Friday, December 30, 2005

Council of Trent: Canons on Justification (with a handy summary of Tridentine soteriology)

By Dave Armstrong (1997; summary added: 29 December 2003)

CANON I. If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema.

CANON II. If any one saith, that the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, is given only for this, that man may be able more easily to live justly, and to merit eternal life, as if, by free will without grace, he were able to do both, though hardly indeed and with difficulty; let him be anathema.

CANON III. If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema.

CANON IV. If any one saith, that man's free will moved and excited by God, by assenting to God exciting and calling, nowise co-operates towards disposing and preparing itself for obtaining the grace of Justification; that it cannot refuse its consent, if it would, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive; let him be anathema.

CANON V. If any one saith, that, since Adam's sin, the free will of man is lost and extinguished; or, that it is a thing with only a name, yea a name without a reality, a figment, in fine, introduced into the Church by Satan; let him be anathema.

CANON VI. If any one saith, that it is not in man's power to make his ways evil, but that the works that are evil God worketh as well as those that are good, not permissively only, but properly, and of Himself, in such wise that the treason of Judas is no less His own proper work than the vocation of Paul; let him be anathema.

CANON VII. If any one saith, that all works done before Justification, in whatsoever way they be done, are truly sins, or merit the hatred of God; or that the more earnestly one strives to dispose himself for grace, the more grievously he sins: let him be anathema.

CANON VIII. If any one saith, that the fear of hell,-whereby, by grieving for our sins, we flee unto the mercy of God, or refrain from sinning,-is a sin, or makes sinners worse; let him be anathema.

CANON IX. If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

CANON X. If any one saith, that men are just without the justice of Christ, whereby He merited for us to be justified; or that it is by that justice itself that they are formally just; let him be anathema.

CANON XI. If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.

CANON XII. If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.

CANON XIII. If any one saith, that it is necessary for every one, for the obtaining the remission of sins, that he believe for certain, and without any wavering arising from his own infirmity and
disposition, that his sins are forgiven him; let him be anathema.

CANON XIV. If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema.

CANON XV. If any one saith, that a man, who is born again and justified, is bound of faith to believe that he is assuredly in the number of the predestinate; let him be anathema.

CANON XVI. If any one saith, that he will for certain, of an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance unto the end,-unless he have learned this by special revelation; let him be anathema.

CANON XVII. If any one saith, that the grace of Justification is only attained to by those who are predestined unto life; but that all others who are called, are called indeed, but receive not grace, as being, by the divine power, predestined unto evil; let him be anathema.

CANON XVIII. If any one saith, that the commandments of God are, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to keep; let him be anathema.

CANON XIX. If any one saith, that nothing besides faith is commanded in the Gospel; that other things are indifferent, neither commanded nor prohibited, but free; or, that the ten commandments nowise appertain to Christians; let him be anathema.

CANON XX. If any one saith, that the man who is justified and how perfect soever, is not bound to observe the commandments of God and of the Church, but only to believe; as if indeed the Gospel were a bare and absolute promise of eternal life, without the condition of observing the commandments ; let him be anathema.

CANON XXI. If any one saith, that Christ Jesus was given of God to men, as a redeemer in whom to trust, and not also as a legislator whom to obey; let him be anathema.

CANON XXII. If any one saith, that the justified, either is able to persevere, without the special help of God, in the justice received; or that, with that help, he is not able; let him be anathema.

CANON XXIII. lf any one saith, that a man once justified can sin no more, nor lose grace, and that therefore he that falls and sins was never truly justified; or, on the other hand, that he is able, during his whole life, to avoid all sins, even those that are venial,-except by a special privilege from God, as the Church holds in regard of the Blessed Virgin; let him be anathema.

CANON XXIV. If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.

CANON XXV. If any one saith, that, in every good work, the just sins venially at least, or-which is more intolerable still-mortally, and consequently deserves eternal punishments; and that for this cause only he is not damned, that God does not impute those works unto damnation; let him be anathema.

CANON XXVI. If any one saith, that the just ought not, for their good works done in God, to expect and hope for an eternal recompense from God, through His mercy and the merit of Jesus Christ, if so be that they persevere to the end in well doing and in keeping the divine commandments; let him be anathema.

CANON XXVII. If any one saith, that there is no mortal sin but that of infidelity; or, that grace once received is not lost by any other sin, however grievous and enormous, save by that of infidelity; let him be anathema.

CANON XXVIII. If any one saith, that, grace being lost through sin, faith also is always lost with it; or, that the faith which remains, though it be not a lively faith, is not a true faith; or, that he, who has faith without charity, is not a Chris taught; let him be anathema.

CANON XXIX. If any one saith, that he, who has fallen after baptism, is not able by the grace of God to rise again; or, that he is able indeed to recover the justice which he has lost, but by faith alone without the sacrament of Penance, contrary to what the holy Roman and universal Church-instructed by Christ and his Apostles-has hitherto professed, observed, and taugh; let him be anathema.

CANON XXX. If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema.

CANON XXXI. If any one saith, that the justified sins when he performs good works with a view to an eternal recompense; let him be anathema.

CANON XXXII. If any one saith, that the good works of one that is justified are in such manner the gifts of God, as that they are not also the good merits of him that is justified; or, that the said justified, by the good works which he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life,-if so be, however, that he depart in grace,-and also an increase of glory; let him be anathema.

CANON XXXIII. If any one saith,that,by the Catholic doctrine touching Justification, by this holy Synod inset forth in this present decree, the glory of God, or the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ are in any way derogated from, and not rather that the truth of our faith, and the glory in fine of God and of Jesus Christ are rendered (more) illustrious; let him be anathema.

See also: The Decree (Chapters) on Justification

Doctrinal Summary
(of every Chapter and Canon on Justification)

1. Man cannot justify himself (which includes works): contra Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism: Decree on Justification: chapter 5; Canons 1, 2, 3 on Justification.

2. Justification is by Grace Alone: Decree on Justification: chapter 8; Canon 10.

3. Initial justification by Grace Alone may be increased through mortification, observing God's commandments, and works (see James 2:24): Decree on Justification: chapters 7,10, 11.

4. Justification by Faith Alone is false: Decree on Justification: chapter 11; Canons 9, 29.

5. Good works and merit proceed wholly from the grace of God through the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf (not from ourselves). They are necessary but they do not earn salvation, which
is by grace alone: Decree on Justification: chapter 16; Canons 18, 19, 20, 24, 26, 32, 33.

6. Man must cooperate with God's grace in order to receive an increase in justification: Canons 4, 22.

7. Good works done in God's grace really are good, and not evil because of our fallen nature, and they deserve a reward (not salvation, but recompense): Canons 6, 7, 25, 31.

8. Extrinsic, imputed, merely external or declared justification is false: Canon 11.

9. "Faith in one's own faith" or "assurance of salvation" is false: Decree on Justification: Chapters 9, 12; Canons 12, 13, 14, 15.

10. Men can fall away from grace (but not faith) and justification, through mortal sin, and must persevere: Decree on Justification: Chapters 11, 13, 15; Canons 16, 17, 23, 27, 28.

11. Temporal punishment for sin in this world and the next (purgatory) is necessary for most people: Canon 30.

12. Men are fallen (original sin) and are by nature children of wrath, and cannot be saved by the law: Decree on Justification: Chapter 1.

13. Man has a free will: adversely affected and limited by the fall, but not extinguished: Decree on Justification: Chapter 1.

14. Jesus Christ is the propitiator, through His blood, for the sins of the whole human race (universal atonement): Decree on Justification: Chapter 2.

15. Being born again and regenerated is necessary for grace, justification, redemption, and reception of the benefits of Christ's death (justification through Christ): Decree on Justification:
Chapters 3, 4.

16. Adults can and must be disposed by God's grace to accept God's graces for justification, repent, do penance, and be baptized: Decree on Justification: Chapters 6, 7.

17. Justification and sanctification are joined together, caused by Jesus Christ's Passion on the Cross and God's grace, and accepted freely by man. Faith, hope, and charity are also infused
in this justification: Decree on Justification: Chapter 7.

18. Those who fall away from following the Lord and from grace can be restored through the sacrament of penance: Decree on Justification: Chapter 14.

19. The fear of hell is not a sin: Canon 8.

20. One must obey Jesus Christ as well as trust Him: Canon 21.

The Layman's Use of Greek Bible Reference Books

By Dave Armstrong (22 January 2002)


Laymen (like myself) ought to be encouraged to use lexical, linguistic biblical reference works such as Kittel, Vine, Vincent, Robertson, Thayer, Wigram's Englishman's Greek Concordance, Strong's Concordance, etc., even though they don't know Greek themselves. This is, after all, the purpose of these works. For example, the learned, respected Bible scholar F.F. Bruce writes in his Foreword to my Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (1952 - for one-volume edition):

. . . Mr. Vine's work . . . makes available for the ordinary reader the expert knowledge contained in the more advanced works [he had just mentioned Grimm-Thayer, Moulton-Milligan, and Bauer as tools for the "student of Greek"] . . . Casual readers will hardly realise the wealth of ripe learning, the years of hard work, of which they may reap the fruit in this work . . .
There can be no true Biblical theology unless it is based on sound Biblical exegesis, and there can be no sound Biblical exegesis unless a firm textual and grammatical foundation has been laid for it. Such a foundation is laid in this Expository Dictionary.

Likewise, W. Graham Scroggie wrote in the original Foreword (1940):

Mr. Vine has done a great service to the non-academic reader of the New Testament, and those also who are most familiar with the original tongue may learn much from these pages.

These reference works were designed precisely and specifically to be of such service to non-scholars and lovers of the Bible. In the standard lexical work, Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, translator and organizer Geoffrey Bromiley (one-volume edition) wrote in the Preface:

. . . this single-volume condensation of the nine volumes, this 'little Kittel,' has been prepared and is being offered to what is hoped will be a much wider Christian public.

[earlier he had mentioned the "size and the technical nature" of the nine-volume original, which might have "inhibited many Bible students who might have profited from its essential insights."]

Again, on the back of my copy of Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, it reads:

Even for those who know no Greek or Hebrew, there are limitless possibilities for accurate, thorough, and fruitful word studies.

This is the perspective in all these works. A.T. Robertson writes in his own Preface to his well-known and greatly respected six-volume Word Pictures in the New Testament:

The readers of these volumes . . . are expected to be primarily those who know no Greek or comparatively little and yet who are anxious to get fresh help from the study of words and phrases in the New Testament, men who do not have access to the technical books required . . . Others who are without a turn for Greek . . . will be able to follow the drift of my remarks.

Marvin Vincent had the same aim when he prepared his widely-used four-volume Word Studies in the New Testament some 40 years previously:

The critical student of the Greek Testament will . . . understand that the book has not been prepared with any design or expectation of instructing him. It has in view, first of all, those readers whose ignorance of Greek debars them from the quickening contact of the original words . . .
It will be a great joy to me, if, by this attempt to break the shell of these words of life, and to lay bare their hidden jewels, I may help a Bible-student here and there to a clearer vision of that cross which is the centre and the glory of the Gospel.

I close with words from the Introduction to my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism:

The widespread existence of evangelical Protestant Commentaries and various
Lexicons, Bible Dictionaries, Concordances and so forth, for the use of laypeople, is based on a presupposition that individuals without formal theological education can arrive at conclusions on their own. This is largely what I am attempting presently. The only difference is that I am willing to modify or relinquish any conclusions of mine which turn out to be contrary to the clear teachings and dogmas of the Catholic Church, whereas the quintessential Protestant ultimately can stand on his own (like Luther), "on the Bible," against, if need be, the whole Tradition of the Christian Church.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Dialogue With a Bisexual Agnostic on Homosexuality, Round Two

By Dave Armstrong (12-27-05)

My past cited statements will be purple, and my (anonymous) opponent's words will be in green.


Overall, it is undeniable that the traditional media in all its forms is overwhelmingly secular and leftist and thus (quite yawningly predictably) biased against Christianity. The same holds for the entertainment industry and academia.

Of course, it doesn’t - that was never my contention - but that network nevertheless wields enormous influence in the media, in both television and radio. No such liberal counterpart exists in either radio or television. The highest rated tv and radio talk shows are all conservative, or semi-conservative. This is indisputable. So I don’t know where you base your claim that the media is “overwhelmingly… leftist… and… biased towards Christianity.” It might be that we disagree on what exactly constitutes “anti-Christian bias” in this particular case…

Talk shows are overwhelmingly conservative. I agree. That's why I was careful to qualfy my contention ("traditional media"). As for that sector of the media (the networks, CNN, MSNBC, the major liberal papers: New York Times, Washington Post; the liberal newsweeklies: Time, Newsweek, etc.), yes, they are undeniably rather far left. You want proof again? Your argument suffers when you in effect demand hard evidence. Just look at all the damning medical data you now have to contend with. :-) So let's do it again!

I refer readers to the web page Media Bias Basics, put out by the Media Research Center. Here is a typical excerpt (in blue):

American Association of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) . . . The most recent ASNE study [1997] surveyed 1,037 newspaper reporters found 61 percent identified themselves as/leaning "liberal/Democratic" compared to only 15 percent who identified themselves as/leaning "conservative/Republican."

This page offers tons of evidence of the liberal bias. It is simply impossible to deny it. But you want to disagree with it? Okay; if so, here's another article: The Media Elite revisited - relevance of 1986 book by Robert Lichter, Stanley Rothman and Linda Lichter - Special Section: The Decline of American Journalism, National Review, June 21, 1993 by Ted J. Smith, III. Excerpt:

Finally, a 1992 poll of 1,410 journalists from a wide variety of print and broadcast organizations provides clear evidence that journalists are becoming more liberal. Conducted by Indiana University professors David Weaver and Cleveland Wilhoit, the survey found that the number of journalists who identified themselves as Democrats had grown from 35.5 per cent in 1971 to 44.1 per cent in 1992, while the number of Republicans had declined from 25.7 per cent to 16.3 per cent. As the authors note, much of this change is the result of widespread efforts to foster "diversity" in the newsroom. Because female and minority journalists tend to be even more liberal and Democratic than white male journalists, increases in demographic diversity have actually produced substantial decreases in political diversity.

Of course, in this context, I was not trying to prove what you claim here; namely, that such a thing was the "primary" objective of the movement. I was only denying the assertion that it had "nothing to do with seeking approval." In many instances, it certainly does have to do with that, and this is proven precisely by the sorts of reactions I have cited. Equally obviously - as in any movement of many people - not all do this, by any means, but surely enough do for one to be able to identify it as a significant consideration, in a sociological, generalized sense (as I did).

It may be the individual sentiments of certain people within the gay rights movement, but that is not at all what the movement is legally concerned about. That is why the movement is called gay rights and not gay acceptance. What we are fighting for is our right to marry members of the same sex, if we so choose, and to have secular courts recognize such unions. Personally, I could care less if the christian right morally approves of what we do within the privacy of our own homes -- that’s not what we’re fighting for, and if it was, it would be a worthless cause . . . The majority of people associated with the gay rights movement are staunch supporters of the first amendment. The people you speak of are the exception, not the norm. I’m sure you could cite many horror stories, but so can I (think Ann Coulter!), so they’d just cancel each other out, so to speak.

Old ground, so I refrain from further comment . . .

I’m sure plenty of people within the gay rights movement label your views bigoted and intolerant. But likewise, plenty of people within your movement label our view that homosexuality is perfectly natural (as the APA, a reputable medical organization, contends) anti-Christian, anti-God, anti-Bible, anti this, anti that. We are labeled “sodomites”, “whores”, “idolatrous”, among other less-than-polite terms. We are condemned to hell… the more extreme fringes even picket the funerals of homosexuals.

Absolutely; this goes on. My argument, however, does not rest on any of these things. I have casually stated (not made an argument) that homosexuality is contrary to the Bible and Christian sexual ethics. But I think you knew that already (and so do most homosexuals; even the ones who try to desperately rationalize away the biblical data). So I don't see how this is objectionable from a dialogue standpoint. It's what Christians (and particularly Catholics, which is my affiliation) believe. I have made my argument mostly from sociology, medical facts, ethics, the "natural / unnatural" distinction, and societal considerations (an opposition to the fallacies of libertarianism and the myth that individuals' actions do not affect the larger society). Hopefully, you will interact with my own arguments in the depth I think they deserve, at some point, rather than our going over and over the usual unfortunate modus operandi of the debate on both sides.

Even if the courts legally recognized gay marriage, that doesn’t mean you’d be legally bound to. White supremacists don’t morally approve of/recognize marriages between blacks and whites, nor are they legally bound to (exceptions, of course, would be public officials such as judges).

But interracial marriages have no discernible effect on society (only on racists, who are already increasingly relegated to the wacko fringes of society). Children being raised without a parent of one gender or the other certainly does adversely affect society. If people have no children on a wide scale (as today) this negatively affects cultures and nations, because when a nation goes under zero population growth, it starts to lose population, leading to the eventual death or great demise in influence and power of a culture within two to three generations. I would define homosexuality as broadly opposed to both the family, as traditionally and widely defined, and against procreation (since neither male homosexuality nor lesbianism can produce children in and of themselves).

. . . . not nearly as much as he [Pat Robertson] specifically blames homosexuals, especially in public. I’d be less inclined to label him a homophobe if he directed his ire at every class of sinner, but that is not the case. He singles out homosexuals, and this can only be because he finds them more repugnant, repulsive, and odious than the rest. So I’m afraid my first example does not illustrate your point. ;-)

I'm not sure he is placing homosexuality far away above all other classes of sinners. I doubt, for example, that he would think an abortionist or murderer or rapist was on a higher moral plane than a homosexual. I would have to see examples of what he wrote to analyze his case further. It may be that he places undue emphasis on some sins over against others, but it still isn't true that all he talks about is homosexuality, as if he doesn't preach against other activities that Christianity regards as sinful.

I am not very familiar with his [C.S. Lewis's] works, though I vaguely recall having read a portion of his book Mere Christianity back when I was 14, maybe 15. He basically argued that our intuitive sense of right and wrong could only be attributed to the existence of a higher power (or something to that affect). I chuckled, for this argument hardly lends any credibility or validity to Christianity. To theism? Yes, of course -- and I’m open to the possibility of a higher power --, but “theism” is not a synonym for “Christianity.” There could be a god whose concept of sin is radically different than yours.

You have assumed that he thinks that such basic arguments prove Christianity or something. Lewis wouldn't argue in such a fashion (nor would any apologist who knows much at all about theistic philosophy and agnostic objections to same). So your chuckling as a 14-year-old (even as a very intelligent one) was almost certainly misplaced, and I would advise you against caricaturing Lewis as a simpleton. Lewis himself converted to theism at first and then to Christianity, so he is well aware of the distinction between the two.

I should also note that this concept of right and wrong most of us have usually limits itself to murder, rape, dishonesty, and theft, not homosexuality. During my Catholic days (and before I realized I was attracted to both sexes), I never felt homosexuality was wrong,

If you want to argue that the fact of most people naturally and instinctively feeling that homosexuality is unnatural and wrong is irrelevant, then your feeling that it was right would be equally irrelevant. The argument from instinct or feeling obviously is a two-edged sword.

and I had a difficult time accepting the church’s teachings on this matter.

Many of us have a difficult time accepting many Church teachings. That has no bearing, of course, on their truthfulness or falsity. I have a hard time applying many of the Church's teachings, but I accept them based on reason and faith, not based on how my own particular feelings, desires, emotions, or drives lean.

Naturally, the disagreement only intensified after I realized I was attracted to men too.

See the above reasoning.

I believe both moral relativism and absolutism are inherently contradictory.

That makes it very difficult, then, to argue in favor of anything, doesn't it? This whole discussion is reduced to the level of arguing over whether vanilla or chocolate ice cream is "better." Without some standard at some point, constructive discussion is impossible. And so we pretty much have gone around in circles and resolved very little, because you have admitted that logical and moral systems reduce to nonsense.

I don’t know what to label my moral code -- it is somewhere between absolutism and relativism. I do believe certain acts are always wrong no matter if the person committing them believes so too; however, there are other acts I don’t believe are inherently wrong, or right -- I believe circumstances render that judgment.

Situation ethics . . . very well, then; make your case for homosexuality. Let's see how well it stands up to scrutiny. If all it amounts to is the usual "if it feels good, do it," then you are in the wrong place, because I don't waste time trying to argue against hedonism and suchlike. How can one even do so? The nature of those outlooks preclude rational discussion. Reason plays no part in them. So you either have to argue reasonably or there is no point in arguing at all.

Now from my opponent's new blog, here are further comments:

I had the chance to read Mr. Armstrong's second installment of his response to my email critiquing his debate with a homosexual. Although he does raise some very valid points, particularly in regards to the scientific information he cites, he nevertheless winds up proving my point:

You had one single point to make? I didn't know that . . . if so, you haven't made it based on any compelling reasoned argument, as I will show.

even though he argues from many different angles against homosexuality, the primary reason he opposes the gay rights movement is because it is contrary to his religious beliefs. This is made clear when he writes that "Christians... must oppose homosexual legal activism because it is directly contrary to Christian teaching (my emphasis)."

One could have a field day with this; it is so fallacious. First of all, I haven't stated this myself. You have concluded it because (seemingly) it is the conclusion that you were looking to find.

Secondly, it all depends on what one means by "primary." There is "primary" and there is "non-negotiable." These are two different things. For most Christians who take the Bible seriously and accept traditional Christian orthodoxy (as reflected in historical beliefs passed down for now 2000 years) seriously, the prohibition against homosexuality is indeed non-negotiable. It still doesn't follow, however, that one's religious commitments must necessarily be the primary reasons for opposing homosexuality.

As an analogy, say I weighed three hundred pounds and was a member of a religion which regarded all 300-pound persons as gluttons, and urged its members to weigh 180 pounds or less. Would you argue that the "primary" reason I wanted to lose weight was because of my religious affiliation? That seems to me clearly false. The primary reason would be to feel better, look better, to be better received in some circles which might frown upon overweight people, to avoid the callous, unthinking judgment of many folks that I eat too much, etc. Those are all the true primary reasons. And they are true regardless of what my religious belief is. They are instinctive and natural and have very little to do with religion at all.

Likewise, with homosexuality. The most compelling arguments against it (the ones I have provided for you and my readers) are all non-religious, and indeed they have to be, in order to be based on reason, because the biblical prohibitions (revelation) do not particularly delve into the reasons for why it is wrong (just as the Bible is also not a scientific textbook, nor meant to be construed as such; not that the Bible never uses reason; it does do that, too, particularly in St. Paul's letters).

God left that for men to discover by use of their own reason, and with the benefit and hindsight of personal and cultural experience. I thought it was just as wrong when I was a practical atheist for ten years of my life, and when I was rather politically liberal (in favor of abortion, feminism, sexual liberalism, etc.). And the reason I did goes back to the natural / unnatural distinction, and an instinctive understanding that an unnatural thing is also unhealthy and therefore undesirable. This is epistemically far, FAR prior to any religious considerations (both logically, and in my case, chronologically and experientially).

This goes back to when I noted that C. S. Lewis taught that Christian morality merely reflects what people already know on other grounds. It didn't cause it; it was already there. Christian or other religious belief may verify it and coincide with what we feel and believe ourselves, through use of our senses, reason, and experience, but then again, that is not a primary cause, is it? Belief in God works the same way. It is generally present before folks get particularly "religious" or construct epistemological justifications for theistic belief (even you yourself do not rule it out or think it is absurd nonsense with no possibility). If it is already there (like morality in general and the instinctive aversion to homosexuality in particular) it can hardly have been caused at all by a religious belief-system, let alone that system being supposedly the "primary" cause.

So this may be a convenient "club" for you to dismiss my entire set of secular / medical arguments since you simply have to claim that it's all allegedly based on supposedly irrational religion from the Bible, which can't be argued with, etc. It's not nearly that simple. I'm here to tell you that my opposition is not based at bottom simply on revelation, but rather, on various factors which are consistent with that revelation, but not necessarily based on it.

To step back a moment and do a little religious philosophy: one can approach Christianity in at least two different ways:

1) One can accept a certain interpretation of revelation and Christian teaching and force-fit all the rest of reality into it, even if this involves absurdity and irrationality. For example, one could (falsely) claim that the Bible denies the sphericity of the earth or heliocentrism, and so reject those scientific findings that strongly suggest otherwise.

2) Or one can realize that biblical interpretation itself is subject and dependent upon many other things, including linguistic, cultural, and scientific considerations. This approach recognizes that all truth is God's truth, and that reason and revelation are fundamentally compatible. Reason can be brought to bear on all subject matter, including religious. Religion is reasonable; it ultimately transcends reason, but it is not contrary to it. Therefore, one has nothing to fear from reasoned inquiry. It will always support Christian claims, because they are reasonable (so it turns out after repeated testing of the claims).

This is obviously the approach I take, and it is that of the Catholic Church and most of the more learned Protestant apologists, whereas the first option is anti-intellectual and a type of "fortress mentality." It's the stereotype of religion, based on how its detractors want to portray it, for their own personal and political ends.

And so it turns out in this present debate. The findings of medicine, sociology, physiology, anthropology, and so forth, back up the Christian claims which date back more than 4000 years, just as, e.g., the Big Bang cosmology confirms what Christians believed all along about the universe having a point of origin, and not being eternal.

My apologetics is entirely reason- and facts-based. That's why I don't have to appeal to the Bible at all. Instead, all I have to do is appeal to man's own systems of knowledge which are more than able by themselves to prove the folly of various behaviors and points of view. You can keep bringing this back to religion and the Bible if you wish, simply because I am a Christian, but I will keep using secular knowledge and information against you. Readers can see what is happening here: who is actually arguing using reason on grounds that both parties basically accept (science and observation), while the other keeps trying to create straw men so as to dismiss the other without dealing with rational arguments.

. . . the presence of such corruption of morality during the course of history does not prove that homosexuality was either usually normative nor that it was or is morally defensible.

It doesn't prove as much, no, but it does prove that discriminatory behavior against certain segments of the population was not based on any real evidence, but rather, based on religious and/or racial bigotry; on the misguided belief that one's religious worldview is inherently superior to that of others, and hence, that all views/lifestyles not in conformity with such religious beliefs must be outlawed.

Here we go again; you continue to do exactly what I just described . . . if you keep that up, one will be forced to conclude that you wish to engage in sophistry and propagandizing, not constructive rational argument. I must say that I expected (or at least hoped) much more from you. I hope you will give us some actual argument in favor of your position before we are done.

This smacks of religious persecution against the minority and as far as I am aware our constitution does not allow for that to take place within our legal institutions. You admitted, as I previously noted, that Christians must oppose gay activism because it is directly opposed to Christian teaching. That's fine -- I just don't know how well such an argument would hold up in court, especially in light of what our constitution says.

Which is precisely why I didn't make such an argument .. . . I made a host of others, which you acknowledge as "very valid," but have not yet dealt with. In fact, my understanding of this very point was proven by how I argued when I myself was in a courtroom and faced with a jail sentence for my participation in Operation Rescue (blocking of abortion clinic doors, to save lives) back way in 1989. When I got to have my say before sentencing (which turned out to be one night in jail!), I made an appeal to ancient, pre-Christian Greece and the accepted beginning of modern medicine, because the Hippocratic Oath outlawed abortion. My specific argument was that opposition to abortion goes far beyond Christianity, even to ancient pagan Greece. This is an argument from reason, not religion, and it is absolutely relevant in a legal environment. You oppose it yourself on non-religious grounds. So why is it that you can't seem to comprehend that I could oppose homosexuality primarily on non-religious grounds, while I also oppose it on Christian, biblical grounds?

I'm sure many christian right lawyers will cite this and that scientific study, arguing that, unless we outlaw all forms of homosexual behavior, our nation will suffer dire consequences (presumably at the hands of their god).

Of what use is this continuing silly caricature? Do you actually think a Christian lawyer is stupid and dense enough to stand there in court and make an argument from science and then appeal to divine judgment? If you think this happens, why don't you produce for us a court transcript of someone actually doing it? When the Supreme Court outlawed sodomy as recently as the 80s, do you think it relied on the Bible for its legal judgments?

Homosexual behavior may or may not be harmful to those who engage in it -- that is not the point; it has never been the point.

Obviously it isn't for you, since you refuse to interact with the alarming statistics, and insist on endangering your own health and in effect, that of many others, by your espousal of the lifestyle as just as healthy and natural as heterosexuality. You, too, are free to act in stupid and irrational ways with regard to your own physical and mental / emotional health. But you will pay a price. I have warned you and others reading this, what the price will quite possibly be (disease, an early death, etc.). But you are free to ignore reason and fact and do as you please. Millions do. They smoke; they act in immoral sexual ways (promiscuity, abortion, divorce, etc.) and will continue to do so, because this is the human condition.

And yes, I believe that if one continues to deliberately engage in mortal sin, with full consent of the will (knowing full well that it is grave sin), that they could quite possibly end up in hell. I don't know for sure who will go there; only God knows that, but I can warn people that they are on the wrong path, out of love for them and concern for their eternal happiness. If you think that is "hateful," so be it. It won't stop me from expressing love and concern for you as a person. I have to stand before God one day and give account for my teaching and "preaching" as a Christian apologist and evangelist. And I will not stand there and say that I was too scared to proclaim God's truth in certain areas because it was unfashionable or unpopular, or because I would be slandered by many for so dong. No; truth is truth. If I am wrong in the end, at least my motives were pure, and I was trying to prevent the misery of others, and not trying to harm or hurt them.

If it were, and if such a view (especially if con) were valid, we'd also have to outlaw sex between an HIV-positive/AIDS-infected person and a HIV-free/AIDS-free person.

Why must everything be reduced to the legal issue with you? Why can't you simply see (using reason as your guide) that the behavior is unhealthy, as I proved, and either accept that or make some argument against it?

But we don't, because our nation's belief in individual liberty allows for people to engage in self-destructive behavior.

To some extent, yes. But we have laws against cigarette and alcohol advertising for this reason (and drunk driving). Are you conceding that homosexuality is self-destructive, and you simply don't care; you will do it anyway, damn the consequences and how much others suffer? If you die young as a result, don't you think that will affect the people who love you? So much for radical individualism. If you become very sick or die, that affects many people. They suffer. I know; my brother died of leukemia at 49. My dad has lung cancer now. He is a smoker. Statistics show that if he hadn't smoked all those years, that he would likely not have developed lung cancer. But again, that is trying to reason with people who are dead-set against reason and don't care, if it involves something that they desire or are addicted to.

Granted, our legislative branch of government is not always consistent in upholding this cherished belief as is evidenced by its fatuously drafted legislation against certain drugs, but just because bad legislation is written into the books doesn't make it right.

I couldn't agree more; hence my disagreement with the so-called "gay marriage" laws.

Later in your response, you provide a considerable amount of medical/scientific evidence "against" homosexuality. The medical/scientific points may or may not be valid in the debate to secure equal rights (not "special" rights, as conservatives contend) for homosexuals/bisexuals/transgendered people but this has nothing to do with its moral component and, more imporantly, its legal component.

It has quite a bit to do with the morality, because immoral things are invariably unhealthy and destructive. This is obvious. If you smoke, you die younger than you would otherwise. Those who do drugs have overdoses (Jimi Hendrix, Keith Moon of the Who, etc.). If you live a life of sexual promiscuity (either heterosexual or homosexual) you will end up miserable (are Hollywood stars known for their incredible happiness and stable relationships?). A life of crime causes one to end up in jail or die young. It also has relevance to the legal arguments, because law and legislation have an interest in protecting the larger society from harmful tendencies and trends.

I brought up all the medical facts because you wanted to state rather ridiculous falsehoods: that there was no difference at all in homosexual sex. Here is what you wrote:

In secular thought, two consenting adults of the same-sex are not harming anybody. The only argument against homosexuality is that it's immoral in the eyes of the judeo-christian god, whom you must remember is not everybody's object of worship. But former nation-states that outlawed homosexuality did so based on religious reasons not scientific evidence.

After that silliness, I hit you with a ton of medical-scientific evidence, which you cannot possibly refute (and so you haven't made the slightest effort to even try). If you don't make foolish, demonstrably false statements, then you won't be faced with a mountain of medical fact to have to rationalize away as you continue to engage in self-destructive (and immoral) behavior. I don't mean to be harsh, but I have a hard time with people who so brazenly disregard facts and reason. I can understand opposition to religion, because it is usually based on misunderstandings, but this sort of ignoring of the science is inexplicable, since you claim to be standing on secular, scientific ground, over against us "gullible" Christians who "follow ancient myths," etc ad nauseam.

We know that doctors inadverdently kill 195,000 people every year, but that doesn't warrant the outlawing of the medical profession, nor does it render it immoral.

If they killed themselves (on purpose) at a clip of 195,000 a year, would you favor outlawing suicide?

And now more comments from my opponent in my comments boxes:

Two consenting male or female adults engaging in sex doesn't harm anybody except themselves (assuming homosexual sex is absolutely detrimental to your health, no matter how cautiously you may engage in it, and how frequently, for that matter).

This is sheer nonsense! I've already dealt with some of the consequences above:

1) If you die young, folks who love you will grieve; they will have the loss of you not being there anymore. You're part of their life, too.

2) If you get real sick, this affects your job, and others around you. Now their life or situation is affected. It costs someone money to pay for your treatment. You take up hospital beds. You use up resources which could better provide for the poor or the sick people who didn't cause their own condition by irrational and immoral behavior.

3) There are also psychological factors, which were outlined in the article I cited at length from.

4) IF Christianity is true, you place your eternal soul in peril.

5) Even if Christianity isn't true, based on the medical facts, insofar as you may lead others down the same path through promiscuity (which is quite common), you play a part in their own probable later health problems, and (if Christianity is true) their spiritual life becoming impoverished and their soul possibly endangered.

The government has no business outlawing such behavior amongst adults, and it has no right to deny such adults the right to legally establish their union in a court of law . . .

Since this is based on the bankrupt theory of legal positivism and the absurd, self-defeating notions of libertarianism, it is based on hardly any cogent reasoning at all.

especially in light of the fact that Mr. Armstrong has conceded that Christians oppose/should oppose homosexual legal activism because it is directly opposed to Christianity's teachings.

I have "conceded" nothing. I dealt with this strain of "argument" above at length. The legal argument can be made without reference to Christianity at all, if needs be.

The Congress doesn't/shouldn't draft legislation based on the teachings of Christianity, but rather based on what is permissible under the Constitution. One thing that certainly isn't permissible under the Constitution is the meddling of religion and state.

More boilerplate rhetoric. If this doesn't cease, and there is no sensible, confident interaction with my various non-religious arguments, than this dialogue will be over (at least my participation in it). As usual, I have replied to virtually everything you have argued, while you have ignored a great deal of my argumentation. That gets old real quick. As a veteran of now 350 dialogues, I can attest to that fact.

BTW, I run a far greater risk of killing myself by going rock/mountain climbing than by engaging in homosexual sex. This risk is even greater for habitual rock/mountain climbers. Maybe we should outlaw that, too? Oh, and why not outlaw driving as well? We DON'T HAVE to do drive... it's NOT an absolute necessity, generally speaking. It's a convenience at the expense of 50,000 innocent lives every year.

That's all well and good, and none of it proves that homosexual sex is healthy and no different health-wise from heterosexual sex, nor that it is "natural" according to human physiology, nor that it doesn't harm others at all. If you wish to concede that it is both unnatural and unhealthy, then I would consider this argument basically a triumph for the position I have taken. You started out saying there was no difference. Now, all you can do is point out that other activities are potentially harmful, as if that justifies homosexual sex?

Monday, December 26, 2005

Catholic Church Teaching on Internet Evangelism, Catechism, and Apologetics: Excerpts


The Church and Internet (link)

22 February 2002

[for all three sources below: footnotes removed: consult the link for further documentation / green and red enlarged portions added for emphasis]

1. . . . Quoting Pope Pius XII's 1957 encyclical letter Miranda Prorsus, the Pastoral Instruction on the Means of Social Communication Communio et Progressio, published in 1971, underlined that point: “The Church sees these media as ‘gifts of God' which, in accordance with his providential design, unite men in brotherhood and so help them to cooperate with his plan for their salvation”. This remains our view, and it is the view we take of the Internet.

[ . . . ]

4. Three decades ago Communio et Progressio pointed out that “modern media offer new ways of confronting people with the message of the Gospel”. Pope Paul VI said the Church “would feel guilty before the Lord” if it failed to use the media for evangelization. Pope John Paul II has called the media “the first Areopagus of the modern age”, and declared that “it is not enough to use the media simply to spread the Christian message and the Church's authentic teaching. It is also necessary to integrate that message into the ‘new culture' created by modern communications”. Doing that is all the more important today, since not only do the media now strongly influence what people think about life but also to a great extent “human experience itself is an experience of media”.

All this applies to the Internet. And even though the world of social communications “may at times seem at odds with the Christian message, it also offers unique opportunities for proclaiming the saving truth of Christ to the whole human family. Consider...the positive capacities of the Internet to carry religious information and teaching beyond all barriers and frontiers. Such a wide audience would have been beyond the wildest imaginings of those who preached the Gospel before us...Catholics should not be afraid to throw open the doors of social communications to Christ, so that his Good News may be heard from the housetops of the world”.

[this paragraph's citation from: John Paul II, Message for the 35th World Communications Day, n. 3, May 27, 2001]

[ . . . ]

5. . . . Since announcing the Good News to people formed by a media culture requires taking carefully into account the special characteristics of the media themselves, the Church now needs to understand the Internet. This is necessary in order to communicate effectively with people—especially young people—who are steeped in the experience of this new technology, and also in order to use it well.

. . . The Internet is relevant to many activities and programs of the Church— evangelization, including both re-evangelization and new evangelization and the traditional missionary work ad gentes, catechesis and other kinds of education, news and information, apologetics, governance and administration, and some forms of pastoral counseling and spiritual direction. Although the virtual reality of cyberspace cannot substitute for real interpersonal community, the incarnational reality of the sacraments and the liturgy, or the immediate and direct proclamation of the gospel, it can complement them, attract people to a fuller experience of the life of faith, and enrich the religious lives of users. It also provides the Church with a means for communicating with particular groups—young people and young adults, the elderly and home-bound, persons living in remote areas, the members of other religious bodies—who otherwise may be difficult to reach.

. . . Church-related groups that have not yet taken steps to enter cyberspace are encouraged to look into the possibility of doing so at an early date. We strongly recommend the exchange of ideas and information about the Internet among those with experience in the field and those who are newcomers.

[ . . . ]

10. . . . It is important, too, that people at all levels of the Church use the Internet creatively to meet their responsibilities and help fulfill the Church's mission. Hanging back timidly from fear of technology or for some other reason is not acceptable, in view of the very many positive possibilities of the Internet. “Methods of facilitating communication and dialogue among her own members can strengthen the bonds of unity between them. Immediate access to information makes it possible for [the Church] to deepen her dialogue with the contemporary world...The Church can more readily inform the world of her beliefs and explain the reasons for her stance on any given issue or event. She can hear more clearly the voice of public opinion, and enter into a continuous discussion with the world around her, thus involving herself more immediately in the common search for solutions to humanity's many pressing problems”.

[John Paul II, Message for the 24th World Communications Day, 1990]

[ . . . ]

11. . . . To educators and catechists. The Pastoral Instruction Communio et Progressio spoke of the “urgent duty” of Catholic schools to train communicators and recipients of social communications in relevant Christian principles. The same message has been repeated many times. In the age of the Internet, with its enormous outreach and impact, the need is more urgent than ever.

Catholic universities, colleges, schools, and educational programs at all levels should provide courses for various groups—“seminarians, priests, religious brothers and sisters, and lay leaders...teachers, parents, and students” —as well as more advanced training in communications technology, management, ethics, and policy issues for individuals preparing for professional media work or decision-making roles, including those who work in social communications for the Church. Furthermore, we commend the issues and questions mentioned above to the attention of scholars and researchers in relevant disciplines in Catholic institutions of higher learning.

[ . . . ]

12. . . . Fortitude, courage, is necessary. This means standing up for truth in the face of religious and moral relativism, for altruism and generosity in the face of individualistic consumerism, for decency in the face of sensuality and sin.

And temperance is needed—a self-disciplined approach to this remarkable technological instrument, the Internet, so as to use it wisely and only for good.


Ethics in Internet (link)

22 February 2002

1. . . . The new media are powerful tools for education and cultural enrichment, for commercial activity and political participation, for intercultural dialogue and understanding; and, as we point out in the document that accompanies this one, they also can serve the cause of religion. Yet this coin has another side. Media of communication that can be used for the good of persons and communities can be used to exploit, manipulate, dominate, and corrupt.

[ . . . ]

2. . . . In this document we wish to set out a Catholic view of the Internet, as a starting point for the Church's participation in dialogue with other sectors of society, especially other religious groups, concerning the development and use of this marvelous technological instrument. The Internet is being put to many good uses now, with the promise of many more, but much harm also can be done by its improper use. Which it will be, good or harm, is largely a matter of choice—a choice to whose making the Church brings two elements of great importance: her commitment to the dignity of the human person and her long tradition of moral wisdom.

[ . . . ]

9. . . . The Internet can unite people, but it also can divide them, both as individuals and as mutually suspicious groups separated by ideology, politics, possessions, race and ethnicity, intergenerational differences, and even religion.

[ . . . ]

12. The question of freedom of expression on the Internet is similarly complex and gives rise to another set of concerns.

We strongly support freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas. Freedom to seek and know the truth is a fundamental human right, and freedom of expression is a cornerstone of democracy.

[ . . . ]

13. . . . The Internet is a highly effective instrument for bringing news and information rapidly to people. But the economic competitiveness and round-the-clock nature of Internet journalism also contribute to sensationalism and rumor-mongering, to a merging of news, advertising, and entertainment, and to an apparent decline in serious reporting and commentary. Honest journalism is essential to the common good of nations and the international community. Problems now visible in the practice of journalism on the Internet call for speedy correcting by journalists themselves.

. . . While Internet users have a duty to be selective and self-disciplined, that should not be carried to the extreme of walling themselves off from others. The medium's implications for psychological development and health likewise need continued study, including the possibility that prolonged immersion in the virtual world of cyberspace may be damaging to some. Although there are many advantages in the capacity technology gives people to “assemble packages of information and services uniquely designed for them”, this also “raises an inescapable question: Will the audience of the future be a multitude of audiences of one?...What would become of solidarity—what would become of love—in a world like that?”

[Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Ethics in Communications, n.29]

[ . . . ]

18. As we pointed out above, a companion document to this one called The Church and Internet speaks specifically about the Church's use of the Internet and the Internet's role in the life of the Church. Here we wish only to emphasize that the Catholic Church, along with other religious bodies, should have a visible, active presence on the Internet and be a partner in the public dialogue about its development. “The Church does not presume to dictate these decisions and choices, but it does seek to be of help by indicating ethical and moral criteria which are relevant to the process—criteria which are to be found in both human and Christian values”.

[Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Pastoral Instruction Aetatis Novae on Social Communications on the twentieth anniversary of Communio et progressio, n.12]

. . . The Church cannot impose answers, but she can—and must—proclaim to the world the answers she has received; and today, as always, she offers the one ultimately satisfying answer to the deepest questions of life—Jesus Christ, who “fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling”. Like today's world itself, the world of media, including the Internet, has been brought by Christ, inchoately yet truly, within the boundaries of the kingdom of God and placed in service to the word of salvation.


The Rapid Development


24 January 2005, the Feast of Saint Francis de Sales, Patron Saint of Journalists

1. The rapid development of technology in the area of the media is surely one of the signs of progress in today’s society. In view of these innovations in continuous evolution, the words found in the Decree of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Inter Mirifica, promulgated by my venerable predecessor, the servant of God Paul VI, December 4, 1963, appear even more pertinent: “Man’s genius has with God’s help produced marvelous technical inventions from creation, especially in our times. The Church, our mother, is particularly interested in those which directly touch man’s spirit and which have opened up new avenues of easy communication of all kinds of news, of ideas and orientations.”

2. . . . In fact, the Church is not only called upon to use the mass media to spread the Gospel but, today more than ever, to integrate the message of salvation into the “new culture” that these powerful means of communication create and amplify. It tells us that the use of the techniques and the technologies of contemporary communications is an integral part of its mission in the third millennium.

Moved by this awareness, the Christian community has taken significant steps in the use of the means of communication for religious information, for evangelization and catechesis, for the formation of pastoral workers in this area, and for the education to a mature responsibility of the users and the recipients of the various communications media.

[ . . . ]

5. The communication between God and humanity has thus reached its perfection in the Word made flesh. The act of love by which God reveals himself, united to the response of faith by humanity, generates a fruitful dialogue. Precisely for this reason, making our own in a certain sense the request of the disciples, “teach us to pray” (Lk11:1), we can ask the Lord to help us to understand how to communicate with God and with other human beings through the marvelous communications media. In light of so decisive and definitive a communication, the media provide a providential opportunity to reach people everywhere, overcoming barriers of time, of space and of language; presenting the content of faith in the most varied ways imaginable; and offering to all who search the possibility of entering into dialogue with the mystery of God, revealed fully in Christ Jesus.

The Incarnate Word has left us an example of how to communicate with the Father and with humanity, whether in moments of silence and recollection, or in preaching in every place and in every way. He explains the Scriptures, expresses himself in parables, dialogues within the intimacy of the home, speaks in the squares, along the streets, on the shores of the lake and on the mountaintops.

[ . . . ]

6. . . . the Church takes advantage of the opportunities offered by the communications media as pathways providentially given by God to intensify communion and to render more penetrating the proclamation of His word. . . . We give thanks to God for the presence of these powerful media which, if used by believers with the genius of faith and in docility to the light of the Holy Spirit, can facilitate the communication of the Gospel and render the bonds of communion among ecclesial communities more effective.

7. In the communications media the Church finds a precious aid for spreading the Gospel and religious values, for promoting dialogue, ecumenical and inter-religious cooperation, and also for defending those solid principles which are indispensable for building a society which respects the dignity of the human person and is attentive to the common good. The Church willingly employs these media to furnish information about itself and to expand the boundaries of evangelization, of catechesis and of formation, considering their use as a response to the command of the Lord: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15). . . .

8. The appreciation of the media is not reserved only to those already adept in the field, but to the entire Church Community. If, as has already been noted, the communications media take into account different aspects of the expression of faith, Christians must take into account the media culture in which they live: from the Liturgy, the fullest and fundamental expression of communication with God and with one another, to Catechesis, which cannot prescind from the fact of being directed to people immersed in the language and the culture of the day.

[ . . . ]

9. . . . New technologies, in particular, create further opportunities for communication understood as a service to the pastoral government and organization of the different tasks of the Christian community . . . Many Christians are already creatively using this instrument, exploring its potential to assist in the tasks of evangelization and education, as well as of internal communication, administration and governance.

[ . . . ]

11. . . . a vast work of formation is needed to assure that the mass media be known and used intelligently and appropriately. The new vocabulary they introduce into society modifies both learning processes and the quality of human relations, so that, without proper formation, these media run the risk of manipulating and heavily conditioning, rather than serving people. This is especially true for young people, who show a natural propensity towards technological innovations, and as such are in even greater need of education in the responsible and critical use of the media.

. . . Finally, there cannot be forgotten the great possibilities of mass media in promoting dialogue, becoming vehicles for reciprocal knowledge, of solidarity and of peace. They become a powerful resource for good if used to foster understanding between peoples . . .

12. . . . While it is true that the truths of the faith are not open to arbitrary interpretations, and that respect for the rights of others places intrinsic limits upon the expression of one’s judgments, it is no less true that there is still room among Catholics for an exchange of opinions in a dialogue which is respectful of justice and prudence.

. . . This communication must tend towards a constructive dialogue, . . . This is one of the areas in which collaboration between the lay faithful and Pastors is most needed, as the Council appropriately emphasized, “A great many wonderful things are to be hoped for from this familiar dialogue between the laity and their spiritual leaders: in the laity a strengthened sense of personal responsibility; a renewed enthusiasm; a more ready application of their talents to the projects of their spiritual leaders. The latter, on the other hand, aided by the experience of the laity, can more clearly and more incisively come to decisions regarding both spiritual and temporal matters. In this way, the whole Church, strengthened by each one of its members, may more effectively fulfill its mission for the life of the world”.

[Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Lumen Gentium, 37]

13. . . . Everyone should know how to foster an attentive discernment and constant vigilance, developing a healthy critical capacity regarding the persuasive force of the communications media . . . The modern technologies increase to a remarkable extent the speed, quantity and accessibility of communication, but they above all do not favor that delicate exchange which takes place between mind and mind, between heart and heart, and which should characterize any communication at the service of solidarity and love.

[ . . . ]

14. The apostle Paul has a clear message for those engaged in communications (politicians, professional communicators, spectators), “Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another… No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear” (Eph 4: 25, 29).

To those working in communication, especially to believers involved in this important field of society, I extend the invitation which, from the beginning of my ministry as Pastor of the Universal Church, I have wished to express to the entire world “Do not be afraid!”

Do not be afraid of new technologies! These rank “among the marvelous things” – inter mirifica – which God has placed at our disposal to discover, to use and to make known the truth, also the truth about our dignity and about our destiny as his children, heirs of his eternal Kingdom.

Do not be afraid of being opposed by the world! Jesus has assured us, “I have conquered the world!” (Jn 16:33) . . .

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Gospel, as Preached by the First Christians

By Dave Armstrong

[originally uploaded on 8 July 2002; the first section is an expansion of a paper written in January 1988, when I was an evangelical Protestant; I believe that the initial paper (and idea) actually went back to the early 80s]

[excerpts from reference sources will be in blue; Bible verses will be in green]


The English gospel is derived from the Anglo-Saxon godspell, which meant "good tidings" and later, the "story concerning God." Gospel is the usual English translation, in the New Testament, of the Greek euangelion (pronounced yoo-ang-GHEL-ee-on), from which, in turn, we get our English words evangelical, evangelist, etc. The Greek euangelion means, literally, "good message" or "good news." Seven definitions from standard Protestant reference works, follow:

Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, W.E. Vine (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1940, under heading "Gospel"):

In the N.T. it denotes the good tidings of the Kingdom of God and of salvation through Christ, to be received by faith, on the basis of His expiatory death, His burial, resurrection, and ascension, e.g., Acts 15:7; 20:24; I Peter 4:17. 

Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Joseph H. Thayer (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1901, 257):

The term comprises the preaching of (concerning) Jesus Christ as having suffered death on the cross to procure eternal salvation for men in the kingdom of God, but as restored to life and exalted to the right hand of God in heaven . . . it may be more briefly defined as 'the glad tidings of salvation through Christ; the proclamation of the grace of God manifested and pledged in Christ.' (Rom. 1:16; 10:16; 11:28; I Cor. 4:15; II Cor. 8:18; Gal. 2:2; Eph. 3:6; Phil. 1:5, etc.). 

New Bible Dictionary, Ed. J.D. Douglas (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962, 484):

The gospel is the good news that God in Jesus Christ has fulfilled His promises to Israel, and that a way of salvation has been opened to all . . . The use of 'Gospels' as a designation of the first four books of the N.T. is post-biblical (2nd century A. D.).

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd ed., edited by F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone (Oxford Univ. Press, 1983, 583):

The central content of the Christian revelation, the glad tidings of redemption. Hence Christ's own preaching is a 'Gospel' (Mk. 1:14 f.). The use of the word in Christian vocabulary probably comes from the OT . . . Is. 61:1 . . .

The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, general editor: J.D. Douglas (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1974, 424):

The message of God's redemption in Jesus Christ, which lies at the heart of the NT and the church's faith. In the NT it is, first, the proclamation by Jesus that the kingdom has drawn near and, then, the proclamation by His disciples that in His life, death, and resurrection the kingdom has been established and that salvation and forgiveness are offered to all who believe. 

The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, ed. Allen C. Myers (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987; based on Bijbelse Encyclopedie, ed. by W.H. Gispen, Kampen, the Netherlands, revised ed., 1975; 432-433):

Good news, specifically the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ (Matt. 11:5 par. Luke 4:18; Heb. 4:2,6; 1 Pet. 1:12 . . . Paul most thoroughly treats the nature of the gospel . . . For Paul, the 'good news' was that God had bought salvation through the death of Jesus Christ independent of the rules and regulations that characterized Judaism . . . The apostle Paul . . . proclaimed the incarnate, crucified, and resurrected Christ (Rom. 1:3; 1 Cor 1:17) who appeared to his followers after his resurrection (15:1-8) . . . Paul stressed that the gospel is God's power unto salvation for all believers, manifesting the righteousness of God, but veiled to all those who do not believe (Rom. 1:16-17; cf. 2 Cor. 4:3-4).

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich (translated and abridged in one volume by Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985, 271):

Two passages summarize the content (Rom. 1:1 ff. and 1 Cor. 15:1 ff.), and cf. Rom. 2:16; 16:25; 2 Tim. 3:8. From Rom. 1:1 ff. we learn that the preexistent Son has become man, is as such the expected Davidic Messiah, and has been exalted as kyrios with his resurrection. The resurrection presupposes the death and passion. As the message of Jesus, the gospel brings peace (Eph. 6:15), but judgment is also part of its content (Rom. 2:16). The gospel also brings strength (Rom. 16:25) as the revelation of God's saving counsel concurrent with the preaching of Jesus.



1. St. Peter, in Jerusalem, speaking to the Jews of Israel and from many of the surrounding districts (Acts 2:6-11); c. A.D. 30-33:

Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know - this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power . . .

This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear . . .

Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Messiah - this Jesus whom you crucified . . . Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself . . . Be saved from this perverse generation.
(Acts 2:22-24,32-33,36,38-40)

2. St. Peter, in Jerusalem, to the Jews; c. A.D. 30-33:

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered up, and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he decided to release Him. But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses . . .

But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Messiah should suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Repent - therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Messiah appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time . . .

For you first, God raised up His servant, and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.
(Acts 3:13-15,18-21,26)

3. St. Peter, in Jerusalem, speaking to the rulers, elders, scribes and priests of the Jews (after healing a lame man - Acts 3:2-8); c. A.D. 30-33:

Rulers and elders of the people, if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead - by this name this man stands here before you in good health. He (Jesus) is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the very corner stone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:8-12; quoting Psalms 118:22)

4. St. Peter and the apostles, in Jerusalem, speaking to the Sanhedrin, or, Council of the Jews; c. A.D. 30-33:

The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him. (Acts 5:30-32)

5. St. Peter, in Caesarea, on the Mediterranean shore 65 miles northwest of Jerusalem, speaking to Cornelius, a Roman centurion, his relatives and his close friends (Gentiles); c. A.D. 38:

I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him. He sent the word to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all) - you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil; for God was in Him. And we are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. And they also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day, and granted that He should become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us, who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins. (Acts 10:34-43)

6. St. Paul, in Pisidian Antioch, in what is now central Turkey, speaking to the Jews in the synagogue; c. A.D. 46:

. . . From the offspring of this man (David), according to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus . . .

Brethren, sons of Abraham's family, and those among you who fear God, to us the word of this salvation is sent out. For those who live in Jerusalem, and their rulers, recognizing neither Him nor the utterances of the prophets which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning Him. And though they found no ground for putting Him to death, they asked Pilate that He be executed. And when they had carried out all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead; and for many days He appeared to those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, the very ones who are now His witnesses to the people. And we preach to you the good news of the promlse made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to us, their children in that He raised up Jesus . . . .

Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses . . .
(Acts 13:23,26-33,38-39)

7. St. Paul and Silas, in Philippi, in Macedonia (Greece), speaking to the jailer in whose jail they were being held; c. A.D. 49:

Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household. (Acts 16:31)

8. St. Paul, in Athens, Greece, at Mars Hill, a marketplace and meeting-grounds northwest of the Acropolis, speaking to Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, civic leaders, Athenian citizens and visitors; c. A.D. 49:

Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things; and He made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we also are His offspring.' Being then the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.

Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.
(Acts 17: 22- 31 )

9. St. Paul, in Jerusalem, to the Jews; c. A.D. 59 (Paul converted to Christianity around A.D. 34-35):

I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, just as you all are today. And I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons . . . And it came about that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?' And I answered, 'Who are You, Lord?' And He said to me, 'I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.' . . .

And I said, 'What shall I do, Lord?' And the Lord said to me, 'Arise and go into Damascus; and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.' . . . And a certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there . . . said, 'The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will, and to see the Righteous One, and to hear an utterance from His mouth. For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard . . . Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.' . . . And He (the Lord) said to me, 'Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'
(Acts 22:3-4,6-8,10,12,14-16,21)

Good News: An Evangelical / Catholic Presentation of the Gospel Message

By Dave Armstrong (17 July 2002; expansion of a paper written in 1982)

The original part of the following essay dates from June 1982, when I was an evangelical Protestant. I have decided to keep the old paper intact, but to comment (in green) on portions which -- as a Catholic -- I feel need further elaboration or reinterpretation from a Catholic perspective. I hope this format will help the reader understand the commonalities and differences between Catholics and Protestants, and (as the case may be) to better comprehend my own change of mind within the Christian faith (as well as my growth in understanding as a Christian over twenty years): what theological beliefs were modified or discarded, and also the considerable number of doctrines or outlooks which remained the same.


Did you ever wonder about what exactly the gospel is and what Jesus' death on the cross meant? The word gospel means "good news," and refers to the attainment of a life of joy, fulfillment, love and peace as a result of God's revelation of His character and plan of salvation in the person of Jesus.

This is a rather broad notion of the word gospel. Rather, I would say that this is referring to the Christian walk as a totality, or Christian discipleship. A "life of joy, fulfillment, love and peace" is the hopeful result or the fruits of an acceptance of the Good News, not the Good News itself. I myself had this awareness of the above distinction twenty years ago.

Of course, for the gospel to have any validity, one must believe that God exists and that the Bible is His Word; that is, God's written message to mankind. There is an abundance of evidence supporting these two assertions from many fields of study.

Technically, one wouldn't have to believe the Bible was God's Word and divinely inspired in order to accept the gospel. All that would be strictly necessary was to believe that it accurately recorded the words of Jesus, as a trustworthy historical document, and then to accept the teachings of Jesus (or, for that matter, His disciples and apostles, such as St. Paul). After all, the early Christians didn't yet possess the New Testament. They accepted the gospel on the basis of verbal proclamation from eyewitnesses.

That Jesus made extraordinary claims for Himself (i.e. that He was God) is utterly beyond dispute; and His Resurrection is strongly supported by the historical evidence (if one allows for the possibility of it). Therefore, let's look at what the Bible teaches concerning salvation and eternal life. First of all, it cannot be stressed enough that God loves all of us and does not desire to punish us in any way: "How can I give you up . . . How can I hand you over, O Israel! . . . My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender" (Hosea 11:8). "God is love'" (1 John 4:8).

I would also add these verses: "The Lord . . . is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (2 Peter 3:9); "O Jerusalem. Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!" (Matthew 23:37).

God is also perfectly holy, however, and this makes necessary a turning away from sin (repentance), so that He can help us and we can begin to know Him: "No one in all the world is good; no one is innocent" (Romans 3:10). "All our righteous deeds are like filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6).

Catholics and Protestants agree that no one can save themselves (over against the ancient heresy of Pelagianism, which denied the absolute necessity of God's grace and His taking the initiative in all salvation) and that everyone has fallen short of attainment of salvation and righteousness due to original sin (with the exception of the Blessed Virgin Mary who was saved in a different fashion: by a miraculous removal of original sin in the Immaculate Conception). We don't believe that good deeds are filthy, or that man is a sinner by nature, so that even good things become evil. The above verses have to be interpreted in context. The interpretation implied above was an innovation of Luther, following trends in medieval nominalist theology, which was a corruption of orthodox Scholasticism.

Repentance is a regret over past sins and a decision to change for the better, with God's help: "It is a broken spirit You want, O God; remorse and penitence' (Psalms 51:17). If anyone sincerely wants to follow Jesus and become a Christian,

That is (in the Catholic perspective), to become a consistent, committed Christian in right relationship with God, following His commands and living righteously. This is a constant struggle, which is why we believe in sacramental confession, to renew the resolve of following Jesus wholeheartedly and without the hypocrisy of sin (by God's grace: which is offered in the sacrament). Catholics also believe that a person becomes a Christian at baptism. They must confirm their commitment upon reaching the age of reason (usually thought to be six or seven) and at confirmation (usually at age twelve). Receiving the Holy Eucharist after the age of reason gives Christians grace and power to live as they ought to live. One may know what God expects of him; the catch is being able to do it. Catholics believe the sacraments and prayer enable a Christian to live a holy life, consecrated to God.

. . . he or she must count the cost and be willing to totally submit every area of life to Jesus, to "deny himself and take up his cross" (Matthew 16:24). In other words, we must be willing to do what God wants us to do in every situation even when it is very difficult for us and incomprehensible. A Christian no longer controls his own life, but rather, lets God control it. This entails a trust in God's goodness and perfect knowledge of what's best for us (the simplest definition of faith). This is called "dying to yourself."


The Bible teaches the necessity of conversion: "unless you are born again you can never get into the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). This refers to a spiritual birth.

Yes, indeed, but Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, Church of Christ, and some other Christian groups place this regeneration ("born again") at baptism.

Why is it necessary? Because "the person who isn't a Christian can't understand or accept the things of God. They sound foolish because only those who have the Holy Spirit within them can understand them" (1 Corinthians 2:14). To be born again, you must swallow your pride and humble yourself before God and recognize your total dependence on God.

This would apply to an adult who had never been baptized. Otherwise, a person would have to confess their sins if they were serious enough (what we call a mortal or grave sin) to have caused them to depart from a heartfelt devotion to Christ and a personal relationship with Him. We agree that a person must be indwelt by the Holy Spirit to understand the things of God. Catholics deny that salvation is a one-time event.

Having done this, you will receive the Holy Spirit, also described as "Jesus coming into your heart". This is what is called the Indwelling and it is what gives Christians joy and the ability to do all that God commands them to do (providing they are willing). No one could live as God wants us to without the constant help of the Spirit within, supplying power and strength. About this, Jesus said: " will only reveal Myself to those who love Me and obey Me. The Father will love them too, and We will come to them and live with them" (John 14:23) .

Again, Catholics place this event at baptism; it is renewed and confirmed at the sacrament of confirmation. Catholics believe in a conversion of heart; we simply think this is an ongoing process whenever we fall into serious sin. We must rededicate ourselves to God. For the Catholic, that takes place in sacramental confession, not in a one-time "altar call" which is believed to guarantee one's place in heaven, no matter what they may do or not do thereafter. That is not a biblical notion at all.

All these things would not be possible if Jesus hadn't sacrificed Himself for our sake. Jesus was the Man that God became: "In Christ, there is all of God in a human body" (Colossians 2:9). Jesus said "I and the Father are one" (lit., one essence, John 10:30). He said: "I am the light of the world; the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me" (John 8:12 and 14:6). This is the heart of the gospel. God knew that we could not earn salvation ourselves. The only way we cou1d be saved was to believe in the One who willingly gave Himself up as a sacrifice for our sins even though He was completely innocent. "He bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; by His wounds you were healed" (1 Peter 2:24). "God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

St. Ambrose:

So, was the Lord turned into sin? Not so, but, since he assumed our sins, he is called sin. For the Lord is also called an accursed thing [Gal 3:13], not because the Lord was turned into an accursed thing but because he himself took on our curse . . . It is written that he was made sin, that is, not by the nature and operation of sin . . .; but that he might crucify our sin in his flesh, he assumed for us the burden of the infirmities of a body already guilty of carnal sin.

[The Sacrament of the Incarnation of Our Lord 6.60]
John A. Hardon, S.J., a leading Catholic catechist and theologian, in his Modern Catholic Dictionary (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1980, 46) defines "atonement" as follows:

. . . Applied to Christ the Redeemer, through his suffering and death he rendered vicarious atonement to God for the sins of the whole human race. His atonement is fully adequate because it was performed by a divine person.
This is the Substitutionary Death, or what people mean when they say, "Jesus died for you." Imagine it! God could have stayed up in heaven safe and sound, but He loved us enough to be tortured and horribly executed for our sake. Surely, this is what love truly means, and if we reject God's sacrifice and love, we will have to face the consequences: "He who believes in the Son has eterna1 life, but he who does not obey the Son has the wrath of God abiding on him" (John 3:36). We all deserve to die like Jesus did because of our rebellion against God, our Creator, but God, in His infinite love, chose to take suffering upon Himself in order for us to have eternal life. This is the most beautiful and moving thing about the gospel.

Catholics accept all of this, as far as it goes. We only add that righteousness, wrought by God's grace, but requiring our cooperation, received particularly through the sacraments, the Mass, and prayer, is necessary for eschatological salvation (the attainment of heaven). The sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross was completely sufficient to save us, but we have to repent and cooperate in order to receive its benefit: it has to be applied to individual persons, who have the free will to reject the great gift.

Jesus, in His words and actions, was our example of moral perfection. He perfectly revealed God's character and love for us, and taught us what God expects of us. After He died, Jesus rose from the dead to prove that He was God, as He claimed, and to conquer death, our greatest fear, for all time. This was the greatest conceivable event in history, from the human perspective, because it offers so much hope for an afterlife which will last forever.


"If you confess that Jesus is Lord, and believe He was raised from the dead, you shall be saved" (Romans 10:9).

Yes, in a proverbial sense. But, taken in conjunction with many other Scriptures, this does not teach that salvation is a one-time, irrevocable event. Paul often speaks of vigilence, lest one fall away or become "disqualified." He even applied that terminology to himself. Furthermore, "belief" and "confession" in the Hebrew mind meant also "obedience" -- it always included behavior as well as mental assent or acceptance of propositions. In other words, faith and works cannot be totally separated, as taught in the book of James.

Contrary to popular opinion, God forgives us unconditionally (if we believe in Jesus): "If we confess our sins to Him, He will forgive us and cleanse us from every wrong" (1 John 1:9).

Yet we must persevere till the end, as the Bible teaches in many places. See: Assurance of Salvation.

We cannot "earn" salvation: "Because of grace you have been saved through trusting Christ; it is a gift from God, not a reward for the good we have done" (Ephesians 2:8-9).

This is true. But works are also necessary in some sense: works which themselves are entirely caused and enabled by God's free gift of grace. Paul notes this in the very next verse, which Protestants (myself included, in 1982) often neglect to cite with this passage:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (RSV)
We are regenerated and reconciled with God when we believe in what Jesus has done: "When someone becomes a Christian he becomes a brand new person inside. A new life has begun. God brought us back to Himself through what Jesus did. For God was in Christ, restoring the world to Himself, no longer counting men's sins against them but blotting them out" (2 Corinthians 5:17-19).

If an adult has never been baptized, and repents and decides to wholeheartedly follow Jesus as a disciple, and gets baptized, then he is regenerated at baptism, as an adult. Catholics believe reconciliation with God takes place at every confession to a priest, which is why we also call this procedure the sacrament of reconciliation. Either situation has great similarity to the evangelical "salvation" or "conversion" or "born again experience." We simply don't believe it is a one-time act which suffices for salvation ever after.

The Christian life is tremendously fulfilling and exciting. We can intimately know the Creator of the universe! The Spirit in us teaches us, helps us in all our struggles and produces in us "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22).

The Catholic, of course, adds that the apostolic teaching authority of the Catholic Church is necessary for guidance in the spiritual life, and correct theology.

Even though Christians aren't exempt from suffering, God causes "all things to work together for good to those who love Him" (Romans 8:28). Paul exclaimed: "Overwhelming victory is ours through Christ" (Romans 8:37). The joy of knowing Jesus cannot be described! Does this sound too good to be true? Well, it is true, as millions can testify. Isn't this the kind of life you want to have? If you're disgusted with the hypocrisy of Christians, just remember that they are on1y human like you are. They have the same shortcomings and the same faults as anyone else; and don't listen to anyone who claims to be perfect - there's no such thing as a perfect Christian. Likewise, if a Christian does not show forth love and joy, he or she is simply not right with God, and not open to what God has for them. Please consider seriously what you've just read . . . Read the New Testament . . .

And learn more about what Christians have believed all through the centuries - a set of teachings passed down from the apostles and preserved most fully in the Catholic Church. If you are convinced of the truths of the Catholic Church, then become a Catholic and receive the Lord Jesus, Who is truly present in the Eucharist, every Sunday. And learn about the communion of saints, the special role that God reserved for the Blessed Virgin Mary, the pope, and other Catholic distinctives. My website and blog offer ample opportunity for anyone to become acquainted with the biblical, historical, and rational basis for all these beliefs.