Monthly Archives: February 2014

Back when my husband and I lived in Taiwan, we had the privilege of living next door to a very nice man who also happened to be a real-life nuclear physicist. He didn’t speak English, and my Chinese didn’t extend much beyond “Hi, how are you?” and “What’s for lunch?” so he and I didn’t talk a lot, but he was a good neighbor, and obviously no slouch in the Brains Department. That’s why I will never forget the morning when he knocked on our door, asking my husband to come look at his car which was cranking, but wouldn’t start. My husband didn’t have to be asked twice; he immediately followed our neighbor and set to work determining the problem. The two men discussed the possible causes of the car’s failure to start. As my husband opened the hood and then sat down in the car to turn the key in the ignition, the nuclear physicist suggested several mechanical scenarios which would require repairs. He was clearly worried. It was then that my husband looked up at our neighbor and uttered the Chinese equivalent of the phrase, “Dude, you’re out of gas.”

And so he was. He was one seriously embarrassed nuclear physicist.

I mention this because I recently reread Russ Rentler’s conversion story. By way of introduction if you don’t know Russ, he’s a medical doctor specializing in Geriatrics. He’s also a revert to the Catholic faith after decades spent in Evangelicalism. In his conversion story he admits:

I was embarrassed that as a relatively bright person with the ability to obtain a medical degree, I had never considered reading history and instead based my understanding of Church history from a 16-year-old “Bible Scholar” thirty years earlier. How could I be “so smart” and yet be so close-minded about something so important as my faith?

Call it the “Nuclear Physicist phenomenon,” if you will. Even very bright people overlook the obvious sometimes, NOT because they’re stupid. But why then?

I don’t consider myself a total idiot, yet for 45 years I believed that every Evangelical church I attended was preaching the same Gospel that the first Christians preached. It never occurred to me to question this, despite the fact that I attended churches that taught that you could never lose your salvation, and churches that taught that you most certainly could lose your salvation. Now, really, you’d think that it would have dawned on me that the two were mutually exclusive, that the first Christians must have believed one or the other, and that, ergo, some of the 20th-century churches I was attending had strayed from the Faith once delivered!

But it didn’t. Conflicting doctrines are the status quo in Protestantism, and having been raised a Protestant, it was business as usual as far as I was concerned. Of course different denominations believe opposing doctrines. Why would anybody have a problem with that? As long as you can “prove” your beliefs from Scripture….

Think of it as a blind spot in your visual field. A blind spot is a naturally occurring phenomenon, and it doesn’t mean that you’re blind. There’s just one tiny little area in which you can’t see. We all focus on certain things, and while we’re focused like that, we can’t see what’s in our blind spot. We need to step back and look around – in doing that we may discover things that were right under our nose all along.

Inherent in the practice of “proving” one’s beliefs from Scripture are certain obvious drawbacks. The fact that non-Christian groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses can “prove” straight from the Bible that Jesus was created by God (Col 1:15, Heb 1:5, Rev 3:14), is inherently inferior to God (Jn 14:1, 28, Jn 17:3, 1 Tim 2:5), and therefore under no circumstances should be considered or referred to as “God” (1 Cor 8:6) should tell you something. An old joke warns Evangelicals that quite a few flaky doctrines can be “proved” from Scripture, such as the fact that Jesus is not with believers when they fly in airplanes – Matthew 28:20, “LOW, I am with you always!”

As a Protestant I laughed at that joke. Ironically, when I first heard it I was attending a missionary conference with representatives from 50-some Protestant denominations present, some teaching that you can lose your salvation and some that you can’t, some teaching that baptism actually regenerates and some that baptism is merely a symbol, some teaching that speaking in tongues is what real Christians do and some that speaking in tongues is at best goofy and at worst demonic. I don’t think that one single person in that auditorium understood that the joke was on us.

Evangelical believers in sola Scriptura are taught that their beliefs must come straight from Scripture, and that Scripture must be used to interpret Scripture; in other words, they are taught to focus steadily on Scripture, and Scripture only. Glancing at the historical record, at the extrabiblical writings of the early Christians, just to see how one’s own modern-day beliefs line up with those of the people taught by the apostles themselves, is the spiritual equivalent of ceasing to focus single-mindedly on an object and taking a moment to look around the room. In doing so, something that may have been right in front of us, yet hidden in our blind spot, jumps out at us. How could I not have noticed that? – we ask ourselves. It was when I stepped back and looked around the history of Christianity that I realized that the Catholic Church was right there in front of me in that Bible that I had been so focused upon.

So, no, you don’t have to be an idiot to not realize that your Christian beliefs just don’t add up. You may be excelling in your profession. You may have earned a Ph.D. You may be a nuclear physicist.

But at the same time, your belief system may be out of gas.


On the memorial of St. Isabelle of France

Deo omnis gloria!

Protestants are all about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They instruct potential converts on the necessity of asking Jesus into their hearts in order to be saved, and they enthusiastically sing about this relationship that they have with the Living God: “You ask me how I know He lives – He lives within my heart!” Many Protestants feel that this is what is missing from the Catholic understanding of salvation: Catholics need to ask Jesus into their hearts.

Can a Catholic invite Jesus into his or her heart?

This has been something of a misunderstanding on both the Catholic and the Protestant side. Protestants believe that the process of salvation culminates in asking Jesus into one’s heart, since this creates a personal relationship with the Lord. When confronted with the Catholic insistence on baptism for the forgiveness of sins as well as the reception of other sacraments, Protestants assume that Catholics know nothing of a personal relationship with Christ. The misunderstanding stems from the fact that these options, (1) asking Jesus into one’s heart and (2) the reception of the Sacraments, are presented as an either/or dilemma: EITHER ask Jesus into your heart like a good Protestant, OR believe, repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins and receive the sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Eucharist like a good Catholic. Sometimes Evangelicals present this contrast as the “simple Gospel” versus the rituals and dead liturgy of a false belief system.

It’s nothing like that at all. True to the teaching of Scripture, the Catholic Church proclaims that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” and “baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you” (1 Pet 3:21). The Church insists that those who want to be saved avail themselves of the Sacraments. At the same time, a glance at the lives of the saints shows how personal their relationship with Jesus was. The saints have long been advocates of asking Jesus into one’s heart. Ironically, it is the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence which has prevented many people, Catholics as well as Protestants, from recognizing that fact….

You see, Catholics have always believed that Jesus is truly present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Holy Eucharist. It is the teaching of Jesus as well as of His apostles. Catholics take Jesus at His word when He says:

I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh. …Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. John 6:51, 53-56

While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body. And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. Mt 26:26-28

Catholics take St. Paul at his word when he comments on the celebration of the Eucharist:

Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 1 Cor 10:16

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is fore you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 1 Cor 11:23-30

Every Church Father who wrote concerning the Eucharist affirmed that it is indeed the actual Body and Blood of Jesus. Understanding this, we Catholics read the words “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him,” and understand that in Holy Communion, Jesus Whom we consume actually comes into our bodies, and we take our place in His Sacred Heart. This is what real, literal “Communion” is meant to be. There is nothing more intimate to be experienced on this earth; no relationship could be more personal.

This understanding of the meaning of Holy Communion has led some Catholics to surmise that there is no place in the Catholic belief system for “asking Jesus into your heart.” After all, when you already receive Him, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, into your body at every Mass, isn’t this “asking Him into your heart” just some sort of paltry Protestant substitute for the Real Thing?

Not at all. We all know that there are times when a Catholic cannot receive Jesus in Holy Communion. Most of us attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, so oftentimes a week elapses between communions. Occasionally we are ill on Sunday and cannot receive Him even then, and should we fall into mortal sin, we must abstain from reception until we have confessed our sin and received Absolution. But whenever we cannot receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, we can make a “spiritual communion,” asking Jesus to come into our hearts spiritually when He cannot enter our bodies physically. Many saints have recommended the practice of spiritual communion to us:

For he who believes in Jesus Christ, and conceives the ardent desire to receive Him therein [i.e., in the Holy Eucharist], spiritually eats Him, so far as He is veiled under the forms of this sacrament. St. Thomas Aquinas

I believe that You, O Jesus, are in the Most Holy Sacrament! I love You and desire You! Come into my heart. I embrace You. O, never leave me! I beseech You, O Lord Jesus, may the burning and most sweet power of Your love absorb my mind, that I may die through love of Your love, Who were graciously pleased to die through love of my love. St. Francis of Assisi

When you do not receive communion and you do not attend Mass, you can make a spiritual communion, which is a most beneficial practice; by it the love of God will be greatly impressed on you. St. Teresa of Avila

“Come, Jesus, my Beloved, come within this my poor heart; come and satiate my desires; come and sanctify my soul; come, most sweet Jesus, come!” This said, be still; contemplate your good God within you, and, as if you really had communicated, adore Him, thank Him, and perform all those interior acts to which you are accustomed after sacramental Communion. St. Leonard of Port-Maurice

My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the most Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You have already come, and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. St. Alphonsus Maria de’ Liguori

After the reception of the Sacraments, when we feel the love God growing cold, let us instantly make a Spiritual Communion. When we cannot go to the church, let us turn towards the tabernacle; no wall can shut us out from the good God. St. Jean Vianney

O my Lord, what a delightful way this is to communicate, without giving my father-confessor any trouble, or depending on any one save Yourself, Who draw near to the solitude of my soul and speak to my heart. St. Angela of the Cross

In the course of the day, when it is not permitted to you to do otherwise, call Jesus, even in the midst of all your occupations, with a resigned sigh of the soul and He will come and will remain always united with your soul by means of His grace and His holy love. Make a spiritual flight before the Tabernacle, when you cannot go there with your body, and there pour out the ardent desires of your spirit and embrace the Beloved of souls. St. Pio of Pietrelcina

The Catholic Church, far from neglecting the practice of spiritual communion, warmly urges the faithful to ask Jesus into their hearts, frequently and fervently! To this end we have been provided with the Chaplet of the Blessed Sacrament, in which we recite:

“As I cannot now receive Thee, my Jesus, in Holy Communion, come spiritually into my heart, and make it Thine own forever.”

So, an emphatic “yes” to the question of whether Protestants and Catholics agree on the practice of asking Jesus into their hearts! A spiritual communion, as the saints assure us, is a valuable, valid experience, “a most beneficial practice,” even though it is not a sacramental Holy Communion. Catholics are urged to make a spiritual communion often (St. Francis de Sales performed an act of spiritual communion every 15 minutes!) to secure our ongoing intimacy with our Lord. A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is what it’s all about, folks!

Thank goodness, that’s one issue on which Catholics and Protestants agree.


On the memorial of St. Polycarp

Deo omnis gloria!


As my recent series on “Common Ground?” has demonstrated, Protestants and Catholics disagree on a great deal. Even when we use the same terminology, we oftentimes use those terms differently. Yet there are scores of issues upon which Protestants and Catholics truly agree. We agree, for example, on the necessity of being born again. We agree that we are saved by grace through faith. We agree that Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, true God and true Man. We agree on the subject of His Virgin Birth, His bodily resurrection and on the fact that He is coming again. We agree that the Bible is the infallible word of God. There are also those in-between subjects, the ones we can agree on in a certain sense, yet profoundly disagree upon at a deeper level. We agree that Jesus established His Church, yet we can’t agree on whether or not to capitalize the “c” in that word – is His “church” merely a body of believers called out from the world by God to live as His people under the authority of Jesus Christ, or is His “Church” also the “universal sacrament of salvation”? You’d certainly get some discussion going on that issue. We agree that Christians are Christ’s body, yet the Catholic understanding of that body as the Church Militant, Church Suffering, and Church Triumphant, with all that the “communion of saints” then entails, gives many Protestants the willies; they find it presumptuous of us to flesh out those doctrines to such an extent. “Presumption,” too, is an issue Protestants and Catholics agree on in one sense – we all believe that it is very wrong to be presumptuous (i.e., audacious, brazen, impertinent, cocky), especially when you are being presumptuous in matters of faith – yet when you get down to the details of that issue, our understanding could not be more different.

Protestants make no attempt to hide the fact that they find the Catholic Church to be somewhat lacking in humility. They find the Catholic Church presumptuous, for example, when she claims that the Holy Father, the pope, can teach infallibly. How can a sinful man claim to be so perfect that he can teach infallibly? How presumptuous to claim that your Church is led by some semi-divine bloke who never makes a mistake!! How awful to call a mere man “Holy Father!”

The Catholic answer to that is that it certainly would be offensively presumptuous to call a mere man “holy” if we meant by that what Protestants think we mean by that. It would be terrible to claim that a man could live without sinning, that he is “semi-divine” and never commits errors. That’s why we don’t do it.

Catholics call the pope “holy” because he is holy in one biblical sense of the word: Scripture speaks of “holy ground,” “the holy mountain,” “holy offerings,” “holy anointing oil,” “holy incense,” “the holy altar” – it even says that “Every cooking pot in Jerusalem and in Judah will be holy to the LORD of hosts!” This sense of the word “holy” simply means “set apart.” If St. Paul advised the Colossians that they were “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,” then it’s not a far stretch to claim that the Pope, too, might legitimately be referred to as “Holy Father.” This in no way claims semi-divinity for him; it is simply a misunderstanding of terms on the part of Protestants. Catholics do not consider the pope to be incapable of making a mistake or incapable of sinning; that is simply not what the doctrine of papal infallibility teaches. Patrick Madrid, in his book Pope Fiction, explains it like this:

At this juncture, we should spell out exactly what papal infallibility is not. First, it doesn’t give the pope the answers to theological questions (as inspiration would), nor does infallibility guarantee that he will be proactive and teach what needs to be taught, when it should be taught, in the way it should be taught. Infallibility doesn’t mean that the pope is prompted by God to do or teach something. It doesn’t even guarantee that the pope, when he does teach, will be as effective or persuasive or clear as he should be in what he teaches. Papal infallibility guarantees none of these things. Rather, it is a guarantee that God the Holy Spirit will preserve the pope from formally teaching error.

Please note that this Catholic understanding of the doctrine of papal infallibility, far from being presumptuous, is actually a model of humility. We don’t believe that the Holy Father receives direct inspiration from God as the authors of Holy Scripture did. We don’t believe that the Holy Father will necessarily be a great evangelist, or teacher, or apologist. We don’t believe that the Holy Father will necessarily be kind, or good, or even smarter than the average bear. All that the doctrine of papal infallibility is claiming is that if the Holy Father is toying with the idea of formally teaching error as truth, or even if he is bound and determined to teach error as truth, God in His mercy will stop him. This is how Catholics know that they can rest easy, never awakening to find that a 2,000-year-old Church doctrine (like the universal condemnation of contraception as a sin and a crime against nature) has been overturned, as Protestants did in the 20th century. The pope simply can’t overturn the constant teaching of the Church. The doctrine of papal infallibility, rather than granting the pope carte blanche, is severely limiting.

That really doesn’t say much about our Catholic confidence in the guy elected as the successor to Peter, and that’s the point. We are humbly recognizing the fact that human beings like the pope sin and err, yet Jesus PROMISED that “the gates of hell will not prevail” against His Church. Simply put, that means that He’s got to stop the Church from formally teaching error as truth, lest we fallible humans ruin the whole job. Praise God, He has remained faithful to His promise.

Well, it certainly is somewhat lacking in humility to claim to be able to make certain people into “saints” just because they advanced your cause! The Bible says that we are all saints, but the Catholic Church presumptuously claims to know who’s in Heaven and who isn’t!

Again, it would be presumptuous of the Church to claim that she can make or break saints! The process of canonization, though, is a process of discernment. In other words, the Church believes that God makes clear that miracles are being performed through the intercession of a given deceased person, indicating that that person is in the presence of God. The Church in no way “puts” the person in Heaven or “makes” that person a saint. She simply publicly declares what God has made evident: that that person is one of the saints in Heaven. The Church has never, on the other hand, publicly declared that any given person is not in Heaven, just as she has never taught that any given individual or group of individuals is in hell. She just doesn’t know those things.

Well, what’s more presumptuous than claiming that “the Church is the divinely appointed Custodian and Interpreter of the Bible”? That claim makes the church equal, if not superior, to Holy Scripture! Can the Catholic Church claim to possess even an ounce of humility if she continues to press this presumptuous claim??

Which is more presumptuous, to say “I can understand the Bible all by myself,” or “I need help! Lord, send me Your Church as you sent St. Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch, who in his humility insisted ‘How can I understand unless someone explains it to me?'” (Acts 8:31) You see, the Bible must be interpreted, and somebody’s got to do the interpreting. St. Philip didn’t lay hands on the eunuch and pray that God would explain the Scriptures to him – St. Philip, as a representative of the Church, did it himself. God could have made each individual believer an infallible interpreter of Scripture, in which case all Protestants would agree on the interpretation of each verse of the Bible. We all know that is not the case. God chose, in reality, to make His Church the Custodian and Interpreter of the Bible, because without an authorized interpreter, no one can be sure his own personal understanding of a given verse or doctrine is an orthodox one. In other words, God made His Church to be “the pillar and foundation of the Truth” (1 Tim 3:15). Far from being an audacious claim, there is nothing presumptuous about the Church’s claim at all.

Those charges of presumption commonly made against the Catholic Church simply won’t stick. God delegated special authority to certain people not because they or the Church as a whole are so great, but because we’re NOT. We need special help! He has provided it.

While we’re on the subject of presumption, though, Catholics have a few questions of their own:

  • The Catholic Church does not claim to know a great deal about the End Times. “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end” is about as much as she’s ever officially stated on the subject. Evangelicals, on the other hand, presume to know a great deal. The Evangelical doctrine of the pre-tribulational rapture is made an Article of Faith in some churches; they are leaning on their own understanding, and yet making it binding upon believers. “Prophecy conferences” with self-proclaimed “prophecy experts” draw large crowds, as these men teach doctrines unknown to the early Christians. “We are in the last days!” they pontificate, and have been pontificating for generations now. Yet, no man knows the day nor the hour? How is this not presumptuous?
  • Catholics do not presume to declare that a given deceased person is not in Heaven. The Church does not claim to possess that knowledge. Yet Evangelicals claim to know that millions upon millions of people who never heard the Gospel are without a doubt in hell, in strange opposition to the teaching of St. Paul:

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. …
For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. …
for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation. (Rom 1:20, 2:12-16, 4:15)

Because this teaching appears to contradict the Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith alone, Evangelicals disregard St. Paul and presume to proclaim that every individual who dies without praying the Sinner’s Prayer will without a doubt go to hell. When one of the Apostles made it clear that “it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves,” how can insisting otherwise not be presumptuous?

  • Protestants will be the first to tell you that they are not infallible – that no one is. You will struggle to find a Protestant church where the pastor claims that his teaching on a given subject is the only correct understanding (he may hint at this, claiming that his understanding is “the clear teaching of Scripture,” but the majority of pastors will shy away from making claims of infallibility for themselves). That said, many, many Evangelical Bible teachers will claim to KNOW which verses of Scripture are meant to be taken literally, and to KNOW which are meant to be taken figuratively. Genesis 1 and 2, for example, MUST be taken literally (ask Ken Ham!); John 6:41-71, on the other hand, MUST be taken figuratively (ask any Evangelical pastor). How can they know this? Yet their understanding of which verses were meant literally and which verses were meant figuratively has become for them, just like the pre-tribulational Rapture, an Article of Faith. Tell a 6-Day creationist that you don’t believe that the first two chapters of the Bible have to be taken literally. He will tell you that you are not a Christian, because you reject his entirely arbitrary understanding of which verses need to be taken literally. Ask him how he knows that his understanding of this issue is the correct one. He will tell you that it is OBVIOUS to real Christians….

When the Catholic Church claims infallibility for her Pope, she is admitting a fault – Catholics are so prone to fail their Lord that He had to build safeguards into the system to prevent His people from sinking His ship. To claim that the Church is protected from error is an act of humility. Protestants who would never claim infallibility for their own private interpretations of Scripture, yet nevertheless assert their own opinions as non-negotiable, are making some pretty cheeky claims. Presumptuous is as Presumptuous does.


On the memorial of Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacinta Marto

Deo omnis gloria!

This is without a doubt the easiest “Common Ground?” yet. Do Protestants and Catholics agree on their understanding of the words of the First Commandment, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them”?

Yes! Jawohl! ¡Si! Oui! 是! !نعم
Evet! 예! Ndiyo! Да! Oo! はい! Igen!

Yes in every language!

Blogging doesn’t get any easier than this!

The Catechism of the Catholic Church waxes eloquent over the First Commandment:

The first commandment embraces faith, hope, and charity. When we say ‘God’ we confess a constant, unchangeable being, always the same, faithful and just, without any evil. It follows that we must necessarily accept his words and have complete faith in him and acknowledge his authority. He is almighty, merciful, and infinitely beneficent. Who could not place all hope in him? Who could not love him when contemplating the treasures of goodness and love he has poured out on us? Hence the formula God employs in the Scripture at the beginning and end of his commandments: ‘I am the LORD.'” CCC 2086

Both Catholics and Protestants agree completely that “other gods” means idol worship, both literal and figurative. As the Catechism instructs us:

The first commandment condemns polytheism. It requires man neither to believe in, nor to venerate, other divinities than the one true God. Scripture constantly recalls this rejection of “idols, [of] silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.” These empty idols make their worshippers empty: “Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them.” God, however, is the “living God” who gives life and intervenes in history. Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. It remains a constant temptation to faith. Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc. Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and mammon.” Many martyrs died for not adoring “the Beast” refusing even to simulate such worship. Idolatry rejects the unique Lordship of God; it is therefore incompatible with communion with God. Human life finds its unity in the adoration of the one God. The commandment to worship the Lord alone integrates man and saves him from an endless disintegration. Idolatry is a perversion of man’s innate religious sense. An idolater is someone who “transfers his indestructible notion of God to anything other than God.” CCC 2112-2114

So people can, if they’re not careful, make a “god” out of money, reputation, people – many different things. Nothing, absolutely nothing is allowed to come before one’s relationship with God; on that point Catholics and Protestants are in complete agreement. God alone is to be worshipped! This is the short answer to the accusation that some Protestants make against the Catholic veneration of Mary – it looks a lot like worship to them. The Catholic answer is simply: God forbid! We could never worship Mary or any other saint! God alone is to be worshipped! The First Commandment says so!

There is the technical quibble over how the Commandments are rightly divided, ever since Calvin set up his own system different from the one used by the Catholic Church (which followed St. Augustine’s division) and from the Talmud. The Catholic version of the First Commandment combines Exodus 20:2-6, while Calvin’s version ends the First Commandment at verse 3, making verses 4, 5, and 6 into his Second Commandment.

And that Second Commandment of Calvin’s, sadly, is the incubator that hatched an ugly conspiracy theory.

There are Protestants who will tell you that Catholics and Protestants most certainly DO NOT agree on the First Commandment, because the Catholic Church has tried to bury the REAL Second Commandment under the First (for nefarious reasons, no doubt!) There are anti-Catholic books and websites that claim that the Catholic Church has “done away with” the Second Commandment. Why would anyone think that? Calvin’s Second Commandment reads:

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

The conspiracy theory goes like this: The Catholic Church teaches its minions to worship statues (I kid you not). Were the Catholic Church to list the Commandments “properly,” making the admonition against idol worship a stand-alone Commandment, those duped by Rome might sit up and take notice! Hey, Catholics would say to their benighted selves, we’ve been taught to worship statues, but the REAL Second Commandment says that that’s a sin!! We’ve been hoodwinked!!


The Looting of the Churches of Lyon

Let’s think this through, folks. The Catholic First Commandment, combining as it does the prohibition against having other gods with the prohibition against graven images, really makes a great deal of sense. The two notions are extremely closely related! Israelites who chose to worship gods besides Jehovah would have made for themselves graven images, like the golden calf of Exodus 32. It’s just logical to list verses 2-6 together as “the First Commandment;” St. Augustine’s version as well as the Talmud version consider that passage to be one commandment. Yet Calvin, with his almost Mahometan horror of images, saw fit to split the two ideas, raising his new Second Commandment to a separate level of importance. In doing so, he somehow managed to overlook God’s instructions to Moses:

“And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end; of one piece of the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be….”

Calvin also forgot about the Temple which the angel showed to Ezekiel in a vision, which looked like this:

It was carved with cherubim and palm trees; and a palm tree was between cherub and cherub, and every cherub had two faces, a man’s face toward the palm tree on one side and a young lion’s face toward the palm tree on the other side; they were carved on all the house all around.

God Himself, as we can see, commanded images to be made to adorn His Tabernacle as well as His Temple. Calvin meant his Second Commandment to be understood as a condemnation of images; God meant the Commandment to be a condemnation of the worship of images. And on that second point Protestants and Catholics couldn’t agree more – God alone is to be worshipped!

Martin Luther’s Large Catechism lists the First Commandment as simply “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” (he, too, followed Augustine’s division). Luther reacted to charges that all religious images be destroyed with these words:

Would to God that I could persuade those who can afford it to paint the whole Bible on their houses, inside and outside, so that all might see; this would indeed be a Christian work. For I am convinced that it is God’s will that we should hear and learn what He has done, especially what Christ suffered. But when I hear these things and meditate upon them, I find it impossible not to picture them in my heart. Whether I want to or not, when I hear, of Christ, a human form hanging upon a cross rises up in my heart: just as I see my natural face reflected when I look into water. Now if it is not sinful for me to have Christ’s picture in my heart, why should it be sinful to have it before my eyes?

This is exactly how Catholics understand the issue – nothing wrong with images, just don’t worship them! God alone is to be worshipped! You see, like it or not, believe it or not – Protestants and Catholics agree 100% on what God meant by His commandment that He be loved above all things. The Catholic Church has always forbidden the worship of anybody or anything other than the Most Holy Trinity. Despite John Calvin’s attempt to make a separate issue out of graven images, as long as Catholics, or Lutherans, or any Christian takes care never to set anything or anyone above God, he has fulfilled the Commandment. We agree, plain and simple, in our understanding of the First Commandment.

So let’s stop arguing about it!


On the memorial of St. Evermode

Deo omnis gloria!

On Monday we asked whether Catholics and Protestants can agree on the all-important question of “What must I do to be saved?” Today’s question is related: Is there common ground between Protestants and Catholics on the subject of the Sacraments? Breaking this question down, what are the Sacraments, and are they necessary for salvation?

Once again, it depends on who you ask. Let’s begin with the Catholic position, since it is quite well-defined (we’ve had 2,000 years to think about it).

The whole liturgical life of the Church revolves around the Eucharistic sacrifice and the sacraments. There are seven sacraments in the Church: Baptism, Confirmation or Chrismation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. “Adhering to the teaching of the Holy Scriptures, to the apostolic traditions, and to the consensus . . . of the Fathers,” we profess that “the sacraments of the new law were . . . all instituted by Jesus Christ our Lord.” Jesus’ words and actions during his hidden life and public ministry were already salvific, for they anticipated the power of his Paschal mystery. They announced and prepared what he was going to give the Church when all was accomplished. The mysteries of Christ’s life are the foundations of what he would henceforth dispense in the sacraments, through the ministers of his Church, for “what was visible in our Savior has passed over into his mysteries.” Sacraments are “powers that comes forth” from the Body of Christ, which is ever-living and life-giving. They are actions of the Holy Spirit at work in his Body, the Church. They are “the masterworks of God” in the new and everlasting covenant. CCC 1113-1116

So, those are the Sacraments in a pretty impressive little nutshell. There are quite a few different nutshells on the Protestant side of the divide, of all shapes and sizes. Some denominations will tell you there aren’t any sacraments, most will claim that there are two, and a few denominations will propose more than that. One thing most Christians can agree on is that the Sacraments are something that God does. And therein lies the rub….

A Lutheran confessional

For Lutherans, there are two, maybe three sacraments – Baptism and Eucharist (communion), with a dubious addition of Penance (confession) – Luther originally taught that there were three sacraments, then backed off on Penance, and thus there are few Lutherans who practice “Holy Absolution.” Affirmation of Baptism (Confirmation), Holy Matrimony and Anointing of the Sick are practiced, but are considered to be non-sacramental rites. Anglicans and Episcopalians recognize Baptism and the Eucharist as “dominical” (“of the Lord”) sacraments, and may or may not offer the “sacramental rite” of Reconciliation. In Presbyterian denominations, Baptism and the Eucharist are considered sacraments; Presbyterians marry and ordain (some confirm, others do not), but do not consider these to be sacraments. Methodists recognize Baptism and the Eucharist as sacraments; while they perform the rites of Confirmation, Ordination, Holy Matrimony, and Anointing of the Sick, for Methodists those are not sacraments. In other words, all of these denominations would agree that God works (in one way or another) through baptism and holy communion; this is why baptism and holy communion are considered sacraments. On the other side of the sacramental divide, Evangelical denominations (Baptists, nondenominational churches) believe that baptism and holy communion are not something that God does – they are, rather, something that Christians do in obedience to God. They therefore prefer to refer to baptism and communion as ordinances. Thus, if you ask Evangelicals how many sacraments they recognize, they will say “none,” even though they do baptize and participate in the Lord’s Supper. Some Baptists recognize foot washing (as performed in Catholic parishes on Holy Thursday) as an ordinance, and engage in it on a regular basis. Members of the Church of the Brethren do the same, and would add anointing to their list of ordinances. Quakers and members of the Salvation Army recognize no sacraments by any name; they do not baptize, nor do they receive communion.

And so we observe a gradual paring-down of the Sacraments, from the Catholic understanding of 7 Sacraments, to the mainline Protestant belief in 2 sacraments, to the Evangelical acceptance of 2, or 3, or 4 ordinances only, to no sacraments or ordinances whatsoever. All of this hinges, as I said, on the understanding of what a Sacrament is and what it accomplishes. To the minimalists, baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances, not sacraments, meaning that they are commands that believers obey. No grace is conferred; the fulfillment of the ordinance merely symbolizes something important. Let’s examine the Catholic position again. To Catholics, while the Sacraments are symbols, they are at the same time much, much more than symbols:

Celebrated worthily in faith, the sacraments confer the grace that they signify. They are efficacious because in them Christ himself is at work: it is he who baptizes, he who acts in his sacraments in order to communicate the grace that each sacrament signifies. The Father always hears the prayer of his Son’s Church which, in the epiclesis of each sacrament, expresses her faith in the power of the Spirit. As fire transforms into itself everything it touches, so the Holy Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever is subjected to his power.

This is the meaning of the Church’s affirmation that the sacraments act ex opere operato (literally: “by the very fact of the action’s being performed”), i.e., by virtue of the saving work of Christ, accomplished once for all. It follows that “the sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God.” From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister. Nevertheless, the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them. CCC 1127-1128

This is where the Protestant and the Catholic understanding of sacraments diverge. Calvin, who taught that Baptism and Holy Communion are sacraments, stated unequivocally: “The sacraments do not confer grace.” Adherents of Reformed theology found the theological concept of ex opere operato (“by the very fact of the action’s being performed”) to be superstitious, making out of the Sacraments “magical rites,” as R.C. Sproul calls them, “that people rely on for salvation instead of faith in Christ alone.” While pooh-poohing the belief that sacraments confer grace, Sproul writes that Calvinists “confess that baptism is a real means of grace wherein the Spirit strengthens our faith and reminds us of the work of Christ” (wrenching the whole discussion back to “faith alone,” the be-all and end-all of the Protestant experience). Believing that the Sacraments are outward or sensible signs instituted by Christ to give grace requires, apparently, too much faith. This Reformed devaluation of the Sacraments further devolved into the prevailing Evangelical belief that the Sacraments are not even somehow “a real means of grace,” but mere symbols that Jesus insisted that we reenact to remind ourselves and the world of His life, death and resurrection. The Lord’s Supper, as it is called, is seldom celebrated in Evangelical churches, simply because nobody quite knows what to make of this “symbol.” When I partook of the crackers and the grape juice as an Evangelical, I would become disgruntled, thinking guiltily that I could have come up with a better “symbol” than eating Saltines and drinking Welch’s. As Catholic Flannery O’Connor famously quipped, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.

The Church takes the Sacraments extremely serious, for obvious reasons. Jesus Himself stated that Baptism and Holy Communion are necessary for salvation:

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Jn 3:5

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. Jn 6:53-54

Of course, you can mock the literal understanding of these verses as superstition, or you can admit that you lack the faith to take Jesus at His word. To the Church:

Sacraments are “powers that comes forth” from the Body of Christ, which is ever-living and life-giving. They are actions of the Holy Spirit at work in his Body, the Church. They are “the masterworks of God” in the new and everlasting covenant.

Okay, you’ve got to admit that the whole Catholic explanation sounds grand, yet Evangelicals have one very compelling objection to the Catholic understanding of the Sacraments. There are Evangelicals who live at a level of spirituality that puts many sacrament-partaking Catholics to shame. How can this be, skeptical Protestants demand, if the Sacraments confer such incredible graces, and our ordinances are mere symbols?
If the Church is right about the Sacraments,
shouldn’t things be the other way around?

From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister. Nevertheless, the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them. CCC 1128

The subject under discussion has now shifted from the Sacraments and the graces they confer to the fruits of the Sacraments. The complaint that many Catholics bear no fruit is certainly a valid one. People can receive a sacrament and yet bear no fruit because they are not properly disposed. Let’s say I tootle into Reconciliation, confess all my sins and receive absolution, without repenting of those sins; in fact, I plan to go out and commit them all again next weekend. One thing the Catholic Church and our separated brethren can agree on is that the Sacraments aren’t magic – I can fool the priest with crocodile tears, but don’t expect to see me growing more Christ-like as a result of the sacrament! Another consideration would be that, while grace is always abundantly available in any given sacrament, sacrament-partaking Catholics are not forced thereby to automatically bear fruit. I can receive all the grace I need from my reception of the Holy Eucharist to aid me in showing forbearance towards irksome family members, but at the same time I can still choose to explode when they refuse to play Parcheesi with me. That explains unfruitful Catholics. How to explain non-sacrament-partaking, Christ-like Protestants? While the divine life of grace is primarily imparted to us through the Sacraments, it is not exclusively imparted through the Sacraments, explaining why an untold number of properly-disposed Protestants live faith-filled, God-honoring lives by availing themselves of the graces God grants them through spiritual communion, prayer and Bible-reading. Uninstructed Catholics may surmise that sacraments like Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist somehow work automatically, or that being Catholic is some kind of guarantee of being spiritually fruitful, neither fallacy being taught by the Church – or they may just not care. There are Protestants who, while rejecting the incredible outpouring of grace in the Sacraments, are at least sharp enough not to spurn the grace offered to them by other means. Those Protestants put fruitless Catholics to shame.

On the Catholic side of the aisle, the saints are the best example of the grace that flows freely through the Sacraments, wild, tumultuous, inexhaustible grace that sanctifies and produces holy fruit. With that wealth of grace available to us, Catholics have no excuse for living mediocre lives, just as the child of a billionaire has no excuse for wearing rags and eating out of garbage cans. The grace is there in the Sacraments, like a fortune in the bank, but remember – God’s never going to force you to make a withdrawal and spend it. What you do with your fortune is still up to you.


On the memorial of Sts. Cyril and Methodius

Deo omnis gloria!

Seriously – stop what you are doing, read the latest conversion story on Why I’m Catholic, and praise our Holy God!

As I turned a corner with the lawnmower, all of a sudden, my whole person resounded with a divine intervention. A calm voice displaced all other thoughts and sensations, and, presented fully and clearly on my mind, the voice said,

“I love you, and I forgive you.”

As the words concluded, an immense love that I had never thought possible ignited in my chest like a smoldering furnace. It was a consuming love, but also gentle, and it slowly spread from my heart up to my head and down to my toes. Along with this love, God placed in my mind—as one places things on a shelf—two thoughts or convictions. The first thought was that I simply knew He removed the chip on my shoulder: the mistrust, the wariness and the fierceness of an ex-convict. And the second thought, that God’s promise—His intention—was to eventually restore me to the little boy that I had been 25 years before. Before my sins and the sins of others had left me the disfigured person I had become.

Glory be to the One Who can change a man from convict to college professor, from skeptic to believer, from everyday guy to mystic!

I was stunned—not just by the wickedness of the thoughts—but that these thoughts clearly came from just outside of me—as if some unseen entity was subtly pushing them into my mind. I immediately guessed that there must be something like evil spirits, and that God was allowing me to clearly distinguish their actions on me from my own thoughts. I got out of the car and started to run at a frantic pace. As I ran I kept saying over and over, “Are there demons? There must be demons.”

Then just as I emerged from a hollow of trees into an intersection of paths and dirt roads, God answered my question. Spread out below a large moon wrapped in smoky yellow clouds, a thousand furious demons streamed down the road toward me. They appeared like animal humanoids; like a thousand different failed genetic experiments. They were restrained at a distance of about fifty yards. There was a kind of spiritual de-militarized zone between us, and I knew I was in God’s care—that He was showing me something under His protection.

For several seconds, God had raised the veil that separates the natural and super-natural—revealing a cosmic drama that earlier ages had taken for granted, but that for me was unthinkable.

Glory be to the One Who cannot rest until the lost have been found!

On the one hand, I felt like I was failing God—missing a clue that was right in front of me. On the other hand, I felt like I was being pursued without a chance of escape, like the man was staring at me, and that I was being branded or claimed in some way. What was I to do? In a state of desperation I focused again on the picture. The image grew radiant as always, and then something happened. The man’s thick hair lightly blew as if in a gentle breeze. I couldn’t believe it. So I looked again, and again wisps of his hair wafted in a breeze—while the air around me was still. The thought hit me: “That’s not a picture of a man—that’s a real man. That man’s alive!” And it was obvious that he wasn’t simply alive in our familiar world, but that his life transcended all of our scientific categories, and that he must be alive in Heaven. This increased my desire to know who the man was, but the truth is, I knew who He was—even if I did try to hide it from myself. And now that I knew it was a living man looking at me, I couldn’t keep up the self-deception. Even if I couldn’t see Him clearly, I knew He could see me clearly, and so I admitted, “It’s Jesus. Yes, it’s Jesus.”

My heart will be reverberating for many days to come with the experience of Scott Woltze’s reversion story! Don’t miss it!

What must I do to be saved?? The question of all questions, and truly the only question that ultimately matters. How do Catholics and Protestants answer this question when it is put to them? Are our answers one and the same?

Once again, there is such division on the Protestant side of this issue that it becomes very difficult to answer the question. On the minimalist side, there are those who look to John 3:16 for the answer to the all-important question “What must I do to be saved?”

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Believe, they say – that’s the sum total of the demand made upon you by God. Believe in Jesus Christ and you will be saved. And it sounds good; after all, there are many, many verses instructing us that we are saved by believing (154, by one count), which Protestants interpret to mean that we are saved by faith alone. Isn’t that what John 3:16 means, just believe?

Well, let’s just say that it’s not likely that this is the entire answer to the question, for the simple reason that Scripture itself points out a flaw in the argument. As St. James mentions, the demons believe in the One God. They know that Jesus is He, as evidenced by their reaction to Him in Matthew 8:29, Mark 1: 24 and 5:7, and Luke 4:34. Are they saved?

Quite clearly, belief is only the beginning. Former Baptist Steve Ray has this to say on the subject:

What is the whole teaching of the Bible on how we receive salvation, justification, new birth and eternal life?

By repentance (Acts 2: 38, II Peter 3:9)

By being baptized (Acts 2: 38, John 3:5 Steve, I Peter 3:21, Titus 3:5)

By the work of the Spirit (John 3:5, II Cor. 3:6)

By declaring with our mouth (Luke 12:8, Romans 10:9)

By works (Romans 2:6-7, James 2:24)

By grace (Acts 15:11, Ephesians 2:8)

By His blood (Romans 5:9, II Peter 1:1)

By His righteousness (Romans 5:17, II Peter 1:1)

By His cross (Ephesians 2:16, Colossians 2:14)

In other words, flipping through the pages of the New Testament, you will find many answers to the question “What must I do to be saved?”: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household,” “…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation,” “He who believes and is baptized will be saved,” “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins,” “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” “And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation,” “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone,” “But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” These answers are not mutually exclusive, and no one can pick out one and claim that it is the Answer above all answers! Clearly, all of what the Bible says on this subject must be taken into consideration. Faith is a part of the equation, and so are works. Baptism fits into the formula, as does perseverance. Obedience to God’s commandments is necessary, and so is a recognition that it is by grace that we are saved through faith! Many Protestant denominations are loath to admit all this, preferring a tidy package that better fits the doctrinal straightjacket they have prepared for believers, but the Bible indicates that more than just belief goes into the process of “getting saved.”

Note the teaching of the Catholic Church on the subject:

Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life. Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life: by Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of his Body. As an “adopted son” he can henceforth call God “Father,” in union with the only Son. He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes charity into him and who forms the Church. This vocation to eternal life is supernatural. It depends entirely on God’s gratuitous initiative, for he alone can reveal and give himself. It surpasses the power of human intellect and will, as that of every other creature. The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism. It is in us the source of the work of sanctification: Therefore if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself. CCC 1996-1999

Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. “Since ‘without faith it is impossible to please [God]’ and to attain to the fellowship of his sons, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life ‘but he who endures to the end.'” Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man. We can lose this priceless gift, as St. Paul indicated to St. Timothy: “Wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith.” To live, grow and persevere in the faith until the end we must nourish it with the word of God; we must beg the Lord to increase our faith; it must be “working through charity,” abounding in hope, and rooted in the faith of the Church. Faith makes us taste in advance the light of the beatific vision, the goal of our journey here below. Then we shall see God “face to face”, “as he is”. So faith is already the beginning of eternal life: When we contemplate the blessings of faith even now, as if gazing at a reflection in a mirror, it is as if we already possessed the wonderful things which our faith assures us we shall one day enjoy. CCC 161-163

The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are “reborn of water and the Spirit.” God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments. CCC 1257

The human heart is heavy and hardened. God must give man a new heart. Conversion is first of all a work of the grace of God who makes our hearts return to him: “Restore us to thyself, O LORD, that we may be restored!” God gives us the strength to begin anew. It is in discovering the greatness of God’s love that our heart is shaken by the horror and weight of sin and begins to fear offending God by sin and being separated from him. The human heart is converted by looking upon him whom our sins have pierced: Let us fix our eyes on Christ’s blood and understand how precious it is to his Father, for, poured out for our salvation it has brought to the whole world the grace of repentance. CCC 1432

The Council of Trent teaches that the Ten Commandments are obligatory for Christians and that the justified man is still bound to keep them; the Second Vatican Council confirms: “The bishops, successors of the apostles, receive from the Lord . . . the mission of teaching all peoples, and of preaching the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain salvation through faith, Baptism and the observance of the Commandments.” CCC 2068

As you can see, the Catholic Church covers the Biblical bases of grace, faith, repentance, baptism, obedience, works done through love, and perseverance in the Faith. As for the “confessing with the mouth,” we do that constantly, every time we recite the Creed or renew our baptismal vows. Protestant denominations, on the other hand, are a veritable cafeteria of possibilities when it comes to answering the question of “What must I do to be saved?” Different denominations teach very different things about how to get to Heaven, including:

  • Believe! (Free Grace, Plymouth Brethren)
  • Believe, repent, and accept Jesus as your Lord (meaning that you must obey Him) and Savior! (the most common understanding among Evangelicals)
  • Believe, repent, and be baptized! (Lutherans)
  • Believe, repent, and be baptized in the Holy Spirit! (meaning that if you do not “speak in tongues,” you are not “saved” – some charismatics take this position)
  • Believe, repent, be baptized, obey and persevere to the end! (Anglicans, Methodists, Church of Christ)

This issue beautifully demonstrates the fallacious Protestant claim that, while various Protestant denominations disagree on many doctrines, all Protestants agree on “The Essentials.” Well, brother – there is no doctrine more essential than this one! What must I do to be saved??  With no common ground among Protestant denominations on this issue, the myth of “unity on the essentials” explodes.

 Common ground on the issue of salvation? Not even among Protestants.


On the memorial of St. Scholastica

Deo omnis gloria!