Category Archives: Anthropology

Luther vs. Horace

Luther wants, most of all, to escape punishment; only secondly does he want to escape being wicked (interior corruption). He would, that is, rather be in heaven with a heart of hell, than in hell with a heart of heaven. He writes,

“We would perhaps have disregarded corruption [the inward evil] and been pleased with our evil unless this other evil, which is wrath [the outward evil], had refused to indulge our foolishness and had resisted it with terror and the danger of hell and death, so that we have but little peace in our wickedness. Plainly wrath is a greater evil for us than corruption, for we hate punishment more than guilt” (LW 32:224).


“Just as wrath is a greater evil than the corruption of sin, so grace is a greater good than that health of righteousness which we have said comes from faith. Everyone would prefer—if that were possible—to be without the health of righteousness [gift] rather than the grace of God, for peace and the remission of sins are properly attributed to the grace of God, while healing from corruption is ascribed to faith.” (LW 32:227)

Sed Contra! Even the Pagan Horace rejects such an inversion of priorities:

“The wicked hate sinning because of fear of punishment, the virtuous hate sinning because of a love of virtue” (Epistles I, 16).

In an age in which mercy’s link to justice is insufficiently expressed, one wonders whether the mercy sought is indeed “freedom from punishment” rather than “freedom for truth, opportunity for repentance.”

St. Paul rejects the use of mercy to condone or tolerate sin (Rom 2:4ff). Moreover, mercy is not opposed to judgment, for the Gospel declares divine mercy, but St. Paul says that “according to my Gospel, God will judge the secrets of hearts” (end Rom 2).

Justification (Part V) – Also, its Relevance for the Synod on the Family

Now that we have laid out some of the basics, we need to dig a little deeper regarding justification. We need to ask the question “Why?” Why did Luther hold what he held? Of course there are many reasons. We can only offer some.

The usual narrative that he presents is that he had tried to do everything right as a Catholic monk. But nothing was good enough. The Law was too much to bear. He fasted, prayed, kept vigil, etc. But he still was sinning. He still did not feel God’s love. Trying to “earn” God’s love was futile. Suddenly, he discovered what he took to be the real meaning of “the righteousness of God”. This sudden experience is referred to as his “tower experience”. It has recently come under question just what and how influential this event was. At any rate, that is the usual narrative. And it rings with many Protestants. They consider that Catholics are guilt-ridden servants of the Law. Whereas God wants free sons who approach him in love.

Another reason for Luther’s position can be found in his own writings. We see, especially in the early Luther (1515-1521) a deep desire to love God for his own sake. He held as ideal a love of God which excluded every motive for his own gain. We see something resembling this (I do not say identical) with the great saints. Thus, this core desire had something deeply correct about it.

And something deeply flawed. Quite flawed. And that is the root of the trouble.

Luther thought that true love of God required the absolute absence of self-interest. Therefore, any motive other than perfect love of God for his own sake spoiled true love of God and was imperfect. And here is the second flaw: Any imperfection in the moral order is sin. And the third flaw: Every sin is a mortal sin. Thus, Luther conceived the law of love as exacting a love practically impossible for mortal man. It echoes of a certain voice long ago, which asked us in Eve, “Did God say that you cannot eat of any of these tasty trees? Is he that kind of a Master? They do look good to eat.”

Confusion concerning the content of the law. This was the root of Luther’s problem. Add to that a pessimistic theory of what man can accomplish, and you get a nearly impossible situation. Thus, it is as though he thought, “The Law is impossible of obedience. There must be some way to God that totally excludes any condition of Law. There must be some way by which God will not issue the Law, or count the Law, or count transgressions. That must be the way. That must be what “righteousness of God” means. It must mean that God will justify us by faith alone and save us by faith alone, regardless of what we do or do not do. Faith is the only criterion. Faith merely as trust in God’s promise. That is all that he requires. And he gives what he requires. Well, then, once God has given us all good, we do not need to labor to get it. What should we do then? Give gratitude to God. We should love him. Love neighbor. And none of this counts for heaven. It is all totally free. It is our pure gift to God. That is how God creates true lovers. If he ignores all their faults, then everything they actually do, they do out of free love. Therefore, God has found his true lovers.” So, Luther.

This was Luther’s solution to the problem he say. It was his “tower” experience. From despair to presumption. I will unpack what this means in the post to come. After that, I will show that how it fails to work on its own terms.

But before closing, we should contrast Luther’s understanding with the Catholic understanding, implicit in the Prayer for the Memorial of St. Patrick today: “O God, Who didst send forth thy Blessed Confessor and Bishop Patrick to preach thy glory among the Gentiles, mercifully grant unto us, for his sake and at his petition, whatsoever Thou commandest us to do, to have grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same.” For the conviction of the Church is that God does not command what is impossible to do, since He providentially bestows the sufficient grace for salvation.

Sufficient grace. Sufficient grace. Sufficient grace. For holy, holy, holy is the Lord who works to make man holy. Sufficient grace! This is the ingredient to which the Synod on the Family must pay heed, what it must praise, what it must proclaim to the nations. God gives us his grace! He commands not the impossible. No burden to heavy for him to lift in your heart. For when he lifts this burden, not by denying the burden, denying the Cross but by enabling you to bear it, when he lifts it, the Law of God is fulfilled in us (Rom 8) so that we can now walk in the Spirit, not in the flesh. For life according to the flesh is sin, and the end of sin is eternal death; whereas life according to the Spirit is sanctification, and its end is eternal life (Rom 6). Mortal man has not the power to proclaim that sin is not sin. And mortal man ought not indirectly imply that sin is no longer sin.

What then, about the Synod? Let us not despair of God’s grace! Two roads of despair: a “faith alone” doctrine of justification, and a re-writing of the Law a-la liberalism. Both roads are false. Neither road leads to life. For the roads that lead to perdition are broad, and many choose them. But the road that leads to life is hard, and few find it. But there is one who can enable us to bear his burden sweetly, who addresses us with forgiveness, if we let him enter our hearts. Let us then hope on God. This was John Paul II’s tireless message in Veritatis splendor, par. 112:

“In fact, while the behavioural sciences, like all experimental sciences, develop an empirical and statistical concept of “normality”, faith teaches that this normality itself bears the traces of a fall from man’s original situation — in other words, it is affected by sin. Only Christian faith points out to man the way to return to “the beginning” (cf. Mt 19:8), a way which is often quite different from that of empirical normality. Hence the behavioural sciences, despite the great value of the information which they provide, cannot be considered decisive indications of moral norms. It is the Gospel which reveals the full truth about man and his moral journey, and thus enlightens and admonishes sinners; it proclaims to them God’s mercy, which is constantly at work to preserve them both from despair at their inability fully to know and keep God’s law and from the presumption that they can be saved without merit. God also reminds sinners of the joy of forgiveness, which alone grants the strength to see in the moral law a liberating truth, a grace-filled source of hope, a path of life.”

Deliberately did John Paul II refer to Mt 19. The very text on the abolition of divorce. Divorce is a pure chimera, a phantom of man’s imagination. As is bigamy. Therefore, there can be no recognition of “remarriage” in the face of a first marriage.

Let us follow John Paul’s courageous hope. Be not afraid, ye Christians. O sacred pastors, from whose hands we feed, please, be not afraid. Be not afraid. We all know: Man must not water down the Law, directly or indirectly, so as to save man. Such would be rebellion. (Directly, i.e., presuming to change the Law. Indirectly, i.e., changing crucial practices that announce the Law, crucial practices that indicate an objective compass for the lost, crucial practices that are part and parcel of an embodied existence, crucial practices part and parcel of an incarnational ecomony of salvation, crucial practices the denial of which would be Gnosticism! For by changes of such crucial practices, the Law would cease to be announced; even its opposite would become the impression in the heart of man. By such changes the objective compass would be obscured, and one would readily pronounce innocent those engaging objectively evil acts. Thus would be endorsed a Gnostic Morality: Appearances deceive, the body lies, it is the mind alone that matters, the interior alone that matters.) An indirect change of doctrine would be its own form of presumptuous Pelagianism. For it would be man trying to make it so that man is saved. It would be salvation by the work of merely human hands. But man cannot save man. Only God can save man. Thus, to tinker with the Law, directly or indirectly, bespeaks the presumption that man can save. This is totally false. This would be deception. We must trust not in horses, much less in a Change in the Law.

Is it not a worse thing for man not even to know of the sin he commits than to weep endlessly for mercy from God? Of course, at all times, he can know that sin is sin, for it is of this that his own heart speaks (Rom 1-2; Wis 11-13; Gaudium et spes). Yet, when voices seemingly pious cloud over this delicate speech of conscience, they steer a man astray. They crowd out the solid rule by which conscience acts. For the supreme rule of conscience is not the product of human engineering. It is not the product of some kind of “core energetics” by which I can “retool” the universal law of moral action. (That would be New Age Gnosticism.) The supreme rule springs forth from the Unchanging Being of God and directs man’s mind along the path he should trod.

Yes, sufficient grace is the answer which the Catholic Church herself proclaims through the ages. God has not left us orphans. Let us not think that he would. So, let no one falsely tickle ears with an attempt at an indirect, much less direct, change in Law. For if someone close to us is living by standards of Ba’al, even unknowingly, our answer is not to deny that these standards are Ba’al’s. Our answer is spending the time in ministerial love, the way the good Samaritan did, so that the sick and beaten can make it to the hospital (= Church), receive the anointing balm (= Reconciliation), and thus begin to eat (= Eucharist), and thus begin to recover that vigor ravaged by sin. Let us be servants taking people to the hospital of life. Triage does not mean bypassing objective moral discernment. It means precisely issuing this in the proper order. But in this proper order, we must remember that health is not produced by a declaration of health. For mere declarations, “You are ok; it is not a sin” accomplish nothing but confusion and pain. For if I am lying wounded in the field and told, “You are not wounded,” I wait with my wound and wail. The declaration was false and did not lead to life.

The hospital is the Church and her sacraments. And these are dispensed to “adults”. Even six year old “adults”. Yes. To free human beings. Who make consciously determinate choices. And know of them. Who take responsibility for them, regrettably or no. For our audience is not infants. Our audience is adults. Let us respect them. Let us honor their freedom, their dignity. All the while, let us speak sweetly of the Savior. And not omit his Law. For: No Law, No Savior. “I came not to call the righteous” that is, “not to call those who call themselves or are called by others, falsely, already righteous”. For he came for what Luther called – so rightly! – “real sinners” not “sham sinners”. (I like that line.)  An attempt to change the Law, directly or indirectly, — should we think this through earnestly — would also be deeply offensive to Lutheran – Catholic ecumenical dialogue. For it would represent a strategy of salvation opposite the Incarnation.

All pastoral directives must take their cue from this truth of faith. If we cloud it over by attempting to change law or practice, we tell the sinner, “You are not capable of action. You are infantile. We must protect you from your infancy. Nor does it seem — if we measure you as an instance of a statistical frequency gathered by the sociologists of the day — that God will help you bear that burden. Yes, if you are another instance of a statistic (!), then you will probably never be helped so as to bear your responsibility well. Well, then, … God did not say, “Do not eat of the tree of knowledge.” That was a mis-impression. I am clearing that up for you. Rest. Rest. Rest. You are immaculate.” Manifestly opposite the salutary Angelic Cry: Penance! Penance! Penance! Is this whitewashing of the tombs not the other extreme in the perils opposite the Catholic truth? Yes, justification sola fide is one extreme error. The liberal annihilation of law is the other, and a worse perversion. For this latter is the antithesis of the very foundation of all religion.

On that — Read Newman, Grammar, chap. 10, on Natural Religion. What would Newman call such an attempt? An unholy alliance with religion of civilization, which so-called religion he decried as a banal falsity that utterly perverts man’s most native instincts regarding his well being and future.

On Justification (Part IV)

This final post is lengthy. Since it will the reader some time, the next several days will consist in brief posts of collects and antiphons of the new and old liturgy side by side.

The topic today is Paul’s teaching concerning our final judgment. It will be shown that Paul teaches that a key criterion for our being judged righteous and so, finally saved, is our obedience to the commandments, our good works, our avoidance of wicked sins. Therefore, Paul does not teach that salvation is by faith alone.

Rather noteworthy in this regard, although too little noticed, is Chris VanLandingham’s book Judgment and Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul. It is a significant book in exegesis. Perhaps a reason it is too little noticed is an unfortunate, and needless, flaw in VanLandingham’s theology. And quite an unfortunate flaw it is, for it casts a shadow on the text precisely for those readers who would most benefit from his exegetical insights. That flaw is semi-Pelagianism. He thinks that if man works, that work is as it were “in addition” to God’s work. Thus, insofar as man must work, God must not work. “Christians themselves do these things [i.e. good works necessary for salvation], not God” (VanLandingham, 186).

VanLandingham, a Protestant (though he attempted to perform his exegesis outside of any doctrinal tradition [another questionable element in his theology]), thus succumbs to the flaw in many a Protestant theology: Man’s action and God’s action is a zero sum game. The more you ascribe to one, the more you take away from the other. That flawed view must end, for any pious man, in the denial that any human work is good. For all must confess, “Non nobis, non nobis, Domine, sed Nomini tuo da gloria” = “Not to us, not to us, O Lord, but to Your Name, give the glory” (Ps 113:9). And, it is alleged, did not Jesus teach as much: The flesh is of no avail (Jn 6). And, it is alleged, did not Paul teach as much: Not I, but Christ in me (Gal 2)?

Let us follow this flaw out to the dregs of its absurdity. Since action follows being, since being is for action, the negation of human work implies the negation of human being. Thus, the ultimate outcome of this flawed view is the denial of man. And if man is denied, so is the Son of Man. Therefore, the ultimate logic of this flawed zero sum game is the negation of the Incarnation. And, finally, of creation. And we arrive at what Erich Przywara called the Protestant pan-theism. God alone is. Nothing else is.

Anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear knows that this result is false. And its logic is absurd. The ultimate flaw in the logic is that the creature and the Creator are conceived as though “on the same plane”. They are conceived with a monolithic notion of “being”. With this monolithic notion of being, both are placed as it were on the same footing. Then, since God is pretty big, man must be pretty small. Since God must not lack anything, he had better fill up the “space”. But if he fills up the space, where stands man? This is a flawed view of Being, and it is a large part of the flaw in the entire Protestant outlook, insofar as that outlook departs from Orthodoxy and Catholicism. The solution is the Analogy of Being, about which more in some other post.

But back to basics, for this was meant to be a set of basic posts about justification.

If we thus lay aside the important weaknesses in VanLandingham’s theology, we can take away the golden treasures of his work. His overarching thesis is that Paul presents us with two teachings. The first teaching regards justification, which is not the product of human hands but the free gift of God in Jesus Christ. Note that this is exactly Tridentine dogma. See the most glorious magisterial text ever produced, Session VI of that most glorious council Trent. The efficient cause – the agent – of justification is God himself; the meritorious cause – the one who paid the agent to act, so to speak – is Christ in his passion on the cross. (Of course, this payment must be carefully understood. It means that Almighty God willed that a contingent event, the Passion, be the reason that he would offer grace to sinful man. But note, since God himself put forward his Son, his eternal love is the cause of the entire process. But that his eternal and uncaused love is the cause of the entire process does not negate the fact that he ordained that the dispensation of grace be dependent upon a contingent event. It is by the wood of the cross that we are healed [Isa 53]. Thus we see the total falsity and utterly misleading guise of the claim of Karl Rahner that the cross is not a cause of the offer of grace. Here, he negates revelation itself though in so subtle [and, we hope, for him, unwitting] a fashion that few discern it!) So far, Catholic doctrine matches what VanLandingham finds in Paul. And in fact, it matches what Luther taught as well. (With the important exception that Luther and Catholic doctrine utterly diverge regarding what it is that God does in this event. Thus, the agreement ends up being the introit to a disagreement.) That is Paul’s first teaching, that justification is free.

Paul’s second teaching is that salvation is dependent upon fidelity to the precepts of the covenant. In Catholic phraseology, salvation is dependent upon obedience to the Law of nature and of the covenant which ratifies and expands and deepens this law. VanLandingham observes that Paul does not speak of salvation by faith alone. He does not speak of a final judgment by faith alone. Rather, he speaks of obedience to the commandments. Those who obey inherit eternal life. Those who do not do not. We can give some examples.


“Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance. But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor 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” (Rom 2:4-8).

Now, sadly, some simply read Rom 2 as a statement of the “Law”. They say that that is true “under the law” but false “under the Gospel of Grace”. They think that Paul is merely equipping his reader to hear the condemnation in Rom 3, so that, humbled, the reader can receive justification and salvation by faith alone.

Such a reading contradicts Catholic dogma, so the Catholic knows that it is false immediately, since Christ instituted the Holy Catholic Church to know and teach His Mind and Paul’s. But, thankfully, even those who reject what Christ instituted and wish to go it alone in exegesis, as though a mere man could discern the Spirit of God adequately in all cases and fathom the depth of Paul’s teaching, Paul left a hint that his teaching in Rom 2 pertains not only to the Law but also to the Gospel: “It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When the Gentiles who have not the law do by nature hat the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them ON THAT DAY WHEN, ACCORDING TO MY GOSPEL, GOD JUDGES THE SECRETS OF MEN BY JESUS CHRIST” (Rom 2:13-16).

We see the same teaching in 2 Cor 5:10 “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.”


Galatians 5:19-21: “Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

1 Cor 6:9-11: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

Col 3:23-25: “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.”

Gal 6:7-9 “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.”


We have already seen the very important 1 Cor 13.

We have also seen the important Jn 12:41ff. There were others who believed in Jesus but loved the praise of man more than that of God. (This is a condemnation.)

1 Tim 5:8: If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

This verse shows that the person is a believer, for he is worse than an unbeliever, but he has disowned his faith, made shipwreck of it. How? By not doing what is required by the commandment of God. He has infringed justice. Therefore, once again we see that one can be a believer while not doing the requisite works of justice and charity by which one is to maintain covenant status.

I conclude with a remark about VanLandingham’s fine work.

“Widespread, though not unanimous, support persists for the view that justification refers to an acquittal at the Last Judgment that is pronounced proleptically at the time of faith in Christ. Such an understanding cannot be sustained if at the Last Judgment God recompenses each one’s eternal destiny according to behavior” (p. 176). It is VanLandingham’s thesis that Paul correlates the final judgment solely with behavior. This conclusion corresponds exactly to Catholic doctrine, PROVIDED we add that it is behavior wrought in grace that avails. VanLandingham is conceptually weak on the relation between grace and works, as Alan Mitchel of Georgetown noted a while ago and as I pointed out above.

Notwithstanding, his point that the final judgment is based on works, on “love” as Catholics believe, and his anchoring this in Paul himself, is a service to the scholarly discussion of Paul. For this reason, his work is must reading for the Pauline scholar (as writes Bruce Shields).

Finally, I would note that a significant line of expression in VanLandingham indicates the contrary of Pelagianism. He does observe that the gift of the Spirit and the remission of sins past are necessary for one to stand just. He frequently speaks of the Spirit as the one who “catalyzes the obedience necessary” (VL, p. 232). Thus, I believe that he simply is poorly trained as a theologian, though he does exhibit some skill in working with biblical and extrabiblical texts. VL’s reading of Rom 6 is splendid, solidly critiquing Fitzmeyer as well as traditional Reformation readings (see VL, pp. 232-36). We can say the same of his treatment of Rom 8 (esp. v. 4). He contends, in short, that the purpose of God’s work in Christ was that the law might be fulfilled in those who are justified. That the passive here (in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us) is not simply the divine passive, as though it meant the exclusion of human free will by which law is fulfilled (for it is not God who fulfills, but God who gives the law for creatures, and note that Paul continues “who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirig”), VL demonstrates by what follows in vv. 6ff. For it is those who set their minds on the flesh that do not and cannot fulfill God’s law, but these are opposed to those who set their minds on the Spirit.

I would like to cite the closing passage from VL’s book: “At the time of faith, a person who has been “made righteous” is forgiven of past sins (which then become a dead issue), cleansed from the guilt and impurity of sin, freed from the human propensity to sin, and then given the ability to obey. The Last Judgment will then determine whether a person, as an act of the will, has followed through with these benefits of Christ’s death. If so, eternal life will be the reward; if not, damnation” (VL, 335).

This statement, although it might benefit from trained theological precision (actual grace; habitual grace) could not be more in harmony with Catholic doctrine.

On Justification (Part I)

Today’s Office of Matins begins with a reading from Augustine on Faith and Works. Augustine writes, “Some would say that by faith alone — which, remember, without works is lifeless — you can gain eternal life, even if you fail to keep the commandments. But how can this be reconciled with what our Lord is going to tell those whom He sets off to the left, “Go into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his Angels,” and with His reason for condemning them, not any want of belief in Him but their failure to do good works? He wanted to make sure that no one would expect to win eternal life by faith alone, which is dead without works.”

Augustine is the Doctor of Grace. He taught a Catholic doctrine of justification, not a Lutheran doctrine.

What is the Catholic Doctrine of Justification? What did Luther hold? What do the official documents of the Lutheran confessions hold? We will get into these matters slowly.

In a nutshell, the Catholic doctrine is this: No one can get themselves into grace. That anyone enters the state of grace requires God’s work. No human labor can produce that state. For several reasons. 1) That state is supernatural. And none of our natural works is oriented to the supernatural.

2) We are presently in a state of corruption, until healed by grace. That means that our wills do not have as their final end God as intimate friend. Rather, we set our final end on anything but God. (Unless we are healed.) Now, all our choices, our free choices, are made with regard to a pre-established end. I choose to eat sushi rather than steak (choice) because I wish to eat. I choose to eat rather than do homework (choice) because presently this option meets my desire for a balanced life. I choose a balanced life over an imbalanced life (choice) because …. Ultimately, there is some end that I simply wish and which I cannot “choose”. For, every choice requires a pre-established end. Now, if all ends were chosen, we would have an infinite regress right now in the here and now. Observe this infinite regress: Any particular choice can be made only in light of an end. But if every end is itself chosen, then there is no anchoring end by which any lower choice can be made. Therefore, I could not choose anything.

What is that end which is not chosen? Most theorists propose it is this: Happiness. We all desire our crowning completion. We all desire happiness. We do not choose to desire it. We just desire it. This is a natural desire. And this desire is in fact good. However, in what does happiness consist? Where shall I find it? All of us lay down for ourselves our idea of what constitutes this happiness. Some think it is in a pleasant life. Some in honors. Some in intellectual pursuits. We do freely choose this ultimate option (on the basis of the desire for happiness, which we do not choose). Call this our ultimate option. It is really our “first” option. We might not think about it, because we are caught up in the means to obtain that first option. But upon reflection we can discover that this indeed is what I want: To play tennis at the club, drink a drink, have the bill sent to me account, make some money, travel, etc. That is my end. I call that the spend-the-money-on-pleasantries option.

So, you could say, “Why can’t someone want to be ‘good for God’ as an option? Why can’t someone choose religion as their ultimate option?” If God wanted merely good “natural men” then perhaps that would be an option. But here’s the hitch. God wants more of you than that! He wants your devotion, your love, your sonship! So, God is calling us to an end that surpasses natural desire. God is calling us to intimacy with him. But such acts of intimacy with God are supernatural. Thus, we again come to #1. If I do not have loving God as intimate friend as my ultimate option, no subsequent / lower option will ever be oriented to that. Recall, every option is for the end. It makes sense only in light of a higher end. Now, if my ultimate option is not for God as intimate friend, no choice I make will ever be a means of approaching God’s intimacy. My options might not be sins (contra Luther). I might choose to help someone change his tire. Why? Because that is what a decent man does. It is cold, and he cannot speak English. And his tire is flat. That is a deed that is decent and necessary. It would be indecent not to do it, if it were in my power (Prov 3:27). But that does not make it an act of love for neighbor rooted precisely in love of God for his own sake as intimate friend. No, it makes it merely a decent human act. But God wants sons and daughters. Thus, he knocks on hearts to give them the wherewithal to make Him their ultimate option. So, we must simply accept God’s calling, surrender to it, be caught up in it.

Thus we see, Catholic doctrine of justification does not involve man working his way to God. It involves receiving God’s healing surgery on the heart, removal of the heart of stone and replacing it with the heart of flesh (Ezek 37). It involves God circumcising the heart, so that we may (freely) do good, so that we may inherit the land (beatitude) (Deut 30). And this is Paul’s teaching: “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become servants of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life” (Rom 6:22).

On Concupiscence, Part II

How, finally, does the Catholic teaching on concupiscence highlight the remaining goodness of human nature? Because the Catholic Church affirms that the intellect can still know truth and the will still inclines toward the good. In short, concupiscence does not destroy the fundamental inclinations to know truth and will the good. These inclinations remain. They are the basis making God’s invitation to conversion intelligible. For instance, man can discover the truth of things. He can engage in scientific inquiry and experiment. He can collect data, sift the data. He can draw inferences, lay down hypotheses. As Vatican I teaches, in Dei Filius, man can even discover the truth of God’s existence through his knowledge of this world of change, chance, and striving. This discovery can go hand in hand with a reflection on himself. Man can reflect on himself, asking, “Who am I?” and “Where did I come from?” and, most pertinently, “Where am I going?” Thus can emerge incipiently religious questions: What ought I to do with my life?

No man who doesn’t ask these questions is yet a man! We must face these questions as the primary ones in our lives. Pascal was right to lambast those who refuse to ask these questions as fools. They are like men who put boards over their faces, and walk around here or there, on the edge of a sheer cliff to a bottomless pit. Oh the caviar is nice. The view is nice. The clothes feel good. What an Olympics! Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow…. Since these are foolish pursuits if not nestled in the context of the greater questions of life, the Bible charges, “The fool said in his heart, there is no God.” Note: The fool. The evidence of God is obvious to one whose mind is not foolish nor heart hardened. Read Wis 11 and Rom 1. This evidence can be read by the 5 year old and by the 40 year old. This evidence is manifold. And the failure to draw the correct conclusion is not simply an intellectual error but implicates the erring person in guilt. See John Henry Newman, Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent: We are accountable for our every last act of reasoning!

To what shall we turn our minds? How shall we see the evidence? What first principles shall we set forth, and why? What projects shall we set out for ourselves, and why? These questions involve free choices. And free choices involve ethics. This is not to say that only one option is the only option. It is to say that in the very framing of our options and pursuing them, we are exercising moral agency. Thus, good men may disagree, and yet they are good only if they rightly exercised their agency. That is, their purposes and viewpoints – colored by their previous actions, which establish habits of mind – are moral stakes coloring any options. Thus, a bad man may agree with a good man about how to set up the laboratory.

But good or bad, both men have an inclination to know the truth. And it is against that that the man who fusses with the data so as to obtain an outcome can be accused of a violation of human reason! Both men have an inclination to good. And it is against that backdrop that the one who chooses what he knows to be a violation of right reason can be accused of a violation of natural law!

The condition for the possibility of sin is that the good can be done and the evil avoided. Thus, the Catholic teaching that concupiscence is but an habitual inclination harmonizes with the Catholic teaching on sin. Concupiscence does not so dominate the mind that only evil can be chosen. A man can choose what is not evil: He can build a house, reach out to a peer and pursue legitimate activities (bowling, bridge), etc. Therefore, not his every free act is a sin.

This position contrast with Luther’s teaching that a man sins in his every last work, even in the “good” ones he does in the power of grace

“Whoever does less than he ought, sins. But every righteous person in doing good does less than he ought. Well, then, I shall prove the minor premise in the following way: Whoever does not do good out of complete and perfect love of God does less than he ought. But every righteous man is that kind of a person. I shall prove the major premise through the commandment: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul, and all your might’ etc. [Deut. 6:5], of which the Lord says in Matt. 5 [:18], ‘Not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.’ Therefore we must love God with all our might, or we sin. But the minor premise, that we do not love him with all our might, has been proven above, for the unwillingness in the flesh and in the members hinders this perfection so that not all members or powers love God. This unwillingness resists the inner will which loves God.” (Martin Luther, Heidelberg Disputations, Explanation to Thesis 6 (LW 31:61–62.)

Again: “To deny that man sins even when doing good; that venial sin is pardonable, not according to its nature, but by the mercy of God; or that sin remains in the child after baptism; that is equivalent to crushing Paul and Christ under foot.” Martin Luther, The Leipzig Debate, 2nd Thesis (LW 31:317).

In sum, Luther teaches that the gravest sin a man has is the very root power of his free action. This power is so bent against God as to do, vis-a-vis God, all evil. We can control only our free actions and so cannot directly act on this agent of sin. Thus, we are most culpable for that about which we can do least. Think here of a man with libidinous tendencies, or worse, of a man with an unnatural sexual inclination. Such are gravely culpable, in Luther’s eyes, for these tendencies, even if they have not freely performed actions that exacerbate these tendencies. The Catholic teaching is that concupiscence, qua such (not qua exacerbated), is not a sin.

The Catholic focus is on what you do freely with that tendency, which itself is found in a broader tendency toward the good. Do you allow your evil tendency to dominate? Do you succumb? And thus exacerbate it? Or do you manfully strive to combat it, to achieve virtue? This is what the Catholic priest – in the sacrament of Reconciliation – wants to know. Did you fornicate, because you so desired? Did you commit unnatural sex with someone? Or did you decide to go play tennis, take a walk, do some homework, read a good book, walk away? In the former case, you committed grave sin against Almighty God, a sin which deserves of its nature the eternal fires of everlasting hell. In the latter case, you crushed the head of the Devil who was lying in wait to destroy your soul. In either case, tomorrow awaits. God’s grace beckons each of us to repent and believe.

Now, and this addition is CRUCIAL: Without that grace, none of us can repent and believe! Although a man without grace can avoid each mortal sin – otherwise it would not be a sin – yet none of us can love God intimately or believe in him as revealer (have faith) unless his grace touches our hearts, heals us, and brings us to these actions. Our job: To welcome his action in our lives and cooperate. Life is not just about science, or random good deeds paid forward. No, life is about discipleship of Christ. About entering the One True Church he established, the Catholic Church. This is life, and life in abundance.

Let us enter Life this Lent.

Do Eastern Catholics Have to Believe that We are Conceived in the State of Original Sin?

Yes. Let’s hash this out.

All Catholics are Catholics. Some are eastern and some are western. But the Catholic Church is one. The Orthodox do not presently have full communion with the Catholic Church. So, by eastern Catholics we are referring to those Catholics in full communion with Rome, who enjoy the various beautiful eastern rites.

Now, all Catholics are bound to assent irrevocably to all infallible teachings of the Catholic Church. And the Council of Trent issues infallible teachings on original sin. Therefore, all Catholics, eastern and western, are bound to assent irrevocably to these teachings.

Some people are suggesting that eastern Catholics need to assent only to the teachings of the first seven ecumenical councils. This is false. All Catholics, eastern and western, must assent to the infallible teachings of all ecumenical councils, up to and including Vatican II. (Vatican II issued no new infallible teachings but did proclaim anew many infallible teachings.)

What did Trent teach on original sin? We must refer to Session V of that important council.

Denzinger # 789. Canon 2. If anyone asserts that the transgression of Adam has harmed him alone and not his posterity, and that the sanctity and justice, received from God, which he lost, he has lost for himself alone and not for us also; or that he having been defiled by the sin of disobedience has transfused only death “and the punishments of the body into the whole human race, but not sin also, which is the death of the soul,” let him be anathema, since he contradicts the Apostle who says: “By one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death, and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned” [Rom. 5:12; see n. 175].

My Comment: Adam’s sin harmed all of us. How? He lost for us sanctity and justice. He passes on to us not only punishments of the body but also sin.

Denzinger # 790. Canon 3. If anyone asserts that this sin of Adam, which is one in origin and transmitted to all is in each one as his own by propagation, not by imitation, is taken away either by the forces of human nature, or by any remedy other than the merit of the one mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ [see n. 711], who has reconciled us to God in his own blood, “made unto us justice, sanctification, and redemption” [1 Cor. 1:30]; or if he denies that that merit of Jesus Christ is applied to adults as well as to infants by the sacrament of baptism, rightly administered in the form of the Church: let him be anathema. “For there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved . . .” [Acts 4:12]. Whence that word: “Behold the lamb of God, behold Him who taketh away the sins of the world” [John 1:29]. And that other: “As many of you as have been baptized, have put on Christ” [Gal. 3:27].

My Comment: The sin of Adam touches us precisely by propagation. Precisely by being begotten of Adam, we acquire this sin of origin. Each of us has it as his own. We do not acquire it by imitation. (Although bad example does also negatively affect us.)

Denzinger # 791. Canon 4. “If anyone denies that infants newly born from their mothers’ wombs are to be baptized,” even though they be born of baptized parents, “or says they are baptized indeed for the remission of sins, but that they derive nothing of original sin from Adam, which must be expiated by the laver of regeneration” for the attainment of life everlasting, whence it follows, that in them the form of baptism for the remission of sins is understood to be not true, but false: let him be anathema. For what the Apostle has said: “By one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death, and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned” [Rom. 5:12], is not to be understood otherwise than as the Catholic Church spread everywhere has always understood it. For by reason of this rule of faith from a tradition of the apostles even infants, who could not as yet commit any sins of themselves, are for this reason truly baptized for the remission of sins, so that in them there may be washed away by regeneration, what they have contracted by generation, [see n. 102]. “For unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” [John 3:5].

My Comment: Even infants have this sin of origin from Adam. Hence, they are baptized for forgiveness of this sin.

Denzinger # 792. Canon 5. If anyone denies that by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is conferred in baptism, the guilt of original sin is remitted, or even asserts that the whole of that which has the true and proper nature of sin is not taken away, but says that it is only touched in person or is not imputed, let him be anathema….

My Comment:  “This sin involves ‘guilt’.”

Without this teaching firmly in our minds, we fail to appreciate the depths of Christ’s act on the cross. We fail to diagnose the depths of our weakness before God and men. We cannot be Christian and deny original sin. This point is of course ultimately positive. It means we start from the faith that Christ has redeemed us from the curse. Thus, it is a note of joy, of gratitude. The joy cannot sound as it is unless the wailing of the valley of tears is understood for what it is by nature. By nature, children of wrath, says the Apostle. That is, as the Holy Church interprets, although created good and blessed with supernatural grace, Adam lost this blessing and thus brought death and sin to every man. (Unless God should save a man from it. As he did. Once. With a woman, Mary our Mother.)

Some eastern Catholics argue that the eastern fathers do not teach original sin and that therefore they are not bound now to assent to its existence. The conclusion is false. We have already shown the Magisterial teaching. This exercises authority over all Christians, and Catholics profess to recognize this authority and its teachings and are already canonically bound to recognize such.

The aforesaid points are the most important and establish directly that the case is closed. There are also implicit items to mention, which are worthy of note. Finally, there are indirect things to mention, though these are the least significant.

Of importance by implication is the Catholic dogma on the Immaculate Conception. This is an infallible teaching of the Extraordinary Magisterium and is therefore necessary to believe by all Catholics, eastern and western. (For there is no distinction.)

Pius IX proclaims, “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful” (Ineffabilis Deus)

My comment: Such preservation means nothing if there is no such thing as original sin. But clearly the pope meant to mean something. Again, such preservation is accomplished by a singular grace. The implication seems to be – what else could it be? – that Mary alone is so preserved. Hence, the rest of us are not so preserved and at least contract original sin.

Of indirect importance is what follows. It is true that Augustine brings out the notion of the inheritance of sin from Adam most clearly, and he is a western teacher. It is also true that the Holy Doctor John Chrysostom wrote some things that might seem at odds with Augustine. However, both Augustine and John are to be measured by Trent. If either spoke inaccurately about something, we nonetheless cling to the fides Ecclesiae (the faith of Holy Church).

It is interesting to note, however, that the foremost opponent of Augustine’s thesis original sin were the Pelagians. Bishop Julian fought Augustine on the matter. And it was the Pelagian Bishop Julian who cited John Chrysostom. However, Augustine countered by arguing, not unreasonably, that Julian misread the Holy Doctor. Julian pointed to a text in which John states that infants have no sins. Augustine pointed out that the plural was being used: sins. Original sin is but one. Only personal sins can be in the plural. Thus, concluded Augustine, John was not at odds with him (Augustine) on the matter. Further, a Catholic historian should always approach the holy doctors in the best possible light. Now, there is an error opposite Pelagian optimism. It is gnostic and Manichean pessimism. Thus, many of the sayings of the eastern fathers on sin which seem to bypass original sin can be understood, that is, the apparent omission can be understood in light of their battle with gnosticism and Manicheanism.

Another interesting thing to note is Gregory Nazianzen’s Oration on Baptism. In that oration, Gregory states that there are various reasons that one might not be baptized. Some have never heard of baptism and so do not sinfully reject it. Some put it off, because of fear that should they sin gravely they would have to endure a lengthy and arduous penitential practice. Thus, they wait, hoping that they shall be baptized before they die. (Augustine was one of those, before his conversion!) Finally, some totally reject it. The latter men sin most gravely of all; the men of the middle group sin gravely but less so than the previous, succumbing to sloth or something akin; the men of the first group do not commit sin. And among that first group are infants, who cannot act. However, notes Gregory, these infants who cannot freely act are stripped of the reward of innocence and grace. That reward is heavenly glory. Thus, infants dying without baptism, states Gregory, are stripped of that reward. However, neither do infants commit personal or actual sins. Hence, neither are they punished in the fires. They are neither rewarded nor punished. They are in a middle state. Such a state would be remarkably akin to the generic features of what is proposed in the theological thesis of limbus puerorum: The Limbo of the Infants. Now that is interesting.

Why should infants be stripped of glory? Because they lack the requisite holiness. What is the lack of the requisite holiness as such, in a son or daughter of Adam? Nothing else than original sin! Thus, Gregory implies original sin. And he is among the greatest of holy doctors in the east.

Finally, there is the Council of Ephesus to consider.  Cyril’s Third Letter to Nestorius, accepted, one can argue, at Ephesus, and certainly at Constantinople II: “[The incarnation] was not as though he needed necessarily or for his own nature a birth in time and in the last times of this age, but in order that he might bless the beginning of our existence, in order that seeing that it was a woman that had given birth to him, united to the flesh, the curse against the whole race should thereafter crease, which was consigning all our earthy bodies to death….” My comment: there is a curse against the whole race by reason of which we all die. Now, a curse befalls only the guilty. But infants commit no personal sin. Yet, they too die under a curse, as Cyril implies. Therefore, they are guilty of some sin other than personal. That can only be original.

Again, by Ephesus, Bishops were forbidden from holding the opinions of Celestius, the Pelagian. In fact, they were deposed. See D# 126; DS #268.