Behavior among the people of God is defined by doctrinal beliefs, and doctrinal beliefs are rooted in some source of authority. The question of authority is basic, it is the foundation of any religious system. Roman Catholicism and Protestantism initially and fundamentally divide around the question of authority. The doctrinal differences that form the expanse that separates the two arise from the distinctively different voices of authority which underpin them.
Protestantism contends that the Scriptures are the sole source of authority for the believer--hence, sola scriptura, or, Scripture alone as authoritative. sola scriptura (along with sola fide--faith alone) was the rallying cry of the Reformers. They realized anew that the Bible alone is vested with absolute authority. It alone is the guide for the believer’s faith and life. Protestant belief in the Bible as the single source of authority results in the subordination of all beliefs and practices to the Bible. Those beliefs and practices which are counter to the Scriptures are expected to be discarded and replaced by those which are clearly biblical.
Every religious movement that develops some unity and continues to live has its traditions. These traditions gather up the beliefs, thinking, practices and rules of the group, particularly as these are expressed in its doctrinal standards and forms of government. In this manner the movement gives stability to and regulates its own manner of life, and hands that stability and manner of life on to the next generation.
We do not reject all tradition, but rather make judicious use of it in so far as it accords with Scripture and is founded on truth. We should, for instance, treat with respect and study with care the confessions and council pronouncements of the various churches, particularly those of the ancient church and of Reformation days. We should also give careful attention to the confessions and council decisions of the present day churches, scrutinizing most carefully of course those of the denomination to which we belong. But we do not give any church the right to formulate new doctrine or to make decisions contrary to the teaching of Scripture. The history of the church at large shows all too clearly that church leaders and church councils can and do make mistakes, some of them serious. Consequently their decisions should have no authority except as they are based on Scripture.
Protestants...keep these standards strictly subordinate to Scripture, and in that they are ever ready to re-examine them for that purpose. In other words they insist that in the life of the church Scripture is primary and the denominational standards are subordinate or secondary. Thus they use their traditions with one controlling caution: they continually ask if this or that aspect of their belief and practice is true to the Bible. They subject every statement of tradition to that test, and they are willing to change any element that fails to meet that test.2
Faithfulness to the Bible is the believer’s weapon against costly spiritual compromise and error. Faithfulness to Scripture translates into faithfulness to God in the life of the believer.
In contrast to the Protestant position of sola scriptura, Roman Catholicism finds its source of authority in three areas: the Bible, Tradition, and the teaching authority of the Church, or the Magisterium. Roman Catholic documents state:
Sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out of the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move toward the same goal. Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. And Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and by the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching. Thus it comes about that the Church does not draw her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Hence, both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal feelings of devotion and reverence.
Sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church. By adhering to it the entire holy people, united to its pastors, remains always faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (cf. Acts 2:42 Greek). So, in maintaining, practicing and professing the faith that has been handed on there should be a remarkable harmony between the bishops and the faithful.
But the task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone.
It is clear, therefore, that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.3
Roman authority resides, then, in the “Word of God” as the source and the teaching office of the Church as interpreter.
1. Identify some traditions that are present in the Protestant sub-culture today. Where do these traditions come from? How do our traditions benefit us? How do they hurt us? What power do traditions hold over us?
2. What traditions have influenced your spiritual nurturing? Have you ever challenged a tradition that you have grown up with and changed it after discovering that it lacked compelling biblical support? Are you open to such personal challenge? Are there elements of your personal faith that need to be challenged by Scripture?
3. How does the usage of “The Word of God” differ between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism?
Roman Catholicism embraces the inspiration of the Scriptures.
In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, “but as what it really is, the word of God.” [Note the lower case “w” in “the word of God.”] “In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them.”4
God is the author of Sacred Scripture. “The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”
For Holy Mother Church, relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and the New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.5
Roman Catholicism’s Bible differs, however, from the Protestant Bible. The Roman Catholic Bible contains the Apocrypha--books contained in the LXX (Greek Old Testament or Septuagint) but not contained in the Hebrew Scriptures. The early church and the Reformers questioned the authority of the Apocryphal books on the basis of their absence from the Hebrew Canon. “Jerome (d. A.D. 420) declared as apocryphal all those writings which stood outside the Hebrew Canon, but in his Vulgate Version he included them according to church practice, though not without some reservations.”6 Jerome’s Latin Vulgate was declared Rome’s official Bible at the Council of Trent in 1546. In doing so, it was therefore canonized by the Catholic Church. The Latin Vulgate Version alone was recognized as authentic by the Catholic Church.
The Vatican Council of 1870 [Vatican I] reaffirmed the declaration of the Council of Trent that “these books of the Old Testament and New Testament are to be received as sacred and canonical, in their integrity, with all their parts, as they are enumerated in the decree of the said council, and are contained in the ancient Latin edition of the Vulgate.”
In the year 1590 Sixtus V issued an edition of the Vulgate which he declared to be final, and prohibited under an anathema the publication of any new editions thereafter unless they should be exactly like that one. However, he died soon after, and scholars found numerous errors in his edition. Two years later a new edition was published under pope Clement VIII, and that is the one in general use today.
The Roman Catholic Douay version of the Bible (New Testament, 1582, and Old Testament, 1609) was made from the Latin Vulgate, as are the Roman Catholic translations into modern languages.7
Rome’s reverence for the Vulgate over the centuries meant that Catholic translations of the Bible were only translations of translations rather than translations of the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. Advances in the quality of the original texts gained by the process of textual criticism did not benefit Rome.
The Church seems to have shifted in its position toward the Vulgate according to Vatican II documents.
...suitable and correct translations are [to be] made into various languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books.8
Sola Scriptura, Indeed!
The Reformers’ commitment to sola scriptura was, no doubt, met with many assaults by the Roman Church. Certainly they were sometimes over zealous in protecting their theology from potential incursions of tradition. The following illustrates the unusual extremes to which they were willing to go to defend sola scriptura.
The Hebrew alphabet originally consisted of consonants only. Few of the vowels had any written notation prior to the age of the Masoretes (who began their work about A.D. 520). At that time, Hebrew was falling into disuse so that people were increasingly less conversant with it. Visible representations of the vowel sounds in the Hebrew Old Testament had become a necessary crutch. The Masoretes did not invent the vowel sounds, but “received” them as part of their tradition: what they did was add signs or “points” to the text as visible representations of the traditional vowel sounds. This pointed Masoretic Hebrew text became the text that the Reformers relied on, and is still the text on which virtually all modern Protestant translations are based.
Some of the Reformers’ successors found themselves embarrassed by these Hebrew points. The points were simply tradition--something that had been handed down. sola scriptura, indeed! The Catholics had their “ancient and vulgate edition,” which was translated from the Hebrew prior to the addition of the vowel points and certified as authentic by the magisterium of the church. The reformed churches, the Catholics insisted, had no comparable certainty.
Some of the Reformers were uncomfortable with this seeming dilemma, and undertook to argue that the points, far from being of recent, man-made origin, had always existed alongside the consonantal letters and were equally inspired by God. The climax of this was reached in 1675 when the Helvetic Consensus Formula provided that no man should be licensed to preach the Gospel without first professing his belief in the divine inspiration of the Hebrew vowel points!!9
Historically, the Roman Catholic Church has forbidden the free use of the Bible by the laity. The Council of Trent reaffirmed the earlier Council of Valencia (1229) with the following:
In as much as it is manifest, from experience, that if the Holy Bible, translated into the vulgar tongue, be indiscriminately allowed to everyone, the temerity of men will cause more evil than good to arise from it; it is, on this point, referred to the judgment of the bishops, or inquisitors, who may, by the advice of the priest or confessor, permit the reading of the Bible translated into the vulgar tongue by Catholic authors, to those persons whose faith and piety, they apprehend, will be augmented, and not injured by it; and this permission they must have in writing.10
Such was the teaching and practice of the Roman Church for centuries. For one to possess or read the Bible in his native tongue without permission in writing from his superior and under the watchful eye of the bishop was a mortal sin, for which absolution could not be granted until the book was delivered to the priest.11
The Church has recently shifted its position regarding the use of the Bible. Vatican II encourages Bible study among the laity.
Access to sacred Scripture ought to be wide open to the Christian faithful.12
...all clerics, particularly priests of Christ and others who, as deacons or catechists, are officially engaged in the ministry of the Word, should immerse themselves in the Scriptures by constant sacred reading and diligent study.
Likewise, the sacred Synod forcefully and specifically exorts all the Christian faithful, especially those who live the religious life, to learn “the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:8) by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” Therefore, let them go gladly to the sacred text itself....13
1. Working with 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21, and 1 Corinthians 2:13, compose a statement regarding the inspiration of the Bible. Does the usage of Bible passages to validate the inspiration of the Bible constitute circular reasoning?
2. Protestant doctrine rests on the foundation of the 66 books of the Protestant Bible. Upon what basis do we recognize these 66 books as inspired and therefore authoritative?
3. Irenaeus (d. c. A.D. 200) is said to have identified tradition and Scripture as one and the same. Is it reasonable to assume that tradition (that which was given by the apostles), once inscripturated, was replaced by the written documents?
4. Why did the Roman Church prohibit the common use of the Scriptures?
5. What might be the potential result of free access to the Bible for Roman Catholics?
6. How does the Catholic Church’s post-Vatican II position on access to the Bible concern Protestant evangelism of Roman Catholics? How might the Bible be utilized in evangelizing them?
Webster defines tradition as “the process of handing down information, opinions, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example....” Tradition in Catholic theology is that which has been handed down from the apostles.
Christ the Lord...commanded the apostles to preach the Gospel.... This Gospel was to be the source of all saving truth and moral discipline. This was faithhfully done: it was done by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received--whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit....
In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them “their own position of teaching authority.”
Thus, the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time. Hence, the apostles, in handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to maintain the traditions which they had learned either by word of mouth or by letter....14
The Catechism adds,
This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through Tradition, “the Church, in her doctrine, life, and worship perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.” “The sayings of the Fathers are a witness to the life-giving presence of this Tradition, showing how its riches are poured out in the practice and life of the Church, in her belief and her prayer.”15
Roman Catholic Tradition then is the apostles’ preaching, example, and institutions passed down through their successor bishops and expressed in the life of the Church. This Tradition is said to be living in that the Holy Spirit maintains the continuity of the unwritten, apostolic Gospel in the Church, and provides growth in insight into the Tradition through its expression in the lives and worship of the faithful.
Catholic theologian Avery Dulles explains,
It had become common, especially since the Counter-Reformation, to think of tradition objectively, as a collection of truths communicated to the apostles and preserved in the church. Without rejecting this notion, contemporary Catholicism shows a deeper awareness that tradition cannot be adequately understood as a body of explicit teaching. Many doctrines are contained in a merely implicit way in tradition considered as an activity or process whereby faith is expressed and transmitted.16
So, Tradition is not simply a body of truths, but is a “process whereby faith is expressed and transmitted.” The expression of the Roman Catholic faith collectively by the faithful continually elucidates the Tradition in such a way that previously unseen elements of its content become unobscured. In this way, insight into the Tradition grows,
The Tradition that comes from the apostles makes progress in the Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on. This comes about in various ways. It comes through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts. It comes from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which they experience. And it comes from the preaching of those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of truth. Thus, as the centuries go by, the Church is always advancing towards the plenitude of divine truth, until eventually the words of God are fulfilled in her.17
McCarthy comments about this growth in insight,
Since what the Church does reflects what the Church believes, the universal practice of the Church is also considered a reliable witness to the Roman Catholic faith.18
“The sensus fidei refers to the instinctive sensitivity and discrimination which the members of the Church possess in matters of faith.”19
The holy People of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office: It spreads abroad a living witness to him, especially by a life of faith and love and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips praising his name. The whole body of the faithful who have an annointing that comes from the holy one cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of the faith (sensus fidei) of the whole people, when “from the bishops to the last of the faithful” they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals. By this appreciation of the faith, aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth, the People of God, guided by the sacred teaching authority (magisterium), and obeying it, receives not the mere word of men, but truly the word of God, the faith once for all delivered to the saints. The People unfailingly adheres to this faith, penetrates it more deeply with right judgment, and applies it more fully in daily life.20
Catholic theology holds that no further revelation is to be expected prior to the return of Christ. The sacred deposit is complete, though not yet fully understood. The significance of the Word of God will be increasingly understood over the course of time.
...no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.21
...the Roman Church...denies that it formulates any new doctrines at all. Rather it insists that in ex cathedra pronouncements the Holy Spirit enables the pope to draw out and proclaim what belonged to the original revelation.22
1. What is meant by the concept of “objective truth?” What are the dangers of defining doctrine on the basis of truth that is not objective?
2. How accessable is the Catholic “Word of God?”
3. How is “growth in insight” validated in the case of non-objective truth?
4. Based on the Roman Catholic understanding of Tradition, would it be true that the practice of the Church at any given time accurately reflects the Gospel of Christ? Can the Church become heretical?
5. Which of the two, Tradition and the Bible, would seem to be more encompassing? What could this imply about the authority of Tradition versus that of the Bible?
The sacred deposit, Scripture and Tradition, were entrusted by the apostles to the whole Church. The responsibility for interpreting the sacred deposit, however, lies with the Magisterium--the bishops headed by the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. The bishops and the Pope are formally considered to be the apostles’ successors.
This sacred synod [Vatican II], following in the steps of the First Vatican Council, teaches and declares with it that Jesus Christ, the eternal pastor, set up the holy Church by entrusting the apostles with their mission as he himself had been sent by the Father (cf. Jn. 20:21). He willed that their successors, the bishops namely, should be the shepherds in his Church until the end of the world. In order that the episcopate itself, however, might be one and undivided he put Peter at the head of the other apostles, and in him he set up a lasting and visible source and foundation of the unity both of faith and communion. This teaching concerning the institution, the permanence, the nature and import of the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff and his infallible teaching office, the sacred synod proposes anew to be firmly believed by all the faithful, and, proceeding undeviatingly with this same undertaking, it proposes to proclaim publicly and enunciate clearly the doctrine concerning bishops, successors of the apostles, who together with Peter’s successor, the Vicar of Christ and the visible head of the whole Church, direct the house of the living God.23
That divine mission [the spread of the Gospel], which was committed by Christ to the apostles, is destined to last until the end of the world (cf. Mt. 28:20), since the Gospel, which they were charged to hand on, is, for the Church, the principle of all its life for all time. For that very reason the apostles were careful to appoint successors in this hierarchically constituted society.24
In order to fulfill such exalted functions [those ecclesiastical functions of the bishops], the apostles were endowed by Christ with a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit coming from them (cf. Acts 1:8; 2:4; Jn. 20:22-23), and, by the imposition of hands (cf. 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6-7), they passed on to their auxiliaries the gift of the Spirit, which is transmitted down to our day through episcopal consecration.25
Hence, the Roman Catholic Church is said to be apostolic “because she is founded on the apostles,” and “continues to be taught, sanctified, and guided by the apostles...through their successors.”26
...the task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.27
This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.28
Avery Dulles adds,
Since revelation is public, the church requires a way of publicly proclaiming the doctrine that expresses or safeguards that revelation. Catholics find evidence in the New Testament that Christ commissioned Peter and the apostles with the responsibility of overseeing the life and witness of the church. The pope and the other bishops are regarded as successors, respectively, of Peter and the other apostles. One of their most important tasks is to keep the church in the truth of the Gospel by proclaiming sound doctrine and condemning doctrinal deviations. In this function the hierarchy constitutes the church’s official teaching body, or magisterium.29
The Pope, a word which comes from a Latin term meaning father, is the Bishop of Rome and the head of the Roman Catholic Church. According to Boettner, at his coronation, the Pope is triple crowned as the Father of Princes and Kings, Ruler of the World, and Vicar of our Savior Jesus Christ.30 Later documents (i.e. Vatican II) emphasize the Pope’s title as Vicar of Christ and his supreme ecclesiastical authority.
...the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, namely, and as pastor of the entire Church, has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.
The Lord made Peter alone the rock-foundation and the holder of the keys of the Church (cf. Mt. 16:18-19), and constituted him shepherd of his whole flock (cf. Jn. 21:15 ff.). It is clear, however, that the office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter (Mt. 16:19), was also assigned to the college of the apostles united to its head (Mt. 18:18; 28:16-20).31
According to the Catechism,
The “power of the keys” designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, confirmed this mandate after his Resurrection: “Feed my sheep.” The power to “bind and loose” connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgments, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church.32
The infallibility of the Pope has already been mentioned above. Vatican II addresses papal infallibility, which extends to the college of bishops when they exercise the supreme Magisterium.
The Roman Pontiff...enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful...he proclaims in an absolute decision a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals. For that reason his definitions are said to be irreformable by their very nature and not by reason of the assent of the Church, in as much as they were made with the assistance of the Holy Spirit promised to him in the person of blessed Peter himself; and as a consequence they are in no way in need of the approval of others, and do not admit of appeal to any other tribunal. For in such a case the Roman Pontiff does not utter a pronouncement as a private person, but rather does he expound and defend the teaching of the Catholic faith as the supreme teacher of the universal Church, in whom the Church’s charism of infallibility is present in a singular way.33
Dulles further explains,
When Catholics speak of the infallibility of the Magisterium they mean that in certain specified acts the popes and bishops, teaching doctrine concerning faith and morals in a way that binds the whole church, are divinely protected from falling into error. ...the pope can teach infallibly when, in his capacity as successor of Peter (ex cathedra), he proclaims by a definitive act some doctrine to be held by all the faithful on the basis of divine revelation.34
2. How important is the concept of apostolic succession to the structure, continuity and claim to authority of the Roman Catholic Church?
3. Vatican II articulates the subservience of the Magisterium to the Word of God. At the same time, the Magisterium is vested with the sole authority to interpret it. What are the potential dangers of the Magisterium’s authority?
4. How would you respond to Roman Catholicism’s usage of Mt. 16:18-19 and John 21:15ff to support the primacy of Peter? Provide an alternative interpretation of these passages.
5. What conditions would be required for infallibility to apply to a statement from the Vatican? Would documents such as Vatican II and the Catechism be considered infallible?
There was a time when every Christian was pleased to identify with the catholic church--catholic with a small “c,” that is. Following Pentecost, the gospel spread rapidly. Despite seasons of intense and violent persecution, pockets of believers emerged throughout the Roman Empire. These early Christians held to a common faith and enjoyed a God-given affinity wherever they met. Paul’s teaching of the church as one body made up of all true believers provided a theological understanding of this new relationship (1 Corinthians 12:12-31).
Early Christians used the term catholic, a Greek word meaning concerning the whole, to describe this worldwide nature of the church. When early Christians referred to the catholic faith, they were speaking of the faith of the whole or universal church. The oldest document containing the term is a letter by Ignatius from the early second century. He wrote, “Wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church.” In the first three centuries, “the catholic church” referred to all believers holding to the same faith throughout the world.
With such a noble heritage, it is not surprising that today not only the Roman Catholic Church but most Christian denominations claim to hold to the catholic faith--that is, the faith of the whole church in apostolic times. The distinguishing mark of those identified as Roman Catholics is submission to the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, as Christ’s representative on earth. Nevertheless, the Church rarely refers to itself as the Roman Catholic Church. It prefers to call itself the Catholic Church so as not to limit in any way its claim to universal jurisdiction as the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.35
The Catholic Church is referred to as Mother.
It is the Church that believes first, and so bears, nourishes, and sustains my faith.36
Salvation comes from God alone; but because we receive the life of faith through the Church, she is our mother: “We believe the Church as the mother of our new birth, and not in the Church as if she were the author of our salvation.” Because she is our mother, she is also our teacher in the faith.37
She bears in herself and administers the totality of the means of salvation.38
Entrance into the Catholic Church is necessary for salvation since “all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his body.”39 Though salvation is administered through the Church, Roman Catholic theology would not think of the Church as a mediator between man and God. Instead, the Church is regarded as “a visible organization through which [Christ] communicates truth and grace to all men.”40
1. How do you understand the phrase, “We believe the Church as the mother of our new birth”?
2. Is the church prescriptive to or descriptive of our salvation? What role does the church play in our conversion?
3. Catholic theology rejects the concept of Church as mediator for that of Church as communicator of truth and grace. Is there a measurable difference? What is a mediator? Does the concept of Church as sacrament [life-giving power from Christ (Catechism, 1110)] in Post-Vatican II theology imply mediation?
Protestant theology recognizes the visible church (the church on earth at a point in time) and the universal church (all New Testament saints for all of time, inclusive of those in heaven and on earth). Saints presently residing in heaven are understood as distinct from those presently residing on earth in terms of activity and relationship. Catholic theology, however, recognizes a continuity between the faithful of all time regardless of their state of being. “All, indeed, who are of Christ and who have his Spirit form one Church and in Christ cleave together.”41 Some Christians are presently on earth, some are being purified in Purgatory, and others are in heaven. Regardless of their state of being, they continue to contribute to or benefit from one another.
The Church faithful are those who embrace the doctrine of the Church, submit to the hierarchy, and enter into the sacramental system.
Fully incorporated into the Church are those who, possessing the Spirit of Christ, accept all the means of salvation given to the Church together with her entire organization, and who--by the bonds constituted by the profession of faith, the sacraments, ecclesiastical government, and communion--are joined in the visible structure of the Church of Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops. Even though incorporated into the Church, one who does not however persevere in charity is not saved.42
The popular and theological use of the term saint in Catholic theology refers to those people who have lived their earthly life, died, and are now enjoying heaven.
...the union of the wayfarers [those who remain on earth] with the brethren who sleep in the peace of Christ is in no way interrupted, but on the contrary, according to the constant faith of the Church, this union is reinforced by an exchange of spiritual goods. Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness, add to the nobility of the worship that the Church offers to God here on earth, and in many ways help in a broader building up of the Church (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12-27). Once received into their heavenly home and being present to the Lord (cf. 2 Cor. 5:8), through him and with him and in him they do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5), serving God in all things and completing in their flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his Body, that is, the Church (cf. Col. 1:24). So by their brotherly concern is our weakness greatly helped.43
The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom, especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were “put in charge of many things.” Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.44
In the veneration of the saints, Roman Catholicism sees a way to draw the faithful toward ever greater exercise of charity and closeness to Christ.
The Church has always believed that the apostles and Christ’s martyrs, who gave the supreme witness of faith and charity by the shedding of their blood, are closely united with us in Christ; she has always venerated them, together with the Blessed Virgin Mary and the holy angels, with a special love and has asked piously for the help of their intercession. Soon there were added to these others who had chosen to imitate more closely the virginity and poverty of Christ, and still others whom the outstanding practice of the Christian virtues and the wonderful graces of God recommended to the pious devotion and imitation of the faithful.45
Catholicism distinguishes veneration from worship.
The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, “the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype,” and “whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it.” The honor paid to sacred images is a “respectful veneration,” not the adoration due to God alone: 46
Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate. The movement toward the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends toward that whose image it is.
Purgatory is the place of final purification, and is a logically essential doctrine to Roman Catholicism. Heaven is the place for only those who have died in God’s grace and friendship and who have been perfectly purified. Yet, many of the Faithful die in God’s grace, but are not completely purified at the moment of their death. Because they have died in God’s grace they are assured of eventual entrance into heaven, but they must be completely purified first. Purgatory provides the place of purification between life on earth and life in heaven for the faithful who have died in grace. Purgatory is distinct from the punishment of those who are destined for hell.
In full consciousness of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the Church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of the Christian religion, has honored with great respect the memory of the dead; and, “because it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins” (2 Mac. 12:46) she offers her suffrages for them.47
All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.48
In the communion of saints, “a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things.” In this wonderful exchange, the holiness of one profits the others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others. Thus recourse to the Communion of saints lets the contrite sinner be more promptly and efficaciously purified of the punishments for sin.
We also call these spiritual goods of the communion of saints the Church’s treasury, which is “not the sum total of the material goods which have accumulated during the course of the centuries. On the contrary the ‘treasury of the Church’ is the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ’s merits have before God. They were offered so that the whole of mankind could be set free from sin and attain communion with the Father. In Christ, the Redeemer himself, the satisfactions and merits of his Redemption exist and find their efficacy.”
“This treasury includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are truly immense, unfathomable, and even pristine in their value before God. In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints, all those who have followed in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by his grace have made their lives holy and carried out the mission the Father entrusted to them. In this way they attained their own salvation and at the same time cooperated in saving their brothers in the unity of the Mystical Body.”49
1. In Protestant theology, are the saints in heaven acting in any way in behalf of those on earth?
3. What would be a Protestant description of a faithful believer? Provide scriptural support.
4. To what do Catholic documents refer when they use the term charity?
5. To whom does the New Testament refer when it uses the term saint? What are the implications of this New Testament use of saint with respect to eternal security?
6. How do you understand the phrase “they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through...Christ”?
7. What biblical evidence exists to explain the activity of the heavenly church at the present time? Is there any biblical evidence to suggest that the heavenly saints can hear the prayers of the earthly pilgrims?
8. Explain the concept of veneration. How exactly does it differ from worship? How might veneration and worship become indistinguishable in the minds of Church-goers?
9. How do you think “perfect purity” would be quantified? Is it possible from a biblical point of view for a person to die in a perfectly purified state and therefore escape Purgatory?
10. If Christ’s redemption is truly efficacious, what benefit are the contributions of Mary and the saints to the treasury?
11. How do you understand the phrase “they attained their own salvation”? To what does this refer?
Mariology has its beginnings with the angel Gabriel’s statements to Mary recorded in Luke 1:26-38. There Mary was greeted as “you who are highly favored” (NIV), and was told that she would bear the Son of God. Mary responded with great faith, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be done to me as you have said.” Because of her special position and her faith, Mary is reverenced first among the saints. She is also hailed as a type of the redeemed and purified Church. Over the centuries an extensive theology has grown up around Mary.
To become the mother of the Savior, Mary “was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.” The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as “full of grace.” In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace.50
Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, “full of grace” through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:51
The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtues of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.
Called in the Gospels “the mother of Jesus,” Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as “the mother of my Lord.” In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father’s eternal Son, The second person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly “Mother of God” (Theotokos).52
The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ’s birth “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.” And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as...the “Ever-Virgin.”53
Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, “brothers of Jesus,” are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls “the other Mary.” They are close relations of Jesus, according to the Old Testament expression.54
Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.55
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians....56
Mary...devoted herself totally, as a handmaid of the Lord, to the person and work of her Son, under and with him, serving the mystery of redemption.... Therefore, the Fathers see Mary not merely as passively engaged by God, but as freely cooperating in the work of Man’s salvation through faith and obedience. For, as St. Irenaeus says, she “being obedient, became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race.”57
In the public life of Jesus Mary appears prominently; at the very beginning when at the marriage feast of Cana, moved with pity, she brought about by her intercession the beginning of miracles of Jesus the Messiah. ...the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully preserved in her union with her son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, associated herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consented to the immolation of this victim which was born of her.58
After her Son’s Ascension, Mary “aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers.” In her association with the apostles and several women, “we also see Mary by her prayers imploring the gift of the Spirit....59
In the words of the apostle there is but one mediator: “for there is but one God and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a redemption for all” (1 Tim. 2:5-6). But Mary’s function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power.60
She conceived, brought forth, and nourished Christ, she presented him to the Father in the temple, shared her Son’s sufferings as he died on the cross. Thus, in a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the work of the Savior in restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace.61
Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix. This however, is so understood that it neither takes away anything nor adds anything to the dignity and efficacy of Christ the one Mediator.62
In dealing with the concept of Mediatrix, S. Lewis Johnson provides the following background and application which augments the Vatican II statements above:
Since the practice of praying to the saints increased during the Middle Ages, it is not surprising that Mary became especially popular. Jesus came to stand for the the stern, forbidding and unapproachable judge. The faithful were pointed to Mary, the compassionate mother who would act as mediator for them. The period of time from Trent to the French Revolution was preeminently the time of the defining of the compassionate mediation of Mary, principally in reaction against the Reformation, Jansenism, and eighteenth-century rationalism. A leader in the development of the sense of Mary as the compassionate Mediatrix was Alphonsus Liguori, a leading Italian moral theologian, who wrote many devotional and mystical works in praise of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and of Mary as “semi-divine mediatrix.” In his work on the glories of Mary he said, “God wants all graces to come by the hand of Mary.”
Leo XIII in an encyclical in 1891 strongly affirmed Mary’s mediation: “Nothing is bestowed on us except through Mary, as God himself wills. Therefore as no one can draw near to the supreme Father except through the Son, so also one can scarcely draw near to the Son except through his mother.” Vatican II reaffirmed Mary’s role as mediatrix, although warning against in any way limiting the dignity and efficacy of Christ as the one mediator.63
But while in the most Blessed Virgin the Church has already reached that perfection whereby she exists without spot or wrinkle (cf. Eph. 5:27), the faithful still strive to conquer sin and increase in holiness. And so they turn their eyes to Mary who shines forth to the whole community of the elect as the model of virtues. Devoutly meditating on her and contemplating her in the light of the Word made man, the Church reverently penetrates more deeply into the great mystery of the Incarnation and becomes more and more like her spouse.64
Mary is venerated in the Church with a degree of devotion which is greater than that given to the saints, but which is less than that reserved for divinity. This degree of honor, known as hyperdulia is reserved for Mary alone. McCarthy explains,
The most common way in which Catholics venerate Mary is by saying the Rosary. Considered by the Church an “epitome of the whole Gospel,” it is a series of prayers counted on a string of beads. These are arranged in groups of ten small beads separated by one large bead. There are five sets of these decades. On the large bead, the Our Father or Lord’s Prayer is said. On each of the ten small beads, Catholics pray the Hail Mary:65
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
1. Using a concordance, trace the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus, through the New Testament. Compare and contrast your understanding of the life and significance of Mary from the New Testament with Roman Catholic theology.
2. How would you interpret Luke 1:28? Does this verse imply that the angel recognized Mary as possessing some unique grace?
3. How do you explain Mary’s gracious response and faithfulness to the unique revelation she received and the unique task which she was elected to undertake? Was Mary given the opportunity to refuse cooperation?
4. Explain in your own words the meaning of Immaculate Conception. Is there any scriptural support for this doctrine? Is this doctrine a reasonable and necessary theological conclusion?
5. What potential theological difficulties result from the doctrine of Mary as mother of God?
6. Hw do you understand the Bible’s references to brothers and sisters of Jesus? What is the value to the Church in dogmatizing perpetual virginity?
7. Would you consider the dogma of the Assumption a significant advance in Catholic theological development or simply a reasonable result of the Immaculate Conception? Explain.
8. How well does the concept of Mary’s cooperation in the work of salvation square with the New Testament?
9. In your opinion, do the Vatican II statements (footnoted as 26, 27, 28) dispel the mediation of Mary?
10. Provide illustrations of Mary perceived as “Mother in the Order of Grace” from the contemporary Catholic scene.
Vatican II’s Dignitatis Humanae articulated the Church’s position regarding the social and civil liberty of individuals and communities in religious matters. The purpose of the document was to affirm constitutional religious liberty on the basis of human dignity. Freedom of religious practice in society is viewed as a God-endowed right, and should therefore be exempt from civil restriction.
It is in accordance with their dignity that all men, because they are persons, that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore bearing personal responsibility, are both impelled by their nature and bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth once they come to know it and direct their whole lives in accordance with the demands of truth. But men cannot satisfy this obligation in a way that is in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy both psychological freedom and immunity from external coercion.66
In an atmosphere that is free from coercion, men are obligated to “seek the truth.”
The search for truth, however, must be carried out in a manner that is appropriate to the dignity of the human person and his social nature, namely, by free enquiry with the help of teaching or instruction, communication and dialogue. It is by these means that men share with each other the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in such a way that they help one another in the search for truth.67
But, “seeking the truth” is in no way to be understood as license to religious pluralism.
...while the religious freedom which men demand in fullfilling their obligation to worship God has to do with freedom from coercion in civil society, it leaves intact the traditional Catholic teaching on the moral duty of individuals and societies towards the true religion and the one Church of Christ.68
Religious liberty proposed for individuals is similarly proposed for communities.
The freedom or immunity from coercion in religious matters which is the right of individuals must also be accorded to men when they act in community.
...these groups have a right to immunity so that they may organize themselves according to their own principles. They must be allowed to honor the supreme Godhead with public worship, help their members to practice their religion and strengthen them with religious instruction, and promote institutions in which members may work together to organize their own lives according to their religious principles.
Religious communities have the further right not to be prevented from publicly teaching and bearing witness to their beliefs by the spoken or written word.69
Religious liberty produces an atmosphere in which humans are free to embrace the Church.
...the principle of religious liberty contributes in no small way to the development of a situation in which men can without hindrance be invited to the Christian faith, embrace it of their own free will and give it practical expression in every sphere of their lives.70
1. What opportunities for evangelism among Roman Catholics are opened as a result of Dignitatis Humanae?
2. Are humans “impelled by their nature to seek the truth”? How does this square with Romans 1:18-20?
3. Would you consider this document (Dignitatis Humanae) to be granting Catholics freedom of religious inquiry?
4. In keeping with Dignitatis Humanae how should the Catholic hierarchy view the Protestant movement?
5. What purpose or end result does the Church see in religious liberty?
The Roman Church’s Decree on Ecumenism articulates her desire for the restoration of unity among all Christians. The document, Unitatis Redintegratio, expresses an attitude of inclusiveness. No longer are Protestants considered condemned; rather, they are seen as separated brethren. Protestants are now regarded as Christians who are in “imperfect communion” with the Catholic Church. The objective of the Church’s ecumenical dialogue is to gather all Christians back into the Catholic Church. The document begins by explaining the need for an ecumenical movement.
In this one and only church of God from its very beginnings there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly censures as damnable. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church--for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame. However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers. For men who believe and have been properly baptized are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.71
Nevertheless, our separated brethren, whether considered as individuals or as communities and Churches, are not blessed with that unity which Jesus Christ wished to bestow...72
Next, the concept of ecumenism is defined.
The term “ecumenical movement” indicates the initiatives and activities encouraged and organized, according to the various needs of the Church and as opportunities offer, to promote Christian unity. These are: first, every effort to avoid expressions, judgments and actions which do not represent the condition of our separated brethren with truth and fairness and so make mutual relations with them more difficult. Then, dialogue between competent experts from different Churches and communities... Through such dialogue everyone gains a truer knowledge and more just appreciation of the teaching and religious life of both communities. In addition, these communions engage in that more intensive cooperation in carrying out any duties for the common good of humanity which are demanded by every Christian conscience. They also come together for common prayer, where this is permitted.73
The Council expects the ecumenical movement to produce Christian unity.
The results will be that, little by little, as the obstacles to perfect ecclesiastical communion are overcome, all Christians will be gathered, in a common celebration of the Eucharist, into the unity of the one and only Church....74
Unitatis Redintegratio provides several criteria for implementing the ecumenical movement by the Church. First, the Church is called to interior renewal, a change of heart and holiness of life. Second, ecumenical prayer services “for unity” are desired. Worship in common, however, is not encouraged. In addition to these, the document adds,
We must become familiar with the outlook of our separated brethren. Study is absolutely required for this, and it should be pursued in fidelity to the truth and with a spirit of goodwill.75
The principal schisms within the Church with which the document deals include the separation of the Eastern Church in the twelfth century and the Reformation in the sixteenth century. Regarding the Protestant church the document states,
Our thoughts are concerned first of all with those Christians who openly confess Jesus Christ as God and Lord and as the only mediator between God and man.... We are indeed aware that there exist considerable differences from the doctrine of the Catholic Church even concerning Christ the Word of God made flesh and the work of Redemption, and thus concerning the mystery and ministry of the Church and the role of Mary in the work of salvation.76
Though the Protestant church embraces baptism, the beginning point in Catholic theology, the absence of the other sacraments produces the imperfect communion which the separated brethren have with Catholics.
By the sacrament of Baptism, whenever it is properly conferred in the way the Lord determined and received with the proper dispositions of soul, man becomes...reborn to a sharing of the divine life...
Baptism, therefore, constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn. But baptism, of itself, is only a beginning, a point of departure, for it is wholly directed toward the acquiring of fullness of life in Christ.77
What access is granted to Roman Catholics as a result of the ecumenism decree? What openings for evangelism by Protestants does the decree provide?
1. What potential does Catholic inquiry into Protestant doctrine hold for evangelism of Roman Catholics?
2. In a word, what crucial doctrine has the Catholic Church concluded to be the basis of the schism between Catholicism and Protestantism? Explain.
3. Explain in your own words the reason that the Church refers to Protestants as separated brethren in “imperfect communion.”
Nostra Aetate, Vatican II’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, articulates the Church’s desire to initiate dialogue with non-Christian religions.
...there is found among different peoples a certain awareness of hidden power, which lies behind the course of nature and the events of human life. At times there is present even a recognition of a supreme being, or still more of a Father. This awareness and recognition results in a way of life that is imbued with a deep religious sense. The religions which are found in more advanced civilizations endeavor by way of well-defined concepts and exact language to answer these questions.
The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men. Yet she proclaims and is duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth and the life (Jn.14:6).78
The document focuses upon two groups, Muslims and Jews.
The Church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the creator of heaven and earth, who has also spoken to men. They strive to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God’s plan, to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own. Although not acknowledging him as God, they venerate Jesus as prophet, his virgin mother they also honor, and even at times devoutly invoke. Further, they await the day of judgment and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead.79
Lumen Gentium adds,
...the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Moslems...80
Nostra Aetate also references the Jews specifically. However, the quote which follows is taken from the Catechism and augments what is stated in Nostra Aetate.
When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the people of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People, “the first to hear the word of God.” The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews “belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ”; “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.”81
1. In what ways does this document present a position of limited universalism?
2. Does the Catholic Church regard Muslims and Jews as included among those who will be saved? If so, what is the basis of this position?
Roman Catholic salvation theology is driven by two defining tenets: first, man has been wounded by sin, and second, justification is incomplete without ultimate sanctification. With the help of divine grace, sin’s wounds must be overcome and a life of charity must be produced. Only then is justification assured. Sanctification has been assimilated into justification in Catholic theology and thinking, so that as Catholics cooperate toward sanctification they increase their justification. This, of course, runs counter to the Protestant doctrine of sola fide.
A theological understanding of man’s condition outside of Christ, in his sinful state, informs one’s approach to the doctrine of justification. Man’s role in his own salvation is affected by the state that sin has left him in. If man is dead in sin, then there is presumably nothing he can do about his own salvation. He is dependant upon God. If instead he has only been injured by sin, then he may contain within himself the necessary resources to recover from sin’s wound.
The whole human race is in Adam “as one body of one man.” By this “unity of the human race” all men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as all are implicated in Christ’s justice. Still, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice82 not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state. It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. And that is why original sin is called “sin” only in an analogical sense: it is a sin “contracted” and not “committed”--a state and not an act.83
Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it; subject to ignorance, suffering, and the dominion of death; and inclined to sin--an inclination to evil that is called “concupiscence.” Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back toward God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.84
The Church’s teaching on the transmission of original sin was articulated more precisely in the fifth century, especially under the impulse of St. Augustine’s reflections against Pelagianism, and in the sixteenth century, in opposition to the Protestant Reformation. Pelagius held that man could, by the natural power of free will and without the necessary help of God’s grace, lead a morally good life; he thus reduced the influence of Adam’s fault to bad example. The first Protestant reformers, on the contrary, taught that original sin has radically perverted man and destroyed his freedom; they identified the sin inherited by each man with the tendency to evil (concupiscentia), which would be insurmountable. The Church pronounced on the meaning of the data of Revelation on original sin especially at the second Council of Orange (529) and at the Council of Trent (1546).85
Catholicism attempts to bridge the gap between Pelagianism and Protestant theology. Man needs grace, but he is not dead. Justification in Catholicism might best be described as cooperative--God begins it, but man, with God’s help, finishes it.
Roman Catholicism is generally referred to as semi-Pelagian in its theological stance. Pelagius taught that each person was born with a free will and the ability to choose good as well as evil. He rejected the notion that man’s will had been affected by the fall of Adam. Although Roman Catholicism differs from Pelagianism, it does acknowledge the cooperation of the human will with God’s grace in salvation--this being possible because the sin of Adam left man in a weakened condition but not spiritually dead.86
The Catechism stresses the importance of faith in salvation.
Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. “Since ‘without faith it is impossible to please [God]’ and to attain to the fellowship of his sons, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life ‘but he who endures to the end’”87
Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man. We can lose this priceless gift, as St. Paul indicated to St. Timothy: “Wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith.” To live, grow, and persevere in the faith until the end we must nourish it with the word of God; we must beg the Lord to increase our faith; it must be “working through charity,” abounding in hope, and rooted in the faith of the church.88
Justification includes both the removal of sins committed prior to Baptism and the infusion of faith, hope, and love for sanctification. What Protestants understand to be sanctification, or growth in grace, and see to be a result of justification, Catholics believe to be a part of justification. So a Catholic is not completely justified before God until he is fully sanctified. Protestant Michael Horton explains:
Rome simply combined [at the Council of Trent] the two concepts into one: God justifies us through the process of our moving, by the power of God’s Spirit at work in our lives, from being unjust to becoming just. In other words, men and women are accepted before God on the basis of their cooperation with God’s grace over the course of their lives, rather than on the basis of Christ’s finished work alone, received through faith alone, to the glory of God alone.89
The Catechism explains as follows:
...justification has two aspects. Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, and so accepts forgiveness and righteousness from on high.90
Justification includes the remission of sins, sanctification, and the renewal of the inner man.91
Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ. It is granted to us through Baptism. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who justifies us. It has for its goal the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life. It is the most excellent work of God’s mercy.92
Grace is the help God gives us to respond to our vocation of becoming his adopted sons.93
With justification, faith, hope, and charity are poured into our hearts, and obedience to the divine will is granted us.94
Justification establishes cooperation between God’s grace and man’s freedom. On man’s part it is expressed by the assent of faith to the Word of God, which invites him to conversion, and in the cooperation of charity with the prompting of the Holy Spirit who precedes and preserves his assent....95
While the first work of justification is grounded solely on grace through faith, the completing work of justification is merited. As the Catholic cooperates in charity with the promptings of the Holy Spirit he merits his sanctification, resulting in eternal life. Eternal life is an earned privilege.
The term “merit” refers in general to the recompense owed by a community or a society for the action of one of its members...96
With regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man.97
Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God’s wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions.98
The children of our holy mother the Church rightly hope for the grace of final perseverance and the recompense of God their Father for the good works accomplished with his grace in communion with Jesus.99
1. Develop a biblical understanding of the transmission of original sin utilizing Genesis 3 and Romans 5:12-21. Explain the concept of imputation of sin. Compare and contrast your work with Catholic thought.
2. To what extent has sin impacted man from a biblical standpoint? Justify your response with Scripture. Has human nature been totally corrupted or just wounded?
3. How might a semi-Pelagian view of sin affect one’s approach to justification?
4. Biblically, what is the role of faith in salvation? Can faith be lost? Does the loss of faith necessitate the loss of salvation?
5. Contrast the terms infuse and impute. Which one most accurately describes how righteousness is received when an individual becomes a believer? Refer to Romans 4:3-5.
6. Describe in your own words the difference in understanding between Protestants and Catholics regarding the relationship of sanctification to justification. What Bible texts support the Protestant understanding?
7. To what biblical support might Catholics appeal for assimilating sanctification into justification?
8. What is the extent of the forgiveness received at Catholic baptism?
9. What specific wording in the Catechism (quoted above) supports the conclusion that Catholics have combined justification and sanctification?
10. What assurance of salvation exists for the Catholic?
11. How might assurance of salvation re-orient the Catholic’s response to God on a daily basis? How would this impact his motivations?
Excepting the sacrament of Baptism, which produces justification, the sacramental economy is the currency of the cooperative aspect of justification, or sanctification. Participation in the sacraments yields the needed grace for charity, which continues and perfects justification.
The liturgy, in its turn, moves the faithful filled with “the paschal sacraments” to be “one in holiness”; it prays that “they hold fast in their lives what they have grasped by their faith.” The renewal in the Eucharist of the covenant between the Lord and man draws the faithful and sets them aflame with Christ’s insistent love. From the liturgy, therefore, and especially from the Eucharist, grace is poured forth upon us as from a fountain, and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God to which all other activities of the church are directed, as toward their end, are acheived with maximum effectiveness.100
In Christian tradition [liturgy] means the participation of the People of God in “the work of God.” Through the liturgy Christ, our redeemer and high priest, continues the work of our redemption in, with, and through his Church.101
“Seated at the right hand of the Father” and pouring out the Holy Spirit on his Body which is the Church, Christ now acts through the sacraments he instituted to communicate his grace. The sacraments are perceptible signs (words and actions) accessible to our human nature. By the action of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit they make present efficaciously the grace that they signify.102
The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation. “Sacramental grace” is the grace of the Holy Spirit, given by Christ and proper to each sacrament. The Spirit heals and transforms those who receive him by conforming them to the Son of God. The fruit of the sacramental life is that the Spirit of adoption makes the faithful partakers in the divine nature by uniting them in a living union with the only Son, the Savior.103
The Catholic’s understanding of the death-burial-resurrection event as a unique ever-abiding event explains it’s presence in the sacraments. The sacrifice of Christ is not only historical, but is also an ever-present event producing present results.
In the liturgy of the Church, it is principally his own Paschal mystery that Christ signifies and makes present. During his earthly life Jesus announced his Paschal mystery by his teaching and anticipated it by his actions. When his hour comes, he lives out the unique event of history which does not pass away: Jesus dies, is buried, rises from the dead, and is seated at the right hand of the Father “once for all.” His Paschal mystery is a real event that occurred in our history, but it is unique: all other historical events happen once, and then they pass away, swallowed up in the past. The Paschal mystery of Christ, by contrast, cannot remain only in the past, because by his death he destroyed death, and all that Christ is--all that he did and suffered for all men--participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times while being made present in them all. The event of the Cross and Resurrection abides and draws everything toward life.104
Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission...105
...it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without which no one “can enter the kingdom of God.”106
Special emphasis is directed toward the Baptism of infants,
Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called. The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.107
Two principal effects result from the sacrament of Baptism,
By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishments for sin. In those who have been reborn nothing remains that would impede their entry into the Kingdom of God, neither Adam’s sin, nor personal sin, nor the consequences of sin...108
The Most Holy Trinity gives the baptized sanctifying grace, the grace of justification:
--enabling them to believe in God...
--giving them the power to live and act under the prompting of the Holy Spirit...
--allowing them to grow in goodness...109
...the reception of the sacrament of confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace. For “by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit.110
The essential rite of Confirmation is annointing the forehead of the baptized with sacred chrism, together with the laying on of the minister’s hand and the words: “Accipe signaculum doni Spiritus Sancti” (Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.)...111
The effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the “full outpouring of the Holy Spirit”112 resulting in an “increase and deepening of baptismal grace.”113 The baptized believer must be in a state of grace to receive Confirmation. To insure this, the sacrament of Penance is urged prior to receiving the sacrament of Confirmation. Confirmation is often celebrated alongside Baptism eliminating this concern.
The Eucharist, also referred to as Holy Communion and Holy Mass, “makes present the one sacrifice of Christ the Savior.”114 It is the centerpiece of the sacramental economy and of the Church’s life. In the Eucharist, the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated throughout the ages.
a. The Celebration’s Movement
The Eucharist begins with a homily, which is followed by the presentation of the offerings, the bread and wine. The anaphora, the portion of the liturgy in which the elements are offered as a sacrifice, follows.
In the preface, the Church gives thanks to the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit, for all his works: creation, redemption, and sanctification.115
In the epiclesis, the Church asks the Father to send his Holy Spirit on the bread and wine, so that by his power they may become the body and blood of Jesus Christ and so that those who take part in the Eucharist may be one body and one spirit.116
In the institution narrative, the power of the words and the action of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, make sacramentally present under the species of bread and wine Christ’s body and blood, his sacrifice offered on the cross once for all.117
In the anamnesis that follows, the Church calls to mind the Passion, resurrection, and glorious return of Christ Jesus; she presents to the Father the offering of his Son which reconciles us with him.118
In the intercessions, the Church indicates that the Eucharist is celebrated in communion with the whole Church in heaven and on earth, the living and the dead, and in communion with the pastors of the Church, the Pope, the diocesan bishop, his presbyterium and his deacons, and all the bishops of the whole world together with their Churches.119
In the communion, preceded by the Lord’s prayer and the breaking of the bread, the faithful receive “the bread of heaven” and “the cup of salvation,” the body and blood of Christ...120
b. The Eucharist as Sacrifice
When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ’s Passover, and it is made present: the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present. “As often as the sacrifice of the Cross by which ‘Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed’ is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out.”121
...the Eucharist is also a sacrifice.122
In the Eucharist Christ gives us the very body which he gave up for us on the cross, the very blood which he “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”123
The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross...124
The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: “The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.” “In this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner.”125
The Eucharist is also the sacrifice of the Church.126 The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value.127 To the offering of Christ are united not only the members still here on earth, but also those already in the glory of heaven.128
The Eucharistic sacrifice is also offered for the faithful departed who “have died in Christ but are not yet wholly purified,” so that they may be able to enter into the light and peace of Christ...129
Christ is present in the Eucharist by virtue of transubstantiation, a divine action whereby the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood.
In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.”130
The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist.131
Worship of the Eucharist. In the liturgy of the Mass we express our faith in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine by, among other ways, genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord. “The Catholic Church has always offered and still offers to the sacrament of the Eucharist the cult of adoration, not only during Mass, but also outside of it, reserving the consecrated hosts with the utmost care, exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful, and carrying them in procession.”132
d. The Fruits of The Eucharist
Communion with the flesh of the risen Christ...preserves, increases, and renews the life of grace received at Baptism.133
The Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life; and this living charity wipes away venial sins.134
By the same charity that it enkindles in us, the Eucharist preserves us from future mortal sins.135
Four: Penance or Reconciliation
Penance, or Reconciliation, restores the Catholic to grace after he sins. Penance provides, from God’s mercy, pardon for offenses committed against him and reconciles the repentant Catholic to the Church. Penance is an essential remedy available to the Catholic to be relied upon during the course of sanctification. Without the sacrament of Penance, the Catholic guilty of mortal sin, having lost his baptismal grace, could not be restored to grace, and so would be condemned to hell. For this reason, Penance is also thought of as the second conversion, Baptism being the first conversion.
a. Sin in Catholicism
Catholicism evaluates sin according to the degree of seriousness. Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart and turns the Catholic away from God, necessitating the sacrament of Penance for resolution. Venial sin offends and wounds charity, but does not destroy it.
For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”136
Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: “Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.” The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger.137
Venial sin weakens charity...[and]...merits temporal punishment. Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin. However venial sin does not set us in direct opposition to the will and friendship of God; it does not break the covenant with God. With God’s grace it is humanly reparable.138
b. Penance a Matter of the Heart
Jesus’ call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim at outward works, “sackcloth and ashes,” fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance.139
c. Its Essential Elements
It comprises two equally essential elements: on the one hand, the acts of the man who undergoes conversion through the action of the Holy Spirit: namely, contrition, confession, and satisfaction; on the other, God’s action through the intervention of the Church. The Church...through the bishop and his priests forgives sins in the name of Jesus Christ and determines the manner of satisfaction.140
Confession to a priest is an essential part of the sacrament of Penance...141
Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended...142
Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm. But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must “make satisfaction for” or “expiate” his sins. This satisfaction is also called “penance.”143
The penance the confessor imposes must take into account the penitent’s personal situation and must seek his spiritual good. It must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins committed. It can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear.144
The doctrine of indulgences is closely related to the sacrament of Penance, and so is presented here. This doctrine also involves the Treasury of the Church which was discussed in the previous chapter.
“An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven...”145
“An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin.”146
An indulgence provides a pardon of the need to make satisfaction in completing Penance. The Catechism explains,
To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.147
The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains. While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. He should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the “old man” and to put on the “new man.”148
Indulgences are obtained from the Treasury of the Church, which is a bank of spiritual goods, or satisfactions available for distribution by the Church.
An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins.149
Since the faithful departed now being purified are also members of the same communion of saints, one way we can help them is to obtain indulgences for them, so that the temporal punishments due for their sins may be remitted.150
Five: Annointing of the Sick
This sacrament was formerly known as Extreme Unction, as it was conferred almost exclusively at the point of death. The sacrament is now used in the case of grave illness, and it is a repeatable sacrament.
The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick has as its purpose the conferral of a special grace on the Christian experiencing the difficulties inherent in the condition of grave illness or old age.151
The proper time for receiving this holy anointing has certainly arrived when the believer begins to be in danger of death because of illness or old age.152
Each time a Christian falls seriously ill, he may receive the Anointing of the Sick, and also when, after he has received it, the illness worsens.153
The special grace of the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick has as its affects:
--the uniting of the person to the passion of Christ, for his own good and that of the whole Church;
--the strengthening, peace, and courage to endure in a Christian manner the sufferings of illness or old age;
--the forgiveness of sins, if the sick person was not able to obtain it through the sacrament of Penance;
--the restoration of health, if it is conducive to the salvation of his soul;
--the preparation for passing over to eternal life.154
Six: Holy Orders
In the sacrament of Holy Orders the recipient is ordained into the line of apostolic succession, granting him sacerdotal power155 in the case of consecration to the episcopate (bishops) and the presbyterate (priests). Sacerdotal power does not apply to deacons, though they are consecrated through this sacrament as well.
The sacrament of Holy Orders communicates a “sacred power” which is none other than that of Christ.156
The bishop receives the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders, which integrates him into the episcopal college and makes him the visible head of the particular Church entrusted to him. As successors of the apostles and members of the college, the bishops share in the apostolic responsibility and mission of the whole Church under the authority of the Pope.157
Priests are united with the bishops in sacerdotal dignity and at the same time depend on them in the exercise of their pastoral functions; they are called to be the bishops’ prudent co-workers. They form around their bishop the presbyterium which bears responsibility with him for the particular Church. They receive from the bishop the charge of a parish community or a determinate ecclesial office.158
The sacrament of Matrimony signifies the union of Christ and the Church. It gives spouses the grace to love each other with the love with which Christ has loved his Church; the grace of the sacrament thus perfects the human love of the spouses, strengthens their indissoluble unity, and sanctifies them on the way to eternal life.159
Is there any scriptural basis for the Catholic understanding of a transcendent Paschal event? Is there any theological necessity of a transcendent Paschal event?
1. Does Catholic theology hold to baptismal regeneration? Develop the scriptural alternative to baptismal regeneration.
2. In the case of infant baptism faith is obviously not essential. How does this coordinate with the earlier statement regarding the prerequisite of faith for salvation?
3. What is the evangelical view of the Lord’s supper termed? Defend this view scripturally. How might a Catholic defend his view (transubstantiation) with the Bible?
4. State in your own words the meaning and value of the Eucharist to the Catholic.
5. Is the Catholic Eucharist actually a sacrifice for sins? If so, which sins? In your view, is the Protestant Lord’s Supper a sacrifice for sins?
6. How does the Catholic view of the Eucharist as sacrifice compare/contrast with Hebrews 7-10? What is the extent of Christ’s sacrifice according to Scripture?
7. What is the significance to the believer of the doctrine of eternal security? Provide a biblical defense for this Protestant doctrine. What attraction might this doctrine have to Catholics?
8. What biblical support exists for the classification of sins as either venial or mortal in Catholicism?
9. Can Venial sins pile up and become mortal sins?
10. If penance is a matter of interior conversion, can the priest really absolve sins?
11. On what biblical grounds must a Catholic make satisfaction for his sins? Would you consider this a form of works salvation? How does Galatians 3:3 inform this?
3 Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, no. 9 & 10. All Vatican II quotations used in this workbook are taken from Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, Austin Flannery, ed., (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992)
81 Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 839, quoting from NA 4; Roman Missal, Good Friday 13: General Intercessions, VI; and Romans 9:4-5; 11:29.
82 This concept of original holiness and justice is Tridentine. Original holiness refers to man’s capacity to share in divine life. Original justice refers to the harmony which Adam and Eve experienced, both inwardly within themselves and outwardly with one another and creation generally (Catechism, 375-376).