Category Archives: Apologetics

Does the Catholic Church Teach We Are Gods?

A common question I get as a Catholic apologist is rooted in a somewhat controversial paragraph from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (460):

The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature”: “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”

On the surface, it looks troubling here especially because of the capital “G” where it says, quoting the great fourth-century defender of the Faith, St. Athanasius: “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” To some it looks like the Catholic Church is teaching a kind of pantheism (everything is God) or even polytheism (there are many gods). This is not the case. There are five points to be made here:

1. The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes very clear in paragraph 300 that pantheism is false when it says:

God is infinitely greater than all his works: “You have set your glory above the heavens.” Indeed, God’s “greatness is unsearchable”. But because he is the free and sovereign Creator, the first cause of all that exists, God is present to his creatures’ inmost being: “In him we live and move and have our being.” In the words of St. Augustine, God is “higher than my highest and more inward than my innermost self”.

The distinction between God and creation could not be clearer. The Church rejects pantheism.

2. In paragraph 2112, the Catechism also condemns polytheism:

The first commandment condemns polytheism. It requires man neither to believe in, nor to venerate, other divinities than the one true God.

 The Catholic Church has always condemned and will always condemn both pantheism and polytheism. Neither is being taught in CCC 460. Moreover, the Church condemns the error of henotheism as well, i.e., the idea that we worship one main God, but there may be many other lesser or even greater “Gods” in the universe. This is akin to what Mormonism espouses. The Fourth Lateran Council tells us in its Constitutions, ch. 1, “On the Catholic Faith”:

We firmly believe and simply confess that there is only one true God, eternal and immeasurable, almighty, unchangeable, incomprehensible and ineffable, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons but one absolutely simple essence, substance or nature.

The CCC 212 says it this way:

God is unique; there are no other gods besides him. He transcends the world and history. He made heaven and earth… God is ‘HE WHO IS’, from everlasting to everlasting, and as such remains ever faithful to himself and to his promises.

3. If you look at the context of CCC 460, it is clear that the Church is teaching the very biblical concept of “theosis” (divinization) or that man is called by grace to participate in the divine nature. We do not become God in the sense that we become equal with God. That would be absurd and absolutely antithetical to Scripture and the teaching of the Church. In fact, the context of CCC 460 makes very clear when it says, “The Word became flesh to make us ‘partakers of the divine nature’,” and, “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature…” that it is talking about man participating in divinity by gift, not being equal with God. In footnote 78, the Catechism references II Peter 1:4 as biblical support:

… by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.

The Catholic Church is simply being faithful to Scripture in teaching man to be partakers of the divine nature by grace.

4. Where the English translation says, quoting St. Athanasius of Alexandria in the fourth century, “For the son of God became man so that we might become God,” the official Latin text actually reads, “Ipse siquidem homo factus est, ut nos dii efficeremur.” Literal translation: “For the Son of God became man so that we might be made gods.” The Latin term “dii” translated “God” in the English translation of the Catechism is actually nominative plural and is NOT capitalized. Unfortunately, the English translation of the official Latin text gets it wrong. “God” should be “gods.”

Part of the problem here may well go back to the original Greek of St. Athanasius from which the Catechism quotes. In the text of St. Athanasius the Catechism quotes, he actually wrote, “Αὐτὸς γὰρ ἐνηνθρώπισεν, ἵνα ἡμεῖς θεοποιηθῶμεν (Migne, Patrologia Graeca, 25, 192 B De incarnatione Verbi, 54), which translates literally: “For he was made man in order that we might be deified.” The verb θεοποιηθῶμεν, or theopoiethomen, is where the problem lies. This is a compound of two Greek words that mean “god” and “to make.” So one could see how a translator could translate it as “might be made God.” However, the word carries the connotation of participation in rather than actually becoming God. It is normally translated as “deified.” And if anyone reads St. Athanasius’ work, it is very clear that is the sense in which he was using it. It appears that the mistranslation in the Catechism may well have its origin in a mistranslation of the original Greek text from St. Athanasius.

Whatever the origin of the mistranslation, this much is clear. The biggest part of the problem we have here lies in a poor translation of the actual, official, and normative Latin text of CCC 460. But all should know that translations are just that… translations. It is only the original Latin text that is authoritative.

For people outside the Church this may sound strange, but we have an analogy in Sacred Scripture that our Protestant friends can appreciate. Let’s say we have a bad translation of Sacred Scripture. And there have been and are a lot of those. I like to use the famous “Adulterers Bible” published in 1631 by Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, the royal printers in London at the time. It was basically a reprint of the King James Bible, but with a number of flaws. The most famous of which was found in their translation of the Ten Commandments, specifically the sixth commandment (seventh for Protestants) in Exodus 20:14. They forgot the word “not” in “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” It read “Thou shalt commit adultery.” No honest person would cast aspersion upon the Sacred Text because of a poor translation like this. Similarly, a poorly translated word in a translation of the official Latin text of the Catechism should not be used to cast aspersion upon the Church. No doubt, future editions of our English translation of the Catechism will make corrections.

5. We should also note that even with the poor translation, we are not talking about anything heretical here. We are talking about an ambiguity due to poor linguistics. The context makes clear that the Church is not attempting to say Christians somehow become equal with God. The word itself should be understood in the context in which it is being written. So even if the Church intended to write “God” instead of “gods” here, the context would make clear that we are still talking about men being partakers of divinity and not being made equal with God. The Catholic Church teaches that we do become “gods” but only in that sense of participation in the divine nature as I’ve said.

6. It is crucial for us to understand in what sense Scripture speaks of theosis or God’s people as participating in the divine nature. Yes, men are referred to as “gods” in Scripture and we need to know why. We cannot ever be “gods” as Mormons claim we can be. The famous quip in Mormonism, “As we are God once was; as God is we will become” is a definite no-no in Catholic and biblical Christianity. But without understanding properly the concept of “theosis,” Fundamentalist and Evangelical Protestants (and other sects as well) often find themselves unable to deal with key biblical texts that are used by Mormons to reinforce their henotheistic understanding. For example, after having declared the truth of his divinity by saying “I and the Father are one” in John 10:30, which then caused the Jews present to “pick up stones to stone [Jesus]” because they knew he had just proclaimed himself to be God, Jesus responded, in verses 34-38:

Is it not written in your law, “I said, you are gods?” If he called them gods to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be nullified), do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming,” because I said, “I am the Son of God?” If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me, but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.

Jesus is here quoting Psalm 82:6, where God himself refers to the “princes” of Israel as “gods” inasmuch as they represent God to his people.

I say, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like men, and fall like any prince.”

The Hebrew word used for God here is “Elohim,” which is the most common word used for God in the Old Testament. Indeed, in Exodus and elsewhere in the Old Testament we have multiple examples of people of God, judges in particular, being referred to as “gods” (see Exodus 22:8, twice in 22:9, and Psalm 82:1). The idea here is that “rulers” in Israel wield God’s authority as judges and as such are “gods.” Well, in the New Testament, Christians are much more radically joined to God through Jesus Christ so that they share even more profoundly in prerogatives that belong to God alone in a strict sense. Here is a brief list of just some of them:

1. God alone is “Father” in a strict sense, according to Matt. 23:9, yet many among the people of God are referred to and named “fathers” via participation in God. See Luke 16:24, Acts 7:2, I John 2:13-14, Eph. 3:14-15, I Cor. 4:14-15.
2. Christ alone is “teacher” according to Matt. 23:8 (Gr. didaskolos), yet many among God’s people are called to be “teachers” in Him. See James 3:1, Eph. 4:11, etc.
3. Christ alone is our “shepherd and bishop” (Gr. poimaine and episkopos) according to I Peter 2:25, yet we have many “shepherds” and “bishops” in the New Covenant Church. See Eph. 4:11, I Tim. 3:1, Acts 20:28, etc.
4. Christ alone is our “leader” (Gr. kathegetes) according to Matt. 23:10 and yet we have many “leaders” in the Church (Heb. 13:17; 24).

Those who participate in that which belongs to God alone in a strict and infinite sense do not take away from God; they participate in God through a gift of grace. The same can be said for we Christians as “sons of God.” Christ alone is the “only begotten Son” according to John 1:18; 3:16, etc., yet Christians are called “sons of God” and “born of God” in Galatians 4:4-7, Romans 8:14-17, I John 3:9, I John 5:18, etc. In fact, we should note here that angels are referred to as “sons of God” in Job 1:6 and sons of Seth were called “sons of God” in Genesis 6:4—obviously via participation and not by nature—even in the Old Testament. The New Covenant reveals Christians to be sons of God not only through participation, but even more intimately and radically via adoption. Christ alone is “Son” by nature, but it is entirely proper and biblical to refer to all of the above as sons.

Thus, with all of this as a backdrop, we can see how texts of Scripture that proclaim there to be only one true God, i.e., John 17:3, I Cor. 8:5-6, etc., do not contradict a text like John 10:34 where Jesus himself refers to the people of God as “gods.” The latter are “gods” via participation, God alone is God by nature.

Concluding Thoughts:

We do not speak often of the truth that the people of God are “partakers of the divine nature,” probably because of the confusion it causes from those who do not know the Faith and the Bible very well, but that is a shame. If Jesus Christ revealing himself to be “the Son of God” was one of the most profound ways he revealed his divinity in the New Testament—and it was—then our being “sons of God” reveals our participation in divinity as well. Are we “God” by nature? Of course not! But we are partakers of the divine nature. And this is extremely significant for us to know. In the words of Pope St. Leo the Great written over 1,500 years ago from one of his sermon (and found in CCC 1691):

Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of the Kingdom of God.

It is this biblical principle of theosis that is the basis for our understanding of how we can accomplish anything of eternal value in this life. “Apart from me, you can do nothing,” Jesus says in John 15:5. But we can do “all things in [Christ] who strengthens [us]” according to St. Paul in Phillipians 4:13. It is because of the Christian’s participation in divinity that he possesses spiritual gifts in accord with God’s will that empower him to perform miracles and all manner of actions that are beyond his natural capacity. It is because of this participation that his prayers can be efficacious and ultimately—and most importantly—he can merit eternal life as Romans 2:6-8 and Galatians 6:7-9 make clear:

For [God] 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.

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 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. And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.

When the Catholic Church speaks of “meriting,” we simply mean that we will be rewarded for what we do in cooperation with God’s grace. And as St. Paul says above, part of what we merit, or are rewarded with, because of God’s grace working in us, is eternal life. But we cannot accomplish this on our own. Not only did Jesus say we could do nothing apart from him, St. Paul also made clear that any works done apart from Christ are worthless as far as eternal reward is concerned (see Eph. 2:8-9; Romans 3:28; Gal. 2:16, etc.). However, because of our union with Christ through faith and baptism it is no longer us, but “Christ who lives in [us]” that accomplishes all things (Gal. 2:20). Through Christ and in union with Christ we have truly become “sons of God” and “partakers of the divine nature” whereby we are empowered to do what our own natures could never do. As St. Paul intimated in Romans 2, we can merit “glory” and “immortality.” We can merit “eternal life.”

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Did Tertullian and St. Augustine Deny the Real Presence?

Many Protestant apologists claim we Catholics present a partial picture of the early Fathers with regard to the Eucharist. Both Tertullian and St. Augustine, they will claim, did not believe in the “Real Presence,” as Catholics refer to the teaching of the Church on Transubstantiation.

The examples they use are:

Tertullian, “Against Marcion,” Bk 4, chapter 40:

Then, having taken the bread and given it to His disciples, He made it His own body, by saying, “This is my body,” that is, the figure of my body. A figure, however, there could not have been, unless there were first a veritable body.

St. Augustine, “On Christian Instruction” (ca. AD 410), 3, 16, 24:

If a preceptive statement [in the Scriptures] forbids either vice or crime, or commands what is either useful or beneficial, it is not figurative. If, however, it seems to command vice or crime, or forbid what is either useful or beneficial, it is figurative. “Unless,” He says, “you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you.” It seems to command crime or vice; therefore it is a figure prescribing that there be communication in the Lord’s passion and a grateful and salutary treasured remembrance that His flesh was crucified and wounded for us.

Both of these men clearly teach the Eucharist to be “figurative.” So does this mean not all early Christians and Fathers of the Church believed in the Real Presence?

Moreover, it is argued, none of the Fathers used the term “transubstantiation.” Are Catholics claiming something to be true that is contrary to what at least these two famous early Christians believed?

The Catholic Response

Actually, the Fathers of the Church were clearly unanimous when it comes to the Real Presence. As far as Tertullian is concerned, there is some question as to whether or not he should be categorized as a true Church Father because of the fact that he died a Montanist heretic. But that doesn’t really matter for our purpose here, because he clearly did believe in the Real Presence anyway.

When Tertullian and St. Augustine use the term “figurative,” they do not mean to deny the Real Presence. In the texts cited, St. Augustine, for example, is warning against falling into the trap of believing the Lord was going to cut off parts of his body and give them to us. This would be cannibalistic and that is a definite no-no.

Indeed, both Tertullian and St. Augustine are emphasizing the fact that the Lord’s body and blood are communicated under the “appearances,” “signs,” or “symbols” of bread and wine. “Figure” is a synonym for “sign.” Even today the Catechism of the Catholic Church uses the terms “sign” and “symbol” to describe the Eucharist in paragraphs 1148 and 1412.

In the case of Tertullian, all we have to do is go on reading in the very document quoted above to get a sense of how he is using the term “figure,” and it is entirely Catholic. Notice what he goes on to say:

Then, having taken the bread and given it to His disciples, He made it His own body, by saying, This is my body, that is, the figure of my body. A figure, however, there could not have been, unless there were first a veritable body. An empty thing, or phantom, is incapable of a figure. If, however, (as Marcion might say,) He pretended the bread was His body, because He lacked the truth of bodily substance, it follows that He must have given bread for us. It would contribute very well to the support of Marcion’s theory of a phantom body…

Tertullian’s point here is that Marcion’s “theory of a phantom body” fits with Christ “pretend[ing] the bread was His body,” because Marcion denied Jesus had a body in the first place. But the Christian believes Christ “made it His own body, by saying, This is my body.” The transformation does not take away the symbolic value of bread and wine, it confirms it.

Tertullian makes clear in multiple places that he believed that Jesus communicated his true body and blood under the “figures” or appearances of bread and wine:

On the Resurrection of the Flesh (ca. AD 200), chapter 8:

The flesh, indeed, is washed, in order that the soul be cleansed; the flesh is anointed, that the soul may be consecrated; the flesh is signed (with the cross), that the soul too may be fortified; the flesh is shadowed with the imposition of hands, that the soul also maybe illuminated by the Spirit; the flesh feeds on the body and blood of Christ, that the soul likewise may fatten on its God. They cannot then be separated in their recompense, when they are united in their service.

On Prayer, Of Stations (Fasting), chapter 19:

Similarly, too, touching the days of Stations, most think that they must not be present at the sacrificial prayers, on the ground that the Station (fast) must be dissolved by reception of the Lord’s Body. Does, then the Eucharist cancel a service devoted to God, or bind it more to God?

On Modesty, chapter 9:

He (the prodigal who comes back to Christ) receives again the pristine garment,–the condition, to wit, which Adam by transgression had lost. The ring also he is then wont to receive for the first time, wherewith, after being interrogated, he publicly seals the agreement of faith, and thus thenceforward feeds upon the fatness of the Lord’s body—the Eucharist, to wit.

Similarly, St. Augustine also believed in the Real Presence. For example:

Sermons 234, 2 (ca. AD 400):

The Lord Jesus wanted those whose eyes were held lest they should recognize Him, to recognize Him in the breaking of the bread. The faithful know what I am saying. They know Christ in the breaking of the bread. For not all bread, but only that which receives the blessing of Christ, becomes Christ’s body.

Explanations of the Psalms (ca. 400) 33,1,10:

Here, St. Augustine comments on Psalm 119:109 in the Vulgate. The modern translations will more accurately say I hold my “life,” or my “soul” in my hands, or, “my life is at risk.” The Vulgate says, “And he was carried in his own hands.” This is the text St. Augustine would have known. He comments:

“And he was carried in his own hands.” But, brethren, how is it possible for a man to do this? Who can understand it? Who is it that is carried in his own hands? A man can be carried in the hands of another; but no one can be carried in his own hands. How this should be understood literally of David, we cannot discover; but we can discover how it is meant of Christ. For Christ was carried in His own hands, when, referring to His own Body, He said: “This is My Body.” For He carried that Body in His hands.

As far as the term transubstantiation is concerned, it is true that the term was not used authoritatively by the Church until the famous “Definition of Faith” of the 4th Lateran Council in AD 1215. And it would be infallibly defined by the Council of Trent. However, this is simply the term the Church used to define a belief that goes back to the inspired words of Christ himself. It describes the biblical belief that the “substance” or “nature” of bread and wine at the Liturgy are transformed into the body and blood of Christ, while the “accidents” or “appearances” of bread and wine remain. The Fathers used multiple ways to communicate this truth even if they did not use the term “transubstantiation.”

Here are just two examples among the many I could cite:

Notice these Fathers plainly declare the nature of the bread to have been changed into the body of Christ. That is the essence of what transubstantiation means.

You’ll also notice, especially with St. Cyril, that the term “figure” will be used as a synonym of “sign” just as we saw with Tertullian and Augustine while the context makes clear that he believes in the Real Presence.

St. Hippolytus:

The Apostolic Tradition (ca. AD 215), 21:

And then (after new converts have been baptized) the deacons immediately bring the oblation to the bishop; and he eucharists the bread into the antitype of the Body of Christ; and the cup of mixed wine, for an antitype of the Blood, which was shed for all who believe in Him; and milk and honey mixed together for the fulfillment of the promise made to the fathers, which spoke of a land flowing with milk and honey, that is, the very flesh of Christ which He gave and by which they who believe are nourished like little children . . .

St. Cyril of Jerusalem:

Catechetical Lectures (ca. AD 350), 22 (Mystigogic 4), 1-3, 6:

For Paul proclaimed clearly that: “On the night in which He was betrayed, our Lord Jesus Christ, taking bread and giving thanks, broke it and gave it to His disciples, saying, ‘Take, eat, This is My Body.’ And taking the cup and giving thanks, He said, ‘Take, drink, This is My Blood.’” He Himself, therefore, having declared and said of the Bread, “This is My Body,” who will dare any longer to doubt? And when He Himself has affirmed and said, “This is My Blood,” who can ever hesitate and say it is not His Blood?…

Let us, then, with full confidence, partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. For in the figure of bread His Body is given to you, and in the figure of wine His Blood is given to you, so that by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, you might become united in body and blood with Him. For thus do we become Christ-bearers.

Do not, therefore, regard the Bread and the Wine as simply that; for they are, according to the Master’s declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ. Even though the senses suggest to you the other, let faith make you firm. Do not judge in this matter by taste, but–be fully assured by the faith, not doubting that you have been deemed worthy of the Body and Blood of Christ.

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Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?

CCC 841, quoting the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium 16, from Vatican II, declared:

The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.

Some will say this declaration does not indicate Muslims believe in the same God we do because it only says “Muslims… profess to hold the faith of Abraham,” not that they actually do. So what gives?

The Council fathers were certainly careful to say Muslims “profess…” but not that they “profess” to believe in one God. It says they “profess to hold the faith of Abraham.” “The faith of Abraham” involves more than simply acknowledging that God is one. CCC 59-64 teaches that “the faith of Abraham” includes:

“The people descended from Abraham” who “would be the trustee of the promise made to the patriarchs, the chosen people, called to prepare for that day when God would gather all his children into the unity of the Church” (CCC 60).

The Catechism goes on to point out that the people who possess the true “faith of Abraham” include:

… “the patriarchs, prophets, and certain other Old Testament figures” who “have been and always will be honored as saints in all the Church’s liturgical traditions” (CCC 61).

Paragraphs 63-64 in the Catechism continue:

Israel is the priestly people of God, “called by the name of the Lord,” and “the first to hear the word of God,” the people of “elder brethren” in the faith of Abraham. (64) Through the prophets, God forms his people in the hope of salvation, in the expectation of a new and everlasting Covenant intended for all… a salvation which will include all the nations. Above all, the poor and humble of the Lord… as Sarah, Rebecca, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Judith, and Esther… The purest figure among them is Mary.

Muslims could hardly be included in this number.

However, it is a distortion to claim from this that Muslims do not truly believe in the one true God because it was clearly after having said Muslims “profess to hold the faith of Abraham,” that the Council fathers then declared: “… together with us they adore the one, merciful God…”

These are two distinct declarations:

1. [Muslims] profess to hold the faith of Abraham.

2. Together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.

CCC 841 also references Vatican II’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, Nostra Aetate, 3, that makes the teaching of the Council perhaps even clearer:

The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even his inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God.

Once again, we see first the declaration that Muslims “adore the one God…” made without qualification. Then, the fathers say “Islam link[s] itself” to Abraham. This is not saying there is a link; rather, it is saying Muslims make that link. Once again, we have two clearly distinct declarations.

Is the Muslim God Our God?

There are many things taught in Islam that are so radically opposed to what we believe as Catholic Christians, that some will say, “Well, perhaps they believe in one God, but the ‘one God’ they believe in is not the same God we believe in because, for example, the Koran teaches:

1.Women are inferior to men (Sura 4:34)

2.Men can, and even should, ‘beat’ their wives in some circumstances (Sura 4:34).

3.Belief in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ is false (Sura 4:157-159).

4.Belief in the divinity of Christ is blasphemy (Sura 5:72).

5.Belief in Jesus Christ as ‘the Son of God’ is grave error (Sura 19:35; 10:68).

6.Muslims are commanded to ‘fight against’ Christians and all who disagree with them. Sura 9:29 says:

Fight those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which Allah and His Messenger have forbidden, nor follow the Religion of Truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgement of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.

7.God wills moral as well as physical evil. In fact, Sura 37:94 says, ‘He [Allah] created you as well as what you do,’ whether good or evil.

8.‘God does not love the unbelievers’ (Sura 3:32).

And this is just to name a few areas of major disagreement. We could write volumes on the problems with Muslim doctrine.”

Many claim there is a point where errors regarding what “the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth” teaches become so far removed from the truth that it becomes necessary to say that God being spoken of is no longer “God” at all. My take is that as long as a person understands the basic metaphysical truth that God is “the one, merciful God,” then errors concerning what God has said, or what he has revealed about his inner life are simply errors about those things, not about God as the one, true God.

Some will argue that if someone presents, for example, their “God” as teaching the rape of small children to be okay, then that God is not God at all. And that, I would argue, is true. It could be argued that that “God” would suffer from a moral defect, and therefore, could not be God.

But even if it is possible for a person (or a faith, like Islam) to claim belief in the one true God, but so distort what God teaches that he (or it) ceases to truly believe in the “one true God” in reality, then, according to the Church, Islam has not reached that point in its errors.

Thus, we Catholics have to be careful to distinguish between the fact that Muslims believe in the one true God “living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth,” and the fact that they get it wrong—profoundly wrong—when it comes to both who God has revealed himself to be in the New Testament, and what he has taught his people.

We pull no punches as Catholics when it comes to pointing out the errors of Islam. But we also need to begin by getting it right concerning the things about which we agree.

Ask a Saint – He Knows

Pope St. John Paul II strikes the balance beautifully, concisely, and without compromise between acknowledging what Muslims get right, and challenging some of where they go wrong, in his excellent book, Crossing the Threshhold of Hope. After pointing out that the Church has a “high regard for Muslims who worship one God, living and subsistent, merciful and omnipotent, the Creator of heaven and earth,” he then observes after reflecting on Islam and the Koran:

Whoever knows the Old and New Testaments, and then reads the Koran, clearly sees the process by which it completely reduces Divine Revelation. It is impossible not to note the movement away from what God said about Himself, first in the Old Testament through the Prophets, and then finally in the New Testament through His Son. In Islam all the richness of God’s self-revelation, which constitutes the heritage of the Old and New Testaments, has definitely been set aside. Some of the most beautiful names in the human language are given to the God of the Koran, but He is ultimately a God outside of the World, a God who is only Majesty, never Emmanuel, God-with-us. Islam is not a religion of redemption. There is no room for the Cross and the Resurrection (p. 92).

St. John Paul first acknowledges the truth that Muslims get it right when they profess faith in one God. Then, and only then, does he point out they have it as wrong as wrong can be when it comes to what God has revealed to us in Scripture about who he is, and, I would add, what he asks of his people by way of his commandments.

My thanks to Mr. Craig Curtis for helping me with much of the research for this post and the ones that will follow in this series.

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Tim Staples on EWTN

If you didn’t get a chance to see it, check out Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J., interviewing me on “EWTN Live” this past Jan. 21, 2015. Fr. Pacwa is a dear friend and a truly amazing priest. We talked about the Marian doctrines and devotion and promoted my new book, to which I am honored to say, Fr. Pacwa gave his endorsement: Behold Your Mother – A Biblical and Historical Defense of the Marian Doctrines. Fr. Pacwa said of my book:

Tim Staples respectfully but clearly answers every conceivable Protestant objection to Mary, the Mother of God. With the street cred of one who has been there, Tim backs up his words with Scripture every time. His answers are exhaustive but not exhausting! An invaluable book for thoughtful, truth-seeking Christians.

Check out the TV broadcast here, and check out the book, here.

The Man-God – Jesus Christ

How many of you have been reading the newspaper on a Saturday morning when the doorbell rings. Answering the door, you discover two very nicely dressed young men with briefcases, Bibles, and copies of the Watchtower Magazine. If you invited them into your home and dialogued with them for any length of time, you probably encountered a heavy dose of what is considered to be the distinguishing tenet of the Jehovah’s Witness religion: Their belief that Jesus Christ is not God. He was God’s first and most perfect creation and God’s agent in creating the universe, but he was not God. And after he became incarnate, he was simply a man.

John 14:28:

You heard me say to you, “I go away, and I will come to you.” If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father; for the Father is greater than I.

This is one of the most popular verses used by Jehovah’s Witnesses to prove their points. In a dialogue with a Witness, he may well begin his assault on Catholic Christology with this verse. “Catholics claim Jesus is equal with God? Jesus seems to disagree here in John 14:28?”

There are actually two legitimately Catholic and biblical ways of approaching this text. First, we could note that one person being “greater” than another does not necessarily mean he is ontologically or essentially greater than the other like a man is essentially greater than a monkey. Greatness can refer to one person functioning in a greater way quantitatively. Matthew 11:11 tells us there has never “risen among [men] a greater than John the Baptist: yet he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Because John is “greater” than other humans, is he something more than human?

Likewise, because the text says those in heaven are greater than even John, are they essentially different from John? No, all involved in the text are essentially human. Men may be said to be greater or lesser pertaining to their degree of blessedness. In a similar way, the Father can be said to be “greater” than the Son pertaining to their eternal relation within the inner life of God, but not as to their essence. “Everything that belongs to the Father, except being Father, the Son has also eternally from the Father, from whom he is eternally born …” (CCC para. 246).

A second way of looking at this text is to recognize Jesus is speaking as fully human, or from his human experience. And this makes sense because in the very same verse of John 14:28, Jesus had just said, “You heard me say to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you…” speaking of his death and resurrection. Thus, it would be entirely appropriate for Christ to say as man, “the Father is greater than [he is],” while as God, he is “equal with God” (cf. Phil. 2:5; John 5:18; John 1:1-3, etc.).

John 17:3

And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.

Jesus cannot be God if the Father is “the only true God,” can he?

Well, yes he can.

The fact that Jesus refers to the Father as “the only true God” does not mean Jesus Christ cannot also be “the only true God,” and the Holy Spirit cannot also be “the only true God.” The distinctions between the three persons of the Blessed Trinity are ones of relation, not essence. Each of the three persons is ”the only true God.” They are absolutely one in nature.

Thus, Jesus does not deny he is God in John 17:3. He simply refers to his Father “the one true God.” We Catholics certainly believe the Father is God.

John 20:17

Jesus said to [Mary Magdalene], “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

The question is asked: “How can the Father be ‘his God’ if he is God?” The answer is biblically clear. John 1:14 tells us “the Word was made flesh.” God became man! Jesus is both God and man. Here, he speaks as man and as man he is dependent upon the grace of God (see John 1:14-16) in order to fulfill the supernatural end to which his human nature is called (see Luke 2:51-52; Heb. 5:8-9; 2:10-11). He calls the Father his God because he is his God whom Christ worships, prays to, and needs in his fully human nature just as we do.

The Best Defense: A Good Offense

After having answered these which are some of the very best from the Jehovah’s Witness’ arsenal, it is time to go on the offensive. We have demonstrated that we agree that the Father can be said to be “greater” than the Son. We agree that the Father is the one true God, though we say the Son is as well. And we agree that in his humanity, the Son of Man would have the Father as his God. But none of these things deny Christ’s divinity. We then need to show what the Scriptures teach quite plainly. Jesus is God!

John 1:1-3

In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God … All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made.

In this text, Jesus (the Word) is called “God” and the creator of all things that were created. Genesis 1:1 says “In the beginning God created …” Jesus is plainly said to be God!

The JW will respond by saying the Greek text actually says “… the Word was a god.” Jesus is a god, not the God because the definite article is not used before god (Gr. “theos”) when referring to Jesus.

There are three main problems with this line of reasoning. 1) In order to distinguish the subject of a given sentence, the predicate nominative in Greek does not take the definite article. The lack of article is grammatically necessary in order to know whether “the Word” or “God” is the subject in this verse. 2) The JW’s are inconsistent. They translate the word theos as Jehovah or “the God” numerous times when it does not have the article when it refers to the Father (See Matthew 5:9, 6:24, Luke 1:35, 2:40, John 1:6, 12,13, 18, Romans 1:7, 17,18 and Titus 1:1, just to name a few). And 3) Jesus is referred to as theos with the definite article many times elsewhere in Scripture. For example:

Hebrews 1:8

But to the Son [the Father] saith, “Thy throne, O God (ho theos, the article + theos) is for ever and ever.”

Jesus is not a god here. He is the God.

Titus 2:13:

Looking for the blessed hope and coming of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ (emphasis added).

Not only do we see the definite article before theos, but we see the article + the adjective great. Jesus is not only the God, he is the Great God and our Savior. The Bible is very clear that only Jehovah is both the Great God and our Savior. (See 41:4, 43:3,11, 44:6,8, 45:21, Hos. 13:4, and Luke 1:47.)

John 20:28:

Thomas answered, and said to [Jesus]: My Lord and My God.

The Greek reads the Lord (with definite art.) of me and the God (with definite art.) of me.

I was recently talking with two JW’s about this text and they disagreed with each other. One said, “Thomas said that, not the inspired writer or Jesus.” The implication being, Thomas got a little excited and exaggerated about Jesus. If this were true, it would be blasphemy. Yet, it cannot be because Jesus then blesses Thomas for his belief!

The other Witness said that Thomas referred to Jesus as Lord and then to the Father as God. The problem here is there is no evidence for this in the text. Thomas is directly addressing Jesus.

Revelation 22:6:

And the Lord God (ho kurios ho theosthe Lord the God) of the spirits of the prophets sent his angel to shew his servants the things which must be done shortly.

Who is the Lord God who sent “his angel” in this verse? The JW will say it is Jehovah. Rev. 22:16, just ten verses later, tells us who it is:

I Jesus have sent my angel, to testify to you these things in the Churches.

Jesus is “the Lord God of the spirits of the prophets!”

If you were actually conversing with a couple JW’s and you had presented these texts to them, they would probably be getting a bit ancy by now. My prediction is they would retreat to the safest ground possible. And this could lead in a number of directions, but most likely they would head to one of the most “air-tight” verses (so they think!) demonstrating Catholicism’s errors.

Revelation 3:14:

These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, who is the beginning of the creation of God.

“Jesus is the first created being before all else was created,” they will claim. “Therefore, he is definitely not God.”

Notice, the text does not say he was created. The word translated “beginning” (arche) is used in the book of Revelation to connote “the eternal source of all that is.” In Revelation 1:8, for example, “Almighty God” (Jehovah, according to JW’s) is referred to as “the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, saith the Lord God, who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Do we want to say that Jehovah has a “beginning” because arche (“beginning”) is used to describe Him? “Arche” is here used to mean “the source of all being.”

Thus, Jesus is revealed to be the “source” of the creation of God in Rev. 3:14 because he is the creator of all things. This is confirmed again and again in the New Testament. In John 1:1-3, we are told Jesus (the Word) created “all things … and without him was made nothing that was made.” If he was created, he would have had to create himself which is impossible.

I should warn you at this point: Immediately following Revelation 3:14, Colossians 1:15-17 will normally follow:

Jesus is called the “first-born of every creature. For in him were all things created … he is before all and by him all things consist.”

Jehovah’s witnesses will say this shows Jesus is the first created being because he is “first-born of every creature.” But the problem with their reasoning is that first-born here does not refer to time, but to preeminence. The emphasis is on the fact that he is “before all and by him all things consist.” Even in its Old Testament usage, the title “first-born” is not restricted to a reference to time. The emphasis is on a place of preeminence given by a Father to his son. Isaac, Jacob, and Ephraim received the blessing of the “first-born” though they were not “first-born” in time.

Further, the text does not say Jesus was created. If St. Paul were making this point he would have then said Jesus created all “other” things in verse 16, but he did not. St. Paul says Jesus is the creator of all things. He is God. He is given the title “First-born” by his Father. But this is not in time. He is eternally begotten of the Father.

Share What is Most Clear

The New Testament is very clear as to Christ’s divinity. The few verses that seem to be problematic can be easily cleared up making the way smooth for presenting the abundance of evidence for Christ’s divinity. Below is a small sampling of examples. We will not cite each text, but give you the gist of how each reveal the divinity of Christ.

Luke 12:8-9 – Matthew 13:41

In Luke 12:8-9, angels are called “angels of God” while in Matthew 13:41, they’re called ”his [Christ's] angels.” “God” and “Christ” are synonymous.

Mark 2:5-9

Jesus forgives sins by his own authority. Only Almighty God (“Jehovah”) can forgive sins (See Is. 43:25).

Matt. 25:31-46

Jesus here is depicted as judging the world, yet Scripture reveals only God can do this. Both Genesis 18:25 and Joel 3:12 claim Almighty God is the judge of the world.

John 8:58

Here Jesus refers to himself with the divine name, “I am,” as he also does in John 8:24, 28, 18:5-6 and Mark 14:62. This “I am” formula, not copulative, is a reference back to the Divine Name in Ex. 3:14: “I AM” revealed to Moses as God’s own. Jesus refers to himself as “I am” and the multitudes want to kill him because they know what he is saying (see John 8:59!).

Matthew 5:21-28

In this text, Jesus places his word on the same level as the Old Testament. “You have heard it said (he then quotes Old Covenant texts or beliefs) … but I say to you …” This is in sharp contrast to the prophets who always use a formula such as “the word of the Lord came unto me, saying …” (cf.. Jer. 1:11; Ezek. 1:3). Jesus uses his own authority and establishes the New Covenant. Only God has that kind of authority.

John 5:18 – Phil. 2:6-10

In these texts, Jesus is referred to as “equal” with God by both St. John and St. Paul. In John 5:18, St. John gives us his commentary on why the Jews wanted to kill Jesus: “Because he called God his Father making himself equal with God.”

In Phil. 2:6-10, St. Paul refers to Jesus when he was “in the form of God.” The Greek word for “form” there is morphe, which means the set of characteristics that make a thing what it is. That’s about as close as you get to saying Jesus is God. St. Paul then says Christ’s ”equality with God” was not something he clung to; rather, he emptied himself and became man, humbling himself even unto his death on the cross.

In this verse, it appears St. Paul assumes his readers already know Jesus is equal with God, the Father. He says it in passing.

Mark 2:28

In this text, Jesus declares plainly that he is “the Lord of the Sabbath.” The Sabbath is referred to as the “Sabbath of Almighty God” in both the Old and New Testaments (see Exodus 20:10; Isaiah 8:13, which is referred to in I Peter 3:15, and Joel 2:31-32, which is quoted in both Acts 2:20-21, and in Romans 10:13).

Acts 20:28

Take heed to yourselves, and to the whole flock, wherein the Holy Ghost hath placed you bishops, to rule the church of God, which he hath purchased in his own blood.

I had to cite this text so you can see the nuance. Only Jesus can be said to have bled, yet this text says “God” shed his blood. Jesus is God.

The bottom line: The New Testament makes it very clear as to Christ’s full humanity. We can agree with JW’s on this point. However, the Scriptures are equally clear as to Christ’s divinity. The choice is ours. Will we choose to believe that Jesus is Almighty God manifest in the flesh as Scripture reveals, or will we choose the alternative, which according to Jesus is “[to] die in [our] sins.” Jesus said, “Unless you believe I AM, you shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).

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The Trouble With Calvin – Pt. 5

The reformed “Westminster Confession,” ratified in 1647, gives us a pithy statement that sums up well what is meant by “the perseverance of the saints,” or “once saved, always saved,” the fifth and final of the five points of Calvinism’s TULIP (the “P” stands for “perseverance”):

God doth continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified, and although they can never fall from the state of justification, yet they may, by their sins, fall under God’s fatherly displeasure; and in that condition they have not usually the light of his countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance (Westminster Confession, Ch. XI, “Of Justification,” Paragraph V).

Here we have to do some mental gymnastics to understand Calvinism. The confession above states that true believers can never fall from the state of justification. Yet, it also says their sins need to be forgiven or else they can “fall under God’s fatherly displeasure.” But they would still go to heaven even if they die in this state of “God’s fatherly displeasure.” So, are the sins already forgiven… before they are forgiven again when they are confessed? Or, are they really “forgiven” when they are confessed? The answer is “yes…and, no.” James White, a Calvinist apologist writes:

This remission of all sins is not limited to past sins only, but to all sins, past, present, and future…The problem with accepting this fact is easy to see: how can we speak of sins being forgiven when they haven’t even been committed as yet? And why do we read that we as believers are to confess our sins? Yet, on the other hand, it seems far more difficult to understand how Christ’s death is insufficient to bring about full pardon of all sins, but has to be “re-applied” repeatedly (White, The God Who Justifies: A Comprehensive Study of the Doctrine of Justification, p. 98-99).

I don’t find it hard in the least to understand how Christ’s sacrifice as to be “re-applied” to our lives “repeatedly.” This doesn’t mean it is “insufficient” to take away sins. Let’s take a look at this:

First of all, it is quite easy to understand the biblical teaching found in I John 2:2: “[Jesus Christ] is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also the sins of the whole world.” This means Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient to take away all sins. Catholics understand this and have taught it for 2,000 years. But what White and Calvinists in general do not understand is the blood must be applied to our lives repeatedly through faith and obedience to the word of God. I John 1:7-9 says:

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

For the life of me, I cannot understand what part of this is so hard to understand. According to St. John, the fact that the blood of Christ must indeed be “re-applied” to our lives “again and again” does not mean it is “insufficient.” It simply means that the objectively all-sufficient sacrifice of Jesus Christ must be applied subjectively to each of the faithful through their willing cooperation.

Among the errors we could consider at this point, perhaps the central misstep is found in Mr. White’s assertion that all sins are forgiven, “past, present and future.” Not only does the Bible never teach this, but on the very next page of Mr. White’s book, he quotes the famous Calvinist theologian, Charles Hodge, who says:

So that it would perhaps be a more correct statement to say that in justification the believer receives the promise that God will not deal with him according to his transgressions, rather than to say that sins are forgiven before they are committed (The God Who Justifies, p. 100).

So which is it? Are all sins forgiven, or are they just “not dealt with?” And this is not to mention that either of these two scenarios still have to deal with I John 1:8-9: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Why do our sins have to be forgiven if they have already been forgiven?

The Calvinist must explain that the forgiveness is not really forgiveness in relation to eternity before God, but only in relation to temporal benefits. God, in one sense, has already forgiven them. But in another sense… Or, perhaps St. John uses the word “forgive,” but he really means, “will not deal with…”

Huh?

The confusion and desperate attempt to circumvent the plain words of Scripture all stem from the presupposition of “once saved, always saved.” Our recommendation is to do away with the human tradition of “the perseverance of the saints,” and then you can just believe I John 1:8-9 as it is written.

For the Catholic it’s simple. We believe that we must confess our sins in order to be forgiven of them as the Bible says. Period. And if we do not confess our sins (or desire to do so), then we will not be forgiven. Period.

CLEARING UP THE DIFFICULTY

There are two crucial texts that we must deal with briefly to understand this notion of “once saved, always saved:” Romans 4:8 and I John 5:13. These are not the only two, but they are perhaps the most important.

1. Romans 4:7-8 – “Blessed are those who iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not reckon sin.”

In Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk. 3, chapter 11, John Calvin begins his section on “Justification by Faith.” One of the first texts he uses (in paragraph 4) is the above-cited section of Romans. Charles Hodge, quoted above, was referring to this text as well when he claimed that God “will not deal with [the justified] according to his [future] transgressions.” So, then, according to Hodge, the “forgiveness” of I John 1:9, is not really “forgiveness.” It is really meaning that God just doesn’t deal with the Christian’s sins? Really? Is this what St. John is saying? I can’t believe a thinking person could say this. But is this what St. Paul is saying in Romans 4? If, for example, a man who is justified commits adultery, he is as just after committing this sin as he was before? According to Calvin and true Calvinists, yes he is!

At the risk of sounding redundant, I must say here we have another human tradition that nullifies the word of God. Romans chapter 4 says nothing of what Calvin taught. If you look at the text that St. Paul quoted in Romans 4:7-8, you find that he quotes Psalm 32:1-2. David wrote this Psalm in the context of his confession of his sins of murder and adultery. The reason God would not reckon David’s sins against him was because David had confessed his sin and had been forgiven! Psalm 32:5 says:

I acknowledged my sin to thee, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”; then thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin.

This text does not even come close to saying that sins David’s sins were forgiven (or they are not reckoned as sin) before they were confessed! According to the inspired author, David “acknowledged [his] sin,” and “then [God forgave] the guilt of [his] sin.”

St. Paul makes very clear to Christians in Ephesians 5:3-7, that God will not simply “not deal with” their sins:

But immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is fitting among saints. Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not associate with them (emphasis added).

St. Paul here eliminates any possibility of getting around the fact that if believers commit these sins and do not repent, they will not go to heaven. The human tradition of Calvin (and Luther, I might add) attempt to thwart the plain words of sacred Scripture, but for those who love God and his word, these are empty words of deception. They are hollow and lifeless. St. Thomas Aquinas quite prophetically preempted Calvin’s “once saved, always saved” deception, when he said of the above text:

Notice that only in reference to carnal vices does he teach them to avoid being deceived. For from the beginning men have rationalized to find reasons why fornication and other venereal sins were not really sins so that they might indulge their cupidity without restraint. Hence he states vain words since words that claim these are not sins and do not exclude one from the kingdom of God and of Christ are irrational. “Beware lest any man cheat you by prophecy and vain deceit” (Col. 2:8).

According to John Calvin, and the Westminster Confession, these sins that St. Paul says will exclude someone from the kingdom of heaven will not do so if that someone is a Christian. That is why, again, according to the Westminster Confession, these sins will only bring about God’s “fatherly displeasure” in a temporal sense. The fornicator (by that I mean the Christian who falls and commits the sin of fornication) who is a Christian is just as “saved” as the saint in heaven.

Now, I know the Calvinist will say of the one who falls into an adulterous affair, “He was never saved to begin with.” But I find it interesting that so often the “other guy” who falls “was probably never saved to begin with,” but when the Calvinist you are talking to falls, he is just under “God’s fatherly displeasure.” Heaven? Oh, that’s been take care of.

This is a good segue to:

2. I John 5:13 – “These things I write to you, that you may know you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God” (emphasis added).

Rooted in this text and others, the Westminster Confession claims that believers can have:

An infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God (Westminster Confession, Chapter XVIII, ”Of the Assurance of Grace and Salvation,” Para. 2).

The fact is: one cannot have infallible certainty without an infallible teacher. None of the authors of the Calvinist creeds—or Calvin himself—ever even claimed the charism of infallibility. A thinking person would then have a real problem with the Calvinist use of the term “infallible” in the first place. The truth of this supposed “certainty” would be closer to the “burning in the bosom” of a Mormon, then true “infallible” certainty. But what about I John 5:13 and the claim that we may know that we have eternal life?

The Greek word for knowledge (from the root – “oida”) in I John 5:13 does not necessarily mean an absolute certainty is being expressed. We use the verb “to know” similarly in English. For example, I may say I know I am going to get an A on my Greek exam tomorrow. Does that mean I have metaphysical certainty of this? No! I may in fact get a B or worse. Ever freeze up during an exam? What I mean and what the verb “to know” can be used to mean is that I have confident assurance that I will get an A on my test tomorrow because I have studied the material thoroughly and I know it very well.

The context of I John makes it abundantly clear that this is how oida is being used in I John 5:13. In the very next verses (14-15), St. John says:

And we have this confidence in him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us, and if he hears us we know (again, a derivative of oida) that what we have asked him for is ours.

Do we have absolute certainty that we will receive everything we ask of the Lord? No, we do not. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” I John 3:22 says, “And whatsoever we ask, we shall receive of him: because we keep his commandments and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.” We cannot be absolutely certain that we have not “cherished iniquity” in our hearts or that we have not done a thing or two that has displeased the Lord. But most importantly, we must acknowledge that God is sovereign. In the end, we must trust God as his children. We must trust that he will grant what is best for us. Sometimes what we just know is best for us just isn’t. Or, as the unrighteous discover at the last judgment, according to Matthew 25:41-46, what they just knew was just for them actually was not. ”Lord, when…?” A humbling and sobering thought to be sure! We must remember that God is our judge, not us!

“IF”—JUST TWO LETTERS BUT ONE LARGE WORD!

St. Augustine wrote, some 1,600 years ago:

In that one [Adam], as the apostles says, all have sinned. Let, then, the damnable source be rebuked, that from the mortification of rebuke may spring the will of regeneration,—if, indeed, he who is rebuked is a child of promise,—in order that, by the noise of the rebuke sounding and lashing from without…God may by His hidden inspiration work in him from within to will also. If, however, being already regenerate and justified, he relapses of his own will into an evil life, assuredly he cannot say, “I have not received,” because of his own free choice to evil he has lost the grace of God that he had received (St. Augustine of Hippo, On Rebuke and Grace, Ch. 9).

The word “if” is the biggest little word in human discourse. St. John says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all iniquity” (emphasis added). Notice, St. John includes himself in that “we!” What happens if we do not confess our sins? Or, if we are not sorry for them? Will God forgive them anyway? Not according to Scripture. Unrepented sin will not be forgiven (see Matt. 5:14; Matt. 12:31-32; I John 1:9, etc.), and the Bible is very clear that no sin can enter into heaven (see Hab. 1:13; Rev. 21:8-9, 27).

St. John goes on to say, “As for you, let that which you have heard from the beginning abide in you. If that abide in you, which you have heard from the beginning, you also shall abide in the Son, and in the Father” (I John 2:24, emphasis added). Can we choose not “to abide” in him? Yes! St. John tells us that “whosoever abides in him, sins not; and whoever sins, has not seen him, nor known him. Little children, let no man deceive you. He that does justice is just, even as he is just. He that commits sin is of the devil…Who ever is born of God, commits not sin…”(I John 3:6-9, emphasis added)

This text seems strange on the surface. St. John has already said that everyone who is born of God does sin in I John 1:1-8. We all sin, including St. John! Yet, now he says whoever is born of God does not sin? Is St. John contradicting himself? No! St. John makes a distinction between mortal and venial sins in this same epistle. In I John 5:16-17, John gives us definitions of both mortal (he calls them “sins unto death”) and venial sins (“sins not unto death”). The one who is born of God does not commit mortal sin. If he does, he is “cut off” from the body of Christ and needs to be restored via confession to fellowship with God (see Romans 11:22; Gal. 5:4, II Peter 2:20-22).

We are not talking about a few isolated examples of our salvation being contingent upon our actions. There are “if” and various other forms of contingency clauses all over the New Testament used in the context of our salvation. Colossians 1:22-23:

And you, whereas you were…enemies…now he has reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unspotted, and blameless before him: If you continue in the faith, grounded and settled and immoveable from the hope of the gospel which you have heard.

I Cor. 15:1-2:

Now I make known unto you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you have received, and wherein you stand; By which you are saved, if you hold fast after what manner I preached unto you, unless you have believed in vain.

BUT DID THEY REALLY KNOW HIM?

In the discussion of the perseverance of the saints it is inevitable: The point will eventually be made that whenever the Scripture talks about people falling away from grace and from God, the people “falling away” never really knew him to start with! Let’s take a look at two texts that are usually used in this regard.

1. I John 2:19—“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out, that it might be plain that they all are not of us.”

“You see? If they were truly Christians, ‘born again,’ and if they really knew Jesus, they would endure until the end. God will not allow anything else.”

Is that what this text says? Absolutely not! St. John is simply saying that folks who leave the Church bodily, have already left in their hearts long before they actually depart. The text does not say anything about whether or not these people ever knew the Lord. It says that at the time they left, they were not true and obedient believers.

2. Matthew 7:21-23—“Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’”

“You see? Jesus plainly says; he never knew them! They were never Christians to begin with!”

I believe it was C.S. Lewis who once said that Christ here was saying he never knew the people that these had become, not that he ever knew them at all. This is analogous to a woman who leaves her husband after years of marriage and says, “I never knew you!” It is not that she never loved her husband nor is she saying she never had an intimate relationship with her husband. She does not know the man with whom she is parting ways. This is certainly a valid interpretation of this text.

However, my take on this text is different. I like to point out here that Jesus said many people. He did not say all people. There will be “many people” who will be lost who never even heard of Jesus at all, or those who were indifferent to Christ and certainly never “prophesied in [his] name,”  or, “cast out demons in [his] name.” For the Calvinist, this text at very best only tells us that some people who parade around and proclaim the name of Christ are not true and obedient believers.

The bottom line is this: the Scriptures may well indicate that many who will be lost will have never known the Lord. That is to be expected. But Scripture also indicates to us that there are at least some who will have known Christ and then fall away from him. II Peter 2:20-22 is an example of this:

For if, flying from the pollutions of the world, through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they be again entangled in them and overcome: their latter state is become worse than the former…For, that of the true proverb has happened to them: The dog is returned to his vomit: and, the sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire.

This text hardly needs comment. The Greek word here for knowledge is epignosei. As Gerhard Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament defines it: “… an opinion can be correct [or possess the aleitheia, or “truth”], but only the ginoskon has the certainty that he grasps the aleitheia” (truth). Moreover, “It relates to the knowledge acquired in experiences both good and bad” (Vol. 1, p. 690.).

A literal translation of the word, epignosei,  in this text would be “a thorough, experiential knowledge.” And when we consider the persons in the text have “escaped (Greek: apophugontes) the pollutions of the world” (Greek: tou kosmou) through this “thorough, experiential knowledge” of Jesus, we would have to conclude that only a personal relationship with the Lord could have the effect that is being described. Knowing about Jesus doesn’t cut it. And note the image Peter uses in verse 22: the sow that had been washed in water. Water is the symbol St. Peter uses for baptism in I Peter 3:20-21. The connection seems obvious. The sow, or female pig, which was cleansed represents the person cleansed from sin; the sow returns to the mud as the penitent may return to her sin later in life. Her “last state has become worse… than the first” (II Peter 2:20).

Moreover, when we back up in the text to II Peter 1:2-4 to establish an even better context for II Peter 2:20-22, we note how Peter begins his epistle with a description of believers:

Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge (the Greek word is epignosei, the same word used in 2:20) of God, and of Jesus our Lord…that…ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped (the Greek word for having escaped is apophugontes, the same word used in 2:20) the corruption that is in the world (Greek: en to kosmo, the same word used in a different form in 2:20) through lust.

The same words used to describe what Christians have been freed from in chapter 1 are used to describe the person in chapter 2 just before he goes back to his old state and ends worse than he was before he ever knew Jesus. I don’t see how St. Peter could be any clearer on this point.

The truth is: St. Peter knew nothing of “once saved, always saved.”

The Bible Really is Clear

There are literally scores of biblical texts we could use to demonstrate the fallacy of “the perseverance of the saints,” or “once saved, always saved.” We don’t have that kind of space here. But here are a smattering of texts.

1. In Matthew 6:15 Jesus tells us that “if you do not forgive men, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you your offenses.” I don’t care how “born-again” you are or how many experiences you may have had, if you don’t forgive others, you will not be forgiven according to the text. And remember, no sin can enter into heaven (see Rev. 21:27 and Hab. 1:13), as we said above.

2. Galatians 5:4 says Christians can “fall from grace.” You have to be in a state of grace in order to “fall from it.”

3. In John 15:1-6 Jesus uses the metaphors of a vine and branches for himself (the vine) and Christians (the branches). And yet, he would then say if a Christian “does not abide” in the vine, he will be “cast forth as a branch… gathered, [and] thrown into the fire” (vs. 6).

4. Romans 11:18-22 tells us we can be “cut off” from Christ and be lost. Verse 22 says:

Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off.

5. Rev. 22:18-19 warns us that God can “take away [our] share in the tree of life (eternal life) and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”

6. The sacred text assures us over and over again that if we commit certain sins and we do not repent of them, we will not go to heaven (see Matt. 5:44-45; 10:32-33; Eph. 5:3-5; I Cor. 6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21; Rev. 21:6-8). It makes no sense, if we are justified by faith alone, that what we do would be so plainly said to be the cause of eternal damnation.

7. Heb. 12:14-16 tells us we can “sell [our] birthright,” or our “inheritance” in the image of Esau. Romans 8:14-17 teaches our “inheritance” to be eternal life.

When it comes to believing in the T-U-L-I-P of the Calvinists, the question is ultimately simple: Are we going to believe the tradition of Calvin or are we going to believe the Scriptures. You can’t have it both ways.

The Trouble With Calvin – Pt. 4

We now proceed to the “I” in TULIP: Irresistible Grace

Calvinists teach that man is powerless to resist God’s grace; hence, the idea of a truly free will is repudiated. The Catholic and biblical position holds that we must “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”—meaning we must do something—“for it is God who works in you both to will and to do according to his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13)—meaning God’s grace must precede and accompany every meritorious action that will bring about our salvation. The Catholic teaching emphasizes both God’s grace and man’s cooperation. The Calvinist position holds that man is not a “co-laborer” with God as St. Paul says in I Cor. 3:9 and II Cor. 6:1. In Calvin’s words:

 If [by free will] is meant that after we are once subdued by the power of the Lord to the obedience of righteousness, we proceed voluntarily, and are inclined to follow the movement of grace, I have nothing to object…If, again, it is meant that man is able of himself to be a fellow-laborer with the grace of God, I hold it to be a most pestilent delusion (Institutes, Bk. 2, Ch. 3, Para. 11).

Of course, Catholics agree that man cannot “of himself” merit anything from God, if by that, Calvin means apart from God’s empowering grace, but Calvin’s meaning is very different than the Catholic and biblical position. “Subdued by the power of the Lord” means man cannot resist the movement of God’s grace.

For Calvin, there is no cooperation with God’s grace as Scripture teaches. The grace of God “subdues” a man and moves him to salvation, rather than God awakening man and empowering him to, “‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.’ Look carefully then how you walk…” (Eph. 5:14-15), and cooperate with the grace of God as Romans 11:22, II Cor. 6:1, Acts 13:43, etc. indicate. Man cannot do anything except be moved to act in accord with God’s immutable will and irresistible grace. If God wills us to go to hell, then we will not be given grace and we will be moved to sin by God’s eternal decree. If God wills us to go to heaven, then we will be given grace that we cannot resist to that end.

Two Notes of Importance Before We Proceed

1.  Many Calvinists will claim they believe in “free will,” as does the Westminster Confession. But they apply a most odd meaning to the term. This is akin to the homosexual “couple” who says they believe in “family values.” “Free will” for the Calvinist means that God has given to him irresistible grace that he cannot do anything but accept. They will then say, as John Calvin did, “… after we are once subdued by the power of the Lord to the obedience of righteousness, we proceed voluntarily, and are inclined to follow the movement of grace,” as cited above. The term “voluntary” becomes meaningless. According to Calvin, when God extends his “special grace” of salvation and mercy he “does not suffer a refusal” (Institutes, Bk. 3, Ch. 22, Para. 6). Yet, man is free? This would be like Marlon Brando (Vito Corleone), in The Godfather, “making an offer you cannot refuse,” and then claiming the offer was “freely” accepted.

2. Honest Calvinists acknowledge the contradiction here. Clifton Kirkpatrick, the then Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) who at the time of the penning of the below quote held the highest elected staff position in the Presbyterian Church (USA) provides:

If, then, a sovereign God decides to elect persons to eternal life, that is a decision for all time and eternity…Presbyterians have endorsed this conviction, but with Calvin, we have always had trouble with it for two reasons. First, if God predestines every person, and not all are called, elected, or predestined for salvation, then God has predestined (the Westminster Confession says, “fore-ordained”) some persons to hell or eternal damnation. Second, if God has determined the ultimate fate of all persons, then the individual has no power to make any important decisions. Presbyterians have learned to believe, also, in free will, realizing that these two doctrines are logically impossible to hold at the same time, but that each is true, as taught in the Westminster Confession… Those persons who can with a clear conscience accept what they are taught, regardless of apparent inconsistencies, are in some ways better off than those who think (Clifton Kirkpatrick and William H. Hopper, Jr., What Unites Presbyterians (Geneva Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 1997), p. 17. The emphasis in the quote is mine.)

Notice the almost cult-like acceptance of this logical contradiction. The Catholic and biblical faith never asks anyone to check their intellect at the door. Though we are certainly not rationalists—that is, there are certain truths of our faith that are supra-rational—there is nothing in our faith that is contrary to reason. I have to agree with Mr. Kirkpatrick that a thinking man will have trouble with this Calvinist notion of double predestination. In fact, I would say that a thinking man is not going to remain Calvinist, unless he can learn to believe what he knows to be irrational. And that is not faith; that is closer to superstition.

THE BIBLE IS PLAIN

The grace of God is resistible. St. Paul disagrees with Calvin when he says:

You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love. You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?

The context of Galatians is clear. St. Paul is warning Christians not to be seduced by “Judaizers” who were telling them belief in Christ is great, but that they must also return to the Old Covenant temple, sacrifices, law, circumcision, etc. in order to be saved. According to St. Paul, if they do this, they forfeit Christ; they “fall from grace.” To “fall from grace” means they resist God’s grace.

The inspired author of Hebrews teaches we can “fall from grace” as well.

Strive for peace with all men, and for that holiness without which no man will see God. Take heed lest anyone be wanting in the grace of God (Gr.—usteron apo tes karitos tou theou—“failing from,” or “falling from the grace of God” ); lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble and by it the many be defiled; let there not be any immoral or profane person, such as Esau, who for one meal sold his birthright (Hebrews 12:14-16, Confraternity Bible).

The Greek verb ustereo, ranslated above as “wanting,” means “to fall
short of, lack or want.” Because the preposition apo, or “from,” is used
immediately after the verb, a literal translation would be: “falling short of
from the grace of God.” I translate it as “falling from the grace of God.”
Alfred Marshall, a Protestant, translates the text “failing from the grace of
God” in The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, (Regency Reference
Library, Zondervan Publishing House, 1975), p. 889. The sense is the same.

Similar to St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, the writer to the Hebrews is warning Christians not to “sell their birthright” as sons of God and forfeit the glory of heaven which is our inheritance as Christians. We are truly sons of God “and if we are sons, we are heirs also; heirs indeed of God and joint-heirs with Christ, provided however that we suffer with him that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17, Confraternity Bible). The context of Hebrews emphasizes that Christians can, in fact, “fall from grace” and lose their heavenly inheritance.

St. Stephen chimes in very specifically when it comes to resisting the grace of God. He almost seems to have Calvin in mind 1500 years before Calvin when he speaks to his “brethren and fathers” (Acts 7:2) among the sons and daughters of Abraham:

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you (Acts 7:51).

The Holy Spirit calls us by grace; thus, to “resist the Holy Spirit” is to resist God’s grace.

And finally, the words of our Lord himself are most clear:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, you house is forsaken and desolate!

Jesus here speaks as God and informs us that he is ever-calling to his people by his grace to come to him as a hen calls to her chicks. But he is equally clear that he respects the freedom with which he gifted them as well. It is their choice whether they will to resist his call–resist his grace–or cooperate with it unto salvation (cf. Gal. 6:7-9; Romans 5:1-2).

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The Trouble With Calvin – Pt. 2

In my last post, I began a series of critiques of John Calvin’s famous “five points,” most often referred to using the acronym, TULIP, which represents Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistibility of Grace, and The Perseverance of the Saints (“once saved, always saved”). In this installment, we’ll deal with Unconditional Election.

Calvin’s idea of Unconditional Election simply means that God “elected” certain men for salvation and others for damnation from all eternity, rooted in texts of Scripture, as we will see below, like Romans 9:10-12:

And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad, in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call, she was told, “The Younger will serve the younger.”

Calvin’s ideas of election and double predestination are virtually indistinguishable.  Double Predestination, as we saw before, is the teaching that claims God to have determined from all eternity who will go to heaven and who will go to hell giving to man no real choice in the matter. The Catholic Church condemns this understanding, for example, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1037:

God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want “any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (Citing II Peter 3:9).

Just as with predestination, for Calvin, God both wills and brings about the damnation of souls by his positive decree of election. He must, or else, in Calvin’s mind, he ceases to be truly almighty:

They deny that it is ever said in distinct terms, God decreed Adam should perish by his revolt… They say that, in accordance with free will, he was to be the architect of his own fortune, that God had decreed nothing but to treat him according to his desert. If this frigid fiction is received, where will be the omnipotence of God, by which, according to his secret counsel on which everything depends, he rules over all? But whether they will allow it or not, predestination is manifest in Adam’s posterity. It was not owing to nature that they all lost salvation by the fault of one parent… As this cannot be ascribed to nature, it is plain that it is owing to the wonderful counsel of God… I again ask how it is that the fall of Adam involves so many nations with their infant children in eternal death without remedy [Calvin here refers to the false notion of unbaptized babies being predestined for hell], unless that it so seemed meet to God? Here the most loquacious tongues must be dumb. The decree, I admit is dreadful; and yet it is impossible to deny that God foreknew what the end of man was to be before he made him, and foreknew, because he had so ordained by his decree…Nor ought it to seem absurd when I say, that God not only foresaw the fall of the first man and in him the ruin of his posterity; but also at his own pleasure arranged it (The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk III, Ch. XXIII, Para. 7).

Yes, this “decree…is dreadful,” but it is not God’s. It’s Calvin’s!

Twisting the Truth

There is some truth to Calvin’s notion of election. Scripture as well as the Catholic Church, will often refer to “the elect” as those who will finally persevere until the end and so be saved.

“The Church . . . will receive its perfection only in the glory of heaven,” at the time of Christ’s glorious return. Until that day, “the Church progresses on her pilgrimage amidst this world’s persecutions and God’s consolations.” Here below she knows that she is in exile far from the Lord, and longs for the full coming of the Kingdom, when she will “be united in glory with her king.” The Church, and through her the world, will not be perfected in glory without great trials. Only then will “all the just from the time of Adam, ‘from Abel, the just one, to the last of the elect,’ . . . be gathered together in the universal Church in the Father’s presence” (CCC 842).

Jesus himself speaks of the “elect” who will persevere and so be saved in texts like Matt. 24:22:

And if those days had not been shortened, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.

St. Paul speaks of the ”elect” as well:

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which in Christ Jesus goes with eternal glory (II Tim. 2:10).

The Catholic Church has no problem with referring to “the elect” as those who will finally persevere until the end and attain final salvation. The problem with Calvin is his claim that each Christian can know with “infallible certainty” (as the Westminster Confession says it) that he is one of the elect. And, his claim that man has no real say in whether or not he will be one of God’s elect.

St. Paul did not even claim for himself this “infallible certainty” of his final salvation.

… but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (I Cor. 9:27).

This word translated “disqualified” in the RSVCE is adokimos. This is the same word St. Paul uses for those who reject God and whom God then “gave up” to a “reprobate mind” in Romans 1:28. Or, in II Cor. 13:5, he uses it thus:

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ is in you?–unless you fail to meet the test (or, as some translations have it, “unless you are reprobate”; II Cor. 13:5)!

One can know via a private revelation that he is one of the elect, but Scripture indicates that God alone knows, ordinarily speaking, who the elect are. St. Peter tells us we must continue to be zealous to do good works until the end of our lives in order to ensure that we are truly one of “the elect:”

Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall; so there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

In that same letter, St. Peter also warns that even those who have experienced the transforming power of God in their lives as he describes it in II Peter 1:2-4 can then fall away and be lost in 2:20-22. There is no presumption here with St. Peter as to who is one of the “elect,” as we see with John Calvin.

Thus, for Catholics, however one understands the theology of “election,” as long as one does not deny certain essential truths, there is freedom. For example, a Catholic can believe that the number of the “elect” is “predetermined” inasmuch as God knows how many will cooperate with this grace and persevere until the end. That means there is a limited number of “elect,” and, of course, not everyone is “elect.”

A Catholic may not, however, teach “election” to mean that God does not give to every single person the real possibility of salvation. As Gaudium et Spes 22, paragraph 5, says:

For, since Christ died for all  men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we  ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to  every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.

In other words, “election” does not mean God arbitrarily “elects” some for heaven and damns others to hell as Calvin taught. A true biblical understanding of “election” must involve man’s free response as CCC 600 tells us:

To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of “predestination”, he includes in it each person’s free response to his grace.

God’s predestination and/or election presuppose God’s initiative. God’s “eternal plan of predestination” goes before us so that if we respond to God’s call, it is only because God’s grace, predestination, election, and calling went before us. Without God as first mover, we could not take one step toward God as one of his elect. However, without our freely willing it, we will not finally “be in that number, when the saints come marching in.”

But What About Jacob and Esau?

Invariably, texts of Scripture like Romans 9, cited above, will be used by Calvinists to defend their position of unconditional election:

Though [Jacob and Esau] were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad, in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call, [Rebecca] was told, “The elder will serve the younger” (verses 11-12).

In order to understand this text, we really have to understand the greater context of Romans. We have to make the necessary distinctions between God’s gift of grace and the plan of God, which are given to men independent of anything that man does or can do, and man’s call to respond to the gift of grace and the plan of God. When we see this, Romans 9 will come into focus.

St. Paul is writing to a people in Rome being assailed by “judaizers” who were coming up with their own plan of salvation and leading people astray. In essence, they were saying it is great to believe in Christ and the New Covenant, but if you want to be saved, you have to go back to the Temple, the Old Covenant Priesthood, sacrifices, the Old Law, especially circumcision, etc. True Christians who were rejecting the Old Covenant in favor of the New were being persecuted for their faith; and, no doubt, they were being tempted to succumb to returning to the Temple. If they would only do so, they would no longer be in danger of:

… being publicly exposed to abuse and affliction… [being imprisoned]… [experiencing the] plundering of… [their] property… (Heb. 10:32-34)

But, at the same time, as St. Paul says in Galatians 5, if they were to return to the Old Covenant and trust in it for salvation they would also be in danger of losing their souls:

Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you… You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace (Gal. 5:2-4).

It was in this context that St. Paul was exhorting Christians in his Letter to the Romans to understand God’s plan and gift of grace to have been decreed long before they were ever created. St. Paul encourages the faithful that nothing except their own willful turning away from God’s goodness can separate them from God’s grace which will keep them through all that they may have to endure. “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed” (Romans 8:18):

Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?… 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. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality (Romans 2:4-11).

Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off (Romans 11:22).

St. Paul is in no way saying that the individual Christians to whom he is writing have their eternities sealed and that they are going to heaven no matter what they do. In fact, St. Paul makes clear all over the New Testament that what you do determines where you will spend eternity as much as what you believe (see Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-6; Col. 3:5-6, etc.). Far from encouraging a sense of presumption, St. Paul says:

Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall (I Cor. 10:12).

St. Paul encourages these believers that nothing outside of themselves can ever separate them from God’s grace. There is nothing that any man, or any angel, or any power in the universe outside of themselves could ever do to take them away from God. God’s plan is secure and has been so from all eternity:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).

God’s plan and God’s power are sure. The question for St. Paul is this: will his readers–or will we–respond to God’s predestined plan for our salvation, or will we choose to reject it to our own eternal loss.

Foreknown, Predestined, Justified, and Glorified

It is this context that leads up to Romans 8 and 9 and the famous texts on “predestination” and “election.” Among the many problems with Calvin’s theology of election, as well as with the Calvinists today who follow his teaching, is a failure to distinguish between the several categories St. Paul lists in Romans 8:28-30, most especially “foreknowledge,” “predestination,” “justification,” and “glorification.”

In presenting his own theology of election in Romans 8, St. Paul says:

We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified… Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect (Romans 8-30)

According to St. Paul, the elect were already “fore[known]… predestined… called… justified… and glorified.” Calvin wrongly thought from this that I could then determine that I am already “glorified” by God’s eternal decree so that there is nothing more I need to do. This is incorrect. St. Paul is continuing his thought that God’s predestined plan is secure. God has done it all for us on the objective level. But that does not mean were do not have to cooperate with his plan on the subjective level.

In other words, Christ purchased my salvation, justification, and glorification on the cross. It is a done deal on the objective level. But that does not mean I do not have to do something in order for it to be subjectively accomplished in my life.

Let’s take justification for example. Christ “justified” all men on the cross. He paid the price for all. However, a man still must “believe in his heart unto justification” (Romans 10:10) in order to actually be justified. And he must continue to practice ”obedience unto righteousness” (Gr. justification) in order to finally be justified (Romans 6:16; Cf. I Cor. 4:3-5; Matt. 12:36-37; Romans 2:13; Gal. 2:17; James 2:21-25).

Now let’s consider glorification. Catholics believe that Jesus ”glorified” all on the cross just as he justified them. However, we must “suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him,” on the subjective level (Romans 8:17; Cf. Romans 2:6-10; II Thess. 2:14; I Cor. 15:42-43). Christ’s glorifying us will take no effect in our lives unless we choose to allow what he did on the cross to actually be applied to our lives.

Thus, if we are finally justified, it is only because Christ already “justified us” on the cross. If we are “glorified,” it is only because Christ already “glorified” us on the cross. However, if we choose to walk away from Christ, we will not be finally justified or glorified. We will have rejected God’s predestined plan for our salvation, in favor of our own demise.

St. Augustine Weighs In

St. Augustine, who is often misunderstood and errantly used by some Calvinists to “prove” their position—a position that he never held—wrote:

… predestination, which cannot exist without foreknowledge, although foreknowledge may exist without predestination; because God foreknew by predestination those things which He was about to do, whence it was said, “He made those things that shall be.” Moreover, He is able to foreknow even those things which He does not Himself do,—as all sins whatever. Because, although there are some which are in such wise sins as that they are also the penalties of sins, whence it is said, “God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient,” it is not in such a case the sin that is God’s, but the judgment. Therefore God’s predestination of good is, as I have said, the preparation of grace; which grace is the effect of that predestination (On the Predestination of the Saints (Book I)—In What Respects Predestination and Grace Differ, Chap. 19 [10]).

Though I should mention that St. Augustine is not always either consistent nor correct on all matters relating to predestination, the “Doctor of Grace” presents well the Catholic and biblical position here when he explains predestination only refers to God’s plan for redemption, not reprobation. For that (reprobation), man must reject God’s call to all for salvation. As St. Paul said it:

[God] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (I Tim. 2:4).

And:

… because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe (I Tim. 4:10).

St. John provides:

[Jesus Christ] is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

And St. Peter adds:

The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but if forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (II Peter 3:9).

Very important to our discussion is St. Augustine’s distinction between what he calls “the operating grace” and “the cooperating grace” in the lives of men. The first grace is given by God apart from man’s cooperation and prepares his will so that he may choose God. This grace is integrally related to God’s providential plan that existed from all eternity in the mind of God. This is the grace that the persecuted Christians to whom St. Paul was writing in his letter to the Romans can know is there for them and no power on earth can ever change that. The latter grace is given by God as well, but requires man’s cooperation for it to be effectual in his life.

When I shall have proved this, it will more manifestly appear that to lead a holy life is the gift of God,—not only because God has given a free will to man, without which there is no living ill or well; nor only because He has given him a commandment to teach him how he ought to live; but because through the Holy Ghost He sheds love abroad in the hearts of those whom he foreknew, in order to predestinate them; whom He predestinated, that He might call them; whom He called, that he might justify them; and whom he justified, that He might glorify them [Rom.8:28ff]… even man’s justice must be attributed to the operation of God, although not taking place without man’s will; and we therefore cannot deny that his perfection is possible even in this life, because all things are possible with God,—both those which He accomplishes of His own sole will, and those which He appoints to be done with the cooperation with Himself of His creature’s will (On the Spirit and the Letter, Ch. 7).

As we will see in more detail when we discuss the “P” of TULIP in a few weeks, God alone foreknows those who will finally persevere until the end in grace (except in cases of private revelation, as I said above), according to Scripture and to St. Augustine. But the key for us now is to see that St. Augustine very clearly teaches as Scripture does, that man must cooperate with the plan and grace of God in order to be saved. Thus, his election is not unconditional. God’s gift of grace includes our cooperation. This is all part of God’s immutable and predestined plan.

 … it is God who both works in man the willing to believe, and in all things prevents us with His mercy. To yield our consent, indeed, to God’s summons, or to withhold it, is (as I have said) the function of our own will. And this not only does not invalidate what is said, “For what do you have that you did not receive?” (citing I Cor. 4:7) but it really confirms it. For the soul cannot receive and possess these gifts, which are here referred to, except by yielding its consent. And thus whatever it possesses, and whatever it receives, is from God; and yet the act of receiving and having belongs, of course, to the receiver and possessor (St. Augustine, On the Spirit and Letter, ch. 60).

How far is this from the dreary predestination of Calvin’s invention that claims:

We, indeed, ascribe both prescience and predestination to God; but we say that it is absurd to make the latter subordinate to the former [as St. Augustine and St. Paul do!]… By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which He determined with Himself whatever He wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk III, Ch.21, Para. 5).

Michael Jordan Knows About Choice

For many Calvinists, John 15:16 is as plain as it gets when it comes to unconditional election. Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.” “See?” they’ll say. “The idea of God offering salvation to all is bogus. Jesus only elects a few, and it is his choice, not ours, as to who they will be.”

The 1984 NBA Draft is a great way, I find, to explain the biblical concept of God “choosing” us. The draft of 1984 is famous for having four Hall of Famers selected in the first round. You had Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton, all chosen in that same year. That is quite a class!

Hakeem Olajuwon, from the University of Houston, was chosen first overall by the Houston Rockets. That was certainly a good pick because he would become one of the greatest centers to ever play the game. But the second pick was where it became interesting. The Portland Trailblazers had Michael Jordan, from the University of North Carolina, available, but they chose Sam Bowie, from the University of Kentucky, instead. At the time it seemed like a decent pick because Bowie was an extraordinarily good college player, but it would eventually prove to have been the biggest mistake in NBA history. Bowie would unexpectedly flop in the NBA, while Michael Jordan would go on to be… well… Michael Jordan.

How doe this relate to our topic? Here’s how. The third team to pick  would be the Chicago Bulls, and they would choose Michael Jordan. If you would have asked Michael Jordan what team he would have liked to play for back then, there is no way he would have picked the Bulls. They were perennial losers at the time. But the truth is, he did not choose the Bulls, the Bulls organization chose him. And to this day, you will hear the refrain, “The Bulls made the best choice in NBA history. They chose Michael Jordan.”

Would anybody believe that because the Bulls “chose” Michael Jordan that he would not, in turn, have to choose them? Of course not.

So it is with Christ. He chooses us. Of that there can be no doubt. But according to his own words, he then asks us to choose him:

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne…

In Summary

The Catholic Church teaches that God elects only some for salvation and that election was known to God from all eternity. All of you reading this post who persevere until the end with our Lord and are saved will only be so because God “elected” you to be so from all eternity.

In saying that, the Scriptures and the Catholic Church do not mean to say that God does not offer to all the real possibility of salvation. He does. Whether or not we will finally be counted among the elect depends first of all upon the call and “election” of God, but secondarily, it relies upon our free response to his call and our persevering in the grace of his call until the end.

If you enjoyed this post, and if you want to dive deeper into the topic of salvation, click here.

 

 

The Trouble With Calvin – Pt. 1

Over my next five blog posts, I am going to critique the famous “five points” of Calvinist theology: 1. Total Depravity 2. Unconditional Election 3. Limited Atonement 4. Irresistibility of Grace 5. Perseverance of the Saints (“Once Saved, Always Saved”).

Pt. 1 – Total Depravity

In John Calvin’s magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin presents a view of man that is very much like Luther’s, but contrary to what we find in the pages of Sacred Scripture. Calvin used texts like Gen.6:5,

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,

and Romans 3:10ff,

None is righteous, no not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one…

in order to prove that man is totally and utterly depraved through the fall of Adam and Eve. Calvin’s conclusion from these texts and others was to say, “The will is so utterly vitiated and corrupted in every part as to produce nothing but evil” (Institutes, Bk. II, Chapter II, Para. 26).

What Say We?

The context of the texts Calvin used actually demonstrate the opposite of his claim. For example, if we read forward just four verses in Genesis 6, we find this:

But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord… Noah was a righteous (“just”) man, blameless in his generation (Gen. 6:8-9).

While we Catholics agree that God’s grace or “favor” was absolutely essential for Noah to be truly “just” before God; nevertheless, Noah was truly just, according to the text.

As far as the quote from Romans is concerned, the greater context of the entire epistle must be understood. One of the central themes of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans is the fact that it is through “the goodness of God” that we are led to repent (cf. Romans 2:4), to be justified (Romans 5:1-2), and persevere in the faith (cf. Romans 11:22). It is solely because of God’s grace that we can truly become just:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).

Further,

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death…in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:2-4).

Notice the emphasis on the fact that man is truly made just so much so that he can fulfill “the just requirement of the law.” It doesn’t get any more just, or righteous, than that!

Thus, Romans 3:10ff simply does not teach total depravity in a Calvinist sense. It cannot when the context is understood.

Moreover, if we examine the very verses where St. Paul paints his picture of the wicked who have “turned aside” and “done wrong,” we find he actually quotes Psalm 14:3. The next two verses of this Psalm explain who these “evil ones” are.

Have they no knowledge, all the evil-doers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord? There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous.

The Psalmist clearly refers to both evil-doers and “the righteous.”

The impetus of these and other texts from Romans tell us that Christ came to make us just, not that there are absolutely none who are just. We must stress again that it is because of the justice of Christ communicated to the faithful that their actions, and indeed, they themselves, are truly made just. But they indeed are truly made just.

Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right (Gr.—ho poion tein dikaiousunein—the one doing justice) is righteous (Gr.—dikaios estin—is just), as he is righteous (Gr.—kathos ekeinos dikaios estin—as he is just) (I John 3:7).

There is no way the Scripture could be any clearer that the faithful are truly made just in their being and in their actions through the grace of Christ.

The Problem Magnified

More grave problems begin to arise when we begin to follow the path Calvin lays for us with his first principle. Even when considering the unregenerate Calvin is wrong about total depravity because Scripture tells us even those who are outside of the law can,

… do by nature what 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” (Romans 2:14-15).

Though Catholics agree with Calvinists that grace is necessary even for these who are ignorant of the law in order for them to be just before God—in other words this text is not saying these pagans can be justified apart from grace—the text does infer that nature is not totally depraved because man can clearly act justly on a natural level, or by nature.

But an even more grave error comes to the fore when we consider his notion of the depravity of the just. “Depravity of the just?” Yes. That was not a typo. According to John Calvin, even those who have been justified by Christ “cannot perform one work which, if judged on its own merits, is not deserving of condemnation” (Institutes, Bk. III, Ch. 9, Para. 9). How far from “he that acts justly is just” (I John 3:7) or the plain words of the Psalmist who uses similar words as found in Gen. 15:6 with regard to Abraham being justified by faith: “[Abraham] believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness,” in Psalm 106:30-31: “Then Phineas stood up and interposed, and the plague was stayed. And that has been reckoned to him as righteousness from generation to generation.”

Phineas was clearly justified by his works and not just by faith. In other words, Phineas’ works are truly “just as he is just” to use the words of I John 3:7.

There are a multitude of biblical texts that come to mind at this point, but what about the words of our Lord in Matthew 12:37, “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Or, “by works a man is justified and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). Or,

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:13-14).

These texts do not even come close to saying all of these works were “worthy of condemnation.” They say just the opposite!

We should be clear here: All “good works” man performs that contribute to his salvation are first and foremost God’s gifts, which, along with his cooperation, truly make him just and worthy to “walk with [Christ] in white; for [he is] worthy” (Rev. 3:4), by God’s grace and mercy. But we cannot escape the biblical fact that these works truly are just and they are truly the fruit of the just man himself.

The Problems Continue

Once Calvin deduces “total depravity” via poor exegesis of a relatively few texts of Scripture, all sorts of unbiblical notions follow. For example, Calvin also concludes from this that human nature is so totally depraved that free will is an impossibility. It’s a farce:

The grace offered by the Lord is not merely one which every individual has full liberty of choosing to receive or reject, but a grace which produces in the heart both choice and will (Institutes, Bk. II, Ch. 3, Para. 13).

According to Calvin, man’s total depravity means necessarily that he does not have the capacity to cooperate with God’s grace.

In fact, I argue that Calvin’s notion of grace and nature is a carbon copy of the theology of Sunni Islam. And I am far from alone in my conclusion. The famous Calvinist and anti-Catholic, Loraine Boettner, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, provides:

Dr. Samuel M. Zwemer, who in a very real sense can be referred to as “apostle to the Mohammedan World,” calls attention to the strange parallel between the Reformation in Europe under Calvin and that in Arabia under Mohammed. Says he: “Islam is indeed in many respects the Calvinism of the Orient. It, too, was a call to acknowledge the sovereignty of God’s will… It is this vital theistic principle that explains the victory of Islam over the weak divided and idolatrous Christendom of the Orient” (Boettner, The Doctrine of Predestination, p. 318-319).

Strange bedfellows? Perhaps not. Islam and Calvinism agree based not only upon a distorted notion of the sovereignty of God, but also because of a distorted notion of man’s depravity. The two are very similar.

Understanding the Strange

When John Calvin says man is utterly dependent upon God for every single just thought in his mind (see Institutes, Bk. II, Ch. II, Para. 27), Catholics will happily agree. And they would be correct. We do agree. However, appearances can be deceiving because there is more meaning beneath those words that Catholics cannot agree with.

With Calvin, there is no sense of grace aiding and empowering our wills as St. Augustine taught and the Catholic Church teaches. For Calvin, being “dependent upon God” means our free cooperation or free wills have no part to play. God does not merely empower our wills; he operates them.

In the end, this may well be the most disturbing idea stemming from Calvin’s notion of total depravity. Man is essentially a puppet of God’s, which led to Calvin attributing both the good and the evil actions of man to God.

And mind you, Calvin rejects and ridicules the Catholic notion of God merely permitting evil and working all things together for good. In his words:

Hence a distinction has been invented between doing and permitting, because to many it seemed altogether inexplicable how Satan and all the wicked are so under the hand and authority of God, that he directs their malice to whatever end he pleases… (Institutes, Bk. I, Ch. XVIII, Para. 1).

Evildoers do not commit acts of depravity in spite of the command of God, but because of the command of God, according to Calvin (Ibid. Para. 4)! In fact, Calvin uses Is. 45:7 and Amos 3:6 to teach that there is no evil that occurs that is not “impelled” by God’s positive command (Ibid. Para. 2).

God is the author of all those things which, according to these objectors, happen only by his inactive permission. He testifies that he creates light and darkness, forms good and evil (Is. [45:7]); that no evil happens which he hath not done (Amos [3:6]) (Ibid. Para. 3).

As Catholics we understand—as St. Paul teaches—“since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct” (Romans 1:28). This means God may well remove grace that is rejected. He may also hold back grace as well, but this is, as St. Augustine said, God’s “just judgment.” But, according to Calvin’s unbiblical teaching, God does not give grace in the first place and then “impels” men to act sinfully. As quoted above, according to Calvin, God causes evil. And we are not talking about physical evil here; we are talking about moral evil. That is categorically absurd! God cannot “do” or “impel” moral evil because He is infinitely and absolutely good!

God cannot lie (Heb. 6:8, Number 23:19), “he cannot deny Himself” (II Timothy 2:13)—or act contrary to His nature. If God’s nature is one of love and pure being, it is absurd to say that he can “do” evil, which is by nature a lack of some perfection that ought to be present in a given nature. In fact, James 1:13 tells us that God not only cannot cause this kind of evil, but he cannot even tempt anyone with evil. That is contrary to his nature.

The Bottom Line

When Is. 45:7 and Amos 3:6 say God “creates evil” and “does evil,” this must be seen only in a sense in which it does not contradict God’s nature and what is clearly revealed to us about God in Scripture. God can directly cause physical evil, such as the ten plagues he released against Egypt in Exodus. But this was an act of justice, which in and of itself was morally upright and justified. We can also say that God permits evil in view of the fact that he chose to create us with freedom. But even there, God only permits evil in view of his promise to bring good out of that evil as is most profoundly demonstrated through the greatest evil in the history of the world—the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through this greatest evil God brings about the greatest good—the redemption of the world. God did not kill Christ, nor did he “impel” anyone to kill Christ. But by virtue of his omnipotence, he brings good out of the evil acts committed.

The Immaculate Conception

Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” I John 1:8 adds, “If any man says he has no sin he is a liar and the truth is not in him.” These texts could not be clearer for millions of Protestants: “How could anyone believe Mary was free from all sin in light of these Scriptures? What’s more, Mary herself said, ‘My soul rejoices in God my savior’ in Luke 1:47. She clearly understood herself to be a sinner if she admits to needing a savior.”

The Catholic Answer

Not a few Protestants are surprised to discover the Catholic Church actually agrees that Mary was “saved.” Indeed, Mary needed a savior! However, Mary was “saved” from sin in a most sublime manner. She was given the grace to be “saved” completely from sin so that she never committed even the slightest transgression. The problem here is Protestants tend to emphasize God’s “salvation” almost exclusively to the forgiveness of sins actually committed. However, Sacred Scripture indicates that salvation can also refer to man being protected from sinning before the fact.

Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever (Jude 24-25).

The great Franciscan theologian, Duns Scotus, explained ca. 600 years ago that falling into sin could be likened to a man approaching unaware a massive 20-feet deep ditch. If he falls into the ditch, he would need someone to lower a rope and save him. But if someone were to warn him of the danger ahead resulting in the man not falling into the ditch at all, he would have been saved from falling in the first place. Analogously, Mary was saved from sin by receiving the grace to be preserved from it. But she was still saved.

The Exception[s] to the Rule

But what about “all have sinned,” and “if any man says he has no sin he is a liar and the truth is not in him?” Wouldn’t “all” and/or “any man” include Mary? On the surface, this sounds reasonable. But this way of thinking carried to its logical conclusion would list Jesus Christ in the company of sinners as well. No Christian would dare say that! Yet, no Christian can deny the plain texts of Scripture declaring Christ’s full humanity either. Thus, if one is going to take I John 1:8 in a strict, literal sense, then any man would apply to Jesus as well!

The truth is—and all Christians agree—Jesus Christ was an exception to Romans 3:23 and I John 1:8. And the Bible tells us he was in Hebrews 4:15: “Christ was tempted in all points even as we are and yet he was without sin.” The real question now is: are there any other exceptions to this rule? Yes, there are. In fact, there are millions of them.

First of all, we need to recall that both of these texts—Romans 3:23 and I John 1:8—are dealing with personal rather than original sin. Romans 5:12 will deal with original sin. And there are two exceptions to that general biblical norm as well. But for now, we will simply deal with Romans 3:23 and I John 1:8. I John 1:8 obviously refers to personal sin because in the very next verse, St. John tells us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins…” We do not confess original sin; we confess personal sins.

The context of Romans 3:23 makes clear that it too refers to personal sin:

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave. They use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness (Romans 3:10-14).

Original sin is not something we do; it is something we’ve inherited. Romans chapter three deals with personal sin because it speaks of sins committed by the sinner. With this in mind, consider this: Has a baby in the womb or a child of two ever committed a personal sin? No, they haven’t (see Romans 9:11)! Or, how about the mentally challenged who do not have the use of their intellects and wills? These cannot sin because in order to sin a person has to know the act he is about to perform is sinful while freely engaging his will in carrying it out. Without the proper faculties to enable them to sin, children before the age of accountability and anyone who does not have the use of his intellect and will cannot sin. Right there you have millions of exceptions to Romans 3:23 and I John 1:8.

The question remains: how do we know Mary is an exception to the norm of “all have sinned?” And more specifically, is there biblical support for this claim? Yes, there is. Indeed, there is much biblical support, but in this brief post I shall cite just five examples, among the many to which I could refer, that give us biblical support for this ancient doctrine of the Faith.

1. LUKE 1:28:

And [the angel Gabriel] came to [Mary] and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”

Many Protestants will insist this text to be little more than a common greeting of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary. “What would this have to do with Mary being without sin?” Yet, the truth is, according to Mary herself, this was no common greeting. The text reveals Mary to have been “greatly troubled at the saying and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:29, emphasis added). What was it about this greeting that was so uncommon for Mary to react this way? There are at least two key reasons:

First, according to many biblical scholars as well as Pope John Paul II, the angel did more than simply greet Mary. The angel actually communicated a new name or title to her. In Greek, the greeting was kaire, kekaritomene, or “Hail, full of grace.” Generally speaking, when one greeted another with kaire, a name or title would almost be expected to be found in the immediate context. “Hail, king of the Jews” in John 19:3 and “Claudias Lysias, to his Excellency the governor Felix, greeting” (Acts 23:26) are two biblical examples of this. The fact that the angel replaces Mary’s name in the greeting with “full of grace” was anything but common. This would be analogous to me speaking to one of our tech guys at Catholics answers and saying, “Hello, he who fixes computers.” In our culture, I would just be considered weird. But in Hebrew culture, names, and name changes, tell us something that is permanent about the character and calling of the one named. Just recall the name changes of Abram to Abraham (changed from “father” to “father of the multitudes”) in Gen. 17:5, Saray to Sarah (“my princess” to “princess”) in Gen. 17:15, and Jacob to Israel (“supplanter” to “he who prevails with God”) in Gen. 32:28.

In each case, the names reveal something permanent about the one named. Abraham and Sarah transition from being a “father” and “princess” of one family to being “father” and “princess” or “mother” of the entire people of God (see Romans 4:1-18; Is. 51:1-2). They become Patriarch and Matriarch of God’s people forever. Jacob/Israel becomes the Patriarch whose name, “he who prevails with God,” continues forever in the Church, which is called “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16). The people of God will forever “prevail with God” in the image of the Patriarch Jacob who was not just named Israel, but he truly became “he who prevails with God.”

An entire tome could be written concerning the significance of God’s revelation of his name in Exodus 3:14-15 as I AM. God revealed to us volumes about his divine nature in and through the revelation of his name—God is pure being with no beginning and no end; he is all perfection, etc.

What’s in a name? A lot according to Scripture!

When you add to this the fact that St. Luke uses the perfect passive participle, kekaritomene, as his “name” for Mary, we get deeper insight into the meaning of Mary’s new name. This word literally means “she who has been graced” in a completed sense. This verbal adjective, “graced,” is not just describing a simple past action. Greek has the aorist tense for that. The perfect tense is used to indicate that an action has been completed in the past resulting in a present state of being. That’s Mary’s name! So what does it tell us about Mary? Well, the average Christian is not completed in grace and in a permanent sense (see Phil. 3:8-12). But according to the angel, Mary is. You and I sin, not because of grace, but because of a lack of grace, or a lack of our cooperation with grace, in our lives. This greeting of the angel is one clue into the unique character and calling of the Mother of God.

Objection!

One objection to the above is rooted in Eph. 2:8-9. Here, St. Paul uses the perfect tense and passive voice when he says, “For by grace you have been saved…” Why wouldn’t we then conclude all Christians are complete in salvation for all time? There seems to be an inconsistency in usage here.

Actually, the Catholic Church understands that Christians are completed in grace when they are baptized. In context, St. Paul is speaking about the initial grace of salvation in Ephesians two. The verses leading up to Eph. 2:8-9, make this clear: “… we all lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath…even when we were dead in trespasses and sins…(by grace you have been saved)” (vss. 3-5). But there is no indication here, as there is with Mary, that the Christian is going to stay that way. In other words, Eph. 2:8-9 does not confer a name.

In fact, because of original sin, we can guarantee that though we are certainly perfected in grace through baptism, ordinarily speaking, we will not stay that way after we are baptized; that is, if we live for very long afterward (see I John 1:8)! There may be times in the lives of Christians when they are completed or perfected in grace temporarily. For example, after going to confession or receiving the Eucharist well-disposed. We let God, of course, be the judge of this, not us, as St. Paul tells us in I Cor. 4:3-4:

I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted (Gr.—justified). It is the Lord who judges me.

But only Mary is given the name “full of grace” and in the perfect tense indicating that this permanent state of Mary was completed.

2. An Ancient Prophecy—Genesis 3:15:

Genesis 3:15 is often referred to by biblical scholars as the Protoevangelium. It is a sort of “gospel” before “the gospel.” This little text contains in very few words God’s plan of salvation which would be both revealed and realized in the person of Jesus Christ. Yet, when one reads the text, one cannot help but note that this prophetic woman seems to have what could be termed almost a disturbing prominence and importance in God’s providential plan:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed: he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.

Not only do we have the Virgin Birth here implied because the text says the Messiah would be born of “the seed of the woman” (the “seed” is normally of the man), but notice “the woman” is not included as “the seed” of the devil. It seems that both the woman and her seed are in opposition to and therefore not under the dominion of the devil and “his seed,” i.e., all who have original sin and are “by nature children of wrath” as St. Paul puts it in Eph. 2:3. Here, we have in seed form (pun intended), the fact that the woman—Mary—would be without sin, especially original sin, just as her Son—the Messiah—would be. The emphasis on Mary is truly remarkable in that the future Messiah was only mentioned in relation to her. There can be little doubt that a parallel is being drawn between Jesus and Mary and their absolute opposition to the devil.

3. Mary, Ark of the Covenant:

The Old Testament ark of the Covenant was a true icon of the sacred. It was a picture of the purity and holiness God fittingly demands of those objects and/or persons most closely associated with himself and the plan of salvation. Because it would contain the very presence of God symbolized by three types of the coming Messiah—the manna, the Ten Commandments, and Aaron’s staff—it had to be most pure and untouched by sinful man (see II Sam. 6:1-9; Exodus 25:10ff; Numbers 4:15; Heb. 9:4).

In the New Testament, the new and true Ark would not be an inanimate object, but a person—the Blessed Mother. How much more pure would the new and true Ark be when we consider the old ark was a mere “shadow” in relation to it (see Heb. 10:1)? This image of Mary as the Ark of the Covenant is an indicator that Mary would fittingly be free from all contagion of sin in order for her to be a worthy vessel to bear God in her womb. And most importantly, just as the Old Covenant ark was pristine from the moment it was constructed with explicit divine instructions in Exodus 25, so would Mary be most pure from the moment of her conception. God, in a sense, prepared his own dwelling place in both the Old and New Testaments.

4. Mary, the “New Eve” of the New Covenant:

It is important for us to recall, as I mentioned briefly above, that New Covenant fulfillments are always more glorious and more perfect than their Old Testament types, which are “but a shadow of the good things to come” in the New Covenant (Heb. 10:1). With this New Testament truth in mind, let us consider the New Testament revelation of Mary to be the antitype of Eve, or the “New Eve.” After the fall of Adam and Eve in Gen. 3, God promised the advent of another “woman” in Gen. 3:15, or a “New Eve” who would oppose Lucifer, and whose “seed” would crush his head. This “woman” and “her seed” would reverse the curse, so to speak, that the original “man” and “woman” had brought upon humanity through their disobedience.

It is most significant here to note “Adam” and “Eve” are revealed simply as “the man” and “the woman” before the woman’s name was changed to “Eve” (Heb.—Mother of the living) after the fall (See Gen. 2:21ff). When we then look at the New Covenant, Jesus is explicitly referred to as the “last Adam,” or the “New Adam” in I Cor. 15:45. And Jesus himself indicates Mary to be the prophetic “woman” or “New Eve” of Gen. 3:15 when he refers to his mother as “woman” in John 2:5 and 19:26. Moreover, St. John refers to Mary as “woman” eight times in Rev. 12. As the first Eve brought death to all of her children through disobedience and heeding the words of the ancient Serpent, the devil, the “New Eve” of Revelation 12 brings life and salvation to all of her children through her obedience. The same “serpent” who deceived the original woman of Genesis is revealed, in Revelation 12, to fail in his attempt to overcome this New Woman. The New Eve overcomes the serpent and as a result, “The serpent is angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God, and bear testimony to Jesus” (Rev. 12:17).

If Mary is the New Eve, and New Testament fulfillments are always more glorious than their Old Testament antecedents, it would be unthinkable for Mary to be conceived in sin. If she were, she would be inferior to Eve who was created in a perfect state, free from all sin.

5. Mary, the Beginning of the New Creation:

Jeremiah 31:22 presents another fascinating prophecy concerning the coming of the “New Woman” and the New Covenant. In the midst of this well-known chapter famous for its prophecy concerning the coming of the New Covenant (see Jeremiah 31:31, which is quoted in Heb. 8:8), we read: “For the Lord hath created a new thing upon the earth. A WOMAN SHALL COMPASS A MAN” (DRV). St. Jerome, in the fourth century, comments on this text:

“Can a bride forget her jewels, or a virgin her girdle” (Jer. 2:32) Always in this very prophecy it is said that a great miracle occurred involving this woman: The woman will surround the man and the virgin’s womb will contain the parent of all.

In the first covenant, the man “compassed” or “encompassed” the woman. The woman came from the rib of the man. In the New Covenant, “the New Man,” or “New Adam”—Jesus—would come from the womb of “the Woman”—or “New Eve.” It is Mary that would “compass” Jesus.

Many fathers of the Church, in agreement with St. Jerome, will see from this and other biblical texts Mary as the “new earth” or “new land” out of which God would form the “New Adam.” Consider St. Jerome’s Tractus de Psalmo 66 and 96 (these are commentaries on the Psalms). When considering Psalm 66, St. Jerome sees Jesus and Mary in both the “flower and the Lily” of Song of Solomon 2:1 and the “fruits of the earth” from Psalm 66 (67):6:

Do you want to know what this fruit is? It is the virgin from the Virgin, the Lord from the handmaid, God from a human creature, the Son from a mother, the fruit from the earth.

St. Jerome here refers to Mary as “the earth.” He says something similar in his commentary on Psalm 96. He speaks of the promised land to David as being Mary:

The land of David is holy Mary, Mother of the Lord, “who was born of David’s seed according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3). What was promised to David was fulfilled in Mary’s virginity and birth, where a virgin is born from a Virgin.

Mary is the new earth out of which would be formed the New Adam. Just as God formed the first Adam from a pristine earth untouched by the curse of original sin, so God would bring the “New Adam” from a “New Land” or “New Earth” that would also most fittingly be pristine and untouched by sin. The first creation began without sin, so the New Creation would begin without sin as well. The first Eve would fall from grace; the New Eve would not.

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