"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church

Dr. Lawrence Feingold
Dr. Lawrence Feingold, a professor of theology in the Institute for Pastoral Theology of Ave Maria University, converted to Catholicism in 1989. This Fall he has been giving weekly lectures for the Association of Hebrew Catholics, and these lectures are outstanding. You can download the mp3 files of his talks on the four marks of the Church here. I highly recommend them. In my opinion, Professor Feingold is one of the greatest living theologians in the world. He is a living exemplar of what St. Paul says in Romans 11:12,15 concerning the Jews,

Now if their transgression be riches for the world and their failure be riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! ... For if their rejection [of Christ] be the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance [of Christ] be but life from the dead?

Listen to his lectures, and it will be clear that I am not exaggerating.

Today is a memorable day for my family. Today would be the sixteenth birthday of our son, Joshua. Reflecting on his death makes us more eager for heaven. As of this post, I'll be taking a lengthy break from blogging, to focus on my other responsibilities. The comments are all closed. I will not, however, cease to pray daily for the full and visible unity of all Christians, that we would share all three bonds of unity. This is the heart of Jesus, as revealed in His prayer in St. John 17. I hope that you too will include this in your daily prayers.

Lord Jesus, please draw all those who love you into the fullness of the unity Your Sacred Heart desires that we have with one another, and with you. May we be truly one, in Love and Truth, as you and the Father are one, that the world may see in us the Love and Truth of the Holy Trinity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Resurrection of the Body

"Resurrection of the Flesh"
Luca Signorelli (1450-1523)
(click on the painting to view it in a larger size)

In the Apostles' Creed, we say that we believe in the "resurrection of the body" [in the Latin: carnis resurrectionem, in the Greek: σαρκος ανάστασιν]. In the Nicene Creed we say that we "look for the resurrection of the dead" [προσδοκωμεν ανάστασιν νεκρων]. What does that mean?

Death and the Human Person
In order to answer that question, we have to consider the nature of the human person. A human being is a composite of body and soul. These are not two substances; that is why we are not "substance dualists". The body and soul are ontological principles, incomplete in themselves, but when substantially united form one being, i.e. one substance. It is mistaken to think that we are mere spirits (i.e. immaterial beings) using material bodies. And it is likewise mistaken to think that we are mere heaps of molecules, that is, mere biological machines. We each have a soul, which animates our body. The soul is by its very nature the form of a body. That is why we are not angels, and can never become angels, because angels by their very nature are complete and whole as immaterial beings. A human soul, however, is not a proper substance or whole by itself. The human person is a substance. The human person is not a soul. For this reason, when the body and soul are separated at death, the human being no longer exists, even though the souls subsists.

The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the "form" of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature." (CCC 365)

Though incomplete by itself, the human soul is immortal, because it has an operation that does not directly depend upon matter.

"The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God - it is not "produced" by the parents - and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection." (CCC 366)

According to God's original design, Adam and Even would not have died. They were designed to be free from suffering and death, having been given the gift of immortality. The Council of Trent called this the donum immortalititatis (the gift of immortality). They had posse non mori (the possibility of not dying), which is not to be confused with non posse mori (the impossibility of dying). They would not have died, had they remained obedient to God. But they were capable of dying, if they disobeyed God, for God had told them, "in the day that you eat of it you will surely die" (Gen 2:17).

This is the sense in which death is unnatural; death is contrary to God's original design of human beings. All other things being equal, it is an evil for the body and soul to be separated. And that is why we experience death with such grief and pain. That is why death seems to us to be wrong, to be something that shouldn't occur. It shouldn't occur! Death came into the world through sin, i.e. human disobedience.

"Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned" (Romans 5:12) ... "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 6:23)

By sin man lost the grace through which the various harmonies were maintained, including the ordered harmony between man's soul and body. By disrupting that harmony, i.e. that perfect ordered unity between body and soul, sin set in motion the eventual rupture or separation of the body and soul, and that separation is just what death is.

"By the radiance of this grace all dimensions of man's life were confirmed. As long as he remained in the divine intimacy, man would not have to suffer or die. The inner harmony of the human person, the harmony between man and woman, and finally the harmony between the first couple and all creation, comprised the state called "original justice" (CCC 376)
"Death is a consequence of sin. The Church's Magisterium, as authentic interpreter of the affirmations of Scripture and Tradition, teaches that death entered the world on account of man's sin. Even though man's nature is mortal God had destined him not to die. Death was therefore contrary to the plans of God the Creator and entered the world as a consequence of sin. "Bodily death, from which man would have been immune had he not sinned" is thus "the last enemy" of man left to be conquered." (CCC 1008)

"Explusion from Paradise"
Michelangelo (1508-1512)

After the fall, God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, lest they stretch out their hand and eat of the Tree of Life, and not die. (Gen 3:22-23) This shows us that given our fallen condition, death is a gift, because God uses it redemptively for our sakes. Nothing brings to our attention the importance of our lives and the state of our soul as does an awareness of our impending death. The fact of our impending death brings an urgency to our lives and a greater meaningfulness to our actions. "[R]emembering our mortality helps us realize that we have only a limited time in which to bring our lives to fulfillment" (CCC 1007). The Psalmist prays, "Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom" (Ps 90:12) Keeping our death in view changes the way we live now. "In all thy works remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin." (Ecclus. 7:40)

Because death is the consequence of original sin (Rom 5:12), all men must die. And in that sense death is 'natural', and the virtuous person must come to terms with the inevitability of his death. But we usually do not know when we are going to die. And so we must always be ready to die. Jesus teaches, "For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will." (St. Matthew 24:44) And that applies no less to the hour of our death than it does to the Second Coming.

Our time is short. There is much work to be done for the Kingdom, and many of us fritter so much of our lives away with trivial, meaningless things. This life, these years, these days, and these hours, are our opportunity to serve God and His Church. St. Paul says, "If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are." (1 Cor 3:17) If that is what He will do to those who destroy His temple, how much more, do you think, God will honor and reward and bless those who build up His temple, i.e. His Church? We can do this in the simplest ways, even in our daily and ordinary activities. If we love Christ, building up His Kingdom, His Temple, His Church, is what our hearts will want to do.

Most men die as they live. If they live a life of vanity and dissipation, they die in their vanity and dissipation. Death-bed conversions are not the norm. So we must live as though we are dying. Thomas à Kempis wrote:

Every action of yours, every thought, should be those of one who expects to die before the day is out. Death would have no great terrors for you if you had a quiet conscience. . . . Then why not keep clear of sin instead of running away from death? If you aren't fit to face death today, it's very unlikely you will be tomorrow" - The Imitation of Christ

And yet we also pray for a good death, one in which have some time to prepare ourselves. In the Litany of the Saints of the Roman Missal, we pray, "From a sudden and unforeseen death, deliver us, O Lord." And in the Hail Mary, we say, "Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death." As Peter Kreeft points out, to be prepared for death, the question is this: Do we love God? Jesus said, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful" (Luke 10:41) That one thing is to love God.

For Christians, Christ has transformed death. Christ has taken the evil that death is, and turned it into an instrumental good, the means by which we enter into eternal life. St. Paul says, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil 1:21) In our death, we are granted the privilege of participating in Christ's death. "What is essentially new about Christian death is this: through Baptism, the Christian has already "died with Christ" sacramentally, in order to live a new life; and if we die in Christ's grace, physical death completes this "dying with Christ" and so completes our incorporation into him in his redeeming act" (CCC 1010)

In death, God calls man to himself. Therefore the Christian can experience a desire for death like that of St. Paul's: "My desire is to depart and be with Christ." He can transform his own death into an act of obedience and love towards the Father, after the example of Christ: (CCC 1011) In the saints, we see this same attitude toward death:

"My earthly desire has been crucified; . . . there is living water in me, water that murmurs and says within me: Come to the Father." - St. Ignatius of Antioch

"I want to see God and, in order to see him, I must die." - St Teresa of Avila

"I am not dying; I am entering life." - St. Thérèse of Lisieux

That is because as Christians, we are joined to Christ, who is the Resurrection. Jesus said, "I am the Resurrection and the Life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies." (John 11:25) Peter Kreeft writes, "Christ is not just the giver of the Resurrection, He is the Resurrection. Our resurrection is not just caused by Him, it is found in him. We rise because we are incorporated into Christ's Body." (Catholic Christianity, 135)

The Apostles were not just witnesses of Christ's teaching; they were also witnesses of His resurrection.

"To be a witness to Christ is to be a "witness to his Resurrection," to "[have eaten and drunk] with him after he rose from the dead." Encounters with the risen Christ characterize the Christian hope of resurrection. We shall rise like Christ, with him, and through him." (CCC 995)

Therefore all Christians likewise, are witnesses to the resurrection of Christ, and the forthcoming resurrection of the dead. We testify by our lives that we live for the "life of the world to come". (Nicene Creed)

We witnesses to the resurrection not just by our words, but through our deeds, our way of living, as pilgrims on our way to our fatherland. The early Christian martyrs were known by the pagans for being unafraid of death. They faced death as the finish line of a race (2 Tim 4:7-8), after which they would receive their eternal reward. St. Augustine writes:

"O how sweet it is to die, if one's life has been a good one! For such as he, to die is gain. To the just man death is only a passing into a better life. it is a journey to his everlasting home, where his heavenly Father dwells. Death is to be feared only by the sinner, for it is the end of his earthly pleasures, and the beginning of his eternal punishment."

As Christians, we recognize that death is inevitable, and we accept that. We also recognize that death is not the way God originally intended things to be, and so we mourn, feeling the pain of death's unnaturalness. And yet, ultimately, we also recognize the glory that awaits us. So in the face of death, we can rejoice in hope and eager expectation.

That is because we know something about what happens to us at death. At death, the soul is separated from the body, not extinguished. The soul does not become an angel. We then face what is called the particular judgment. God determines whether we go to hell, purgatory, or heaven. If we love God, and thus are not in a state of mortal sin, then, if we still have some stain of sin (even though our sins are forgiven), we go to purgatory to be purified so that we can enter heaven. If at death we love God, and our souls are purified of all the stain of sin, we go straight to heaven and see God, for Jesus tell us that the pure in heart shall see God. (St. Matthew 5:8) (Very few people are so holy at death that they need no additional purification.) If we die in a state of mortal sin, not loving God but having turned away from God in pride and disobedience, then at the moment of our death, God sends us to hell, eternally.

These two possible destinies presently lie before us. Christianity is entirely opposed to fatalism, for fatalism belittles what God has done in making rational creatures who, by their rationality, have the power of free choice and self-determination. Fatalism, through its deception robs such creatures of the awareness and understanding of the significance and meaning of our own free choices. As Kreeft points out, "God gave us the incredible and fearful dignity of deciding our own eternal destiny." (p. 136) This is precisely why Moses could tell the Israelites to "choose life" (Deut 30:19). And this is why when St. Paul was explaining the gospel to Felix the governor, Felix became frightened.

"But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, "Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you." (Acts 24:25)

With fatalism there is no reason for fear; you can do nothing about what is going to happen to you. Fear comes when we grasp the relation between our will and eternity, through the eternal consequence of our free choices. Grace builds on nature, it does not destroy nature. Likewise, the gospel does not destroy the judgment or sidestep it, or somehow sneak us through the judgment, as I discussed here. The gospel brings Christ to us, through Whom and by Whom and with Whom we are enabled to live righteous lives so that we can be unafraid on the Day of Judgment, not because we are trusting in Christ to cover over or hide our sinful life, but because through Christ we have not only been forgiven, but also by His grace we have put off our old sinful life and actually lived a life of charity and holiness.

The great lie is that we cannot actually be holy and righteous and pleasing in His sight, so we have to hide behind Christ. "We're only human, you know" is the line I hear so often. Christ calls us to be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect. (St. Matthew 5:48) He calls us to pick up our cross, and be saints, I mean truly be saints, not snow-covered dung heaps, not white-washed sepulchers full of sin but believing that that is fine so long as we're covered by Christ's blood. God is always about the really real thing; He never fakes it. He never solves problems by merely hiding them or covering them. That's precisely the mode of the deceiver. God brings what is hidden into the open. Jesus says, "For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light." (St. Mark 4:22; cf. St. Luke 8:17) The Christian does not hide his sins behind the blood of Jesus; he brings his sins out into the open, before the priest in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.

The "resurrection of the flesh" (the literal formulation of the Apostles' Creed) means not only that the immortal soul will live on after death, but that even our "mortal body" will come to life again. (CCC 990)

This happens by the reuniting of our soul with our bodily remains. In death, which is the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God" in the particular judgment. Then it awaits reunion with its glorified body at the time of the general judgment. "God, in his almighty power, will definitively grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus' Resurrection." (CCC 997)

The doctrine of the resurrection affirms that we are material beings, and that we are incomplete apart from our bodies. The last enemy to be destroyed is death, because death is the consequence of sin, and Christ has defeated both sin and death. So the resurrection is the culmination, the climactic manifestation of the extent of Christ's gift to us in his redemptive work. Part of our salvation is to be restored to fellowship with God, so that we can see Him and love Him forever. But another part of our salvation is having that harmony between our body and soul restored. Being resurrected is part of what means to be saved. God loves us, and wants to restore our bodies to us, so that we may be in our fully perfected state as human persons. How does Christ apply His work to us? Through the Eucharist. Jesus says:

"He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." (John 6:54)

The doctrine of the resurrection can be found in the Old Testament, especially in 2 Maccabees 7:9,11,14,23, 29; 12:43-46. Here we see heroes dying martyrs deaths with the full expectation that these very parts of their bodies that are being removed by their torturers will be given back to them at the resurrection on the last day.

The Scripture teaches that everyone will rise, not just the righteous, but the unrighteous as well. All the dead will rise again on the last day with their bodies. The Athanasian Creed says, "On His coming all men with their bodies must arise." And Jesus Himself teaches this. He says:

"Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment." (John 5:28-29)

And St. Paul teaches, "that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked." (Acts 24:15)

The resurrection will take place on the last day. Jesus said, "This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day." (John 6:39; cf. John 6:44) And St. Paul likewise says, "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first." (1 Thess 4:16)

At that time (i.e. the last day), after our resurrection, we will be judged (and rewarded or punished in hell) at the general judgment. Jesus says, "But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." (Luke 14:13-14)

Many people have a difficult time believing in the resurrection. This was also true in the time of the New Testament. When St. Paul was preaching to the Athenians, the sermon was going well until he mentioned the resurrection. "Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer." (Acts 17:32) The Catechism confirms this. "From the beginning, Christian faith in the resurrection has met with incomprehension and opposition. (CCC 996) St. Augustine wrote, "On no point does the Christian faith encounter more opposition than on the resurrection of the body."

But the doctrine of the resurrection of the body is an essential dogma of the faith. To tamper with it is to reject Christianity altogether. St. Polycarp didn't mince words when he said, "whoever perverts the sayings of the Lord to his own evil desires and says there is neither resurrection nor judgment, that one is the first-born of Satan." That's because the whole of the Christian message hangs on the resurrection. If Christ is resurrected, then surely we will be as well. But if Christ was not resurrected, then Christianity is a sham, an empty deception. St. Paul makes this very point when he says, "For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished." (1 Cor 15:16-18)

We do not understand how God is able to do this, but we do know that with God, all things are possible. (St. Matthew 19:26) If God is able to make the human body out of nothing, then surely He is capable of reuniting our soul with our body.

This very body? Yes. What if it has been scattered all over the world, and over time incorporated into the bodies of many other living things, even other humans? With God nothing is impossible. The dead will rise again with the same bodies they had on earth; those same bodies that were placed in the graves will come out of the graves. Christ is our example here. He was raised with the very same body, the body that had been in Mary's womb for nine months. The Catechism says, "Christ is raised with his own body: "See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself" (CCC 999). The hands and feet He was showing His disciples were the same hands and feet that had been pierced at his crucifixion. When the third brother of the seven Jewish brothers was suffering at the hands of the pagans, he said this, "I hope to receive these (tongue and hands) again from Him (God)." (2 Mach. 7:11) And St. Paul tells us, "For this corruptible must put on incorruption: and this mortal must put on immortality." (1 Cor 15:53)

The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) stated definitively: "They will arise with their bodies which they have now." And St. Justin Martyr, in the middle of the second century, said this: "We expect to have again our dead and the bodies interred in the earth, by maintaining that with God nothing is impossible" (Apol. 1:18)

Even though we will rise with the very same bodies we presently have, at the resurrection our bodies will be changed; they will be glorified. "Christ will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, into a spiritual body" (CCC 999) Our resurrected body will be like Christ's : Christ "will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory" (Phil 3:21) His resurrected body showed continuity (consider the wounds in his hands, feet, and side). Yet it was also different, so different that at first His disciples did not recognize Him. We can note four ways in which the glorified resurrected body is transformed.

First, it is impassable (impassibilitas), that is, it will be incapable of pain, suffering, hunger, thirst, fatigue, sleep, heat, cold, sorrow, sickness, death. Consider the following Scriptures.

"And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and death shall be no more. Nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more: for the former things are passed away." (Rev 21:4)

"They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat." (Rev 7:16)

"Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "Death is swallowed up in victory". (1 Cor 15:50-54)

Jesus says, "for they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection." (St. Luke 20:36)

"If the earthly house in which we dwell be destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made by human hands, eternal in the heavens." (2 Cor 5:1)

Second, the resurrected body will have what is called subtility (subtilitas), that is, a spiritualized nature. We can see this especially in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. St. Paul writes:

"So also is the resurrection of the dead It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body." (1 Cor 15:42-44)

Jesus was able to pass through closed doors. (cf. John 20:19, 26) This quality (i.e. subtility) shows us that the human body will be elevated, in a way, by partaking in the divine nature. Either that, or our conception of human nature has been formed within the context of the fallen state of human nature. Either way, this sheds some light on the way in which Christ be present in the Eucharist (Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity), and yet remain fully and truly human.

We have to be careful not to think that Jesus's body was transformed into a spirit, or that at the resurrection we will be transformed into spirits. After His resurrection, Jesus said to His disciples, "See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." (St. Luke 24:39) And then a few verses later, St. Luke writes, "While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; and He took it and ate it before them." (St. Luke 24:41-43)

Similarly, St. Paul tells us that the Apostles ate and drank with Jesus after His resurrection.

"God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead." (Acts 10:40-41)

The third quality of the resurrected body is referred to as agility (agilitas), which is the capability of the body to obey the soul with the greatest ease and speed of movement, as Jesus appeared in the midst of His disciples (John 20:19, 26). On account of the perfect obedience of the body to the soul, the risen body can then pass with the quickness of thought to any place the person desires to go.

The fourth quality of the resurrected body is brightness or clarity (claritas), which means being free from everything deformed, and being filled with beauty and radiance. "The body will rise again free from distortions, malformations, and defects, in the greatest possible natural perfection." The radiance of the resurrected body will be like that of Christ's body at the Transfiguration. (St. Matthew 17:2) Jesus Himself tells us, "The just shall shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matthew 13:43) And the prophet Daniel wrote, "Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever." (Daniel 12:3)

What about the unrighteous? What kind of bodies will they have at the resurrection? The unrighteous will also be resurrected, and their bodies will also be immortal, but their bodies will not be impassable or transfigured (i.e. glorified). Their bodies will be capable of suffering. They will be eternally punished in their bodies in hell, though bodily pain will be their least pain in hell.

Jesus said, "for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell" (St. Matthew 5:29; cf. St. Matt 18:8) Elsewhere Jesus says, "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell". (St. Matthew 10:28) Because the risen bodies of the unrighteous will not be glorified, they will be hideous and repulsive, ever dying yet incapable of dying.

The Importance of the Body in Christianity
What does the resurrection of the body say about who we are? What does it say about the dignity of our bodies? It says that we are material beings. We are animals, not mere animals, but animals nonetheless. The resurrection of the body also tells us that matter is good. It also tells us that our bodies are sacred, for these very same bodies (I'm pointing to my chest) will, if we are found in Him on that day, be with God in heaven forever.

"The believer's body and soul already participate in the dignity of belonging to Christ. This dignity entails the demand that he should treat with respect his own body, but also the body of every other person, especially the suffering" (CCC 1004)

St. Paul tells us something similar.

"The body [is meant] for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? . . . . You are not your own; . . . . So glorify God in your body" (1 Corinthians 6)

[Because of the sacredness and dignity of the human body, Catholics should be buried in a Catholic cemetery, if there is one available, or at least the grave should be blessed, in consecrated ground. Cremation is permissible for Catholics, but not the scattering of ashes. That is so that relatives and friends may visit the burial site in order to pray for the departed. Cemeteries should be properly kept, and never desecrated. We should go there to pray for our loved ones who have died, that they may enter into the peace and joy of heaven. We can go there knowing with the certainty of faith that the bodies there will one day come out, and be eternal.]

We can know that Christ's human body, and Mary's body, are in heaven already, eternally, giving us assurance that ours will be there too, if we are found in Him on the last day. If Christ's body is in heaven, then if we remain in Christ, our body will be there too, with Him. St. Paul writes, "But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you." (Romans 8:11). Later he says, "knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus." (2 Cor 4:14)

The resurrection of the body also shows us the importance of the sacraments for salvation. Tertullian says,

"The flesh is the hinge of salvation. And since the soul is, in consequence of its salvation, chosen to the service of God, it is the flesh which actually renders it capable of such service. The flesh, indeed, is washed, in order that the soul may be cleansed; the flesh is anointed, that the soul may be consecrated; the flesh is signed (with the cross), that the soul too may be fortified; the flesh is shadowed with the imposition of hands, that the soul also maybe illuminated by the Spirit; the flesh feeds on the body and blood of Christ, that the soul likewise may fatten on its God. They cannot then be separated in their recompense, when they are united in their service. (Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh 8)

The Catechism adds:
"We believe in God who is creator of the flesh; we believe in the Word made flesh in order to redeem the flesh; we believe in the resurrection of the flesh, the fulfillment of both the creation and the redemption of the flesh." (CCC 1015)

In this way, and for this reason, God now uses matter to save ours souls through the sacraments. It is because we are material beings that we need material sacraments to save us, and gnosticism is the fundamental heresy. The doctrine of the resurrection of the body is a key piece of evidence in defeating gnosticism and its anti-sacramental implications.

"The Last Judgment"
Michelangelo (1534-1541)

Finally, what we do in and to our bodies matters, for we must all stand before Christ, in our bodies, to answer for everything we have done in our bodies, whether good or evil.

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." (2 Cor 5:10)

Let us live our lives, knowing that we will stand before our Maker, with all that we have done in this life there before Him. Let us strive to live so as to hear these words on that day: "Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your Master." (St. Matthew 25:21)

I'm dedicating this post to Tom Brownell, a family friend since childhood. May the grace and peace of God be with him in these last days of his earthly life, that he may stand firm in faith to the end. May the merits and prayers of all the saints be with him, to strengthen and encourage him. May the light of Christ shine on him, and receive him into his eternal home. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

He Made Them Wander in the Wilderness Forty Years

Moses and the Brazen Serpent
Sebastian Bourdon (1653-1654)

What Fr. Williams says here fits with what St. Thomas Aquinas says here about the relation between faith and ecclesial authority.

Monday, November 10, 2008

This is not unity among Christians

Here and here.

"that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me. And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given to them; that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and didst love them, even as Thou dist love Me." (St. John 17:21-23)

Lord Jesus, have mercy. Forgive us.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Feast of St. John Lateran

Today is the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran Cathedral Basilica in Rome. This cathedral was dedicated on November 9, 324 by Pope Sylvester I (314-335 AD). It was a gift from Constantine to the Christians. Because it is the cathedral, it is the seat of the bishop of Rome. And because the bishop of Rome is also the bishop of the Catholic Church, this cathedral is uniquely the parish of all Christians, and hence the tangible locus of communion for all Christians. This basilica is superior in rank even to St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. The popes resided here from the fourth century until St. Peter's was constructed in the 16th century. In the baldacchino are the skulls of the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul. Shawn Tribe has some beautiful photos of this basilica here. Read more about it here.

Fr. Ray

The Indefectibility of the Church

"Christ Giving the Keys to St Peter"
Lorenzo Veneziano (1369)

The indefectibility of the Church is a gift from Christ to the Church by which she is preserved to the end of the age as the "institution of salvation". She can neither perish from the world nor depart from "her teaching, her constitution and her liturgy". (Ott, 296) This gift of indefectibility is essential to Christ's purpose in establishing His Church as the means of continuing His saving work to all the nations and peoples of the world until the end of the age. Regarding this purpose, Pope Leo XIII wrote, "What did Christ the Lord achieve by the foundation of the Church; what did He wish? This: He wished to delegate to the Church the same office and the same mandate which He had Himself received from the Father in order to continue them." (Satis cognitum, 4)

The indefectibility of the Church follows from the nature of the union of Christ with the Church, His Body. Concerning this union, St. Augustine writes:

Let us rejoice then and give thanks that we have become not only Christians, but Christ himself. Do you understand and grasp, brethren, God's grace toward us? Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ. For if he is the head, we are the members; he and we together are the whole man. . . . The fullness of Christ then is the head and the members. But what does "head and members" mean? Christ and the Church.
St. Gregory the Great (whose feast day is November 10) writes the following:

Our redeemer has shown himself to be one person with the holy Church whom he has taken to himself.

And St. Thomas Aquinas writes:

Head and members form as it were one and the same mystical person. (ST III Q.48 a.2)

It is because of this union of Christ with the Church that the Church is indefectible. St. Augustine shows this when he says:

The Church will totter when her foundation totters. But how shall Christ totter? ... as long as Christ does not totter, neither shall the Church totter in eternity." (Enarr. in Ps. 103, 2, 5)

Elsewhere, writing about Psalm 48:9 (which is Psalm 48:8 in Protestant Bibles) St. Augustine says:

Let not heretics insult, divided into parties, let them not exalt themselves who say, "Lo, here is Christ, or lo, there." (Matt 24:23) Whoso says, "Lo, here is Christ, or lo, there," invites to parties. Unity God promised. The kings are gathered together in one, not dissipated through schisms. But haply that city which has held the world, shall sometime be overthrown? Far be the thought! "God has founded it forever." If then God has founded it forever, why fearest thou lest the firmament should fall?"

And in his Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed (1:6), St. Augustine writes:

The same is the holy Church, the one Church, the true Church, the catholic Church, fighting against all heresies: fight, it can; be fought down, it cannot. As for heresies, they all went out of it, like unprofitable branches pruned from the vine: but itself abides in its root, in its Vine, in its charity.

In these quotations we see the indefectibility of the Church grounded in the Church's ontological union with Christ as His Mystical Body. Because the life of Christ is indefectible, and because the life of the Church is the life of Christ, therefore the Church is indefectible. Those who deny the indefectibility of the Church are denying that this union of Christ with His Church is anything more than extrinsic. They imply that Christ's Mystical Body can become corrupted such that He may abandon His Body and take on a different body. By their denial of the indefectibility of the Church they imply that Christ can abandon the Bride with which He is "one flesh" (Eph 5:31-32; Mt 19:6), and find a different bride. But such claims are contrary to the intimate and ontological union of Christ with His Body, which is also His Bride. In virtue of this union she can be neither defeated nor corrupted nor destroyed, since the risen Christ Himself can neither be defeated nor corrupted nor destroyed, and since His Spirit lives within her as her soul. (CCC 797, 809).

Understanding the indefectibility of the Church is essential for understanding what Christ did in establishing the Church and equipping her to fulfill His purpose. If the Church had not been given this gift, then each man would have been left to determine for himself what Christ's message was, by sifting through all the available historical evidence. The full and visible unity of all Christians would then be impossible, as each man would simply do what seemed right in his own eyes. That is why understanding indefectibility and its basis and necessity are essential for the reunion of all Christians. Only if indefectibility is true is there a means for full and visible unity. If the Church were not indefectible, every heresy would have an equal claim to orthodoxy with orthodoxy itself. But God cannot lie (Titus 1:2), and Christ has promised that the gates of hell would never prevail against His Church (Matthew 16:18), that He would be with her to the end of the age (Matt 28:20), that His Church is the pillar and ground of truth (1 Tim 3:15), and that His Holy Spirit would guide her into all truth (John 16:13). Therefore heresy has no equal claim to orthodoxy. Heresy is distinguished from orthodoxy precisely by what the indefectible Church has ruled.

The Catholic Encyclopedia article titled "The Church" has a very helpful section on the indefectibility of the Church. The following two paragraphs are excerpted from that article.

Among the prerogatives conferred on His Church by Christ is the gift of indefectibility. By this term is signified, not merely that the Church will persist to the end of time, but further, that it will preserve unimpaired its essential characteristics. The Church can never undergo any constitutional change which will make it, as a social organism, something different from what it was originally. It can never become corrupt in faith or in morals; nor can it ever lose the Apostolic hierarchy, or the sacraments through which Christ communicates grace to men. The gift of indefectibility is expressly promised to the Church by Christ, in the words in which He declares that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. It is manifest that, could the storms which the Church encounters so shake it as to alter its essential characteristics and make it other than Christ intended it to be, the gates of hell, i.e. the powers of evil, would have prevailed. It is clear, too, that could the Church suffer substantial change, it would no longer be an instrument capable of accomplishing the work for which God called it in to being. He established it that it might be to all men the school of holiness. This it would cease to be if ever it could set up a false and corrupt moral standard. He established it to proclaim His revelation to the world, and charged it to warn all men that unless they accepted that message they must perish everlastingly. Could the Church, in defining the truths of revelation err in the smallest point, such a charge would be impossible. No body could enforce under such a penalty the acceptance of what might be erroneous. By the hierarchy and the sacraments, Christ, further, made the Church the depositary of the graces of the Passion. Were it to lose either of these, it could no longer dispense to men the treasures of grace.

The gift of indefectibility plainly does not guarantee each several part of the Church against heresy or apostasy. The promise is made to the corporate body. Individual Churches may become corrupt in morals, may fall into heresy, may even apostatize. Thus at the time of the Mohammedan conquests, whole populations renounced their faith; and the Church suffered similar losses in the sixteenth century. But the defection of isolated branches does not alter the character of the main stem. The society of Jesus Christ remains endowed with all the prerogatives bestowed on it by its Founder. Only to One particular Church is indefectibility assured, viz. to the See of Rome. To Peter, and in him to all his successors in the chief pastorate, Christ committed the task of confirming his brethren in the Faith (Luke 22:32); and thus, to the Roman Church, as Cyprian says, "faithlessness cannot gain access" (Epistle 54). The various bodies that have left the Church naturally deny its indefectibility. Their plea for separation rests in each case on the supposed fact that the main body of Christians has fallen so far from primitive truth, or from the purity of Christian morals, that the formation of a separate organization is not only desirable but necessary. Those who are called on to defend this plea endeavour in various ways to reconcile it with Christ's promise. Some, as seen above (VII), have recourse to the hypothesis of an indefectible invisible Church. The Right Rev. Charles Gore of Worcester, who may be regarded as the representative of high-class Anglicanism, prefers a different solution. In his controversy with Canon Richardson, he adopted the position that while the Church will never fail to teach the whole truth as revealed, yet "errors of addition" may exist universally in its current teaching (see Richardson, Catholic Claims, Appendix). Such an explanation deprives Christ's words of all their meaning. A Church which at any period might conceivably teach, as of faith, doctrines which form no part of the deposit could never deliver her message to the world as the message of God. Men could reasonably urge in regard to any doctrine that it might be an "error of addition".

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Why Did Adam Originally Need Grace?

Creation of Adam
Michelangelo (Sistine Chapel, 1510)

Aquinas answers this question in Summa Theologica I Q.95 a.1 co.. He explains that man was made by God in such a way that man's reason was subject to God, his lower powers were perfectly subject to his reason, and his body also was perfectly subject to his soul. But the first subjection was the cause of the latter two subjections. Then Aquinas says,

"Now it is clear that such a subjection of the body to the soul and of the lower powers to reason, was not from nature; otherwise it would have remained after sin; since even in the demons the natural gifts remained after sin, as Dionysius declared (Div. Nom. iv). Hence it is clear that also the primitive subjection by virtue of which reason was subject to God, was not a merely natural gift, but a supernatural endowment of grace; for it is not possible that the effect should be of greater efficiency than the cause. Hence Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xiii, 13) that, "as soon as they disobeyed the Divine command, and forfeited Divine grace, they were ashamed of their nakedness, for they felt the impulse of disobedience in the flesh, as though it were a punishment corresponding to their own disobedience." Hence if the loss of grace dissolved the obedience of the flesh to the soul, we may gather that the inferior powers were subjected to the soul through grace existing therein."

Here is Aquinas's argument. The subjection of Adam's body to his soul and of the lower powers to his reason was an effect of the subjection of his reason to God. But it is not possible that the effect should exceed the cause. And since the subjection of the body to the soul and of the lower powers to reason was not from nature [for otherwise these two subjections would have remained after Adam's sin], it follows that the subjection of Adam's reason to God was also not a merely natural gift but was a supernatural endowment of grace. And the quotation from Augustine confirms this. Hence Aquinas concludes that if the loss of grace dissolved the obedience of the flesh to the soul, the inferior powers must have been subject to the soul through grace existing in them.

According to Aquinas it is not that Adam was naturally disordered, but that his nature alone did not preserve his order in his original state. Nor is Aquinas saying that Adam initially had some defect. The need for grace in the initial state is not based on matter, for even the angels, as beings having no matter, needed grace in their original state. Aquinas, along with the Church, believed that everything God made was very good, and that Adam was created posse non pecarre (with the ability to avoid sinning). Nor is Aquinas saying that the image of God in man was a superadded gift. Man bears the image of God through the rational power that is natural to man.

For Aquinas, grace is not merely divine favor; it was something in Adam and Eve. Aquinas would have treated the notion that grace is either something ontological or merely divine favor, as a false dilemma. He teaches in Summa Theologica I-II Q.110 a.1 that grace has three aspects. In one sense it refers to favor. In another sense it refers to the gift given as an expression of that favor. And in another sense it refers to the gratitude one has for the reception of a gratuitous gift. So we don't have to choose between grace as divine favor, and grace as divine gift.

The gift of grace that God gave to Adam and Eve was not a substance, but a quality inhering within their souls. (ST I-II Q.110 a.2) God "infuses" (infundit) into us "certain forms or supernatural qualities (aliquas formas seu qualitates supernaturales), whereby we may be moved by Him sweetly and promptly to acquire eternal good." The Catholic Catechism teaches that Adam and Eve were created having the grace of original holiness and justice (CCC 375), by which they were in harmony with God, and thus had an inner harmony within themselves (no concupiscence), a harmony between each other, and a harmony with all of creation. This entire harmony was lost when they disobeyed God.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Da pacem Domine

"Virgin of the Annunciation"
Guido Reni (1575-1642)

"Da pacem Domine" (Give peace, Lord)
Composed by Arvo Pärt
Performed by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir

Lord Jesus, where there is division between your followers, bring the peace of true unity in reunion and reconciliation. Let all who love you, seek the peace of true unity in your Body, the Church. Let love awaken all of us who have defined unity down or forgotten full visible unity and settled for division or the mere appearance of peace. May we reach out to each other, with the gift of love, born by the Holy Spirit, who is both Love and Gift. Reveal what divides us, and defeat it with the truth in love, through the power of your Holy Spirit. Love who seeks perfect unity, since you live in us, stir us up to seek perfect unity and true peace. Shine the light of divine truth, and defeat the deception that disregards true unity. Heal our divisions, and make us truly one, so that we may have true peace, the perfect peace of the community of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. Blessed Theotokos, pray for us your children, that we may be one in your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

"For God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints." (1 Corinthians 14:33)

"Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you." (2 Corinthians 13:11)

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness" (Gal 5:22)

"Being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Eph 4:3)

"And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7)

"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful" (Col 3:15)

"Live in peace with one another." (1 Thess 5:17)

"Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. The Lord be with you all!" (2 Thess 3:16)

"Not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money." (1 Tim 3:3)

In our own strength we can do nothing. But God can do what we thought unimaginable. I am committed to pray daily for the full visible unity of all Christians. If you haven't done so already, will you too make this commitment? If so, please invite others to do so as well. Even though we may disagree on many things, let's agree to make this our daily prayer, and, insofar as possible, that of Christians around the world. "Lord Jesus, may all Christians be reunited in full visible unity, that we may be truly one, as you and the Father are one. In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen."

Monday, November 3, 2008

On Imitations and the Gospel

"The School of Athens"
Raphael (1509)

Earlier this semester as I was teaching Plato's Gorgias, I was reflecting on the way that Socrates pointed out the repeated parallel between genuine goods and their imitations. Of course we see something like this in the Republic, where the shadows are depicted as mere imitations of something much more real. But in the Gorgias, this imitation motiff also applies to certain crafts or skills (τέχνη) as well. The true physical trainer, for example, knows how to make one's body truly healthy. That is the craft or skill he has acquired through study, practice and experience. He requires of those who seek his services discipline with respect to eating, sleeping and exercise. But there is an imitation of this craft that seems to provide us with the very same good, yet without all the work. It gives us the mere appearance of health, but it does not makes us truly healthy. This imitation, in contemporary times, may involve cosmetics, plastic surgery, liposuction, or even anabolic steroids, etc.

Similarly, the nutritionist also has an imitator, one who offers foods that seem good, but in fact are not. Socrates describes these as including meats and sweets and pastries, etc. These foods offered by the imitator even seem to the untrained to be better than the foods the nutritionist advises us to eat, since they are more appealing to the untrained taste. But these foods do not in fact lead to bodily health; they lead to its contrary.

Toward the end of the Gorgias (521d-522a), Socrates shows how the physician would not fare well in a courtroom judged by a jury of children, where the prosecutor is one who practices the 'knack' that imitates the physician's craft. To the children, the physician's practice seems cruel in contrast with the apparent goods offered by the imitator (referred to here as 'pastry-baker' or 'cook'). If you wish to read that particular paragraph click here and do a search within that document for the phrase "I shall be tried just as a physician".

Likewise, according to Plato, the statesman who truly knows the craft of politics knows what is truly good and just for the citizens of the polis (i.e. city). His imitator, on the other hand, appeals to the citizens' [disordered] desires in order to persuade the citizens to choose and support him. He offers to them what seems best to them, but what is not in fact best for them, and may even be harmful to them.

Similarly, the philosopher is the lover of wisdom, truth and justice. But the sophist is the imitator of the philosopher. The sophist has no regard for wisdom, truth and justice, but has a knack (i.e. an imitation of a craft) by which he can persuade his listeners by appealing to what merely seems wise, true and just. In Spe Salvi 6, Pope Benedict makes this distinction between the true philosopher and the charlatan who imitates the true philosopher but does not provide true wisdom. (It should be noted here that the possession of a PhD in philosophy is not a guarantee that the possessor is a true philosopher.)

Similarly, in various places both Plato and Aristotle contrast the friend with the flatterer. The flatterer's knack is the mere imitation of the true friend's activity. The friend aims at bringing about his friend's good. The flatterer, by contrast, ingratiates himself to the other, giving pleasure to him but not aiming to bring about his good. The true friend, by contrast, will say the painful thing that needs to be said for his friend's well being. The flatterer does not do that, precisely because he does not desire the true good of the other person. He says and does things that seem good, but in fact are not truly good, but only superficially pleasing.

These examples all indicate a repeating pattern: a true good, and an imitation that mimics the true good by seeming to offer just what the the true good offers, but in each case offering only the mere appearance of the true good, not the actual true good. Satan cannot offer the true good, for he cannot give what he does not have. So his manner of deceiving must be that of imitating the true good. This is of course why his work culminates in an Antichrist. The term 'Antichrist' does not so much mean someone who is opposed to Christ (although of course he is opposed to Christ), but rather someone who arrogates to himself the place of Christ, as I have discussed previously here. This is Satan's mode of operation. He deceived Eve by offering her an apparent good that in its description seemed to be just what God had offered them as the fruit of obedience. Satan offered them a shortcut to what seemed to be that very same good, i.e. being like God (Gen 3:5), and being immortal ("you shall not die") [Gen 3:4]. Similarly, Satan offered to Jesus what seemed to be His goal, attaining all the kingdoms of the world. But it was by way of a false shortcut, bending the knee to Satan instead of persevering through the cross.

I couldn't help but wonder whether the gospel has an imitation, something that seems to provide everything the true gospel provides, but in fact does not provide the actual good that the true gospel provides. What must this imitation look like?

The imitation gospel is going to offer us what seems like heaven, because the eternal life of heaven is the actual good offered to us in the true gospel. The imitation gospel is going to use the same terms as the actual gospel. That is the most effective way of deceiving people into thinking that what is being talked about is the same thing as what is referred to in the true gospel. That is why knockoff Gucci bags have a 'Gucci' insignia. In order to distinguish the imitation gospel from the real thing, we have to know what we need saving from, in order to know what true salvation is.

I have briefly discussed this before, in my "Gnostic Salvation" paper, and to some degree in my post titled "Prologemona to the Gospel". But I wish to go into a bit more detail here.

The fundamental problem in fallen man is in his heart. Jesus says,

"For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders." (Matthew 15:19, cf. Mark 7:21, Luke 6:45).

The solution to this heart problem does not involve a mere change of place. If I go on vacation, my heart comes with me. If my heart is evil, then I bring my evil heart with me on vacation. For that reason, in order to go to heaven, I cannot have an evil heart, for if my heart were evil, and heaven were merely a different place than earth, I would bring my evil heart to heaven. And in that case, heaven would not be heaven; it would be merely a continuation of this present world in its fallen condition. No one therefore can enter the eternal life of heaven with an evil heart. The gospel necessarily involves primarily and fundamentally a change of heart, away from the autonomy and self-centered disorientation of pride, and toward God in loving and trusting obedience.

We see this in the transformation of Zaccheus, when he says, "Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much." Jesus says in response, "Today, salvation has come to this house". (St. Luke 19:8-9) Jesus notes that salvation came when Zaccheus had a change of heart. Zaccheus did not first come to understand the 'four spiritual laws' or some kind of formula such as 'justification as imputation by faith alone through grace alone on account of Christ alone'. His heart changed, away from the self-centeredness of sin, toward Christ, in love. This change of heart, according to Jesus, was Zaccheus's salvation.

The solution to the problem of man's sinful heart does not involve simply writing his name in the Book of Life, or balancing his legal account in heaven, insofar as those events are conceived of as external to man. Any proposed solution to the problem of sin that does not change the heart of man does not solve the fundamental problem of man. Pelagianism is a heresy precisely for this reason; it denies the sinfulness of the human heart. But just as a virtue lies between two opposing vices, so the true gospel is opposed not just by the denial of man's sinful heart, but also, on the other side, by any position that merely covers over man's sinful heart. This is the vice that is closer to the virtue, and thus, in a way, more capable of being mistaken for the virtue. (See Nicomachean Ethics 1109a6-12) Any proposed solution to the problem of sin that remains external to the heart, is an imitation of the true gospel, a shortcut to actual salvation.

Here's an example. In a recent conversation on this thread at Michael Spencer's site "Internet Monk", I commented on a brief telephone conversation I had years ago with a Lutheran named Don Matzat. Back in the mid-90s, he was hosting a radio program called "Issues, etc.". So I called in one time, and asked him how there could be anyone in hell, given his Lutheran view of the all-sufficiency of Christ's work and unlimited atonement. Here is his exact answer — I'll never forget it: "All the people in hell are saved; they just don't know it."

Think about that answer for a few moments, and consider the concept of salvation implicit in Matzat's use of the term 'salvation'. According to Matzat, a person can be simultaneously saved and in hell eternally. What follows from that conception of salvation? Salvation, in Matzat's version of the gospel, does not mean loving union with God forever. Otherwise a person could not simultaneously be saved and in hell eternally. Moreover, salvation, in Matzat's version of the gospel does not mean purity of heart. If a person's heart were pure, then there would be no reason for him to be in hell. This shows that in Matzat's version of the gospel, the person who is saved and in hell does not have a pure heart. And this shows that according to Matzat's conception, salvation per se is something *external* to the human heart.

This conception of salvation as something extrinsic to us is entailed by Martin Luther's notion of simul iustus et peccator which I discussed here. Salvation, for Matzat, is (or is primarily) an accounting procedure, not the transformation of an evil heart into a heart filled with the supernatural virtue of charity. As an accounting procedure, salvation is external to us, as if the external problem [i.e. the debt we owe to God on account of our sinfulness] is the fundamental problem, and the internal problem is either secondary or a resultant of the external problem. But the debt of our sin before God has been caused by our sinful hearts. Our sinful hearts are the fundamental problem, and salvation therefore has to be primarily a transformation of the heart from its perversion of curved-inwardness to the rightful order of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and, subordinate to that, loving our neighbor as our self.

In Matzat's view, by coming to know that the accounting procedure (in which Christ's merit is applied to our account) has been done for us, for some reason we then get to "go to heaven". There are two things to note about this. First, what effectively translates persons from ending up in hell to ending up in heaven, in Matzat's soteriology, is a bit of knowledge, not the cross or the celestial accounting procedures. And so Matzat's position is in this respect a kind of gnosticism (i.e. salvation by knowledge), even though it is semantically structured such that what gets called 'salvation' is all done by Christ. Contrast that with the Catholic teaching that we are saved not primarily by knowledge of what Christ has done for us, but by becoming a participant in the very life of Christ, in His death and His resurrection, joined to Him through baptism, having His very life within us, even within our hearts. This is how babies are saved through baptism from their original sin, even before they know anything at all.

Second, the conception of heaven implicit in Matzat's statement is primarily one of place. By contrast, Aquinas understands heaven primarily as perfect happiness, the climax of our union with God in charity, i.e. a union of our heart with God's, as the union of two lovers' hearts. According to Aquinas heaven is a partaking of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), a kind of participation in the perfect community of the Blessed Trinity. We can have this kind of union with God only if we love Him. The 'placeness' or 'locatedness' of heaven is only secondary, because God, being immaterial, is not in space or time, yet we are embodied and so must be in a place.

Matzat's position has difficulty explaining how it is that saved people with evil hearts who discover that Christ died for them are thereby able to enter heaven, especially if they remain filthy rags merely hidden by a covering. According to his position we remain hidden from God, not open, free and transparent before Him. Matzat's position has difficulty explaining why gaining this bit of knowledge about Christ dying for them makes them suitable to enter heaven. These difficulties arise because this concept of salvation is an imitation of the real thing, for salvation according to this conception does not deal with the primary problem of man's evil heart; it offers a shortcut (i.e. an accounting procedure) by which antinomianism becomes the default, and "sin boldly" becomes even conceivable to utter. No more taking up one's cross. No more "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter." (Matt 7:21) No more "Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness" (Matt 7:23). No more "We know that no one who is born of God sins" (1 John 5:18).

All of that gets swept under the rug, conceptually excised out of the gospel by an interpretive paradigm that separates all things law-like from all things gospel-ish (i.e pleasant to hear). If this paradigm were applied to friendship, then only flatterers would count as friends; true friends would be considered non-friends. This law-gospel interpretive paradigm is a philosophical presupposition brought to the interpretive process, one whose resulting 'gospel' is an imitation and a shortcut. This interpretive paradigm has difficulty with verses such as St. Paul's description of Christ "dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus" (2 Thess 1:8) and St. Peter's question, "what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?" (1 Peter 4:17)

How does this imitation sell itself? By claiming to give God all the glory, and turning that into a theological methodology. This methodology leads to monocausalism, also called monergism. Since Christ should get all the glory, according to this methodology, therefore our salvation cannot at all involve our own will or activity of our will. That same intention to maximize God's glory drove the occasionalists in the Middle Ages to deny actual causal powers to created things, mistakenly thinking that they could ascribe more glory to God by ascribing every effect directly to God as its cause. The occasionlists thereby ended up with a position that runs contrary to the doctrine of creation. In the same way, the methodology of a philosophical theology that seeks to "maximize the glory given to God" presumes dangerously to know what it is, precisely, that maximizes the glory given to God. "We know what will maximize the glory given to God", it reasons; "God must do everything". But this presumptuous and rationalistic approach ends up blinding itself to what salvation actually is, and accepting a cheap substitute, one that doesn't actually save us (and thus, paradoxically, detracts from God's glory).

In Matzat's theology Christ did everything for us except one little (but yet consequentially enormous) thing; He did not believe for us. We still have to believe. But this creates an arbitrariness in rejecting the notion that Christ's work did not include working out my salvation in fear and trembling for me. If Christ's work did not include believing for me, and my believing is an act of the will that contributes to my going to heaven (as Maztat seemingly accepts) then there is no principled reason why my other willings must be excluded from contributing to my going to heaven. If we were truly consistent with this theological methodology of maximizing the glory to God (according to our own conception of what would maximize someone's glory), we would go all the way to universalism, and say that Christ's salvific work does everything for everyone. Already Matzat's position has difficulty explaining why suffering and death, both results of sin, are still around, given that everything needed for our being in heaven (except merely accepting it as true) was already accomplished on the cross by Christ. Matzat's position cannot explain why those of us who know that Christ died for us, are still here. God seems not to have realized that once people came to believe Christ died for them, then since everything had already been accomplished for their going to heaven, there would be nothing left for them to do until they died. We're left just twiddling our thumbs waiting to die or be caught up when Christ returns, whichever comes first. This is monergism’s reductio.

The true gospel as the good news of Christ ultimately transforms us into that which God intended us to be. Made in His image, partakers of His divine nature, we are ennobled and lifted high above all creatures, loved uniquely by God. Walter Farrell O.P., S.T.M. writes:

It would be a poor kind of love that made us in His image and left us nothing to do for ourselves; it is a divine love that sets out a man's work for a man's life and stands by a man's own decisions. He has indeed left us something to do with our mind and our will as well as with our hands and our feet. If we do these things, we are fulfilling the divine will; if we do not, we are not thwarting God but ourselves, for our eternal happiness hangs on the condition of our activity. This is not reason for despair; rather it is a divine tribute to the nobility of the nature of man. If prayer were a cringing, whining, coaxing of a whimsical God, it would debase a man; where, in fact, it is the shouldering of the burden of his own destiny, a doing of his part in winning heaven, it is the ennobling thing that has so set apart the saints from the cowardly braggarts who deify themselves and the whining cowards who dehumanize themselves.

The imitation gospel, by contrast, robs man of meaningfulness and nobility. It makes itself out to be the real gospel. Anyone who disagrees with it is described as having abandoned or compromised the gospel. Anything short of monergism is, by stipulated definition, some species of Pelagianism (see here), and hence some form of heresy. I was reminded of that again when reading of one Talbot graduate student's response to Frank Beckwith's talk there this past Friday evening. The student writes, "I'm not sure whether Beckwith is a brother in Christ, though I lean strongly towards no."

Does the imitation gospel actually harm anyone? Yes, it does. It does so even to those who end up in heaven with God. How so? Because not everyone in heaven is equally happy. Some are more blessed (i.e. happier) than others. Does that mean that some people in heaven are unhappy? No. Everyone in heaven is perfectly happy. Consider a series of cups on a table, each cup is a different size and thus is capable of containing a different volume, and each cup is filled completely to the brim. Are they all perfectly full? Yes. Do they each contain the same amount? No. Some contain more than others. Likewise, in heaven while all souls will be perfectly happy (i.e. filled to the brim with love for God), some hearts will have a greater capacity or disposition to see God, the greater their charity. And our capacity to love God in heaven is related to how we loved Him here on earth. The more we love Him here, the more we will be capable of loving Him in heaven, and thus the happier we will be in heaven eternally. (See Summa Theologica Supp. Q.93 a.3) Thus those whose Christian life here under an imitation gospel consists in reveling in their 'freedom' from good works and construing faith in Christ as meaning that Christ's work on the cross ensures that we do not have to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, are thereby eternally robbed of the level of happiness they could have had, had they lived a righteous and holy life in love for God. It is not enough for Satan to lead people to hell; he seeks also to deprive Christians of the degree of happiness and joy that we will have in heaven.

Not too long ago someone criticized the Catholic teaching concerning the gospel by saying that it detracted from the goodness of the good news, both by requiring that we do good works, and by failing to provide absolute assurance of our elect-to-glory status. Upon hearing this objection I was reminded of the 'pastry-baker' in Plato's Gorgias accusing the physician before the children: "His message detracts from the goodness of the good news that I'm giving you; you don't need to exercise regularly or avoid pastries, sugar and fat." What is it but sophistry that measures the truth of any version of the gospel by how 'good' it appears to us? That's simply another form of ecclesial consumerism. According to this maxim, the more 'freeing' and antinomian one's version of the gospel, the more it must be true, since then it is 'better' news, and the gospel [εὐαγγέλιον] is "good news". This kind of thinking is what makes so many people susceptible to the Heath and Wealth 'gospel' offered by well-known figures such as Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland. The better the offer, the more it must be the gospel, because 'gospel' means good news.

But that way of thinking is deeply flawed, precisely because what seems good to us is not necessarily what is actually good for us, just as what seems good to the jury of children in Plato's Gorgias is not in fact what is good for them. The goodness of the good news depends upon its truth. If the 'good news' is false, then it is not good news, no matter how good it sounds or seems. Therefore we should not compare versions of the gospel by how good they seem to us, but rather by which is true, even if it seems less attractive and more arduous than the other versions of the gospel.

Satan's greatest deception is convincing people that they do not need to be saved. His most effective way of doing this is to convince them that they are already entirely saved when in fact they are not. And his most effective way of doing this is to convince them that salvation is something external to them, something already entirely accomplished for them outside of them, and not requiring love and righteousness in their heart or obedience in their lives. In this way, they think they do not need salvation, because they think they are already saved, as saved as they can possibly be this side of heaven. What they have, however, is an imitation of the gospel, and this inoculates them to the true gospel. The imitation gospel allows them to ignore their sinful heart, and even celebrate it by recharacterizing it as 'freedom' from the law. They have been deceived by accepting a cheap knockoff conception of heaven as merely a nice place, and not as an everlasting loving and obedient union of our hearts with the heart of God. If they understood heaven to be most fundamentally a union of hearts (ours with God), they would understand that the gospel must be a purification of our heart, for light can have no fellowship with darkness. (2 Corinthians 6:14)

The true gospel "cleanses our hearts by faith" (Acts 15:9). The true gospel gives us a pure heart (1 Timothy 1:5; Romans 2:29). Otherwise St. Paul could not have written, "Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart." (2 Timothy 2:22) He could not have written that because there would have been no one with a pure heart with whom to call on the Lord. But they had, by the grace of Christ, purified their hearts, as St. James commands that we do. (St. James 4:8) Their hearts had been filled with the love of God, as St. Paul writes, saying, that the "love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us". (Romans 5:5) When Jesus said that the good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good (St. Luke 6:45), He wasn't speaking about a merely hypothetical, someone not to exist this side of heaven. He was talking about what His own followers are to be now, through His grace. His command to be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect, was not a mere hypothetical (St. Matthew 5:48). This is what He truly wants His followers to be, now, and He has provided the means for us to attain this goal through the grace that comes to us through the sacraments.

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." (St. Matthew 5:8)

The ultimate goal of the true gospel is to see God. And in order to see Him, we must be pure in heart. The imitations reduce the gospel, either to a denial of our sinful heart, or to a covering of our hearts, a perpetuation of the fig leaves in the Garden of Eden. The true gospel, and it alone, provides the means by which our sinful hearts may be purified so that we attain true salvation, eternal union with God our loving Father.

Lord Jesus, please help us all come to unity in the true gospel that you entrusted to your Apostles. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"the babies of the world will just have to wait"

"the babies of the world will just have to wait"

That is a line I came across recently, from a Christian dismissing the abortion issue in relation to this year's US presidential election.

Every year about 1,300,000 babies are aborted in the US. That's 5,200,000 babies over the next four years that won't get to "wait" -- they will be killed. The common reply is that neither candidate will make a difference with respect to the number of abortions. But that is simply not true. Obama promised a group of prominent abortion advocates that his "very first" act as President would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act [FOCA] into law. [watch the video] The passing of FOCA would result in approximately 125,000 more abortions per year. [source]. Given that, how could any Christian justifiably vote for Obama? What good could Obama possibly bring as President that would justify the killing of an additional 125,000 babies per year?

To conceive this more clearly, imagine that if Obama were to win, 125,000 babies per year would be sacrificed publicly on an altar on the White House lawn. That's a rate of 342 babies killed per day, or 14 babies killed per hour, or one baby killed about every 4 minutes. Imagine that every 4 minutes during an Obama administration, for the next four years, a baby is killed on this altar. Are the promised benefits of an Obama administration worth killing a baby every 4 minutes around the clock, 24/7, for the next four years?

Even in purely utilitarian terms, if we set aside the intrinsic injustice of killing innocent persons, it is difficult to imagine any comparable, let alone outweighing, good that could possibly justify killing a baby every 4 minutes for the next four years. Therefore, there seems to be no moral justification for voting for Obama. Obama supporters must either (1) not be aware of the implications of FOCA, or (2) not be aware that abortion is the killing of an innocent human being (see here), or (3) think that the good that Obama would do as President would be worth killing a baby every four minutes for the next four years.

Bishop Finn of Kansas put it this way:

"[I]f we are inclined to vote for someone despite their pro-abortion stance, it seems we are morally obliged to establish a proportionate reason sufficient to justify the destruction of 45 million human persons through abortion. If we learn that our "candidate of choice" further pledges – through an instrument such as FOCA - to eliminate all existing limitations against abortion, it is that much more doubtful whether voting for him or her can ever be morally justified under any circumstance." (source)

Bishop Hermann of the Archdiocese of St. Louis had this to say: "More than anything else, this election is about saving our children or killing our children."

Cardinal Egan of New York says this: "[H]ave you any doubt that the authorities in a civilized society are duty-bound to protect this innocent human being if anyone were to wish to kill it?"

Bishop Farrell of Dallas and Bishop Vann of Fort Worth issued a Joint Statement on this subject. Here's an excerpt:

The only moral possibilities for a Catholic to be able to vote in good conscience for a candidate who supports this intrinsic evil are the following:

a. If both candidates running for office support abortion or "abortion rights," a Catholic would be forced to then look at the other important issues and through their vote try to limit the evil done; or,

b. If another intrinsic evil outweighs the evil of abortion. While this is sound moral reasoning, there are no "truly grave moral" or “proportionate” reasons, singularly or combined, that could outweigh the millions of innocent human lives that are directly killed by legal abortion each year.
To vote for a candidate who supports the intrinsic evil of abortion or "abortion rights" when there is a morally acceptable alternative would be to cooperate in the evil – and, therefore, morally impermissible.

Over one hundred US Catholic bishops have spoken out similarly. (source) Why is this issue so important? It is not only the saving of the lives of these 125,000 children per year. As I explained in my previous post on this subject titled "Finding Unity in Morality", all our rights depend on the right to life. "Without the right to life, no other right can be defended." (Fr. Zuhlsdorf).

Many of us have been working to protect unborn children for many years. Part of the fruit of that work has been the appointment of several Supreme Court justices who understand that the Constitution does not give anyone a right to kill unborn children. McCain said this: "I will look for people in the cast of John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and my friend the late William Rehnquist -- jurists of the highest caliber who know their own minds, and know the law, and know the difference". Obama, as Princeton Professor Robert George has succinctly argued here, has clearly demonstrated himself to be the most pro-abortion candidate this nation has ever known, explicitly ensuring he would select Supreme Court justices who retain Roe vs. Wade. We've worked too hard to get this close to overturning Roe vs. Wade. Now is not the time to slacken our effort. Obama is right on this point, that in this election, Roe vs. Wade "probably hangs in the balance". (source)

When I was growing up, I thought that the only way to change a society's moral consciousness was through religious conversion. Of course I understood that we needed laws, but I believed that laws merely prevented anarchy; in my mind, they definitely didn't change hearts. That is why I thought efforts to change our country by way of political means were a misguided waste of time. But later I came to see that my gnosticism had prevented me from seeing that it is not either/or, but both/and. Plato explains both in his Republic and in his Laws, that the laws of a society shape and train its citizens in their dispositions to act, their appetites, and in their conceptions of right and wrong. As parents by their discipline shape and form the moral habits and appetites of their children, so likewise do the laws of a nation shape the moral habits and appetites of its people. We change our society both by directly influencing the hearts and minds of our neighbors, and by selecting leaders who will enact and enforce a body of law that will also shape the moral habits and conscience of all citizens. It is not an either/or, but necessarily a both/and. We must not fail in our civic duty, by falsely assuming that society is changed and formed only by our conversations and relationships with our neighbors. Our neighbors' morals are also affected by how we vote, because the laws and policies enacted by political leaders shape and form the moral consciousness of a nation's citizens. And the laws that in recent years have been put in place to restrict abortion are making a difference.

Some people I talk with think that the government should not "legislate morality". They do not seem to understand that the government of any people has a necessary duty to protect and defend innocent human life, whether already born or not yet born. The obligation to protect innocent human life is not just a Christian obligation, but is known to reason and knowable by reason. (cf. Declaration on Procured Abortion, 8) Consider this selection from (Evangelium vitae, 71).

The real purpose of civil law is to guarantee an ordered social coexistence in true justice, so that all may "lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way" (1 Tim 2:2). Precisely for this reason, civil law must ensure that all members of society enjoy respect for certain fundamental rights which innately belong to the person, rights which every positive law must recognize and guarantee. First and fundamental among these is the inviolable right to life of every innocent human being. While public authority can sometimes choose not to put a stop to something which-were it prohibited- would cause more serious harm, it can never presume to legitimize as a right of individuals-even if they are the majority of the members of society-an offence against other persons caused by the disregard of so fundamental a right as the right to life. The legal toleration of abortion or of euthanasia can in no way claim to be based on respect for the conscience of others, precisely because society has the right and the duty to protect itself against the abuses which can occur in the name of conscience and under the pretext of freedom.

May we not be known as the generation who decided that the "babies of the world will just have to wait". May their blood not be on our hands. Please do whatever is in your power to spread the word to everyone you know; the lives of 125,000 children a year depend on what we do right now. We are also praying a novena until next Tuesday; please pray hard. But don't just pray - pray and pass on the truth. We are our brother's keeper, even of those in the womb. They cannot speak on their own behalf; if we don't stand up for them and defend them, who will?

"Lord Jesus Christ, You told us to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God. Enlighten the minds of our people [in] America. May we choose a President of the United States, and other government officials, according to Your Divine Will. Give our citizens the courage to choose leaders of our nation who respect the sanctity of unborn human life, the sanctity of marriage, the sanctity of marital relations, the sanctity of the family, and the sanctity of the aging. Grant us the wisdom to give You, what belongs to You, our God. If we do this, as a nation, we are confident You will give us an abundance of Your blessings through our elected leaders. Amen." [Fr. Hardon]