Why Are There 27 Books In The New Testament?

There are many things that may come to an individual’s mind when it comes to sacred scripture.  Some may ask why there are so many translations.  Some may wonder if the Bible as we know it fell from the sky at Pentecost.  However many have questions on how we have the books we have.  For sure it was long and arduous process, but it was one guided by the Holy Spirit and the church.

One rule that was used to determine inclusion of the twenty seven books was linkage to an Apostle, or apostolic origin.  In the first three centuries after the church started there were many books bearing the name of various Apostles.  As an example there was the Gospel of Thomas, Luke, Peter, and the proto gospel of James.  In addition to these there were several hundred Acts and Apocalypses.  Some of these writings were spurious and contradicted the Gospel being preached by the church.

Apostolic origin does not mean that it has to be written by an apostle, but that an Apostle “stands behind writing in such a way that the essential teaching is preserved within it (Nichols, page 104).”  This would explain why the Gospel of Luke was included in the canon.  Great care was made to ensure that writings had apostolic backing, and if they did not they were denied canonical status.

Another rule that was used in determining if a book was worthy of the canon was its conformity to the faith of the church.  Would a collection of Holy writings from any religion be deemed authoritative if they contradicted each other?  The answer to the question is obvious.  The church used great care in determining that the twenty seven books in the canon were in compliance with what the church taught.

The church was able to do this by utilizing the oral tradition that was handed down from the Apostles.  As a Nichols documents “around 190 a bishop in Antioch stopped people from using the Gospel of Peter on the grounds that its author did not regard the human body of Jesus as real (Nichols, page 104).”  The church teaches that Christ was a real person, divine, and bled on the cross.  This writing taught that Christ was a spirit that entered into a man that was being crucified.  There were many writings like this floating around, and since they did not pass the test of orthodoxy they were not included in the canon.

Thirdly the writing had to be valued by the church that was respected for its own Apostolic origin (Nichols, page 104).  Perfect examples of this are the Epistles of Saint Paul.  There is little doubt that these writings are his for he states at the end of letters that he wrote them with his own hand.  Also he wrote them to churches that he started and they knew him very well.  These churches preserved these letters and read them in their liturgies.

Using these three criteria, the fathers of the church started to develop the New Testament.  The letters of Paul were among the first to be recognized in 90 ad and were being assembled in small collections.  The four Gospels were decided on around the year 200.  There were various canons proposed, but the Pauline letters and the four gospels seemed to have staying power.  Other books such as Revelation and Hebrews were battled over.  Some areas of the church accepted them and others did not.  There were also books with no apostolic link that were considered such as the Shepherd of Hermas and Clements letter to the Corinthians.  However they did not meet the criteria previously discussed and were denied canonical status. Through many debates and hefty quarrels we know that the canon was final by the end of the fourth century (Nichols, Page 105).

 

References

Nichols, Aiden. The Shape of Catholic Theology: An Introduction to Its Sources, Principles, and History. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.

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St. Augustine and the Trinity

The Trinity is a doctrine that some have had issue with since the earliest days of Christianity.  The great church father, St. Augustine, was not immune to having to deal with Christological heresies.  Though the heresies are Christological, they deal with the Trinity because Christ is the second person of the Trinity.  If a there is a false understanding of who Christ is, then there is a false understanding of what the Trinity is.  In discussing these various heresies, St. Augustine wrote treatise titled On the Trinity.  This has become known as one of his most difficult works and it took him sixteen years to complete (Augnet 2135).  His work is gift to all of us and shows various arguments supporting the equality of divine persons against Christological heresies.

In chapter one, St. Augustine warns the reader of those who commit heresy through the misuse of reason.  They fall into error by misinterpreting the sacred text through crude love of reason (Augustine Ch.1).  By doing so they miss the point of the text and somehow twist scripture to mean something it does not intend.  In all fairness, this is still something that happens today regarding the Trinity.  In chapter five, Augustine speaks of the unity of the divine persons.  He does this specifically by describing how the three persons are one, how they have individua work, and yet work together.  Augustine states in regard to their work, “Father does some things, the Son other things, and the Holy Spirit yet others” (Augustine Ch.5.8).  The Holy Spirit is the spirit of both the Father and the Son and was not begotten.  Just like the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit has no beginning or end.

In Chapter six Augustine seems to be teaching against a type of modalism that was going around.  Some were saying that God was not immortal because he changed into the Son and Holy Spirit through time, or that somehow Christ was less that the Father.  Augustine brilliantly answers with scripture.  This is still a method that is effective today.  He quotes John 1:1 to show that Christ has always existed, and that the scriptures call Him God (Augustine Ch. 6.9).  He then alludes to the baptism of Christ in Matthew chapter 3 to show the unity and equality of the three.  Jesus is present, it was the Father’s voice that spoke, and it was the Holy Spirit that was present in the dove.  This shows that they all exist at the same time, in unity, equality, and that it is not one form changing to another.

In proving his case of equality among the Trinitarian persons, St. Augustine looks to 1 Corinthians 8:6 which states, “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (NRSV).  This verse affirms the divinity of Christ by mentioning him in the same sentence as God.  Notice also how all things exist through the Father and the Son?  Each person of the Trinity has a clause, or duty, assigned.  One is not more important than the other, but they all work together for our redemption and salvation (Augustine 6.12).

Some may say that the verse mentioned above makes sense, but what of the Holy Spirit?  In Chapter 6, St. Augustine goes to great lengths to show that the Holy Spirit is equal to the Father and the Son.  The Holy Spirit is not something that had a point of origin.  In other words, he is not a creature that had a beginning and that will have an ultimate end.  The Holy Spirit is equal, coeternal, and of the same essence.  Regarding the Holy Spirit St. Paul writes in Philippians 3:3, “For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh” (NRSV).  Also in 1 Corinthians 6:9, St. Paul specifically mentions that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.  We serve, worship, and ask the Holy Spirit for things just as we would the Father and the Son.  That is because they are coequal and God.

Image result for augustine and the trinity

Works Cited

Augustine. On the Trinity From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 3. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/130101.htm&gt;, accessed October 14, 2018.

Augustinians Australia. http://www.augnet.org/en/works-of-augustine/writings-of-augustine/2135-on-the-trinity/, accessed October 14, 2018.

The Letter to the Ephesians, Faith, and Marriage

Scripture tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”  However, there are some books that have been absolutely instrumental in forming Christian doctrine and thought.  One of those books is Ephesians, and the other is Romans.  Raymond Brown writes “Among the Pauline writings only Romans can match Ephesians as a candidate for exercising the most influence on Christian thought and spirituality (Brown, page 620).”

Ephesians is also a source of controversy among various groups in Christendom.  One of the issues being addressed in the letter is that the love for God is not only singular, but requires love of neighbor and thus community.  A way of living faith is intertwined with the love of neighbor.  In is in this regard that one of the most popular passages of scripture is sometimes taken out of context.  Ephesians 2:8-9 states “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God-not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”  This is taken by the Sola Fide crowd as meaning that all we need is faith.  Believe Christ has forgiven you and you have nothing else to do.  This contradicts the context in which this passage should be read as the next verse puts it into perspective.  Ephesians 2:10 states “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

We are indeed saved by faith, but there is more to it.  We are a community of believers and we must take care of each other.  We are to take care of the poor, the sick, and intercede in prayer for our Christian brothers and sisters.  Our faith is to produce good fruit for the Christian community, because a faith kept to ourselves will ultimately die.

A second issue illustrated in the Epistle to the Ephesians is that marriage is compared to the relationship between Christ and the Church, which is a large development from the earlier letters. Marriage is given a spiritual position.  This is another portion of the Epistle that is taken out of context by some.  Ephesians 5:22 states “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.”  Some take this to mean that wives are to “obey” the husband and be subservient.  However this is not the case as the other verses puts that theory to rest.  Ephesians 5:25 states “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” In a sort of ironic way I like to point out that obeying one’s husband is one thing; dying for one’s wife is another.

Brown states “The obligation for the husband to love is treated more extensively than the obligation of the wife to be subject, and both are rooted in God’s initial plan for union in marriage (Brown, page 624).”  Christ came and died for us because he loved us.  This is the responsibly of the husband, and that is to emulate Christ’s love to his wife.  In this regard we are to care, love, and serve just as Christ did for us.

Image result for ephesians

Works Cited

Brown, Raymond, An Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Doubleday, 1997

Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version

The Meaning of Sacrament (From a Linguistic View)

In the study of linguistics, it is normal to see that the meaning of words may change over time.  One such word that fits the category is the word “sacrament”.  When we hear that word, we think of the seven sacraments administered by the church.  They are a promise from Christ to show that he is still among us.  To do this properly we look to the Latin term sacramentum.

What does the word sacramentum mean?  To the Roman soldier it is a solemn obligation to carry out one’s duty even to the point of death.  It is similar to the oath that soldiers in the 21st century make in the United States.  They take an oath to support and defend the constitution of the United States against all foreign and domestic enemies.  An oath is made to obey the orders of the President of the United States and those officers appointed over them.  When the Roman soldier enters military service an oath is made to the Senate and the People.  As the American soldier is called to make the ultimate sacrifice, the Roman soldier by virtue of his oath will fulfill his service to the point of death.

In regard to the sacraments it is a solemn pledge from God to us.  We are physical creatures, and sacramentum shows a personal relationship through physical matter.  God gave us an oath at the beginning of salvation history and carried it out to death on the cross.  The sacraments are a continued sign that he is always with us.

The Need For Grace

In the beginning of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans he lays out a case about the desire for people to know God.  He says that by nature they can know things about God and God has shown them.  The verse in question is from Romans 1:19 which states, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (NRSV).  We see that there is something else higher than ourselves, and we long to know what it is.  In contrast with this desire to know something higher than ourselves, there is a desire to sin.

The “something higher” that I am referencing is God.  Many of us have heard of God from an early age, and in different Christian assemblies.  Though many have heard of God they fall into the error of thinking that Heaven is within reach simply by doing good.  This is part of the equation.  There is a synergy between us and God.  Our natures are wounded from the fall, not totally destroyed as the Protestant reformers taught (Lubac 122).  We realize in ourselves that we do things that we do not want to do.  This is also echoed by St. Paul in Romans 7:15 where he writes, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (NRSV).  We know that we are unable to do it on our own and that eventually brings us to the knowledge that we need God.  We need his grace, his mercy, and his forgiveness.  Without his supernatural grace it is impossible to enter the beatific vision.  This grace is a gift that we need from God to enter into eternal life (STII, Q114, A2).

In a way the position I hold follows along with Henri De Lubac.  This position was arrived at through my journey through a few Christian denominations and reinforced through study of church teaching.  Man is not capable of heaven strictly on his own merit.  Man is wounded, not depraved, and able to see that he needs the help of God.  He uses his will to accept the grace needed to get to Heaven and live the Christian life.

 

Works Cited

Aquinas, Thomas.  Summa Theologia. Trans. Thomas Gornall.  Blackfriars, St. Joseph, IN:  Ave Maria Press, 1981.  Accessed September 28, 2018.

Lubac, Henri De.  A Brief Catechesis on Nature & Grace.  San Francisco, CA:  Ignatius Press, 1984.

Rahner and the Supernatural Existential

Throughout history there are have been many ideas about grace that have been put forth.  From the early church writers, St. Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and in the modern era with Henri De Lubac and Karl Rahner offer various theories regarding grace and the nature of man have been put forth.  From a Neo-Thomist perspective, the one that is most problematic are the theories put forth by Fr. Karl Rahner.

Rahner was taking further a few steps put forth by Henri De Lubac and Cardinal Cajetan who himself was commenting on Aquinas’s work in the Summa.  For Rahner there is the nature of man, the supernatural existential, and grace (Lecture Notes).  These terms are a sharp divergence from the terms employed by St. Thomas Aquinas.  What exactly is the supernatural existential?  The term puts forth that the very nature of man is grace itself.  Truly we are made in the image of God, but we are in a fallen nature prior to grace, so surely that existence is not part of grace itself.    In Rahner’s view, especially with the supernatural existential mixed in, nature and grace are further separated.  Not only are they further separated, but at the same time they are mixed together in such a way to make the two almost indistinguishable.  This mixture of nature and grace which really cannot be distinguished, arguably, is the source of all the modern problems in theology.

This also leads to a type of moral Pelagianism that is not what Henri De Lubac nor St. Thomas Aquinas held to.  Lubac held that the end vocation of man was supernatural, but that it in no way result from pure human effort (Lubac 65).  For Aquinas man has two natures.  The first is nature before the fall in which he was created in a state of grace, and the other is after the fall in which nature was corrupt.  Aquinas is very clear when he states, “And hence it is that no created natureis a sufficient principle of an act meritorious of eternal life, unless there is added a supernatural gift, which we call grace” (STII, Q114, A2).

Works Cited

Aquinas, Thomas.  Summa Theologia. Trans. Thomas Gornall.  Blackfriars, St. Joseph, IN:  Ave Maria Press, 1981.  Accessed September 9, 2018.

Lubac, Henri De.  A Brief Catechesis on Nature & Grace.  San Francisco, CA:  Ignatius Press, 1984.

Grace in Protestant and Catholic Theology

 

Grace is a central teaching of the Christian faith.  Grace is a gift from God and apart from God it is not possible achieve sanctifying grace.  In this regard the Church echoes the words of St. Paul in Ephesians 2:8-9 where he writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (NRSV).  The theology of grace developed from Apostolic times to the present, but the concept of it being a gift has remained.  However, in the 16th century there was a sharp divergence in the concept of grace.  The Protestant reformers held to a different view of man that had been taught for the first 1500 years of the church.  Along with this different view came a different view of grace.  From the beginnings of the church’s history, grace has had at its center the consent of the free will of man and this view remained the same until the Protestant Reformation.

 

DEVELOPMENT OF GRACE IN THE EARLY CHURCH

            Before the development of grace in the early church can be discussed it is important to define terms.  In describing grace Dr. Scott Hahn writes that grace is, “The supernatural gift that God bestows entirely of his own benevolence upon men and women for their eternal salvation. Justification comes through grace, and through the free gift of grace the ability is bestowed to respond to the divine call of adoptive sonship, participation in the divine nature, and eternal life(Hahn Grace).  Within this definition we see the essential characteristics of what grace is.  It is a free gift that God gives us, and we have the ability to respond.  Some, especially most Protestants, would say that grace is indeed a free gift, but we do not have the ability to respond properly.

Early in the history of the church we see a correlation between faith and works.  This does not mean that the church teaches a works-based salvation like some falsely believe, but it does mean that grace helps perfect the will (STIII, Q62, A2).  St. Justin Martyr was an in his Dialogue with Trypho in the second century that grace helps us understand the will of God to do what pleases him (Roberts 258).  This concept is further elaborated upon by St. Irenaeus in his great work against the Gnostics titled Against Heresies.  St. Irenaeus also wrote in the late 2nd century about the errors of the Gnostics.  The Gnostics believed that they were saved based on secret knowledge passed down from secret teachings of Jesus.  St. Irenaeus employed a device that became known as the rule of faith.  In this rule St, Irenaeus pointed out that the true churches can trace there lineage back to the apostles, and he also gives a listing of the Bishop of Rome up until that point.  What is interesting in his explanation of grace and how it varies from his opponents.  Regarding grace St Irenaeus writes, “in the exercise of His grace, {God} confers immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love” (Roberts 331).

In both examples cited it is imperative to have faith.  Faith shows us where our hope is founded, and hope leads to charity which shows us how to love God the way He wishes to be loved (Hardon Ch. 10).  In sacred scripture there are many passages that show what it means to love God.  In the story of the rich young ruler Jesus tells the man that following the commandments on their own is not enough.  He lays down a challenge is Mark 10:21 and tells him to “Sell what you have and follow me” (NRSV).  This challenge seems superficial, but it is a statement of faith.  If we believe Jesus is who he says he is then the Christian life is more than just faith, and more than just doing good things.  Through faith grace is conferred, but to remain in a state of grace we must cooperate with the grace given, and that may mean giving up what we have to follow him.  Conversely in this story Jesus affirms the necessity of keeping the moral laws, but emphasizes that with out faith, or following as it is stated here, it will not get one to eternal life.

 

EARLY HERESIES AND GRACE

            Though the relationship between faith and works regarding the increase of grace was clearly established early in the church’s history there were heresies that arose.  One such heresy denied the existence of original sin.  Original sin is the doctrine that says because of the fall there is a stain on our souls and describes our fallen nature (CCC para 408).  As with all Catholic doctrine, original sin was seen as a teaching very early in the church’s history.  Tertullian is credited with one of the earliest references to original sin.  In his work The Doctrine of Man and Sin Tertullian makes the connection to the fall and the tendency, or concupiscence, of man to sin.  However, he also states that the soul is still a creation of the divine and it is possible for man to use free will to cooperate with God (Tertullian).

For the most part this remained the view of original sin and grace in the church for the next two centuries until a man named Pelagius started making waves.  He was a British born lay theologian who went to Rome in the late 4th century and started a movement known as Pelagianism (Cross 1257).  Pelagius started denying the established dogma of original sin.  Regarding Pelagianism Dr. Patricia Ireland writes that it is a, “philosophical theology which denies both the need for divine grace and the doctrine of the generative transmission of original sin (Ireland 38).

The ideas that Pelagius put forth were problematic to say the least.  If the tenants of Pelagianism were carried to their logical conclusion, why would Christ have to die on the cross for the sins of the world?  In Ephesians 2:5 St. Paul writes, “even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (NRSV).  The views of Pelagius regarding original sin and grace not only were contrary to this verse but were contrary to the fathers who wrote afterward.  In this system man becomes the cause of his salvation.  This is seen in the summary of Pelagianism by a disciple of Pelagius named Caelestius.  He summarized the view by saying that man was born in the same condition as Adam and did not have a tendency to sin.  He went on further say that he knew some who were spotless and never sinned (Ireland 38).

The teaching of Pelagianism was damaging and caught the attention of the great church father St. Augustine.  In 420 St. Augustine replied to the two letters of the pelagians with his and addressed it to Pope Boniface (Smither 192).  He did this to inform the Holy Father of the dangers of the heresy that was being propagated.  In response to Julian, a Pelagian teacher, erroneously stated that the Catholic Church taught that free will was taken away by the fall.  St, Augustine countered and wrote that free will remained, but what was taken away was the full righteousness to immortality in Heaven (Augustine 378).  This is remedied by grace, and original sin is washed away in the sacrament of baptism.  Regarding this Augustine writes, “All these products of concupiscence, and the old guilt of concupiscence itself, are put away by the washing of baptism (Augustine 386).  The Pelagian view saw salvation as a reward for moral behavior and discipline apart from grace (Ireland 38).  St. Augustine, and by extension the church, saw salvation as living in detachment from the world through grace.

In the 5th century a weaker form of Pelagianism began to circulate and was advocated by Cassian at Marseilles.  This was a hybrid of sorts between the views of Pelagius and St. Augustine’s strong correction of the heresy (Thein 643).  Semi-Pelagianism held that man was able initiate salvation apart from grace, and that everything that happened after salvation was the work of grace.  The central point in both systems is the ability of man to choose apart from divine grace as the cause for good human action (Armstrong 51).  This compromise of an early heresy compromised the supernatural end of man and made it an object of mere human effort (De Lubac 65).  In further response to these heresies of Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism, the Council of Orange was convened.  The council clarified the church’s view of original sin, the need for grace, and formally condemned Pelagianism as heresy.

 

A MATTER OF HE WILL

            With Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism defined as heresy the church’s view of grace and the will remained unchallenged for some time.   St. Thomas Aquinas reiterated this view in his masterful work the Summa Theologia where he writes, “grace may be taken in two ways; first, as a Divine help, whereby God moves us to will and to act; secondly, as a habitual gift divinely bestowed on us” (STII, Q111, A2).  However, in the 16th century an event occurred which changed the church and the world.  On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg Germany.  This event sparked the Protestant Reformation and it would not only sever the unity of the universal church, but the unity of grace and free will.

The reformers provided a new definition of the will and grace.  For the first 1500 years of the Christian era it was believed that sanctifying grace was given to man and man had the choice of whether to accept it or not.  By continuing to cooperate with the grace of God one is transformed into the image of Christ and increases in holiness.  Martin Luther, and later John Calvin, introduced the concept of total depravity.  This is the concept that man is no longer able to use his will to accept grace because of the fall.  Since the fall man’s nature is so corrupt that he is not able to merit anything in the sight of God (Ryrie 341).

The definition above is quite tame compared to that of Martin Luther.  In his work The Bondage of the Will Martin Luther was in a heated debate with Erasmus.  Erasmus held to the Catholic view that grace is presented by God, and man has the free will to accept or deny it.  Martin Luther took exception and described Erasmus’s pamphlet on free will as a diatribe.  Martine Luther writes regarding free will “free choice is already vanquished and prostrate” (Lull 168).

John Calvin built upon Luther’s concept of depravity.  John Calvin write am influential book titled Institutes of the Christian Religion which became known as the first systematic theology of Protestant thought.  Regarding total depravity Calvin writes, “Therefore man’s own wickedness corrupted the pure nature which he had received from God, and his ruin brought with it the destruction of all his posterity” (Calvin 23.8).  So far Luther and Calvin seem to be on the same page, but this is far from the case.  Calvin would elaborate on his theory of depravity and add to it his doctrine of predestination.  God willed the depravity of man as an act of his divine will and will save whom he wished to save.  With these developments the role of efficacious grace was done away with, at least in some Protestant circles.

At this point it may be helpful to clarify some terminology regarding grace.  Sufficient grace is a grace that does not involve consent.  This is a grace that does not need the cooperation to produce God’s desired effect.  The issue that is disputed by the reformers involves efficacious grace.  This is actual grace that is feely consented with by man to produce the desired effect.  The reformers denied the freedom of the will in regard to efficacious grace.  By contrast Catholic theologians have always upheld the freedom of the will and efficacious grace (Pohle 222).

This denial of efficacious grace would cause havoc with other doctrines as well.  Historically the church taught original sin, and how through it we had a sin nature, but we were still able to use our will to cooperate with the graces that God bestowed.  This allowed one to grow in holiness and be further conformed to the image of Christ.  Sanctification was a process by which we pursued Christ and allowed his to change us through the moral virtues and thee three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity.  Regarding this concept Dr. Patricia Ireland writes, “Through the efficient grace merited by the obedient will of the Son of the cross, the sinner summons the courage to bend the afflicted will towards heaven and responds in freedom to accept God’s call to an everlasting, radiant life” (Ireland 21).  This was the view of St. Augustine, St. Irenaeus, St. Justin Martyr, and many others through history until Luther.

In Luther we find the doctrine of imputation and the idea holiness was not something that was a process, but that it was spontaneous.  The will is mute and does nothing to help develop virtues or fruit of faith.  In Luther’s view Christ is our righteousness and all that he is ours.  All fruit of faith is as a result of being saved and not a response to grace.  The concept of reward and merit become warped in this view as man really does not have to live a Christian life to share n the kingdom.  This is where an irony enters into Luther’s thought process.  In his work Two Kinds of Righteousness he, on one hand, says that faith alone is all we need to be transformed into the image of Christ.  However, just a few paragraphs later he implores hi readers to ask God for the grace needed to live a life of obedience (Lull 139).

 

CATHOLIC AND PROTESTANT VIEW OF PREDESTINATION

            The concept of total depravity brought forth an even more extreme doctrine of predestination.  The Catholic church has always taught predestination, but it is different from its Protestant counterpart especially in reformed circles.  The Catholic view utilizes efficacious grace as a means by which God directs an action.  St. Thomas Aquinas states regarding predestination, “Hence the type of the aforesaid direction of a rational creature towards the end of life eternal is called predestination. For to destine, is to direct or send. Thus, it is clear that predestination, as regards its objects, is a part of providence” (ST1, Q23, A1).  God works outside the confines of time and knows how each of us will respond to efficacious grace.  This does not make grace any less important, and it certainly does not mean that God is subject to man.  Quite the contrary actually as God knows us in such an intimate way that he directs us to act by sending graces.  He directs, and he guides, but we must cooperate.  In the catholic view man is predestined to freedom to love and serve the Lord (Denzinger 81).  Anything we do originates in God.

The Protestant view of predestination is quite different from the Catholic view.  In developing their view, the reformers sought to protect the sovereignty of God.  This is admirable, and it is something that surely must be defended.  However, the pendulum shifted so far to the opposite side that predestination did not look like anything that had previously.  In discussing predestination, the Protestant reformer John Calvin wrote, “The supreme Disposer then makes way for his own predestination, when depriving those whom he has reprobated of the communication of his light, he leaves them in blindness” (Calvin 24.12).  Calvin goes on to say that God only enlightens those whom he predestined to be saved (Calvin 24.17).  To Calvin if one is not predestined to Heaven then they are predestined for hell.  This view not only varied from the Catholic view, but also from the view of fellow reformer Martin Luther.

Luther, though he did not focus on predestination, did teach that some were predestined for heaven.  One of the many differences between Luther and Calvin is that Luther did not believe that anyone was predestined for hell.  Salvation is predestined to those who seek God.  It is here that Luther, not only seems to contradict himself, but diverts quite strongly from Calvin.  In his Lectures on Genesis Luther writes regarding Calvin’s view, “For thoughts of this kind, which investigate something more sublime above or outside the revelation of God, are altogether hellish. With them nothing more is achieved than that we plunge ourselves into destruction” (Lull 526).  Predestination is reserved for those who seek God, who are baptized, and seek the sacraments.  However, according to Luther the will is so depraved that one is not able to seek these things on its own.

Our Protestant brethren who adhere to the view of Calvin reject the notion of efficacious grace.  Though it may seem that Luther had believed in a type of efficacious grace, that thought comes to an end when the imputation of Christ is discussed.  Christ died for us and our dung covered souls are covered with a robe of righteousness that was purchased for us on the cross.  When God the Father looks at us on judgement day he sees Christ as a result, and not our depraved souls that are unable to change.  This view is incapable, and historic, view of the Catholic church that shows a way of perfection.  Through efficacious grace the church teaches that grace is infused and sanctification is process that takes place over time.  Not a once and for all type of event.  Regarding this Dr. Ireland writes. “Sanctification is incompatible with the Catholic teaching on the way of perfection as integral to unity with God” (Ireland 19).

 

CONCLUSION

            The topic at hand is one that has written about for centuries, and one that has filled many volumes.  The Protestant view of grace has some merits, and at times can be convincing.  However, it is fleeting and appeals to one’s emotions.  Christians are a people of the truth, and if we are going to seek truth we must seek it with zeal.  It is appealing to see grace, salvation, and sanctification as a one-time judicial type vent where we are judged righteous based on Christ’s merits.  However, according to Luther and Calvin this does not change a man from the inside out.  Man is still covered with dung, but merely has the appearance of being clean.  In trying to illustrate his point Luther wrote to his protégé Melanchthon, “No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day” (Lull 457).

The view of the Protestant reformers regarding grace were revolutionary, but not in a good way.  They disregarded the constant teaching of the church from the time of the apostles and developed a brand of belief that made their lives easier to live.  The Catholic teaching regarding efficacious grace has remained constant since the earliest days of the church.  The grace of God is an unmerited gift, God presents grace through various means including the sacraments, man makes the choice whether to cooperate with the grace, and as a result of cooperating man merits and becomes more like Christ.  Man is transformed to holiness over time.

 

 

WORKS CITED

Armstrong, Dave. More Biblical Evidence for Catholicism. Dave Armstrong, 2007. Print.

Augustine of Hippo. “A Treatise against Two Letters of the Pelagians.” Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings. Ed. Philip Schaff. Trans. Robert Ernest Wallis. Vol. 5. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887. Print. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997. Print.

Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd Ed. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000. Print.

Cross, F. L., and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church 2005: n. pag. Print.

Denzinger, Henry, and Karl Rahner, eds. The Sources of Catholic Dogma. Trans. Roy J. Deferrari. St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1954. Print.

Hahn, Scott, ed. Catholic Bible Dictionary 2009: n. pag. Print.

Hardon, John.  History and Theology of Grace.  Ann Arbor, MI:  Sapientia Press, 2005.

Ireland, Patricia.  Guardian of a Pure Heart.  St. Augustine on the Path to Heaven.  New York: Alba House, 2009.

Lubac, Henri De.  A Brief Catechesis on Nature & Grace.  San Francisco, CA:  Ignatius Press, 1984. Print.

Lull, Timothy ed.  Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings.  Minneapolis, MN:  Fortress Press, 2005.  Print.

Pohle, Joseph, and Arthur Preuss. Grace, Actual and Habitual: A Dogmatic Treatise. Toronto: W. E. Blake & Son, 1919. Print. Dogmatic Theology.

Roberts, Alexander, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Vol. 1. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885. Print. The Ante-Nicene Fathers.

Ryrie, Charles Caldwell. A Survey of Bible Doctrine. Chicago: Moody Press, 1972. Print.

Smither, Edward L.  Augustine As Mentor.  Nashville, TN:  B&H Academic, 2008. Print.

Tertullian.  The Doctrine of Man and Sinhttp://www.tertullian.org/articles/roberts_theology/roberts_08.htm, accessed September 19, 2018.

Thein, John. Ecclesiastical Dictionary: Containing, in Concise Form, Information upon Ecclesiastical, Biblical, Archæological, and Historical Subjects 1900: n. pag. Print.

Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica. Trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province. London: Burns Oates & Washbourne. Print.

A Matter of Intent: Abortion and Moral Theology

It happens every day in our communities.  Every day women make a very difficult decision about whether to keep their babies or not.  However, instead of adoption many are choosing abortion.  According to data from the Centers of Disease Control, every day approximately 1,788 pregnancies are ended by abortion (www.cdc.gov).  What is abortion?  What is the official Catholic Church teaching on abortion?  Are there any circumstances where an abortion may be needed to save the life of the mother?  These questions will be explored over the course of this paper, but one thing is certain.  Life is precious, and it is something that must be protected from the beginning of life to natural death (Ostrowski 123).

In layman’s terms an abortion is the termination of a pregnancy before the time of gestation is complete.  The medical definition varies little and is states an “An abortion is a procedure to end a pregnancy. It uses medicine or surgery to remove the embryo or fetus and placenta from the uterus. The procedure is done by a licensed health care professional” (www.medline.gov).  The question of life is one that is central to the topic.  When does life begin?  If life begins at conception, then life is there and must be protected.  If life begins at some further point, then it stands to reason that terminating the pregnancy before that stated period is morally permissible.  Then there are those who are just unsure when the fetus becomes a living being (Kreeft 329).

With abortion defined, that leads to the next question.  What does the Catholic Church have to say about abortion?  It may come as a surprise to some to learn that church has a lot to say about the topic.  The church has defended life from its infancy.  Regarding this the Didache states, “you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is begotten” (newadvent.org).  The Didache is an ancient catechism in the church that dates back to the first century.  The issue of abortion is nothing new, but an ongoing battle for the unborn.  Also regarding abortion, the catechism states “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law” (CCC para 2271).

The church gets its teaching on the subject from sacred scripture as well as sacred tradition.  Many places in scripture speak of God molding and creating life in the womb.  What is conspicuous by its absence is any mention as to at how many weeks of gestation life begins.  Sacred scripture makes it clear that it begins immediately.  Life begins upon conception.  One such verse is Jeremiah 1:5 which states, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (NRSV).  If God knew us before the womb, it makes sense that he knew us when we were immediately placed into the womb.  To know is to imply a relationship, and one cannot have a relationship with something that is not alive.  Since the embryo is a person upon conception it must be defended as any person should be (CCC para 2274)

Church teaching holds that abortion is intrinsically evil, and as such is never justified.  The same can be said for many other things such as rape, torture, euthanasia, and kidnapping (Gaudiem et Spes para 27).  Though an individual may have the best intentions, it does not justify an act that moral law and revelation have deemed evil.  That is because absolute truth and morality are incapable of being changed.  Regarding this Saint Pope John Paul II writes, “If acts are intrinsically evil, a good intention or particular circumstances can diminish their evil, but they cannot remove it. They remain “irremediably” evil acts; per se and in themselves they are not capable of being ordered to God and to the good of the person” (Veritatis Splendor para 81).

Unfortunately, in today’s society, abortion is looked at like a basic human right.  Opponents of church teaching give a variety of scenarios to support the need for an abortion.  What if an abortion is needed to save the life of a mother?  What if the mother had uterine cancer and the only treatment was to remove the uterus, and thus, killing the child in the process?  These two examples may seem extreme, but they are ones often given by the pro-choice movement.  There are others, but these two questions will be the focus.  When it comes to the life of the mother there are many cases written about by world renowned doctors who say the opposite.  Dr. Collen Malloy wrote a letter to the editor of the Chicago Sun Times stating, “Abortion performed to “save” a mother’s life almost never — if ever — is necessary” (Malloy 2009).  This same article cites a statement by Ireland’s board of Obstetricians which states, “there are no medical circumstances justifying direct abortion, that is, no circumstances in which the life of a mother may only be saved by directly terminating the life of her unborn child” (Malloy 2009).

 

 

            The word that sticks out very prominently in the last quotation cited is the word “directly’.  This word is given in many church documents when they discuss abortion.  It comes down to a matter of intent.  Was it the intent to destroy the child in the womb, or was it the cause of something else?  In their book Life Issues, Medical Choices the writers state, “It is never moral to intentionally kill an innocent human being in order to lower the likelihood of adverse effects for someone else” (Smith & Kaczor 37).

This begs the question asked earlier.  What if a woman has uterine cancer and the only way to save her life is to remove the uterus?  To further complicate things imagine she has a husband and four other children at home.  This is truly a heart wrenching decision that must be made.  She can forgo treatment and die, and the child in the womb may possibly live.  Or she can have the treatment and live to take care of her four other children.  If she chooses to have the procedure it is not a direct attack on the child because it lacks intent.  In situations such as this the principle of double effect becomes relevant.  The reasoning for double effect requires the following four factors: “1.  The act itself is not evil.  2.  The evil is not a means to a good.  3.  The evil is not intended as an end.  4.  There is a proportionate reason for allowing the evil effect” (Smith & Kaczor 50).  The first step is satisfied because having a hysterectomy is not evil.  The second step is satisfied because the intent is not there.  The mother would much rather give birth to her child.  The third step is satisfied as the surgery is not intended to end the life of the child.  The forth step is satisfied because if she does not have the surgery she will die and leave her other four children without a mother.  The intent is not to have an abortion to live, but her uterus must be removed to destroy the cancer that will inevitably kill her if she does nothing.  There is an enormous difference between the two.  It is the intent that is intrinsically evil according to Humana Vitae (Pinckaers 53).

The above scenario is heartbreaking and does happen, but the moral teaching of the church deals with intent.  One should consult their physician and spiritual director or priest to get the best well rounded advice for the situation.  It is important to remember that these situations are highly emotional, and there is much pain and distress taking place.  The same goes for those who may have had an abortion in the past and they realize the mistake they made.

We live in a fallen world, and we have all sinned.  We all have some mortal sin that we have committed in the past.  It is vital to not judge and to show mercy.  In Matthew 5:7 our Lord says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (NRSV).  We have been forgiven much and have been shown limitless mercy.  It is important to reciprocate it to those who are hurting because of their past mistakes.  In the very beginning of sacred scripture we read, “So God created humankind  in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (NRSV).  Each person, no matter their past, was created in the image of God.  As such, we are called to show everyone the dignity and respect that being made in his image calls for.  To summarize we must do what the Lord says in the beatitudes.  We must show mercy.  In Hebrew, showing mercy is being compassionate (especially expressed by רחום): showing pity at another person’s sorrow or misfortune, with the desire to alleviate, or, on occasion, even to suffer in the other’s place.  This is exactly what the Lord did for us when he suffered on the cross.

 

WORKS CITED

 

Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Doubleday Books.  New York, NY:  1995.  Print.

Centers for Disease Control. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/data_stats/abortion.htm.  Accessed March 23, 2018.

Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version

Kreeft, Peter & Tacelli, Ronald K.  Handbook of Christian Apologetics.  IVP Academic.  Downers Grove, Il: 1994.  Print.

M.B. Riddle. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 7. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0714.htm&gt;.

Ostrowski, Thaddeus ed., Primary Source Readings in Christian Morality.  Winona, MN: Saint Mary’s Press, 2008, Print.

Pinckaers, Servais.  Morality:  The Catholic View.  St. Augustine’s Press.  South Bend, IN:  2001.  Print.

Pope John Paul II.  Veritatis Splendorhttp://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_06081993_veritatis-splendor.html.  Accessed March 24, 2018.

Smith, Janet E. & Kaczor, Christopher.  Life Issues, Medical Choices:  Questions and Answers for Catholics.  Servant.  Cincinatti, OH: 2016.  Print

Tanner, Norman ed.  Vatican II:  The Essential Texts.  New York:  Image Books, 2012.  Print.

Condign and Congruous Merit

Within the scope of merit are the two forms of condign and congruous merit.  Both are distinct from another, and yet they have an integral relationship with one another.  The two merits are gained from the Christian and are payable in Heaven in different ways.  Regarding these John Hardon writes, “Synonymous with condign is deserved, adequate, justly due; and with congruous that which is fitting or becoming. On the difference between the two rests the whole theology of supernatural reward” (Hardon Ch. 9).

A good example of condign merit can be found in the parable of the vineyard in Matthew chapter 20.  The landowner hires laborers and agrees to hire them for the daily wage.  The landowner goes out later in the day to get more laborers, and when the time came to collect their wages they all got the same.  The agreement for all was the usual daily wage.  It can only be received in a state of grace and free will must be used to gain it (Stevens 73).  Condign merit comes from the fact that God has promised a reward.  Grace moves one to action and free will has to be used (STII, Q114, A3).

Congruous merit is a type of action that gains merit for others.  Like condign merit, congruous merit can only be earned for others if one is in a state of grace (Hardon Ch. 9).  We see this clearly when we perform prayer and fast for the poor souls in purgatory.  However congruous merit can be gained even if one is not in a state of grace.  Those in a sinful state can merit congruous graces that they need to enter back into a relationship with God (Hardon Ch. 9).  The person opens themselves to embrace the grace of God and that leads them to repentance.

As previously stated, condign and congruous merit are distinct but have an integral relationship.  Congruous merit arouses the soul to move towards God, and this movement can lead one to condign merit.  Condign merit comes to those in a state of grace, but one is not able to gain condign merit without first having gained congruous merit.  This is how the two are linked in such a way because they assist in leading one towards the beatific vision.

 

Works Cited

Aquinas, Thomas.  Summa Theologia. Trans. Thomas Gornall.  Blackfriars, St. Joseph, IN:  Ave Maria Press, 1981.  Accessed September 9, 2018.

Hardon, John.  History and Theology of Grace.  Ann Arbor, MI:  Sapientia Press, 2005.

Stevens, P.G.  The Life of Grace.  New York:  Prentice Hall, 1963.

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