It begins and ends with the grace of God

“It begins and ends with the grace of God.”

…deep within the Catechism there awaited a high hurdle.  Even if Cardinal Newman convincingly demonstrates how the development of doctrine accounts for those Catholic doctrines that make Baptists bristle and Calvinists cringe, there awaited the Grace and Justification section of the Catechism.  Wasn’t that the real key?  Hadn’t we been taught that Catholics were “working their way to heaven” or “earning” their own salvation?  Wasn’t that why Martin Luther had to rescue the gospel in the sixteenth century?  Rome was preaching another gospel, as Paul warned the Galatians, deserving the anathema, right?

To my shame and embarrassment, I discovered that idea to be false; born of ignorance at best, maybe anti-Catholic prejudice, or worse.  Even if I had picked it up innocently, and repeated it naively, I cannot justify my own ignorance and sloth.  To my surprise, I discovered in the twenty-first century what Saint Augustine discovered in the fourth: “Great hope has dawned; the Catholic Faith teaches not what we thought, and vainly accused it of[.]”  Indeed, the Church has been maligned and slandered, starting not in the sixteenth-century with the Reformers, but from the beginning.  Like Augustine, when I discovered the truth of the Catholic Church, by God’s grace, I could not stay away.  In fact, the Catholic Faith teaches what I have long believed:  our salvation begins and ends with the grace of God – – based on the life and death of the God-Man, Jesus Christ; His cross; and His triumph over the grave by the power of the Holy Spirit.

(Then quotes from the Catechism on grace and justification appear. You can read them on the Vatican website here, if you wish)

apostle paul rembrant
The Apostle Paul, by Rembrandt.

There is no daylight between the Catholic Faith and Sacred Scripture on Grace and Justification.  Martin Luther had legitimate complaints about the practices and discipline of the Church in the sixteenth century.  However, his expressions of sola Scriptura and sola fide were error.  He had no authority to break from the Church, or to set himself up against Her…

In short, Rome does not have a works-based religion.  Catholics are no more “working” or “earning” their way to heaven on their own merit than the Philippians, to whom the Apostle Paul exhorted: “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.  For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.” (Phil. 2:12-13, NAB, Revised Edition).  It begins and ends with the grace of God. There is no Scriptural authority to divorce my faith from my actions.  You and I know each other’s faith when we see each other’s works…

From With My Own Eyes

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John Calvin contrasted with modern Evangelicalism

Here is one person’s understanding of John Calvin (a Protestant reformer) and modern Evangelicalism. Written by a former Evangelical who converted to Catholic, in part due to what he discovered about Calvin:

When I finished seminary, I moved on to Ph.D. studies in Reformation history. My focus was on John Calvin (1509-1564), the French Reformer who made Geneva, Switzerland into a model Protestant city…

john calvin public domain
Protestant Reformer John Calvin.

Calvin shocked me by rejecting key elements of my Evangelical tradition. Born-again spirituality, private interpretation of Scripture, a broad-minded approach to denominations – Calvin opposed them all. I discovered that his concerns were vastly different, more institutional, even more Catholic. Although he rejected the authority of Rome, there were things about the Catholic faith he never thought about leaving. He took for granted that the Church should have an interpretive authority, a sacramental liturgy and a single, unified faith…

In 1551, Bolsec, a physician and convert to Protestantism [and a former Catholic monk], entered Geneva and attended a lecture on theology. The topic was Calvin’s doctrine of predestination, the teaching that God predetermines the eternal fate of every soul. Bolsec, who believed firmly in “Scripture alone” and “faith alone,” did not like what he heard. He thought it made God into a tyrant. When he stood up to challenge Calvin’s views, he was arrested and imprisoned.

What makes Bolsec’s case interesting is that it quickly evolved into a referendum on Church authority and the interpretation of Scripture. Bolsec, just like most Evangelicals today, argued that he was a Christian, that he had the Holy Spirit and that, therefore, he had as much right as Calvin to interpret the Bible. He promised to recant if Calvin would only prove his doctrine from the Scriptures. But Calvin would have none of it. He ridiculed Bolsec as a trouble maker (Bolsec generated a fair amount of public sympathy), rejected his appeal to Scripture, and called on the council to be harsh. He wrote privately to a friend that he wished Bolsec were “rotting in a ditch.”

What most Evangelicals today don’t realize is that Calvin never endorsed private or lay interpretation of the Bible. While he rejected Rome’s claim to authority, he made striking claims for his own authority…

Calvin was part of the problem [of fracturing within Protestantism]. He had insisted on the importance of unity and authority, but had rejected any rational or consistent basis for that authority. He knew that Scripture totally alone, Scripture interpreted by each individual conscience, was a recipe for disaster. But his own claim to authority was perfectly arbitrary. Whenever he was challenged, he simply appealed to his own conscience, or to his subjective experience, but he denied that right to Bolsec and others…

The whole thing is worth reading.

Would you choose the old manna or the new? Exodus 16 and John 6

OT manna
Moses and the bread from heaven from Exodus 16

Let’s say that an angel appeared before you. He held out his hands, and in one hand was a piece of manna from the Old Testament, exactly the same manna as what happened in Exodus 16. In the other hand was a piece of bread taken from one of your church services. Which would you choose? (I have left the type of bread open-ended so that any Christian who reads this can insert their own type of bread.)

I would not choose the old manna. I would choose the bread from one of my Church services, which is the Catholic Eucharist. This is because I believe that the new “bread from heaven” is superior to the old.

sheen eucharist
The new bread from heaven is superior to the old

The new “bread from heaven” is the body of Christ, as taught in John 6. The body of Christ is far superior to the old manna. If I had chosen the manna from the OT, let’s consider the ramifications. How is something from the old covenant, that was annulled because of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, more desirable than something from the new covenant? Did Christ institute the new bread from heaven, yet somehow the old bread from heaven is more desirable? How can that be? If I were to choose the old manna over the body of Christ, what would that say about my belief in the new covenant? Wouldn’t it say that I didn’t really believe in the new covenant, or that I believed it was weaker than the old?

Which would you choose, and why?

Embarrassed by the Catholic Church

Some blogs have so much strenuous objection to the Catholic Church, and it goes on and on and on… I do wonder what is under all that negativity. Sometimes I get the impression that the people are embarrassed by the Catholic Church. Nobody has ever said so, at least, I haven’t seen anyone admit it. It’s just a impression, a feeling, I get from time to time while reading different blogs and posts.

There are Bible verses about being ashamed of Christ or the Gospel. If the Church is his one-flesh bride (Eph. 5:32), then I think it is reasonable to apply those verses to her.

On empty rituals

birthday party empty ritual v2
Birthday parties are cultural rituals.

Let’s say you were good friends with your neighbor. She has a young son, and she invites you to his birthday party. You decide to go because you care about your neighbor, but you don’t really want to be there because he’s just a little kid, and a noisy one at that. So you go, but you don’t have a good time. The kids are laughing and having a good time, but you’re not. You notice, however, that other adults are having a good time. They’re smiling and laughing at the kids’ antics. Finally, as soon as you think you can get away, you make an excuse to leave.

Birthday celebrations are rituals. We might say that you experienced an empty birthday party, an empty ritual. What made it empty?

Did the son make it empty? Was it the other kids? The neighbor? The kids’ laughter? The fact that it was a birthday party? Why was it an empty ritual for you but apparently not for the other adults?

It might be that you didn’t fill the ritual with anything. Rituals require faith, hope, and love to see into them, to their meaning. It is possible that bringing faith, hope, and love to the neighbor’s son’s birthday party would have changed the event for you.

If the ritual seems empty, that might not be your fault. It could be that nobody taught you how to fill it, or that you even needed to fill it. I’ve seen that a lot. If you don’t know how to fill the ritual, then look around and see if you know anybody who does. I bet they can help you.

It’s just Catholic, not Roman Catholic

catholic with a frame
Catholic: with respect to the whole, or, universal.

Generally speaking, it’s not correct to refer to the Catholic Church as the Roman Catholic Church. People do it all the time, but that isn’t how the universal Church refers to herself. It is too narrow of a name, and a bit contradictory if applied to the entire Church. Catholic means “universal,” or, “pertaining to the whole.” You will see some Catholic Churches use the phrase “Roman Catholic,” in their title, but this just means that they are Latin Rite. There are 23 rites in the Catholic Church. For example, there is a Chaldean rite, a Melkite rite, a Maronite rite, and so on. It would be improper to refer to a Chaldean Catholic as a Roman Catholic. Such a person is in full communion with the Catholic Church and the successor of St. Peter, but is not Roman Catholic.

So I recommend referring to anybody in full communion with the Catholic Church and successor of St. Peter as a Catholic, and the Church led by him as the Catholic Church. If you must use the term Roman Catholic, only use it with those Catholics who worship under the Latin rite, like I do. Don’t use it to refer to the entire Church–it’s just not correct to do so.

Melkite Catholic Church
St. Anne Melkite Greek Catholic Church, in Los Angeles. It is Greek Catholic, not Roman Catholic.

Here is a photo of a Catholic Church that is not Roman Catholic. I could go to mass here to fulfill my Sunday obligation, because it is in full communion with the successor of St. Peter. They don’t call it mass though. They call it Divine Liturgy. Check out their bulletin. It’s partially written in Arabic, even though it is located in Los Angeles. There is so much diversity in the Catholic Church!

Even though I worship under the Latin rite, call me Catholic instead of Roman Catholic. That works best for me.

For Reformation Day: Protestantism hurt and confused me

Reposting this from last year. A brief synopsis of my personal experiences within Protestantism.

https://everybodysdaughter.wordpress.com/2016/10/31/protestantism-hurt-and-confused-me/

For Reformation Day: Bible conundrum

I recently had an online disagreement with somebody, a Protestant. I asked her to cite Bible verses to support her position. So she did. I replied I disagreed with her interpretation of those verses. Then I asked her if I had an obligation to accept her interpretation. I also said that if her answer was yes, that I DID have an obligation to accept her interpretation, then to tell me where or from whom she received her authority to impose her interpretation upon me (and presumably upon every other Christian). Then I asked her what we should do if I disagreed with her claim about the source of her authority. Her response was that I was using an ad hominem. I responded by saying that I was not criticising her, but I was criticising her presupposition. So it wasn’t an ad hominem.

Here is the syllogism:

  • Since God is one, He does not change, and He only teaches one truth, there can only be one objectively correct interpretation of Scripture.
  • There is disagreement of what Scripture means between two or more Christians of good will. They all can see this.
  • No parties to the dispute have authority to enforce the correct interpretation, but one or more do not realize this. One or more believes that making better arguments or citing more or better Scripture verses is the way to resolve the dispute. Yet the dispute is never resolved.
  • No agreement is made. Visible fractures develop between Christians, since the parties to the dispute all believe themselves to understand the correct interpretation of Scripture (which is a tacit reinforcement of the first point above).

By what authority may somebody enforce the one and only correct interpretation of Sacred Scripture when there is a disagreement between Christians of good will?

Jesus said, “It is written…”

Strictly speaking, the Bible doesn’t teach us anything. Teaching requires a teacher, a person. You can do a little experiment to see what I mean. Set your Bible in front of you, closed. Say to it, “Bible, teach me about Christ.” Then wait. What happens? Nothing happens, of course. The Bible did not suddenly open and begin to speak. Opening a Bible, reading it, then teaching what is written in it requires a person. The Bible itself is not super clear about a number of important things, and this one reason why there are so many factions within Christianity, all claiming the Bible as their infallible authority. It is also why we must be careful about who we listen to about the Bible.

The Bible is the Word of God. It is good for us to read it and meditate on it. Jesus said, “It is written…” He did not say, “It teaches…”

1 Cor. 1:12 does not say, “I am of the Scriptures”

Seckau Basilika Engelskapelle Bekehrung des Äthiopiers
The Ethiopian Eunuch and Philip from Acts 8. Credit: Uoaei1 Wikimedia Commons

I wrote this post as a response to an interaction I had earlier today on my blog.

1 Corinthians 1:12 says: “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.” (KJV)

St. Paul is discussing divisions among the Christians. I just thought of something though. None of the examples St. Paul gives are saying, “I am of the Scriptures.” If the “Bible alone” doctrine is true, then this situation would have been a good opportunity for the Holy Spirit to teach it, it seems to me. After all, they certainly had Scriptures at that time, what we now call the Old Testament. And the Scriptures are important. They are the Word of God. Many people say that are the highest or final authority. If that were true, then certainly some of the people St. Paul mentioned would have said, “I am of the Scriptures.” Why would they be saying they were of one person or another if the Scriptures alone were the highest authority?

Today, Christians will often say, “I don’t follow any person. I use the Bible alone as my authority.” This sounds just like saying, “I am of the Scriptures.” Yet there is no Biblical example of somebody identifying with the Scriptures in that way.

The Scriptures are like a Holy Reference Book, to be sure, but it is a two-edged sword and we must be careful when using it.