Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Sacraments--"Earning Salvation"?

As mentioned in my last installment, there is a charge that the Sacraments are somehow added to the Gospel, and therefore a different Gospel. Something that must fist be brought to attention is that the Sacraments not an exclusively Catholic doctrine. Thats right. The attack on the Sacraments are not simply an attack on Catholicism, but an attack on the vast majority of Christianity. The two main differences are the nature and the number of the Sacraments. Catholics, of course, recognize exactly seven. The Eastern Orthodox Church recognizes that there are at least seven. Even most Protestant denominations (Baptist and Fundamentalist Evangelicals tend to be the exceptions) that there are no sacraments, but there are two ordinances. Before this discussion on the nature of the Sacraments, and what they are and what they are not, it is necessary to have a definition of a Sacrament. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted by the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions. (1131)
There are some things of which to take note. First sacraments are signs. A sign is something which represents something else. Some signs, like exit sins, are merely informative, but other signs, like wedding rings, carry a deeper significance. This deeper significance is the kind of sign that a Sacrament is. It represents something deep and profound and mysterious about our faith in Jesus Christ. We call them "efficacious" because they bring about a specific result. Baptism is a ritual washing, and it has the effect of washing away original sin, as well as personal sin and all temporal punishment due this sin. A normal bath or shower is not capable of this result, but is only possible through the sacrament.
Next, a sacrament was instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church. All of the Sacrments are mentioned is Scripture, although some are more difficult to find than others. This will be dealt with in detail in future posts, as a detailed description is beyond the scope of this short article.
My final point is that the sacrments are signs tht actually do something. The important thing to remember is that it is God that is the actor. The person receiving the sacrament is doing nothing but making himself avialable. The minister of the sacrament is doing something insofar as he is an instrument of God. I willl use baptism as an example. The person being baptized isn't doing anything. He is simply presenting himself to participate in the sacrament. The minister of the baptism is also not doing anything under his own power. If it was simply a human action between minister and catechumen, all that would happen is the catechumen would get wet. God, using the minister as an instrument, cleanses the catechumen of sin. It becomes clear that the sacraments are not work, because it is God that is doing everything.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Salvation by Works?

While trolling the internet looking for more anti-Catholic claims, I came across an article, naturally titled "The Truth About Roman Catholicism," which contained the following statement:
Roman Catholicism, although teaching that faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation, actually denies the truth of the Gospel by adding sacraments, good works, and purgatory as additional requirements for forgiveness of sin and eternal life. This amounts to the preaching of a false Gospel which places the Roman Catholic Church under God's curse.
Is there any merit to this claim? Does Catholicism require a "works-based" salvation? Do Catholics reject the idea that salvation is by grace through faith, as is put forth in Ephesians 2:8-9? In other words, according to Catholic doctrine, how does one gain eternal life? The charges expressed in this statement are actually too large for a single post in this blog. The first post will be dealing with the relationship between faith and works. The second will address the Sacraments, and the last post will focus on the (entirely Biblical) doctrine of Purgatory.

The first issue to be resolved is this idea of "works." Works is mentioned by Jesus, and St. Paul, and St. James. For instance, Jesus says this:
Truly, truly, I say to you , he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the father. (John 14:12)
For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother. (Matthew 12:50).

St. Paul, too, speaks of the need to act upon our faith:
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)
and lest we forget:
For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. (Romans 2:13)
We must also remember that St. James also wrote of the role of works in salvation:
You believe God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe--and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you foolish fellow, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works , when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and Scripture was fulfilled which says "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness"; and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the Harlot justified by works by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body apart form the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead. (James 2:19-26)
Why have all of these verses been repeated here? And trust me, there are many more. To show that it is a Biblical teaching that work is a component of faith. Of course the Sola Fide crowd, never one to give up a fight easily will chime in with their own Scriptures. Probably the first one will be the most well-known verse in the entire Bible, thanks to giant signs at televised sporting events:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16)
It does seem convincing, at least on the surface. The problem is that it seems to be in direct contradiction with the second chapter of James, previously quoted. Faith or faith plus works? We know that the Bible cannot contradict itself. Si what we must do is final out how to reconcile these two passages. One passage is not "more inspired" than the other. It is all God's Written Word. The two passages can be reconciled first by looking at what John 3:16 does not say. There is no indication of belief being the only requirement, or a t least a faith devoid of good works. In fact if a few more verses are read, a reference to behavior can be found in connection with salvation:
And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light , lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be seen that his deeds have been wrought in God. (John 3: 19-21)
With this addition, it seems that faith alone is less certain. The closing verse in the chapter is even more direct to the connection between faith and works:
He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Sonshall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him. (John 3:36)
It becomes absolutely clear with this verse. Belief in the Son carries with it an obligation to obey the Son. The supporter of Sola Fide will not give up easily, for he has more references in his arsenal. For example, he may quote Ephesians 2:8-9:
For by grace have you been saved through faith; and this is not your own dong, it is the gift of God--not because of works. lest any man should boast.
Here it clearly says (or so it seems) that works has no role whatsoever in salvation. It is a gift that cannot be earned. As a Catholic what is the proper response? We do agree that in no way can salvation be earned. but these verses in nay way do not relegate works done as nothing. If reading is continued to the next verse, we will see that works are a vital part of our Christian life:
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)
Isn't that interesting. Not only are works simply a good thing to do, but God has prepared works for us that He wants us to do. Sola Fide fails here as well. At the risk of flogging a deceased equine, one further example will be provided to finish the discussion of works in this vein:
But if it is not by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. (Romans 11:6)
Again, this seems fairly clear that salvation has no basis on works whatsoever, as works nullify the doctrine of grace. But it is not so, as this passage is not even discussing salvation at all. This passage is explaining that God has not turned His back on Israel, and there is a faithful remnant who were saved by the grace of God, and not of their own merits. In other words those who are saved are saved by the grace of God, and not because they are righteous, but the mere presence of obedience and works does not nullify the idea of grace. If we think of works as "faith in action," as is inferred by Ephesians 2:8-10 and James 2:19-26, it becomes illogical to think that works have no role whatsoever in our salvation.

If this is true,we must ponder on the source of this confusion between faith and works. I believe it is to be found in the understanding of the use of the word "law" in the writings of St. Paul. St. Paul does not use this word consistently in his writings, which makes his epistles challenging to properly interpret. St. Peter bears witness to this in the Scriptures (2 Peter 3:15-16). Here are some of the differing ways St. Paul uses the word "Law" (all of these references are form his letter to the Romans):
  • When Gentiles who have not the law...: The Old Testament ceremonial law (2:14)
  • They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts: Natural law (2:15)
  • So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand: principle (7:21)
The challenge now becomes to determine in which sense the word "law" is being used. I find it to be true that when St. Paul refers to "works of the law," which is the source of the confusion, he is referring to the Mosaic Covenant, that is, to the ceremonial Old Testament Laws which are insufficient for the forgiveness of sins.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

This post is somewhat of deviation from the others. Rather than refuting a false claim, I will try my best to explain what I believe to be one of the more difficult teachings to grasp: The Mass as a sacrifice. I will first say what it does not mean. Catholics do not re-sacrifice Christ over and over again at the Mass. That is a gross oversimplification of the rite. If we do not re-sacrifice the Lord, then what is going on? I will first direct you to the word "eternity." Eternity is not simply "always has been, is, and always shall be." It includes that concept, to be sure, but that it is not all that it is. What "eternity" truly is, is a state that exists outside of, and is thereby unaffected by, time. So what does this mean? It is kind of difficult to wrap your brain around, but everywhen is right now from God's perspective. Another way to think about it is that God is not just omnipresent in space, but also in time. Yet another way to approach it is to say that eternity is not all time, but is the place where time does not exist. One reason that this is so difficult to grasp is that although time exists in this reality, it is not an a priori truth, that is, it is not a strict and absolute necessity that time exists in all realities.

Of course you may ask, "What does this have to do with the Mass?" If every moment in time is "right now" from God's perspective, then it follows that for God, the Crucifixion is happening right now as well. And if you look into the Scriptures, we actually get a description of Heavenly worship. This is found in the very last book of the Bible: the Revelation of St. John. What is at this worship? the pertinent information is to be found in Revelation 5:6. We see the Lamb, standing as if slain. We know, from John's Gospel, that Jesus is "the Lamb of God, come to take away the sins of the world" (John 1:29). So there it is, right in the Scriptures, that the Sacrifice of Jesus is re-presented (as opposed to represented) in the heavenly worship, which is the model for earthly worship. SO do we "re-sacrifice Christ" as Catholics? No! It is the same sacrifice! The bread and wine are a presentation of the bloody sacrifice in an unbloody manner. Does this fully explain the Sacrament of the Eucharist? Not by a longshot. But that it is whay it is a Sacrament. It is a mystery. The human mind cannot fully comprehend the Mass. But perhaps it is somewhat easier to see how it truly is a sacrifice.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Catholic Church and Scripture

This is an actual page from one of Jack Chick's more well known tracts, "The Death Cookie". Though the tract is largely a charge against the Eucharist, the page I want to draw your attention to alleges that the Catholic Church has tried to keep the Scriptures out of the hands of the faithful. This shows ignorance of not only of official Catholic doctrine, but also of practices within the Church, as well as an ignorance of historical context.

I will freely admit that the Church used to chain Bibles. This is to be viewed as a positive thing, rather than a negative thing. It must be remembered that before the consumer society in which we now live existed, things were done manually rather than through automation. In the modern world, the production of a book is fairly inexpensive, but before the invention of the Gutenberg press it was not so. Bibles were painstakingly transcribed, many times with elaborate illustrations, by hand. The cost of a single Bible was astronomical. Most parishes only had access to a single Bible. Since Bibles were rare and monetarily valuable, they were the targets of thieves. Therefore, measures were take to prevent this theft. Bibles were chained in the parishes, not to keep them out of the hands of the faithful, but to ensure that all had access.

Another myth concerning the Scriptures is that the Church tries to keep the Bible out of the language of the people. This is also blatantly false. By the fourth century, Latin had replaced Greek as the common language. Those people that could read had Latin as their first language and Greek, if they knew it at all, as their second. It was for this reason that St. Jerome was commissioned to translate the Scriptures from their original tongues into the Latin of the people: the Latin Vulgate. The translations did not stop there. The Bible used by Martin Luther,before he issued his own truncated version of the Scriptures, was a Catholic Bible in German. The Douay-Rheims was an English translation that predated the King James Version. SO you see the Church has also made continuous efforts to keep the Scriptures in the language of the people.

Though the Scriptures are not intended for private interpretation (2 Peter 1:20), knowledge of the Scriptures is encouraged. The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives guidelines for proper Biblical hermeneutics (109-133). St. Jerome, one of the 33 Doctors of the Church is oft-quoted as saying "Ignorance of the Scriptures is Ignorance of Christ." This is reflected in the Mass. The Novus Ordo Mass, the Mass most commonly celebrated in the Church today has more Scripture directly read than in any other Christian worship service. There are no fewer than three readings (Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel, except during the Easter Season, where the Old Testament is replaced by a reading from Acts of the Apostles) plus a responsoral Psalm. Certain Masses (most notably the Easter vigil) can have even more readings. If the Church is trying to keep the Scriptures away from the people, then making sure the faithful have access to the Scriptures in their native language coupled with extensive readings during worship is an awfully odd way of achieving this end.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Whore of Babylon

The Church has been identified with the Whore of Babylon since the Reformation. The charge is frequent enough in Evangelical Protestantism that no citation is really needed, but just in keeping with my own guidelines here are some references:

I think that should be sufficient to substantiate that there are some who call themselves Christian that make the claim that the Whore of Babylon is to be identified with the Catholic Church.

Before this particularly old and slanderous claim is refuted, some explanation is in order. Who or what is this "Whore of Babylon"? This imagery comes to us in the Revelation of St. John. In the seventeenth and eighteenth chapters of that work we are told of a vision of a woman, clothed in purple and scarlet who is described as being the mother of abominations. She is riding a beast with seven heads and ten horns, who later devours her. This post will go through and show that the "Whore of Babylon" is not the Catholic Church, but apostate Jerusalem.

The first piece of the puzzle is that the whore is a symbolic representation in a vision, and she represents a city. She does not represent a "one world church" or "false religious system" as purported by Chick and others. We know this because of what the scriptures say about her:

And he said to me, "The waters that you saw, where the harlot is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues. And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the harlot; they will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, for God has put it into their hearts to carry out this purpose by being of one mind and giving over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled. And the woman that you saw is the great city which has dominion over the kings of the earth. (Revelation 17:15-18)
She is a "great city." Of course, more information is needed. She could be Rome. Or Jerusalem. Or Alexandria. Or Cyprus. Or Athens. You get the idea. The idea of "dominion" does seem to point to Rome, but only in a temporal sense. In Hebrew cosmology, Jerusalem, or more specifically, the Temple, was the center of the universe. God ruled the earth form the Holy of Holies. Would this not place dominion in Jerusalem? More interestingly, if we take the Beast to be Rome, Jerusalem makes even more sense. The power that Jerusalem held was supported by the Roman Empire. But in AD 70, Jerusalem was burned to the ground by the Roman Legions. The pieces are starting to fall into place. If it also taken with the Old Testament Prophets who describe Jerusalem as a harlot, then it makes completely logical sense that the Whore of Babylon is apostate Jerusalem, who is later turned on by Rome, and has no connection with the Catholic Church whatsoever.