The Disputable Indisputable Fact

/ Thursday, November 1st, 2012 / 69 Comments »

To what extent does the Roman Catholic Church have the capacity to revise her dogma? Most of us in the evangelical world, informed by sixteenth century Reformation texts and teaching ministries such as Ligonier, need about a nanosecond to answer: “to no extent!” Of course it can’t. When a doctrine is de fide (of the faith), it is permanently cast in stone. The authoritative character of ecumenical councils produces immutable statements which are permanently imbedded in sacred Tradition. Here is how R.C. Sproul explains it:

The indisputable fact is that Rome made a number of strong, clear theological affirmations at the Council of Trent. Because Trent was an ecumenical council, it had all the weight of the infallibility of the church behind it. So, there is a sense in which Rome, in order to maintain her triumphant view of the authority of the church and of tradition, cannot repeal the canons and decrees of the Council of Trent. As recently as the Catechism of the Catholic Church at the end of the twentieth century, it made clear, unambiguous reaffirmations of Trent’s teachings. So, those who argue that these teachings on justification are no longer relevant to the debate between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism are simply ignoring what the church itself teaches. Yes, there are some Roman Catholic priests and scholars who dispute some of the teachings of their communion, but as far as the Roman hierarchy is concerned, the Council of Trent stands immutable on its teaching regarding justification. We cannot ignore what Trent said in evaluating where we stand in relation to the Roman Catholic Church and the ongoing relevance of the Reformation.

The notion that Rome doesn’t modify authoritative teaching such as the articles and canons of Trent is, with all due respect, out of step with reality. If you were looking for an example of a church that hasn’t changed for over a millennium, you’ll want to consider Eastern Orthodox Churches, not Rome. In the words of Calvin Scholar A.N.S. Lane, “The Roman Catholic Church, by contrast, has in the last generation changed more than the great majority of Protestant churches. This reality is often obscured by the Roman method of changing, which is not to disown the past but to reinterpret it. If we expect the Roman Church to disown Trent we will have a long wait; if we want to see Trent reinterpreted, we need only look around.”

Before looking specifically at Trent, let us consider what might be the most vivid illustration of how Rome modifies her doctrine. Ever since Pope Boniface VIII promulgated Unam Sanctam in 1302, the Catholic Church has unequivocally asserted that there is “no salvation outside of the [Catholic] Church” (extra Ecclesiam nulla salus). Boniface pressed the idea more vigorously than his predecessors by declaring that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff. The less audacious version actually reaches back to Cyprian in the third century. It is among the most basic affirmations of the Catholic tradition and therefore it is employed with full authority; however, the meaning is now radically different from what it has been in previous centuries. You might say it’s a 180 degree difference. Read through the lens of Vatican II, it now means that sincere Buddhists and even atheists can be saved (Lumen Gentium 2:16; Gaudium et spes 22). The belief that God desires salvation to reach all people, coupled with the conviction that such redemption may occur through Jesus Christ apart from one’s conscious awareness, led Rome to develop her teaching on this point in a much different direction from what it originally seemed to say.

A tangible, if not dramatic, example of this sort of revision unfolded in Boston in 1949 (before Vatican II) when a zealous Catholic priest, Father Feeney of Boston, insisted on the traditional interpretation of extra Ecclesiam nulla salus (that only Catholics can be saved). After an extended period of warnings, Feeney was excommunicated by Rome as an obstinate rigorist. Thus, the church excommunicated a priest for holding a traditional interpretation, while it simultaneously asserted that the doctrine remains the same (semper eadem). This is how the Roman Catholic Church implements doctrinal revision: it retains the formulation while interpreting its meaning in a different light.

After the Council of Trent (1545-63), previous councils were naturally understood through the lens of Trent. The Tridentine grid became normative for Catholic teaching and remained such for four hundred years. Vatican I (1869-70) continued in the same vein. Then came Vatican II (1963-65) and a new interpretive filter was introduced. Where Trent stated that Protestants (who maintain sola fide and resist the authority of Rome) are lost, Vatican II introduced hermeneutical categories that call this conclusion into question.

So what about the notion that the Catechism of the Catholic Church unambiguously reaffirms the Council of Trent’s teaching? On one level it is right. The Catechism in paragraph 2011, for example, underscores the need for human merit (echoing the Council of Trent’s Decree on Justification, ch. 16). But it doesn’t stop there. It combines the Tridentine statement with a quotation by Saint Thérèse of Lisieux on the imperfection of our righteousness and our need for what we evangelicals call the forensic imputation of divine justice. Here is the entire paragraph:

2011 The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men. The saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace.

[And as Saint Thérèse of Lisieux has said:] After earth’s exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for your love alone. . . . In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself.

So what’s going on here? From a Catholic point of view, the inclusion of Thérèse’s statement effectively neutralizes Trent’s hard line. Examples of this sort of development of doctrine (or revision, if you like) can be multiplied. With regard to the doctrine of justification, it is the reason, for instance, why Pope Benedict explicitly affirms Luther’s phrase “faith alone” in his recent book on St. Paul[1] and why the Joint Declaration on Justification’s Annex endorses it as well. Does this mean that Catholics and Protestants now agree on justification and that the Reformation is over? No. Not even close. My point is simply to show that the Catholic Church’s method of developing doctrine works much differently from the way that popular evangelicalism usually portrays it.

Let me say two things by way of conclusion. First, I think the Catholic method of re-appropriating its doctrine through a developmental hermeneutic is problematic on an ethical level. Scripture admonishes us to be forthright when we’re wrong. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church has painted herself into a corner by investing magisterial conclusions with an immutable character such that she isn’t able to say, “We were wrong.”This is a problem.

Second, let me say why I believe this is a valuable lesson. Fruitful gospel witness among Catholic friends and loved ones requires us to portray them accurately. We evangelicals, for instance, know what it’s like when someone identifies us with proponents of the health and wealth message. It’s difficult to take such a person seriously, because he obviously hasn’t invested the time and effort to understand who we are. On the other hand, the people we most respect and listen to are those who avoid stereotypes, however popular or axiomatic they may be, and who make a sincere effort to comprehend us. This is our opportunity among Catholics. By understanding what the Catholic Church actually believes and practices, we will be in a better position to engage her in discussion about the good news of Jesus Christ.


[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Saint Paul. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press), 82

69 Comments

  1. […] Chris Castaldo: The notion that Rome doesn’t modify authoritative teaching such as the articles and canons of Trent is, with all due respect, out of step with reality. If you were looking for an example of a church that hasn’t changed for over a millennium, you’ll want to consider Eastern Orthodox Churches, not Rome. In the words of Calvin Scholar A.N.S. Lane, The Roman Catholic Church, by contrast, has in the last generation changed more than the great majority of Protestant churches. This reality is often obscured by the Roman method of changing, which is not to disown the past but to reinterpret it. If we expect the Roman Church to disown Trent we will have a long wait; if we want to see Trent reinterpreted, we need only look around. […]

  2. This is a very, very important question and there is a lot of misunderstanding floating around out there. The Roman Catholic Church has decidedly NOT changed, modified, retracted or otherwise moved away from the Council of Trent, and this is most dramatically and most importantly the case on the very heart of the Gospel itself.

    After the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” was announced by both Rome and the Lutheran World Federation, the Vatican hastened, in a very public way, to make clear that Rome had NOT changed its position, at all, on justification and to what did it very pointedly refer? Yup, the Council of Trent.

    Please also take very careful note of the fact that the Catechism of the Catholic Church very clearly cites Trent in its discussion on the doctrine of justification, affirming the Roman teaching that anyone who teaches that man is saved by grace alone, through faith alone, is condemned!

    This is the very point of the entire Reformation of the Church.

    Here we stand…still. We can not do otherwise. God help us. Amen.

    • Chris Castaldo says:

      Thanks, Paul. The Catholic Church hasn’t “changed” but it clearly has “modified” its view(s). When we talk with informed Catholics this becomes obvious. Recognition of this modification need not, indeed dare not, detract from our Reformed understanding of the gospel. Rather, it enables us to do a better job of avoiding straw men and more incisively connecting with contemporary Catholic thought.

  3. Bryan Cross says:

    Chris,

    This post is an inaccurate representation of the nature and development of Catholic dogma. It was never part of Catholic dogma that all those in invincible ignorance are necessarily damned. So when you say “You might say it’s a 180 degree difference,” you are misrepresenting Unam Sanctum, and also falsely portraying Feeneyism as the “traditional” doctrine. Fr. Feeney went beyond the Church’s traditional dogma, which is why he was disciplined. The notion that development is by “retaining the formulation while interpreting its meaning in a different light” is a gross caricature of the Catholic notion of development of doctrine. Development doesn’t just retain the formula; it necessarily retains the dogma in the entirety of its essence.

    You wrote, “Where Trent stated that Protestants (who maintain sola fide and resist the authority of Rome) are lost,…” Trent nowhere says that “Protestants” who maintain sola fide are lost. Trent is referring to Catholics who, through *formal* heresy, reject Catholic dogmas and remain in formal heresy. Later generations of Protestants are not Catholics, and are not under those anethemas.

    You quote dissenter Hans Küng as your source of information about the status of the Tridentine canons, but the dogma defining canons of Trent are infallible.

    You wrote, “statements of Catholic doctrine are not simply defined according to the intent of the original author …. they are rather understood and applied according to contemporary perspectives.” That’s not true. That would make them a worthless wax nose, and entirely undermine the dogma of infallibility.

    You wrote, “From a Catholic point of view, the inclusion of Thérèse’s statement effectively neutralizes Trent’s hard line.” No, from a Protestant point of view it might, but not from a Catholic point of view. St. Thérèse’ is not denying merit or infused righteousness. She is talking about her motives. She acts for love, not for merit. And that’s what makes her actions meritorious!

    You wrote, “First, I think the Catholic method of re-appropriating its doctrine through a developmental hermeneutic is problematic on an ethical level.” Of course that would be true if the Catholic doctrine of development were as you have described here. But you have presented a straw man.

    You wrote, “Fruitful gospel witness among Catholic friends and loved ones requires us to portray them accurately.” Well, I agree. But when you get your conception of Catholic doctrine from Protestant scholars such as Lane, and from known dissenters such as Küng, you’re not living up to your own statement here. It would be like presenting the nature of Christianity by drawing from Dawkins and Ehrman.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

    • Chris Castaldo says:

      Bryan, Of course you see it as an inaccurate depiction of the development of doctrine. You consider anything short of your ultra-conservative Catholic view an inaccurate depiction. But I’m an evangelical Protestant, not a Catholic, much less an ultra-conservative Catholic.

      There are other Catholics with whom I’ve recently spoken about this subject who recognize and readily admit the validity of my portrait. I have no aspirations of persuading aggressive Catholic apologists such as yourself.

      Chris

      • Bryan Cross says:

        Chris,

        You wrote, “Of course you see it as an inaccurate depiction of the development of doctrine. You consider anything short of your ultra-conservative Catholic view an inaccurate depiction. But I’m an evangelical Protestant, not a Catholic, much less an ultra-conservative Catholic.”

        That’s just an ad hominem, because it criticizes my person, and doesn’t address whether what I said is true. I too could engage in ad hominems toward you, but I don’t find that sort of thing to be ecumenically helpful. I’m not “ultra-conservative.” I simply believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God. That’s what it means to be an orthodox Catholic. If you want to use the term “ultra-conservative” in meaningful way, you’ll have to show the principled distinction between “ultra-conservative Catholic” and “orthodox Catholic.”

        You wrote, “There are other Catholics with whom I’ve recently spoken about this subject who recognize and readily admit the validity of my portrait.”

        Of course. It is always possible to find people who agree with one’s own position. But, again, that doesn’t address whether what I said is true. If you chose Kung to be your source, perhaps you chose others like Kung to confirm your view of Catholic doctrine. By appealing to Kung to make your case, you’ve discredited yourself as one attempting to portray Catholicism in a fair and unbiased manner. In fact you’ve confirmed the statement you quoted from Sproul.

        You wrote, “I have no aspirations of persuading aggressive Catholic apologists such as yourself.”

        That’s a statement about yourself and your own aspirations, which again, doesn’t address whether what I said is true.

        In the peace of Christ,

        – Bryan

        • Chris Castaldo says:

          There are hard-boiled Reformed Protestants who reject anything short of full-blown anti-Catholicism. And there are ultra-conservative Catholic apologists who are equally combative and triumphalist. I am sorry to be ad hominem, but, having spent long hours and days arguing points through ridiculously long comment strings, I really don’t have the time nor motivation to do so with such people.

  4. Ryan represents contemporary RC propagandists quite well. There was no confusion at the time of Trent precisely what was being spoken of when it was flatly asserted:

    CANON 9: “If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.”

    and

    CANON 9: “If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.”

    It is absolutely false and even quite foolish to try to claim, as Bryan does, that Trent is only speaking to Roman Catholics. The language alone is painfully clear: ANYONE means ANYONE.

    The Roman Catholic Church clearly affirms and reiterates Trent on this, the most critical point of all, and has not backed away from it.

  5. Bryan Cross says:

    Paul,

    Jimmy Akin has helpful article titled “Anathema” explaining the meaning of this term in conciliar usage. It is important to distinguish the excommunication sense of the term from the soteriological sense of the term (i.e. whether a person is damned or not).

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  6. Bryan, with all due respect, I’m very familiar with the rabid Romanist apologists and their musings.

    The notion that “anathema” is really not as bad as it appears to be is simply … baloney.

    Of course in the 16th and 17th centuries those anathematized were also burned at the stake, which was what I would consider to be an exclamation point on the word, to say the least.

    Simply put, nobody with an ounce of historical knowledge puts any stock in these lame post facto efforts to mitigate Rome’s errors.

  7. Chris, please let me strongly caution you not to fall into the trap of believing what “some Roman Catholics” say. They speak only for themselves, no matter who they are. The only authoritative voice for the Roman Church is the Pope and his magisterium. “Informed Catholics” abound with all sorts of notions, but their opinions do not, in the end, matter at all.

    It is painfully/tragically clear that Rome has NOT changed its position on justification but has gone out of its way, very pointedly and very clearly, to reiterate the Canons of the Council of Trent re. justification.

    Please do not be deceived or misled.

  8. Chris, I do not find it in any way mitigates the reality of the Canons of Trent being explicitly footnoted in the Catechism’s explanation of justification. Trent trumps all, always has and still does.

    The Vatican has made this all very clear.

    • Chris Castaldo says:

      Thanks, Paul. On what basis do you assert that “Trent trumps all, always has and still does”? Do you have any friends who are Catholic priests? If so, it would be illuminating for you to run that statement by them and see what they say. Don’t be surprised if they ask whether you’ve ever heard of Vatican II.

  9. “If you were looking for an example of a church that hasn’t changed for over a millennium, you’ll want to consider Eastern Orthodox Churches.”

    Thank you for that compliment, but I’m puzzled. Are you looking for such a Church, or just for a convenient contrast to Rome while you remain Evangelical? As a former Evangelical, then Calvinist, now Orthodox, I’m reasonably sure the catechumenate of an Orthodox parish nearby is open to you.

    • Chris Castaldo says:

      Thanks, R.W., for the invite. I was looking for a convenient contrast. But I love my Orthodox brothers and remain eager to learn from you whatever I can. All the best, Chris.

  10. […] Chris Castaldo (HT: Justin Taylor) takes issue with R. C. Sproul’s claim: The indisputable fact is that Rome made a number of strong, clear theological affirmations at the Council of Trent. Because Trent was an ecumenical council, it had all the weight of the infallibility of the church behind it. So, there is a sense in which Rome, in order to maintain her triumphant view of the authority of the church and of tradition, cannot repeal the canons and decrees of the Council of Trent. As recently as the Catechism of the Catholic Church at the end of the twentieth century, it made clear, unambiguous reaffirmations of Trent’s teachings. So, those who argue that these teachings on justification are no longer relevant to the debate between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism are simply ignoring what the church itself teaches. Yes, there are some Roman Catholic priests and scholars who dispute some of the teachings of their communion, but as far as the Roman hierarchy is concerned, the Council of Trent stands immutable on its teaching regarding justification. We cannot ignore what Trent said in evaluating where we stand in relation to the Roman Catholic Church and the ongoing relevance of the Reformation. […]

  11. Matt Hanner says:

    Chris,

    Thanks for the article. This is helpful because I have a few very close Catholic friends and we often have very long discussions about these differences. I recently read Sproul’s book and found it very helpful for understanding the historic perspective given through the councils, but I also see your points through the way my Catholic friends will rebut those arguments.

    Considering, as I think you rightly say, their doctrines are being “reinterpreted” while never actually denouncing past mistakes (they never could), it has become very hard for me to determine exactly where the Catholic church falls on any issues. For example, if I read more recent things such as the Catholic Catechism, it doesn’t provide the clarity necessary to really speak to important issues (i.e. justification), yet they point back to Trent to back it up. So if I look at Trent and try to critically look at what is said, I find myself back at where the Catholic church was during the time of Trent, which modern Catholics would disagree with.

    With all of that being said, have you found any helpful ways to dialogue with Catholics about this in a way that doesn’t let them off the hook for their doctrine, while still is fair to them with the ways doctrines have been reinterpreted over the years? Any helpful resources perhaps you could point me to?

    Thanks,

    Matt

  12. Chris Castaldo says:

    Thanks, Matt. I recently had the privilege of sitting down with members of the Vatican and World Evangelical Alliance to discuss our respective views on the doctrine of salvation. It was a privilege and I have enormous regard for the men on both sides of the table (there would have been a couple of ladies too if they hadn’t had visa issues). Among the various lessons, I learned that interpreting the development of doctrine is easier said than done. It requires familiarity with a wide range of texts, a skill that very few people have. So, to your question, I wouldn’t worry too much about getting Catholics to understand these nuances. A bigger concern, in my humble opinion, is to help them understand why they are accepted by the Father–on account of the atoning death and resurrection of Christ by which they are clothed in his perfect righteousness. If you can use the Catechism to support the gospel message, as in the statement by Thérèse of Lisieux, that will show Catholics that these ideas are in fact part of their tradition.

  13. […] Chris Castaldo pays us the same compliment intentionally: The notion that Rome doesn’t modify authoritative teaching such as the articles and canons of […]

  14. Christis King says:

    From my perspective it appears that the dialogue between Chris and Bryan is mostly based on biased opinions. Bryan believes that his interpretation of Catholic history, thought, and teachings are accurate based upon his ability to reason. Chris believes that his evangelical interpretations of scripture are accurate based upon his biased viewpoints and ability to reason. Maybe the Catholic Church has changed its teachings, and that would seem to make them a false teacher of God’s truth. Or, maybe Evangelicals are so proud of themselves that they think their individual ability to accurately interpret God’s word is really the way God intended his Word to be spread (in a million differing truths). Or, maybe they are both wrong.

    I will make one last observation. It appeared that Bryan’s comments were at least focused on the articles claims and how he believed them to be inaccurate in certain ways. He presented a reasonable argument. Chris responded without answering the arguments that Bryan presented. Chris pointed out that he knows many “Catholics” who would agree with him. That seems like a very weak response. I know evangelicals who believe in the Eucharist, does that make it official? Unfortunately I’m left feeling like Chris is throwing stones at the Catholic Church and then running for cover. I wish intelligent Evangelicals like Chris would spend more time in educational dialogue, and less time trying to discredit an argument by attacking the commenter.

    Peace.

  15. There is no such thing as a view from nowhere. Bryan has his biases and I have mine. Here are some answers.

    Bryan writes:
    when you say “You might say it’s a 180 degree difference,” you are misrepresenting Unam Sanctum, and also falsely portraying Feeneyism as the “traditional” doctrine. Fr. Feeney went beyond the Church’s traditional dogma, which is why he was disciplined. The notion that development is by “retaining the formulation while interpreting its meaning in a different light” is a gross caricature of the Catholic notion of development of doctrine. Development doesn’t just retain the formula; it necessarily retains the dogma in the entirety of its essence.

    Fr. Feeney was standing on Unam Sanctum. The churches censoring of Feeney said something about its interpretation of Boniface’s statement.

    Bryan writes:
    You wrote, “Where Trent stated that Protestants (who maintain sola fide and resist the authority of Rome) are lost,…” Trent nowhere says that “Protestants” who maintain sola fide are lost. Trent is referring to Catholics who, through *formal* heresy, reject Catholic dogmas and remain in formal heresy. Later generations of Protestants are not Catholics, and are not under those anethemas.

    Protestants of the 16th Century, Lutheran and Reformed alike, maintained sola fide. Trent condemned that position and pronounced anathema on those who hold it. Surely having an anathema leveled at you indicates that (in the eyes of the church) you are lost.

    Bryan writes
    You quote dissenter Hans Küng as your source of information about the status of the Tridentine canons, but the dogma defining canons of Trent are infallible.

    Kung’s dissertation was on justification and he remains one of the seminal Catholic thinkers on the subject. I do concede, however, that for understanding the development of doctrine, Kung is not the best person.

    Bryan writes
    You wrote, “statements of Catholic doctrine are not simply defined according to the intent of the original author …. they are rather understood and applied according to contemporary perspectives.” That’s not true. That would make them a worthless wax nose, and entirely undermine the dogma of infallibility.

    I agree, it undermines the doctrine of infallibility.

    Bryan Writes
    You wrote, “From a Catholic point of view, the inclusion of Thérèse’s statement effectively neutralizes Trent’s hard line.” No, from a Protestant point of view it might, but not from a Catholic point of view. St. Thérèse’ is not denying merit or infused righteousness. She is talking about her motives. She acts for love, not for merit. And that’s what makes her actions meritorious!

    From a Protestant view it certainly does. And this is the reason why I am, with all due respect, unmotivated to engage in protracted discussion with Bryan. He refuses to question the assumptions that underlie Catholic doctrine, which makes it impossible to have a productive conversation.

  16. Bryan Cross says:

    Chris,

    You wrote:

    Fr. Feeney was standing on Unam Sanctum. The churches censoring of Feeney said something about its interpretation of Boniface’s statement.

    Fr. Feeney was *appealing* to Unam Sanctum, but he was reading more into it than it actually said.

    Surely having an anathema leveled at you indicates that (in the eyes of the church) you are lost.

    No, it doesn’t. This is why a grave sin is not necessarily a mortal sin. The Church has no authority to damn anyone. She can define grave sins, including that of formal heresy, but she cannot and has not damned anyone or declared anyone damned.

    I agree, it undermines the doctrine of infallibility.

    Instead of concluding from the hermeneutic you have described that the Catholic dogma of infallibility is undermined, you should realize that you are misrepresenting the Catholic hermeneutic. You’re basically saying that the Catholic hermeneutic is incompatible with the Catholic dogma of infallibility. The problem, however, is that what your are treating as the Catholic hermeneutic is a straw man of the actual Catholic hermeneutic. Authentic development can never reject the essence of any dogma; it can clarify that essence, but not deny it.

    He refuses to question the assumptions that underlie Catholic doctrine

    Where have I refused to question any assumption underlying Catholic doctrine? Are you prepared to question the assumptions that underlying Protestant doctrine? I guess I don’t see any more evidence that you’re questioning your assumptions than I am mine. So that’s why your statement here seems like a handy ad hominem. It is easy to dismiss people’s arguments and evidence by attacking their person. By claiming that St. Thérèse was endorsing an extra nos imputed righteousness, you are essentially making her out to be at least a material heretic, as one who denied infused righteousness. But that’s both uncharitable to her and inaccurate. Rather than make her out to be a heretic in order to use her to support your notion that she “neutralizes Trent’s hard line,” or took an extra nos view of imputation, it is more charitable to recognize that you are misunderstanding her. (Have you read Story of a Soul?)

    But here’s the underlying problem, from my point of view. I believe the following principle: in any ecumenical dialogue, we are to let each party define their own position. That’s a matter of respect and charity. If I insist that you believe x, and you say, “No, I don’t believe x,” and I reply, “Yes, you do. I know your position better than you do,” then I am in the wrong ecumenically, for not allowing you to define your own position. But from my point of view, that’s what you are doing with regard to Catholic doctrine, when, for example, (a) you insist that the Catholic notion of development is merely retaining the formulation, and not retaining the essence, (b) you insist that the Catholic understanding of development undermines the dogma of infallibility (when in fact it does not; you’ve just misconstrued the Catholic doctrine of development), (c) you insist that Vatican II contradicts Unam Sanctum, not attempting to see how from the Catholic perspective it does not, and (d) you attempt to make St. Thérèse out to be a heretic who neutralizes Trent, rather than allowing Catholics to explain how what she said is fully compatible with Trent, and in no way nullifies or falsifies anything Trent said.

    Are you willing to conform to this ecumenical principle, and allow Catholics to define their own position, or do you intend to continue telling us that you know better than we do what we believe?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

    • Bryan, you are entirely welcome to define Catholic doctrine and I am happy to learn from you (something I have hopefully demonstrated in the past). But you must extend the right for me to disagree, which in this instance I do.

      With regard to questioning our underlying assumptions, the principle of semper reformanda enables Protestants to revisit and reform teaching in ways that the Catholic tradition can’t. The doctrine of infallibility has the unfortunate effect of inhibiting doctrinal reform.

      • Bryan Cross says:

        Chris,

        But you must extend the right for me to disagree, which in this instance I do.

        I don’t know what gave you the idea that I want to deny your “right” to disagree with me. Of course you are free to disagree with me, and I’m free to disagree with you. That’s not the question. The question is whether you will let Catholics define and explain what is Catholic doctrine, or whether you will claim that you know better than us what is Catholic doctrine. The right to disagree with you doesn’t justify my claiming that I know better than do you what it is that you believe.

        With regard to questioning our underlying assumptions, the principle of semper reformanda enables Protestants to revisit and reform teaching in ways that the Catholic tradition can’t. The doctrine of infallibility has the unfortunate effect of inhibiting doctrinal reform.

        Your underlying assumption in this paragraph is that Catholic dogma is not infallible, and needs to be “reformed,” i.e. conformed to your interpretation of Scripture. So it is a question-begging assumption; it presupposes the truth of your own position, as Neal and I explained in section V.B. of our “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority” article.

        In the peace of Christ,

        – Bryan

  17. Constantine says:

    Hi Chris,

    Thank you for publishing this. I believe you had let a light shine in the darkness.

    Please let me add one critical, undeniable example of how Rome contravenes her own decrees at will. And this is easily verifiable by anyone who wants to look.

    Trent decreed (in its Fourth Session)that no one was to interpret Scriptures “contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers”. That decree was further institutionalized by Pope St. Pius IV in the creed he promulgated which is often referred to as the Tridentine Creed. This was the hermeneutical standard of Rome.

    Apparently at the First Vatican Council, this standard became an impediment and Archbishop Kennrick from St. Louis published a paper reminding the Council of its obligation to adhere to Trent. To no avail.

    The result is now, that in the Catholic Catechism, footnote 400 from paragraph 880 we see the citation of Matthew 16:18 in support of the papacy. Of course, there is no “unanimous consent” to support Rome’s use of this verse.

    So very clearly we see that Vatican I and modern Rome has turned back on itself in the crucial area of biblical interpretation.

    Peace.

  18. Christis King says:

    Matt, You said:

    “…it has become very hard for me to determine exactly where the Catholic church falls on any issues. For example, if I read more recent things such as the Catholic Catechism, it doesn’t provide the clarity necessary to really speak to important issues (i.e. justification),…”

    I find this to be many, many, more times true for anyone who follows the doctrine of “Sola Scriptura”! Can you deny this? If not, then you are in no better place if you hold to that doctrine, in fact, you would be in a slightly worse place. Can you determine exactly where the true beleivers of Sola Scriptura stand on any issue? Baptism? Contraception? Eucharist? Trinity? Salvation? I could go on and on. At least I have seen from history itself, that there has been far less doctrinal inconsistencies within the Catholic Church over the last 2,000 years, then there has been with “Bible Only” christians in just 500 years.

    With that said, there have always been controversies over doctrines and teachings of the church. One might be inclined to say, from this reality, that both Catholics and “Bible Only” Christians, are therefore wrong. But isn’t it true that none of us possesses definite truth in our understanding of scripture? If someone on earth did, how would we recognize that person as having the truth in its fullness? As a Bible Only christian, that would be impossible. As a Catholic, it doesn’t seem impossible, but it certainly looks improbable. So I’m left with 3 options; 1. Be okay with conflicting truth knowing that I could be very wrong on some key issues of faith, putting me outside of Christ’s very own Church (not necessarily, but possibly separating me from God). 2. Trust the Catholic Church has the fullness of faith, but be willing to live with some apparent conflicts that may turn out to put me on the wrong side of the tracks, or could be misunderstood and provides me with the fullness of truth in Christ. 3. Accept the possibility that everybody is wrong and take my chances with another faith, or no faith at all.

    If only Jesus could put his 2 cents in on this blog!

  19. Bryan Cross says:

    Constantine,

    The prohibition on interpreting a passage in a way that is “contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers” does not apply to cases where there is no unanimous consent of the Fathers, as with Mt. 16:8.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  20. […] Worth reading for its simple review of proper foundations for solid biblical interpretation.) Does the Roman Catholic Church Believe the Bible or Tradition and Does it Believe What it Believes i… (Good article by my friend Chris Castaldo) Post Modern Idolatry (Jim Wright —the more I read […]

  21. Kevin says:

    Chris, is “ultra-conservative Catholic” used by you as a synonym for “orthodox Catholic” or do you mean something else by it? Do you consider yourself an ultra-conservative Protestant? Do you consider, say, Cardinal George or fr. Robert Barron to be ultra-conservative Catholics?

    • An ultra conservative, unlike an orthodox Catholic, lacks the ability to have a congenial interchange. I rather doubt, for instance, that Cardinal George and Father Barron would accuse me of trying to turn Saint Thérèse into a “heretic” (Bryan’s word) because I present a quote in which she seems to endorse the Protestant doctrine of imputation.

      • Bryan Cross says:

        Chris,

        Merely disagreeing with your construal of Saint Thérèse’s statement makes me not “congenial”? I have not criticized your person in any way in this thread. I am disagreeing with, among other things, the way you are interpreting St. Thérèse because you are making her out to be saying something contrary to Trent, when that’s not what she meant. She’s not denying any of the dogmas defined in Trent’s Sixth Session and its canons. If she were, that would make her a heretic. Heresy, as defined in Catholic theology, is the denial of a Catholic dogma. But heretics are not, while remaining heretics unto death, named “Saints” by the Church. Yet St. Thérèse was named a “Saint.” This shows that you are misinterpreting her, insofar as you are construing her statement as if it were contrary to any of the dogmas defined at Trent.

        Let’s be clear. Exactly which canons of Trent 6 do you think St. Thérèse contradicted when she made the statement you have quoted? I’d be glad to run this by Fr. Barron, but we need to know which canons you think her statement denied. (If her statement does not deny any of the canons of Trent, then Sproul’s statement stands, and the dogma of infallibility is not “undermined” by any development St. Thérèse has provided.)

        In the peace of Christ,

        – Bryan

  22. Kevin says:

    Does it matter that you used the word “ultra-conservative” to describe Bryan before he ever used the word heretic in the conversation about St. Therese?

    I’m no saint, but would think it rather uncongenial, or, to use your terminology, “ultra-conservative,” if after I’m gone a protestant used Hans Kung’s interpretation of Trent in Catholic theology to show that I was at odds with the dogmatic declarations of a general council.

    • Point well made. You are right, it wasn’t congenial of me and for that I must apologize. The choice of Kung was based on his expertise on the subject of justification, on which he wrote his dissertation and has written quite a lot. However, I realize that using him was the best good choice, since the point concerned the development of doctrine just as much.

  23. Bryan Cross says:

    Chris,

    I’m not “throwing around” the word ‘heretic.’ I’m using it. And I’m using it here because in Catholic theology, that’s just what denying a dogma is (i.e. heresy), and a person who denies a Catholic dogma is either a material or formal heretic. Here’s my argument. If your construal of St. Thérèse makes her out to be denying a canon of Trent, that would make her into a heretic. And that’s problematic for your thesis, because the Church does not canonize persons who die in heresy. That is, this denial of some canon of Trent would have been a major point of conversation in the course of her canonization. But it wasn’t.

    If you cannot consider this argument [I’m providing] because it uses the term ‘heresy,’ then just replace the term with “denial of Catholic dogma” and “denier of Catholic dogma.” I don’t think we should get hung up on mere semantics. The Catechism uses the term ‘heresy,’ and so does Fr. Barron. See his video below titled “Why It’s Okay to be Against Heresy.” Does that make him an “ultra-conservative” Catholic?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jOSRQlNmtA

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  24. Bryan, the word “heresy” is also part of the Protestant lexicon, but I am loath to use it in conversation across the Catholic divine. However, my work is different than yours. I am a pastor whose primary emphasis is to serve relationships at the Catholic/Protestant intersection. I suppose that in your apologetic world there is a place for the word “heresy.” And maybe that is the lesson for me.

    As for Thérèse’s statement, the notion that “to be clothed in [God’s] own justice” is the heartbeat of the Protestant doctrine of imputation. It is the idea that Seripando argued at Trent along with several other prelates before it was discarded by the Tridentine fathers. The idea has a history in Catholic thought (including John Henry Newman’s work on justification). The unica forma causa is, according to Newman, God’s own presence which has forensic and operative significance. All of that to say, there is a way to understand the idea of imputation from a Catholic point of view.

  25. Bryan Cross says:

    Chris,

    I agree that there is a way to understand the idea of imputation from a Catholic point of view. I have argued that myself on CTC. See the paragraph that begins “Catholics believe in imputation …” in comment #140 in the “Imputation and Paradigms” thread. In the mouth of St. Thérèse, “to be clothed in [God’s] own justice” does not mean extra nos imputation, but rather infusion of sanctifying grace and agape. So in no way does it contradict any teaching of Trent. The problem is taking “clothed” in an extra nos sense, and construing St. Thérèse’s statement to be an endorsement of Seripando’s position.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  26. Or maybe she understood the doctrine of Trent to develop in such way as to allow for a forensic imputation of righteousness.

  27. Bryan Cross says:

    Chris,

    “Maybe” is quite a weaker claim than your earlier “effectively neutralizes” claim. If you want to show that St. Thérèse’s statement “effectively neutralizes” the dogmas on justification taught at Trent, you’ll need more than a “maybe.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  28. That she teaches imputation is rather obvious to me. How she reconciled it with the articles and canons of Trent is a mystery.

  29. Bryan Cross says:

    Chris,

    If, in fact, she were affirming the Catholic conception of imputation [i.e. the one I described in my reply to Lane linked above, and fully compatible with Trent], how would you know?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  30. She says so. “In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself.”

  31. Bryan Cross says:

    Chris,

    The problem with your claim “She says so” is that what she says is fully compatible with the Catholic conception of imputation. So merely restating what she says doesn’t show that she has a Protestant conception of imputation in mind.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  32. The notion that “All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice” in view of Seripando’s argument at Trent that we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness (with Calvin et al.) and the explicit way Trent opposed this formulation is reason to question whether it is fully compatible with the Catholic position.

  33. Bryan Cross says:

    Chris,

    The reason you give in your last comment presupposes that the terms as used by St. Thérèse must mean the same as they were used by Seripando. And that’s what has not yet been shown, but is only being assumed. If you have read Story of a Soul (have you?) you will see that she is writing not as a theologian, but as a Carmelite religious. That’s one reason why it is important not to assume that she writes with the technical specificity of a systematic theologian.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  34. She is using standard language for forensic imputation and the theologically initiated catechists who chose to include her statement in paragraph 2011 did so for a reason. I am not arguing that they included it because the church now endorses forensic imputation (which is obviously doesn’t), but I am pointing out (as others have noted) that it in some sense modifies the previous statement from Trent.

  35. Bryan Cross says:

    Chris,

    She is using standard language for forensic imputation

    That just begs the question, i.e. presupposes precisely what is in question. Sure, in Protestant circles that’s ‘standard language’ for forensic imputation. But not in Catholic circles. In Catholic circles, as I explained in the penultimate paragraph of my “Imputations and Paradigms” article linked above, being clothed in Christ’s righteousness refers to imputation by infusion, not extra nos imputation.

    The paragraph in the CCC in which her statement is included is preceded by this: “Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men.” The purpose therefore of including St. Thérèse’s statement is not to advance a Protestant conception of imputation, but to give an example of a Saint supporting the Catholic doctrine of merit, which is *not* Pelagian, but all by grace.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  36. Bryan, here is the full quote below. Notice how she says–I do not want to lay up merits in heaven. . . don’t count my works, empty hands, clothed in your own justice. I’m sorry, but if that is the essence of a forensic imputation. . . it’s not her own righteousness and merit to which she is looking, it is God’s “own justice.”

    “After earth’s exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for your love alone. . . . In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself”

  37. […] Castaldo has a helpful discussion on Catholics and tradition, at least in my opinion. It helps explain how there can be change without change. The comments are […]

  38. Bryan Cross says:

    Chris,

    I agree that she “does not want to lay up merits.” As I explained in my first comment in this thread, that’s because she is not thinking of herself, but of Christ, and doing what she does for love of Him. That’s the heart of every saint. That’s also why she says that she does not ask Christ to count her works. All that is fully compatible with everything Trent says. And she is right that all our justice is blemished, because no one (not even a Saint such as herself) is without venial sin. To be clothed in His righteousness is to receive sanctifying grace and agape by which we participate in the divine nature. That participation is perfected in glory, when even venial sin is removed, and our possession of Christ in the union of love is perfected. So there is nothing here that in any way contradicts any dogma or canon of Trent.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  39. This is where we disagree. I think that “to be clothed in His righteousness” is not a way to say that one has received sanctifying grace, but, rather, that one has an imputation of Christ’s righteousness. It is precisely because clothing is on the outside that the metaphor doesn’t convey the infusion of sanctifying grace but instead communicates extra nos.

  40. Bryan Cross says:

    Chris,

    I understand why you want to take the metaphor quite literally. But in Catholic circles, “clothed in His righteousness” does not mean extra nos imputation, for the same reason that the fact that the saints in heaven who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14) does not mean that the saints in heaven are still internally sinful. This usage is tied to Rev 19:8, where the righteousness infused (“made white by the blood of the Lamb”) makes the deeds of the saints “righteous.”

    The question is whether in charity and respect you will allow Catholics to define and explain how the statements of Catholic saints are to be understood, or whether you will insist on imposing your Protestant conception of “clothed with His righteousness” on the words of Catholic saints.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  41. Chris Castaldo says:

    Bryan, is it necessarily an either/or? The two-fold righteousness of Regensburg included forensic and operative grounds. This was Seripando’s case at Trent. Newman maintains that justification is a forensic declaration and also internal renewal by the Spirit. The position is represented in the Catholic tradition. You are undoubtedly right that Thérèse was not arguing for a purely forensic understanding of imputation, but that she held a view similar to these other Catholic seems to be a real possibility. This would seem to be corroborated by the statement of the late Avery Cardinal Dulles who highlights the our righteousnes remains a gift and is “the imprint upon us of the righteousness of Another.” He goes on to write, “In that sense the Reformation categories of iustitia aliena and ‘imputed righteousness” convey an important truth that Catholics do not wish to ignore” (Dulles, “Justification in Contemporary Catholic Theology, 258).

  42. Bryan Cross says:

    Chris,

    The Tridentine bishops considered Seripando’s position a novelty, not part of Catholic tradition. And Trent teaches very explicitly that

    “the single formal cause is the justice of God, not that by which He Himself is just, but that by which He makes us just, that, namely, with which we being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and not only are we reputed but we are truly called and are just, receiving justice within us …For though no one can be just except he to whom the merits of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet this takes place in that justification of the sinner, when by the merit of the most holy passion, the charity of God is poured forth by the Holy Ghost in the hearts of those who are justified and inheres in them” (Trent Session Six chapter 7).

    Newman’s position is not that of double-justice. I already explained that here. Double-justice would entail a difference between the status declared and the internal state (which is why Seripando pushed for it, because in his view the internal state of the believer was inadequate). But for Newman, there is no difference between the status declared and the internal state.

    You wrote:

    that she held a view similar to these other Catholic seems to be a real possibility.

    That’s like your “maybe” earlier in the conversation. You can’t support a notion that St. Thérèse “neutralized Trent” on a mere possibility. You would have to *demonstrate* that she had a double-justice theory in mind, contrary to the dogma taught at Trent. Mere speculations that “maybe” she meant that, or that it is a “real possibility” that she meant that, are inadequate.

    Trent’s teaching that there is only one formal cause of justification is binding and irrevocable. In the Introduction to the Sixth Session’s Decree on Justification, the Council declared that it was

    strictly forbidding that anyone henceforth presume to believe, preach or teach otherwise than is defined and declared in the present decree.

    And it concludes this Decree similarly:

    After this Catholic doctrine on justification, which whosoever does not faithfully and firmly accept cannot be justified, it seemed good to the holy council to add to these canons, that all may know not only what they must hold and follow, but also what to avoid and shun.

    Therefore to construe St. Thérèse as supporting double justice, after Trent had taught definitively and irrevocably that there is only one formal cause of justification, would be to make her out to be a heretic. And that’s problematic for the reason I explained above, namely, that the Church does not canonize heretics.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  43. Chris Castaldo says:

    Bryan, I am not arguing that Newman maintained two-fold righteousness (at least not in the formal sense). What I wrote was “Newman maintains that justification is a forensic declaration and also internal renewal by the Spirit.” He makes his case in terms closer to the Eastern doctrine of theosis. Thus (claims Newman) his explanation conforms to the unica forma causa of Trent.

    Thanks again for your input. We may not agree, but I always learn from you.

  44. Joe says:

    I am interested in Bryan’s contention, re St. Thérèse, that a saint cannot be a heretic. I imagine he feels the same way about popes. But surely Trent would have regarded JPIIs ideas on pagan salvation as flat out heretical, and he is on the fast track to sainthood. The most indisputable example that at Vatican II the Church gave itself a bonafide makeover.

    http://www.sspxseminary.org/publications/rectors-letters-separator/rectors-letter/190-pope-john-paul-ii-and-the-prayer-meeting-at-assisi.html

  45. Bryan Cross says:

    Joe,

    But surely Trent would have regarded JPIIs ideas on pagan salvation as flat out heretical

    No, that’s not true. In 1567, four years after the Council ended, the Church condemned the following error of Baius: “Purely negative infidelity in those among whom Christ has not been preached, is a sin.” (Denz. 1068) The Church also condemned Baius’ notion that all the works of infidels are sinful, and that all the virtues of the philosophers are vices. The Church has always been aware that the grace of God can be present and operative outside the established sacramental channels, as was the case with Cornelius, whose prayers and alms could not have been acceptable to God (Acts 10:4) apart from grace, since Pelagianism is false.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  46. Joe says:

    John 16:18 to 16:19
    “And I say to the: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.”

    There is nothing else to say, Jesus Christ said it all. Not Joe or Bryan or Chris, Jesus said it, go argue the finer points with him, the eternal unchanging God of all creation. In the meantime I will continue to Love and Serve the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul, in the Church that he told Peter to build.
    Do as you please, let us be clear though, you are doing as you please, and most definitely not as Jesus wishes. His wishes are promulgated from the Church that Peter built.

  47. Joe says:

    Bryan,

    Alright, I can agree there. What remains worrisome is the base shift in emphasis, which appears to admit a contradiction. As Ralph Martin argues in his new book, to suggest some can be saved is one thing, to act like all or most *are* saved is entirely another. It is not just semantics, it is fundamental gist. It is the same idea Benedict XVI expressed in “Gid & The World”: we can hope few if any reject God. John Paul II, from my extended reading, seems to have been convinced most if not all are saved as well. I guess that just seems to me like a fundamental reversal. Not that I want everyone in Hell. BUT, If we can flip flop there, what is to keep us from saying, for example, “Homo-sexual unions are wrong, but not homo-loving onest,” etc etc. “We don’t want to condemn the people searching to express lovem even if it is in a confused fashion.” The room for equivocation simply seems so phenomenally wide that any meaning becomes a mirage. “Missing Mass is a sin… well sometimes… well, not really, unless it is a hugely conscious rejection of God.” The new mantra seems to be, you are condemned if you reject God, which not many people really do. And THAT just seems like an about face from centuries of clear teaching. If we can have it so wrong, how can we ever be sure the magisterium ever has it quite right, right? Not trying to continue the fight, o much, as it is simply my unsettled reaction. As David Wells pointed out in “Revolution in Rome,” changelessness was Rome’s old trump card. But it seems a much harder one to play convincingly now. No Council was ever remotely like Vatican II, and to most people who know much theology the new power brokers in the Vatican seem like the minds Garrigou-Lagrange so often railed against. HE asked, “Where is the New Theology taking us?’ And the present is the easily apparent answer. Even Ratzinnger called one of its documents a reverse Syllabus of Errors. Huh? I do not see how anyone can not understand the gross confusion. I recommend Evangelicals go check out the blog Rorarte Caeli if they want to get an eye-opening education about the New and Old Rome.It is disconcerting, to say the least.

  48. Joe says:

    Bryan,

    I should add as an addendum my point is not to spar. My concern is to share the cognitive dissonance I have myself felt as I have investigated these things. I have wanted to believe Rome has an authoritative voice. But in researching it has been amazing to realize that for all the “conservative” labels Ratzinger has placed upon him, anyone who reads his corpus quickly comes to realize he is closer to Barth than to Trent. He seems to attempt to “redefine” Christian belief in orthodox terminology but with ideas that will less offend moderns. Hence, Scripture is trustworthy but no entirely reliable, salvation involves a sacrifice but no wrath that needs appeasing, Hell is not a place anyone is consigned but a prison of ones own making, and the Resurrection was not a time/space event in any recognizable way. While on technicalities these things can by argued to be orthodox, it is apparent this is not the same faith as share by old Popes, except for the fact the all do in the last analysis give–must give–allegiance to the hierarchy. But the content of doctrine itself seems to stretch incredibly. One decade De Lubac and de Chardin are condemned, two decades later the are heralded in papal addresses. For anyone from Evangelical precincts, this is wildly disorienting, and makes historic Evangelicalism, with all its diversity, seem more unified in its doctrines of revelation and atonement. Living Tradition means the key identifier of a Catholic is agreeing with the Pope, not agreeing with a handed down understanding of the Creed. Which gives a headache when power shifts mean one pope is a Pius X, another Paul VI. It would be easier to undersand a shift on something like birth control, where there has been none, than on the doctrines Ratzinger gives new expression to in his Intro to Christianity. That’s a book Evangelicals would have problems with.

  49. Bryan Cross says:

    Joe,

    If Chris will indulge me, I’ll reply to you here.

    What remains worrisome is the base shift in emphasis, which appears to admit a contradiction.

    I don’t see how that conclusion follows. A shift in emphasis does not entail or ‘admit’ a contradiction; it could indicate a difference in circumstances.

    As Ralph Martin argues in his new book, to suggest some can be saved is one thing, to act like all or most *are* saved is entirely another.

    I completely agree with you, and with Martin on this point. I’ve argued on CTC that “hopeful universalism” is not in keeping with the authentic Catholic Tradition on this point.

    It is the same idea Benedict XVI expressed in “Gid & The World”: we can hope few if any reject God. John Paul II, from my extended reading, seems to have been convinced most if not all are saved as well.

    I have not seen anything in their writing that, rightly interpreted, implies that all humans are saved or that the majority of unbelieving or unbaptized persons will be saved.

    Not that I want everyone in Hell. BUT, If we can flip flop there, what is to keep us from saying, for example, “Homo-sexual unions are wrong, but not homo-loving onest,” etc etc. “We don’t want to condemn the people searching to express lovem even if it is in a confused fashion.”

    Right, I agree. That’s precisely why it is important to understand that the Church has not contradicted any prior dogma, nor can she do so. In other words, instead of worrying about a possible flip-flop on the sinfulness of homosexual actions, you need to realize that your interpretation of the Church’s teaching on universalism (such that it is construed as a flip-flop) is mistaken. The Church has no authority to contradict her long-standing teaching that homosexual acts are gravely disordered.

    The room for equivocation simply seems so phenomenally wide that any meaning becomes a mirage. “Missing Mass is a sin… well sometimes… well, not really, unless it is a hugely conscious rejection of God.”

    Here too there has been no reversal or contradiction. The Church still teaches that missing mass intentionally, without a serious reason, is a grave sin. And if done with complete knowledge and full consent, is a mortal sin. The Church has always recognized the distinction between grave sin and mortal sin, because she has always recognized the difference between the gravity of a sinful act on account of its kind, and the culpability one has for committing that sin, depending on one’s knowledge and intention.

    The new mantra seems to be, you are condemned if you reject God, which not many people really do.

    “Seems to be” is the problem with your argument. I’ve heard the line your quoting, but the Church has never formally or universally taught that “not many people really reject God.” Don’t confuse Rahner with the magisterium.

    As David Wells pointed out in “Revolution in Rome,” changelessness was Rome’s old trump card. But it seems a much harder one to play convincingly now.

    The changelessness in view there has always been the denial of any corruption of the Apostolic Tradition, by way of loss or accretion. It never was meant to be a denial of the development of doctrine, as though the Church never grows in her understanding of the meaning of the deposit.

    No Council was ever remotely like Vatican II, and to most people who know much theology the new power brokers in the Vatican seem like the minds Garrigou-Lagrange so often railed against.

    That’s true, but instead of the hand-wringing, we need to have faith in Jesus, that He is guiding His Church, and will never abandon her, even to the end of the age. Garrigou-Lagrange, as much as I respect him (and I really do), was not the magisterium. The errors in the Nouvelle Théologie have not been dogmatized. Be confident. Christ will protect and guide His Church into all truth.

    Even Ratzinnger called one of its documents a reverse Syllabus of Errors. Huh? I do not see how anyone can not understand the gross confusion.

    That’s not quite accurate. I think you are referring to Cardinal Ratzinger’s statement regarding Gaudium et Spes, which he referred to as a “counter syllabus.” But by that he did not mean that it reversed or contradicted the Syllabus of Errors. Rather, he meant, I think, that the Vatican II document provides the positive formulations and explanations that importantly complement and thus provide a fuller context in which to understand and interpret the reasons for the Church’s denial of the errors listed in the Syllabus.

    I recommend Evangelicals go check out the blog Rorarte Caeli if they want to get an eye-opening education about the New and Old Rome.It is disconcerting, to say the least.

    I’ve followed that site for years, and I understand why it would be disconcerting to those who don’t have a clear or well-formed understanding of the working of Catholic theology, the hermeneutic of continuity, and the meaning of the documents of Vatican II. That’s why people are misled into the SSPX as well. But again, we are called to follow Christ and the shepherds He has appointed. But Rorate Caeli, though I appreciate and agree with many things said there (and am generally favorable toward the site) is not the successor of St. Peter.

    I should add as an addendum my point is not to spar. My concern is to share the cognitive dissonance I have myself felt as I have investigated these things. I have wanted to believe Rome has an authoritative voice. But in researching it has been amazing to realize that for all the “conservative” labels Ratzinger has placed upon him, anyone who reads his corpus quickly comes to realize he is closer to Barth than to Trent. He seems to attempt to “redefine” Christian belief in orthodox terminology but with ideas that will less offend moderns.

    Again, Ratzinger the theologian is not Pope Benedict XVI. If you really want to raise a legitimate concern, culling from the writings of Ratzinger as theologian is not the way to do it, because it is simply irrelevant. You would need to draw from His encyclicals apostolic exhortations, etc., i.e. his writings *as pope,* i.e. in the office of pope, and not merely as theologian.

    Hence, Scripture is trustworthy but no entirely reliable,

    If Scripture (when rightly interpreted) were not entirely reliable, it wouldn’t be trustworthy. Again, if you want to make the case that the Church’s has contradicted herself or flip-flopped, you’ll need to point to actual Church documents, rather than merely hand-waving.

    salvation involves a sacrifice but no wrath that needs appeasing,

    What do you think the mass is? It is a participation in Christ’s sacrifice, by which He made satisfaction to God for our sins. That’s right in the Catechism. It hasn’t gone anywhere.

    Hell is not a place anyone is consigned but a prison of ones own making, and the Resurrection was not a time/space event in any recognizable way.

    Again, this sort of hand-waving is not helpful, because it proves nothing, and is fully compatible with the truth and identity and consistency of the Catholic Church. If you want to show that the Church has rejected or denied or contradicted her teaching on hell or the resurrection, you’ll need to quote from Church documents showing this to be the case.

    While on technicalities these things can by argued to be orthodox, it is apparent this is not the same faith as share by old Popes, except for the fact the all do in the last analysis give–must give–allegiance to the hierarchy.

    The problem is that up till now, you haven’t shown a single instance in which one Church document contradicts another. Your case is constituted of hand-wringing and hand-waving, no actual evidence.

    But the content of doctrine itself seems to stretch incredibly. One decade De Lubac and de Chardin are condemned, two decades later the are heralded in papal addresses.

    That has happened many times in Church history. (Think of, for example, the condemnations of St. Thomas in 1277 by Bishop Tempier.) Condemnation of a person for certain aspects of his work does not mean (unless stated) that everything he wrote is erroneous, and that nothing he wrote can help deepen the Church’s understanding of the Tradition or is important for the Church to retrieve in our time. The Church always seems to delight in finding whatever is good and true and helpful in writings she has condemned. That’s part of the mind that is Catholic.

    For anyone from Evangelical precincts, this is wildly disorienting, and makes historic Evangelicalism, with all its diversity, seem more unified in its doctrines of revelation and atonement.

    I understand that. Catholic theology and Catholic methodology are much more complicated than Evangelical theology, so it is understandable that nuanced distinctions within Catholic doctrine and practice are lost to the Evangelical onlooker who is untrained in Catholic theology and theological method.

    Living Tradition means the key identifier of a Catholic is agreeing with the Pope, not agreeing with a handed down understanding of the Creed.

    That may be the appearance. But if we are people who are seeking after the truth, we won’t go by mere appearances.

    Which gives a headache when power shifts mean one pope is a Pius X, another Paul VI. It would be easier to undersand a shift on something like birth control, where there has been none, than on the doctrines Ratzinger gives new expression to in his Intro to Christianity. That’s a book Evangelicals would have problems with.

    Again, Ratzinger as theologian is not Pope Benedict XVI. They are the same person, of course, but speaking under two distinct roles and offices. What Ratzinger says (or said) as theologian does not become part of Catholic doctrine when he becomes pope or because he is also pope.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  50. Joe says:

    Appreciate the reply, and charitable tone, which gives your arguments more weight. Thank you.

  51. Chris,

    I heartily applaud you for your effort to help Protestants understand the Catholic framework of the development of doctrine.

    One thing you said grabbed my attention though, you said,

    “Pope Benedict explicitly affirms Luther’s phrase “faith alone” in his recent book on St. Paul[1] and the Joint Declaration on Justification’s Annex endorses it as well. Does this mean that Catholics and Protestants now agree on justification and that the Reformation is over? No. Not even close.”

    I agree there are still differences between Protestants and Catholics, but I do not agree that the differences on justification warrant continuing the schism. Especially with the recent articulations of justification by the Church, the Pope and other groups of Bishops, I don’t see how Protestants can continue seeing Catholics as preaching a false gospel. Maybe I have misunderstood you though.

    In Christ,

    Mark

  52. I believe that those who hold to Lordship salvation have more in common with contemporary Catholic theologians in their articulation of the Gospel (especially when placed in an already/not-yet framework) than with the regular run-of-the-mill evangelical. Its far too common with evangelicals to preach a Gospel that states one must only assent to the facts of the Gospel and trust Christ to forgive your sins but then leaves out any need for initial repentance or surrendering one’s life to Christ.

    To further support this idea, let’s look at two evangelical theologians, Tom Schreiner (professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where Al Mohler is president) and Ardel Caneday (professor at Northwestern College). They have, in my opinion, written the best explanation to date of the already/not-yet aspect of justification in their co-authored volume “The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance” and then Schreiner’s, “Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology” and Caneday’s short essay, “40 Theses on Perseverance”. I have talked to numerous Catholic priests and professors about this particular expression of the already/not-yet aspect of justification and they all stated that Schreiner/Caneday have captured the essence, substance and significance of what the Catholic church believes regarding faith, works and perseverance. Here are a few examples from Schreiner and Caneday:

    Excerpt from Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology “Once we grasp that salvation is not obtained apart from human behavior, though it is not grounded on such behavior… First Timothy 4:16 means, then, that Timothy must live a godly life and adhere to the to apostolic deposit to avoid God’s wrath on the last day. His godly living and faithful preaching of the word are the means by which both he and other believers are rescued from God’s wrath on the day of the Lord. Similarly, women must adhere to their divinely ordained role (“she will be saved through the bearing of children,” 1 Tim 2:15) to be saved. This is an example of synecdoche, in that bearing children is representative of how women fulfill the role intended for them by God. To avoid misunderstanding, Paul remarks that women must persevere in faith and love and other godly virtues to be saved. Salvation is not merited by having children, nor is Paul suggesting that all women must have children (cf. 1 Corinthians 7)! What Paul is saying is that women’s bearing of children and living in their ordained role is one example of living out the godly life that is necessary to obtain eschatological salvation.”

    Excerpt from Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology “Even though salvation is an eschatological gift predicated on belief, Paul never separates belief from ongoing obedience. Those who long for salvation must renounce the works of darkness and embrace the weapons of the light (Rom 13:11-14). Salvation will be granted only to the one who experiences ‘the destruction of the flesh’ (1 Cor 5:5). One who sins and is not granted repentance (2 Tim 2:25-26) will not be saved. With all urgency Paul exhorts his hearers to produce (kategazesthe) their own salvation (Phil 2:12), knowing that righteous behavior – though not the ground of salvation – is utterly necessary to obtain salvation.” (PAUL pg.226)

    Excerpt from Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology, “Conversely, Paul insists that one must do good works to receive eschatological vindication (Gal 6:4-5; 2 Cor 5:10). The reward in these texts is eternal life itself, entrance into the kingdom of God.” (PAUL pg.282)

    Excerpt from 40 Theses on Perseverance, “Paul’s gospel affirms two realities simultaneously. First, his gospel announces that we shall be declared righteous if we believe in the God of Abraham who raised Jesus Christ from the dead (Rom 4:22-24). Also, his gospel affirms that God will judge us according to our deeds (Rom 2:6) and will reward with eternal life only “those who by persevering in doing good, seek glory, honor, and immortality” (Rom 2:7). The reward is not earned, for the judgment rendered will not be grounded upon those deeds but upon one deed alone, namely Christ’s obedience. Rather, the judgment is rendered according to or in keeping with the deeds that the gospel requires and enables. So, God’s judgment in the Last Day is a judgment in keeping with our deeds precisely because his judgment will expose us for what we really are, obedient slaves of righteousness (Rom 6:16-18).

    Therefore, Christian obedience and holiness is not only the evidence of salvation or of authentic faith; obedience or perseverance in holiness is also the means or pathway that the gospel requires us to follow in order that we might enter into eternal life and salvation in the day Christ finally calls us heavenward (Heb 12:14; Phil 3:9-14; John 5:28-29).”

    I would love to get your (Christ Castaldo) and Bryan Cross’ reaction on this.

    In Christ,

    Mark

  53. Thanks, Mark. Sorry for the delayed response. I just returned from an out-of-state trip. Yeah, there is something valid to what you’re saying. An evangelical Protestant who takes seriously the need for perseverance will echo the Catholic emphasis on manifesting actual righteousness. A significant difference for Catholics, on a practical level, would be the role of the precepts (i.e. attending Mass weekly, holy days of obligation, observing food laws, and going to penance during Lent), which are regarded as an essential element of how one works out his salvation.

    • Joe says:

      The founding father Saint Gregory of Nyssa tells us how to “one works out his salvation” , through Baptism, the Eucharist, and Works:

      Chapters XXXIII., XXXIV., XXXV., XXXVI.— The saving nature of Baptism depends on three things; Prayer, Water, and Faith. 1. It is shown how Prayer secures the Divine Presence. God is a God of truth; and He has promised to come (as Miracles prove that He has come already) if invoked in a particular way. 2. It is shown how the Deity gives life from water. In human generation, even without prayer, He gives life from a small beginning. In a higher generation He transforms matter, not into soul, but into spirit. 3. Human freedom, as evinced in faith and repentance, is also necessary to Regeneration. Being thrice dipped in the water is our earliest mortification; coming out of it is a forecast of the ease with which the pure shall rise in a blessed resurrection: the whole process is an imitation of Christ.
      Chapter XXXVII.— The Eucharist unites the body, as Baptism the soul, to God. Our bodies, having received poison, need an Antidote; and only by eating and drinking can it enter. One Body, the receptacle of Deity, is this Antidote, thus received. But how can it enter whole into each one of the Faithful? This needs an illustration. Water gives its own body to a skin-bottle. So nourishment (bread and wine) by becoming flesh and blood gives bulk to the human frame: the nourishment is the body. Just as in the case of other men, our Saviour’s nourishment (bread and wine) was His Body; but these, nourishment and Body, were in Him changed into the Body of God by the Word indwelling. So now repeatedly the bread and wine, sanctified by the Word (the sacred Benediction), is at the same time changed into the Body of that Word; and this Flesh is disseminated among all the Faithful.
      Chapters XXXVIII., XXXIX.— It is essential for Regeneration to believe that the Son and the Spirit are not created spirits, but of like nature with God the Father; for he who would make his salvation dependent (in the baptismal Invocation) on anything created would trust to an imperfect nature, and one itself needing a saviour.
      Chapter XL.— He alone has truly become a child of God who gives evidence of his regeneration by putting away from himself all vice.

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