Jeroboam and the splitting of the nation into two splinters…..I wonder what your take would be regarding who was split from who there? A third example is the exile. I happen to know that there are some schools of thought within the Catholic Church who view the reformation as GOD’s judgement on the Catholic Church for failing to reform of her own accord. And for all you might say about Trent, it did not constitute reform. It may have constituted the planting of the seed of reform, but individuals don’t change in a night and organizations as large as the Church don’t change in a day, a week, or even a decade. It generally takes as long to walk out of the woods as it does to walk into them. If it took a thousand years to dig the hole, it may not take another thousand to fill it back in, but it probably will take more than a hundred. Obviously, with intentionality, the process can be accelerated.

    And honestly, this is where I see the most hope for unity. As the Church continues to work to have leadership who are genuinely holy people, the gravity of holiness is going to pull in more and more. I agree with heeding the prayer of John 17 just as I hold fast to II cor 11:2

  125. Bryan’s comment does not even remotely imply that on the Reformed view God is pleased with our sins. How could you possibly infer that it does?

    Andrew P,

    You are absolutely correct here and I withdraw this comment. I was commenting on Bryan’s statement ….claiming that God is “grieved” when the believer sins is to attribute schizophrenia to God, since it claims that God is simultaneously grieved by the believer’s sins, and as pleased as punch with the believer, on account of Christ’s righteousness having been imputed to him..

    What I was trying to say is that I disagreed that the Reformed are saying that God is pleased with the believer when he sins. I wanted to point out that God can be displeased with us while still forgiving us. But sorry for this misstatement.

    Joshua,
    With regard to the Magisterial Reformers, historically speaking, I’m not convinced that their respective understandings of other doctrines, especially sanctification, can be conceived of apart from their understanding of justification sola fide. They were trying to be biblical, yes, but they were also trying to be coherent. Did the Reformers only teach justification? Of course not. But that’s where they fundamentally diverged from the Church, and that’s why if justification sola fide is wrong, then there’s very little the Reformation actually has to offer.

    Joshua – I agree with what you write here. As we look at the Reformation as a historical movement we cannot think about it apart from sola scriptura. But does that mean we have to tie everything back to this doctrine? On the issue or works, yes there is an important discussion concerning their relationship to justification in Catholic and Protestant understandings, but that does not mean we always have to tie the Reformed understanding of works to justification. I’m attempting to propose that in the Reformed understanding of these matters there is a distinct meaning and purpose of works and holiness that is central to our purpose here on earth even if these works do not help to obtain our justification. In the way that some Catholics come about this, if works have nothing to do with our justification than there is a loss of meaning to our works. I am convinced that even within a sola fide understanding of justification works have great meaning and value.

    Brent( re:118),
    The question, Andrew, is whether or not in justifying us he makes us righteous or only declares us righteous (extra nos).

    I do believe that God makes us righteous when he saves us. This ties back to my comment somewhere earlier in this thread above that regeneration logically proceeds justification. God does not justify unregenerate people. So the question between is whether the works that flow out of this regeneration become part of what God uses as the basis of our justification or whether our justification is obtained apart from such works.

    Even a passing familiarity (like mine) with the earlier work will present a significant challenge to your assumption that medieval Catholicism’s soteriology deviated from the early Church. Quite simply, there was nothing for the Reformers to “recover,” because the Church had always taught a synergistic view.

    Jason (re: 119),

    There are all sorts of theologies of justification in early centuries of the Church and at the point of the Reformation there is a staggering diversity of opinions on justification without there being any clear dogmatic consensus. The comment I made which I think you referring to just underscores this fact. So I don’t see that there was anything for the Medieval Church to deviate from.

    Trent dogmatizes one strand of thinking within the Medieval Church partially in response to the Protestant creedal statements on justification. But before Trent there was nothing for over a millennium for theologians to refer to and what was available (the pronouncements from Carthage) did not say much that could help.

  126. Jeremiah (re:116)

    On 1 Thess 2:13, off the top of my head I would comment that we are saved by the sanctifying work of the Spirit in that it is the Spirit who convicts us and His work is sanctifying. But I think you are suggesting that it could be possible that the works that flow out of this sanctifying work are part of the basis of for our justification? Not sure if this is what you mean but if so I would say that I cannot see this. It’s admittedly not immediately obvious why we are told that the Spirit’s work here is sanctifying, but it also not obvious that we are being told that works tied into this sanctification have something to do with our justification.

  127. Bryan- Thanks for your explanation of the self-love/charity thing. I still have some questions/issues but hopefully I’ll be able to get back to you on that at a later date.

    What follows here is a long-winded, repetitive, stream of disjointed consciousness in response to some of your comments here and elsewhere on the topic of imputation. But if you can bear with me here I think that the point I’m trying to get at might be a valid one.

    As you noted, Reformed theology maintains that God forgives us all our sins (past, present and future) and declares us to be eternally righteous on account of the person and work of Christ. So we are both innocent and righteous.

    Your illustration of “peeking” seems to assume that God suffers from some form of memory defect: Is it impossible for God to “peek” around the cross, while at the same remembering the fact that he has already that forgiven us (past, present, and future) and declared us righteous in Christ? Is God incapable of simultaneously 1) seeing the reality of our present sin and 2) remembering that we are no longer culpable for that he has forgiven us sin and that He already declared us to be legally righteous on account of the person and work of Christ?

    In ontological terms, the basic question is this: Is God incapable of establishing a legal reality that overrides/supersedes an actual reality, to which said legal reality is contradictory?

    The answer is perhaps best given by example; so lets take adoption: If I adopt a baby boy he becomes legally my son without actually being my son at all. The legal reality of his sonship supersedes/overrides the actual reality of non-sonship, to which it is logically contradictory. The authorities are aware of the fact that he is not in actuality not my son but they sovereignly choose to recognize the legal reality over against the actual reality.

    As I’ll discuss below, its a little more complicated than that with God; but even so the principle still holds.

    For example, what about forgiveness of past sins (a notion which the Catholic Church also affirms)? When God forgives us of our past sins is he undoing our past such that our past sin never really happened? Of course not [as if past sin it incurs were "ball or a rock" or a some kind of a physical substance or metaphysical essence that could be literally or ontologically annihilated, erased, or "effaced" (CCC 978)]. Rather, God is undoing/canceling/nullifying the legal reality of the culpability that our sin inccurred before Him and establishing a new legal reality of our innocence before him. We are not forgiven because God annihilates, forgets, or “deceives himself” about the actual reality of past sin, but because (in Christ) God sovereignly chooses to no longer hold us accountable (culpable) for the sin that we clearly did commit. So, even for the Catholic, God can be aware the actual reality of past sin (that could be said to “grieve” Him) while simultaneously (on account of the Christ’s atonement/satisfaction) not attribute the legal reality of culpability for that past sin to us. If we argue that such a justification based on a imputed righteousness is a “legal fiction”, we must necessarily say the same of forgiveness/satisfaction via atonement.

    That said, unlike earthly authorities that can arbitrarily establish legal realities that have no basis in actual reality, God is constrained by his own character. The legal realities that God establishes must be in conformity to the actual reality of His own perfect character. For God to ARBITRARILY forgive all (or any) of our past, present, and future sins and/or to ARBITRARILY impute righteousness to us while we are actually sinful and lacking in actual righteousness would be an injustice; a violation of His own holy character.

    Thankfully, however, God does NOT forgive sin nor impute righteousness to us arbitrarily. Forgiveness and imputation of righteousness are legal (representative, attributive) realities that are grounded in actual realities: forgiveness of sin is grounded in the actual reality of the “atonement”/”satisfation” (Romans 3:25) Christ made on our behalf; God’s declaration that we are righteous is grounded in the actual reality of Christ’s perfect “obedience” (righteousness), which was also our behalf (Romans 5:19). These actual realities (Christ’s “atonement” for our sin and his “obedience” on our behalf) supersede/override (supererogate?) the actual realities of our sinfulness and our lack of positive righteousness. As such, the legal realities (forgiveness of sin/innocence and imputed righteousness/positive merit) that flow to us (by faith) from Christ’s “atonement” and “obedience” nullify/cancel the legal realites (culpability and lack of positive merit) resultant from the actual realities of sinfulness and our lack of positive righteousness.

    Ultimately, the actual reality of God’s own loving character – the reality that God is in his very essence love – is the ground of both pervasive forgiveness and imputed righteousness. Because God loves his people he has determined to save them rather than to damn them as His own perfect holiness (and our sin) would have required.

    So at this point (assuming you understand any of what I have been trying to say, which is probably less than easy) you might be wondering something like this: “But how can the legal benefits of Christ’s “atonement” and “obedience” flow to us with becoming our actual “ontological” realities? As you put it in comment #83 of the post “Habitual Sin and the Grace of the Sacraments”:

    “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.”

    If everything you are saying here is true, then it would indeed make imputation logically implausible. But it would also make forgiveness of past sins logically implausible: if 1) “culpability…belongs to the [sinful] acts” of a person and 2) that person cannot “exist separately” from those sinful acts, then the culpability for those acts will also “always remain” with that person (i.e. forgiveness cannot be granted) because it is impossible for that person to undo those sinful acts. Nor can any of Christ’s actions serve to bring about the person’s forgiveness because Christ’s actions and legal innocence are “His own” and thus cannot undo the person’s sinful actions, nor the culpability resultant from those actions. Regardless of how much or how well a person “participates ontologically Christ’s life” the culpability due to past sins will always remain on the person because neither his actions nor Christ’s actions are capable of undoing that culpability.

    In order for God to forgive past sins there must be a way for us to “exist separately” from the legal reality of the guilt incurred by these past sins; our culpability must be nullified/canceled. Because it is impossible to undo the actual reality that we have sinned, in order for God to nullify/cancel our culpability before Him he must: 1) establish an actual reality that supersedes/overrides the actual reality of our past sins [this is precisely the function of the satisfaction that Christ made in the atonement (in both the Catholic and Reformed conceptions of it)] and 2) establish a means by which we can identify ourselves with (connect ourselves to) this superseding/overriding actual reality so that its legal benefits, can be applied to us even as the actual reality itself is not our own for the Catholic this means is the Sacraments (Baptism & Penance); for the Reformed it is “to be received by faith” in Christ (Romans 3:25)). So in order for God to forgive our past sins there must be some sort of a legal transaction or “swapping” must take place. Without it, we never were and never will be actually deserving of the forgiveness we have received (another notion that the Catholic Church seems to affirm CCC 2010).

    You might also be wondering: What does it mean for one actual reality to “supercede/override” another (or for one legal reality to supercede/override another)? How does that work? My head hurts already and I’m sure I’ve confused you enough already so I will outsource this question to you, since you seem to believe something along the same lines: “Christ made atonement for the sins of all men by offering to God a sacrifice of love that was more pleasing to the Father than the combined sins of all men of all time are displeasing to Him. Hence through the cross Christ merited grace for the salvation of all men.” (see your post on “Catholic and Reformed Conceptions of the Atonement”).

    You might also be wondering how does all this escape the problem of God “lying to/deceiving” Himself. But again, I will outsource this question to you: Is God “lying to/deceiving” when He forgives your past sins “fully and completely” (CCC 978) and while simultaneously being aware of the fact that you did in fact commit the sins he has forgiven you of? If imputation of righteousness forces God to “lie to/deceive” Himself then so does forgiveness of past sin. Perhaps grace (i.e., unmerited favor) is a better word for it rather than lying or self-deception.

    Toward something of a conclusion…As a Catholic, obviously you do not believe the reformed doctrines of pervasive forgiveness and imputed righteousness are true, but to suggest that, it is in and of itselt, logically implausible might be something of an overstatement. My question(s) for you would be this (in addition to the 3 that I raised with Jason in comment #82 in the paragraph that starts out with “You say that the reformers…”): If imputation is not true, then what is the Paul talking about when he tells that God “declares the ungodly righteous” (Romans 4:5)? What us that we are both “perfect” and “being made Holy” (Hebrews 10:14)? In what sense is the church commanded to be “a new lump” if they already “really are unleavened” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8)? Why should we “hold true” to something we have already “attained” (Philippians 3:9) if that something is not in and of itself completely perfect and perfectly complete? [Even though these questions express my beliefs, I do mean them as questions, which I am open to hearing an answer for. While am attempting to make a case, I am not merely engaging in rhetorical point-scoring.]

    Personally, I praise God that – while they are not the final realities (and praise God for that to!) – the legal realities that He creates are indeed true realities. I am eternally grateful that even as “God does what God declares”, He also “credits” what his Son has done to those who cannot do it for themselves. “My hope is built on nothing less”.
    Just to be clear, I do not offer these comments as “pronouncements”, but rather as disclosure of my beliefs intended to foster dialogue and mutual enlightenment. As Jason pointed out, there is absolutely nothing “magesterial” – in any sense of the word – about what I have written in any of my comments here.

  128. Jeremiah,

    Martin Luther himself said that he was still a blind follower of the pope when he wrote the 95 theses. Even in Luther’s mind, the Reformation occurred through his discovery of justification by faith alone while explicating Romans. Your overly broad narrative may hold some ground with protestants who are vaguely familiar with the Reformation, but it does not reflect the self-understanding of the Reformers. As for the Anabaptists, even if they were disliked by both sides, the question is whether they were not simply continuing a trajectory set up by Luther.

    Finally, if there was a certain point at which Reformers were unwilling to turn back “even if moral reformed happened,” doesn’t that indicate either a) undue obstinacy and therefore a schismatic spirit or b) that the Reformation was not primarily about moral corruption? Either way, you’re at a loss.

    What I’d like to know is what historical sources you’re basing your account on.

  129. Andrew (re: #125):

    You wrote: “On the issue or works, yes there is an important discussion concerning their relationship to justification in Catholic and Protestant understandings, but that does not mean we always have to tie the Reformed understanding of works to justification.”

    I don’t think any Magisterial Reformer or any Reformed Scholastic would actually agree with this statement. And if you do have evidence, I’m more than willing to be corrected.

    With regard to the rest of you response, however, I understand what you’re saying. And, at least in the Continental Reformed tradition, what you’re speaking of fits into the category of gratitude (in the guilt-grace-gratitude scheme). One’s works are important because they are a sign of gratitude in response to God’s freely wrought gift of justification by faith alone.

    I think the point that Bryan and others are raising is that even from such a perspective of gratitude, the sinner’s works can never change God’s disposition towards him (either for better or for worse)–one is only regarded by God through the imputed righteousness of Christ’s active obedience. The Reformers undoubtedly sought to emphasize that they were not antinomians and that they regarded obedience and sanctity to be of utter importance; the question is whether they actually had a place for this within their theology without contradicting something they said elsewhere (more specifically, their doctrine of justification sola fide). I think the fact that you want to understand certain Reformed doctrines while somehow bracketing justification by faith alone serves to confirm this fact.

  130. Andrew McC,

    Trent dogmatizes one strand of thinking [about justification] within the Medieval Church ….

    If I were a Catholic, I would say, “Yes, and Nicaea dogmatized one strand of thinking about the Godhead in the early church, and thereby excluded other erstwhile non-heretical options.”

    In other words, their whole point is that flexibility is fine until it isn’t anymore, so pointing to the available options in a pre-conciliar context doesn’t prove anything. So I think for your point to have its full force, you have to first show that ecumenical councils don’t in fact do what the Catholics claim they do.

  131. Jeremiah, re#124:

    You wrote:

    That is one example. Another example is Rehoboam and Jeroboam and the splitting of the nation into two splinters…..I wonder what your take would be regarding who was split from who there?

    I would say Jereboam was the schismatic in this instance because Rehoboam was maintained in the line that descended from David, which, of course, led to Christ and his Church. Jereboam set up a false religion when he put the golden calves in Dan and Beersheba and said, “”Here are your gods, Israel!”

    Pax Christi,
    Frank

  132. Josh (#128),

    You just proved my point. My commentary here is not intended to justify Luther or any of the rest of them but to point out that the true answer to the question Bryan has posed “when will Protestants know to return” has more to do with holiness than it does with Dogma. I do agree that they had a schismatic spirit and were morally deficient themselves. The reformation was judgement from GOD and there weren’t (on the human side) any “good guys” involved. You had a Pope with a pet white elephant he loved so much he eulogized and a monk who was full of bitterness and vileness. And on the sidelines a bunch of petty princes who used the opportunity to pursue their own small minded ambitions.

    Frank,

    I agree, but it was still GOD’s doing and judgement in taking the 10 tribes from Rehoboam.

  133. Jeremiah,

    So what church are you a part of that has fulfilled your understanding of the requisite holiness that must precede unity? And how are you not a schismatic?

  134. Frank & Jeremiah,

    Just a couple notes on the OT divided kingdom.

    1.) God often executes judgement by allowing an evil to occur which flows from the free choices of sinful men. There is a crucial difference between asserting that God positively wills (antecedently) some set of affairs, versus tolerating some set of affairs which take into account man’s free choices (God’s consequent will). This distinction is important, for without it, one might be tempted to think that some set of affairs (say a divided OT kindgom or divided Church flowing from the disordered activity of free agents) need not be repaired (after all, if some set of affairs is just “God’s will” without the distinction I mentioned, who are we to say that things ought to be different)? But we know from Christ himself that neither the OT divided kindgom (see His commments to the Samaritan woman who asks about whether it is proper to worship in Jerusalem or where she worships – a situation which flows directly from the OT divide), and then Christ’s explicit prayer that His Church may be one in John 17. From both of these passages, it can be shown that Christ positively (antecedently) willed (wills) neither the OT split nor the dividing of “New Israel”. But given God’s providence over human affairs (including affairs flowing from human free agency) it remains true that God has allowed both states of affairs as a matter of His consequent will (which does not transgress man’s freedom). The overall point, then, is that knowing some state of affairs is disordered according to God’s antecedent will, it is incumbant on us to do what we can to overcome the disorder(s). I hope this point is non-controversial.

    2. Jesus’ response to the Samaritan women to the effect that the Jews worship what they know and the Samaritans what they do not know, combined with the fact that Jesus himself adheres to all the ritual worship of the Jews in Jerusalem (and NOT in Samaria) indicates that, even though the divided kingdom had resulted in a religious split; nevertheless, it was objectively the Northern kingdom which was in religious schism from the Southern kingdom. Correct me if I am worng, but I believe it is one of the primary themes of the OT prophets between the time of the OT kingdom divide and the actual deportation of the Northern kingdom not just that the two religious centers of worship (Northern kingdom at Dan and Southern in Jerusalem) should work out their differences and meet half-way, but, rather, that the Northern worship was illicit in the eyes of God and that the Northern religious outpost should be disbanded with a return to rightful worship in Jerusalem. Here is a summary of the situation taken from the “Agape Catholic Bible Study”:

    Question: Both Rehoboam and Jeroboam were concerned with what was good for themselves, not what was good for their people or what Yahweh wanted for His people. Rehoboam was harsh and did not listen to what the people requested, but what were Jeroboam’s failings and how does he lead the Northern Kingdom into sin? See 12:26-33.

    Answer: This is more than a political schism, it is also a schism in Church of the Covenant people.

    •According to the Law of Moses all Jewish men were required to travel to the Temple three times each year for the Pilgrim Feasts of Unleavened Bread, Feast of Weeks and Feast of Tabernacles [see Deuteronomy 16:16]. But Jeroboam could not consolidate power in the North if his people remained loyal to the Temple in the Southern Kingdom. Jeroboam set up his own worship centers and told his people they must no longer travel to Jerusalem. 1 Samuel 12:28

    •Jeroboam reintroduced the worship of the Egyptian Apis Bull, infamous the “golden calf” of the Mt. Sinai experience. Calves were used as idols to symbolize fertility and strength. Both the Egyptians and the Canaanites worshiped a bull god. Jeroboam shrewdly placed the golden calves at Bethel and Dan, strategic locations. Bethel was only 10 miles north of Jerusalem on the main road and Dan was the northernmost city in the Northern Kingdom.

    He drove out the members of the ministerial priesthood [Priests and Levites] who were loyal to the Temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem and established his own priesthood. Yahweh had forbidden anyone to be a priest who was not from the tribe of Levi [see Numbers 3:10]. Yahweh’s priests were free of political control because they were assured of lifetime support from the priestly tithe. Jeroboam’s new priests were financed by the king and his national fees which made them susceptible to corrupted by bribes.

    Jeroboam is warned against this fall into apostasy by Yahweh prophet in 1 Kings 13:1-6, but Jeroboam continues in his apostasy and establishes a false shrine at Bethel and inaugurates the shrine during the Pilgrim Feast of Tabernacles [the same feast when the Temple in Jerusalem had been dedicated]. Yahweh’s prophet prophesies the rule of good king Josiah of the House of David who will bring judgment on Israel’s false priesthood and then withers the kings arm as a “sign”. However, “Jeroboam did not give up his wicked ways after this incident, but went on appointing priests for the high places from the common people. He consecrated as priests of the high places any who wished to be. Such conduct made the House of Jeroboam a sinful House, and caused its ruin and extinction from the face of the earth.” 1 Kings 13:33, 34

    Jeroboam’s substitute religion removed Israel from God’s holy covenant by creating another cult, worshiping according to “their own understanding” and influenced by the popular trends of the day. Over time little remained of the true faith as articulated in the Covenant at Sinai. [bold emphasis mine]

    Just some items to consider when comparing the split in old Israel with the division of new Israel.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  135. Josh,

    I’ll give you a better answer when I get a little more time.

    Ray,

    The political schism was directly GOD’s doing, in your language, HIS “positive will” i.e. I Kings 11:34-39. In the message GOD gives Adonijah He very redundantly states “I will” over and over again. The spiritual schism, however, was exactly as you said man’s doing and GOD’s consequent will.

    I can’t recall political unity ever being a message in the OT prophets, but next cycle through I’ll look for that. In the case of spiritual unity, however, there was a constant calling back to that.

    And I do agree that just because GOD executed judgement does not mean He wants the state of judgement to continue. That theme is fairly clear also, the call for GOD’s people to repent so He can remove the judgement. In the case of the present schism we are all in that place exactly.

  136. Dear Ray, re: #134

    You wrote:

    the fact that Jesus himself adheres to all the ritual worship of the Jews in Jerusalem (and NOT in Samaria) indicates that, even though the divided kingdom had resulted in a religious split; nevertheless, it was objectively the Northern kingdom which was in religious schism from the Southern kingdom.

    I couldn’t agree more, my response to Jeremiah was a condensed version of your fuller explication above.

    Pax Christi,
    Frank

  137. Josh (#133),

    You asked,

    So what church are you a part of that has fulfilled your understanding of the requisite holiness that must precede unity? And how are you not a schismatic?

    I’ll answer the first question first. I joined the Church to which I belong about 33 years ago when my parents joined the Church. My parents joined the Church at that time because my dad had been a preacher in a small Church of Christ Church in the mountains of east Tennessee. When dad would go pray, GOD began to speak to him about the need to be trained. The question GOD asked dad was “If a medical doctor needs four years of interning after his degree before he practices on human bodies, why should there be a less stringent requirement to work on the soul?” Accoordingly my dad began to pray about who could train him. He decided to resign the pastorate and come learn from my grandad who was pastoring the Church to which I currently belong. He spent six years working full time (40 hrs/wk) construction and full time (40 hrs/wk) in the Church. After six years of this he came on staff full time. After a few years a Church in south west Kentucky needed a pastor and asked my grandad to come. He left and my dad assumed responsibility for the Church here. I have worked with my dad in the Church for the last fifteen years or so. I am not an ordained minister and I don’t get paid a dime to do it. I am a structural engineer by trade.

    In all that discussion about sola scriptura and ecclesial consumerism I side completely with you Catholics. I have the same position as you guys in regards to trusting someone else beside myself with how I should interpret scripture. I also agree with you about the necessity of stayng where I am whether the “show” is good or bad. The object of my submission, however, is different. It is a small, elder governed, non-denominational protestant congregation. I know the idea of submitting myself, unquestioningly, to such a thing literally scares the hell out of some of you guys, but that’s my life. I didn’t pick it, but I am doing the best I can to live a life that is held before the Lord in all I do. I didn’t get to pick my physical family and I didn’t get to pick my spiritual family either.

    As to your second question…I know we are schismatic and probably more montanist than I would care to admit. Fifteen or twenty years ago my dad looked into the EO. He has strong leanings towards them, particularly in regards to their ideas on “the mind of the Church”. We have taught for many years on the real presence in the Eucharist and the communion of saints. Two of my dad’s spiritual sons grew up and became catholic, one EO and one RC. I feel a strong pull. But I am committed to where I am and If I go it will be with all of us together. The fact of the matter is that Christ is going to come back for a Bride without spot or blemish. That means we either have to convert a billion Catholics to Non-denominationalism….or we have consider other options.

    Anyhow, I like the discussions here, reading and talking theology is one of my favorite things and there aren’t very many who talk deeper than I do. It is kind of fun to be the novice and I’ve learned tons. I have no idea if I will ever convert although I kinda hope I get to some time before I die. In the meantime I keep disseminating Catholic doctrine and pointing out that what we Protestants believe really isn’t too different from what you guys believe.

  138. Joshua (re: 129),

    And, at least in the Continental Reformed tradition, what you’re speaking of fits into the category of gratitude (in the guilt-grace-gratitude scheme). One’s works are important because they are a sign of gratitude in response to God’s freely wrought gift of justification by faith alone.

    Yes, gratitude to God plays an important part of the motivation for good works, but I would say it’s broader than this. We work because we are created in the image of God and we are His creatures. Like Adam and Eve, working for God is part and parcel of being made in the image of God. After the Fall, being restored to God and living in His Kingdom means that we must be working for Him. And I would add that the understanding of the biblical concept of being justified freely by God’s graces frees us to work because we wish to glorify God. If we are justified freely by God’s grace we are no longer in fear that we have not worked enough to bring us back into favor with God. We have been restored to God’s grace and our works are aimed at glorifying God in His kingdom as Adam and Eve did. This is why I say that not everything in the Reformed systems ought to be thought of as tied back to justification. I understand that there is a temptation from the Catholic side to do this since justification sola fide was indeed the material cause the of the Reformation. But Reformed theology should not not be seen just as the product of specific theological debates of the Reformers with the Roman Church.

  139. Jeremiah,

    I truly enjoyed reading what you just wrote. Be assured of prayers for you as you navigate the path the Lord is leading you on. Your words reminded me of one former Lutheran scholar who said to a seminarian many years before he converted, “I do not know where I will wind up, but this much I know, I will not die a Lutheran.”

  140. If I were a Catholic, I would say, “Yes, and Nicaea dogmatized one strand of thinking about the Godhead in the early church, and thereby excluded other erstwhile non-heretical options.”

    I think I would agree with the Catholic who would say this. There were competing theological systems and Nicea dogmatized one of them. For the issue of justification in the later Medieval and early Reformation eras there were also a number of competing systems. As I’m sure you have heard many times before, the Catholic assumption is sometimes that there was general consensus throughout the Medieval Church on justification and the Reformers invented something entirely novel. So my comments about “strands of thinking” are in response to this assumption. My reply is that this is not historically accurate and at the end of the Medieval era there are a staggering array of theologies of justification within the Medieval RCC from a de facto Semi-Pelagianism on one side to something very close to early Reformation thought on the other. The Reformed confessions take one of the strands of thought that was particularly prominent in the Augustinian orders and the universities like Oxford and Paris while Trent responded with something quite different. So the debate over justification between the Reformers and Trent was just an extension of a debate that had been occurring in the late Medieval Church between competing schools of thought.

    And you are right that we have to look at what role the councils played in the Early Church and whether it was the same sort of role that they played in Medieval councils and at Trent.

  141. Jeremiah,

    Thank you for your candid response.

    I certainly respect your commitment to where you have been placed and, along with you, I hope that you become Catholic some day as well (sooner rather than later!).

    I will say one thing: I notice that you speak quite a bit about God’s judgment on the Church (the Reformation being one of these judgments). While I’m in no place to assume to know God’s purpose in everything (cf. Job), if you are indeed correct about God’s purposes in the Reformation, how do you know that not joining the Catholic Church is a proper response to such judgment? In other words, can you really justify your continued separation from the Church based upon the fact that God has allegedly judged the Church? Is it not possible that you are actually contributing to the cause of judgment?

  142. Andrew M,

    You wrote: “So the debate over justification between the Reformers and Trent was just an extension of a debate that had been occurring in the late Medieval Church between competing schools of thought.”

    Suppose I transpose that back 1200 years: “So the debate over Christology between the Arians and Nicaea was just an extension of a debate that had been occurring in the late ancient Church between competing schools of thought.”

    Let this serve as an invitation for you to make good on what you say next: “And you are right that we have to look at what role the councils played in the Early Church and whether it was the same sort of role that they played in Medieval councils and at Trent.”

    best,
    TC

  143. Andrew (re: #138):

    You write: “I understand that there is a temptation from the Catholic side to do this since justification sola fide was indeed the material cause the of the Reformation. But Reformed theology should not not be seen just as the product of specific theological debates of the Reformers with the Roman Church.”

    The Reformers, not the Catholics, were primarily concerned to make clear that the primary cause of the Reformation was justification sola fide. You’re arguing against the Reformers at this point, not Catholics. In fact, what you’re espousing is closer to the Anabaptist understanding of the Reformation. They were certainly much more concerned about the formal principle of the Reformation and quite ready to abandon what the Magisterial Reformers actually taught about justification.

  144. Josh,

    That belief originated (as much as I can tell) from John Michael Talbot. I don’t know him, perhaps he got it somewhere else. It isn’t my justification to stay where I am. I’ve already told you why I am where I am.

  145. Jeremiah,

    Thank you for your heart-felt words. I will say, that you do have a family in the Catholic Church, if you so ever choose to come home. We are here and waiting.

    In the meantime I keep disseminating Catholic doctrine and pointing out that what we Protestants believe really isn’t too different from what you guys believe.

    Keep at it. You are right that there are many canards and misnomers that keep us separated. Break them. Its the pride that requires all of us to break which is not as easy. I do see “non-denominationalism” and other forms of Christianity as an authentic move of the Holy Spirit to bring Protestants home to the Church. It is a reverse-Reformation at a grand scale. It (1) breaks the Protestant away from the ecclesial structure that is necessarily anti-Rome, (2) allows them to agree with Catholic theology without fear of repercussion and (3) causes them to realize the depravity of ecclesiology without authority. And (3) is not some political realization, it is a practical and spiritual one grounded in the desire for unity and coherency. There are other reasons, but suffice to say that it is a new day when a Protestant can talk the way you did. Some Reformed might see it as theological chaos, but I think it is the Holy Spirit breaking one out of the categories of thought that keep one bound to resist Mother Church.

    Ave Maria! God works in mysterious ways…

    The fact of the matter is that Christ is going to come back for a Bride without spot or blemish. That means we either have to convert a billion Catholics to Non-denominationalism….or we have consider other options.

    Well said.

    God bless brother,

    Brent

  146. Peter G. (re: #127)

    I’m a little tied up right now, so I have replied only to what I think are the more important points in your comment. Let’s consider first a dialogue between Callicles the sophist, and Socrates, from Plato’s Gorgias. Callicles says to Socrates:

    And you must not be offended, my dear Socrates, for I am speaking out of good-will towards you, if I ask whether you are not ashamed of being thus defenceless; which I affirm to be the condition not of you only but of all those who will carry the study of philosophy too far. For suppose that some one were to take you, or any one of your sort, off to prison, declaring that you had done wrong when you had done no wrong, you must allow that you would not know what to do: — there you would stand giddy and gaping, and not having a word to say; and when you went up before the Court, even if the accuser were a poor creature and not good for much, you would die if he were disposed to claim the penalty of death. And yet, Socrates, what is the value of ‘An art which converts a man of sense into a fool,’ who is helpless, and has no power to save either himself or others, when he is in the greatest danger and is going to be despoiled by his enemies of all his goods, and has to live, simply deprived of his rights of citizenship?— he being a man who, if I may use the expression, may be boxed on the ears with impunity.

    Callicles is saying that because Socrates has not become a sophist (and thus has not mastered the ‘art’ of persuading persons regardless of the truth), he will be unable to defend himself in any court of law.

    Toward the end of the dialogue, Socrates responds to Callicles by distinguishing between the courts of law on this earth, and the Judgment to take place in the divine Court after death. First he says that according to the old tale, originally this Final Judgment would take place on the last day of a man’s life, while the man was still alive. Socrates says:

    and the consequence was that the judgments were not well given. Then Pluto and the authorities from the Islands of the Blessed came to Zeus, and said that the souls found their way to the wrong places. Zeus said: ‘I shall put a stop to this; the judgments are not well given, because the persons who are judged have their clothes on, for they are alive; and there are many who, having evil souls, are apparelled in fair bodies, or encased in wealth or rank, and, when the day of judgment arrives, numerous witnesses come forward and testify on their behalf that they have lived righteously. The judges are awed by them, and they themselves too have their clothes on when judging; their eyes and ears and their whole bodies are interposed as a veil before their own souls. All this is a hindrance to them; there are the clothes of the judges and the clothes of the judged.

    The idea here is that because the men were still clothed, and the judges were also embodied, the judges were deceived because they were looking at the clothes of the persons being judged, rather than at their souls. So Zeus decides:

    What is to be done? I will tell you: — In the first place, I will deprive men of the foreknowledge of death, which they possess at present: this power which they have Prometheus has already received my orders to take from them: in the second place, they shall be entirely stripped before they are judged, for they shall be judged when they are dead; and the judge too shall be naked, that is to say, dead — he with his naked soul shall pierce into the other naked souls; and they shall die suddenly and be deprived of all their kindred, and leave their brave attire strewn upon the earth — conducted in this manner, the judgment will be just. .. then the judgment respecting the last journey of men will be as just as possible.’

    In other words, let every bodily thing be stripped away, so that men are judged truly, according to the state of their soul, and not according to their clothing. In this way they will be judged according to what they actually are, and not according to mere appearances.

    Socrates then says:

    From this tale, Callicles, which I have heard and believe, I draw the following inferences: — Death, if I am right, is in the first place the separation from one another of two things, soul and body; nothing else. And after they are separated they retain their several natures, as in life; the body keeps the same habit, and the results of treatment or accident are distinctly visible in it: for example, he who by nature or training or both, was a tall man while he was alive, will remain as he was, after he is dead; and the fat man will remain fat; and so on; and the dead man, who in life had a fancy to have flowing hair, will have flowing hair. And if he was marked with the whip and had the prints of the scourge, or of wounds in him when he was alive, you might see the same in the dead body; and if his limbs were broken or misshapen when he was alive, the same appearance would be visible in the dead. And in a word, whatever was the habit of the body during life would be distinguishable after death, either perfectly, or in a great measure and for a certain time. And I should imagine that this is equally true of the soul, Callicles; when a man is stripped of the body, all the natural or acquired affections of the soul are laid open to view. — And when they come to the judge, as those from Asia come to Rhadamanthus, he places them near him and inspects them quite impartially, not knowing whose the soul is: perhaps he may lay hands on the soul of the great king, or of some other king or potentate, who has no soundness in him, but his soul is marked with the whip, and is full of the prints and scars of perjuries and crimes with which each action has stained him, and he is all crooked with falsehood and imposture, and has no straightness, because he has lived without truth. Him Rhadamanthus beholds, full of all deformity and disproportion, which is caused by licence and luxury and insolence and incontinence, and despatches him ignominiously to his prison, and there he undergoes the punishment which he deserves.

    Then Socrates forms his response to Callicle’s original charge against Socrates.

    And I retort your reproach of me, and say, that you will not be able to help yourself when the day of trial and judgment, of which I was speaking, comes upon you; you will go before the judge, the son of Aegina, and, when he has got you in his grip and is carrying you off, you will gape and your head will swim round, just as mine would in the courts of this world, and very likely some one will shamefully box you on the ears, and put upon you any sort of insult.

    Socrates’ reply to Callicles is to concede that he [Socrates] will be unable to defend himself in a human court. But, if he is charged with a crime he did not commit, then he will be suffering an injustice, and it is better to suffer an injustice than to do an injustice. Moreover, even if through the ‘art’ of sophistry Callicles, though unjust, is able to persuade any human court of his [Callicles'] innocence, nevertheless, in the Judgment that is to come in the afterlife, Callicles will be speechless and incapable through his sophistry of persuading the Judge of his innocence, precisely because the Judge will see into the very heart of his soul, seeing him in truth according to the light of Truth concerning his soul.

    This dialogue illustrates something very important. In a human court there can be a distinction between what is declared (e.g. “I declare him innocent”) and what is true of the defendant (i.e. he is guilty of the crime). He can be declared innocent, and yet truly be guilty. Or, he can be declared guilty, but truly be innocent. This opposition between what is declared, and the actual truth concerning the defendant, is made possible only by the lack of omniscience on the part of the merely human judge. The mistake made by Reformed theology is to anthropomorphize God, by making Him out to be like the human judge in this very respect: able to give a legal verdict that differs from the actual truth about the defendant. But in fact because God is omniscient and Truth, He is incapable of giving any other verdict than the truth about the person.

    So, regarding your adoption example, there is a difference between a biological child, and an adopted child. From the point of view of civil law, there is no difference between the adopted child and one’s biological child. But in fact, there is a difference. The adopted child is not one’s own biological child. You wrote:

    If I adopt a baby boy he becomes legally my son without actually being my son at all. The legal reality of his sonship supersedes/overrides the actual reality of non-sonship, to which it is logically contradictory.

    There is no logical contradiction between being a son under civil law, and not being a biological son. There is a contradiction between being declared just by He who is Truth and who cannot lie, and simultaneously being full of injustice. Acquiring a legal relationship of ‘father’ to the adopted child is not the same thing as acquiring the biological relation of father to the child. Only by conflating (i.e. failing to recognize) those two senses of ‘father’ would it follow that adoption is “logically contradictory” to the actual reality, or that the legal reality “supersedes/overrides” the actual reality. Once you recognize that distinction, however, then you see that adoption does not supercede or override actual reality; instead, adoption creates a legal relation within actual reality, a legal relation which is fully compatible with the biological truth within actual reality. But being declared just by He who cannot lie is contradictory to being in actuality unjust.

    You wrote:

    Is it impossible for God to “peek” around the cross, while at the same remembering the fact that he has already that forgiven us (past, present, and future) and declared us righteous in Christ?

    Unlike fallible man, God cannot declare us to be what we are not, because God cannot be deceived, nor can God lie. God can only declare us righteous if it is true that we are righteous.

    You wrote:

    Is God incapable of simultaneously 1) seeing the reality of our present sin and 2) remembering that we are no longer culpable for that he has forgiven us sin and that He already declared us to be legally righteous on account of the person and work of Christ?

    God cannot see present mortal sin in a person, and simultaneously declare that person righteous. (If a person has venial sin, but is in a state of grace, then he is still righteous – see “Why John Calvin did not recognize the distinction between mortal and venial sin.”) There is no contradiction between seeing a person who is presently righteous and seeing that person as previously unrighteous. But there is a contradiction between seeing a person presently in mortal sin, and declaring that person presently righteous.

    You wrote:

    In ontological terms, the basic question is this: Is God incapable of establishing a legal reality that overrides/supersedes an actual reality, to which said legal reality is contradictory?

    In the early middle ages, there arose a notion termed “double-truth” theory, according to which a truth of faith could be contradictory to a truth of reason, and they were nevertheless both truth. Similarly, the notion that God is capable of establishing a “legal reality” that overrides “actual reality” is essentially a return to the double truth theory. (See R.C. Sproul’s condemnation of double-truth theory here.) But double-truth is a kind of Manicheanism of Marcionism, insofar as it denies that truth is one, and therefore denies that God is one or that God is Truth.

    You wrote:

    Rather, God is undoing/canceling/nullifying the legal reality of the culpability that our sin inccurred before Him and establishing a new legal reality of our innocence before him. We are not forgiven because God annihilates, forgets, or “deceives himself” about the actual reality of past sin, but because (in Christ) God sovereignly chooses to no longer hold us accountable (culpable) for the sin that we clearly did commit.

    God cancels sins through the satisfaction made by Christ, and through the infusion of sanctifying grace and agape merited for us by Christ. If the person remained in mortal sin, his sins could not be cancelled, because in his present state he would still be incurring that debt of eternal punishment (see here). Hence repentance (turning away from sin, and toward God) is essential for forgiveness of sin.

    You wrote:

    So, even for the Catholic, God can be aware the actual reality of past sin (that could be said to “grieve” Him) while simultaneously (on account of the Christ’s atonement/satisfaction) not attribute the legal reality of culpability for that past sin to us. If we argue that such a justification based on a imputed righteousness is a “legal fiction”, we must necessarily say the same of forgiveness/satisfaction via atonement.

    That conclusion does not follow, because there is a relevant difference between the legal fiction of extra nos imputed righteousness, and God’s awareness of past forgiven sins. In the case of extra nos imputed righteousness, the believer is presently truly unrighteous while God who does not lie is saying that the person is presently righteous. Those two are contraries; they cannot both be true. But God’s awareness of a believer’s past sins is not contrary to God’s forgiveness of those sins.

    You wrote:

    But it would also make forgiveness of past sins logically implausible: if 1) “culpability…belongs to the [sinful] acts” of a person and 2) that person cannot “exist separately” from those sinful acts, then the culpability for those acts will also “always remain” with that person (i.e. forgiveness cannot be granted) because it is impossible for that person to undo those sinful acts.

    I don’t know what “logically implausible” means, but because sin is against God, God can forgive sins, i.e. mercifully release us from the debt of punishment due to sin. Nothing I said in comment #83 of the post “Habitual Sin and the Grace of the Sacraments” makes forgiveness of sin impossible. Through His atonement, Christ has made superabundant satisfaction for the sins of the whole world (see “Catholic and Reformed Conceptions of the Atonement“). And through our union with Him through baptism into His Body, this satisfaction is applied to us, such that (among other things) our sins are forgiven.

    You wrote:

    Nor can any of Christ’s actions serve to bring about the person’s forgiveness because Christ’s actions and legal innocence are “His own” and thus cannot undo the person’s sinful actions, nor the culpability resultant from those actions.

    Christ cannot “undo” (in the sense of make it that sin never happened) a person’s sinful actions, but He can make satisfaction on behalf of that person. See the first five comments under the “Aquinas and Trent: Part 6 (St. Thomas on the Passion of Christ) article.”

    Regardless of how much or how well a person “participates ontologically Christ’s life” the culpability due to past sins will always remain on the person because neither his actions nor Christ’s actions are capable of undoing that culpability.

    Culpability means deserving of punishment. Nothing can make a sinful act not deserving of punishment. But Christ’s satisfaction adds to the situation a gift that is far greater and pleasing to God than man’s sin was offensive to God, and therefore makes forgiveness of that sin both just and merciful.

    You wrote:

    Because it is impossible to undo the actual reality that we have sinned, in order for God to nullify/cancel our culpability before Him he must: 1) establish an actual reality that supersedes/overrides the actual reality of our past sins [this is precisely the function of the satisfaction that Christ made in the atonement (in both the Catholic and Reformed conceptions of it)].

    No, there cannot be two simultaneous contrary “actual realities,” one of which “supersedes/overrides” the actual reality. There is only one actual reality. Christ does not create an actual reality over and above an existing actual reality. He changes actual reality. He actually makes us righteous. He unites us to His own Passion through baptism.

    You wrote:

    and 2) establish a means by which we can identify ourselves with (connect ourselves to) this superseding/overriding actual reality so that its legal benefits, can be applied to us even as the actual reality itself is not our own for the Catholic this means is the Sacraments (Baptism & Penance); for the Reformed it is “to be received by faith” in Christ (Romans 3:25)).

    No. You are thinking of Catholic soteriology as though it is Reformed soteriology. Protestant theology posits a legal fiction while leaving actual reality unchanged; that’s part of why it is a heresy, because it denies the efficacy of Christ’s work, and potentially leaves the believer in mortal sin [simul iustus et peccator] throughout his life. Catholic soteriology, by contrast, is the real deal; justification is an actual making just, instantly, through baptism. There are not two “actual realities;” there is only one, and Christ comes into the only actual reality there is, and transforms it.

    You wrote:

    : Is God “lying to/deceiving” when He forgives your past sins “fully and completely” (CCC 978) and while simultaneously being aware of the fact that you did in fact commit the sins he has forgiven you of?

    Forgiving a sin is not saying that it never happened; it is pardoning the punishment for that sin. So there is no lying or deceiving in forgiving a sin while being fully aware that the sin occurred.

    If imputation is not true, then what is the Paul talking about when he tells that God “declares the ungodly righteous” (Romans 4:5)? What us that we are both “perfect” and “being made Holy” (Hebrews 10:14)? In what sense is the church commanded to be “a new lump” if they already “really are unleavened” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8)? Why should we “hold true” to something we have already “attained” (Philippians 3:9) if that something is not in and of itself completely perfect and perfectly complete?

    Romans 4:5 reads ” τῷ δὲ μὴ ἐργαζομένῳ, πιστεύοντι δὲ ἐπὶ τὸν δικαιοῦντα τὸν ἀσεβῆ, λογίζεται ἡ πίστις αὐτοῦ εἰς δικαιοσύνην,” and the δικαιοῦντα τὸν ἀσεβῆ means makes ungodly people righteous. He doesn’t declare them righteous while leaving them in deadly sin; He actually makes people righteous. That’s the gospel that has been hidden from Protestants by simul iustus et peccator; Christ didn’t die just to cover over your sins with a posited second reality. He died to make you no longer a sinner, but a saint.

    As for Heb 10:14, see my comments #80, #83, and #90 in “Reformed Imputation and the Lord’s Prayer.”

    You wrote:

    In what sense is the church commanded to be “a new lump” if they already “really are unleavened” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8)?

    In light of sexual immorality among certain believers in the Church at Corinth, St. Paul urges the Corinthian Church to “Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened.” The fact of being unleavened is the fact of having all their sin removed through baptism. The cleaning out the old leaven means removing sin from their midst, by expelling those living openly and shamelessly in immorality.

    You wrote:

    Why should we “hold true” to something we have already “attained” (Philippians 3:9) if that something is not in and of itself completely perfect and perfectly complete?

    St. Paul writes:

    More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, (Phil 3:8-9)

    He is saying here that the righteousness of keeping the ceremonial law in a merely external fashion is not true righteousness. True righteousness is from God, through faith in Christ. Then he writes:

    Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:12)

    What he has not already obtained is what he has just mentioned in the previous verse, i.e. the resurrection of the dead. When he says “or have already become perfect” he is probably referring to perfect conformity to the death of Christ. ‘Perfect’ in English connotes a moral perfection, but in Greek the term is not so limited; it refers to the completion or fulfillment of something.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  147. Jeremiah said:

    The fact of the matter is that Christ is going to come back for a Bride without spot or blemish. That means we either have to convert a billion Catholics to Non-denominationalism….or we have consider other options.

    I remember in ~’04 going to see Handel’s Messiah at the Cathedral of St. Paul here in MN. I was quite staunchly Reformed/anti-Catholic at the time while also being very concerned abot unity among Christians. I remember sitting in the cathedral thinking a very similar thought to yours- just replace “non-denominationalism” with “Reformed” and that is it. If one is very concerned about unity, this can be a very, very depressing thought for a Protestant to dwell on. Hundreds of denominational interpretations/traditions suddenly (or even gradually) giving up and uniting under a single Protestant doctrine? Yeah right. Anyone who has been a serious Protestant for a week knows that simply will never happen. Yet that is seemingly exactly what would need to happen.

    Skip ahead 6 years and my despondency grew worse. I found this website and lurked for a bit, having the concept of sola Scriptura destroyed utterly in the process, and joined the Church 10 months later.

    1.2 billion + 1.

    Don’t ever get comfortable with disunity. Keep searching brother.

    Peace,

    David Meyer

  148. Jeremiah,

    Got it.

  149. Jeremiah,

    A little while back, you wrote: “I can’t recall political unity ever being a message in the OT prophets, but next cycle through I’ll look for that. In the case of spiritual unity, however, there was a constant calling back to that.”

    I think this is a topic worthy of your attention, and I’ll be eager to hear your thoughts as you go, whenever that happens. In the meantime, three quick comments:

    (1) I’d like to recommend Ezekiel 37.15-28 to you as one of a number of possible starting points. I think it shows pretty clearly the unity in prophetic thought between the cultic and the political.

    (2) Much of how you interpret the relevance of the North-South schism in the OT will be dependent upon how you believe Christ has fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. Specifically, this may help sharpen your thinking about the relationship (and the differences) between Israel and the Church.

    (3) As to morality in the Church’s members — holiness is a mark of the Church, and yet she is a corpus permixtum, and will remain so until the “harvest” (Matt 13.30) at the “close of the age” (Matt 13.40). The relationship between the holiness of the Church’s members to her intrinsic holiness will also bear reflection.

    Just some thoughts for your consideration.

    cheers.
    TC

  150. Jeremiah,

    You wrote:

    “I can’t recall political unity ever being a message in the OT prophets, but next cycle through I’ll look for that.

    Just to be clear, nothing in what I wrote, as far as I can see, made any assertion that the OT prophets between the time of the divided kingdom and the Northern deportation called for political (civil governmental) unity between the two kingdoms. If something I wrote appeared that way, it was by accident. Now others may want to challenge that notion, but for purposes of the comparison between OT Israel and the Catholic Church, I think the strictly civil-political consideration is irrelevant. The reason I think that way is because, when considering the Messiah’s fulfillment of the three OT roles of prophet, priest, and king; the kingly dimension abstracts from consideration of governance in temporal civil affairs. And the reason for that is because Christ’s kingdom is not of this world for it is a kingdom formed not with human hands (sic Daniel); yet it is a kingdom capable of conquering all the kingdoms of this world and becoming a great mountain throughout all the earth (again see Daniel). For this reason, despite Christ’s true and all-powerful kingship, He can teach: “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give unto God what is God’s”.

    So then, we have a kingdom (and therefore a kingship) which is somehow in the world (because it engages and defeats real-world earthly kingdoms); yet it is not of this world, for it is perfectly capable of existing alongside or within any number of earthly civil kingdoms (or other political strictures). This could only be the case if the kingdom in question were fundamentally supernatural, yet composed of real flesh-and-blood human beings such that those on earth who constitute this supernatural kingdom, nonetheless, embody some form of temporal organization and unity so as to carry out the King’s directives most effectively. This is what the Catholic Church is.

    As always, the true Catholic doctrine is like a mountain top upon which one must keep his balance, lest he fall off into heresy on either side. On one side of the mountain is the heresy of caesaropapism, where Christ’s kingdom and kingship is mapped onto some particular form of earthly civil governance (Catholics would see this as a problem with the Jewish expectations regarding the Messiah, moments in the history of the EO, Anglicanism, and also those periods of history where the historical situation demanded that the papacy take on the duties of civil governance). On the other side of the mountain is the notion that Christ’s kingdom and kingship are so entirely other-worldy or spiritual, as to become temporally “invisible” (i.e. the invisible church theory). This is the chief ecclesial error of Protestantism.

    Accordingly, when Christ comes to fulfill the OT types of prophet, priest and king; He leaves aside the civil/political dimension of kingship precisely because He is establishing a worldwide universal kingdom needing the operational flexibility to spread throughout the earth in both geography and time to gather men from every tongue, tribe, and kingdom (again, notice how Christ’s kingdom and its mission gather from, and within, existing civil kingdoms; yet it is earthly and tangible enough to do so). In short, Christ’s fulfillment of OT kingship is principally mapped onto the religious governance of God’s high-priestly people throughout the earth. It is not mapped onto civil governance. In the OT, we very much find religious governance generally being handled by the priesthood of the OT. In other words, the task of correctly interpreting the law in terms of both doctrine and morality, and administering and organizing the ritual, sacramental, worship of the people, generally fell to the priesthood; though often requiring forceful re-assertion and clarification from the prophets. These tasks almost never fell to the authority of the civil king. On the few occasions where a king played any significant role in such affairs, it was because the king in question was also invested with prophetic gifts (for instance David). Hence, it is essentially ecclesial governance, which is fulfilled by Christ’s kingship with respect to the establishment of His Church on earth (of course, Christ’s kingship over the Church triumphant and suffering, as well as His providential kingship over the entire cosmos, is without limit in kind or degree).

    So then, from a Catholic POV, what Christ does is gather together, in Himself, the three primary offices of prophet, priest, and king (in the way I just laid out), so that all three roles, which had previously been administered by differing lines of authority in old Israel, become ultimately centered in His very person (the Church is “the body of Christ”). Having received all authority in heaven and earth, He then invests this tri-part authority in His apostles in such a radical way that He can say such shocking things as: “whatever you bind on earth is bound in heaven”, and “whoever’s sins you forgive are forgiven” and “whomever’s sins you retain are retained” and “he who listens to you, listens to Me”. He invests such power firstly in Peter, His prime minister (with keys representing a succession to be passed on), and then His cabinet members (the other apostles) so as to establish a supernatural/temporal community capable of traversing the globe and the centuries in such a way that the “gates of Hell” shall not stand against it (notice that the gates of hell represent a defensive position on the part of hell’s defenders. The Church is always on offense, and will not be stopped from breaking down the gates and routing hell). Christ, then ascends to heaven where He retains full kingly rule of His supernatural kingdom. He does so directly over the Church triumphant and suffering, but by delegating with regard to the governance of the Church on earth (militant), through Peter and the apostles whom he has deputize with all His powers. A delegation which includes the authority and necessity to pass these very powers on before death, so as to conserve the existence, unity/identity and effectiveness of the Church militant across space and time (i.e. the doctrines of Petrine and apostolic succession).

    Thus, in the Church Christ established, the three bonds of unity are ecclesial (governmental) unity, doctrinal unity, and sacramental unity. These three bonds of unity flow directly from the three OT roles which Christ gathered up in Himself and passed on to Peter and the Apostles: King (ecclesial, juridical, governmental unity), prophet (doctrinal, Magisterial, unity), and priest (sacramental unity – i.e. the efficacious ritual worship of new Israel). Moreover, these three bonds of unity are interdependent. Once ecclesial unity is broken, the touchstone of doctrinal orthodoxy is likewise broken, and doctrinal fragmentation ensues (this site is replete with the arguments concerning why the Petrine office as the Christ-established center of gravity, or touchstone-of-doctrinal-orthodoxy, is necessary over against other proposed touchstones such as sola scriptura in Protestantism or counciliarity in EO, etc). Once doctrinal unity is broken, sacramental unity is likewise broken, since irresolvable disputes break out concerning the number of sacraments, or even whether sacraments exist or are efficacious (see the almost immediate reduction of the sacraments from to 7 to 2, or even none, at the dawn of the Reformation; as well as the immediate penchant to render them “symbolic”).

    In fact, one can rather helpfully diagram the various Christian communions on earth with respect to their degree of distance or nearness to the fullness of the Catholic faith, by diagramming according to the degree in which they share unity of sacrament, doctrine and ecclesial government with the Catholic Church. For instance, the Orthodox would be nearest to full union, due to shared sacramental (priestly) and doctrinal (prophetic) unity, as well as ecclesial (kingly) unity – excepting their rejection of the unitive role of the Petrine office. Whereas, say Anabaptists, would represent a much higher level of disunity through not sharing (for the most part) either ecclesial, doctrinal, or sacramental unity with the Catholic Church. Anyhow, all of that is just a long winded way of explaining why I think that the “kingly” dimension of Christ’s fulfillment of OT authority, so far as it pertains to “new Israel” on earth, properly maps onto the ecclesial governance of God’s OT people, rather than onto the civil dimension of OT kingship.

    Finally, this discussion reminds me of a powerful anecdote which I recently ecountered. While watching the extraordinary new DVD series titled the “Catholicism Project”, I was struck by a story told by father Robert Barron (the series host). He relates how, during the inauguration of Joseph Ratzinger to the office of St. Peter in Rome, one of the cardinals (I think it was cardinal Francis George) was standing near the pope on the veranda looking out across the gathered throngs, and upon the coliseum and other ancient structures of the Roman Empire. A photo which captured that very moment shows the cardinal with a very reflective look upon his face. When asked later what he was think about, the cardinal responded something along the lines of the following paraphrase: “where is Caesar, or Nero, or any of the other successors of the Roman empire? And, after all, who cares? If I want to see the successor of Peter the fisherman – there he is standing right next to me!”

    Truly Christ’s kingdom is in the world but not of this world. The little stone cut without human hands has destroyed the kingdom of Daniel’s vision and become a great mountain spread throughout the earth, gathering together in one faith, men from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  151. Ray,

    Work just accelerated through the roof. I really want to discuss this point. I’m not going to get to it for at least several weeks. sorry. (this is one that is going to kill me to wait on…)

  152. The Reformers, not the Catholics, were primarily concerned to make clear that the primary cause of the Reformation was justification sola fide. You’re arguing against the Reformers at this point, not Catholics

    Joshua L – Maybe I’m not doing a good enough job at explaining this, but what I’m trying to get across, apparently not too successfully, is that Reformed theology does not always revolve around the particular debates that separated Catholic and Protestant in the 16th century. You are trying to understand an aspect of Reformed theology using a paradigm that Reformed theologians don’t recognize. If by the “primary” cause of the Reformation you mean the “material” cause of the Reformation then I agree. But, it does not logically follow from this that all soteriological definitions and dogmas find their origin solely in this doctrine. Reformed theology begins with Scripture (the formal cause of the Reformation) and the nature of God, His decrees and Covenants, etc. Justification comes later (pick up ANY Reformed Systematics text if you want to see for yourself). This is why works have meaning outside of a context of sola fide understanding of justification.

    There is way too much of Catholics telling the Reformed folks what they believe rather than asking them what they believe. I would not repeat this error.

  153. Andrew (re: #152),

    I have read Calvin’s Institutes, Berkhof’s Systematic Theology, Bavinck’s four-volumed Reformed Dogmatics, Witsius’ Economy of the Covenants, Ursinus’ Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, etc. all cover to cover. I understand what you’re trying to say… And I’m arguing that you’re still wrong. All “soteriological definitions and dogmas” of the Reformation do find their origin in justification by faith alone; that’s not even a question. If you disagree, prove it. You saw the Turretin quotation I posted earlier (and you did not address it); the burden of proof is on you.

    Just because justification by faith alone doesn’t appear up-front in a Reformed systematic theology, that doesn’t mean that it’s not central to Reformed theology. Moreover, one does not need to hold that all doctrines are deduced from justification by faith alone as their central dogma in order to argue successfully what Bryan and others are arguing. In fact, I don’t think anyone is saying that the Reformers built a theology apart from scripture, solely on their understanding of justification. That would be too much. What I am arguing is that the Reformer’s were trying to be consistent with their doctrine of justification–even when they weren’t talking about justification by faith alone directly. So when they spoke of works “outside of a context of sola fide understanding of justification,” they would not do it in a way that contradicted their own doctrine.

    The question is not whether Reformed theologians attributed non-salvific value to works of believers. I think all would grant that. The question is whether such an attribution has any real or coherent meaning in light of the rest of Reformed theology.

    Perhaps there are Catholics telling Reformed folks what they believe rather than asking… But I don’t think that that is what’s going on here. Even if I were still Reformed, I would disagree with you.

  154. Dear Joshua,

    You wrote (#154):

    “In fact, I don’t think anyone is saying that the Reformers built a theology apart from scripture, solely on their understanding of justification. That would be too much.”

    I don’t disagree with you here. However, have you ever considered how Calvin does appeal to non-Scriptural criteria that seem to flow from his experience of justification, rather than from straight-forward exegesis?

    I’m thinking of passages like this one from his prefatory epistle to Francis:

    For what is more consonant with faith than to recognize that we are naked of all virtue, in order to be clothed by God? That we are empty of all good, to be filled by him? . . . [Our adversaries] cannot bear that the whole praise and glory of all goodness, virtue, righteousness, and wisdom should rest with God . . . Besides, what is better and closer to faith than … to repose in certain expectation of salvation?

    I think that Book I of the Institutes, first section lays out this criteria concerning the proper knowledge of God. “True” knowledge of God is that which ascribes all holiness to him, and only misery and depravity to ourselves.

    I find this kind of reasoning all through Calvin, as do his opponents, which is one reason he was accused of hypocrisy in his own day – arbitrarily asserting hermeneutical criteria that were not clearly derived from Scripture itself, while denying this right to others.

    -David

  155. David,

    I absolutely agree with what you’re saying.

    All I meant by the above quote is that both sides can acknowledge that Calvin and the Reformers were trying to be biblical–even if ultimately unsuccessful and even hypocritical in implementing their reforms.

  156. Bryan,

    This opposition between what is declared, and the actual truth concerning the defendant, is made possible only by the lack of omniscience on the part of the merely human judge. The mistake made by Reformed theology is to anthropomorphize God, by making Him out to be like the human judge in this very respect: able to give a legal verdict that differs from the actual truth about the defendant. But in fact because God is omniscient and Truth, He is incapable of giving any other verdict than the truth about the person.

    How do you understand instances in the Bible where a NT writer, or Jesus, says something about a person that seems inconsistent with the actual narrative? For example, Rom. 4 says that Abraham did not waver in his faith in God’s promise of a son, when in fact he did waver significantly. Heb. 11′s treatment of Abraham also seems quite generous when compared to the facts in Genesis. Moreover, Jesus seemed somewhat revisionist in his prayer concerning the disciples that “they have kept your Word.”

    This sounds inconsistent with your claim that everything good God ever says about someone is therefore literally true in a strict sense.

  157. Jason S, (re: #156),

    The Greek term there in Rom 4:19 is ἀσθενήσας, which perhaps is better translated as ‘weaken.’ Abram did not weaken in his faith that God would fulfill His promise, even when he “listened to the voice of Sarah” in Gen 16 regarding Hagar. In Gen 16, God had not yet told him that his promised offspring would be through Sarah; that revelation came in Gen 17, after the birth of Ishmael. Perhaps you are thinking of Abraham’s deception of Abimelech as a kind of weakening of faith in the divine promise. But again, it seems to me that just as Abraham went into Hagar as a (misguided) attempt to fulfill the divine promise, so he lied to Abimelech as a way of preserving his life, perhaps again in order (in his mind) to make possible the fulfillment of the divine promise. So I don’t see anything in Heb 11 that is necessarily incompatible with the truths stated in Genesis concerning Abraham and Sarah.

    As for Jesus’ statement that the Apostles had “kept Your word” (Jn 17:6), this doesn’t mean that they had never sinned during their time with Jesus. Jesus there, I think, is talking about the word of the Father, given to Christ, who in turn gave it to the Apostles. This is the word to which He refers in John 17:8, “for I have given them the words which you gave me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that You sent Me.” In other words, they have believed the gospel of Christ. That doesn’t mean that they never doubted or struggled. But truly they had believed that Christ was from God, because at the end of the previous chapter, they say to Him: “Now we know that You know all things, and need one to question You; by this we believe that You came from God.” (Jn 16:30)

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  158. Bryan,

    In the case of extra nos imputed righteousness, the believer is presently truly unrighteous while God who does not lie is saying that the person is presently righteous. Those two are contraries; they cannot both be true. But God’s awareness of a believer’s past sins is not contrary to God’s forgiveness of those sins.

    I don’t think you are correctly representing the Reformed view of justification here. What we are saying is not so much that God is lying about the state of the justified sinner. Rather, we are saying that God is allowing the sinner to experience and receive presently the future verdict of the last day. In other words, what will be visibly and actually true then is received by faith now. In the same way that we currently walk in the light of the new creation that only Jesus presently experiences, so we are considered by God in the light of the future eschatological verdict in the here and now.

    It seems to me that denying that God can treat his children in the present according to what they will truly be in the future is to jettison the entire new covenant ethic. After all, God says that we are currently enthroned with Christ in the heavens, even though from our present and sensory experience this is not true. But we’re supposed to live like it is, which is what faith is all about.

  159. JJS,

    In case you’re interested, here’s what a few of the Fathers have to say about Gen 17.17 (which I assume you had in mind). I’m just pulling these from the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series:

    St Ephrem the Syrian:

    Now Abraham was not guilty of any doubt by his laughter, for he showed his love toward Ishmael in what he said. He had clung to this hope for twenty-five years. Abraham had manifested his faith in every vision that had come to him. However great his contest with barrenness became, he manifested the victory of his faith. But when old age was added to the barrenness, he laughed in his heart. That his Lord would do these two things for him was a marvel to him.

    Commentary on Genesis 14.2

    St Ambrose:

    [...] The fact that Abraham laughed when he had been promised a son through her was an expression not of unbelief but of joy. Indeed, “he fell on his face”–in worship, which means he believed. And he added, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And he said, “O that Ishmael might live in thy sight!” He is not incredulous with regard to the promises, nor is he greedy in what he asks for in prayer. “I have no doubt that you will come through, granting a son to an old man of a hundred years and that, as the author of nature, you will effectively stretch its limits. Blessed indeed is the one on whom this gift is bestowed; but I will be doubly favored if even this Ishmael here, whom I begot from the household slave, should live in your presence.” And so the Lord approved Abraham’s sentiments, did not deny his request and confirmed his own promises.

    On Abraham 1.4.31

    (Ps.-?)Cyril of Alexandria:

    He was not laughing because he did not believe, as some might imagine, but rejoicing because he did. “He laughed” is sometimes put in place of “he rejoiced,” as it is also in the Gospels. And for this reason, he also “fell on his face” and marveled in his heart.

    Catena on Genesis 3.1038

    I know this doesn’t address the substance of your question. I’ll let Bryan respond to that. (And I see he’s done so while I was typing.) But I do think the Abraham example was potentially your strongest point, and I don’t think it’s unanswerable. The more I’ve thought about the text, the more I think the Fathers (and St Paul) had it right.

    in Christ,
    TC

  160. JJS,

    You wrote: “In other words, what will be visibly and actually true then is received by faith now. In the same way that we currently walk in the light of the new creation that only Jesus presently experiences, so we are considered by God in the light of the future eschatological verdict in the here and now.”

    But even in the future eschatological verdict, wouldn’t the believer be declared just on the basis of Christ’s imputed righteousness, not his or her own inherent righteousness? That is, whether present or future, God regards his children only according to Christ’s active obedience imputed to them. I know that there is some diversity in Reformed circles about a second judgment according to works; are you espousing something along those lines?

  161. Jason S, (re: 158)

    I understand the Reformed position is not saying that God is lying. But, either the believer (on earth) is presently justified or not. If the believer is presently justified, and if the believer is also simultaneously sinning damnable sins, then what I said in #146 follows. But if the believer is not presently justified, then he is still dead in his sins, and will (strangely) die in that condition only to be declared just on the Day of Judgment. But compare. If I tell my better students at the beginning of the semester, “You have passed the class,” that’s lying. If I say, “You will pass this class,” then it is not true now that they have passed the class. They remain presently unpassed, until I submit their [passing] grade at the end of the semester. So, by construing justification proleptically, present justification is lost, and claims of present justification are for that reason false. Justification, in that case, is only a promissory note, not a condition of one’s present relation to God.

    Moreover, only if I knew now that I will die in a state of grace could I know now that the verdict concerning me on that Day will be “You are just.” But I cannot now know that I will die in a state of grace, nor can anyone else know this without a special revelation from God. Otherwise the warning passages are more lies, or a joke and/or mind-game manipulation. So the proleptic construal of justification makes it impossible (without a special revelation) to know that one is presently even proleptically justified. That’s not what the Reformers were after. Even Catholic assurance is better than that. :-) (See comment #178, and Andrew’s post on that subject.)

    You wrote:

    In the same way that we currently walk in the light of the new creation that only Jesus presently experiences, so we are considered by God in the light of the future eschatological verdict in the here and now.

    If that ‘light’ is only eschatological, and justification is only proleptic, then there are two options: either God does not see us as we presently are, or He sees us as we presently are. The former option is a problem for omniscience. But the latter option means that God’s truth about us now is that we are presently unjustified, i.e. remain presently at enmity with God, even while having faith in God. Hence Driscoll’s claims about God’s stance toward “some of you” really apply to all of us, at least until the Day of Judgment:

    Regarding Eph 2:6, we are already raised up and seated with Him in the heavenly places through baptism. Our senses can neither confirm nor deny that, because heaven is immaterial. Through baptism we are inserted into Christ, into His Mystical Body, and through that union with Christ the Head, the Body is where He is, because the Head and Body are one, just as through that union Christ the Head is where the Body is, and hence Saul was persecuting Christ (Acts 9:4). We don’t have to be having the beatific vision for it to be true that we are seated with Him in the heavenly places, through our present union with Him in His Body.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  162. Bryan- Thanks again for your comments. Don’t feel like you need to respond to everything random musing I post here but I did have some thoughts in response to yours.

    First off, let me admit up front that my “actual reality/legal reality” language was very confusing and did not adequately express what I was trying to say. I was not arguing in favor of “double-truth theory” or “dual realities” but rather for different aspects of same single reality (e.g., physical and metaphysical). Do that makes sense?

    I wrote:
    Rather, God is undoing/canceling/nullifying the legal reality of the culpability that our sin incurred before Him and establishing a new legal reality of our innocence before him. We are not forgiven because God annihilates, forgets, or “deceives himself” about the actual reality of past sin, but because (in Christ) God sovereignly chooses to no longer hold us accountable (culpable) for the sin that we clearly did commit.

    You responded:
    God cancels sins through the satisfaction made by Christ, and through the infusion of sanctifying grace and agape merited for us by Christ. If the person remained in mortal sin, his sins could not be cancelled, because in his present state he would still be incurring that debt of eternal punishment (see here). Hence repentance (turning away from sin, and toward God) is essential for forgiveness of sin.

    What does it mean for God to “cancel” past sin? As you said later “Christ cannot ‘undo’ in the sense of make it that sin never happened”? So what is he “undo-ing” then? How is it that a Catholic can no longer be guilty/culpable before God? Is it not the culpability that past sin incurred that God cancels (on account of Christ’s satisfaction)? This is a legal change, not a physical or metaphysical one. And the fact that you were once guilty and are no longer is only because someone else did something that allowed your guilt to be canceled. Were it not for his actions on your behalf you would still be guilty. Same is true of imputation.

    I recognize that for Catholics this legal change is accompanied by an ontological change (i.e., “infusion of sanctifying grace and agape”). But present ontological change does not nullify guilt from past sins. As you said: “Culpability belongs to the acts” and “the acts belong to the person.” And regardless of our present ontological transformation we are still the same person, the same soul who committed those past sins.

    Perhaps you might respond by saying something like,”But that’s the whole point! We are NOT the same person anymore one we are ‘united to Christ’ (CCC 976) through baptism.” But if you were to say something like that, you would be redefining forgiveness. In fact, you would made forgiveness of past sins is entirely unnecessary: we do need to be forgiven of any past sins at all if we are simply going to be transformed into people souls who did not commit any of past sins. (I love arguing with myself :)

    Whatever else you believe forgiveness to be it must necessarily involve a change in legal status; culpability much be nullified. And all I’m saying is that the same it true of imputed righteousness: it is the lack of legal merit/righteousness that God addresses not the actual lack of it. It is a change of legal status; not an actual transformation (though praise God, it does not preclude such transformation!).

    I wrote:
    So, even for the Catholic, God can be aware the actual reality of past sin (that could be said to “grieve” Him) while simultaneously (on account of the Christ’s atonement/satisfaction) not attribute the legal reality of culpability for that past sin to us. If we argue that such a justification based on a imputed righteousness is a “legal fiction”, we must necessarily say the same of forgiveness/satisfaction via atonement.

    You responded:
    That conclusion does not follow, because there is a relevant difference between the legal fiction of extra nos imputed righteousness, and God’s awareness of past forgiven sins. In the case of extra nos imputed righteousness, the believer is presently truly unrighteous while God who does not lie is saying that the person is presently righteous. Those two are contraries; they cannot both be true. But God’s awareness of a believer’s past sins is not contrary to God’s forgiveness of those sins.

    God is not saying that WE ourselves are righteous. On the contrary, he sees knows us for who we truly are. What God is saying is that Christ is righteous and that we a in Him. In the same way that Christ’s satisfaction allowed for us to be legally aquitted of past sins (through Baptism in your case) even though we were most worthy of punishment for those sins and even though God hasn’t still forgotten that we committed them; so Christ’s perfect “obedience” on our behalf allows us the be legally declared righteous (when we “receive it by faith”) even though we neither were actually righteous in the past nor are in the present nor will be during our lives here on earth (as he is well aware). In both cases, the legal benefits of Christ’s actions are passed onto us despite the fact the we never did and never will actually deserve them.

    You wrote:
    There is no contradiction between seeing a person who is presently righteous and seeing that person as previously unrighteous.

    A person who was previously unrighteous cannot – by definition of the word itself – be righteous at all ever…unless there is a legal change whereby their past unrighteousness any future unrighteousness is no longer attributed to them on account of someone else’s actions on their behalf. The change must be legal; ontological transformation does not undo past unrighteousness.

    As you noted, God is omniscient and his omniscience includes all things: past, present, and future. A person’s eternal soul is always before His eyes. If God knows that you will commit (mortal) sin in the future then he cannot “see” you as righteous in the present because you are not really righteous at all. It is you who believe yourself to be presently righteous; but God knows the truth, regardless of what has or hasn’t happened yet. Timing is not a meaningful factor on this issue because God exists outside of time and knows all.

    (just to be clear, when I spoke of God “remembering” I was not trying to anthropomorphize God any more than you were suggesting that God has physical eyes when you said that he “peeks”; I apologize for the confusion)

    On the other hand, if the righteousness that God legally credits to you is an eternal and perfect righteousness and forgives all your past, present and future sins, then you cannot you can be declared eternally righteous. For even as God is fully aware of the depths of you sin and your complete lack of righteousness, he is also aware of the absolute perfection of the forgiveness he has granted you and of the righteousness that he has credited to you.

    You wrote:
    But there is a contradiction between seeing a person presently in mortal sin, and declaring that person presently righteous.

    This would only be true if the righteousness upon which God’s declares us righteous were our own. But its not ours; its is Christ’s righteousness “credited” to us. There no contradiction in God declaring that Christ is eternally righteous and that it is legally credited to you, even though you are not in and of yourself righteous (just like my adopted son: mine in one sense, not mine in another). There is no more contradiction in this than there is in saying that God has forgiven you by canceling the guilt of your past sins even though those sins we indeed sinful and deserving of punishment.

    You wrote:
    Christ cannot “undo” (in the sense of make it that sin never happened) a person’s sinful actions, but He can make satisfaction on behalf of that person.

    AND:

    Culpability means deserving of punishment. Nothing can make a sinful act not deserving of punishment. But Christ’s satisfaction adds to the situation a gift that is far greater and pleasing to God than man’s sin was offensive to God, and therefore makes forgiveness of that sin both just and merciful.

    This is exactly my point. “Culpability means deserving of punishment. Nothing can make a sinful act not deserving of punishment.” So how can we be forgiven? You say Christ’s satisfaction; but not even that can “‘undo’ a person’s sinful actions in the sense of make it that sin never happened”? So what can Christ’s satisfaction undo? My culpability for the sinful actions I committed in the past, right? And that is a legal change. It is not a ontological transformation.

    The only way your “peeking” illustration can force God to be a “liar” in the case of imputed righteousness and not in the case of forgiveness of past sins is by failing to recognize anyone of the following:

    * I’ll be using the phrase “actions in question” as shorthand for “past sins” in the case of forgiveness forgiveness of past sins and “past, present, future lack of perfectly righteous living” in the case of imputed righteousness.

    1) Both cases, by definition of the words themselves, involve a change of a person’s legal standing before God.

    2) In both cases, neither physical nor ontological transformation of the person in question can be a prerequisite for this change legal standing before God (forgiveness and transformation are distinct philosophical ideas and neither is essential to the existence of the other). In neither case, however, is future physical nor ontological transformation precluded.

    3) In both cases, the change in legal standing before God occurs despite the fact that, in and of themselves, the actions in question* explicitly prohibit God (who always acts in accordance with His own Holy character) from changing the legal standing of the person responsible for these actions. This is because, in both cases, the actions in question*, in and of themselves, compel a perfectly just God to render unto the person responsible for these actions precisely the consequences that these actions deserve. (in other words, God can neither forgive sins nor impute righteousness arbitrarily)

    4) In both cases, the change in legal standing before God occurs despite the fact the person will never be able to ontologically disassociate themselves from the actions in question*. In both cases, God will always be aware of the fact that the person is (actually/literally) responsible for the actions in question*.

    5) In both cases, it is ONLY Christ’s actions on the person’s behalf that permit God to make this change of the person’s legal standing before Himself. And, in both cases, this can only happen because God has established a tangible means (baptism or faith) by which Christ’s actions can be applied to the person in order to nullify the legal consequences of the actions in question* and thereby establish a new legal standing before God for the person.

    6) In both cases, a person’s present and future actions cannot undo the fact that God already nullified the legal consequences for the actions in question* and thereby established a new legal standing before God for the person. This is because, in both cases, the person cannot undo Christ’s actions and therefore can never again be legally responsible for the actions in question*. (In the case of forgiveness of past sins the Catholic may be able to commit mortal sin in the present or future, which would result in a subsequent change of his legal standing before God, but he cannot make himself guilty of sins that have already been forgiven, correct? Or can God “cancel His canceling” of past sins? Can Christ retrieve satisfaction that has already been made for a particular sin or set of sins?).

    Imputation is not a legal fiction because Christ’s perfection is not fictitious and because it only given to us legally. God does “peek” around the cross and grieve at our sin but he doesn’t “forget” about Christ when he does so (in the same way he “peeks” at a Catholic’s past sin without “forgeting” about Christ’s satisfaction). We can call it “schizophrenic” if we like, but then we’d be “anthropomorphizing” God and forgeting to times the double-personality by 3 for each person of the Trinity. Perhaps God is just a lot more complicated than we would like him to be (Isaiah 55:8-9).

    * I’ll be using the phrase “actions in question” as shorthand for “past sins” in the case of forgiveness forgiveness of past sins and “past, present, future lack of perfectly righteous living” in the case of imputed righteousness.

  163. Peter G, (re: #162)

    You wrote:

    What does it mean for God to “cancel” past sin?

    As I wrote in #146, “because sin is against God, God can forgive sins, i.e. mercifully release us from the debt of punishment due to sin.” Because sin is against God, it accrues a debt of punishment from God. God can freely cancel this debt. That’s why only God can forgive sins, because sin is ultimately against God. Through the economy He has established, He forgives our sins through our union with Christ through baptism. St. Thomas explains:

    As stated above (49, 3, ad 2; 68, 1,4,5) by Baptism a man is incorporated in the Passion and death of Christ, according to Romans 6:8: “If we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall live also together with Christ.” Hence it is clear that the Passion of Christ is communicated to every baptized person, so that he is healed just as if he himself had suffered and died. Now Christ’s Passion, as stated above (Question 68, Article 5), is a sufficient satisfaction for all the sins of all men. Consequently he who is baptized, is freed from the debt of all punishment due to him for his sins, just as if he himself had offered sufficient satisfaction for all his sins. (ST III Q.69 a.2)

    You wrote:

    So what is he “undo-ing” then?

    He is undoing the penal effect of sin, by removing both present sin and the debt of eternal punishment for past sins.

    You wrote:

    Is it not the culpability that past sin incurred that God cancels (on account of Christ’s satisfaction)?

    Yes.

    You wrote:

    This is a legal change, not a physical or metaphysical one.

    In the economy God has established, this forgiveness of sins come to us through an ontological change (i.e. union with Christ).

    You wrote:

    And the fact that you were once guilty and are no longer is only because someone else did something that allowed your guilt to be canceled.

    Not in the economy God has established. If Christ died for me, but I was never united to Him, my sins would not be forgiven. So forgiveness is not only because of what Christ did but also because of our union with Christ.

    You wrote:

    Were it not for his actions on your behalf you would still be guilty.

    True, given the economy God established.

    You wrote:

    Same is true of imputation.

    There are relevant differences between forgiveness of sins, and extra nos imputation. I have explained them in my previous comment (#146), and you haven’t addressed those differences.

    You wrote:

    But present ontological change does not nullify guilt from past sins.

    It does if it is union with Christ. But, as I explained in my previous comment, because sin is against God, God could forgive sin even without Christ’s death. There is no contradiction in forgiveness of sins, whereas there is a contradiction in extra nos imputation, for the reasons I explained in #146.

    You wrote:

    And regardless of our present ontological transformation we are still the same person, the same soul who committed those past sins.

    If you want to claim that the problem (I pointed out) with extra nos imputation is also present in the doctrine of forgiveness of sins, then you need to point out some contradiction in the doctrine of the forgiveness of sins.

    You wrote:

    we do not need to be forgiven of any past sins at all if we are simply going to be transformed into people souls who did not commit any of past sins.

    I have not claimed and do not claim that forgiveness of sins is by transforming us into persons who did not commit those sins. God cannot change the past, in the sense of make the past to have never happened.

    You wrote:

    Whatever else you believe forgiveness to be it must necessarily involve a change in legal status; culpability much be nullified.

    True.

    You wrote:

    And all I’m saying is that the same it true of imputed righteousness: it is the lack of legal merit/righteousness that God addresses not the actual lack of it. It is a change of legal status; not an actual transformation (though praise God, it does not preclude such transformation!).

    I know you are asserting that the doctrine of extra nos imputed righteousness is no more problematic than the change of legal status in the forgiveness of sins. But, as I explained in #146, there is no contradiction in the doctrine of the forgiveness of sin, while there is a contradiction in Truth declaring a person to be righteous who is in fact unrighteous. Forgiveness of sin is relational, because sin is against God, and God can therefore cancel the debt of sin, since it is owed to Him. Forgiving sins does not entail claiming that the forgiven person is both innocent and not innocent, or both forgiven and unforgiven. But the notion of extra nos imputation entails that God says we are truly righteous while knowing that we are and remain truly unrighteous.

    You wrote:

    God is not saying that WE ourselves are righteous. On the contrary, he sees knows us for who we truly are. What God is saying is that Christ is righteous and that we a in Him.

    Reformed theology would have that option (and be Catholic) if it allowed participation in Christ, i.e. grace as participation, rather than only covenantal [nominalistic] ‘union.’ See comment #54 in “Nature, Grace, and Man’s Supernatural End,” where I explained that “Reformed theology presently has no middle position between mere covenantal [i.e. extrinsic] union, and a fusion that obliterates the Creator-creature distinction. The solution is precisely the Church’s teaching that grace is not mere divine favor, but also God’s gift of granting us a participation in the divine nature.” In that post, see footnote #14 on Michael Horton’s notion of fusion; and see the paragraph containing that footnote.

    You wrote:

    A person who was previously unrighteous cannot – by definition of the word itself – be righteous at all ever…unless there is a legal change whereby their past unrighteousness any future unrighteousness is no longer attributed to them on account of someone else’s actions on their behalf. The change must be legal; ontological transformation does not undo past unrighteousness.

    A person who is still in his sins cannot be forgiven; this is why repentance must precede forgiveness, as I explained in #146. So, an ontological change is necessary for forgiveness. Of course that does not change the past. But, it changes what the person now is. Angels cannot be forgiven, because they cannot repent. It is not because God cannot forgive them (or is unwilling to forgive them even if they were to repent), but because they cannot repent, since they are not in time, and have before them all that they need to know to make their decisions once and for all. Humans can be forgiven, because humans are in time, and can come to see and believe differently, to repent, and undergo a transformation before our soul separates from our body, and is perpetually fixed in its stance either toward God in love, or against God. So this ontological change is necessary for forgiveness.

    You wrote:

    A person’s eternal soul is always before His eyes. If God knows that you will commit (mortal) sin in the future then he cannot “see” you as righteous in the present because you are not really righteous at all.

    That is a non sequitur. God sees a person now as that person is now, and that is true for every moment of that person’s existence. God seeing that in the future that person will commit a mortal sin, does not entail that He cannot see that this person is now in a state of grace.

    You wrote:

    On the other hand, if the righteousness that God legally credits to you is an eternal and perfect righteousness and forgives all your past, present and future sins, then you can be declared eternally righteous. For even as God is fully aware of the depths of you sin and your complete lack of righteousness, he is also aware of the absolute perfection of the forgiveness he has granted you and of the righteousness that he has credited to you.

    For the reasons I have explained in #146, God cannot “legally credit” a person with Christ’s righteousness, unless that person actually is Christ. Truth must only speak the truth. Truth cannot lie. As you said, “its not ours; its is Christ’s righteousness.” Because it is not ours, God cannot declare it to be ours, without speaking falsehood, especially because the person remains actually unrighteous. You have to ask yourself (and answer) the following question: If this were a case of God lying, what would be different? If God were to say that you were guilty of a crime that someone else had committed, that’s not a case of transferring guilt; that’s just speaking falsehood. I explained the reason for this in comment #83 of “Habitual Sin and the Grace of the Sacraments” where I wrote:

    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.

    You wrote:

    There no contradiction in God declaring that Christ is eternally righteous and that it is legally credited to you, even though you are not in and of yourself righteous (just like my adopted son: mine in one sense, not mine in another).

    The way to make your case is not to merely assert that there is no contradiction, but actually to address the contradiction I have pointed out.

    You wrote:

    So how can we be forgiven? You say Christ’s satisfaction; but not even that can “‘undo’ a person’s sinful actions in the sense of make it that sin never happened”? So what can Christ’s satisfaction undo? My culpability for the sinful actions I committed in the past, right? And that is a legal change. It is not a ontological transformation.

    As I already explained, canceling the penalty for sins is a relational change, between God and man. God can cancel that debt, because the debt is owed to Him. But that does not mean that God can declare a person righteous who is in fact unrighteous, or transfer one person’s obedience to another person, or transfer one person’s punishment to another person.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  164. Joshua L (re: 153)

    I still don’t think you are getting what I’m trying to communicate. I’m not taking away from the centrality of the doctrine of sola fide or disagreeing at all with what Protestants like Turretin say. What I am saying is that Reformed theologians establish the importance of works in doctrines like that of Creation and Providence. The importance of working in God’s world can be found in any number of Reformed sermons and commentaries on Genesis 1 and the Fourth Commandment and so on. This is part of what is sometimes called a Reformed worldview. Our works emulate God’s works and we work joyfully because God has commanded us to and it is part of being created in the image of God. I think you mentioned Berkhof – try looking at his discussion of the image of God and the concept of dominion. Anyway, once we get to the doctrine of justification the Reformed and biblical insistence on being justified freely and apart from works does not undermine what has already been established in the doctrine of man’s dominion over God’s creation and his working because of God’s working. This is just standard Reformed stuff.

    On your Turretin, quote, you might have missed the important qualifier “among.” Justification sola fide is one among a number of definitive doctrines. At the point of the Reformation this is the doctrine which defined the Protestant position not because it was THE doctrine which defined Christianity for the Protestants, but because it was the doctrine which, along with the doctrine of Scripture, defined the debate between Catholicism and Protestantism. The Trinity, the Resurrection, Creation (for instance) are not less important doctrines, but they were not at issue during the Reformation. The doctrine of the Resurrection was not the doctrine upon which the Church rose or fell, not because it was less important than that of justification, but rather because nobody in the Christian world was arguing against the Resurrection. The importance of sola fide is found in the specific context in which the debate took place, that is, in the Reformation.

    On the general understanding of works in the Reformed system, the Heidelberg Catechism asks just the question under consideration – if we are justified apart from works, why do we work? The answer is Because Christ, having redeemed us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit after His own image, that with our whole life we show ourselves thankful to God for His blessing,and that He be glorified through us; then also, that we ourselves may be assured by our faith by the fruits thereof; and by our godly walk win also others to Christ.. So the idea of works being rooted in being made in the image of God and our need and desire to glorify Him is again just standard Reformed stuff. The point I made here is that the Reformed groundwork that is laid to establish our working before God is not in any way obviated by discussions on sola fide such as what you quote from Turretin. In fact they help establish the importance and necessity of works in the Reformed system. If in fact we justified freely apart from works, this frees us to work as God ordained us to without the worry that we are not working enough to cooperate with God’s working in order to cover our sins. Work in the biblical and Reformed understanding focus our works on what God has ordained them to be in creation.

    I think we are not in agreement about where the burden of proof lies. I thought you were trying to defend to notion that works has no real meaning in the Reformed system. If that’s true then I think you need to demonstrate that Reformed doctrines such as those on Creation and man being made in God’s image do not sufficiently justify our need to work.

  165. Andrew (re #164):

    I think we’re talking past each other. I understand what you’re saying; however, I’m still not convinced that when the Reformers defined justification as the hinge upon which the church stands or falls, they were doing so only relatively. Christianity is distinct from every other religion, according to Protestants, because Christianity is the only religion where we don’t do anything, but God does everything. In this sense, justification by faith alone is the distinguishing factor.

    You wrote earlier, “it does not logically follow from this that all soteriological definitions and dogmas find their origin solely in this doctrine.” Perhaps you want to qualify this because justification sola fide has everything to do with ‘soteriological definitions and dogmas.’ If it has to do with soteriology, it necessarily entails or is connected with justification. Do you agree?

    I would pose several questions to you: how does God regard the works of justified believers? Is he affected by them at all–either positively or negatively? Are those works no longer ‘filthy rags’ before him? If so, are they entirely unrelated to justification and therefore good but, as a corollary, unrelated to God’s perception of us as well (‘civic righteousness’ as Luther would call it)? In other words, how do you conceive of believer’s works that are objectively good from God’s perspective without compromising the idea that any works with the slightest taint of sin are evil before God?

  166. Joshua L (re: 165),

    Concerning your first paragraph, it’s certainly fair to say that justification (Pauline sense) is one of the major factors that distinguished Roman from Reformed churches. I suppose you might analogize this to split between East and West over the filioque earlier in history. To the EO, the Roman Church departure from the historic Christian faith was evidenced by their heresy concerning the Trinity in this regards. The filioque for the serious EO scholar in a very real sense was a doctrine upon which the Church stood or fell. There are many important doctrines to the EO, but this one was one of the major points of distinction between the two branches of Christianity.

    You ask whether God is “affected” by our works. I think this depends on what you mean by “affected.” God commanded Adam and Eve to work, and in His providence He chose man to work with Him in His creation. If by this fact we can say that God was affected by the works of Adam and Eve, then I suppose we could say that God is affected by our works. Not sure exactly what you are getting at in this question.

    No, our works are not “filthy rags” when redeemed by Christ. “Filthy rags” are the works as Isaiah describes then – works done by those who have not followed God.

    The relationship between works and justification is stated very well in Eph 2. We are not saved by, or as a result of, good works, but we saved FOR good works. Justification (and regeneration) are the door by which we enter into God’s kingdom, a kingdom that is characterized by working with and for God. Note what the text says about the fact that we are “created” for good works. Working in part of what we are destined for by our very creaturely-ness. Those works do a number of things as my Heidelberg Catechism quote points out. One of those is what James points out – they demonstrate that we are in the faith.

    Concerning your last sentence, nobody is saying that “works with the slightest taint of sin are evil before God.” We are saying that works done by those who are active rebels against God are not pleasing to Him.

  167. Andrew,

    So works done by believers are inherently good before God? Or are they good based upon Christ’s imputed righteousness making them so? Yes, we are saved for good works, but how do we conceive of those good works logically? That’s the question. It’s not whether the Reformers had a section devoted to good works in their respective theologies, I don’t deny that they did; the question is whether their understanding of being saved ‘for works’ is consistent with their understanding of works viewed in light of justification sola fide.

    You write: “No, our works are not “filthy rags” when redeemed by Christ. “Filthy rags” are the works as Isaiah describes then – works done by those who have not followed God.” So where do sins of believers fit?

    Also, you write: “Concerning your last sentence, nobody is saying that “works with the slightest taint of sin are evil before God.” We are saying that works done by those who are active rebels against God are not pleasing to Him.” I agree with what you’re saying; but it’s because what you’re saying here is not protestant, it’s Catholic! You should just become Catholic, friend. :)

    If you haven’t already, you should read this article: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2011/11/why-john-calvin-did-not-recognize-the-distinction-between-mortal-and-venial-sin/

  168. Andrew M,

    Just to add some referential umph to what Joshua has said (#167): by denying that the works of believers are like “filthy rags,” it seems to me that you’re explicitly contradicting WCF 16.5. Of course, WCF 16 does say that believers do good works, but they are “good” only insofar as they “proceed from the Holy Spirit.” Insofar as they are considered as ours, they remain hopelessly corrupt: “as they [believers' good works] are wrought by us, they are defiled, and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure the severity of God’s judgment,” in support of which it cites Isaiah 64.6–the filthy rags verse. So you’re going against WCF when you say, “‘Filthy rags’ are the works as Isaiah describes then – works done by those who have not followed God.” Notwithstanding the fact that WCF 16.6 concedes that God, in view of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, chooses not to treat them as such, WCF 16.5 explicitly lumps in believers’ good works with the filthy rags of Isa 64.6.

    best,
    TC

  169. When works comes up, as it inevitably does, I remember trying to discern “when” I was supposed to do a good work, as though the Holy Spirit or St Michael the archangel would touch me on the shoulder, point and say “go do it.”

    One day it occurred to me that I probably wasn’t going to get a divine sign, other than that original direction by our Lord to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit those who are sick and in prison.

    To be sure, I am not averse to a divine or angelic prod, but there seems to be enough of the ordinary feed, clothe, visit stuff that a unique inspiration should not be required. I suspect that Teresa of India used the ordinary method and did not require divine traffic control to get her pointed to the next needy person. It is important to note that her motivation for serving them was that she was seeing our Lord in them, and in serving them, she was serving Him. Limited as I am, that seems the right way to view these opportunities, whether or not God Himself is a signpost to the next needy person.

    Cordially,

    dt

  170. Joshua L (and T Ciatoris),

    In #166 I made the statement that works done as active rebels against God were not pleasing to Him. Your response in #167 was that such a position is “not Protestant.” So what principle of Reformed Protestantism do you think I have violated by my statement?

    You ask, So works done by believers are inherently good before God?

    Is it possible that a work that was done with the intention of pleasing God by someone who had redeemed by Him could be inherently evil? I think the question answers itself.

    Concerning works and their motivation, let’s take the example of giving to the poor. We can say that there is obviously nothing inherently wrong with giving to the poor. But then why does Jesus condemn such actions by the Pharisees ? Is it not for just the reason that I stated above that works done as active rebels against God are inherently displeasing to Him? The Pharisees problem was that they did not understand the depth of their own sin and did not understand the righteousness of God. But we are all naturally rebels against God and are works cannot be pleasing to Him outside of a context where they have been redeemed by the Holy Spirit (this speaks to your point, TC).

    Much of the backdrop of the Reformed /Catholic discussion over works was the rejection by both Protestant and Catholic scholars of the de facto Semi-Pelagianism of the Medieval RCC. The subtle nuances of the Medieval theologians that avoided de jure Semi-Pelagianism were lost on the average cleric and in terms of popular piety the laypeople were steeped in Pelagian attempts to satisfy God’s judgment via various sacramental works and acts of piety. Trent attempted to define matters and end clerical abuse of the means of grace, but even to this day there seems to be significant confusion among Catholics over what role works play in the life of the believer. To me this seems to be an inherent problem with the theology of faith/works in the RCC system. If faith and works are complimentary then how much does one have to work to satisfy God’s penalty for sin? I think if I were a Catholic I would be working my tail off to this end. And if you are working so hard to cooperate with God in the justification of your soul then what does this do in terms of motivation to work in God’s kingdom solely for His glory and the extension of His kingdom? Does it not make sense that seeing justification as a free gift from God takes the focus off us and focuses us and our actions on working for God’s glory rather than our own benefit?

  171. Andrew (re: 170):

    I’m actually amazed at what you wrote!

    “Is it possible that a work that was done with the intention of pleasing God by someone who had redeemed by Him could be inherently evil? I think the question answers itself.”

    Again, this is not Reformed at all; you state a distinctly Catholic position in what was a matter of debate between Protestants and Catholics.

    And your Reformation narrative is extremely confused.

    I have to go now, but I’ll provide a fuller response (quotes and all) tonight…

    By the way, when I said that you should just become Catholic, I meant it in the best way possible. I’m sorry if I offended you.

    Take care.

  172. Joshua,

    I’m actually amazed at what you wrote!

    “Is it possible that a work that was done with the intention of pleasing God by someone who had redeemed by Him could be inherently evil? I think the question answers itself.”

    Again, this is not Reformed at all; you state a distinctly Catholic position in what was a matter of debate between Protestants and Catholics.

    Here is what the Westminster Confession has to say about good works done by the redeemed:

    “These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life” (16.2).

    It sounded like you were saying it is “not Reformed at all” to suggest that good works can be done by God’s people for his glory, but (if I have understood you) this is incorrect.

  173. JJS,

    As I mentioned above, WCF 16.5 says: “as they [believers' good works] are wrought by us, they are defiled, and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure the severity of God’s judgment.” I still don’t understand how the WCF isn’t saying that the good works of believers are inherently evil insofar as they are human beings’ works. I get that other parts of WCF 16 (especially 16.6) are meant to balance this out. But it still seems like the teaching is that there are no authentically good human works, even in the believer.

    best,
    TC

  174. It’s just saying that no work we do, if it were divorced from God’s grace and made to stand up to the scrutiny of God’s blinding holiness, is anything but flawed. Hardly a controversial position, it seems to me.

  175. JJS,

    I know what it means to consider a believer’s work under different aspects, as St Thomas does here. I don’t know how to begin thinking about “divorc[ing] from God’s grace” the work of someone who is indwelt by the Trinity. But that’s probably on account of my belief in infused righteousness and ontological union with Christ. I guess I can see how the mental divorce would work under an imputation model. Back to square one, eh!

    In any event, by referencing Isa 64.6, WCF 16.5 implies that the good works of believers, considered as the good works of the believer, are worse than just “flawed” — they’re still filthy rags. The text of the article itself says that they are, not just infinitely insignificant, but “defiled.” That does seem controversial to me. But I can see how the position is necessitated if you grant total depravity and a Reformed definition of grace.

    best,
    TC

  176. TC (re:175),

    I don’t know how to begin thinking about “divorc[ing] from God’s grace” the work of someone who is indwelt by the Trinity.

    Someone who is indwelt by the Trinity would not be seeking to divorce their works from the grace of God. The warning in 16:5 is like that in Galatians 3 – don’t think you can work your way into God’s grace, even partly.

    What is “defiled” is out attempts of justification before God via human effort. As Paul says in James, we cannot begin with the Spirit, and then continue in the flesh. It must be from faith to faith as Paul wrote in another place.

  177. Andrew,

    The phrase about divorcing one’s works from God’s grace is not my own. It’s from Jason’s paraphrase of WCF 16.5, which is about the works of believers. WCF 16.5 is about the works of believers, not works that attempt to achieve justification via human effort, and it calls them “defiled.” The works of the unregenerate are addressed in 16.7.

    Also, I wasn’t aware that Paul wrote James. ;-)

    best,
    TC

  178. Andrew,

    An addendum. I’m not trying to pick a fight. It’s your confession, not mine. But if I’m misunderstanding it — which is, I freely admit, entirely possible — you’re going to have to show me from the text of the WCF itself. But I’ve been reading the thing over and over, and it seems awfully clear to me. Thanks for your patience.

    TC

  179. Jason, (re: #174)

    You wrote:

    It’s just saying that no work we do, if it were divorced from God’s grace and made to stand up to the scrutiny of God’s blinding holiness, is anything but flawed.

    Because the WCF says, “there is no sin so small, but it deserves damnation” (WCF XV.4), it seems to me that your paraphrase of the WCF’s claim amounts to this: Without the covering of the imputed righteousness of Christ, each of our acts as believers would deserve damnation.

    But that claim seems to be directly contrary to Andrew M’s claim that a work done by someone redeemed by God with the intention of pleasing God cannot be inherently evil. Being inherently evil is just what makes a work deserve damnation. Inherently evil doesn’t mean has no good in it, or is “pure evil.” It simply means that in and of itself, it is evil. So Andrew’s claim that the believer’s good works are not inherently evil seems to be at odds with your claim that in fact they are, and would be damnable if it were not for the extra nos imputed righteousness of Christ.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  180. Jason (& Andrew),

    I’m not arguing that Reformed don’t believe that good works are done by God’s people. I grant that. My problem with what Andrew says is that those works are not inherently evil. To my knowledge, no Reformed or Lutheran would claim that believers’ works are inherently good. That is tantamount to rejecting the entire Reformation.

    Heidelberg Catechism #61-62:
    “61 Q: Why do you say that by faith alone you are right with God?
    A: It is not because of any value my faith has that God is pleased with me. Only Christ’s satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness make me right with God. And I can receive this righteousness and make it mine in no other way than by faith alone.
    62Q: Why can’t the good we do make us right with God, or at least help make us right with him?
    A: Because the righteousness which can pass God’s scrutiny must be entirely perfect and must in every way measure up to the divine law. Even the very best we do in this life is imperfect and stained with sin.”

    The Heidelberg Catechism doesn’t say that only the works of the wicked are unacceptable before God, but that “the very best we do in this life is imperfect and stained with sin.” According to HC 13, “we increase our debt everyday.”

    Let me know what you think…

  181. Bryan,

    I wrote: “It’s just saying that no work we do, if it were divorced from God’s grace and made to stand up to the scrutiny of God’s blinding holiness, is anything but flawed.” And you responded:

    Because the WCF says, “there is no sin so small, but it deserves damnation” (WCF XV.4), it seems to me that your paraphrase of the WCF’s claim amounts to this: Without the covering of the imputed righteousness of Christ, each of our acts as believers would deserve damnation.

    But that claim seems to be directly contrary to Andrew M’s claim that a work done by someone redeemed by God with the intention of pleasing God cannot be inherently evil. Being inherently evil is just what makes a work deserve damnation. Inherently evil doesn’t mean has no good in it, or is “pure evil.” It simply means that in and of itself, it is evil. So Andrew’s claim that the believer’s good works are not inherently evil seems to be at odds with your claim that in fact they are, and would be damnable if it were not for the extra nos imputed righteousness of Christ.

    I was only addressing a small factor in the whole good works discussion. There are a few factors that must be present for a work to be considered good, according to the Reformed tradition: (1) it must be in accord with God’s law, (2) it must be done from a renewed heart, and (3) it must be done for God’s glory. My point was that if you remove factors 2 and 3, the work—even if it is in accord with God’s law—is not truly good.

  182. There’s also a necessary covenantal component to any discussion of merit from a Reformed perspective (I am going to try to avoid labels like condign or congruent here). The Reformed believe that no human work is good or satisfactory enough to necessitate God’s reward (in the same way that heating water to 100 degrees Celsius makes it boil). We cannot obligate God by putting on so perfect a performance that he would be unjust not to save us because of it. Only Jesus can so please the Father by his lawkeeping.

    On the other hand, God, having entered into covenant with us, can and must reward us as we adhere to the terms of the covenant. So when we talk about works being praiseworthy, we are speaking within the bounds of the covenant, and within the “rules of engagement” God has established.

    John says that when we confess our sins, God is “faithful” and “just” to forgive them. Those words make sense only in the light of the covenant of grace God has made.

  183. JJS:

    re: 182: that is straight-up Catholic. You can ignore the distinction between condign and congruent merit in your articulation of the moral theology, conceiving such things as a linguistic or terminological device; but the substance of your articulation is straightforwardly Catholic, and is just what the terminological devices ‘condign’ and ‘congruent’ were made for.

    Neal

  184. Methinks you already know this, by the way.

  185. Neal,

    Then Westminster Seminary California teaches Catholicism! Who knew?

  186. Ha! They do and they don’t. We knew, they didn’t.

    Neal

  187. Rather (since what I said just now sounded not just provocative but prick-ish), if they thought they were teaching something antithetical to Catholicism when they taught things like what you espoused above, and if they presented them to their students as something antithetical to the Catholic Faith, then yeah, they didn’t know what they were doing. Who knew? Er, us, and lots of other people besides. But whatevs. The stuff you said above, wherever you picked it up, is coo wit us Cats. So no reason to present it as a reformed response to what us Cats say.

    Neal

  188. JJS (re: #181)

    You wrote:

    There are a few factors that must be present for a work to be considered good, according to the Reformed tradition: (1) it must be in accord with God’s law, (2) it must be done from a renewed heart, and (3) it must be done for God’s glory. My point was that if you remove factors 2 and 3, the work—even if it is in accord with God’s law—is not truly good.

    In the Reformed tradition, even when all three factors are present the work is still “defiled” and mixed with “imperfection,” (WCF XVI.5) As Josh pointed out above from the Heidelberg Catechism: “Even the very best we do in this life is imperfect and stained with sin.” Therefore these good works are worthy of eternal punishment, because “there is no sin so small, but it deserves damnation.” (WCF XV.4) The Reformed tradition calls these damnable works ‘good,’ but they still deserve eternal punishment, just like wicked works do. So calling them ‘good’ is just putting the ‘good’ label on something that is [in this tradition] actually so repulsive to God that it deserves eternal punishment. It is, once again, a merely semantic stipulative solution, just as with extra nos imputed righteousness.

    The Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sin avoids this problem, by recognizing that a work can be done out of love for God, and yet still not be perfect in every respect. What makes the good work pleasing to Him is fundamentally that it was done out of love for Him, even if the act was not done perfectly. It is not that He treats the work as pleasing to Him when in actuality it is deserving of eternal punishment. The work truly is pleasing to Him, because it is done in agape.

    Yes, we agree that merit is based on a covenant. (I discussed this briefly in the recent merit post.) But in the Reformed tradition the covenant is an agreement on God’s part to call some of our damnable works ‘good’ and to nevertheless ‘reward’ them, whereas in Catholic doctrine the covenant is to infuse sanctifying grace and agape into the believer, so that the believer’s works truly are done out of agape, and truly are good, and therefore truly deserve [condignly] union with He who is Agape.

    One relevant canon of Trent 6 is:

    Canon 25. If anyone says that in every good work the just man sins at least venially, or, what is more intolerable, mortally, and hence merits eternal punishment, and that he is not damned for this reason only, because God does not impute these works into damnation, let him be anathema.

    The protasis of that conditional is just what the WCF is saying, namely, that every good work (even the best good work) of the just man deserves eternal punishment, but God does not impute these ‘good’ works unto damnation, but instead ‘rewards’ them.

    The Catholic doctrine can be found in Canon 32 of Trent 6:

    Canon 32. If anyone says that the good works of the one justified are in such manner the gifts of God that they are not also the good merits of him justified; or that the one justified by the good works that he performs by the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit an increase of grace, eternal life, and in case he dies in grace, the attainment of eternal life itself and also an increase of glory, let him be anathema.

    Good works done by the one in a state of grace (i.e. having sanctifying grace and agape) are performed by the grace of God working in him, and this grace was merited for him by Jesus Christ. And these good works, because they are our cooperation in a supernatural movement proportional to the Beatific Vision as our supernatural end, truly merit [condignly] eternal life, i.e. union with God in the Beatific Vision.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  189. Bryan says:

    n the Reformed tradition, even when all three factors are present the work is still “defiled” and mixed with “imperfection,” (WCF XVI.5)

    No Bryan you are misreading the WCF here. Concerning good works it says, “as they are good, they proceed from His Spirit, and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled,…” They are only defiled when they proceed from us and are divorced from the Spirit.

    Keep in mind also that the context here is works meriting the pardoning of our sin. As I stated before, this is a just another way of stating what Paul warns against about beginning in the Spirit and continuing in the flesh. We just cannot use our works to merit the pardon of sin, even just a little.

  190. Andrew, (re: #189)

    No, you are misreading the WCF. The statement “and because, as they are good, they proceed from His Spirit; and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled, and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection” (WCF XVI.5) is not referring to two sets of works, the former done by regenerate persons and the latter done by unregenerate persons, or the former done by the regenerate person following the Spirit, and the latter done by the regenerate person not following the Spirit. It is talking about the two-fold contribution to any ‘good’ work done by the regenerate person. It is saying that whatever is good in those works comes from the Holy Spirit, and whatever in those good works comes from us is defiled and imperfect. See the quotations from Calvin in my merit post, where he says the same thing. The WCF authors were following Calvin here.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  191. May be I never understood the Reformed tradition, but I called myself Reformed for 20 years, read the Institutes a couple of times and all Reformed writers I could find. I have to agree with Bryan. From the Reformed perspective, no human work could be good unless performed by a man who had no taint of original sin and had never sinned. No human work that was not perfect, both in performance and in motivation, could be good. There is none righteous, no, not one.

    jj

  192. Bryan said in #190: ….is not referring to two sets of works, the former done by regenerate persons and the latter done by unregenerate persons,….

    And here Bryan, you are misunderstanding what I said above. I’m not comparing the works of believers versus unbelievers. As the Scriptures and all of the Reformed confessions do, I am addressing the possibility of works meriting eternal life. Maybe I’m wrong but from what I can see, you and Jason are getting confused because you are trying to extract the concept of good works from the context that they are being discussed in the relevant sections of the WCF and Heidelberg. The confessions are not talking about good works in general, they are speaking of the possibility of good works within the context of these works meriting salvation. Within the context of us seeking to work towards salvation on our own power our works are defiled. To try to say that works of the believer are inherently defiled without any mention of the motivation and end purpose of these works is to miss the central thrust of the biblical and confessional passages.

    What these sections of the confession do not teach is that the works of the believer are inherently defiled. The context is about works directed toward obtaining salvation, not works in general. If you want some in depth commentary on 16:5 you can go to Hodges commentary on the WCF where he goes into great detail to explain why the best of our works cannot merit the favor of God. But note once again, Bryan, the context. It’s not about works in general, it’s about works done for the purpose and motivation of obtaining salvation. The error spoken by the confessions is just what Paul talks about when he asks the Galatians whether they can begin with the Spirit and then continue in the flesh. What Paul is pounding home is just what the confessions are getting at.

  193. John in #191 said: From the Reformed perspective, no human work could be good unless performed by a man who had no taint of original sin and had never sinned.

    OK John, so let me correct this statement given what I say to Bryan above:

    From the Reformed perspective, no human work done with the motivation and purpose to obtain salvation could be good unless performed by a man who had no taint of original sin and had never sinned.

    Will you accept that correction?

  194. Andrew, (re: #192)

    You wrote:

    What these sections of the confession do not teach is that the works of the believer are inherently defiled.

    That’s exactly what they teach. WCF XVI.5 is not saying that only when believers’ motives are to merit pardon or eternal life, then their works are defiled. Rather, the WCF is explaining precisely why believers’ ‘good’ works cannot possibly ever merit pardon or eternal life, namely, because even our “best works” [WCF XVI.5] are defiled. That’s why WCF XVI.6 goes on to say “Notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted though Christ, their good works also accepted in Him; not as though they were in this life wholly unblameable and unreproveable in God sight, but that He, looking upon them in His Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.” All the Reformed confessions teach the same thing in this respect; none teach that when our motives are not to merit, then our good works are not defiled or not imperfect or not worthy of damnation.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  195. @Andrew:

    John in #191 said: From the Reformed perspective, no human work could be good unless performed by a man who had no taint of original sin and had never sinned.

    OK John, so let me correct this statement given what I say to Bryan above:

    From the Reformed perspective, no human work done with the motivation and purpose to obtain salvation could be good unless performed by a man who had no taint of original sin and had never sinned.

    Will you accept that correction?

    Andrew, I’m now a Catholic – but I can tell you without fear of contradiction that all my Reformed teachers for 20 years, and my own understanding – no doubt flawed, but there you are – of Reformed Confessions and commentators (including Hodge) was certainly not in line with that. There was no distinction that I ever learned that distinguished between works done to merit salvation and works done for other purposes. All our works were ‘filthy rags.’

    If you are right, they were wrong – or i was just misunderstanding them – both possible. But if you are right, then apparently the Reformation was never needed, at least not for any theological reasons.

    jj

  196. Bryan,

    You are speaking of works as if we can extract some sort of pure idealized form of “works” away from the context of the purpose and motivation for works and then analyze this form to determine of it has goodness and badness associated with it. But this is just not the way the Scriptures or the Reformed confessions look at it. And it’s not just about motivation but also about purpose. God in His Word condemns works which are done for the wrong motivation and purpose. Take a look at some of Christ’s condemnation of the Pharisees works. It was not the act itself which was in question, it was the motivation of their hearts and the purpose that drove them that Christ was critiquing. And then think also about the OT condemnation of the sacrifices of the Jews. It was not the sacrifices themselves which were condemned (since God had commanded these sacrifices spoken of) but the motivation of the people’s hearts. So it’s just the opposite of what you suppose, Bryan. A work can be done with two different motivations and purposes in mind, one being pleasing to God and other being condemned.

    ….. the WCF is explaining precisely why believers’ ‘good’ works cannot possibly ever merit pardon or eternal life, namely, because even our “best works” [WCF XVI.5] are defiled.

    No Bryan! Please read the context of the quote. You have missed something very important in your quote – …as they are wrought by us, they are defiled. As they are wrought in us, do you understand what this means? It means just what Galatians 3 is speaking of what it talks of works of “the flesh.” It’s not the works themselves (as if we could abstract works away from the context in which the Scriptures and the Reformed confessions present them), but rather the motivation of these works and the purpose for which they are directed. What is defiled in the Scriptures in not the works, but the works in the flesh, those wrought by us apart from the Spirit. Do you see that motivation and purpose must have something to do with the discussion?

    If you are correct and works are inherently defiled in the Reformed system, apart from context which they may be spoken of in the Reformed creedal statements, then what these confessions are saying is contradictory and even schizophrenic. The concept of “good works” would then be oxymoronic. And perhaps hundreds of years of Reformed theology missed all of this and formulated creeds which are self-contradictory. Or maybe, you are incorrect that motivation and purpose of the works is irrelevant. Maybe the Reformed confessions really are teaching that works wrought in us are defiled, but those produced by the Spirit are indeed good.

  197. Andrew, (re: #196)

    You wrote:

    You are speaking of works as if we can extract some sort of pure idealized form of “works” away from the context of the purpose and motivation for works and then analyze this form to determine of it has goodness and badness associated with it. … A work can be done with two different motivations and purposes in mind, one being pleasing to God and other being condemned.

    I agree that a work can be done with two different motives at the same time. But in the Reformed system, if a work has mixed motives, then that work is imperfect, defiled, and worthy of damnation. In the Reformed system, nothing less than perfection meets Gods’ righteous requirement or is inherently pleasing to God. In the Reformed system, you can’t extract out the good motivation from the context of the bad motivation, and then claim that the work is inherently good because of that good motivation.

    What is defiled in the Scriptures in not the works, but the works in the flesh, those wrought by us apart from the Spirit.

    Again, there are not two sets of works being referred to in WCF XVI.5. That paragraph is referring to one set of works, the ‘good’ works performed by believers. Insofar as these works are good, this is only because they proceed from the indwelling Spirit ["Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ" - WCF XVI.3], but insofar as those works also necessarily come from us [since otherwise we wouldn't be doing them], they are defiled, because even in the regenerate there remains corruption in every part of us (WCF XIII.2). The Larger Catechism adds “The imperfection of sanctification in believers ariseth from the remnants of sin abiding in every part of them.” (Q. 78) So anything that comes from a believer in this present life is necessarily defiled, because no part of a believer is free from sinful corruption, and a pure and perfect work cannot come from an impure and imperfect soul. That is why the “best works” of the believer are called in the prooftext (for WCF XVI.5) “filthy rags.” And the Larger Catechism testifies to this and confirms this: “and their best works are imperfect and defiled in the sight of God.” (Q. 78) But notwithstanding the filthiness before God of these ‘good’ works, God accepts them not because they are “unblameable and unreproveable” (WCF XVI.6) [in the Reformed system they are blameworthy and reproveable], and not because they are without “imperfection” (WCF XVI.6) [in the Reformed system every good work of a believer is imperfect] but only because God looks on them “in His Son.” If God didn’t look on them “in His Son,” He would damn them and condemn those who committed them to eternal punishment for committing them. And that shows that your claim that in the Reformed system these ‘good’ works are inherently good is mistaken.

    I think it is time to bring this discussion back to the topic of the post. You’ve made your case, and it is starting to get repetitive, which means it is best to conclude it.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  198. Hello Friends,

    First, I would like Mr. Judisch to know that a blog post of his in reaction to Chuck Colson and the ECT really was instrumental for me; it highlighted this fundamental truth: Advocates of Reformed theology were de facto embracing Trent unknowingly. Later, when a series on justification by Dr. Hahn described the Catholic understanding of St. Paul in contrast to the Protestant position, I did not recognize that Protestant position. We had moved, while either unwilling or unable to say so. Let me take us back to the center this way: Mr. Cross has recently asked in a post, “How would Protestants know when to return?” My contribution is a straightforward assertion: It is time to return. When our former (in my case) communities affirm and dissent from Catholic tradition at different points and there is no way to make a principled case to account for it, (and to heal our own schisms) that’s a prima facie case against the legitimacy of that original dissent. Mr. Cross also wrote about a PCA pastor named Terry Johnson who lamented the collapsing ecclesiology in Protestant life. What is the reason? The reason is that “Derivative authority is a sham,” or, with respect, it is a fig leaf. The Church (however conceived) either is infallible and has binding authority over me, or it will break down. If I retain the right of private judgment, I cannot know if any dissent was principled or not. Even if I were unwilling to say that my community was the visible Church of Christ, the problem persists. As long as another interpretation of Scripture and “Church” was plausible or numerically influential, the risk exists that I would accomodate it, with no principled way to reject an error. When Mr. Cross mentions that he could not argue an orthodox Christology in a principled way against visitors in his Ecclesial Deism article, I hope the point is made. An historical hermeneutic of rupture cannot rely on a continuity from which it dissents!

  199. Jason K wrote:

    Later, when a series on justification by Dr. Hahn described the Catholic understanding of St. Paul…

    Do you happen to know the title of this series from Dr. Hahn?

  200. Jason Stewart,

    I own a large tape set by Hahn called “Romanism in Romans” which is fantastic and directly, and in great detail, challenges the Reformed reading of St. Paul on justification. Not sure if this is what Jason K had in mind, and I am not sure if the series is still out there on CD or mp3.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  201. St Joeseph Communications has the “Romanism in Romans” bible study available for download in MP3 format HERE. It is a bit pricey, but they quite frequently have sales.

    There is also a shorter, less expensive series by Scott Hahn that touches on some of the similar themes called “Justification: Become a child of God” available HERE.

  202. The latter was the one I heard.

  203. Dr. Kenneth Howell, formerly a PCA(Presbyterian Church in America) pastor and seminary professor, converted to Catholicism a number of years ago. I read with great interest his story, as did with many here on their return “home.” An issue exits for me that is a “deal breaker”: over the last 50-60 years, the Catholic church has seemed to publicly honor other faiths-Islam, Buddhism; most recently Pope John Paul II kissed and inclined his head before the Qu’ran; the Qu’ran says of Christ-”O people of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning Allah save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, and His word which he conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit [sic.] from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers and say not ‘Three’ – Cease! (it is better for you! – Allah is only one God. Far is it removed from His transcendent majesty that He should have a son…The Messiah will never scorn to be a slave unto Allah.”
    How is it that the Pope , the Vicar of Christ, legitimizes Islam ? Where is the exclusiveness of the Gospel, the singular atonement of Christ as the only path for salvation? Quite simply, can any of you imagine Peter ,in whose stead the Pope is said to stand, giving such obeisance? May I say, this is only one example, perhaps the most glaring, of the Pope(s)’ public affirmation of religions which deny the supremacy of Christ and His Gospel. Any insights would be appreciated.

  204. @Baird (#203):

    Thanks for popping by the website. Hope you’ll stick around for a bit, read, and see what these crazy Catholics have to say. (Nb: I say “crazy” mostly because they’re some of the few Catholics I’ve met who actually live out their faith. Sanity in a time of craziness is its own sort of craziness, amirite?) ;-)

    Personal background so you know where my biases lie: Born and raised in a Protestant Christian home and am now in RCIA learning more about Catholicism. There’s a lot more to it than that sentence betrays, but if I’m any less brief it’ll turn into a dissertation-length explanation. And as I’m already in the throes of one dissertation, I don’t need another project like that at the moment. :-p

    Anyways, now that you know where I’m coming from, I want to let you know that I did a nontrivial amount of reading up on the Catholic view of Islam as well as the particular incident you reference. As you have hopefully discovered by now, reading up on Catholic sources themselves rather than secondary (Protestant) treatments of Catholic sources is pretty important. So, in that vein, I recommend reading §3 of “NOSTRA AETATE.; it’s Vatican II’s statement on “The relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions”. The title itself should be indicative of the the official Catholic’s position on the Muslim, Jewish, and other religions – specifically, that they are not Christian.

    I’m a philosopher, not a theologian, so what follows is my bottom-line summary of a document that’s outside of my field of expertise. Roughly, I think Vatican II is saying: “It’s good that Muslims are monotheists, honor Jesus and Mary, await God’s judgment, and strive to live a moral lifestyle. They don’t think Jesus is God, so that’s a problem. But let’s try and work together for peace and mutual understanding.” Of course read the document for yourself- my impression is that while the declaration doesn’t go out of it’s way to say anything like “ALL YOU MUSLIMS WILL BURN IN HELL!”, it’s also not like not it utterly ignores the differences between Muslims and Christians either (it explicitly mentions that they deny Jesus’ divinity, and that’s kind of a big deal if you’re a Christian!)

    As regards B16′s kissing the Koran, that’s an incident that I don’t personally find very troubling as far as its implications for the truth of Catholicism go. Let me explain. It’s not clear to me that B16 knew he was kissing the Koran, so it might simply have been a gesture of politeness gone awry. I’ve been overseas in foreign lands without interpreters before, so it’s at least relatively plausible that someone hands him a shiny book and he honorifically kisses it without realizing what’s going on. (He had interpreters, I’m sure, but still they’re human and it might have just been a spontaneous gesture.)

    That’s kind of the best-case scenario. Worst case scenario is that he knew what the book was, knew that their holy book contradicts the Christian holy book in certain serious ways, and did it anyway. If so, B16 did something objectively wrong. But sheesh – look at papal history and you’ll find plenty of instances of Popes doing objectively wrong things (not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s a pretentious way of saying that Pope’s sin too). And of course God never promised that Popes would be sinless or even that they’d be wise – just that God will collectively prevent his Church from proclaiming error which is binding on the faithful for them to believe. But any given Pope (qua his humanity) can sin, they all have sinned, and the best Popes have no qualms about admitting it. So anyways, absent an ecumenical council proclaiming that Muslims are also Christians or absent an explicit ex cathedra statement to the same effect, I don’t think the Pope’s actions hold much by way of implication for the truth or falsity of Catholicism.

    Those are my thoughts. Catholics, feel free to correct me if I’m off base, and everyone else can dogpile on (as appropriate) for speaking my own brand of crazy nonsense. Regardless, Baird, hope you found what I wrote helpful. I’m off to teach.

    Sincerely,
    ~Benjamin

  205. Hi Baird, I have heard this argument before from a friend and it seems to come up alot. Honestly I think you are misunderstanding what the Church claims for itself. Let me explain and perhaps clear things up a bit.

    You said:

    Quite simply, can any of you imagine Peter ,in whose stead the Pope is said to stand, giving such obeisance?

    Yes. I can! Peter is shown to have messed up seriously even in scripture, denying Christ multiple times. Nevertheless, Christ afirms that Peter retains his position of authority even before Peter falls.

    Luke 22:29-34
    And I dispose to you, as my Father hath disposed to me, a kingdom; That you may eat and drink at my table, in my kingdom: and may sit upon thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And the Lord said: Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren. Who said to him: Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death. And he said: I say to thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, till thou thrice deniest that thou knowest me.

    Let’s say for the sake of argument that the pope was wrong to kiss the Koran. That by doing so he was denying Christ and not merely showing respect to another persons beliefs. So what? What have you shown? Have you shown that the claims the Catholic Church has made about the pope are therefore shown to be disproved? No you have not. All you would have shown is that a pope did something dumb. Something I can give far worse examples of from naughty popes in history.

    But again I ask… WHAT does it prove? Does it disprove something Catholics claim about the pope? Or does it disprove what papal opponents claim about the pope? I contend that many of these accusations against “naughty popes” as I call them are the argumentative equivalent of asking “when did you stop beating your wife?” The argument itself starts with a false assumption about what the papal claims actually are, and what would disprove them.

    What you need to show is that a pope intended to teach error to the whole Church, using the full authority of his office as St. Peter’s successor. That is what the Catholic Church itself claims infalibility is, and that is what you need to disprove. The JP2 Koran kiss is a straw man argument if there ever was one against papal claims.

    -David Meyer

  206. Benjamin (#204) I bet you know this but just a correction: it was JP2 not B16 that kissed a Koran.

    Glad to hear you are in RCIA, whether you end up A Catholic or not, I respect your seriousness and the way you diologue. (but I hope you end up a Catholic! ;-)

    -David Meyer

  207. Baird,

    Thanks for your comment. Regarding Pope John Paul II’s gesture, as Fr. Joe points out, it was presumably intended as a gesture of respect for and gratitude to the people who gave him the gift, not an endorsement of Islam or of the Qu’ran. But, nevertheless, in my opinion, given the potential misunderstanding, it may have been better had he not done it. See Jimmy Akin’s article on that. A prudential error in a pope’s actions is fully compatible with the dogma of papal infallibility, because the doctrine of papal infallibility pertains only to certain conditions.

    The teaching of the Catholic Church on other religions is not that they are equal ways to God. On the contrary, she teaches definitively that Christ is the only way to the Father. At the same time, the Church recognizes that there are truths in other religions, though these are not truths that the Church lacks. Furthermore, the Vatican Council recognized that it is good for Christians to affirm the presence of these truths in other religions, because these truths can function as common ground in inter-religious dialogue, and thus serve as an aid in bringing non-Christians into the fullness of the truth revealed by Jesus Christ and preserved faithfully in His Church. I highly recommending reading through the document Dominus Iesus.

    So the Church does not “legitimize” Islam, though she does recognize that there are theological truths in Islam, such as monotheism and the doctrine of creation. The Church explicitly and irrevocably teaches that Christ’s atonement is the only path for salvation. No one comes to the Father except through Christ. Anyone who is saved, is saved only through the grace that comes to us through Christ’s passion and death. It seems to me that you are mistaking what is in actuality the Church’s recognition and affirmation of the truths we (Christians) share with other religions, as indifferentism. But they are not the same. The Church has always condemned indifferentism, which denies “the supremacy of Christ and His Gospel.” Recognizing and affirming the truths we have in common with other religions, and the common brotherhood we have as persons made in the image of God, should not be misinterpreted as an endorsement of religious indifferentism.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  208. What you need to show is that a pope intended to teach error to the whole Church, using the full authority of his office as St. Peter’s successor. That is what the Catholic Church itself claims infalibility is, and that is what you need to disprove. The JP2 Koran kiss is a straw man argument if there ever was one against papal claims.

    Benjamin, I’ve been through this whole song and dance with David, and I’ll warn you, it doesn’t end well. One of the problems is that the bar is a moving target. Even amongst Catholics, there is very little unity about which teachings qualify as ‘infallible’, and add in the word ‘intended’, and you come up with a target that can change on a whim. I’ve heard numbers (of infallible teachings) as low as 2 and as high as 60 – with the best answer being ‘we don’t know’.

    My preference is to take a broader look at the words ‘teach error’, and include actions as well as the fabled pronouncements from the chair of Peter. If you do that, then actions like Koran Kissing actually carry weight… and you begin to see a different picture of RCC teaching. Falling back on ‘do as I say, not as I do’ doesn’t cut it for me.

    If you begin to count the publications from other Vatican offices, you end up in very weird territory quick. Take the pronouncement a month or two ago, calling for a world-wide governance system over money. “But that wasn’t the pope, and it wasn’t from the chair”. It’s all the same magesterium from my perspective.

    I’d encourage you to follow your gut on these matters, Benjamin. Do a little digging – especially into the money of the RCC. It is an eye-opening experience.

  209. Bob B,

    I am sorry that our discussions on this topic have not ended to your satisfaction. I think I am mostly to blame.
    But I don’t think the topic has been seriously discussed by us to any degree, or that you have brough forward any evidence to contradict what the Catholic Church actually claims about infallibility. Lots of ink spilled by us, but we have not even really broached the topic. You have brough a lot forth just nothing that would disprove the actual Catholic claim.
    Please by all means have that discussion in this forum, it is the best place in the world to have it. I will stay out of it though in deference to those more knowledgeable. So forget my bad arguments and please have at it with the CTC crowd. And know I will be listening in.

    Peace,

    David Meyer

  210. Bob B (re#208):

    You wrote:

    My preference is to take a broader look at the words ‘teach error’, and include actions as well as the fabled pronouncements from the chair of Peter. If you do that, then actions like Koran Kissing actually carry weight… and you begin to see a different picture of RCC teaching. Falling back on ‘do as I say, not as I do’ doesn’t cut it for me.

    If you begin to count the publications from other Vatican offices, you end up in very weird territory quick. Take the pronouncement a month or two ago, calling for a world-wide governance system over money. “But that wasn’t the pope, and it wasn’t from the chair”. It’s all the same magesterium from my perspective.

    Fortunately, Christ did not appoint you as an authority on such matters, and I am therefore not bound by your subjective impressions. For subjective impressions – loosely formulated and with no evidence at all – is all you’re offering here.

    Pax Christi,
    Frank

  211. Bob (re: #208),

    You wrote:

    One of the problems is that the bar is a moving target. Even amongst Catholics, there is very little unity about which teachings qualify as ‘infallible’, and add in the word ‘intended’, and you come up with a target that can change on a whim. I’ve heard numbers (of infallible teachings) as low as 2 and as high as 60 – with the best answer being ‘we don’t know’.

    Undoubtedly you have encountered uninformed or misinformed Catholics. But that does not mean that there is any ‘moving target’ target with respect to the doctrine of papal infallibility. The criteria for the conditions under which we can know that the pope is being divinely protected from error are specified in the relevant paragraph of the Decrees of the First Vatican Council:

    Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, to the glory of God our savior, for the exaltation of the Catholic religion and for the salvation of the Christian people, with the approval of the Sacred Council, we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable. (source)

    Those four criteria are (a) he is exercising his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, not just engaged in private conversation or correspondence, or even when writing theology books as an academic, (b) he defines a doctrine, not merely discusses a doctrine, (c) the doctrine is on faith and morals, not on any other subject, and (d) the doctrine is to be held by by the whole Church, not merely by, say, the Franciscans, or, for example, the Church in Poland.

    You wrote:

    My preference is to take a broader look at the words ‘teach error’, and include actions as well as the fabled pronouncements from the chair of Peter.

    If you do that, then you’re just constructing and subsequent criticizing a straw man. That is neither charitable nor intellectual honest. You cannot justifiably construe the papal doctrine of infallibility as a protection from imprudent or even sinful words or deeds. That would be to commit the fallacy of the straw man.

    If you begin to count the publications from other Vatican offices, you end up in very weird territory quick. Take the pronouncement a month or two ago, calling for a world-wide governance system over money. “But that wasn’t the pope, and it wasn’t from the chair”. It’s all the same magesterium from my perspective.

    It is understandable why, from your perspective, they are “all the same magisterium.” But they are not, because they are not the Magisterium. There are many offices, congregations, and councils in the Roman Curia, but they are not the Magisterium, and none of them is infallible. The Magisterium is the teaching office of the Church; it is made up of the pope and bishops in communion with him. We (Catholics) believe that the pope is divinely protected from error when the four criteria above are satisfied. And the bishops are likewise protected from error under certain conditions in ecumenical council, and even under certain conditions when not in ecumenical council. (See Lumen Gentium, 25) There is no such divine assurance of protection from error for the different curial offices in the Vatican, since they are not the Magisterium, though they work to serve the Magisterium of the Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  212. I fully understand that using subjective phrases (like ‘my perspective’) here gets people all riled up about authority. In fact, I enjoy using them just to see who bites. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen it on this (and other) forums. I contend that all anyone has is their own subjective interpretation – despite how well informed it might be by an external authority. Until such time as we can telepathically or technologically share thoughts, your perspective is all you have. It is good for us to try to identify the external authorities and mold ourselves to them, but even that process never ends, and our perspectives remain unique.

    Also, I don’t attempt to speak authoritatively. All I’ve done is encouraged Benjamin to look from different perspectives at the RCC and evaluate it from more angles than what are typically presented on this blog. I’m not exactly sure why doing so requires evidence or a tight formulation.

    Perhaps you have evidence about the number of teachings that fall under the category of ‘from the chair’. If so, lets see it. If not, my loosely formulated non-authoritative assertion stands.

  213. What does the doctrine of Ex Cathedra do to the deposit of the faith? As a Protestant we have 66 books, a closed canon. Nothing more to be added.

    Isn’t it true that things spoken (or written) Ex Cathedra are to be held as ‘true’ and ‘binding’ on all Catholics? Isn’t it true then, that these things are effectively additions to the deposit of the faith? As such, isn’t the ambiguous nature of what qualifies as Ex Cathedra damaging not only to the doctrine of Ex Cathedra, but also to the deposit? The deposit of faith has become sandy ground!

    How do we know Vatican 1 itself to be Ex Cathedra? It’s conclusions cannot be traced back to scripture, but are an 18th century extrapolation of the 3rd century tradition of the Primacy of Rome. If we were to go back to the Eastern Orthodox (who shared the tradition of Papal Primacy) and asked them if the conclusion of that tradition is Ex Cathedra, they would laugh at us and call it heretical (in my view, rightly so).

    Ex Cathedra serves no benefit to Christendom, and is in fact a dangerous doctrine and a stumbling block to unity.

  214. Bob B (re#212):

    I contend that all anyone has is their own subjective interpretation – despite how well informed it might be by an external authority. Until such time as we can telepathically or technologically share thoughts, your perspective is all you have.

    “What is truth?” (Jn 18:38).

    If you are satisfied basing your eternal salvation on a relativistic concept of truth, fine. I discover the truths of the faith in the custodian of the deposit of faith that Christ appointed. I would not like to find myself in Hell saying, “oops!” It is not I (or we Catholics) who speak authoritatively, it is the Church founded by Jesus Christ (Matt. 16: 18-19) that does.

    I listen to her (Matt.. 18:17) because this is what Jesus commanded (Luke 10:16)

    Pax Christi,
    Frank

  215. RE: PJPII Kissing Qu’ran.
    A few items:
    1]. My concern with JPII making obeisance to the Qu’ran, is not related to his infallibility(ex catherdra), but rather his heart. Quite simply, I would never have done what JPII did, had I been presented with a copy of the Qu’ran. I believe the Holy Spirit within me would be repulsed by such an act. Obviously I do not have the worldy stature of the Pope. I might add that none of the Christan friends/colleagues/clergy, I have known over the years would have made this obeisance. So how is JPII different from a Christian such as myself ? Therein, to me, is the disturbing question. 2]. I find the argument concerning Peter’s denial and other missteps to be a non-starter, both theologically and philosophically; the comparison of JPII’s action and Peter’s mistakes are not analogous. My post is not a polemic against the RCC, but rather seeking insight as to how the RCC over the last 50-60 years, VCII et al, has seemed to embrace this mantra-”Tolerance is the queen of all virtues.” Absorbing the vox populi rather than seasoning the culture around it. “I am the way and the truth and the light, no man cometh to the Father, but by Me.” This is not a statemet of tolerance or of non-exclusivity. Indeed, is a very directed and potentially narrowing statement. Certainly all truth is God’s truth-gravity, insulin for diabetes, the Salk vaccine, etc. Finding common ground with Islam, requires a very intentional “stretch:”, that being we simply want desperately to find some commonality in our mutual humanity(why do we want this so desperately, hmm, why, why?) . Even a cursory reading of the Qu’ran will quickly run counter to most al l of the claims Christ made about Himself. In other words, it is not a “neutral’ book. Waxing on and the hour grows late-again my concern quite simply is a matter of the heart-How could JPII, who is highly esteemed by RCC, perform an act, that I, who have nowhere near his worldy stature, would find abhorrent ? The follow on being- What does he really believe regarding Christ and the supremacy of His Gospel and what does that say about the theology of the church he shepherded ? Is “tolerance the queen of all virtues” . . .

  216. Bob, (re: #213)

    You wrote:

    What does the doctrine of Ex Cathedra do to the deposit of the faith?

    If you are speaking about the doctrine of papal infallibility as defined at Vatican I, the doctrine itself doesn’t “do” anything to the deposit; it is part of the deposit. It has implications regarding the guarding of the deposit through the teaching of the pope.

    Isn’t it true that things spoken (or written) Ex Cathedra are to be held as ‘true’ and ‘binding’ on all Catholics?

    Yes.

    Isn’t it true then, that these things are effectively additions to the deposit of the faith?

    No. Defining a doctrine to be orthodox clarifies what is already in the deposit; it does not add to the deposit in the sense of importing anything that wasn’t implicitly there. Similarly, anathematizing a heresy does not add to the deposit; rather it further clarifies the deposit by showing beliefs do not belong to it. See Newman’s An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.

    As such, isn’t the ambiguous nature of what qualifies as Ex Cathedra damaging not only to the doctrine of Ex Cathedra, but also to the deposit?

    It is not ambiguous to those who have been well-catechized. But Catholics are not all obliged to be theological experts. This is why we are guided by divinely appointed shepherds in succession from the Apostles. So even if to some Catholics it is unclear from Church documents whether a particular teaching is a Catholic dogma, they can always clear this up by consulting their bishop.

    How do we know Vatican 1 itself to be Ex Cathedra?

    Vatican I was not “Ex Cathedra”; it was an ecumenical council ratified by the pope.

    It’s conclusions cannot be traced back to scripture, but are an 18th century extrapolation of the 3rd century tradition of the Primacy of Rome.

    Part of what divides Catholics and Protestants is that Protestants do not recognize the authority of Sacred Tradition that is not explicitly contained in Scripture. For Catholics, by contrast, it is not just Scripture that is authoritative, but also the Tradition as clarified and defined by the divinely established Magisterium, including the papally-ratified teachings of the ecumenical councils. That’s why we cannot just pick and choose from among the Church’s teachings, accepting them when we agree with them (or they match our interpretation of Scripture), and otherwise rejecting them. We believe that the Holy Spirit lives in the Church, which is the Temple of the Lord, and the Holy Spirit guides and protects the Church, in the unfolding and explication of the deposit over the centuries. So that’s why we don’t have to trace the teaching of Vatican I back to an explicit statement in Scripture, or even an explicit statement in the Church Fathers. The notion of the protection of the Magisterium of the Church from falling into error is there in the Fathers (and in Scripture), and it has its locus in the office of the steward of the Church, i.e. the one to whom Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom. Vatican I further illuminated the nature of that doctrine, when it defined papal infallibility. I recommend reading Butler’s The Church and Infallibility.

    If we were to go back to the Eastern Orthodox (who shared the tradition of Papal Primacy) and asked them if the conclusion of that tradition is Ex Cathedra, they would laugh at us and call it heretical

    You could likewise appeal to the Oriental Orthodox to discount the third and fourth ecumenical councils. But their rejection of those councils does not negate the authority of those councils. In fact, whenever there was a schism from the Church (see “Branches or Schisms?“) you could appeal to those in schism as evidence against the Church’s teaching. But it wouldn’t be evidence against the Church’s teaching; it would instead be evidence that that group was not following the Church’s teaching. And likewise, here too the Orthodox rejection of papal authority does not negate papal authority, or negate the divine charism Christ gave to St. Peter in giving to him not only the keys of the Kingdom, but also praying uniquely for him that his faith would not fail, so that he could strengthen the other Apostles. It does not negate the authority of the Holy See and its protection from error as was recognized throughout the first millennium by the Eastern bishops. See the formula of Hormisdas in comment #3 of the “Ecclesial Unity and Outdoing Christ” thread.

    You wrote:

    Ex Cathedra serves no benefit to Christendom, and is in fact a dangerous doctrine and a stumbling block to unity.

    That sort of thing can be asserted about any doctrine, since mere assertions are easy. The question is not whether it is dangerous, but whether it is true. But in order to determine whether it is true, we have to know whether the Church has formally taught it. And in order to determine whether the Church has formally taught it, we have to know that Vatican I was an ecumenical council. And in order to know that, we have to know where the Church continues in the event of a schism, as was the case in the eleventh century. To know that, we have to study what were the criteria for distinguishing between the Church and a schism from the Church. See, for example, St. Optatus on Schism and the Bishop of Rome.” I also recommend The Early Papacy To the Synod of Chalcedon in 451, by Adrian Fortescue, The Russian Church and the Papacy, by Vladimir Soloviev, Documents Illustrating Papal Authority: AD 96 – 454, by Giles, and Studies on the Early Papacy, by Dom John Chapman.

    For the beauty and importance of the doctrine of ecclesial infallibility, see Gasser’s The Gift of Infallibility, in which he shows how without the gift of infallibility, we would be left groping in the dark concerning what is the truth concerning Christ’s teaching, the sacraments, and the Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  217. Let’s get to the heart in all of this. . . May I ask a question, that would seem to go the heart of the magesterium, sacred tradition, etc discussion. I beleive we unnecessarily muddy the water. For someone considering converting to RCC- How does the church answer this: “For a buddhist, who knows of Christ and His claims, but nonetheless rejects Him and His claims, now this is a “good” moral buddhist; this man dies-where would he find himself after death? Dear friends, this is what I mean by making the water muddy- how the RCC answers this question speaks volumes as to whether it speaks with Christ’s authority on things eternal.
    How would the RCC answer this question for someone considering conversion to Catholicism ?
    Kind regards,
    BF

  218. Baird Fulghum,

    Catechism of the Catholic Church 161:

    Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. “Since “without faith it is impossible to please [God]” and to attain to the fellowship of his sons, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life ‘But he who endures to the end.’”

    CCC 847:

    Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.

    I trust the answer to your question is deduced easily enough from these two quotes.

    in Christ,
    John

  219. Baird,

    For Catholics, salvation is not just a matter of knowing, but rather of being. Men are saved by having the grace of Christ infused by the Holy Spirit within their souls – by “being” in union with Christ, not simply on the basis of a more or less clear cognitive grasp of propositions *about* Christ. Moreover, the Holy Spirit offers sufficient grace (the grace of Christ) to every soul who has ever lived, whether they have come into contact with any explicit knowledge of Christ or not: – think of all the souls before Christ who never came into contact with Hebrew monotheism or all the souls today who have yet to come in contact with Christianity. Nevertheless, God’s Spririt has made Christ’s grace available to all of these (salvation prior to Christ would also have been through Christian grace by anticipation). Hence, the ultimate ground for the reception of faith is not simply cognitive, propositional, knowledge of Christ; but an openness of heart to the truth so far as one can access it. That is the door opening by which Christ’s grace can anter a soul – even if explicit knowledge of Christ is lacking (or knowledge of Christ is deformed or rudimentary or even charicatured). Still, in every case, it is the grace flowing from Christ (through the work of His incarnation and passion) that is the one and only means of salvation of every human soul past, preent, and future. But the requirement of an explicit cognitive grap of propositions about Christ is not absolutely necessary (though it is an enourmous advantage that continues to motivate evangelization). The answer to your question, then depends upon an interior disposition of the Buddihst, since it will be unclear – from the outside – what kind of knowledge of Christ he possesses intellectually – perhaps he has been presented from youth, with a deformed, cursory, charicatured notion of Jesus of Nazareth, and is therefore, prevented, through no fault of his own, from coming to see the truth of Christ’s claims explicitly. Nevertheless, he *may*, in fact, be seeking for God with all his heart, and therefore possess the very grace of Christ in his soul as a result of that opening to the Holy Spirit (unbeknownst to him). In this way, he may be saved. But it would be far, far safer if he were to be presented with the fullness of the gospel.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  220. Baird, (re: #217)

    The answer to your question depends on what he knows about Christ and why he rejects what he has been told. If what he knows about Christ is a mere caricature, and he is not culpable for not rectifying his caricature, he could remain in a condition of invincible ignorance concerning Christ. But if he is given the truth concerning Christ, and he knows or suppresses the evidence concerning the truth of Christ, such that he refuses to believe in Christ and be baptized, then he is culpable for rejecting Christ, and cannot be saved so long as remains in that condition. In addition to the quotations from the Catechism John cited above, I would add two more. “Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament.” (CCC 1257) And “Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.” (CCC 846) What is true of baptism and full communion with the Church Christ founded is also true of faith in Christ. All who hear the truth (such that it is truly presented to them in a credible manner) are obliged to respond in the obedience of faith. Those whose response is knowingly to reject Christ, baptism, or full communion with His Church, cannot be saved.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  221. Frank,
    Are you saying that when you pass from this mortal coil that you won’t have a better understanding of truth? Isn’t the promise of RCC eternity paricipation in the source of all truth?

    It is possible to recognize my own subjective limitations without being reletavistic. I expect the renewal of my mind in the afterlife will be quite the experience.

    Back to Ex Cathedra – I see striking similarities between the RCC and the USA. We started off with a deposit of faith (the constitution), and slowly but shurely, there has been one power-grab after another. Today we have rule by fiat.

    I don’t think the early patriarchs would have recognized papal infallability as dogma. The evidence is the existing Eastern Orthodox patriarchs who still call it heresy. Given their non-changing proclivities, and the obvious changes in RC doctrine in the past 500 years, I would take their word over Rome’s as to what is heretical.

    As far as branches v. schism – it assumes that Rome must be the ‘trunk’ centered around ‘papal authority’. One could just as easily say that Rome didn’t assent to the correction of the eastern patriarchs, and the fact that Protestants came out of Rome is evidence that one small heresy (filoque) lead to the larger set of protestant heresies. Post 1024, Rome is a branch off the orthodox trunk. The eastern Bishops would also argue that the protection from error was (and is) a gift to the church (now days, just the eastern orthodox communion)- not something special given only to the Pope.

    Their answer to the papal authority question (does it exist) assumes the authority ends when error enters. “and the son” was enough in their eyes for Rome to go from a Patriarch to heretic.

  222. Hi Baird
    Re # 217
    I do not suppose to answer for Bryan or any of the CtoC crew. But as a Catholic I can answer your question. NO person knows with any certainty who will be in hell or who won’t; that prerogative remains in God’s hands. However if a Buddhist who knew Jesus and Who rejected Jesus died in that state he would forfeit his salvation. He would fare no better than any other person who knew Christ and rejected. Him. There is only one name by which we are saved and that is Christ. To reject Christ KNOWINGLY is to reject salvation. End of story.

    Blessing

  223. Bob B (re #221):

    Are you saying that when you pass from this mortal coil that you won’t have a better understanding of truth? Isn’t the promise of RCC eternity paricipation in the source of all truth?

    We will all know the truth in the afterlife. The question is where we will be in that afterlife, as in Jesus’ teaching about the sheep and goats. The promise of Christ is that through union with Him, I will be raised to eternal life. He founded a Church and her Sacraments to accomplish this, he did not tell us to be Lone Rangers, acting as our own authorities.

    It is possible to recognize my own subjective limitations without being reletavistic. I expect the renewal of my mind in the afterlife will be quite the experience.

    But as long as you rely on your subjective limitations, you put yourself in peril of your immortal soul. Your mind will certainly be ”renewed” in the sense that you will see clearly instead of through a glass darkly. But what will you see? The Beatific Vision or your eternal separation from God?

  224. Bob (re: #221)

    You wrote:

    Back to Ex Cathedra – I see striking similarities between the RCC and the USA. We started off with a deposit of faith (the constitution), and slowly but shurely, there has been one power-grab after another. Today we have rule by fiat.

    Treating the Church as merely a natural institution is a form of Arianism, as Soloviev argues in The Russian Church and the Papacy. And that’s why ecclesial deism (expressed in your comment) is an expression of a denial of the incarnation. If you put those sort of assumptions into your method of inquiry, of course you shouldn’t be surprised to reach anti-Catholic conclusions.

    I don’t think the early patriarchs would have recognized papal infallability as dogma.

    Speculation about what they would or wouldn’t have recognized is easy, isn’t it. That’s why it is worthless for deciding matters on which our eternity hangs. It does not distinguish between authentic and inauthentic development. Better to go by what they actually said. That’s why in #216 I gave you a link to my comment regarding the formula of Hormisdas. I also referred you to a number of books that lay out in great detail what the Church Fathers said about the authority and role of St. Peter and his successors.

    The evidence is the existing Eastern Orthodox patriarchs who still call it heresy.

    As I explained in my previous comment, it is only evidence against papal infallibility if you presuppose that doctrine cannot develop, and that simply begs the question. The Orthodox believe in ecclesial infallibility. So if the successor of St. Peter serves as the principium unitatis for the Church, then his faith must be divinely protected; otherwise, we would be forced to choose between heresy and schism. But Christ has ensured that His sheep never have to make that choice — by following the rock upon whom Christ built His Church, we avoid both schism and heresy. The early Church always recognized that the faith of the Church was the faith held by the Church at Rome. Heresy could enter into the other particular Churches, even the other Apostolic Churches. It was always recognized that heresy could never overcome the Church at Rome. (See again the formula of Hormisdas linked above.) And since doctrine develops, a further definition in the nineteenth century concerning the conditions under which the successor of St. Peter is divinely protected from error is not surprising at all. It is just the sort of thing we might expect, given the early Church’s recognition that the Apostolic See was especially protected from heresy, and therefore served as the touchstone of orthodoxy.

    As far as branches v. schism – it assumes that Rome must be the ‘trunk’ centered around ‘papal authority’. One could just as easily say that Rome didn’t assent to the correction of the eastern patriarchs, and the fact that Protestants came out of Rome is evidence that one small heresy (filoque) lead to the larger set of protestant heresies.

    One can “say” anything. But merely saying something doesn’t make it evidence. To determine this question, we must see who was given greater authority: the successor of St. Peter in Rome, bearing the keys of the Kingdom, and sitting in the Chair of St. Peter, or some other bishops? The books I referred you to earlier, as well as the Hormisdas link, provide a clear answer to that question.

    Their answer to the papal authority question (does it exist) assumes the authority ends when error enters. “and the son” was enough in their eyes for Rome to go from a Patriarch to heretic.

    That response begs the question. It is another example of “When I submit, only when I agree, the one to whom I submit is me.” If the pope as the successor of St. Peter does have the authority to add “and the Son” to the Creed, then not only is “and the Son” not an error, but by definition, denying “and the Son” becomes the heresy. In matters of faith, the question of error can depend on the question of authority, that is, who has the authority to determine what is orthodoxy and what is heresy.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  225. These nuanced answers sadden me;Nelson’s answer gives me hope. The nuanced answers actually waft over into how it is that JPII could kiss the Qu’ran- there are no absolutes, rather intellecctual/quasi-theological gymnastics that seem to say- “I’m a Catholic, that works for me, you’re a buddhist-that works for you, so we are both good, my truth is no better or worse than your truth” –if this is the case-then why be a Catholic, why be anything relative to faith and spiritual realms, all truth is relative. There seems to be a great reluctance to make any absolute pronouncements on the surety(or lack of) of one’s eternal destiny. This is in fact, the most important question anyone could ask of a religion. The rationalizations concerning, caricature, why the individual rejected Christ, et al, speak volumes; the supreme irony is that the RCC, which makes solid absolutist statements regarding abortion and marraige,is so reticent to make an unequivical statement on the most important issue of all-one’s eternal destiny. This then, above all, is is the dividing line between Catholicism and evangelical protestantism, not the pope, not Mary, not the authority of the magisterium, it is a denominational culture than engenders, equvivocal, and timid certainty concerning eternity. The question I would ask, is why the temerity, why the equivocal answers-I fear there is something afoot in a denominational culture that seems to draw individuals who are strongly opposed to-for example-abortion, yet seem so unsure as to who spends eternity with God and who does not. What is afoot, I am not sure, but it saddens me and , for me- my journey “home” to the RCC has come to an end.
    Most sincerely,
    BF

  226. Baird –

    You said,

    “The nuanced answers actually waft over into how it is that JPII could kiss the Qu’ran- there are no absolutes, rather intellecctual/quasi-theological gymnastics that seem to say- “I’m a Catholic, that works for me, you’re a buddhist-that works for you, so we are both good, my truth is no better or worse than your truth” –if this is the case-then why be a Catholic, why be anything relative to faith and spiritual realms, all truth is relative.”

    I encourage you to re-read Bryan Cross’ 207 in which he pretty clearly stated:

    The teaching of the Catholic Church on other religions is not that they are equal ways to God. On the contrary, she teaches definitively that Christ is the only way to the Father. At the same time, the Church recognizes that there are truths in other religions, though these are not truths that the Church lacks.

  227. Dear Baird (#225),

    I am not sure why nuance causes sadness, while Nelson’s answer gives hope. Nelson’s answer generally seems correct to me, although with nuance it could prove to be an inaccurate characterization of Catholic teaching, just as with nuance it could prove to be, well, a more nuanced (and still correct) characterization of Catholic teaching. Nuance is a neutral. If you are rejecting the Catholic Church, it would be helpful to the discussion if you could articulate what Catholic premise or conclusion you find lacking.

    What you perceive to be temerity I perceive to be an attempt at discretion. The Pope and the other Bishops weigh equities we are ill-positioned to perceive. As we know, a certain choice of words in one teaching forum could result in the murder of a nun in a far-off land. This doesn’t make the word-choice wrong, but it shows that there are weighty burdens on these men.

    As for Blessed John Paul II’s decision to kiss the Qu’ran, no Catholic teaching suggests his exercises of prudence are preserved from error. A Catholic could be of the opinion that this was imprudent or even (for argument’s sake) sinful, and still (again, for reasons of prudence) refrain from castigating the Pope’s decision. Perhaps that reservation partially explains your perception of temerity as well.

    Either the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ founded, or not. Whether He founded a Church that at times exhibits the unglamorous quality of temerity seems quite beside the point. She exhibits plenty of other unglamorous qualities at various times too. She is, after all, a Church for sinners – the Church militant!

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  228. Baird, what a strange post.

    We ARE sure who will be in heaven and who will be in hell. Those who die in a state of grace go to Heaven, and those who do not die in a state of grace will not be in Heaven. What we are not sure about, what nobody but God can be sure about, is who is in a state of grace and who is not.

  229. Baird,

    I don’t know if this will help or not. Some things in Catholicism are not nailed down. This is one. Everything said above, including by Nelson is correct as far as it goes to the best of my judgment (which is strictly amateur). However, none of it says:

    1) that non-Christians can be saved by virtue of practicing their religion. They might be saved by the grace of Christ if they are not to blame for not knowing Christ AND (here is my interpretation on this which I am confident better learned Catholics here will agree with) they haven’t lived a life that they knew to be in opposition to God (haven’t knowingly committed sins). That is what is meant by

    try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience

    It isn’t that there actions save them. Not at all. Rather, it is that they haven’t violated their conscience. So, given what they know, they are responsible for living up to God’s commands. Without access to Christ they have no access for forgiveness So it is entirely possible and within acceptable belief to think that this exception provides only the smallest amount of hope for those who are very upright people.

    2) As defined by the Catechism it is only necessary to believe that it is possible under some circumstance for someone who is not a Christian and has not accepted Jesus to be saved. Nothing at all about likely. It is completely acceptable to believe that the chances of the non-Christian are extremely slim. There are groups out there that strongly defend this view, to the point that they believe the ONLY way such people can be saved is if God sends them an Angel near the moment of death to baptize them. At least one of those groups managed to get an excommunication and suppression reversed with this concept.

    3) The doctrine actually does make sense, especially when considered in the extreme and I believe it really is a teaching that goes back to the apostles. The extreme example is a Native American before 1492 who truly lives a righteous life to the best of what they know. I’m talking about one of those people – who through God’s grace – is just always a fine example of humanity. Given 1500 years from Christ to Columbus, it is fair to guess there were at least a few such people. Do we really thing God would automatically condemn them to eternal damnation even though there was never any opportunity for them to learn of Christ?

    4) The Church has always prayed for the salvation of everyone and the Church has never declared anyone to be in hell. That is God’s job. It is beyond the authority of the Church. The Church does not have the authority to tie God’s hands in this area. It is fully up to God. Notice the doctrine does not declare that anyone will be saved or has much hope. We only declare that we can not deny God the possibility of exercising his judgement and mercy at his own discretion.

    5) God is the perfect judge and is also merciful. God isn’t going to let people off the hook on a technicality nor is God going to punish those who really don’t deserve it. We humans are not capable of figuring out who deserves what. God is capable. Again, we don’t presume to tell God what he must do.

    6) Believing that this doctrine is too permissive should make us shiver in our boots as Christians. Because if God really is so strict that there is no possibility of excuse even for an extremely virtuous person who had absolutely know means of knowing Christ, then how merciful is he going to be on those of us who happened to be born into the wrong Christian tradition and have spent our lives teaching our children and friends the WRONG doctrines and misleading Christ’s flock?

    I sincerely hope this helps. Prayers for you in your considerations and seeking.

  230. Baird,

    Brother! I pray that your combox confession was in haste. Do you or did you ever believe that the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ personally founded? Or, were you interested in a church (which happened to be the Catholic Church) that made the claims that she did? What I mean is that when one meets the Church that Christ personally founded, he does not simply walk away–in a combox nonetheless. If one finds a church that he finds interesting–for maybe its teaching on abortion and contraception, he might walk away. Those are small magnets compared to the first claim.

    We haven’t exchanged dialog before, but I’m making a comment, because this topic hits close to home. I’m a former evangelical penta-baptacostal with some Reformed leanings, Protestant mutt. In that world, we said “all dogs go to heaven” and “everyone who did not have faith in Christ went to hell”. We were dogmatic in our insistence that all Buddhist were going to hell. Muslims? Check. Pagans in far away lands? Check. Teletubbies? Check. We knew just about everybody who was going to hell. Yippee, everyone is going to hell! (or so it felt like it went)

    I’ll admit that I studied Catholicism some time before I went to RCIA. (Newman, Ratzinger, the Catechism, etc.) I have a BA in church history and read theology and philosophy for fun. Then my wife and I went RCIA. It was a real nightmare–and on this issue. I was savvy enough to know the catechist was espousing heresy (and it was confirmed as much when we went to a different RCIA program), but my wife was really hurt by the whole ordeal. Nevertheless, I understood the nuance that the Church was articulating (that you referenced), and Mother Church was doing it not just from the vantage of Scripture, but from the living Tradition. She was doing this from a 2,000 year perspective and with the pastoral heart of Our Savior. Let’s consider St. Paul’s words in Romans Chapter 2:

    Wherefore thou art without excuse, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judges another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest dost practise the same things. And we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against them that practise such things. And reckonest thou this, O man, who judgest them that practise such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? but after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up for thyself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his works: to them that by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and incorruption, eternal life: but unto them that are factious, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, shall be wrath and indignation,

    … for when Gentiles that have not the law do by nature the things of the law, these, not having the law, are the law unto themselves; in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them); in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my gospel, by Jesus Christ.

    What is the Church of the Lord to do when her Savior has not returned for 2,000 years and so many souls are born in ignorance of the gospel? What does the Lord think about those who “do by nature the things of the law, these, not having the law, are the law unto themselves…their conscience bearing witness”? I think Mother Church communicates exactly as she has. The nuance is simple and it is Biblical. Some Catholics do a heck of a job making it more confusing than it need be. Sometimes they do so for universalist (Balthazarian) leanings they don’t want to admit. The Church has long ago condemned the heresy of universalism.

    The Church clearly teaches that anyone who is saved is saved by the work of Christ at Calvary. Those of us who have heard the gospel message explicitly carry the burden of that message. Where much is given, much is required. If we reject it, shame on us. But, what are we to think of those who have not explicitly heard the gospel message? Again, I think St. Paul makes it pretty clear and I think Mother Church is doing little more than explicating the clear witness of the deposit of faith as found in Sacred Scripture on this matter.

    Two quick notes. First, I personally was not discouraged by the RCIA experience. On one level, yes (obviously), but on another level no. I figured if it was Christ’s Church there would be wheat and tares. May God have mercy on that catechist’s soul. In addition, it was nice to be in a church where I could know whether or not a teacher was espousing heresy and that the plumb line wasn’t little ol’ me for it being heresy. Second, it has been a pure joy as a Catholic not worrying myself with judging the eternal destiny of people. It is my job to witness through my life and words the Gospel. God is the judge, not me. Evangelicals get that all wrong, by the way. To say that all those who have not made an explicit faith commitment to Christ before they die will go to hell is against the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Romans. Further, it is outside our prerogative as Christians to be canonizing the damned. We are to be cultivating the holy ones. That’s plenty of work if you ask me.

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  231. Baird,

    You wrote:

    “I’m a Catholic, that works for me, you’re a buddhist-that works for you, so we are both good, my truth is no better or worse than your truth”

    No one here wrote anything like what you have just attributed.

    You wrote”

    “. . . yet seem so unsure as to who spends eternity with God and who does not”

    Unless you have been given a private revelation from God, how can you possibly know who spends eternity with God and who does not? That seems absurd. You may think that you know the criteria which determines who will be saved, but as to who meets the criteria, that’s another matter. But then what is the criteria for salvation? Just saying a “sinners prayer” at age 16? What about babies who die? What about mentally handicaped persons, what about all the souls before Christ, what about all the souls who never in their life came into contact with either Judaism or Christianity? Are all these hopeless because they did not have the cognitive information to say the right words?

    Salvation is not just about words, but about a living relationship with Christ. God has ways of applying Christ’s grace to human souls that are beyond our understanding. That does not mean that being a Catholic or a Christian doesn’t matter, far from it. Given the human condition and the mixture of error and truth in other religions, the possibility of closing oneself off to the promtings of the Holy Spirit in the soul, are greatly increased where the full knowledge of Christ and His sacramental life are absent. We MUST take the gospel to all the nations, not because God simply cannot save any soul through the work of Christ unless we physically reach them – He can. Rather, we must take the gospel to the nations in order to secure the salvation of as many souls as possible by making the full riches of Christ’s doctrine and sacraments available where they are currently absent.

    The proper motivation for evangelism is not rooted in the thought that all those we fail to reach are hopelessly damned, but rather in the thought that their spiritual predicament is graver, their eternal soul is at greater risk, absent a full knowledge of the gospel – but greater risk is not the same as asserting some absolute impossibility of salvation through Christ’s grace by means which God alone knows.

    In short, ISTM, that unless you are willing to say that all the types of souls I just mentioned are ipso facto without hope and eternally lost, you are going to have to think deeper about exactly how the saving work of Jesus Christ is applied to persons in every age and every state of life. I submit that doing so will force you to consider the very nuances you apparently loathe. The Catholic position insists that no one is saved except by the grace of Jesus Christ – period! The question about those who have never heard the gospel, or have only heard it utterly misrepresented, forces one to think deeply about what the deposit of faith tells us concerning HOW the work of Christ is accessed in different ages and different cultural situations. I would be interested to hear your apparently clear and non-nuanced position regarding how you happen to know who is, and who is not, saved.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  232. Baird,

    I have no idea how you derived “there are no absolutes” from anything I or any other Catholic said here. And that suggests to me that you’re not being careful. I suggest you slow down, and dig a little deeper into the Catholic faith before making such a major decision. The Catholic faith is not something that should be approached in a consumeristic way (e.g. “I’m looking for a religion that does not have nuance; does the Catholic religion offer me that?”). The only way to avoid consumerism is to be asking this question: Is this the Church Christ founded? (See “Ecclesial Consumerism.”) If the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded, and she has boat loads of nuance, then you should embrace all that nuance. To have nuance is not the same thing as denying absolute truth. Nuance is consistent with affirming myriads of absolute truths. A truth seeker does not use nuance as a synonym for falsehood, or as an indicator of falsehood, because he understands that we cannot make the world into what we want it, by presupposing that it must be simple, and therefore rejecting any complex claim. He understands that he should reject a nuanced or complex claim only if the nuance and complexity is false. If the reality is complex and nuanced, he is willing to embrace nuance and complexity. Truth must be the deciding criterion, not nuance or complexity.

    So basically, you need to throw your “If it has nuance then it should be rejected” criterion-for-evaluating-religions into the trash, and rethink how to find the Church Christ founded.

    “I’m a Catholic, that works for me, you’re a buddhist-that works for you, so we are both good, my truth is no better or worse than your truth”

    No Catholic here has said that, or believes that. Again, you’re not being careful.

    There seems to be a great reluctance to make any absolute pronouncements on the surety(or lack of) of one’s eternal destiny.

    That’s only because we are not omniscient, and therefore cannot see with absolute certainty the condition of others’ hearts (or even our own), and therefore cannot start Judgment Day now; we have to wait for the omniscient God to disclose the secrets of men’s hearts.

    This is in fact, the most important question anyone could ask of a religion. The rationalizations concerning, caricature, why the individual rejected Christ, et al, speak volumes; the supreme irony is that the RCC, which makes solid absolutist statements regarding abortion and marraige,is so reticent to make an unequivical statement on the most important issue of all-one’s eternal destiny.

    You are conflating two things: the condition of any particular person’s heart, and the doctrines concerning heaven and hell. As someone said above, it is an absolute truth in Catholic doctrine that those who die in a state of grace will go to heaven, and those who die in a state of mortal sin (without grace) will go to hell.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  233. Fr. Bryan,
    Your answer, is exactly the point I make. “At the same time, the Church recognizes that there are truths in other religions, though these are not truths that the Church lacks.”
    These truths that are any other religions-what is their significance, what benefit do they bring to the adherents of the other religion ? I do not understand why the RCC feels compelled to add this provisio- to wit-”At the same time . . .” A seemingly absolute statement is proclaimed, then there is- the “but”, or the “however”. This is what I mean by the culture- it is almost as if there exists a demographic if you will, an emotional/intellectual personality type that finds itself more at home in a denomination that allows for a plurality of views on what has etertnal significance. Father, unfortunately for me, the very answer you presented to me, only reinforces to me my previously stated conclusion. Again,this is not a polemic against the RCC, rather a search for some insight that would allow me to hope that the RCC stands unashamedly and unequivocally upon this eternal truth- Christ preeminent in all things. Sadly, the church by its on statements, belies this truth.
    In His grace,
    BF

  234. Baird –

    Do you believe that there is some truth in Islam? I do, and I also think that the truth they believe is good. An example of this is that there is one God. I believe this as a Christian, so I have to affirm it as that Muslims believe that is true. However, I also believe that Islam teaches some things that are not true. This I do not think is good. I also believe that Christianity teaches things that Islam lacks. I don’t think this is good either. An example of this would be that God became human.

    I’m not accusing you of any sort of polemic. I’m just confused how someone can construe Church teaching to say something that it clearly doesn’t.

  235. I mean to say that the fact that Christianity teaches things that Islam lacks is not good… for Muslims.

  236. Fr. Bryan and all,
    Indeed the hour really does grow late-11:30 p.m. let me say first to father, that yes, I believe that monotheism is true, Muslims are montheists(not trinitarian); my question is-What merit does that bring them, why is it important at all in any way as to how that will perhaps grant them some favor with God in eternity. I do not understand this argument that there is some truth in all religions-what bearing does this have on where they will spend eternity ? A lion and a zebra are both mammals, they have that in common, but the lion will still devour the zebra if he can. To my mind, this argument is not germaine to the discussion.
    Now to others: I was positing the buddhist/Catholic dialouge, to attempt framing a practical example, I did not mean to imply than anyone here had made those statements. Now,let me be clear- I do not believe am privy to what is in the heart of people, neither do I believe I have full knowledge of who is in heaven or hell; i ca nmake assumptions-Hitler, kim jung Il, foer the sake of argument. But none of this goes to the point I attempt to make or the insight I had hoped to gain. I do understand why you present the rationales you do: nuance is not bad, if this is the Church created By Christ, conflating, I am not omniscient, etc.,etc, but we seem to be missing one another in the conversation. More later, my eyelids are quite heavy. Al l the best to you all.

  237. Hi Baird,
    Re # 225 You asked to “cut to the chase” and my answer to you was a “cut to the chase” kind of answer. I did not mean to imply that there are no shades of grey in truth that the Church would seem to say is black and white. It is only that the shades of grey are for God alone to answer. We or the Church do not have the authority to speak to every incident in human life. The final judgement is God’s. I am sure there are Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and all sorts of people that are not condemned to hell. As there are many Christians who might not make it to heaven either.

    The Church gives humanity under certain circumstances the benefit if the doubt. Only God knows the human heart and can be it’s true judge.

    Now let me ask you a “cut to the chase” question. Are you searching for the Church that Christ established and blessed with His blood or are you church shopping? It clearly makes a difference. I would hope that you would give it a long serious look before you make a life changing decision. I don’t mean to imply by this either that you are not doing exactly that. I pray that God blesses you in your search.

    Blessings
    NHU

  238. Baird,

    I’ve thought about what you said all night and now early this morning. I’m wondering if this is not just a mix up for lack of context. As the saying goes, Lex orandi, lex credendi. Right prayer leads to right belief. For starters, there is no prayer in Mass, in the Liturgy of the Hours, or in popular piety that incorporates the topic under question. Thus, we see that it is not meant to inform our prayer. Every prayer of the Church, reading of the Church, etc. affirms the necessity of faith in Christ, His unique work on calvary, etc. and so forth. Not to mention, that the part of the catechism we are discussing does no harm to it likewise.

    Notice that the place in the Catechism you find this quote is not in the “How to get saved” or “How to be a Christian” or “How to go to heaven”. Instead it is under “The Church and non-Christians“. This section is preceded by “Who belongs to the Catholic Church” and followed by “Outside the Church there is no salvation” which is then followed by a discussion of the necessity of missions. Study those sections closely, don’t ignore the section about non-Christians, but don’t lose the context. A lot of sects make a big deal out 839-845 (and google can lead you to a thousand pages dedicated to ripping that section a part), but they almost never appreciate the context of those passages. When I first wrestled with this section of the catechism as a Protestant, I was disheartened by the disingenuousness of Protestants who took this section out of its context. The Church is clear: there is no salvation outside of Her–the Body of Christ Jesus Our Lord. One must possess the “Spirit of Christ” and respond to the grace He gives. So what’s the point of the section on “Non-Christians”?

    First, let’s consider some Biblical precedent. We know that St. Paul in Romans 2 says that as one responds to his conscience he can fulfill the law and receive eternal life (example 1–see also CCC 847). In Acts 17, the Church is confronted with a pagan society that worships many Gods? You asked:

    What merit does that bring them, why is it important at all in any way as to how that will perhaps grant them some favor with God in eternity?

    So in Acts 17, St. Paul answers your questions (vv.22-23):

    So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.

    Wowzer! St. Paul just affirmed the fact that they were (1) very religious (and that means something good) and that (2) the God they worshiped as the “Unknown God” was the same God he was going to preach to them. Did the Athenians believe in the Trinity? Of course, they did not. So, why is Paul so nuanced in this encounter? He is nuanced because God came to save everyone and Mother Church is on earth to perceive the work of Her Lord amongst the world. God did not just come for the Jews or Jewish minded people. He came for the entire world, and the Catholic Church has been commissioned to pastor the souls of everyone on earth.

    The point of this section of the Catechism is not to inform our prayer and worship. Nor is it to inhibit our missions (see CCC 849-856). However, maybe not where you live, but in places throughout the world, Catholics live side by side with Muslims, Buddhists and those who practice other religions. How are we to act toward them? That is the real point of the section of the catechism. Should we as Catholics think of Muslims as pure savages, lacking all truth regarding God? Maybe the small minority of extremists , but not the majority of God-fearing Muslims. Do we not try to convert them? Of course we try to share our faith with them. You can read what St. Alphonsus Liguori did here. I recommend that method over religion bashing. We don’t reach out to those of other faiths by ignoring the truth God has already revealed to them in part about himself that can be found in their religions (that is what St. Paul did!), nor do we act as if we are just another option with only a part of the truth as well. Search “fullness of truth” in the Catechism to see the Church’s position on the Truth of Christ.

    This is the teaching of the Church of Jesus Christ. Incline your ear to wisdom and your heart to understanding, lean not on your own understanding, and He shall direct thy paths.

    Your (separated) brother in Christ,

    Brent

  239. Baird,

    You wrote:

    These truths that are any other religions-what is their significance, what benefit do they bring to the adherents of the other religion?

    The more one knows the truth about God, the more one is able to love Him, because we cannot love what we do not know. Similarly, the more one knows the truth about God, the more reason one has to love God. A people that moves from polytheism to monotheism has benefited tremendously, because now they can know that God is good and just, and therefore worthy of worship and emulation.

    Furthermore, every truth about God that can be known by reason, is a preamble to the gospel, because it makes smooth the way for the gospel. Grace builds on nature. All other things being equal, it is much more difficult for a polytheist to receive the gospel than it is for a monotheist.

    It is precisely on account of the justice of God that the Church recognizes that invincible ignorance removes culpability. That’s not a denial of the absolute truth regarding Christ being the only way to the Father; rather, it is the recognition of another absolute truth, namely, that a person is not responsible for what he does not in some sense choose. The Church teaches that through the sacrifice of Christ, God is giving grace (as an interior movement toward Himself) to all men, in ways that are invisible to us. God does this because He desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth, and He does not want anyone to be lost. (See this post on God’s universal salvific will.) So simultaneously it is absolutely true that (1) Christ is the only way to the Father, (2) God is perfectly just, and doesn’t punish persons for not believing what they could not possibly know, (3) God desires all men to be saved, (4) God is graciously working in the heart of every person to lead them to salvation, and (5) those who respond to this grace in faith, hope, and charity [i.e. love for God], will be saved, while those who reject the grace given to them will be lost. This isn’t a denial of absolute truth in the least, but rather the recognition of multiple absolute truths.

    Fundamentally, we are not saved by knowledge, but by grace. The idea that we are saved by knowledge is a kind of gnosticism. So it is not the case that if you have all your theological ducks in a row, then you have grace and salvation, but if you don’t have all your theological ducks in a row, then you don’t have grace. Correct doctrine (i.e. orthodoxy) allows us more perfectly to know God, and thus more perfectly to love God. But correct doctrine does not guarantee love for God; this is why one can be entirely orthodox in one’s faith and yet commit a mortal sin. Moreover, not all theological error is equal, and not all theological error completely eliminates the possibility of loving God. It is possible to believe some falsehoods about God, and still love God. Yet the more distorted one’s understanding of God, the more difficult it is to love God. That’s why it is easier for a Muslim to love God than for a polytheist or a pantheist to love God, and it is easier still for an Orthodox Jew to love God than for a Muslim to love God. Of course no one can love God without grace, but it is possible to love God and not yet know about Christ; otherwise, the Old Testament Jews could not have loved God.

    rather a search for some insight that would allow me to hope that the RCC stands unashamedly and unequivocally upon this eternal truth- Christ preeminent in all things.

    Christ is preeminent in all things, and nothing anyone has said here implies anything to the contrary.

    Sadly, the church by its on statements, belies this truth.

    No, it doesn’t. You’ve simply misunderstood them.

    What merit does that bring them, why is it important at all in any way as to how that will perhaps grant them some favor with God in eternity.

    It doesn’t bring them any merit. But, as I explained above, it makes it more possible for them to love God, than if they were polytheists, or pantheists.

    I do not understand this argument that there is some truth in all religions-what bearing does this have on where they will spend eternity?

    Because the more truth one has about God, even if one’s beliefs about God are still imperfect, the more possible it is to love God. And only those who love God can go to heaven.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  240. Hi Baird,

    I want to say that this discussion touches upon perhaps the most difficult problem in Catholic theology. Protestants will invariably see the Church’s teaching on invincible ignorance as a huge concession, even a betrayal of those who gave their lives in straightforward proclamation of Christ. But what is the Church actually saying? At the least, she is reminding us that despite our inclinations to pronounce judgment, it is not our place in any one case, save our own, which hopefully produces repentance. And also that God judges the heart; if He shows mercy in a case where we would not, this is all to the good. For my part, and surely every other Catholic here, if someone asks me what to do, I doubt a better answer than Acts 2:38 can be found. Though salvation is found in no one else, (Acts 4:12) the key point is that we are not the arbiters of whether that has taken place.

    JK

  241. @David (#206),

    Yeah…I knew that. Sometimes the brain/mouth gap (or in this case the brain/fingers-on-keyboard gap) is nigh insurmountable. :-p The correction is appreciated nonetheless. :-)

    Sincerely,
    ~Benjamin

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