Catholicism Part 2: Conversing with Catholics
The true church?
It could be argued that historically the Catholic Church has a better claim to be the only true church; it claims to have been founded by the people we read about in the bible and boasts an unbroken line of leadership stretching back to the church we read about in acts.
As we discovered in Part 1 the Catholic Church recognizes 3 authorities as the sources of faith, the bible, traditions and the papacy. With the papacy as the head deciding what is included as scripture and tradition and also how they should be interpreted. Now we will be looking what that authority teaches, and why despite claiming an unbroken chain back to the original church there are many Catholic doctrines that are not from the bible.
The Catholic Jesus
Perhaps the most important discussion to have with a Catholic is, who is Jesus and what has he done for me? The bible makes it abundantly clear that eternal life, relationship with God and admittances into heaven is freely given once and forever by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.
However the Catholic perception of how Jesus saves those that follow him is radically different. If a Catholic is asked how are you saved? The initial response will be the same 'I am saved through the death of Christ by grace', however there are several extra requirements for salvation.
Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God's wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions.
'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.' Taken from CCC, (Part three: life in Christ, Section one Man’s vocation life in the Spirit, Chapter Three God’s Salvation: Law and Grace, Article 2 Grace and Justification, III Merit, 2010-2011)
In short the initial salvation from what you have done in your past is washed away; we are justified freely as the bible teaches. However the key distinction is that ‘we can merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification.’ So the future of our salvation according to Catholics is in our own hands. God can amplify our good deeds to ensure there supernatural quality and make them ‘good enough’ for God. For a Catholic the free gift of salvation and Grace is important but not completely sufficient. Grace alone saves us past tense but does not keep us saved, present and future tense. A Catholic believes he is does not continue to be saved by grace alone. Ephesians 2:8 makes it abundantly clear how God’s grace saves us.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.
It is by grace (God’s free gift), through faith (a relationship with God) and not from yourselves. So therefore we have been saved from what we have done and we will be saved from any future sin. We are under God's protection from the moment we enter into a loving relationship with him.
However a Catholic understanding of how grace operates could be put like this. It is by grace (God’s free gift) we have been saved from what we have done and it is by our good/meritorious works combined with grace that we will be saved from future sin. Therefore this instant we may or may not be saved.
The Catholic Church believe the instant that salvation happens is not when someone first instigates relationship with God but rather at the point of baptism. The Council of Trent (a Catholic council to counter the claims of the reformation) states the following “if anyone shall say that baptism is optional, that is, not necessary for salvation: let him be anathema”. The ritual of baptism is the thing that imparts God's saving grace (past tense).
So a Catholic is given grace so that he may spend the rest of his life being constantly wary of always doing good to ensure his ongoing salvation. Furthermore the catholic concept of ‘mortal sins’ makes his salvation even less secure.
What is a Mortal sin?
A mortal sin is a category of sin that the Catholic church believe will cause you to lose your salvation, regardless of whether you have been baptised or have lived a full life honouring to God full of meritous works. A mortal sin hits the reset button on your salvation. Obviously for a believing Catholic the idea of committing a mortal sin is truly terrifying.
“The result of mortal sin is the loss of sanctifying grace, the loss of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, remorse, and the punitive effect of eternal separation from God” Taken from The Catholic Concise encyclopaedia
If not dealt with a person who commits a mortal sin at any time will end up in hell. There are however a few qualifiers on the topic of mortal sins.
“We commit mortal sin when we transgress a commandment of God in a serious matter, with full knowledge, and free consent of will” Taken from Dogmatic Theology for the Laity
A sin one is forced to commit does not count as a mortal sin.
So what is included as mortal sins?
The Catechism of the Catholic church gives the following definition as to what is a mortal sin.
'For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: "Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent." Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: "Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother." The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger.' Taken from CCC Part Three: Life in Christ, Section one man’s vocation life in the spirit, Chapter one the dignity of the human person, Article 8 Sin, IV The Gravity of Sin: Mortal and Venial Sin. 1857-1858
This is a hazy definition in that the category of Mortal and Venial (lesser Sin) has several factors that vary on the given situation. Some mortal sins are of course obvious, for example a planned and premeditated murder done for purely selfish reasons. However the nuances of a situation are taken into account, for example the planned murder of a lifelong abuser by a captive, a planned assassination at wartime, bearing false witness to save someone’s life. These factors can be taken into account by the priest.
The doctrine of mortal sins gives an immense amount of power to the local priests. In the first instance by being able to diagnose a sin as mortal or not and secondly by being able to prescribe the cure for the mortal sin through penance.
What is Penance?
Penance is how you recover your standing with God after committing a mortal sin. Catholic theology recognises three parts of penance before you may spiritually recover.
This is akin to repentance, a sorrow in your heart and the intention to not repeat the offence. This will then cause you to seek out a priest, typically the sinner will then recite the following prayer or one like it.
‘O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended You. And I detest all my sins because of Your just punishment, but most of all because they offend You, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of Your grace to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life, Amen.’
This statement is followed by a reply from the priest.
‘God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Contrition and confession seem to happen simultaneously. Confession is verbally confessing to a priest your sins in their entirety in as much detail as can be remembered.
After Contrition and Confession the sinner is now right with God and has avoided the eternal punishment of the sins they have committed, the local priest as a representative of the Church has absolved the sin. However the temporal (earthly) punishment cannot be removed by the priest that is the consequences of sin. Avoiding the earthly punishment of the sins is achieved mainly through prayer, fasting and good deeds, the amount and level of which is given by the priest at the end of confession. For example a set of prescribed prayers e.g 10 Hail Marys and 5 Our Fathers.
The Hail Mary is a specific prayer asking Mary to pray to God on your behalf she mediates more effectively than simply praying to Christ as Jesus is more inclined to hear her pleas than ours.
Hail Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with thee;
blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
And 'our Fathers' is simply the Lord’s prayer, reciting the prayer over and over makes the prayer more effective.
A response to Mortal Sin, Confession and Penance.
The Bible makes no distinction between a venial sin and a mortal sin, it is true that the consequences of certain sins are worse than others however all sin is considered deadly as all sin separates us from God, all sin is mortal.
'For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.'
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
All sin leads to separation from God and all sin leads to eternal punishment there is no biblical distinction. This is of course terrible news, we have fallen short of the glory of God.
The Catholic Church holds confession very highly and rightly so it is good to confess our sins. In discussion it would be good to identify with the three parts of confession. Paul's second letter to the Corinthians shows us clearly what true repentance can do.
'Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.'
2 Corinthians 7:8-11
The recipient of the confession however is not the priest; this is not found in scripture. But we do find confession as a concept.
If we confess our sins, he (Jesus) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
The Greek words confess means to be in agreement or to assent the other is right. The biblical view of confession is to assent to the fact that God is right and I was wrong. Therefore confessing/recognising God as right and that Christ died so that we may be right too wipes the slate clean. 1 Timothy 2:5 states 'there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Jesus Christ.' The only path to God is through Jesus, both in relationship and prayer, the Catholic Church agree however claim convolutedly that there are mediators between Christ and God with different efficacy namely the Church via the priest and Mary.
In Catholic eyes the slate is clean only until a mortal sin stains it again however that is not the case. A good example of this is found in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
‘Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.’
In this verse Paul lists many sins that would be considered mortal sins that would separate the sinner from God. However they are justified by Jesus but it also says sanctified, these two words justified and sanctified are immensely important.
Justified – Dikaioo
To be regarded as innocent and free
Sanctified – Hagiazo
To be made holy ceremonially, mentally and spiritually
'Justified' is how you are currently regarded. You are regarded innocent for all you have done in the past, a debt wiped away. Whereas sanctified is effecting the character and nature of a person, to be made holy. So whilst we still can sin and often do by Jesus' blood we have been justified are still being justified and will be justified we also are sanctified and continue to be sanctified. Paul's use of these words show that Jesus himself personally absolved and will continue to absolve the sins of the Corinthians as the one and only effective priest.
The bible makes it abundantly clear that human effort to attain relationship with God and eternal life is impossible.
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.
Even the good we can do is tainted. Man is sinful, the catholic view of meritous works plus grace lifts up mens works and lessens the power of the grace of God. Grace by itself is wholly sufficient.
'But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
1 Corinthians 12:9
A key part of Paul's teaching is that the very fact we can’t make it on our own and God brings us back into relationship with himself, glorifies God which is the purpose of creation. Our helplessness and God's unconditional love is the correct dynamic for our relationship with our Heavenly Father. Our constant striving, aspiring and fear of a loving and yet constantly angry God is not a dynamic that brings glory to God. This is why Paul says that he will boast in his weakness because he recognises God completes what is lacking in him.
The Catholic view of Mass and Transubstantiation
Sacraments are immensely important to the Catholic Church, Catholic sacraments are baptism, penance, mass, confirmation, marriage, holy orders and the anointing of the sick. The Catholic Church teaches that these practices are containers of grace, in other words completing these rituals serve the function of imparting God’s grace to the faithful, without this grace of course salvation is impossible. As we have discussed they view grace in two ways, first initial grace, that wipes clean what has already been done and secondly grace that bolsters man’s own good works to make him presentable to God in the future. It it this second function of grace, to infuse grace with man’s own works that all sacraments after baptism bestows.
Interestingly the state of the person who ministers the sacrament is unimportant. It is the ritual itself when done correctly with a willing heart that conveys grace. This view of the sacraments ties believers to the Church very tightly, rather than a community worshipping God the local church serves as a spiritual petrol pump ensuring your good works will be good enough for God.
Perhaps the premium fuel as in the most effective of these sacraments is the Mass. The Catholic perception of the Mass is that you are re-sacrificing Christ or rather re-presenting the sacrifice of Christ. Mass the Catholic Church claim has the effect of appeasing God in precisely the same way as when Jesus was initially crucified.
It is for this reason the bizarre belief of transubstantiation is vital to Catholic theology, this simply means ‘change (trans) of substance’. The belief is that the bread and wine of the communion change into the literal body and blood of Christ. The purpose of this is to connect and bridge the congregation completing the Eucharist service wherever in the world it takes place to the sacrifice of Jesus in Judea. This is not something that is taken lightly, once the bread and wine is brought onto the alter and the prayer of consecration is said over it, from that point on it is treated with the upmost respect and reverence, to spill the wine or drop the bread after that point is akin to literally spilling Jesus' blood in vain. Before initiating the mass the following prayer is said, “We offer to you, God of glory and majesty, this holy and perfect sacrifice, the bread of life and the cup of eternal salvation”. The Catholic Mass is an offering to God like those done in the old covenant rather than a poignant reminder of the last sacrifice.
A response to Mass and Transubstantiation
The Catholic perception of the sacraments creates a relationship with God through ritual and the perception of a God that is constant need of appeasement and supplication much like the old pagan gods. God calls to worship him in spirit and truth (John 4:24) a relationship of the heart. As we discussed in the previous booklet the Catholic church recognises other authorities than the bible that being said there are many bible verses that are in direct conflict with the Catholic doctrine of the sacraments.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.
Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.
For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.
1 Timothy 2:5
Purgatory and Indulgence
The Catholic Church define purgatory in the Catechism of the Catholic Church,
‘All who die in God's grace and friendship, but are still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent (Both councils gathered to counter the reformation and the increasing availability of the bible in common languages to ordinary people). The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire: As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offences can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.' Taken from CCC (Part one: The Profession of Faith, Section Two I: the creeds, Chapter three I believe in the Holy Spirit, Article 12 “I believe in life everlasting”, III The final purification, or Purgatory.)
Purgatory therefore is a place of spiritual penitence so any who are in God’s ‘grace and friendship’ and yet still not quite good enough, can work off the remainder of their venial sins before being admitted to heaven. The doctrine of purgatory has a powerful psychological and emotional grip, the way you may pass through purgatory is either by simply serving your time there or by the intercession of your friends and relatives on your behalf. This is done according to the CCC in the following ways.
Offer prayers for them, (praying for their soul)
Completing Mass on their behalf
The use of Indulgences (a declaration given by the church that will lessen purgatory)
Works of penance
This is a powerful idea, when a relation or friend dies you can do something for them. As part of the grieving process you can still help your brother, mother, friend or relation to get through purgatory.
What are Indulgences?
The Catholic belief in indulgences was one of the main catalysts for the reformation. Once it was a mainstay of Catholic teaching whilst now it is barely taught yet still included in the Catholic deposit of faith. The Catholic Church claims it has the authority to reduce the sentence of purgatory the justification for this is Matthew 18 which we discussed in the previous booklet. ‘Truly I tell you whatever you (Peter) bind on earth will be bound in heaven.’ This is seen as part of the authority of the Papal office. The use of the term heaven is ambiguously thought to be purgatory and not actually heaven. When it uses this authority it gives out indulgences for certain tasks that are completed. In modern times indulgences are given out rarely and seems to be a doctrine that is being phased out. However during the medieval and Renaissance period they were often sold to raise funds for the Church specifically cathedral building projects and to fund the crusades. You could also pay for a priest to spend time praying for your soul so as speed up your time through purgatory. It was this behavior which the modern church does not condone that was one of the primary factors of the reformation.
Response to purgatory and indulgences
Purgatory is a temporary hell a place were virtually every catholic will spend some time before going to heaven, even the most zealous catholic cannot be assured that he will not spend time in this temporary hell. This Catholics claim is the good news that the bible talks about. Contrast the idea of purgatory with the following bible verses.
Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
'Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.'
1 Corinthians 15:1-8
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.
Purgatory is not compatible with the gospel. The good news is that Christ died for us and our sins are washed away. Jesus sacrifice was not half done but complete the bible is clear that Jesus sacrifice was free, unearned and complete.
‘It is finished’
I (Jesus) have brought you (God) glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.
The blood of Jesus, his son, purifies us from all sin.
There is now no condemnation in Christ.
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 2:2
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.
To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love.
For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
Conversing with Catholics
Encourage them to examine beliefs for themselves
As we have discussed the Catholic Church recognizes more than one authority on the deposit of faith. So to simply quote the appropriate bible verses and to claim they are incorrect because of these bible verses would be ineffective. However the Catholic position is that all three sources of authority are harmonious, that the traditions the bible and the Pope are all congruent. What this does is to show that this isn’t the case. We can ask how does the Catholic Church interpret this verse. Or this verse doesn’t seem to match well with the Catholic Churches teaching. What do you think this verse means? It is important for them to engage for themselves in what they believe and why. Rather than simply arguing a small point about purgatory or the nature of the priesthood invite them to read the scriptures themselves their own independent thought and reading will undermine the grip of the Catholic Churches interpretation.
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
To begin with it is not necessary to argue that the Catholic Church is wrong but simply that the bible is right and the two are not in fact congruent.
Of course before and during discussion prayer is essential for discussing the gospel with anybody, by praying for discussion in advance, silently during discussion as its happening and for the person afterwards.
Develop personal relationship and persevere with the truth
Catholics believe that you are saved in part by church attendance and church ordinances. They idea of completely free grace and redefining the concept of grace is something that may take time. If it seems probable that you can get to know them personally then do so before you ever broach the subject of faith. If however it is going to be a discussion with someone who you do not think you will see again then you can focus your attention on the gospel of grace.
There is a traditional animosity verbally, doctrinally and violently between Catholics and Protestants, we should avoid this connotation rather than pointing to the reformation or the reformers point to the apostles and Jesus. As always be full of love in discussion, Catholics have lived with the Word of God around them and had time to reflect on Jesus and his sacrifice perhaps under misguided teaching. Do not assume every Catholic is not a Christian or that every Catholic is a Christian, there will be things we can agree on however the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church is not Christian teaching. It does not stem from Christ; it was not taught by Christ but has developed since the time of Christ as an international organisation that has grown out of Rome.