Monthly Archives: March 2014

Tale of Two Antiphons and Responsories

From the 1961 Breviary, responsory at 1st Vespers for Exaltation of the Holy Cross: “This sign of the cross shall be in the heavens. When the Lord shall come to judge.”

From the current Breviary: “This sign will appear in the heavens, when the Lord comes.” (This is a decent translation of the Latin: Hoc signum erit in cælo, * Cum Dóminus vénerit.)

From the 1961 Breviary, antiphon of the Magnificat at 1st Vespers for Exaltation of the Holy Cross: “O Cross more refulgent than all the stars, honoured throughout the world, deeply loved by men, holiest of all things: you alone were worthy to bear the price of the world’s ransom. O sweet wood, O sweet nails, that held so sweet a burden: save this flock gathered today to sing your praises.”

From the current Breviary: “It was ordained that Christ should suffer, and on the third day rise from the dead.” (This is the current official translation. Perhaps it could read “It was necessary that Christ should suffer and rise from the dead and so enter into his glory.” The Latin is: Oportébat pati Christum et resúrgere a mórtuis, et ita intráre in glóriam suam.)

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 III)

We have so far treated the differences between the Catholic and the Lutheran conception of justification. We argued on grounds of systematic and pastoral theology that the Catholic view is superior.

But someone will say, What about Scripture? Does not Scripture say that justification is simply God not looking at us? Not looking at our sins? Not imputing our sins against us? Just declaring us innocent? So, we should turn briefly to some Scriptural issues.

Luther translated Rom 3:28 as follows: “We hold that a man is justified by faith alone apart from works of law.” Comment: There is no “alone” in the Greek text. Luther added this. Paul simply says “through faith”.

Now, what is this “faith” through which we are justified? Is it faith alone? Catholic conviction, from the beginning, is that faith does not justify if it is alone. Unless faith is impregnated by charity, it does not justify. Thus, many say to Jesus “Lord, Lord,” but they do not disciple him (Mt 7:21f). Now, you cannot say “Lord” unless you have faith. And that requires a gift of the Spirit (1 Cor 12). Thus, one can have the gift of faith and not be a lover of Jesus. But only if I have love is anything of avail for me. I can have all faith, but if I have not love, it is to no avail (1 Cor 13). Now, salvation is what most pertains to success. But if my faith is of no avail without love, then salvation is not mine unless I love. So, even my faith is unto my condemnation if I love the praise of men more than the praise of God (Jn 12:41-43). Thus, Catholic conviction is that the faith which justifies is that which is informed by or works through love (Gal 5:6).

What of God turning his face from sins? Catholics believe in this too! And here is a point of connection with Lutherans. Catholics believe that in justification, God turns his face away from our past sins. He not only transforms us in the moment to be real lovers of him, really holy sons and daughters with his grace streaming from heaven into our souls, really bedewing our wills so they become fertile ground of loving action, but he also forgets those past sins. Thus, with regard to past sins, Catholic teaching and Lutheran teaching are in one accord.

Hence, we both chant, “Blessed the man to whom the Lord imputes not his sins” (Rom 4:8, citing Ps 32:1-2). Now the rabbinic fashion of citation is that when a verse is cited, the whole context ought to come to light. Thus, Paul, the greatest rabbinic thinker in world history, is drawing our attention to Ps 32. We read, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” Note that last line: And in whose spirit there is no deceit. In short, God’s non-imputation of sins is not a covering of still present sins. THIS is where Catholic teaching diverges from Lutheran in a massive and foundational way. Catholic teaching holds that it is past sins which are forgotten. But the justified person is freed from his sins. Hence, the justified person is NOT “simultaneously just and sinner” (Luther’s doctrine). Note how the Psalm concludes, “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!”

Let us turn to the great penitential psalm, Psalm 51 (50 in the Vulgate numbering). Here, we see emphatic stress on God’s purifying act: “Blot out  my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” The Psalmist is asking God to destroy his sins. So, God looks on our previous sinful acts no more, but that does NOT mean that his forgiveness means an ever-occurring-non-imputation of still-present-sins. The idea of an ever-occurring-non-imputation-of-still-present-sins is Luther’s. It is not the bibles. What does it mean for God to “hide his face” from sins? Does it mean what Luther thinks? No: “Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.” For God to “hide his face” from something means for him to destroy it. Thus, we do not want God to hide his face from us! That would be the end of us. So, the same Psalm, 51, reads, “Cast me not away from your presence” (do not hide your face from me!). But if I had sins still present, I would want God not to look at me! The Psalmist does not say that. What he wants is God to change him: “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”

So, regarding justification, Paul is not teaching what Luther thinks he is teaching. More to come.

On Justification (Part II)

So, Catholic doctrine is that in justification, God rect-ifies the human heart. He takes a heart which has as its ultimate option something other than God and bends it so that it has as its ultimate option God. This feat none but God can accomplish. And we believe that he does accomplish it. We believe that he is strong enough to accomplish the real healing of the human will. We believe that he wants to. In short, God is both willing and able to accomplish this feat of rect-ification of the human heart. And this rectification is deep. It means that God equips the justified man rightly to love him, rightly to hope in him, rightly to believe in him. God equips the pilgrim man to journey to him lovingly, in obedience to the commandments, so that at length he may have life.

But Luther denies that man is made capable of obeying the commandments. Luther holds that no man can obey the commandments. This is so even with the grace of God.

“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).

Luther also teaches this later in his career. See Commentary on Galatians (1535), LW vol. 26, pp. 273, 274, 276, 321, 372, 398, 403.

That is why Thomas More mocked Luther’s idea, saying that it makes grace a “really worthless thing”. Newman joined in this pronouncement centuries later. Is God’s grace so weak that it does not make man a real son? Luther answers yes. Why is it so weak? Is God not capable of performing the work? Is he too weak? How could anyone think that? Then he is unwilling? Why would he be unwilling to heal a man now, if he can do it now? What good is it for man to continue to wallow in mortal sin? Does it humble man? Why is humility good? Is it good just to be shown up by God? Does that save? What is good for man? I submit, it is good for man to become a lover of God. When man loves God, he does not “Lord” it over God. No, he cleaves to him. The more one loves God, the more one concerns oneself only with God. One leaves behind one’s self. This is man’s good. But if man is in the state of mortal sin, and remains in that state, THAT IS, if man cannot really love God in a stable way as ultimate friend (that is the definition of state of sin!), then his humility would be a self-hating humility. His humility would not build up. His humility would tear down and lead to death (2 Cor 7:10). Thus, it is unthinkable that for God to leave someone in their mortal sins would be good for that person. His humility would not be saving humility until he actually becomes a lover of God.

Thus we see the enormous gulf between Luther’s conception of justification and the Catholic conception. Catholic teaching holds that man is adequately transformed in the justifying event so that he can go forward, with the constant help of God, to obey the commandments and obtain eternal life. This is praise of God, who is the Primary Cause of man’s activity. God is so great a life-giver that he can make mortal beings living spirits (Gen 2). Whereas, by contrast, Luther holds that God does not do this. That he leaves man in his sins. And we have not found an adequate reason in divine wisdom for such neglect.

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).

The Tale of Two Collects

Vespers of Ash Wednesday from the 1961 Breviary: “Prostrate before your majesty, Lord, we implore you to look upon us kindly. You have renewed our strength by your divine gifts; keep nourishing us with your heavenly sustenance.”

From the  Breviary of the Ordinary Form: “Lord, protect us in our struggle against evil. As we begin the discipline of Lent, make this day holy by our self-denial.”

Preaching Purgatory and Hell: Antidote to Euthanasia

Who has witnessed a funeral Mass in which Hell and Purgatory are preached? Almost no one. Catholic homilies at funerals are by and large superficial. There is little or no reflection on the four last things. And this is the one time in which there simply must be such reflection.

We come to pray for the rest of the deceased soul. And how often do we forget this? We think we come to console ourselves. But we do not come to console ourselves. That really is not the purpose. The purpose is to pray for our departed friend. Further, the purpose is for us to be reminded that we shall be pushing up daisies when our bodies decay into the ground. Our soul shall go on, to be judged immediately by God. And our fate: Either heaven or not heaven. If not heaven, either purgatory or hell.

If hell, there is no longer any hope. Those who enter hell never depart, despite the heretical nonsense purveyed by some recent Catholic theologians. Those who go to Purgatory go to suffer unspeakably. The pains of Purgatory dwarf any pains on earth. See the marvelous book by Fr. FX Schouppe, SJ, Purgatory. The greatest pains of earth do not compare to the least pains of purgatory.

Thus, all this funereal nonsense about, “Well, he is better of now” should stop. It is a lie. We do not know whether he is in heaven or not. If he is not in heaven, better for him if he had more deeply converted before he died. Better he suffered without morphine rather than die early, only to be undergoing even greater sufferings. And if he did not actually convert to God at all, he certainly is eternally worse off than he was on earth.

Thus, when we come to face our life’s darkest physical hour, let the reign of grace take hold our hearts. Let us go towards the light by taking the ordinary measures necessary to preserve our lives. After all, the living naturally desire to live. Thus, let us obey natural law and not welcome death as though it were a friend. The heresy of “He’s better of now” and “They’re all better off now” are anti-body heresies.

Where is the black? Where the preaching of the Four Last Things? Where is there sobriety? Everyone has gone astray. All are lost, like sheep without a true shepherd. No one preaches the truth. All muffle it, all blanket the Light that should speak from rooftops. Christ knocks. Let us open.

Vigilius: The Waffling Pope

Pope Vigilius, 6th century, waffled about. Many of the bishops in the West leaned towards Nestorianism. Nestorianism failed to uphold the unity of the natures in one hypostasis. These bishops put pressure on Vigilius not to condemn the works of some of Nestorius’s disciples. They pointed out that Chalcedon had welcomed these disciples back into the fold. Therefore, the pope should not condemn their works.

But in the East, Glorious East, good theologians knew that these works were themselves heretical. They opposed the glorious doctor Cyril of Alexandria. They opposed the council of Ephesus. Thus, even though the disciples were welcomed back, their works remained poison.

What did Vigilius do? A brief podcast:

Can a Pope Err concerning the faith?

Yes, a Pope can err concerning the faith. Papal infallibility does not mean that every last word of a pope is infallible. I will here adumbrate key points and then leave you with a 14 minute podcast on this topic, which you can take with you as you jog or drive home.

First, distinguish words of a pope from papal words. Words of a pope are, e.g., “Pass the salt” or “I hope Poland wins the world cup.” These are not papal in the least and thus carry no teaching authority whatsoever.

If someone asks the pope his personal opinion on a matter, even a matter of faith, the words the pope speaks are words of a pope, not papal words.

Should we care about words of a pope? Yes. For Almighty God has placed this man in this seat. Thus, we should ignore none of his words. Does caring for his words mean accepting them all as papal words? No, words of a pope are not papal words. That would be a confusion. Does caring for words of a pope mean embracing them all as true? No, it does not nor should not. To do so is the error of Ultramontanism. We must avoid this. It is also called “creeping infallibility”. How should we strike a balance for ourselves? We must always look at the Golden Law of Love. If words of a pope are challenging for us, if say we love our western lifestyle of freedom and spend-the-money vacations, voting pro life, and not thinking about the poor, and if the words of a pope in an interview, say, suggest his opinion that a grave problem today is migration and loneliness, then we should examine our consciences. This man and his personal opinion are perhaps the voice of God calling us to change our western spend-the-money-that’s-mine lifestyle. Of course, prudence should always be at play. But we must let the Holy Spirit challenge us. This means appreciating the prophetic role of the office of pope. However, nor does it mean necessarily endorsing every last personal opinion, even those on the faith. We must be wise stewards of our Tradition. That means first of all and above all knowing our Tradition. The pope and all the bishops are servants of this Tradition. The Tradition norms their decisions and opinions. They do not norm the Tradition.

Now we turn to papal words. Only papal words are authoritative. And only those that are issued under very strict circumstances are infallible. The pope may teach “ex cathedra,” and his words are infallible. He may, gathering an ecumenical council, pronounce with the bishops dogmatically on a point. Then, those words are infallible, the council being approved by him.

Between infallible papal words and non-papal words of a pope are papal words that are not infallible. To call them “fallible” is not a good route to take. For we expect papal words to be true words. However, it may happen that they are at times in error. Really? Hear the podcast on Pope Honorius.

Then should we be really worried? No. The Holy Spirit provides at all times. There have been moments of great and grave confusion in the past. That confusion was certainly not good. No one can make light of it. However, the Spirit soon clarified matters. And further, the faithful always have the Infallible Teachings of Holy Mother Church. Thus, they must always seek out these Necessary Points of Reference. And by these, one will be sure to go right, provided one cleave to God in love and reach out to neighbor in love, not neglecting the poor.

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.