Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Coming Down From Heaven ("Jesus' Carol") -- My Ninth Christmas Poem

[ source ]

This Christmas poem (my ninth) is the third of a trilogy of biblical "narrative" poems: the first being from Simeon's perspective and the second from Mary's. I determined last year that I would try to write a poem from the perspective of Jesus becoming incarnate -- becoming a man, and a baby -- yet remaining all the while God. It was quite a daunting challenge (writing as if one were God speaking!), but I tried to keep it relatively simple, for readers' sake and my own (those wishing to pursue theology proper and Christology -- the Incarnation and Two Natures of Christ -- more deeply, see my Holy Trinity web page). I hope you are edified and blessed by the poem and may God bless you and yours abundantly during this Advent / Christmas season.

Disclaimer for certain wary Protestants: if you don't like the "Mary / Catholic stuff"; just omit the second stanza in your reading. That will eliminate, I believe, any theological objection you may have, and the poem still works okay without it (as a five-stanza piece); but you'll be missing a crucial biblical and theological aspect of the Incarnation (including the Virgin Birth).

* * * * *

From all eternity, age to age; since the "beginning," I AM;
With My Father I created the universe: all things that are.
We decreed to save mankind by sacrifice of "God's Lamb";
Foretold in Isaiah 53: Messiah scorned, slain, and scarred.

My mother gave I the grace to be immaculate, without sin;
Fit vessel for God incarnate: ark of the new covenant pure.
Gabriel hailed New Eve "full of grace": redemption to begin;
Virgin with child by the Holy Spirit; man's salvation now sure.

In fullness of time I came down from glorious heaven above;
Clothed with human flesh: a baby-king (!) of Israel from birth.
Lying in a cave; a manger, in the world I had made and loved,
I was worshiped by shepherds and wise men filled with mirth.

Though seeing through infant eyes: helpless, innocent, meek;
I knew all things, possessed God's wisdom even in that hour.
As a baby, though King and Messiah, I cried and didn't speak;
But I sustained the entire universe by the Word of My power.

Even animals at My birth sensed the wonder prophesied of old;
Mary and Joseph were filled with thankful happiness and joy.
The three kings gave Me gifts: frankincense, myrrh, and gold;
Shepherds adored, fell before God: now present as a baby boy.

Mary held Me close and rejoiced, under the star's shiny beam;
I was dependent on her as a son, though I was God all the while.
I contemplated the reason I was born, and how I would redeem.
But now all was contentment and peace, so I rested and smiled.

Written on 12 December 2009.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Radical Catholic Reactionaries Continue to Bash Blessed Pope John Paul II No Matter What the Church Decrees

Pope Benedict XVI has declared both Pope John Paul II and Pope Pius XII "Venerable": the first step on the road to sainthood (see the news story). [later he beatified Pope John Paul II] As fully expected, Catholic radical Catholic reactionaries [RadCathRs], who never have cared much for the late great pope, continue to bash him, as if nothing has happened. They go right on misunderstanding (or not comprehending at all) the Mind of the Church, and manifest their fundamentally disobedient attitude and Protestant-like private judgment mentality. One commenter, "quirinus," made the obvious, relevant observation (similar to what I just wrote above):

I can't believe how certain self-appointed guardians of tradition never fail to reveal how their approach is the exact same of modernists, the same "hermeneutic of rupture", the same megalomaniac pride that puts themselves over the Pope. They are their own popes and there is no way a Successor of Peter can please them unless he decides to govern the Church according to their delusions about what the Church is and has been.

I wonder how many of these types will lose the faith the day John Paul II is canonized (if he is canonized) and how many will instead humbly admit that maybe just maybe there is something they need to re-examine about their understanding of the Church. Now even Pius XII was not good enough.


Here are some examples:

Paul Haley [link]

How is it that a man who appointed Annibale Bugnini to a powerful position dealing with the Liturgy and a man who kissed the Koran, had a mark of a pagan deity placed on his forehead and welcomed heretics and non believers to Assisi are now beatified? Egads, methinks we are living in unbelievable times. Why can't they just leave well enough alone? Yes, they did some good things but beatified? Aaaaarrrrrgh.


P. K. T. P.

It is deplorable that John Paul the Small is declared to be Venerable and more so that he is now associated with good Pope Pius XII. The result of John Paul II's pontificate was a massive decline for the Church in every category measurable by man, albeit at a slower rate than the decline under Paul VI. While he certainly did do some good things and his pontificate was likely helpful in reversing (or preparing to reverse) the earlier disaster, that's hardly cause for wild celebration.


What I have been claiming is that, in my view, John Paul II is not a model pope. He's not even in the same league as, say, Benedict XV or Pius XI. This promotion of his cause is a reaction to popular pressure from Poles, from neo-cons, and from the twits who went to those appalling world youth days.



Catholics have to use their reason and conscience, especially when imitating many actions of John Paul II can put your soul in danger.



Just another scandal from the Vatican...eventually they'll both be beatified...count on it. Pope Pius XII I can understand but John Paul II, possibly the worst pope in the history of the Church...inconceivable! It was no different than with John XXIII and Pius IX...same thing, although John XXIII was a hundred times better than JPII. Something for the Trads, something for the Neo-Catholics and moderates...keep moving people, nothing to see here...


Bernadette [link]

Classic Pope Benedict XVI...a phony move by a so called "tradition-friendly" pope...appease the modernists while charming the traditionalists. It is clearly a politically correct, tolerant, modernist move.


Alexander [link]

Terrible news indeed about the Holy Father John Paul II.

JPII was a mix. Rightly so there are many things worthy of imitation and heroic instances. However mixed in are scandals against the faith which went uncorrected.

We see how he brought down the infamous Dutch Catechism, helped fight communism, gave us a great example of suffering and wrote good things on many topics.

Mixed in we see scandal and confusion. Kissing the Qur'an (which people have died rather than do as one condition of giving up their faith), erroneously declared that those outside of the Church in schismatic communities could become martyrs (even with no external manifestation of witnessing for the Catholic faith - the very definition of a martyr), kissed the ring of Rowan Williams, had immodestly dressed women appear before him multiple times (circus performers for example), asked St. John the Baptist to protect Islam (according to the prayer on the Vatican’s website at least), allowed pagans to worship their gods, which Scripture calls demons, on Sacred Church ground, and the ambiguous ecumenical activities where no (as far as I know) explicit indication of the need to convert to Catholicism was made apparent to non-Catholics. Then there is the problem of allowing strange occurrences during Papal Masses.

These are the reasons why, not counting the Traditionalist ones, that he shouldn’t be canonized or even beatified in the future.

One cannot ignore the bad and say “oh well, all Saints make mistakes.” The difference here is that these mistakes directly affect the faith, they were public, they were sometimes large events, and of course they were never corrected. In addition he was in the highest earthly position to give a good example to all Catholics being the Pope.

This doesn’t mean he isn’t in heaven or that he wasn’t a pious guy. I think he was a sincere and pious man. It’s just that, faced with these very large and disturbing instances he simply shouldn’t even be considered for anything. It doesn’t make any sense.


Darryl [link]

I think it's more of the same from modernist Rome. We'll make JPII a Saint and throw you trads a bone too.


Wow, so a picture of a waffle with JP2's supposed image in it is inappropriate? That's just incredible.



The Sacred and the Profane. Total opposites. What else can one expect from the usurpers.



Blessed Pius XII and JPII total opposites? Thats an understatement. I wonder what the Chances were of seing Blessed Pius at a Vatican rock concert. Or wearing tie dyed vestments and watching a bunch of clowns perform. Then going and kissing a koran. Probably not much.



He gave honor to the Muslims and the Koran both of whom deny the Divinity of Christ. . . . Let me guess, glgas, you're of the opinion we should only talk about the good stuff JP2 did and completely ignore the nonsense he engaged in and the fact that he did nothing to correct the insanity that has taken place in the last 30 years. You've been watching too much EWTN. Stop drinking the JP2 Kool-Aid.


* * *

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Exchange With Protestant Apologist Jason Engwer on the Scriptural Relationship of Faith, Works, and Judgment

Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler

This came about in a related discussion concerning the Judaizers -- in the combox of a post about whether Francis Beckwith, prominent Catholic convert, is saved (a discussion I also wrote about here). Jason's words will be in blue.

* * * * *

We believe in sola gratia as you do, but reject sola fide as an unbiblical innovation. The fact remains that works are profoundly involved in the salvation (ultimately by grace) in some sense:

St. Paul's Teaching on the Organic Relationship of Grace / Faith and Works / Action / Obedience (Collection of 50 Pauline Passages)

More "Catholic Verses" and Biblical Defenses of Catholicism: On Sanctification as Part of Salvation, and Merit and "Doing Something For Salvation"

They are even central to the criteria of how God will decide who is saved and who isn't, as I have proven from no less than 50 Bible passages:

Final Judgment in Scripture is Always Associated With Works And Never With Faith Alone

We interpret all this in a non-Pelagian fashion. We incorporate all of Scripture, not just our favorite pet verses. You guys simply ignore this data or act as if it is only in the realm of sanctification and has nothing whatever to do with salvation, which is absurdly simplistic and unrealistic in the face of the overwhelming data showing otherwise.

Paul's focus in Galatians is on the means by which justification is attained (Galatians 3:2), not whether justification is attributed to grace. The idea that one can seek justification through a combination between faith and works, as long as the process is attributed to grace, is a contradiction of what Paul taught. If works are absent from Genesis 15:6, Acts 10:44-46, Galatians 3:2, and other relevant passages, then saying that the works are preceded by and accompanied by grace doesn't make sense. There are no works for grace to accompany in such passages. To make this a matter of whether the works are attributed to grace is to get the gospel fundamentally wrong. There's no need to discuss whether non-existent works are works of grace or graceless works. The gospel shuts us up to faith, not to a combination between faith and gracious works (Galatians 3:21-25).

Then why are works always central in every discussion of the final judgment that I could find in Scripture (50 passages: linked to above)?

The final judgment involves more than the means by which the justified attained that justification. It also involves the means by which the unregenerate are condemned, the vindication of the justified, and the non-justificatory rewarding of those individuals. I wouldn't expect the final judgment to not involve works. In the post you're responding to, I cited some examples of passages that are about how we attain justification. They don't just exclude graceless works. They exclude works of any type. Many other such passages could be cited, as I discuss here and here.

Why is this the case if God is supposedly wanting to completely separate any notion of works or acts from salvation itself?

We wouldn't have to know why works are excluded in order to know that they're excluded. But it's a good question, and I addressed it in a post last year.

I agree with what C. S. Lewis said: asking one to choose between faith and works is as senseless as saying which blade of a pair of scissors is more important.

It's an organic relationship. Actually, Catholics and Protestants, rightly understood, are not far apart on this in the final analysis. It's mostly mutual misunderstandings and unfortunate semantic confusion.

I wouldn't expect the final judgment to not involve works.

Good. That's part of the common ground I alluded to.

But then my question would be: why is the aspect of faith (let alone faith alone so glaringly absent in these 50 accounts of judgment (I think only one mentioned it at all, in my list), if in fact it is the central, fundamental consideration, according to Protestantism?

It's just not plausible. The Bible doesn't at all read as it should, were Protestant soteriology true, and Catholic soteriology false. I contend that it would read much differently indeed. As it is, it appears to overwhelmingly favor the Catholic positions.

Central to what? All that the judgment involves? No. The unjustified are condemned for their sins, so works are relevant to their judgment. And the justified are reconciled to God through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) for good works (Ephesians 2:10). The works evidence the faith (vindication), and the works determine non-justificatory rewards. Mentioning works is an effective way of summarizing the judgment, since it brings together so many of the relevant themes. Even when a passage only mentions works with regard to the judgment, we have to keep the nearby context in mind. The original authors (or speakers) didn't expect their audience to take their comments in isolation, ignoring the context. Those who hear Jesus speak of works in Matthew 25:31-46 know that He was carrying out a ministry in which He forgave, pronounced peace, and healed people upon their coming to faith (see here). Those who heard Jesus speak of works in John 5:29 would also have known that He spoke of reconciliation through faith and avoidance of condemnation as a result of that faith in John 5:24. Those who believe are assured of the future resurrection of life (John 11:25-26). When Paul says that men will be judged by his gospel (Romans 2:16), he doesn't expect his audience to ignore everything he said about justification through faith and think only of works. Works are relevant, for reasons explained in my last paragraph, but nobody reading Paul in context would think that summarizing statements that only mention works are meant to exclude what Paul said about faith. To ignore the role of faith in his gospel would cause a major distortion of his message. Paul speaks of deliverance from future wrath through Jesus' blood (Romans 5:9) after having said that the deliverance through that blood was received through faith (Romans 5:1). Etc. And I point out, again, that citing passages on the final judgment doesn't explain the line of evidence I mentioned earlier. As we see over and over again in Jesus' ministry and Paul's, people are justified through faith alone, as illustrated in the paradigm case of Abraham in Genesis 15:6. There is no issue of whether the works involved are works of grace or graceless works, since works of both types are absent.

Thanks very much for your reply, and especially for sticking directly to the issues. I think you have answered well from within your own paradigm, and it is interesting to learn how you answer the question I asked. I truly do appreciate it.

I disagree, of course, but as I said, I didn't come here to debate. Let me conclude, if I may, by briefly clarifying that the Catholic position is not saying to ignore faith or grace (the content of your entire long second paragraph). Our position is that salvation is by grace alone, through faith, which is not alone, and includes works by its very nature.

So all your warnings about "ignoring" faith are non sequiturs, as far as Catholicism is concerned, and a rather large straw man, if you are intending to target Catholic soteriology there.

The point of my paper and question about it is not to stake out some "works alone" position (which would, of course, be a Pelagianism that Catholics totally reject as heresy), but to note that it is rather striking that only works are mentioned in the judgment passages, and never faith alone (and faith at all only once out of 50).

I realize that the Catholic view involves grace and faith as well, which is why I previously referred to faith rather than "a combination between faith and gracious works" in reference to Galatians 3:21-25, for example. The second paragraph in the post you're responding to was meant to be an explanation of the intention of the Biblical authors, not a response to Catholicism.

In another paper I mentioned here I cite 50 passages from Paul that exhibit the threefold scenario of grace-faith-works.

We also get accused of believing in "sola ecclesia" when in fact our position on authority is the "three-legged stool" of Scripture-Tradition-Church. It's simply Protestant either/or thinking applied to us.

Thanks again, and I will record your complete reply in a post I'll make on the topic. You or anyone else is always welcome to comment on my site about anything.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

* * *

I don't see how some of the passages I mentioned in my last post, such as John 11:25-26 and Romans 5:1-9, can be exempted from an examination of judgment passages. When people are assured of a future in Heaven, the resurrection of life, the avoidance of God's wrath in the future, etc. on the basis of faith, why wouldn't such passages be relevant to the subject you're addressing?

They are thematically related insofar as they are also soteriological, but my 50 passages had specifically to do with final judgment, God's wrath, and eschatological salvation.

That came about because I was asked in debate with Matt Slick (the big cheese at CARM) what I would say if I got to heaven and God asked me why I should be let in. I replied that we had biblical data as to what God would actually say at such a time, and it was all about works, not faith alone at all. And I found that quite striking (after studying it in greater depth), though it never surprises me to find profound biblical support for Catholicism. I always do whenever I study the Bible.

Romans 5:9 does mention God's wrath, but it is a generalized, proverbial-like statement (such as often found in, e.g., 1 John), rather than particularistic and eschatological, which is what I was talking about in my paper.

John 11:25-26 is of the same nature, and moreover, if we look at it closely, we see that the Greek for "believe" is pistuo, which is considered the counterpart of "does not obey" (apitheo) in John 3:36. 1 Peter 2:7 also opposes the two same Greek words. In other words, "believe" in the biblical sense already includes within it the concept of obedience (i.e., works). Hence, "little Kittel" observes:

pisteuo as "to obey." Heb. 11 stresses that to believe is to obey, as in the OT. Paul in Rom. 1:8; 1 Th. 1:8 (cf. Rom. 15:18; 16:19) shows, too, that believing means obeying. He speaks about the obedience of faith in Rom. 1:5, and cf. 10:3; 2 Cor. 9:13.

(p. 854)

Jesus joins faith ("belief" / pistuo) and works together, too, when He states:

John 14:12 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.

So even if one grants that these passages have to do directly with judgment and eschatological salvation (as I do not), it is still the case that the "belief" mentioned in them is (through cross-referencing) seen to include obeying and works, and we're back to the Catholic organic relationship between the two, rather than the Protestant ultra-abstraction of the two into the justification and sanctification categories.

"Faith alone" is tough to verify from Scripture once everything is taken into account and not just the garden-variety Protestant passages that are always utilized.

* * *

In other words, 'believe' in the biblical sense already includes within it the concept of obedience (i.e., works).

I agree that faith is obedience, but it can be obedience without being work in any relevant sense. That's why we're told that people can believe without working (Romans 4:5-6), that justifying belief occurs in the heart (Acts 15:7-11, Romans 10:10), that works demonstrate faith (James 2:14-26), etc. Different terms are used to refer to faith and works, because they're different concepts. They can have obedience in common without having some other things in common.

A reference to faith can't be assumed to include outward action, much less a specific outward action like baptism. That's why we often see baptism and faith distinguished, for example (Acts 8:12-13, 18:8, etc.). The fact that faith is obedience wouldn't lead us to the conclusion that other forms of obedience can be included in references to faith.

The term "faith" and its synonyms aren't all that are relevant here. When we read of a paralytic being lowered into a house, a man visiting a Jewish temple, a crucified man, or a man listening to the gospel being preached, we don't define what that person is doing solely by a term like "faith". Rather, we also take into account the evidence provided by the surrounding context. It would make no sense to conclude that a paralyzed man being lowered into a house or a man visiting a Jewish temple was being baptized simultaneously or that a man nailed to a cross or a man listening to Peter preach the gospel was giving money to the poor at the same time. We judge how these individuals were justified partially through the surrounding context, not just a reference to faith or some related term. Part of the problem with the Catholic gospel is that not only do so many of the relevant passages mention faith without mentioning works, but the surrounding context gives us further reason to believe that the relevant works aren't involved.

So even if one grants that these passages have to do directly with judgment and eschatological salvation (as I do not)

How can a passage about resurrection life and never dying (John 11:25-26) not be directly relevant? Passages of a similar nature use other phrases that are likewise relevant to future judgment and salvation, such as "on the last day" in John 6:40. Your article includes John 5:26-29, so I don't see a problem with including verse 24 as well. Themes of resurrection and judgment are already being discussed in verses 21-22. Yet, your article only cites verses 26-29.

Similarly, Romans 5:1-9 repeatedly brings up themes of hope for the future and deliverance from future wrath.

And I want to remind the readers of something I said earlier. The coming judgment is primarily a judgment of works even from the perspective of justification through faith alone. The unregenerate are condemned by their works, and the regenerate are justified in order to do (Ephesians 2:10), vindicated by, and rewarded for their works. The emphasis on works in judgment passages doesn't tell us, though, whether works are a means of justification. The dispute isn't about whether works are relevant to the judgment, but rather the type of relevance they have.

Thanks for the continuing excellent discussion. Just one point:

the regenerate are justified in order to do (Ephesians 2:10), [be] vindicated by, and rewarded for their works. The emphasis on works in judgment passages doesn't tell us, though, whether works are a means of justification.

This is classic Protestantism, of course: works are relegated to post-justification status, as part of a separate sanctification and the realm of differential rewards of those already saved. I used to believe the exact same thing, so I'm very familiar with it.

The problem is that Scripture doesn't teach such a view. The disproofs are already in my paper, in many passages that directly connect or associate salvation with the works that one does: therefore, works are not unrelated to either justification or eschatological salvation, as you claim they are:

Matthew 25:34-36 (RSV) Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; FOR I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'

The "for" shows the causal relationship: "you are saved because you did all these works." That's what the text actually asserts, before false Protestant presuppositions and eisegesis are applied to it in the effort to make sure works never have to do directly with salvation (no matter how much faith and grace is there with them, so that we're not talking about Pelagianism).

If Protestantism were true, the Bible should have had a passage something like this (RPV):

But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Then He will also say to those on His left, "Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for you did not believe in Me with Faith Alone." These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous who believed with Faith Alone into eternal life.

But alas, it doesn't read like that, does it?

John 5:28-29 . . . the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.

A direct correlation: the ones who do good works are saved; the ones who do evil are damned.

Romans 2:6-8, 13 For he will render to every man according to his works: To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. . . . For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

Again, works are directly tied to eternal life and justification; they are not portrayed as merely acts of gratefulness that will lead to differential rewards for the saved; no, the differential reward is either salvation or damnation. Paul totally agrees with Jesus.

2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 . . . when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

Note that simply believing the gospel and knowing God is not enough for salvation. One has to also "obey the gospel" (and that involves works).

Revelation 2:5 Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

If we don't do the works, we can lose our salvation; therefore works have to do with salvation; they are not separated from that by abstracting them into a separate category of sanctification, that is always distinguished from justification. That ain't biblical teaching. That is the eisegesis and false premises of Melanchthon and Calvin and Zwingli.

Revelation 20:11-13 Then I saw a great white throne and him who sat upon it; from his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done.

Same thing again. Obviously, St. John, St. Paul, and our Lord Jesus need to attend a good Calvinist or evangelical seminary and get up to speed on their soteriology. They don't get it. The passage should have been written something like the following:

. . . and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to whether they had Faith Alone. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to whether they had Faith Alone.

Perhaps we should get together a council and rewrite the Bible so that it doesn't have so many "Romish" errors throughout its pages . . . :-) The King James White version or sumpin' . . . :-)

* * *

Part of the problem with the Catholic gospel is that not only do so many of the relevant passages mention faith without mentioning works, but the surrounding context gives us further reason to believe that the relevant works aren't involved.

I can easily flip that around, based on the biblical data I have been highlighting:

"Part of the problem with the Protestant gospel is that not only do so many of the relevant passages mention works without mentioning faith (and especially not faith alone), but also the surrounding context gives us further reason to believe that faith alone isn't involved."

Since the Catholic believes in the triumvirate of GRACE--->faith--->works as the criteria for salvation, passages dealing with faith pose no problem. The more the merrier. We are saying that faith alone is the unbiblical doctrine, not faith. We're not against faith at all, but rather, a false definition of faith, that restricts and confines it in a way that the Bible doesn't do.

But since your position is faith alone (in terms of salvation itself), you have to explain away or rationalize all passages suggesting an important place of works in the equation, in a way that we're not required to do (given our position) with all the passages about faith that you produce.

So you claimed, for example, that "The emphasis on works in judgment passages doesn't tell us, though, whether works are a means of justification." I have now produced six, plain, clear passages that do do just that. And that has to be explained from your paradigm.

I'm sure you will attempt some sort of explanation for your own sake (if even just in your own mind), because if you fail to do so, you would be forced to give up Protestant soteriology. The stakes are high.

But in any event, bringing out ten, twenty, fifty passages that mention faith does nothing against our position, because we don't reject faith as part of the whole thing.

The problem for your side remains: how to interpret the centrality of works in the judgment / salvation passages like the six I dealt with in my last two postings, in a way that preserves the "faith alone" doctrine.

I contend that it is impossible. To do so does violence to the Bible and what it teaches. We must base our teaching squarely on biblical theology and not the arbitrary, self-contradictory traditions of men (folks like Calvin), who eisegete Holy Scripture and substitute for biblical thought, their own traditions.

Sometimes it's easy to confuse those traditions with biblical teaching itself. But by examining Holy Scripture more deeply and over time, I think anyone can eventually see that it supports the Catholic positions every time.

That's why we continue to see folks who study the issues deeply moving from Protestantism to Catholicism (such as Francis Beckwith: the original subject of this post).

our article includes John 5:26-29, so I don't see a problem with including verse 24 as well. Themes of resurrection and judgment are already being discussed in verses 21-22. Yet, your article only cites verses 26-29.

Fair point. I love discussions of context. Protestants too often ignore context, but you don't, and I respect that and commend you for it. I have explained my criterion for inclusion in my article on final judgment and works: it depends on how exactly one decides to categorize; how one determines which is a directly eschatological passage or one having to do with judgment. Reasonable folks can differ on that, as there is a subjective element. Not every systematic theologian cuts off the passages they employ at the same exact point.

But as I have been saying, a consideration also of the larger context of John 5 does nothing to harm the Catholic case. You wrote:

many of the relevant passages mention faith without mentioning works, . . . the surrounding context gives us further reason to believe that the relevant works aren't involved.

Using John 5 as an example (since you brought it up), we see that this doesn't apply. You say 5:21-22 mentions resurrection and judgment. Fine; indeed it does But what it doesn't do is give the criteria for these judgments and who is resurrected. That has to come by reading on (further context). You want to highlight 5:24:

. . . he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life."

I have explained that this is a generalized statement: one could perhaps paraphrase it as "Christian believers have eternal life" or (to bring it down to a Sunday School nursery level): "all good Christians go to heaven."

It doesn't follow from a general statement like this that no Christian can ever fall away (though Calvinism requires this, over against many biblical passages to the contrary), or that works have nothing to do with it. We need to look at the deeper meaning of "believe" (as I have already done).

As we read on (the same discourse from Jesus) we get to 5:29:

. . . those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment."

Now, you want to highlight 5:24 and de-emphasize 5:29. I can gladly consider both of them in the entire equation. It's once again the Catholic (Hebraic) "both/and" vs. the Protestant (and more Greek) "either/or". Scripture is asserting two truths:

5:24 "he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life"

5:29 "those who have done good, to the resurrection of life,"

Faith and works. For us, the two passages are entirely compatible and in harmony with our Catholic theology: one is saved by grace through faith, in believing in Jesus, and this belief entails and inherently includes good works.

But you guys can't do that, because you wrongly conclude that any presence of good works in the equation of both justification and salvation itself is somehow "anti-faith" or antithetical to grace alone; and is Pelagianism. This doesn't follow.

But because you believe this (the false, unbiblical premise), you have to explain 5:29 as merely differential rewards for the saved (who are saved by faith alone); whereas the actual text does not teach that. It teaches a direct correlation between good works and eternal life. It explains 5:24 in greater depth; just as I noted earlier that Jesus Himself places works and faith in direct relationship:

John 14:12 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do . . .

That's why we often see baptism and faith distinguished, for example (Acts 8:12-13, 18:8, etc.).

Ah, but baptism (odd that you should bring up that example) is also equated with regeneration and entrance into the kingdom, so this is hardly an example amenable overall to your position:

Acts 2:38, 41 And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” . . . So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

The order is not:

1) faith
2) forgiveness
3) indwelling Holy Spirit
4) baptism

but rather,

1) faith
2) baptism
3) forgiveness (directly because of baptism)
4) indwelling Holy Spirit (directly because of baptism)

Because of the baptism, souls were added to the kingdom. They weren't already in the kingdom, and then decided to be baptized out of obedience. Therefore, the work of baptism directly ties into both justification and final salvation.

Galatians 3:26-27 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Colossians 2:12 and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Faith and baptism are virtually equivalent in their importance. One is "in" Jesus both through faith and through baptism. Both/and.

Baptism is not a separate, optional work. It is part and parcel of the process. Insofar as it, too, is regarded as a "work" then here we have again the Catholic grace-faith-works (and efficacious sacraments) paradigm.

* * *

Jason gave further answers in a three-part reply (one / two / three). I then wrote in conclusion:

Hi Jason,

We could go round and round on this forever, and keep trying to poke holes in each other's arguments. Again, I think you have answered very well from within your paradigm. You can have the last word.

Thanks for sticking entirely to theology and avoiding any hint of personal attack. How refreshing, and a model to be emulated.

Merry Christmas to you and yours and all here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Son Paul Armstrong's "Bible and Pro-Life" Book: Defending Life

Front cover photo by Samuel Rosa of Paris [ link ]

Needless to say, we are very proud parents. Paul is all of eighteen years old and already has written a book.

My son Michael (16) has also authored two fantasy novels (a la Lord of the Rings, etc.) that are extraordinarily good (he hopes to get them "officially" published in due course: I wish him the best, knowing how hard that will surely be, but knowing also how very talented and gifted he is), and is at work on a third in the series. Paul is working on a book of that sort, too. I didn't write anything of any theological significance (or any other) until I was 23, and even then it wasn't very good at first.

Paul and Michael are both very active in Catholic youth groups and teaching catechism and supervising younger children at various youth group activities and sports teams and events. My wife Judy home-schools all of our four children (we also have a 13 year-old son and 8 year-old daughter). This is what one "gets" for that effort. It pays priceless dividends. We wouldn't trade it for anything. The good fruit is palpable and undeniable. We've observed it many times in other home-schooled children.

Pro-life has been extremely important to me since 1982, when I switched my position from an ignorant "pro-choice" or "agnostic" on the issue to an informed and active pro-life stance. I suppose some of that (by God's grace) has rubbed off onto my children. It played a key role in moving me towards the Catholic Church, too. After examining the related issue of contraception, it became (in 1990) the first major subject (before my conversion) where I changed my mind and was persuaded of a specifically Catholic position.

Back cover photo by Melbia of Austria [ link ]

Now, since I am an author, some may wonder how much I "helped" Paul with this book. I had nothing whatever to do with its inception or initial draft. In fact, I've always urged all my kids not to be writers, because of all that I have had to go through. I'm not at all the type of father who tries to force his children to do optional, open-ended things (careers, or sports or whatever), according to his wishes. They have their own God-given talents and desires (as the Holy Spirit distributes), and that's fine with me. But sure enough, here they are, writing anyway. Maybe it's a gene that is passed down . . .

My wife Judy and I helped Paul last night in selecting photographs for the front and back covers, and designing the colors and fonts, and putting together the text on the back. It was a true group effort, but Paul had the final say. I did do the formatting of the book (in the same way I set up all my Lulu books), and light editing. I've had my own books or articles edited far more heavily than I edited Paul's book. I know what that is like, as an author myself (we often have a sort of "love/hate" relationship with editors: though I have been truly blessed with mine), so I wanted to respect his feelings. He seems to be very pleased with the minor changes I made, which is great.

Mainly I modified sentences where the "person" changed or went into first or second person, to make it consistent and more "objective"-sounding. I made a few word or phrase changes here and there and contributed an occasional added clarifying sentence. But that's it. It really wasn't much. I wanted to make this clear, so there is no confusion about it. It is altogether his book, and (if I do say so): a very good one, on a crucial topic.

It features over 300 Bible passages on the subject of the sanctity of life. It was completed (quite significantly, I think) on 8 December 2009, on the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

The book is available for purchase as a paperback (116 pages) for $11.95 at Lulu; also as a PDF file for only $3.00. Just follow the icon below:

Once on the Lulu web page for the book, you can view a large photograph of the cover by clicking on "preview" to the left, just under the book photograph. By repeatedly selecting the right arrow on the top right, you can read the Prologue, Acknowledgments, Table of Contents, and also see the back cover with its text, and another photograph.
Paul in November 2007 (then sixteen)

Thanks for reading, on Paul's behalf, and please spread the pro-life "Word" to all and sundry. Lives depend on it, and entire civilizations have been relegated to the dust-heap of history because of sins far less grave than this abominable holocaust of childkilling. This book can be very useful for anyone who wishes to provide the biblical rationale for the pro-life position, and it can be particularly good for young people to read, because of the age (18) of the person who wrote it.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Short Exchange on the Attempted Polemical Parallel Between Judaizers and Catholics (Alleged Works-Salvation)

The thought here that I respond to is that the Judaizers were non-Christian Jews who believed in salvation by works (aka Pelagianism). Anti-Catholics see a parallel between that and Catholics, whom they falsely portray as also believing in works-salvation. In fact, the Judaizers were Christians, as I have argued elsewhere, and both observant Jews and Catholics believe in salvation by grace through faith (just not by faith alone, as if works are only relegated to gratefulness and sanctification).

So the traditional Protestant position (strongly tending towards anti-Catholicism as well as a certain "anti-Judaism") in this regard of comparing Catholicism and the Judaizers is fallacious, since it is based on false premises. Both groups are deemed to be non-Christian, but in fact they are Christian groups.

Protestant apologist Jason Engwer was writing about whether a Catholic convert (in this case Francis Beckwith) can be saved. I wrote another post about that. In that combox thread were these comments by Engwer and others:

Paul had reason to believe that they had accepted the true gospel previously, though, so he approaches them differently than he would approach a Judaizer who had never accepted the gospel. (12-13-09)

Do you think the Judaizers were orthodox as long as they "bent the knee at the name of Jesus"? (12-13-09)

Elsewhere, in his post, "Making the Judaizers Orthodox" (12-9-09), Jason wrote:

One argument I've seen is an appeal to 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, as if the passage demonstrates that a group can reject justification through faith alone, yet still be orthodox.

Evangelicals and Catholics disagree significantly over what "died for our sins" (1 Corinthians 15:3) means. As the book of Galatians illustrates, the adding of works to the gospel nullifies what Paul summarized in 1 Corinthians 15. As he puts it elsewhere in 1 Corinthians itself, the gospel involves the sufficiency of the crucified Christ (1 Corinthians 2:2). Paul defined that sufficiency in a way that made the inclusion of works as a means of attaining justification a denial of the sufficiency of Christ and His finished work. Any understanding of 1 Corinthians 15 that makes the Judaizers orthodox is problematic.

There were more comments along the same lines in the combox:

Steve Hays

. . . the parallel between the works-righteousness of the Judaizers and the works-righteousness of Rome. (12-9-09)

Jason Engwer

I was using the term "orthodox" in the sense of being correct on essentials. See the two posts I referenced in the Challies thread above for a further discussion of the degree to which the Judaizers' gospel was wrong and, by implication, the degree to which the Catholic gospel is wrong. (12-10-09)

. . . Catholics and Orthodox aren't Christian from a Biblical perspective, not just from a conservative Protestant perspective. (12-10-09)

. . . you question whether the Judaizers should even be considered a non-Christian group, . . . you act as if you don't understand what people mean when they allow for individual Catholics to be saved while viewing Catholicism as a non-Christian group . . . (12-11-09)

Peter Pike

In other words, if you are to ask on an individual basis, is such-and-so Judaizer saved, then he very well could have been; but when you say "Were Judaizers as a group saved?" the answer is clearly no, as the Scripture Rhology quoted demonstrates.

The gospel of the Judaizers was a false gospel, and it would always be a false gospel even if some of its members believed in the real Gospel too. Those who believed what the Judaizers put forth would not have saving faith, but there are often people who identify themselves with a certain group without holding to all that that group maintains. (12-10-09)

Maybe there are some we don't know the final destination on, but there's plenty of Biblical evidence that gives us the ability to accurately judge most of their states right now. So I can talk to a Catholic, for example, and often tell fairly quickly whether he or she is a Christian in a false church, or lost. (12-10-09)


I imagine that many medieval RCs might have been saved precisely because they were ignorant rustics and did not know enough to be really corrupted by Romish additions to the gospel - additions that more knowledgeable city slickers would have known better. Such types would have just had childlike trust in Christ and His work.

My point is that "the only good Roman Catholic is a "bad" Roman Catholic", a person who does not consistently believe all that his religion teaches. (12-13-09)

I then made a comment on Steve Hays' blog, along these lines:

Several non-Catholic scholars, by the way, hold that the Judaizers were Christians, not Jews. For example:

A party of Christians in the early church who thought it was necessary that Gentile converts to Christianity should be circumcised and observe the Jewish law -- in fact that they should become Jews in order to become Christians.

(The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by J. D. Douglas, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1978, "Judaizers", p. 554)

In the early Church a section of Jewish Christians who regarded the OT Levitical laws as still binding on Christians. They tried to enforce on the faithful such practices as circumcision and the distinction between clean and unclean meats. Their initial success brought upon them the strong opposition of St. Paul, much of whose writing was concerned with refuting their errors.

(The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, second edition, edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, Oxford University Press, 1983, "Judaizers" [complete], p. 763)

Some Jewish Christians were so conservative that they demanded, in effect, that Gentiles had to become Jews in order to be true Christians. They insisted on circumcision and other Jewish legal requirements, and frowned on social contact with 'unclean' Gentiles. These 'Judaizers' appealed to the Jerusalem church . . . But Paul refused to tolerate any demands imposed on Gentile converts . . .

(Eerdmans Handbook to The History of Christianity, editor: Tim Dowley, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977, "What the First Christians Believed," by consulting editor David F. Wright, 97)


Steve Hays (in blue) came back (interaction follows):

The Judaizers were professing Christians, albeit Jewish-Christians or Messianic Jews. How do you think that identification undercuts Engwer's point, exactly? Indeed, wouldn't that reinforce the parallels between the Pauline anathemas and their application to Catholicism? (12-14-09)

It undercuts the attempted anti-Catholic polemical parallelism between Catholics and Judaizers, if you concede that the Judaizers were Christians, while our system is not. There goes your parallelism between the two. What fellowship hath darkness and light?

Fatally equivocal. "Christian" in what sense? Nominal Christians? Professing Christians? Or genuine Christians?

In fact, the Judaizers, like many heretics, not only make a profession of faith, but claimed to be the true believers. That's the problem.

I'm not here to debate this question or anything else. I simply brought up a relevant point.

And while I'm here I'll state that I don't believe that the true Jewish faithful, even in the first century, believed they were saved by works, anymore than we Catholics do. Both charges are distortions of Protestant polemics. N. T. Wright and other Protestant scholars have argued this; no one need take my word on it. (12-14-09)

i) No one's argument [is] that the "true Jewish faithful" believed they were saved by works. The argument, rather, is that a certain percentage of 2nd Temple Jews subscribed to works-righteousness.

ii) Needless to say, the New Perspective on Paul is hotly contested.

iii) If, for the sake of argument, you subscribe to the New Perspective on Paul, then that simply undercuts traditional Catholic theology in another direction.

Moreover, if the Judaizers are Christians, despite having a different understanding of the relationship of faith and works, or the Jewish Law and the New Covenant,

Same fatal equivocation.

then by the same token, Catholics should also still be considered Christians, since we believe in sola gratia as you do, but reject sola fide as an unbiblical innovation.

You don't subscribe to sola gratia. You may bandy that slogan, but Catholic soteriology is synergistic. You affirm the necessity of grace, but you disaffirm the sufficiency of grace.

The fact remains that works are profoundly involved in the salvation (ultimately by grace) in some sense:

St. Paul's Teaching on the Organic Relationship of Grace / Faith and Works / Action / Obedience (Collection of 50 Pauline Passages)

More "Catholic Verses" and Biblical Defenses of Catholicism: On Sanctification as Part of Salvation, and Merit and "Doing Something For Salvation"

The question at issue is not whether works are "involved" in "salvation" in "some sense"–all of which is hopelessly vague.

The question, rather, is whether works are justificatory. Salvation is a broader category than justification.

They are even central to the criteria of how God will decide who is saved and who isn't, as I have proven from no less than 50 Bible passages:

Final Judgment in Scripture is Always Associated With Works And Never With Faith Alone

We interpret all this in a non-Pelagian fashion. We incorporate all of Scripture, not just our favorite pet verses. You guys simply ignore this data or act as if it is only in the realm of sanctification and has nothing whatever to do with salvation, which is absurdly simplistic and unrealistic in the face of the overwhelming data showing otherwise. (12-14-09)

Once again, you're very sloppy with your use of categories. Both justification and salvation have "something to do with" salvation. This doesn't mean sanctification contributes to justification.

* * *

Protestants don't argue that we're saved by faith alone, just that we're justified by faith alone. Are you too ignorant to even know the difference?

You have said so. See ya. Have a great day.

Protestant Apologist Jason Engwer Grants the Possibility That Catholic Convert Francis Beckwith Might be Saved

I was directed to this thread and found it interesting. Jason Engwer is about as amiable an anti-Catholic Protestant as one can ever come across. He is sincerely struggling with this question of well-known convert Francis Beckwith's conversion to Catholicism. From his perspective (that Catholicism on the whole is hostile to the saving gospel and has Pelagian elements, etc.), he is being as charitable and "ecumenical" as he can be. I think there is something to be said for that.

The most predictable thing to observe in the thread (including the comments) is the usual recourse to the mentality (often noted on this blog) of "the only saved Catholic is a bad Catholic." In other words, to be saved and to attain to the sublime heights of being a Christian (like all our Protestant friends are) is to reject those elements of Catholicism that Protestantism particularly rejects. To be a Christian one has to, in effect, be a Protestant (i.e., a bad, pick-and-choose, "cafeteria" Catholic). So if a Catholic is a Protestant in all the key areas (e.g., sola fide and sola Scriptura) then he is a Christian. If he is a consistent Catholic, he cannot be a Christian, because Catholicism is not Christian. And so Jason writes:

Francis Beckwith has a significant level of knowledge about the relevant issues. . . . He made a decision to return to Catholicism and has remained Catholic after being reminded of the false nature of the Catholic gospel many times and by many people. His decisions to revert to Catholicism and remain Catholic under such circumstances are evidence against his profession of Christian faith. And his unfaithfulness to the gospel is worse than Peter's and the Galatians' in some ways. . . .

He's in a category similar to that of Peter and the Galatians at best. If he's saved, it's by an Evangelical gospel (the Biblical gospel), in spite of the false gospel he's currently associated with.

. . . there can be evidence that somebody accepted the true gospel, then departed from it later in life. A later departure would be evidence that the person was never justified to begin with, but not conclusive evidence.

In a recent comment on the same blog, Jason reiterates:

. . . the possibility that some Catholic and Orthodox signers of the Manhattan Declaration are justified in spite of their group's false gospel isn't sufficient to justify the language of the document about those groups. Individuals who attempt to be justified in a manner contrary to what their group prescribes shouldn't be considered representatives of their group's view of salvation.

A guy in the combox who goes by "Truth Unites" gives a perfect expression of this anti-Catholic notion:

To me, in my humble tentative preliminary opinion, the teaching of a "false gospel" necessarily damns each and every person who abides by it. To me, it's logically consistent to say that all Judaizers are damned to Hell . . .

(2) BUT there are folks, however many, who are saved in the RCC and EOC despite the RCC's and EOC's false gospels.

The possibility of inconsistency and being saved by a thread (the remnants of remaining fragrances of an evangelical past) is as far as the anti-Catholic position can go, and most of the adherents of this ludicrous, self-defeating position do in fact go there. They (except for the fringe of the fringe folks) don't say every Catholic is damned. They acknowledge loopholes. But the most difficult scenarios for them to deal with are converts like Francis Beckwith and many dozens of other known converts whose thinking is observable on the Internet, or on radio or TV, or in books and magazine articles. So Jason writes:

. . . an Evangelical revert to Catholicism is an example of a case that can be hard to judge . . .

A case like Francis Beckwith's involves multiple lines of evidence pointing in different directions. . . . he's an example of a case that seems difficult to judge, . . .

He has some things in his favor that other Catholics don't have, such as a background in Evangelicalism.

The anti-Catholic has to figure out how to analyze those of us who had an evangelical past. They believe we had some knowledge of the saving gospel (as they define it, which isn't really a biblical definition), and so they have to analyze whether we converts rejected that outright when we became Catholic, or inconsistently accept some of it and jettison others; leaving some slim chance of salvation. Hence Jason observes:

When somebody has a high degree of exposure to the gospel, as Americans do, and has at some point professed Christian faith in the context of Evangelicalism, as Beckwith did, those are significant factors that increase the plausibility of an individual's salvation.

He seems to live by high moral standards. That reflects well on him and is a relevant factor in evaluating a person's profession of faith.

He clearly accepts the large majority of the most important truths of the gospel (Jesus' Messiahship, the resurrection, etc.). That's significant.

. . . People are often inconsistent. They hold inconsistent beliefs at the same time or change beliefs from one period of their life to another. They contradict themselves knowingly, as they waver between two views, or unknowingly. . . . People can have a mixture of good and bad motives, . . . They have conflicting desires. . . .

I give Jason credit for at least exercising charity and thoughtfulness. He is a victim of his own false presuppositions as an anti-Catholic, and the endlessly self-contradictory thought therein. But if he can go this far, there is hope that one day he can break out of his self-imposed theological and spiritual restrictions and understand that Catholicism is Christian, too. He goes as far in charity as he can go, given his false anti-Catholic premises:

I think it makes sense for somebody coming from my perspective to at least conclude that his salvation is a reasonable possibility. I hope he's saved or will be in the future, and I would be glad to meet him in Heaven. My sense is that his salvation is probable, though by a small margin, due partly to my limited knowledge.

Having said this, Jason has to immediately preach to the choir, lest he get in hot water himself, and his own evangelical bona fide credentials start being questioned by his cronies:

However, his errors are serious, and they deserve criticism and some degree of separation from him, even if one is confident that he's saved.

Jason knows he has entered dangerous territory in engaging in this discussion:

I suspect that I would have been criticized no matter how I had responded to the question that was asked by Truth Unites... and Divides. If I had ignored the question, I would have been criticized for that. If I had answered, but had been more positive in my evaluation of Beckwith, I would have been criticized for it. Or if I'd been more negative, I would have been criticized for that.

But let it be known that I have lauded him in this thread for going as far as he could go. I think that is a praiseworthy thing, especially by the usual standards of lack of charity that are almost universally evident in anti-Catholic circles.

I thank God that Jason Engwer and other Protestant anti-Catholics are fellow Christians. I think that our Lord will have mercy on their ignorance, and besides, they'll have a lot of time in purgatory to straighten out all their falsehoods and silly caricatures of Catholic teaching, and of Catholics. I truly, eagerly look forward to fellowship in heaven with my anti-Catholic brethren in Christ, when they are at last fully Catholic, and Christians finally start treating each other the way they should: enjoying the unity that God always intended.

It's just too bad that for most of these folks, the realization of their profound error in this regard won't come in this lifetime (so that more unity could be had) and will have to wait till the next. The world could be so much more positively impacted if Christians could figure out who their fellow brethren in Christ are. The devil loves the division. It means that more can be lost because of it: while Christians fight each other and make their effectiveness in proclaiming the saving gospel far less than it would otherwise be.

See also Francis Beckwith's response on his blog. He made several semi-humorous interjections in the combox, including, "By the way, when you finally discover my posthumous fate, please tell me. I've been dying to know."

* * * * *

Steve Hays (the blogmaster of the site where Jason's post appeared) responded with a new post: where he insinuates that I have contradicted myself. I replied in the combox (his words in blue):

On the one hand, Armstrong is offended at our suggestion that the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic. On the other hand, Armstrong takes the position that the only good Protestant is a bad Protestant.

There is no parallelism here, of course, in the way that Steve has suggested. Even "Truth Unites" sees that (though I would say a "bad Protestant" endangers his salvation just as a "bad Catholic" would: by failing to follow what his group teaches about God and salvation).

I assume (in charity, if not with absolutely rigorous theological reasoning) that most (committed, serious) Protestants will be in heaven. I even portrayed Luther in heaven in a fictional dialogue of mine.

But I get the impression that y'all would be shocked to death if you find that I make it, or Beckwith or Scott Hahn, or any number of us apostate converts. If we do, it'll be by the skin of our teeth.

In other words, the position is not that the only good Protestant is a bad Protestant, as if Protestantism were a bad thing. We don't think like anti-Catholics do: that Catholicism is essentially bad, with some good and truth mixed up in it. We say that Protestantism is good and could be better by virtue of the fullness of biblical, historical Catholicism that it lacks.

Really? Is that what the Tridentine Fathers said? Is that what Leo X said in Exsurge Domine?

It's what Popes John XXIII and Paul VI and John Paul II and Benedict XVI have said. You may think that is a contradiction (it is not; more like a strikingly changed emphasis), but you still have to grapple with what the Church has taught, through these recent popes, and the Second Vatican Council.

You can interpret that as you wish (as a reversal or supposed self-contradiction or disproof of infallibility), but it will do no good for you to always cite the understandably more polemical stuff from the 16th century right after the Protestant Revolution, when there is 450 years of further development after that.

He's saying (some) Protestants will be saved when God corrects their invincible ignorance in Purgatory. He's saying (some) Protestants are saved in spite of their Protestant distinctives. That's the mirror image of the loophole he finds so offensive in Protestant polemics vis-a-vis Catholics. So, yes, it's symmetrical.

Nope; Protestants are saved by the blood of Jesus and Grace Alone, precisely as Catholics are (not by not adhering to wrong elements of their theology). Salvation is a positive, not a negative thing. Therefore, they are saved by following their own teaching's deepest truths: ones we fully agree with, as all Christians do, because we adhere to sola gratia as you do.

It's because you deny this that you make flawed analogies that don't fly. And that gets back to square one: what is a Christian; why are Catholics supposedly not that, while you guys are, even though you historically derived from us, and every truth you possess was originally present in the Catholic Church for many hundreds of years before Luther was a gleam in his dad's eye.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Church Fathers and the Sacrifice of the Mass

20th-century icon of the Church fathers of the ecumenical council in Nicaea in 325 (Courtesy: Orthodox Church in America) [ source ]

John Calvin described the Sacrifice of the Mass as an "abomination unknown to the purer Church," and stated that "this perverse course was unknown to the purer Church. . . . it is absolutely certain that all antiquity is opposed to them, as . . . may be more surely known by the diligent reading of the Fathers" (Institutes, IV, 18:9). Contrary to Calvin's puerile, historically revisionist rhetoric, however, there is in fact a great deal of patristic support for the Catholic position on this matter (and this data is confirmed by reputable Protestant Church historians, as seen below):

[entire paper now available only in chapter 15 of my book, Biblical Catholic Eucharistic Theology; some excerpts from Protestant historians below]

Protestant Church historian Philip Schaff:

The Catholic church, both Greek and Latin, sees in the Eucharist not only a sacramentum, in which God communicates a grace to believers, but at the same time, and in fact mainly, a sacrificium, in which believers really offer to God that which is represented by the sensible elements. For this view also the church fathers laid the foundation, and it must be conceded they stand in general far more on the Greek and Roman Catholic than on the Protestant side of this question.

. . . In this view certainly, in a deep symbolical and ethical sense, Christ is offered to God the Father in every believing prayer, and above all in the holy Supper; i.e. as the sole ground of our reconciliation and acceptance . . .

But this idea in process of time became adulterated with foreign elements, and transformed into the Graeco-Roman doctrine of the sacrifice of the mass. According to this doctrine the Eucharist is an unbloody repetition of the atoning sacrifice of Christ by the priesthood for the salvation of the living and the dead; so that the body of Christ is truly and literally offered every day and every hour, and upon innumerable altars at the same time. The term mass, which properly denoted the dismissal of the congregation (missio, dismissio) at the close of the general public worship, became, after the end of the fourth century, the name for the worship of the faithful, which consisted in the celebration of the eucharistic sacrifice and the communion.

. . . We pass now to the more particular history. The ante-Nicene fathers uniformly conceived the Eucharist as a thank-offering of the church; the congregation offering the consecrated elements of bread and wine, and in them itself, to God. This view is in itself perfectly innocent, but readily leads to the doctrine of the sacrifice of the mass, as soon as the elements become identified with the body and blood of Christ, and the presence of the body comes to be materialistically taken. The germs of the Roman doctrine appear in Cyprian about the middle of the third century, in connection with his high-churchly doctrine of the clerical priesthood. Sacerdotium and sacrificium are with him correlative ideas.

. . . The doctrine of the sacrifice of the mass is much further developed in the Nicene and post-Nicene fathers, though amidst many obscurities and rhetorical extravagances, and with much wavering between symbolical and grossly realistic conceptions, until in all essential points it is brought to its settlement by Gregory the Great at the close of the sixth century.

. . . 2. It is not a new sacrifice added to that of the cross, but a daily, unbloody repetition and perpetual application of that one only sacrifice. Augustine represents it, on the one hand, as a sacramentum memoriae, a symbolical commemoration of the sacrificial death of Christ; to which of course there is no objection. But, on the other hand, he calls the celebration of the communion verissimum sacrificium of the body of Christ. The church, he says, offers (immolat) to God the sacrifice of thanks in the body of Christ, from the days of the apostles through the sure succession of the bishops down to our time. But the church at the same time offers, with Christ, herself, as the body of Christ, to God. As all are one body, so also all are together the same sacrifice. According to Chrysostom the same Christ, and the whole Christ, is everywhere offered. It is not a different sacrifice from that which the High Priest formerly offered, but we offer always the same sacrifice, or rather, we perform a memorial of this sacrifice. This last clause would decidedly favor a symbolical conception, if Chrysostom in other places had not used such strong expressions as this: "When thou seest the Lord slain, and lying there, and the priest standing at the sacrifice," or: "Christ lies slain upon the altar."

3. The sacrifice is the anti-type of the Mosaic sacrifice, and is related to it as substance to typical shadows. It is also especially foreshadowed by Melchizedek’s unbloody offering of bread and wine. The sacrifice of Melchizedek is therefore made of great account by Hilary, Jerome Augustine, Chrysostom, and other church fathers, on the strength of the well-known parallel in the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

. . . Cyril of Jerusalem, in his fifth and last mystagogic Catechesis, which is devoted to the consideration of the eucharistic sacrifice and the liturgical service of God, gives the following description of the eucharistic intercessions for the departed:

"When the spiritual sacrifice, the unbloody service of God, is performed, we pray to God over this atoning sacrifice for the universal peace of the church, for the welfare of the world, for the emperor, for soldiers and prisoners, for the sick and afflicted, for all the poor and needy. Then we commemorate also those who sleep, the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, that God through their prayers and their intercessions may receive our prayer; and in general we pray for all who have gone from us, since we believe that it is of the greatest help to those souls for whom the prayer is offered, while the holy sacrifice, exciting a holy awe, lies before us."

This is clearly an approach to the later idea of purgatory in the Latin church. Even St. Augustine, with Tertullian, teaches plainly, as an old tradition, that the eucharistic sacrifice, the intercessions or suffragia and alms, of the living are of benefit to the departed believers, so that the Lord deals more mercifully with them than their sins deserve.

(History of the Christian Church, Vol. III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity: A.D. 311-600, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974, from the revised fifth edition of 1910; §96. "The Sacrifice of the Eucharist,” 503-508, 510)

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

It was also widely held from the first that the Eucharist is in some sense a sacrifice, though here again definition was gradual. The suggestion of sacrifice is contained in much of the NT language . . . the words of institution, 'covenant,' 'memorial,' 'poured out,' all have sacrificial associations. In early post-NT times the constant repudiation of carnal sacrifice and emphasis on life and prayer at Christian worship did not hinder the Eucharist from being described as a sacrifice from the first . . .

From early times the Eucharistic offering was called a sacrifice in virtue of its immediate relation to the sacrifice of Christ.

(Cross, F. L. and E. A. Livingstone, editors; 2nd edition, Oxford University Press, 1983, 476, 1221)

Protestant historian J. N. D. Kelly

[T]he Eucharist was regarded as the distinctively Christian sacrifice from the closing decade of the first century, if not earlier. Malachi’s prediction (1:10 f.) that the Lord would reject the Jewish sacrifices and instead would have 'a pure offering' made to Him by the Gentiles in every place was early seized [did. 14,3; Justin, dial. 41,2 f.; Irenaeus, haer. 4,17,5] upon by Christians as a prophecy of the eucharist.

The Didache indeed actually applies [14, 1] the term thusia, or sacrifice, to the eucharist, and the idea is presupposed by Clement in the parallel he discovers [40-4] between the Church's ministers and the Old Testament priests and levites . . . Ignatius's reference [Philad. 4] to 'one altar, just as there is one bishop', reveals that he, too thought in sacrificial terms. Justin speaks [Dial. 117,1] of 'all the sacrifices in this name which Jesus appointed to be performed, viz. in ther eucharist of the bread and the cup, and which are celebrated in every place by Christians'. Not only here but elsewhere [Ib. 41,3] too, he identifies 'the bread of the eucharist, and the cup likewise of the eucharist', with the sacrifice foretold by Malachi. For Irenaeus [Haer. 4,17,5] the eucharist is 'the new oblation of the new covenant', . . .

It was natural for early Christians to think of the eucharist as a sacrifice. The fulfillment of prophecy demanded a solemn Christian offering, and the rite itself was wrapped in the sacrificial atmosphere with which our Lord invested the Last Supper. The words of institution, ‘Do this’ (touto poieite), must have been charged with sacrificial overtones for second-century ears; Justin at any rate understood [1 apol. 66,3; cf. dial. 41,1] them to mean, ‘Offer this.’ . . . Justin . . . makes it plain [Dial. 41,3] that the bread and the wine themselves were the 'pure offering' foretold by Malachi . . . he uses [1 apol. 65,3-5] the term 'thanksgiving' as technically equivalent to 'the eucharistized bread and wine'. The bread and wine, moreover, are offered ‘for a memorial (eis anamnasin) of the passion,’ a phrase which in view of his identification of them with the Lord’s body and blood implies much more than an act of purely spiritual recollection. Altogether it would seem that, while his language is not fully explicit, Justin is feeling his way to the conception of the eucharist as the offering of the Saviour's passion.

(Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: Harper & Row, fifth revised edition, 1978, 196-197)

[T]he eucharist was regarded without question as the Christian sacrifice.

(Ibid., 449)

* * *

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Is the Anti-Catholic Myth of Total Catholic Apostasy Analogous to the Jewish-Christian Parting of Ways in the First Century?

Did the Catholic Church get derailed at some point in history, and cease being a Christian Church? [ source ]

Pito, a commenter on my blog, has asked some very penetrating questions, that I took a crack at answering:

I was just wondering whether Catholics are permitted to believe that God gave Moses an Oral as well as a Written Torah on the Mountain, as Orthodox Jews believe, however corrupt some of the Pharisees may have been or made the Law?

Sure. I have used the argument myself, as an analogy to Tradition, over against written Scripture. The Pharisaical tradition was the mainstream of Judaism in Christ's time. Jesus followed it, so did Paul (he called himself a Pharisee twice, after his conversion). And the Pharisees believed in oral tradition, originally given to Moses, and developed over time. It was the Sadducees who denied this. They were the liberals and "sola Scripturists" of that time.

As a follow-up to my first question on the Oral Torah, I'd like to add that it seems to me that Catholics may believe that the Talmudim, Midrashim, Aggadot and most major Jewish Law codes accurately record it. The trouble I have with this is reconciling this with the question of where the Jews went wrong, why we should believe they did, and your thoughts on why God would allow that to happen, as this general Christian claim appears analogous to me to the anti-Catholic argument that the Church became corrupt at an arbitrary point in history.

Very interesting question. I don't know all the ins and outs of how the oral law in Judaism works, so I'll pass on that and leave it to experts in that area.

I think Christianity is a consistent development of Judaism, and have argued that all along (many papers). Where they went wrong was not so much in theology (Jewish beliefs rightly-understood; they are often caricatured and distorted by Christians) but in rejecting the Messiah.

That was the crucial turning-point. Essentially, they rejected the new Christian movement and neglected to see that it was the line of "development" that God desired in salvation history. So it was far more so (at least at first) their rejecting us, rather than our rejecting them. So the forerunner rejected the developer and "progressive." But with anti-Catholics it is the self-defined "progressives" who are rejecting their own forerunners: the opposite of the Jewish-Christian dynamic. And for our part, we see the Protestant movement as a corruption, where it departs from received tradition, but still part of the Christian fold in an imperfect way (whereas anti-Catholic Protestants remove us from the same fold).

The Jews rejected the true Messiah, Jesus. That is indisputable. The only thing under dispute is whether He was the Messiah. Obviously, all Christians believe that He was. So traditional Jews look at Christianity the way that we view cults such as Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons, who claim to be Christian but really aren't. We claim to be a consistent development of Judaism, but orthodox Jews think we corrupted Judaism, especially in holding that Jesus is God and believing in the Trinity: which they see as fundamentally inconsistent with monotheism.

With anti-Catholics, on the other hand, it is two rival Christian groups. They claim (commonly, though there are variations) that the Catholic Church formerly rejected the gospel at Trent, thus removing itself from the orthodox Christian sphere. So they reject the Catholic Church, thinking that the "ball" was passed on to them in the 16th century; we blew it (so they say), and the Catholic "train" derailed at that time (or far earlier, according to the particular myth employed).

But that is altogether in dispute (what the gospel is and whether we rejected it), is unlike the historical question of the Jews denying that Jesus was Messiah and Lord.

Unlike our saying that Christianity consistently developed from Judaism, with the Jews rejecting the direction we took it, the anti-Catholic Protestant claims that Catholicism was long since corrupt. They want to deny (or at least radically de-emphasize) their Catholic historical pedigree as much as they can, and hearken back to the fathers in alleged support for their novelties. But they lose the historical argument every time.

Therefore, their position is built on a self-defeating fallacy from the get-go. They are confused about the nature of the Church, about development, and about what the fathers actually believed.

But they refuse to argue the fundamental issues of what a Christian is, and what the gospel is. It was for that very reason that I gave up trying to debate with them almost three years ago now. If the fundamental disagreements aren't discussed, there is no hope of accomplishing anything, because even a robust disagreement has to be discussed by agreeing on something at some primitive point in the spectrum of premises and conclusions drawn from them.

I contend that anti-Catholics are wrong about the definition of the gospel, and wrong about their claim that we supposedly rejected it, and about soteriology, in many ways. They're wrong about the fathers supposedly supporting them far more so than us, and about a host of caricatures of our theology.

At least I can refute their false claims by dealing with John Calvin, as I have been doing. But he has just about driven me batty with all his sophistries, distortions, gratuitous, stupid insults, and falsehoods. The end of that project is near, God be praised!

I would also add that anti-Catholic Protestantism doesn't grasp the notion of ecclesiological indefectibility. This is part of their viciously self-defeating understanding.

If the Catholic Church was ever the Church, it could never have fallen away, for the simple reason that God had been specially protecting it from error, in a way that He never promised to protect the Jews. After the Resurrection and Ascension, many things changed. We have the indwelling Spirit. God guides us, and protects the Church from error. For an anti-Catholic to think that was somehow lost in one fell swoop, is absurd. There is no such thing as that in the Bible.

See my paper: Biblical Evidence for the Indefectibility of the Church.

So the basic anti-Catholic dilemma and absurdity is in asserting either:

A) The Catholic Church of history never was the true Church at any time.


B) The Catholic Church of history was the true Church but fell away completely (or nearly so) from Christianity.

A is extremely hard to assert because it is radically ahistorical. The only way to argue that with even the remotest plausibility (and I mean remote!) is to go the route of the Landmark Baptists, who try to create a fanciful Church history or pseudo-apostolic succession minus the Catholic Church. That is historically ludicrous and breaks down immediately under any kind of scrutiny.

Position B runs into inexorable difficulties regarding the biblical view of what the Church is and how God preserves her. Thus, A wages a losing battle with history and B with the Bible.

Conclusion: anti-Catholicism is radically, inevitably self-defeating and therefore false.

Bible, history, and reason alike are on the Catholic side in this debate.

I am accused when I say stuff like this, of circular reasoning. But it is not, because I argue all the major particulars in various papers and books. One can assert without exhaustive argument, provided he or she does provide the necessary supporting arguments elsewhere. And I have done so, in 19 books and almost 2500 papers.