Showing posts with label Salvation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Salvation. Show all posts

Monday, April 8, 2019

Is Judas in hell?

Revised 4/4/2024

In Dante's epic poem, Judas is depicted in the deepest pit of hell as the devil devours him. It brings to mind a common question: Is Judas in hell? The evidence says yes, barring a last-minute genuine repentance for which we do not have evidence.

Let's examine the words of the popes, theologians, and Early Church Fathers on the matter.

When Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood." They said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself." And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5)
Although the text says Judas repented, he obviously followed that by hanging himself. Thus, either he repented only momentarily but fell back into despair, or his repentance was not of the complete sort to which the Christian is called.
  • St. John Chrysostom suggests the repentance might have borne fruit, if the devil had not quickly lured him back into despair: 
    • "[T]he devil led him out of his repentance too soon, so that he should reap no fruit from thence." (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 85 on Matthew, 2.6, ca. 389 A.D.)
  • And elsewhere: 
    • "For this reason also the wicked one dragged Judas out of this world lest he should make a fair beginning, and so return by means of repentance to the point from which he fell." (St. John Chrysostom, Exhortation to Theodore, 1.9)
  • St. Leo suggests the same: 
    • "even [Judas] might have found salvation if he had not hastened to hang himself." (Pope St. Leo, Sermon 62.4, ca. 450 A.D.) 
  • St. Augustine deduces that Judas's repentance was not the sort that asked for pardon and mercy, for it produced no hope: 
    • For after [Judas] betrayed Him, and repented of it, if he prayed through Christ, he would ask for pardon; if he asked for pardon, he would have hope; if he had hope, he would hope for mercy; if he hoped for mercy, he would not have hanged himself in despair.... (Augustine, Exposition on Psalm 109. 8)
  • Cornelius Lapide, the 16th-17th century exegete, describes the falsity of the repentance:
    • Repented himself. Not with true and genuine repentance, for this includes the hope of pardon, which Judas had not; but with a forced, torturing, and despairing repentance, the fruit of an evil and remorseful conscience, like the torments of the lost.
  • The Navarre Bible Commentary
    • "Judas' remorse does not lead him to repent his sins and be converted." (The Navarre Bible, St. Matthew, on v.27:3-5, p. 174, 2005)
  • Haydock's Commentary similarly suggests Judas originally repented, but the devil talked him out of it, leading him to "eternal destruction": 
    • To his first repentance succeeded fell despair, which the devil pursued to his eternal destruction. If the unhappy man had sought true repentance, and observed due moderation in it, (by avoiding both extremes, presumption and despair) he might have heard a forgiving Master speaking to him these consoling words: I will not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may be converted and still live. Origen. (Haydock Commentary, Matthew 27, 1859)

Le Portement de Croix by Jean Fouquet, ca 1452-1460 (acquired from Wikimedia Commons)

  • On this verse, Lapide seems to suggest the words are more of a corrective warning: 
    • "For “far better is it not to exist at all, than to exist in evil. The punishment is foretold, that him whom shame had not conquered, the denunciation of punishment might correct,” says S. Jerome. He threatens him with the woe of damnation." (Lapide, Commentary on Matthew 26)
  • St. John Chrysostom likewise suggests the context is corrective: 
    • This He said to comfort His disciples, that they might not think that it was through weakness that He suffered; and at the same time for the correction of His betrayer. (St. John Chrysostom, quoted in Catena Aura on Matthew 26:20-25)
  • Remigius, the sixth century monk, interprets the words as "emphasis": 
  • Origen extends the meaning to refer to anyone who betrays Christ or his disciples: 

Let's take a short segue to look at a strange thought regarding Judas and his hanging. There is an interesting sentiment that Judas may have believed he could repent in the afterlife.
  • Origen says:
    • Or, perhaps, he desired to die before his Master on His way to death, and to meet Him with a disembodied spirit, that by confession and deprecation he might obtain mercy; and did not see that it is not fitting that a servant of God should dismiss himself from life, but should wait God's sentence. (Origen, quoted in Catena Aura, on Matthew 27:1-5, d.253 A.D.)
  • And Blessed Theophylact: 
    • [H]e hanged himself thinking to precede Jesus into hades and there to plead for his own salvation. (Bl. Theophylact, Commentary on Matthew 27, ca 1100)
Of course, if Judas did hang himself with the intent to plead with Christ in the afterlife, he failed to understand the nature of temporal life as the time of repentance, as Origen suggests above.

First, let's examine two texts from recent Popes, confirming the uncertainty of Judas's fate:
Even when Jesus says of Judas, the traitor, "It would be better for that man if he had never been born" (Mt 26:24), His words do not allude for certain to eternal damnation. (St. John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p. 186, 1994) 
What is more, it darkens the mystery around his eternal fate, knowing that Judas "repented and brought back the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood'" (Mt 27: 3-4). Even though he went to hang himself (cf. Mt 27:5), it is not up to us to judge his gesture, substituting ourselves for the infinitely merciful and just God. (Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, Oct. 18, 2006)
Origen also suggests there was some inkling of hope in Judas's behavior:
[T]he instructions of Jesus had been able to produce some feeling of repentance in his mind, and were not altogether despised and loathed by this traitor. (Origen, Contra Celsium, 2.11)
St. John Chrysostom, although he believed the devil dragged Judas from life to prevent repentance, understood even Judas's sin was not beyond forgiveness:
For although it may seem a strange thing to say, I will not admit even that sin [of Judas] to be too great for the succour which is brought to us from repentance. (St. John Chrysostom, Exhortation to Theodore, 1.9)
The Church's maxim lex orandi lex credendi, we pray as we believe, is a strong indication Judas was damned because the traditional liturgy states, "Judas received the punishment of his guilt..."

Some might argue Judas was entirely possessed by the devil, and thus excused, however, this is not the understanding of the Church, nor does it account for his acknowledgement of guilt. Some might also argue he had gone mad. St. John Chrysostom (Homily 81, On Matthew, 3.4) and St. Leo I (Sermon 62.4) reference "madness," however, both refer to it in the sense of a madness of sin.

If we take the comments of Popes, theologians, and the Early Church Fathers as a totality, it seems the following might be 5 reasonable conclusions:
  1. Judas fell into grave sin in betraying Christ and handing him over to be condemned.
  2. When Judas repented by trying to return the silver, his repentance was fleeting or inauthentic.
  3. Judas's act of hanging indicates he did not trust in God's mercy and remained in a state of grave sin.
  4. His only remaining opportunity for repentance was his final moment during the hanging.*
  5. Conclusion: If Judas authentically repented in his final moment, he could possibly have found salvation, though tradition does not not lean toward this.
Certainly, if hypothetically Judas indeed repented in his final moment, his path is not a safe one to follow. None of us know their hour, and it is foolish to plan for a deathbed confession. Judas's example amplifies our need to repent and seek refuge in the sacrament of confession regularly, and especially when we commit a grave sin.

*There is a thought that Judas did not die by hanging, rather that he plunged from a cliff (cf. Acts 1:18), or that he hung himself and the rope broke, thus spilling him on the rock. But, for the purposes of this thought exercise, whether Judas's final moments came at the rope or on the rocks, the point remains the same—his last chance for repentance was his final moment.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Can you go to hell for the "flimsiest of reasons"?
A look at invincible ignorance and a forgotten value of conversion

On the August 27, 2013 Coast to Coast radio show George Noory interviewed Catholic historian
Charles Coulombe on a variety of topics during the last three hours of the show. Coulombe was consistently excellent, had his facts about Church teaching straight, expressed himself succinctly and charitably, and very well-represented the Church to members of an audience that might not otherwise ever hear an accurate portrayal of Church matters.

After listening to the entirety of the interview, I only wished he would have expounded more on one issue. The issue was raised by a caller, Ray in Niles, OH, who asked the following (emphasis mine):
When we say that people who are evil would deserve hell and those who lead virtuous lives deserve heaven, that makes rational sense. But the problem I've always had with the
Church and with Christianity in general is that you're condemned to hell for the flimsiest of reasons. For example, you're required to believe a matter of fact that Christ was divine and the Incarnation. Now let's suppose a person leads a virtuous life but doesn't happen to believe that. That doesn't make them evil. I mean, if I believe, for example, that the Eiffel Tower is in London, England and not Paris, I'm wrong. But I'm wrong about a matter of fact. I'm not evil in making that. Now the Church holds you responsible for knowing things that you can't possibly know. We hold people responsible when we're in a position to say to them, "You acted against your better judgment. You ought to have known better." But if one doesn't believe in the Incarnation, or the divinity of Christ, is one going against one's better judgment?And furthermore, what constitutes a judgment has to do with an accident of birth. People who are born into Roman Catholic families tend to be Roman Catholic. People who are born into Muslim families tend to be Muslim. People who are born in Jewish families tend to be Jewish. And so on. Are they expected to know that the other religion is true? And how can they know that? If you can't know what you're required to believe, then how can you be eternally damned for getting it wrong? That just doesn't make any rational sense.
Coulombe began by pointing out the tremendous number of fallen away Catholics as evidence that people don't necessarily stay where they are. True or not, the caller's ultimate claim was that it was possible, according to Church teaching, that a person unable to know what to believe would be condemned for not believing it. The gist of the caller's question is not uncommon. Coulombe made other fair points related to the fallen human nature of man, and Christ as the escape from a futile position. However––although it is easy for me to say not under the constraints of radio time as was Coulombe––I wished he would have expounded on the concept of "invincible ignorance."

To put it briefly, the caller was incorrect that the Church teaches that a person will be condemned to hell for not knowing something he "can't possibly know."

In Catholic theology, there exists a doctrine commonly called "invincible ignorance" or some similar paraphrase. The Catechism offers descriptions. Beginning in paragraph 846 is the following: "all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body." From there, we read the important subsequent paragraph (emphasis mine):
This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church: Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation. (CCC#847)
That paragraph alone debunks the caller's claim that the Church teaches the condemnation of those who don't formally know Christ. A person who "through no fault of their own" would be considered "invincibly ignorant." In other words, they did not receive a legitimate opportunity to know and believe in the Christ, whom alone is the door to salvation.

Essentially, if a person was invincibly ignorant of the truth of Christ, and if they attained salvation, they would still be incorporated into "the Church which is his Body" (CCC#846), but in an informal sense. Not with their lips or through receipt of the sacraments would such a person express his faith in Christ. But by their "sincere heart" and by their move "to do his will as they know it" (CCC#847) is their expression made. And it should be noted that even this action is done by "grace," which is God's gift, God's initiative. It should also be noted that the Church does not teach such persons certainly "will" go to heaven, but "may" in some way known to God.

In other words, the Church does not teach that God plays little games of "gotcha" and sends someone to hell for a "flimsy" reason, such as a person never having had an opportunity to believe in the usual sense. What constitutes true "ignorance" may only be known to God and the soul in question. Perhaps it is possible even for someone who was preached the gospel explicitly to remain invincibly ignorant due to various emotional or mental impediments. On the other hand, a person who heard the gospel may falsely convince themselves that they did not receive enough evidence (or grace) and proudly claim that they were not adequately evangelized. We could speculate, but defining an ignorance that can vary from soul to soul is not the purpose of this post, if it were even possible.

The theology of salvation and an "informal" faith in Christ is not new. For instance, in the Old Testament, we are told Elijah, who lived long before the Incarnation of Christ, was taken to heaven (2 Kg 2:11). Paul eludes to the mercy shown to him because, as he says, he "acted ignorantly in my belief" when he persecuted Christians (1 Tim. 1:13)  The Early Church Fathers likewise made similar statements about ignorance or informal incorporation into the Church, which is Christ's body. St. Augustine stated, "in the ineffable prescience of God, many who appear to be outside are within," incorporated by "wish or desire," while "many who seem to be within are without." (St. Augustine, quoted in De Lubac, The Splendor of the Church, p. 212). The 2nd century Church Father, Justin Martyr, went so far as to say those who lived before Christ either embraced or persecuted Christ in a mystical way (emphasis mine):
We have been taught that Christ is the first-born of God, and we have declared above that He is the Word of whom every race of men were partakers; and those who lived reasonably are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and men like them; and among the barbarians, Abraham, and Ananias, and Azarias, and Misael, and Elias, and many others whose actions and names we now decline to recount, because we know it would be tedious. So that even they who lived before Christ, and lived without reason, were wicked and hostile to Christ, and slew those who lived reasonably. (St. Justin Martyr, First Apology, 46) 
Father William Most compiled a number of similar citations in this article under the subhead "Broad texts of the fathers" as well as other citations from the Magisterium.

In Catholic theology and Biblical language, it is sometimes said a wicked soul will experience "death," not in the sense of temporal death, but the death of the soul, a "second death" (Rev. 2:11; Rev. 20:6-14), where the fires of hell are eternal.

Barring a special revelation, we cannot "observe" heaven or hell in the way we can the environment around us. Keep in mind the Coast to Coast caller's difficulty believing in the idea of hell because of, what was to him, the "flimsy" way one can get there. The caller, though his premise was erroneous, believed if one went to hell for a "flimsy" reason, it therefore didn't make "rational sense." He was not willing to believe such a doctrine based on the unequal proportion between a hypothetical error in ignorance that could result in a disproportionate fate. Keep that in mind in the following thought exercise.

Let's say a man comes home from a long day's work and decides to make himself a bowl of soup. He turns the knob on his gas stove. He had a stuffy nose that day, and didn't smell the gas leak that had accumulated throughout the day. Ignorant of the gas leak, he blows up. In keeping with the reasoning of the caller, should a person trying to cook soup deserve to die? Where is the rational sense in the consequence of death, when the subject was ignorant that death would result from his action? Where is the proportion? Would the caller deny that the man had blown up based on the flimsy reason why the man was killed?

The point of the thought exercise is to demonstrate the fallacy of the caller's conclusion in having a "problem" with the Church, even if his theological understanding of Church teaching had been correct. At best (or worst), he would have to admit that a "flimsy" reason for going to hell would simply parallel the empirical evidence we have of people dying a temporal death due to ignorance.

One may ask, then, if a person may be granted lenience for his ignorance of Christ, isn't it safer not to evangelize? I would answer no. Here's one reason why.

In a previous post, I reviewed Church theology on How the Eucharist benefits the world. In brief, those who receive the Eucharist are receiving something divine into themselves, something supernatural that transforms and effects grace on nature. The very celebration and receipt of the Eucharist draws souls throughout creation and brings grace into the souls receiving the sacrament. Thus, even if someone would be saved in an informal way, as a result of receiving mercy due to his "invincible ignorance," the very absence of that person's formal incorporation to the Church renders that person a non-participant in the sacramental delivery of grace.

An ancient Church prayer reads, "O sacred banquet in which Christ is received as food, the memory of his Passion is renewed, the soul is filled with grace and a pledge of the life to come is given to us." (cf. CCC#1402). Through all the sacraments, especially through the Eucharist, is received grace to "enlighten and nourish Christian activity." (CCC#2031) Though the Spirit can deliver grace in any way, the Church teaches the power of grace through the sacraments.

The very foundational call of Christian activity is to love God and neighbor. Receipt of the sacraments fosters that love. Thus, in the Catholic theology which we believe based on the promises of Christ, there is a true value to the entire Church and to the entire world when one formally incorporates into the Church. There is a value that extends beyond the converting individual.

And as the Catechism concludes in the section on invincible ignorance and salvation only through the Church:
Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men. (CCC#848)

Friday, May 24, 2013

Media falsely represents Pope on atheism

What was said
It is reactions such as those in response to the Pope's recent homily that lead me to believe the Catholic Church is the most consistently misrepresented institution in the world. What did Pope Francis I say to result in headlines from secular media like:
Pope Francis: 'Even the atheists' can go to heaven (New York Daily News)
Pope Francis: Being an atheist is alright as long as you do good (The Independent)
Pope Francis Says Atheists Who Do Good Are Redeemed, Not Just Catholics (Huffington Post)
Pope lets atheists off the hook, saying Lord redeems us all (
Here is what the Pope said during the March 22 homily in question (Recap at Vatican Radio; emphasis mine):
[T]he Lord has created us in His image and likeness, and has given us this commandment in the depths of our heart: do good and do not do evil...The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there. ... Today is [the feast of] Santa Rita, Patron Saint of impossible things – but this seems impossible: let us ask of her this grace, this grace that all, all, all people would do good and that we would encounter one another in this work, which is a work of creation, like the creation of the Father.
If you are asking yourself where the Pope said atheists are "off the hook" or that atheism is "alright," you are not alone. Part of the problem may begin with the term "redeemed."

Source of confusion?
It seems some believe the term "redeemed" means one will necessarily go to heaven. In fact, that confusion is articulated in the msn headline, which equates being redeemed with being "off the hook." The Huffington Post article states:
Of course, not all Christians believe that those who don't believe will be redeemed, and the Pope's words may spark memories of the deep divisions from the Protestant reformation over the belief in redemption through grace versus redemption through works.
The article confuses "redemption" with assuredness of going to heaven (not to mention that the issue was grace "versus" works, but that's another post). Let's look quickly at the Church's understanding of the term "redemption":
CCC#432 The name "Jesus" signifies that the very name of God is present in the person of his Son, made man for the universal and definitive redemption from sins. It is the divine name that alone brings salvation, and henceforth all can invoke his name, for Jesus united himself to all men through his Incarnation, so that "there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
In Catholic teaching, there is no novelty in pointing out that Christ's redemptive Passion includes all souls, whether atheist or otherwise. Having come incarnate as a human, he is united with the human race.
Hebrews 2:9-17 9But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for every one. 10For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren, 12saying, "I will proclaim thy name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee." 13And again, "I will put my trust in him." And again, "Here am I, and the children God has given me." 14Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage. 16For surely it is not with angels that he is concerned but with the descendants of Abraham. 17Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people
Prior to Christ's work, mankind remained in a futile position separated from God, exiled from the "Garden of Eden," in which God dwells. If I might propose this concept in simple terms, Christ's "redemption" reverses the futile position of mankind in Adam, and makes open for mankind the way to heaven. It is as if a door had been locked and was finally opened by Christ. He welcomes all to enter the door, even though not all will do so. The door is open to all, even through all don't enter. The media has confused an open door with everyone having passed through it.

To reiterate, universal "redemption" does not mean everyone will go to heaven. When Pope Francis says Christ "redeemed" atheists, it is incorrect to interpret that as him saying atheists are "off the hook." The media behaved as if the Church did not previously believe Christ's redemption was universal. To hold the position that Christ's work effects only a select group of persons and that all others are "passed over" is the concept of "limited atonement," native only to a few Christian traditions, such as Calvinism.

The MSN post went so far as to claim Pope Francis has parted ways with Pope Benedict on the matter, which is likewise nonsensical, but may represent a lingering resentment toward Pope Benedict whom the media often misrepresented or derided.

Doing good is a place for believers and non-believers to "meet"
If one simply reads what the Pope actually said, the place believers and atheists can "meet" by "doing good," is simply a place where good is done together, which can lead to a "path toward peace." Again, it would be to add to the Pope's words to say this statement lets atheists "off the hook." Rather, the Pope is merely identifying a common ground where believers and non-believers can "meet" because doing good is written on everyone's heart. It's a starting point. From there, the Church's hope, as we will see further below, is that all souls unite with the Church.

So can an atheist go to heaven?
In Catholic theology, anyone who goes to heaven goes there because they belong to Christ's Church. That is a consistently taught dogma of the faith. Three paragraphs in the Catechism shed light on the matter (emphasis mine):

846 How are we to understand ["Outside the church there is no salvation"] often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body: Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.
847 This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church: Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.
848 "Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men."
So the answer to can an atheist go to heaven "may" only be affirmative if such atheists "through no fault of their own" are ignorant of the Gospel, but "seek God with a sincere heart," trying to do God's will to the best of their ability. This means their heart is so disposed that if they properly received the Gospel, they would embrace Christ. Remember, this particular teaching is presuming a person is innocently ignorant of the Gospel. Only to such souls would this apply. The Church says that such persons "may" attain salvation if they are of the disposition to receive Christ and thus "may" be in an extenuating way united to that body of Christ apart from which there is no salvation. Ultimately, the Church does not know, concluding "in ways known to [God]" might such salvation through Christ occur.

Not in doubt is that the Church teaches no salvation apart from Christ. If the media cited intentionally misrepresented the Pope's words in order to make it appear as if he teaches that salvation exists apart from Christ, their action is condemnable and even disgraceful.

Getting back to the question at hand, one may ask how an "atheist" can "seek God with a sincere heart" since atheism by definition declares there is no God. I suppose the declaration of atheism would itself have to be a product of that soul's innocent ignorance of the Gospel or even of the existence of God. It may be impossible for there to be such a person who genuinely denies the existence of God yet seeks Him with a sincere heart. I say this because it would seem merely the act of "seeking" would disqualify the person as a genuine atheist. Rather, such a person is probably more fittingly called "agnostic," or uncertain of whether there is a God, yet still seeks.

Ultimately, as paragraph 848 concludes, Catholics must present the truth of the Gospel to all souls and not depend on some unknown, extenuating way God "may" unite them to the Church.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Correcting John MacArthur on Catholicism and works

This past Wed. Jan. 25, one of John MacArthur's sermons titled "The Gospel Satisfies the Sinner’s Need" aired on the radio in two parts. Here is the first excerpt that caught my Catholic ear:
All religion, with the exception of the truth, follows one line. It is all a religious effort on the part of man to achieve a rightness with God. I call it the "Religion of Human Achievement." All of it. Doesn't matter what it is. Doesn't matter if it's the worship of Molak, which I was describing, the worship of Ba'al, the worship of Allah, it doesn't matter what it is. It doesn't matter if you're a Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, a Roman Catholic. If you are a Shintoist, a Buddhist, a Hindu, doesn't matter what it is, or some minor religion unknown to most people, they are all the same. They are all purveyors of the big lie that you can make yourself right with whatever god you think exists by your own efforts. There's only one kind of false religion, and that's it, it just comes under many, many labels. The suggestions are endless, but they all involve human effort and human achievement––following certain behaviors morally, and certain behaviors ceremonially, and certain behaviors religiously––you can make yourself right with God. (quote aired 1/25/12)
First, although this is not an apologetic for Eastern philosophies, it seems MacArthur speaks erroneously about their beliefs as well. For instance, regarding Buddhism, though there are different philosophies in Buddhism, Buddhanet states: "Do Buddhist believe in god? No, we do not." The Wikipedia entry on "God in Buddhism" begins with: "The non adherence to the notion of a omnipotent creator deity or a prime mover is seen by many as a key distinction between Buddhism and other religions." So without even delving into Catholicism, MacArthur's blanket, repeated mantra that "all religions," "doesn't matter what it is," advance a big lie about humans going through some motions to get "right with God" is a reckless, incorrect statement.

On his website, MacArthur gives evidence as to why he claims Catholics believe in a "make yourself right" method of justification. His article, The Doctrine of Saving Faith, part 2, reads:
The Council of Trent repeatedly repudiated the doctrine of justification by faith alone. In fact, the Council said, "Unless hope and love are added to faith, it never unites a man perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of His body," session 6 chapter 7. You cannot be made right with God by faith alone. And the Catholic scheme, justification means God's grace is poured forth into the sinner's heart through the Sacraments, through various Masses and experiences like that, religious ceremonies, the person then receiving this grace mixes this grace with his own effort and his own works and becomes progressively more righteous. It is then the sinner's responsibility to preserve and increase that grace by various good works. You mix the works with the grace so that justification is not sola fide, by faith alone.
This is his explanation of Catholic teaching. He is wrong. Nowhere does the Council of Trent say anything about "mixing" one's "own" works with "grace." MacArthur injected these ideas into the text. (MacArthur in that article goes on to further criticize sacraments. See my prior treatment of MacArthur's misunderstanding of sacraments in the article: Sacrawhat? Misconceptions about Sacraments.)

The quote from Trent he is criticizing here is right out of 1 Corinthians 13, which states part: "[I]f I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." (v. 2) Shall MacArthur initiate a diatribe against St. Paul for daring to say love must be added to faith, just as the Council of Trent reiterated? Paul's chapter ends with: "So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." (v. 13)

But let's go back to MacArthur's notion that if works of love justify along with faith, those works must be something a person does apart from grace. He assumes that is what Catholics think, even though Trent says no such thing. On this point, MacArthur exhibits a double standard. Here's why.

The second broadcast of MacArthur's sermon aired the following day, Jan. 26. In it, he stated:
Salvation comes by faith. Back again to Romans 4:5, He justifies the ungodly because his faith is credited as righteousness. That is an amazing and magnanimous gift, isn't it? For by grace are you saved through faith, Ephesians 2:8-9, that not of yourselves, even that is a gift of God. Simply by believing, by believing. Over in verse 20 of chapter 4, again, we're still talking about Abraham, verse 20 says with respect to the promise of God he didn't waver in unbelief, grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, being fully assured that what God had promised He was able to perform, therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. Do you understand this exchange? You give to God faith, He gives you His righteousness. That's why we say salvation is by faith alone. Sola fide. Faith alone. By believing. And even that believing is a gift of God.
First off, let me say, there's nothing I really disagree with in this excerpt, other than the notion of "credited" righteousness. But regarding faith, it is indeed a gift. For instance, CCC#162 reads: "Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man." No problem there.

In recognizing the gift of faith, MacArthur correctly does not confuse man's faith as man's effort. Even though a person exercises faith, and by it is justified, it is not man making a "human effort" of his "own" of faith, justifying "himself."

However, MacArthur does not afford the Catholic the same courtesy when it comes to man's works. He can see that faith is a gift of grace, but he fails to see that Catholics believe works are a gift of grace as well.

Above, we saw MacArthur quote from Trent 6.7 in his effort to claim Catholics believe they justify themselves with their "own" works "mixed" with "grace." But if he had only given pause a few paragraphs further, he could have avoided the error.
Jesus Christ Himself continually infuses his virtue into the said justified,-as the head into the members, and the vine into the branches,-and this virtue always precedes and accompanies and follows their good works, which without it could not in any wise be pleasing and meritorious before God . . . God forbid that a Christian should either trust or glory in himself, and not in the Lord, whose bounty towards all men is so great, that He will have the things which are His own gifts be their merits. (Trent 6.16)
This unravels MacArthur's claim that Catholics teach works are something alien to grace, something he describes as the "Doctrine of Human Achievement." Just as MacArthur correctly believes of faith, Catholics believe true good works1 are also Christ's "gifts." Trent actually gasps at the idea "that a Christian should either trust of glory in himself" even though MacArthur claims the Church teaches the opposite!

And so the teaching that Catholics believe in the power of their "human effort" to justify themselves is a fictional product of MacArthur's own design, not one of the Catholic Church.

Remember the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-28). (I'll focus on the Matthean account for the purpose of this post.) In the parable, the master gives varying measures of gifts to each of his three servants. In the parable, the gifts are talents, or degrees of money. The first two servants later return their talents to the master with a profit. The third servant, however, hid the master's talent in the ground, essentially squandering the master's gift.

Placing this parable in view of judgment, the first two servants are told, "enter into the joy of your master." (Matt. 14:21,23) The third servant is said to have been sent off where "men will weep and gnash their teeth," (Matt. 14:30) which, to Matthew, is a figure of hell. (Matt. 14:40-42)

In examining this parable, a figure of reality, what gift does man receive from God which he returns to God that affects his salvation? The clearest answer, I think, is grace (not to exclude other valid understandings of the talents in this text). Paul echoes the financial figure of grace when he says God gives "according to the riches of his grace." (Eph. 1:7) Paul also teaches that the measures of grace are not identical when he says we have "gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them." (Rom. 12:6) Grace fits with the figure of talents.

Cornelius Lapide, the 16th/17th century Catholic exegete wrote of the Parable of the Talents:
By talents understand all the gifts of God, without which we can do nothing. These gifts are, I say—1st Of grace, both making grateful, such as faith, hope, charity, virginity, and all the other virtues, as well as those of grace given gratis—such as the power of working miracles, the Apostolate, the Priesthood, the gift of tongues, prophecy, etc. (Lapide, Comment on Matthew 25)
And he goes on to acknowledge that the talents can also be seen as other gifts as well. (Notice also that Lapide, contradicting MacArthur's description of Catholicism, says "we can do nothing" without God's gifts.)

In recognizing these aspects of the parable, we see the Council of Trent's description of works. Trent says, "He will have the things which are His own gifts be their merits." That is exactly what happened in the parable. The talents were the master's investment in his own servants, who could not have utilized the talents without first receiving them. The third servant received the same gift, but failed to utilize it.

Another way to look at it is this. If we are members of Christ's body, it is not against Christ for his own bodily members to work. MacArthur doesn't understand man's work in this way. He only understands man's work as something disconnected with Christ, something man "mixes" with grace rather than the extension of grace, just as he believes correctly of man's faith. In criticizing the value of works done in Christ, MacArthur unwittingly denies the efficacy of grace!

1True good works of love and adherence to the New Covenant are not to be confused with the "works of the law" from the Old Covenant condemned by Paul: "For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law." (Rom. 3:28)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

St. Paul taught one Savior for Gentile or Jew

Following is a paper I did in my Pauline Soteriology master's class. It is a critique of the book Reinventing Paul by John S. Gager.

In the book Reinventing Paul, John S. Gager proposed the admittedly novel idea that Paul taught two paths to eternal salvation. For Jews, this path remains unchanged from the Old Covenant. For Gentiles (aka. Greeks), this path is rooted in faith in Jesus Christ. “Paul does not conceive of Israel’s salvation with reference to Christ,” wrote Gager (46).
The path for salvation Gager posited for the Jews was not entirely clear. He cited a fourth century Rabbi’s opinion that “[t]he word of the Lord went forth in two aspects, slaying the heathen who would not accept it, but giving life to Israel who accepted the Torah” (56). In a negative way, Gager more often advanced the idea that Israel is not saved through faith in Christ (e.g. 46).
To stick close to the three-to-four page parameter of this assignment, I will just present a few of the more glaring errors in Gager’s conclusions. These should suffice to dismantle his premises that Jews can attain salvation apart from Christ.
Paul only preached to Gentiles in the synagogues?
One of Gager’s mantras is the claim that Paul’s audience was invariably Gentile, and therefore when Paul rejected such Israelite practices like circumcision, he only meant it applied to Gentiles (e.g. 52). Gager insisted Paul only ever focused on Gentiles (51, 68) to support his theory that Paul was not condemning OT ordinances for Jews since his audience was always Gentile. Yet Gager does not address Acts 18:4 which reads: “And [Paul] argued in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded Jews and Greeks.” Furthermore, Gager never considers that the reason Paul rejects OT ordinances for Gentiles could be because they neither save Gentiles nor Jews.
Christ not the Messiah for Jews?
Gager denied that Paul understood Jesus as the Messiah anticipated by the Jews. “For Paul, Jesus is neither a new Moses, nor the Messiah, he is not the climax of . . . God’s dealings with Israel, but he is the fulfillment of God’s promises concerning the Gentiles” (142). This is problematic. For example, in Acts 17, Paul preached in the synagogues “of the Jews” (v.1) that “[t]his Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ” (v.3). This resulted in some of them being persuaded as well as “many of the devout Greeks” (v.4). The context distinguishes part of the audience from the Greeks who were also there. Both parties were persuaded. To validate the notion that Jews were included as the intended audience of Paul’s preaching of Jesus as the Christ anticipated by the Jews, we can continue in Acts 17 when Paul and Silas preached to the Berean Jews. The Bereans searched the Scriptures to see if what Paul said about Christ was true. These Berean Jews, again distinct from the “Greeks” (v.12) present, believed.
Gager’s dismissal of Galatians 3:28
One of the more straightforward verses supporting the traditionalist view is Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This is stated immediately after Paul teaches that baptism unites one to Christ. Gager denied that the Jew has any such connection to Jesus Christ, and certainly wouldn’t be bound to Christian baptism.
Gager expends few words on this verse, dismissing it by quoting his theological ally on this matter, Lloyd Gaston. Gaston says the purpose of this verse is to affirm that “as women do not need to become men . . . so Jews do not need to become Gentiles nor do Gentiles need to become Jews” (90). Gager adds: “It is a formula of inclusion, not exclusion” (90). Gager is correct that the verse is one of inclusion. But it does not mean what Gager argues throughout the book – that salvation for Jews is not in Christ. Gager’s brief dismissal does not reflect what the text says. The text says the Jews are among the “all” who are “one in Christ,” which is damning to Gager’s position. He gives these words in the verse no attention.
The irony in Gager’s escape here is that he insisted that traditionalists, ever looking at the text with “Western” (51) or “modern” (e.g. 72) bias “complete [Paul’s] sentences for him, to supply missing words, and . . . make explicit what he leaves unspoken” (23, cf. 110). Yet, this is precisely what Gager does to the text of Romans 3:28. The traditionalist view is consistent with the text. Jews are included – in Christ.
Gager’s dismissal of Romans 3:30
I will include the pertinent Greek words in the verse that reveal the flaw in Gager’s interpretation. Using Gager’s translation, Romans 3:30 reads: “God will justify the circumcised out of faith (ek pistis) and the uncircumcised through faith (dia pistis).” In verses 22, 24, and 26, Paul described faith as being “in Jesus.” However, Gager denies that verse 30’s two mentions of faith both refer to faith in Christ. He claims the different prepositions preceding the word faith indicate the different kinds of faith necessary to Jews and to Gentiles. He does not believe Paul is simply using different ways of saying both Jews and Gentiles are justified by faith in Christ.
Gager wrote: “[T]he use of different prepositions (ek and dia) with pistis points to different paths for Jews and Gentiles . . .” (121). The rule Gager imposed on the text is that ek pistis is faith for Jews and dia pistis is faith for Gentiles.
But this rule becomes extremely problematic when applying it to other verses. We see Paul using the term ek pistis in both Romans and Galatians to specifically refer to faith “in Christ” (e.g. Rom. 5:21, Gal. 3:22). Paul also uses the term dia pistis elsewhere to mean faith “in Christ” (e.g. Eph. 2:8). In other words, citing the Greek in Romans 3:30 only hurts Gager’s position because Paul used the terms ek pistis and dia pistis interchangeably to mean faith in Christ.