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

Sunday, July 6, 2008

What does catholicity feel like?

We say in the Creed that we believe in "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church". So what does catholicity feel like? It feels a bit like this:

Catholicity is the exact opposite of the perpetual isolation, solipsism and irreversibly curved-inwardness of the ubiquitous individualism in hell; hence the irony of the title of Matt's video.

"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." (Matthew 28:20)

"But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

"For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall" (Ephesians 2:14)

"Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation." (Revelation 5:9)

"After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands." (Revelation 7:9)

And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people." (Revelation 14:6)


Anonymous said...

Wwhat a great video! I was smiling all the way through it, especially as the dancer did the exact same thing all around the world (with the exception of the added grace in India, ha!) You posted some of my most favorite verses about how God will gather people from all over the world to be His. I have been working on an article, too, talking about those four descriptions we see and share in the Nicene Creed. To me, that's confirmation, when people from all over have the same heart on something - the same leanings - that it truly is on God's heart, too. Thanks for living out John 17. Good, good post. I'd like to link to it when I do my blog posting.

Have a glorious Lord's Day.

Bryan Cross said...

Hello Mel,

Thanks for your comments. Please let me know when you finish your article, about the four marks of the Church from the Creed.

I pray that you too have a blessed and restful Lord's Day.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Anonymous said...

still working on the article...and thanks for your comments on my site. i'll ask this, too - why would someone who is not a believer in Christ (and thus would end up in hell after his earthly life was over) be ordained as a ministerial priest to start with? how can a person who is supposed to be regenerate and who administers sacraments not even make it to heaven himself?

i do see the differences in priesthoods you're mentioning. i guess prot doesn't teach that, just the one spiritual priesthood of believers upon their regeneration by faith.

~Joseph the Worker said...

This reminds me of exactly how I felt once I started converting to Catholicism. It's amazing how we can see those prophecies directly fulfilled in the Church today. I'm lucky enough to attend a University Parish where even in our city we have those of all nations, tongues, and races.

Bryan Cross said...


Thanks for your comments. As for your question:

why would someone who is not a believer in Christ (and thus would end up in hell after his earthly life was over) be ordained as a ministerial priest to start with?

First, the Catholic Church teaches that merely believing in Christ is not sufficient to guarantee salvation. James tells us that even the demons believe in Christ. (James 2:19) Luke tells us: "Demons also were coming out of many, shouting, "You are the Son of God!" But rebuking them, He would not allow them to speak, because they knew Him to be the Christ." (Luke 4:41) And Jesus tells us that not everybody who says "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, "lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?" And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness." (Matthew 7:20-23) So merely believing is not enough; we need to receive grace and share in the Life of God, through baptism and the Eucharist. Our faith has to be a living faith infused with love for God. So if a person believes in Christ, but does not love Christ, that person's soul is in danger of hell, for we cannot enter heaven if we do not love God.

Second, the Catholic Church teaches that if a person dies in mortal sin, that person goes to hell. So, if a priest who believes in Christ, chooses to live in mortal sin, and then dies in that state, that priest would go to hell. And yet his soul would retain forever the indelible mark of his ordination. I discussed the issue of mortal sin and hell a little bit more in my "Prolegomena to the Gospel".

I hope that answers your questions. Thanks very much for discussing this with me. I appreciate your sincerity and openness.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Anonymous said...

Thanks again. I have read about everything you've described about the different kinds of sin and how RCC teaches that some keep a person from heaven. I know the teaching on it, but it is far from being believed by me because I do not see how a once-believing person could ever end up in hell.

I do not believe in an easy OSAS, but since you have been in the tradition I am now, surely you understand the kinds of questions I'm asking. I'm not talking about someone saying a sinner's prayer and then never doing anything or showing fruit of that conversion. What I am talking about is the covenantal exchange that happens upon the conversion of someone -- going from spiritual death to spiritual life -- and Christ takes our place and we are declared righteous and placed into His family.

I know my views are different from the majority here. And I think I see what your blog's purpose is -- to focus on things that we all are unified in. The Diety of Christ. His substitutionary atonement for our sins that we could never pay on our own. The Trinity. The need to reach the Nations with the Gospel. What else.....? and is that enough for the John 17 prayers....or do we all have to worship identically?

What good is a saving faith if you're never really assured of your place in heaven? What about the Lamb's Book of Life, or dare I say it, the preservation of the saints? I'm firm in my own beliefs, but as we all pray for the unity of Christ's Body worldwide, I'm curious as to how the other side of the house portrays its answers.

And how much does it matter? I'm sure we'll all be a little more than surprised at who is actually going to be there in heaven - and who isn't. And until we all see that glorious day....we keep praying for God to place all nations and tongues and tribes and peoples into His Body. Amen.

And so I'm saying to all of you,
I appreciate your thoughtful discussions,

your sister in Christ (albeit separated....),


Bryan Cross said...


Ok, if you are coming at this from a Calvinist perspective, then I understand why you are having difficulty understanding even how the Catholic Church could believe that someone with genuine faith could lose that faith and go to hell. You are looking at this question from within a paradigm, that is, from within a conceptual system. And in that system, the Catholic position on this question doesn't make sense. But the Catholic position should be considered within the Catholic paradigm.

Let's consider the two paradigms, laying them out as simply as we can. In the Calvinist paradigm, God, before the foundation of the world, elects a certain set of persons to salvation. Christ dies only for those elect persons. (This is what Calvinists call "limited atonement".) Christ's redemption is applied only to those elect persons, and they are necessarily regenerated, brought from spiritual death to spiritual life. This is called "irresistible grace". All those who are regenerated, necessarily persevere in faith until death, and go to heaven. This is called "perseverance of the saints". It is based in part on what Jesus said: "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand." (John 10:27-29)

On the Calvinist view, the reason it is impossible for a regenerate person to fall away (and go to hell) is because only the elect are regenerated, and elect people by definition are going to heaven, since nothing can snatch them out of the Father's hand. That is why, I suppose, the Catholic notion that a real Christian can fall away and go to hell, makes no sense to you. Right?

According to the Catholic paradigm, Christ died for the whole world, all persons, not just for the elect. "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:2) He "enlightens every man". (John 1:9) And God made us so that we have a free will. We can say no to God. We can resist the Holy Spirit. For Stephen says, "You always resist the Holy Spirit!" (Acts 7:51) Not everyone who comes to genuine faith is thereby guaranteed to be elect-to-heaven. The cares of this world, the pride of life, the lusts of the flesh, and the lures of the devil can entice a genuine believer off the true path. And if that person dies in mortal sin (which requires full knowledge of the wrongfulness of the sin, that the sin be serious and not minor, and that he sins with the full consent of his will), he goes to hell. The primary difference here is that for Calvinists only those who are elect-to-heaven are brought to genuine faith. But the Catholic Church does not teach that only the elect-to-heaven are brought to genuine faith. Think of the parable of the sower; those in rocky soil had genuine faith, but they did not persevere. (Of course if you define 'genuine faith' as 'faith that necessarily perseveres until death', then those who fall away do not have 'genuine faith'. But then no one can know that they have 'genuine faith', until they die.)

As Catholics we know that those who persevere in faith, hope, and charity unto death are elect-to-heaven. But beyond that, the status of our election-to-heaven remains hidden from us in this life. If we are not in a state of mortal sin, then we can have assurance that if we were to die at this moment, we would not go to hell. But we cannot know with certainty now that we will necessarily persevere in genuine faith and charity to the moment of our death.

Another important difference between the Calvinist position (as you were probably taught it) and the Catholic position is that in the Calvinist view, "Christ takes our place and we are declared righteous and placed in His family". In the Catholic position, in our baptism we are joined with Christ, and not merely declared righteous, but actually *made* righteous (since Jesus wants to save us from our sins not merely cover over our sins), and joined to His family the Church. But if we subsequently choose to live in mortal sin, then we remain in our sins, as we were before our baptism, except more culpable, as the author of Hebrews writes in Hebrews 6:1-8. If, after our baptism we go back to living in mortal sin, we become estranged from God's family, and separated from the life of God, our souls are heaped up with all sorts of sins, and we do not have the righteousness of Christ in us.

As for the purpose of my blog, it is not ultimately to focus on what we have in common, but to do whatever God allows me to do through this little effort to bring Christians divided from each other to full and complete unity.

As for John 17, we don't have to worship identically for that to be fulfilled. Diversity is not the same as division. But insofar as we disagree about doctrine, and do not share the same sacraments, and are divided into different institutions and different ecclesial governments, we are not fulfilling the prayer of Christ in John 17.

Concerning the Lamb's book of Life, we believe that our names are written in it, but we also know that our names can be erased from it. Jesus tells us that "He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels." (Revelation 3:5)

And how much does it matter?

It matters tremendously, because it matters for all eternity. Jesus tells us in John 17 that the more we are unified, the more the world will recognize the Father sent Jesus, and loves us. (John 17:23) From a Calvinist perspective, none of this matters, perhaps, since all of the elect will be saved no matter what we do or don't do. But from a Catholic perspective, all of our actions and inactions matter for eternity, because we truly have free will, and we can (with the help of God) make a difference in what takes place here, and thus make a difference for eternity. The more unified we Christians are, the more we show forth Christ to the world.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Oso Famoso said...

What? You mean that the Church isn't only comprised of white middle class republicans? Get outta here!