Ancient Quotation of the Day

I like this aphorism from Horace (quoted by St. Augustine in City of God, I.3 online here; I quote from this edition):

New vessels will for long retain the taste
Of what is first poured into them.

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Posted in Augustine, Books, Western Civilization

Giving to the poor is not faith alone

If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. (Matthew 19:21)

Jesus did not call the rich young ruler a liar when he claimed to have kept the commandments from his youth. He who knows our thoughts took the young man at his word and told him what he still lacked just as he asked.

Jesus did not tell him, “What you lack is faith.” Jesus did not say to him, “What you need to do is believe.” He did not say anything remotely like these things. Instead He told the man what he should do: sell his possessions and give to the poor. How then can it be said that one can be saved by trusting in Christ alone — that nothing else can supplement nor supplant that single thing of trust in Christ?

How can this be? It is unreasonable to suggest that we should read back a particular interpretation of St. Paul into Christ’s words. If anything, we should read Christ’s words into what St. Paul said, particularly since there is good reason to think that St. Paul did not hold to sola fide as formulated by Protestants. It makes no sense to interpret the master by the disciple; we should interpret the disciple by the Master, since we have the Master’s words themselves. It is furthermore unreasonable to suggest that the words of Jesus in Matthew 19 are unclear, so that we should use clearer texts to help us understand Him. No. Jesus is perfectly comprehensible in Matthew 19 — if we do not make assumptions that obfuscate what He says there. He told the rich young ruler that he would have treasure in heaven if he sold his goods and gave to the poor. It may be reasonable to suppose that Jesus does not intend to exclude faith, but it is just absurd to say that the rich young ruler would not have treasure in heaven if he did exactly what Jesus said!

(Related posts: neither repentance, nor baptism, nor love, nor forgiveness, nor confessing Christ, is faith alone)

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Posted in Faith, gospel, Justification, Sola Fide

Confessing Christ is not faith alone

I thought I was done with my recent series of posts, but then I stumbled upon this and decided to add one more. The theme of these posts is that the Protestant doctrine of sola fide (justification by faith alone) contradicts the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles. We have examined passages which teach us that repentance, baptism, love, and forgiving others are all necessary for salvation in addition to faith. In this post we learn that confessing Christ is also necessary.

Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father (Matthew 10:32-33)

And:

Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (ibid., verse 38)

Suffering for Christ is a form of confessing Him as well. But Jesus says that if we do not take up our crosses for Him, we are not worthy of Him. The implication is that (like verse 33 says) he will deny us before the Father if we refuse our crosses. I do not see how suffering can be said to be the same as faith, and so once again it appears that faith must not be alone in us. Of course, this is a bit situational. It does not seem that everyone is asked to suffer. Nevertheless, woe is me if I refuse to suffer for Jesus on the day that I am called to it whether I have faith or not!

There is also this:

For, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. (Romans 10:9-10)

St. Paul — to whom Protestants most often appeal in order to support the doctrine of sola fide — says here that we must not only believe but that we must also confess Jesus to be Lord. I do not have the luxury to sit in my chair, believing I am saved while keeping silent about Him. This is exactly the same thing that Jesus said, as we saw above. So once again we see that faith, while necessary, must be accompanied by something more. Sola fide is mistaken to the extent that it denies these other essentials for our salvation.

I hope that this series has been helpful to you, gentle reader. If these posts help us not only to understand the truth better but to live in accordance with it better out of love for God, then they will have achieved their purpose.

[Update 25 March 2016]

St. Luke reports much the same thing as St. Matthew:

Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:26)

Faith that is ashamed of Christ will find Christ to be ashamed in return.

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Posted in Faith, gospel, Sola Fide

Forgiveness is not faith alone

For my last trick before I go slinking off into hibernation again, I offer another post examining the Protestant doctrine of sola fide in the light of other things taught in the Bible. Previous posts in this miniseries may be found here, here, and here.

Today’s first passage of interest is from the Our Father/Lord’s Prayer and following:

And forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors;

If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions. (Matthew 6:12, 14-15; emphasis added)

The Lord Jesus offers commentary upon a single petition of the prayer that He taught us. Presumably then it is safe to say that He wants to draw our attention to that particular petition. It is the petition we offer for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus warns us that if we do not forgive others, then our Heavenly Father will not forgive our sins either. In other words forgiveness is not something we can choose to do or not do if we would like to be forgiven. In still other words, it is not enough to hold to sola fide. For if we have faith alone and unaccompanied by forgiveness for the sins committed against us then Jesus says that we will not be forgiven ourselves! Please note, too, that this not a “one-time” prayer, as though we only need to forgive others once. No. The Lord’s Prayer/Our Father is both a pattern for all our prayers and a prayer to be prayed often itself. This petition serves as a constant reminder to us that we must forgive.

This is not the only place that Our Lord makes this point. He says the same in the parable of the unforgiving servant:

Then Peter approaching asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt.

At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.

When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt.

Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’

Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt.

So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35; emphasis added)

The frightful thing here is that the wicked servant had already been forgiven when he was brought back before his master and condemned for being unforgiving. So I do not think that there is much question, is there, about the importance of a forgiving heart? Likewise I do not think there is any question at all as to whether sola fide is compatible with what Jesus has taught in these two passages. Clearly it isn’t. If my salvation is contingent upon whether I forgive others (as Jesus clearly says) then mere faith alone is not sufficient to warrant salvation.

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Posted in Faith, Forgiveness, gospel, Sola Fide

Love is not faith alone

I stumbled across the grist for this mill just reading through Scripture. It has inspired a second and now this third post on the same general theme. I hope I am not boring you, gentle reader. My theme in these posts of course has been that there is a fundamental contradiction between what Jesus and the Apostles say about justification and the Protestant belief that one is saved by faith alone. In the first of the triad I considered the incongruity between how Jesus preached (“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”) and sola fide. In the second, I looked at what St. Peter said on Pentecost one must do in order to be saved (“Repent and be baptized”). In today’s episode we shall wander around in the Bible a tiny bit, considering the place of love in our salvation.

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:36-39)

And:

Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19)

The Lord Jesus tells us that the greatest commandments are to love God above all and to love our neighbors as ourselves. He also affirms that these commandments don’t go out of style or otherwise get old: they are eternal (okay, he does not specifically refer to the Love Commands in the Sermon on the Mount, but they are both part of the Pentateuch and so they are surely in scope And if that’s not sufficient…well, see below). Now one question quickly comes to my mind. Is it possible to trust in God but not to love Him? I am going to go out on a limb and say that the answer is No way. I will also hazard a guess that the average Protestant agrees. I know, call me a risk-taker.

Digression: the notion of faith that is in view here differs from that which St. Thomas Aquinas has in mind when he says that one can have faith (by which he and Catholics normally mean an assent to everything revealed by God as true) but not charity (the gracious free gift of God by which we are empowered to love Him with a supernatural love). It is a dead faith, but it is faith nonetheless. What the Protestant typically means by faith is a different sense of the word — more in the sense of fiduciary faith or trust rather than assent — and this seems to me to be unquestionably incompatible with a lack of love for God: if you did not love Him, why on earth would you trust Him for anything? End of digression.

But my little rabbit trail there does serve to point to one thing that I believe is important: faith (in the Protestant or Catholic sense) is not the same thing as love. It is different. But we have just concluded that faith (Protestant sense) is incompatible with not loving God! We need both. But if we need both, then we clearly cannot possibly be saved by faith alone. Hence sola fide falls apart if we stop to ask whether we must love God or not in order to be saved.

There is more to be said, though.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15)

And:

Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him. (John 14:21)

Will God save anyone that He does not love? Of course not (point of clarification: we are not speaking, of course, of the general sense in which God loves everything that He has made). But Jesus says here that the one who loves Him is the one who keeps His commandments, and that the consequence of that is that this man will be loved by the Father and by the Son. If this be true, then it is clear (to me at any rate) that loving God is not an optional thing; it’s not a “nice to have” tacked on at the end of our justification. No. It’s at the very heart of our salvation. But this too means that more than faith is necessary to be saved. So again we must conclude that sola fide cannot carry the load that is asked to shoulder.

Once again, there is still more to be said.

Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:8)

And:

If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)

And:

If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him? (1 John 3:17)

It is not enough to say that we love God. We must also love our brother, because (as St. John says) it is impossible to really love God (whom we have never seen) if we don’t even love our neighbor (whom we have seen). And that love for our neighbor should be characterized by action, as St. John points out in 1 John 3:17.

So — once again we see that according to Sacred Scripture it is not enough to have faith in God. We must love Him, and we must love our neighbor.

These are sobering words for anyone. As with love for God, loving our neighbor is not a “nice-to-have” thing for someone else. I do not get to say that it is not for me. It is the heart of the Gospel. We must believe, and we must love. Lord God, forgive my lovelessness and teach me to love even as I have been loved by You.

[Update, 21 March 2016]

Another passage related to this same question:

[W]hoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother. (Mark 3:35)

I become the brother of Jesus by doing God’s will, not merely by the exercise of faith.

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Posted in Charity, gospel, Sola Fide

Baptism is not faith alone

A long time ago in a blog far, far away I wrote about today’s subject as part of a larger article. It seems like an appropriate moment, given the topic of yesterday’s post, to return to the passage I discussed in part of that old essay.

St. Peter preached his first sermon on Pentecost not long after the Holy Spirit had come upon him and the rest of the disciples (Acts 2:1-4). His message (Acts 2:14-36) was powerful and efficacious. The response of the crowd was this:

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What are we to do, my brothers?” (Acts 2:37)

So here Peter stands after giving the first evangelistic message of the Christian era, and he has been asked by his audience what their response to the Gospel should be. I think that it is safe to say that if there is ever a time in the Bible when — if it was true — we should expect to hear an apostle resoundingly announce the doctrine of sola fide justification: if there is ever a time to hear it, surely it is here.

Except we don’t.

Peter [said] to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)

And later we see that this is exactly what happened: three thousand were baptized that day (Acts 2:41).

Now it would be plainly absurd if we were to suppose that St. Peter’s words here mean that faith is not necessary in order to be saved just because he did not mention it. We know that faith is necessary for salvation. And, dear reader, it would likewise be plainly absurd if we were to suppose on the contrary that repentance and baptism are not necessary for salvation! After all, these are the only two things St. Peter saw fit even to mention!

Consider: St. Peter preaches the first sermon ever, and he is asked what response to the Gospel is required. He is asked this by people who are prone to locate justification in the things that they do, which is why they asked the question that they did (“What are we to do?”). Does he tell them, “You do not have to do anything. Indeed, you must not. You must only have faith in Christ alone for your salvation.” Is what he said on that day anything like this?

Of course it isn’t.

And so it is clear that it would be a mistake to say that St. Peter’s message is a message of justification by faith alone (as the Protestant would have it). To the contrary, there are at least two other things that are necessary.

  • Repentance. This is nothing more than what Jesus said, as we saw yesterday. We must (at the least) be truly sorry for our sins against God and determined to live a new life ordered to holiness, to loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
  • Baptism. This is nothing less than what Jesus commanded before He ascended (Matthew 28:19), and nothing other than what He said to Nicodemus (John 2).

Whatever else St. Peter might have said or could have said, it is surely safe to say that what he did say is true. He didn’t get things wrong on that first Pentecost Sunday. No, he got them right.

Well, so what?

Well, the so what is this: in the light of what St. Peter says in Acts 2:38 it is unreasonable to conclude that the Gospel may be rightly summed up as “justification by faith alone,” or “Jesus plus nothing.” It is unreasonable to say that there is nothing which we must do that must accompany our faith. We must repent. We must be baptized. These things being so, it is reasonable to conclude that the sine qua non of Protestantism is incompatible with what St. Peter said on Pentecost just as it is incompatible with the message that Jesus preached (as we saw yesterday).

[Update, 20 March 2016]

On the same subject we also find the words of the Lord Jesus in Mark 16:

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. (verse 16; emphasis added)

Jesus says in effect that faith and baptism go together. You can’t have one without the other.

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Posted in Faith, gospel, Sola Fide

Repentance is not faith alone

In Matthew 4:17 the Lord’s preaching is summarized by St. Matthew in this way: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. I say that Matthew summarized the Lord’s preaching thusly because we do not find many occasions in the Gospels where Jesus is reported to have actually used this expression. That’s not to say that He never did, of course, but because we have examples of all sorts of sermons and messages that He preached, it seems fair to conclude that Matthew’s point is that Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand is the essential point of what the Lord Jesus proclaimed.

I think that this is an important observation to make because it gives us a rule of thumb for understanding Jesus’s teaching. If we find ourselves confused by something that He said, will any light be shed upon it by holding it up against Matthew’s summary? I think that it would, and I do not think this is an unreasonable expectation so long as we do not make a Procrustean bed out the thing, forcing literally everything said by the Lord to fit just so. One reason that I think this is important is that it I believe that this verse fundamentally undermines the Protestant notion of sola fide. Here’s why.

To repent of something is to do something different from exercising faith. To exercise faith, in the Protestant view, is to trust in Christ alone for salvation: Jesus plus nothing. But that is definitely not what Jesus says here. In fact, faith is nowhere to be seen in Matthew 4:17, really. Now it would of course be going rather too far to conclude from this that faith is not necessary for our salvation. It is necessary. But it would be going beyond St. Matthew’s summary of the Lord’s preaching to say that sola fide is what Jesus meant. There are perfectly useful words that express the the idea of faith alone, and Jesus does not use them. He does not say, “Trust in Me alone, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand;” He does not say, “Have faith (alone);” He does not say “All you have to do is believe in Me” either. No. What He said is repent.

So what does repentance look like? Well, whether one is Protestant or Catholic there’s just no denying that repentance means quite a bit more than merely having faith. It includes being sorry for our sins, in such a way that we start working to change how we live our lives. Of course, Catholics say that it means other things as well but in general Protestants would at least agree that merely being sorry for what you’ve done is not sufficient. A change of life is in view, such that we begin to pursue holiness and to love God and our neighbor.

This repentance is that to which Jesus calls us on the grounds that the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. He does not tell us to have faith alone. He tells us to change our lives. We cannot do this, of course, apart from the grace of God. But repentance is fundamental to Jesus’s message. Lord, help us to live lives of repentance such as please You, because we love You and want to be like You.

[Update, 19 March 2016]

I have said elsewhere that I am no expert. And this little addendum just shows to go you, because if I had any sort of scholarly bent at all I might have sought this out when I first published this post. Oh well. 😉

I said above that repentance is distinct from faith. Don’t take my word for it. The Gospel of St. Mark says this in chapter one:

Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (verses 14-15; emphasis added)

[Update, 23 March 2016]

John the Baptist’s preaching is consistent with the notion that true repentance is more than merely being sorry for my sins.

Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance. (Luke 3:8)

And:

Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire (Luke 3:9).

The life of the truly repentant man is one marked by the pursuit of holiness “without which no one will see the Lord.” So we see that more than mere faith is in view in Gospel preaching.

[Update, Easter 2016]

I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! (Luke 13:5)

Jesus does not say, “If you do not believe, you will all perish”. He repeats this message of repentance twice here (also see Luke 13:3). He doesn’t mention faith here. Of course that does not mean that faith is unnecessary. But the fact that He does insist upon repentance must surely mean something: it means that faith alone is not enough. We must also repent.

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Posted in Faith, gospel, Sola Fide

No room for black-or-white thinking

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Posted in Charity, Comment Guidelines, Fides et Ratio

American Capitalism is Broken

American Capitalism is just plain broken.

Why do I say that? Because American Capitalism has in essence declared that its god is the Almighty Dollar. And in such circumstances as these, the problem identified by Pope St. John Paul II cannot be escaped.

True development cannot consist in the simple accumulation of wealth and in the greater availability of goods and services, if this is gained at the expense of the development of the masses, and without due consideration for the social, cultural and spiritual dimensions of the human being. (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis §9)

So long as development is reduced to the question of how many goodies I can collect, capitalism remains hopelessly broken and will never bear the fruit that the gift of private property ought to bear. The system must be fixed. St. John Paul II offers a remedy.

I wish to appeal with simplicity and humility to everyone, to all men and women without exception. I wish to ask them to be convinced of the seriousness of the present moment and of each one’s individual responsibility, and to implement — by the way they live as individuals and as families, by the use of their resources, by their civic activity, by contributing to economic and political decisions and by personal commitment to national and international undertakings — the measures inspired by solidarity and love of preference for the poor. (ibid., §47; emphasis added)

Why does he call upon all of us for this great task? Because, quite frankly, those with the power and the gold are not going to give up either their power or their gold for the sake of the poor. It is up to us, the Holy Father essentially says.

Once upon a time I had a discussion (perhaps I am charitably describing it) with someone who simply rejected the notion that human beings have a right to something better than the barest existence. This person may have supposed that if we start talking about rights then we start talking about the involvement of the State. But if we cannot agree at the very least that man has a right to something better than “living” in a mud heap without reference to any particular order for delivering that right — if we cannot agree on something so fundamental as this then it seems like waiting for a consensus before action is taken is the wrong answer. This is why, I think, the Holy Father calls us to the personal commitments that he does in the encyclical we are perusing. The poor have waited long enough.

What does this commitment look like? I can’t tell you. I do not think that the Holy Father would have tried to tell you. But it is something that we must think about and pray about and then act upon. With God’s help we can do what is right in our small corners of the world.

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Posted in America, Charity, John Paul II, Natural Law, Rerum Novarum

Pray for Strength

Advent is a unique season of the ecclesial year and one that is uniquely misunderstood. It is not solely about the coming of the Lord as the Son of Mary, a baby in the manger. It is also about the coming of the Lord in judgment at world’s end. This is why it is a penitential season. And it is also why the first Gospel reading of Advent includes this from the book of Luke.

Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man. (Luke 21:36)

Be vigilant and pray, says the Lord Jesus. Why? So that we may have strength. Strength for what? Strength to escape “the tribulations that are imminent” and also to stand before the Son of Man. That is rather alarming. Please note that Jesus is not talking to just anyone here; He is telling this to His disciples, including the Apostles. Why should they of all people need to pray for strength to stand before Him?

This does not mean that He considered them to be unbelievers (Judas excepted of course). In fact I suspect that there are at least a few people who would confirm that strength is just exactly what one needs when he stands before God.

Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts! (Isaiah 6:5)

And:

We will certainly die, for we have seen God. (Judges 13:22)

And:

Now, why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the Lord, our God, any more, we shall die. (Deuteronomy 5:25)

Do not the Lord’s words of warning sound very much in keeping with what Isaiah, Manoah, and all Israel thought when they were in God’s presence? “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31. So it makes sense, it seems to me, for this to be a penitential season. We are preparing to meet our God at His coming! Yes, there will be joy for His people but God is an infinitely awesome God. Who can have the heart to stand in the presence of such a great God? I think this is why Jesus tells us to pray that we may have strength to stand before Him. Advent is not only about Christmas. The Day of the Lord is both great and terrible (Malachi 3:23).

But who can endure the day of his coming?
Who can stand firm when he appears? (Malachi 3:2)

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