Monday, June 29, 2009

The Difficult Gospel - Issues with Catholicism (1)

I wrote a very cynical previous blog about Bible Verses the Catholic Church would re-write. I did this not because I think the Catholic Church is wrong in it's teaching, but simply out of frustration. Frustration because of what I call "the difficult gospel". The bible says we are saved by many things: Grace, Faith (eph 2:8-9), Christ (rom 3), Works (Mt 25, Jms 2), Repentance (Ps 51, Mk 1:15), Baptism (2 Pet 3, Jn 3:5, Acts 2, Mk 16), Predestination (Eph 1), Hope (Rom 8), Love (1 Cor 13) , etc. The bible is full of things you're saved by. The first problem is that Protestantism simplifies (incorrectly I still believe) into a single sentence, and it is always stuck in the back of my mind. The second problem is that this makes reading the bible as a Catholic a painstaking labor. You can't read in Romans 3 that we are "freely justified by his grace" without having to remember that those who don't cooperate with his grace and produce good works end up being thrown in the fire according to John 15. You can't read Eph 2:8-9 without reading James 2:24-28. This makes for difficult bible study as I've found with my Evangelical friends.

In the end after you've "explained away" all the conclusions of one verse with another verse, you feel like there's no point in reading the bible anymore. .... Maybe that's why so many Catholics don't read their bibles.

I've been dealing with the fear of damnation and the feelings of guilt that seem to be the birthright of all the faithful sons of Rome and it strikes me at how contrary this is to St. Paul's absolute trust in Christ as his saviour in Colossians and Romans. I want to live a life of faith with full trust in God's grace. I feel like I'm an Arminian but not a Catholic yet. I have no problem with saying that those who do not accept the gift of faith and cease to have faith in Christ are justly under God's wrath. Yet at the same time I find I hate the idea that those who fail to cooperate with God's grace by sinning gravely would be under the same condemnation. Maybe it's because I've always had faith, but always been crappy at works.

In any case, I was reminded by Trent that everything is by grace, and that accepting the gift of faith from God, is like accepting the gift of love/charity/works. Faith working in Love. That and the writings of Cardinal Newman and St. Augustine who both keep reminding me that God's desire is to save me, not to abandon me in my journey and that there is mercy for all who desire it. (thank God Trent said the graces of confessional absolution rest on those who desire them).

But these are the problems I'm still working out with Catholicism, I still drift dreamily back sometimes to Protestantism. Not a day goes by where I don't ask God for forgiveness if the Catholic Church is apostate, or for guidance on which interpretation of justification is correct.

Still to date, I have received no answer from God on whether Catholics or Protestants in general were correct, only slight leadings from the Spirit about certain individuals from each side (C.S. Lewis, St. Augustine, etc). Even though it is in blatant contradiction to Catholic teaching, I still would like to believe that the elect are God's children in every communion on the earth who love him. I only pray that I am one of them, I don't care about titles or labels. I only seek to love my Father in heaven and to trust in the mercy of his Son and my Saviour, Jesus Christ.

This website is becoming helpful to me as well: - it's a bunch of Presbyterian Converts to Catholicism.

New Catholic English Translation

I've just heard news - it might not be reliable - that Pope Benedict just announced the Catholic Church's new English translation of the Bible. It's a historic switch from the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) to the NWSV (New Wrested Scripture Version). The announcement was complete with a list of favourite verses and their newly wrested versions, which I'm told will minimalize discrepancies between the Word and Church teaching. Here they are:

Ephesians 2:8-10 "For it is by sacraments you have been saved, through the church, not by faith in Christ, lest anyone should relax. For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus to be work work work and then die"

John 20:23 "Jesus breathed on them and said "receive apostlic succession, if you tag anyone, they're 'it', if you're'it' you can stop people from taking communion if they're remarried, and tell them they're going to Hell if they associatein any way shape or form interact, look at, touch, or dwell near, anyone who has, might have, or will in the future, get or assist in an abortion"

Matthew 28:20 "And Lo I might be with you always until the very end of the age, ...unless you screw up badly"

Romans 8:1 "so now there is condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus, (because he loses things easily)"

Romans 8:3 "The law of Moses could not save us, because it was too easy, so God put into effect a harder plan..."

Romans 8:4 "He did this so that the requirement of the law would be fully accopmlished by us"

Romans 8:28 "and we know that God foresaw everything which may or may not work together for the good of those who haven'tlost their salvation yet"

Romans 8:32 "since God did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won't God, who gave us Christ, also give us everything else? ...the answer of course is no, he won't, so start receiving the sacraments now"

Romans 8:34 "Who then will condemn us? Will Christ Jesus? ... obviously, what else is he going to do with a bunch of sinners like you"

Romans 8:35 "Can anything ever separate us from Christ's love? ...Yes, many things. See Papal Encyclicals for more each year!"

John 3:16 "For God so loved the world he gave his one and only son, so that whoever joins his Church might not perish, if they follow all the rules, but will - unless martyred, or given indulgences - at the very least suffer a long process of burning known as: Purgatory"

Hebrews 10:11 "And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifice that can never take away (mortal) sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God” and told his church not to forgive anyone else unless they went through the proper channels"

Matthew 22:36-37 "teacher which is the greatest commandment? Jesus replied "do not desacrate a communion wafer"

1 Timothy 2:5 "For there is one mediator between God and Man, the parish priest"

I hope you're as excited as I am for which verses they'll wrest next! :)


"in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction." - 2 Peter 3:16 (KJV)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Book Review: C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church

I just finished reading the book "C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church" by Joseph Pearce (a Roman Catholic convert). It was very illuminating about the inner conflicts C.S. Lewis had and the reasons why he didn't become a Roman Catholic. It seemed like in the end it was 2 reasons.

The first was that he was raised an "Ulster Protestant" Northern Irish Unionist who had it ingrained in him (he admitted it) that he could not be a Catholic for it would be a betrayal of his heritage.

The second was that he denied the infallibility of the Pope and his jurisdiction over England.

But, Lewis also said that if the Anglican Church ordained Priestesses that Anglicans would be forced to either become atheists or Roman Catholics. Lewis himself never faced this choice but many of his closest friends did and some of them (like Walter Hooper) went to Rome.

Pearce gets a little preachy at times, but other than that he is fairly balanced and doesn't try to make it look like C.S. Lewis was through and through Catholic or anything like that. He just looks at his views of the sacraments, the operation of grace, purgatory, and ecclesiology and shows how similar Lewis' views were (if not completely in line with) Catholic dogma.

It also showed how much Lewis utterly despised Purtanism and the Low and Broad church Anglicans. But he hated T.S. Eliot and other Royalist Anglo-Catholics, even though I think in the end it is best to label C.S. Lewis an Anglo-Catholic theologically, who detested certain famous Anglo-Catholics.

Lewis' views on Confession in the Anglican church as opposed to the Roman Church are also interesting, I tend to agree with him that it should be a matter of conscience and not obligatory to confess.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Open Minded

I've been enjoying alot of discussions with an Evangelical Seminarian friend on my vacation in Kansas. I always told him that my spiritual journey to Catholicism was always totally reluctant and that if I could find a theological defense of Protestantism I'd become Anglican. He said that he can find Church Fathers who taught Sola Fide - which I have yet to see even James White and others do, so I kind of doubt that will happen.

I think it's not mis-loyalty to my Church (Catholic) to be open-minded, after all, that's how I ended up there. One of my friends (Evangelical) is becoming Mormon and we met with some of their missionaries yesterday and my Evangelical Seminarian friend and I both ripped apart their arguments. First I used their "priesthood authority" argument to prove the validity of Apostolic Succession, etc. But they ended up saying that they didn't believe the history that Clement followed Peter, etc. My friend then went from the Sola Scriptura attack of their addition to the revelation of the Old and New Testament. At the end of the day I felt like He and I were certainly of the same (or at least extremely similar faith) compared to these Mormons.

Anyway, as I dialogue with him and been around all my Reformed and Evangelical friends I've been trying to find some kind of loophole that would let me out of Catholicism, but so far all I've come up with are the skeletons of arguments.

My first was an East Orthodox/Trad. Anglican one about the nature of Scripture and Tradition and the example of the Avignon papacy which I've just read about and how the general masses of Priests, Theologians, and Bishops all voted to depose the popes and elect a new one. In which case, this illuminates a more 'collegial union' argument about Church authority (if not a Presbyterian one). Another was the fact that according to the Historian I was reading (Will Durrant) that the theology of the day during the Avignon papacy was that a pope could only be deposed by a general council or if the pope taught "manifest heresy". That belief would show at least a very minimal development of Papal Infallibility doctrine. At most, it would show that the doctrine is completely foreign to the catholic faith, and that only conciliar infallibility would stand (leaving me free to join the Anglican Church).

Donation/Anabaptist attack on the practices of the Church which were corrupt and that the true church is where the spirit of Christ is at work, etc. But that would be the theological and epistemological equivalent to shooting myself in the foot as the church has been and always will be sinful.

Of course if I ever seriously entertained the first argument in favour of Anglicanism I could just use the same argument to deconstruct the Communion of Canterbury which HAS taught "manifest heresy" (ordination of priestesses, etc).

So it looks like I'll be Catholic forever, and that's fine I guess. But being with Evangelicals is always painful because they (like Protestant Converts to Catholicism) are the only ones I know and read who talk about God as if they know and love him personally. I'm glad that their presence and discussion has helped rekindle my personal love for Jesus. If I lose that, then all the theology in the world is helpless to save me.

Monday, June 22, 2009

2 Interesting Blogs I saw

This first one is about Martin Luther's understanding of Sola Fide, which is actually different than Calvin's

And then an interesting blog by an Orthodox Theology guy about how St. Augustine didn't teach Sola Fide

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Spiritual Maturity

"I don't particularly think God wants us to be happy. I think he wants us to love and be loved, I think he wants us to grow up" - Anthony Hopkins portraying C.S. Lewis in "Shadowlands"

In Romans 8:17 St. Paul states that we will share in Christ's glory if we share in his sufferings. It has been one of the most difficult lessons in my life (that I still haven't really learned), that God does not want me to be happy. He wants me to be like him. He wants me to be Holy because he is Holy. This is a painful process almost exactly like growing up - intrinsically tied to growing up for me.

I said to a friend tonight (I shocked myself when I said it) - I thank God that he doesn't answer all of my prayers, if he did, I'd never have matured a bit. I need to keep that attitude, it's not health and wealth God is promoting, it's taking up your cross and following him. But at the same time, we find true joy in being like Christ. St. Paul was so celebratory in prison it's amazing, he knew that suffering produced endurance, and character, which produces hope. And he also says in Romans 8 that we are saved by hope and in hope (sorry sola fideists j/k).

This is something I've talked about alot in terms of purgatory so I won't touch on that doctrine.

In the movie Shadowlands, there's a scene where C.S. Lewis' wife who has cancer is getting well again and his friend says "we all know how much you've been praying, God is answering your prayers" and C.S. Lewis looks at the priest who said it and says "I pray because I can't help it, I pray because it flows out of me, it doesn't change God, it changes me". I was angry the other day about things going poorly and how silent God seemed in my life, and it made me pray in true repentance (which is a rare grace) and I felt so much better. It wasn't that God had shown himself, it was that I realized I had no claim on him. I deserved nothing from him and that I should grow up and realize that this is how you mature, that he is there, whether I feel it or not, because he says so, and he can't lie.

So hopefully in every pain in life I will become more spiritually mature.

I have a feeling I've written identical posts to this many times already, but I guess I don't learn alot.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Why The Mediators?

A constant accusation against Catholicism is that the Roman Church places mediators between men and God in addition to that of Christ - our one mediator (1 Tim 2:5). But a closer examination of the passage shows us that St. Paul commands us to intercede for each other:

"I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind,Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all—this was attested at the right time." -1 Timothy 2 (NRSV)

Catholicism confuses alot of people (myself included) because of it's complexity, 2000 years of Tradition filled with monks, councils, and canon law make almost every issue very full of discussion and various decisions. There are two sides at least to every issue. In terms of mediation, Catholicism actually dogmatically requires no intermediary for salvation but Jesus Christ. The Council of Trent states that the sacramental salvic graces of baptism and absolution can be granted by God merely at their desire. As well, while Mortal Sin requires priestly confession for absolution by the same council, the Catechism of the Catholic Church also states that Mortal Sin can be absolved by the penitent's perfect contrition (sorrow for sins because the penitent loves God and has offended Him).

Therefore dogmatically, a person without any priest or church can - according to Catholicism - be saved by Christ. But, the thing that confuses people is that this is not the normative mode the Church believes to occur. Rather, God has ordained the Church to be his vessel/vehicle of salvation. He has left us a priesthood to offer the Eucharist, and to offer pardon for sins in his name. The problem with mediators is that people see them as obstructions rather than bridges or highways for God's grace.

Personally I get worried every time I go to confession - worrying I won't be forgiven. But each time I am absolved, I am reminded in a real tangible way, that God has forgiven me.

So again the question remains, why have a mediator? It's a question I've asked alot myself, and I've found the answer to be, appropriately enough: because God desires it. I've learned that God is understood in Catholicism as wanting to incorporate people into his work, he has appointed angels to carry prayers (see the book of Daniel), apostles to spread his word, the church to administer his sacraments, and saints (living and dead) to offer intercessions.

Someone explained to me at the beginning of my foray into Catholicism that the saints should be signs pointing to God, and God should not be viewed in the pagan sense, as competing with his creatures for glory. That he freely gives his work to angels and men to carry out, and to share in his eternal glory.

The best explanation of the Catholic understanding of God is actually in J.R.R Tolkien's "The Silmarillion" in the creation story, where the one God creates angels/demi-gods to create and watch over his creation, each is given a task and they work together in harmony. Men end up worshipping these demi-gods as polytheists accidentally. Thus Tolkien also explains his theory of how polytheism and Natural Theology / Common Grace fit together. Just another unlikely way that Tolkien helped me understand Catholicism.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinful man Amen. Pater Noster... etc"

This is usually what I pray on my knees in Latin each night before I go to bed. My prayer life has changed alot in my life. I started off with what I was taught to call "Fire-engine God" prayers. When I really needed something I'd quickly say a prayer. My first real prayer was at the age of 5 when I asked God to make my hair brown. I had almost white blond hair, and now I have blond hair. It was either a miracle or an inherited gene from my father, who too had blond hair as a child which later turned brown. I've have had actual miraculous answers to prayer as well though. After a nightmarish trip to England for bible school I was stuck in a train station without a place to sleep unless someone answered a phone and I'd called them about 4 times, I was furious about having to leave my girlfriend and friends at home to go to this bible school, etc. I prayed one of the angriest prayers I've ever prayed. I told God that if this woman didn't answer the phone I would never pray again. On the last ring the woman picked up the phone and I loudly said "Fuck". Partly because at the time I didn't want to have much to do with God, I was basically a Deist or an Angry Theist.

Anyway, that used to be the climax of my testimony. The point is, I've had angry prayers and miraculous prayers and that story blended them into one, or was supposed to at least.

I've been praying liturgical prayers alot lately which has been the change since my Anglican days last August. As a child I was never made to memorize a single prayer (except the God is great, God is Good dinner prayer). I was even told that praying the Lord's Prayer corporately was "babbling like the pagans" and that Jesus never intended us to pray it. But now I've been praying it alot as well as the Ave Maria, and Jesus Prayer and some Psalms, as well as my Rosary.

The biggest problem I've had recently is remembering that God is 3 loving persons who actually want to hear me, even though it goes against all my recent experience and feelings. My priest was giving a sermon the other day and asked about our views of God and he went through a bunch of different views, and mine was the Greek God who doesn't care about humans and who frustrates their purposes for enjoyment. It's a very cynical view that I've developed and am trying to fix. Here's an interesting Q & A I saw from an English Catholic parish website under the heading of Rosary (

"Q: Must we do the prayers exactly the way they are written?
A: No. God is not a legalist. The Rosary is not a magic formula. God answers our prayers because He loves us and the people for whom we are praying, and because what we ask for is good and in line with His promises in Scripture, not because we do a Rosary. If you want to add some of your own, extra prayers to the Rosary, let yourself be moved by the Holy Spirit and add those prayers!"

A guy once told me that the Westminster confession even labels prayer as a sacrament and means of grace. I don't know if it says that or not, but if it does, I think in some ways it is correct. Prayer is in many ways the most important practice in Christianity. If Salvation is about who you know and not what you've done then I assume prayer is the main way we relate to God. Not really very profound but still...

Anyway I was watching Bill Maher today and he said something that really caught my attention. For those of you who don't know, Bill Maher just made a film mocking religion called "religulous" (I think that's how it's spelled). Anyway, Chris Matthews asked him if he was on a plane about to crash whether he would pray or not. Bill Maher said, "I hope not, I can't know unless it happened, but do you think in one minute I'd have enough time to make it up to Jesus for all I've done? (laughter)". I immediately thought of John Bunyan's quote about the best prayers being more groans than words. I thought about it for about a day - "would Jesus forgive Bill Maher in one minute of repentance for a lifetime of sin" and part of me thought "no". But part of me thought, if someone hated me their whole life and then apologized, would I forgive them. And not to be prideful, but I think I would. Then I remembered the Thief on the Cross, and remembered how incredibly forgiving God is, and how salvic prayer really is.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Final Time With The Anabaptists

Today for some unimaginable reason I decided instead of attending Mass for the Feast of Corpus Christi, that I would go back to my old stomping grounds, my parents Baptist church. Boy did I pick the wrong day to go. It began with the usual Chris Tomlin style rock worship stuff, and I had no problem, they baptized a 9 year old girl which wasn't a problem, but then... - I knew it would come eventually - then they had the 'testimony' of a young adult read as she was about to be Re-Baptized. It was about how she was raised Roman Catholic, baptized as an infant and went to mass every sunday until she was 15, and how she never heard about Jesus or salvation or anything. ... Now at this point I came closer than I ever have to jumping up and screaming "were you f*(!ing blind or something!?, you saw the crucifix every sunday and heard the prayers to Jesus and the gospels and epistles read every week and you didn't know about Jesus!?" - I almost did because in their church I'm a priest (*see Priesthood of all Believers), but I restrained myself.

I remember reading months ago about John Piper's experience where he was in a Catholic Funeral Mass and at the consecration of the Eucharist he almost walked out or screamed because he was so horrified at the heresy, I now know exactly how he felt, but from the other side.

First of all, this isn't even a Protestant - Catholic issue, this is a schismatic-Anabaptist/Donatist-devoid-of-all-church-history v. Orthodoxy issue. The real Protestants (Anglicans, Lutherans, Reformed) all practice Christian baptism which permits only ONE baptism (see Nicene Creed 325 CE "we acknowledge ONE baptism"), and it includes infants. Re-baptism is the ancient heretical practice of the Donatists which our beloved St. Augustine fought against (ora pro nobis sancte augustine).

Then we went through an entire sermon of a botched attempt to teach sola fide. He kept saying all the other churches teach works based salvation but his church teaches salvation by grace. 0 for 1 good sir, everyone except the Pelagians, believe in grace alone for salvation, even us 'godless' Romanists proclaim salvation is by grace alone. The debate, if he'd happen to read up on it is about Faith Alone vs. Faith and Works. Anyway, the crowd roared for the false dicotemy, I was shaking with anger and trying not to walk out.

I was then confronted by a girl I'd done missions with who said she saw that I'd left Christianity for Catholicism and asked if I thought it was great how the poor girl on stage today was saved from Catholicism. I kindly smiled and walked away.

The whole thing was redeemed slightly by getting to talk to an old friend who was very kind to me and he didn't ask me anything about Catholicism.

It's days like today that I wish we still burned each other so that we didn't have to sit through these things.

Even Calvin and Luther condemned the Anabaptists, I also found - shockingly - that Zwingli's successor said in a letter that the Anabaptists were getting to be so heretical in some parts that he said his trifles with Catholicism were only "child's play" compared to his problems with the Anabaptists.

I also intentionally missed Mass on this Feast day of Corpus Christi and thus have canonically entered mortal sin as well (the prospect of Hell is less scary now as I live in it most of the time even as a good Catholic).

Anyway, I guess the only edifying thing was that the pain I felt today in the service was probably only a small measure of the pain Christ feels for the divisions in his church. Maybe Sunday is actually his least favourite day of the week because all his children hate each other so violently.

Sadly, I promised myself it would be the last time I ever went to an Anabaptist service again, but I'm sure I'll be forced to again soon.

At least they used the trinitarian formula for the first girl, the other girl's re-baptism of course is ridiculous and completely ineffectual.

Blessed Corpus Christi

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Merit In Laymen's Terms

Since I've entered the Catholic (or Apostate) Communion I've not posted alot on theology because I've realized how little I understand or know about Catholic theology. Most of my ideas are still Reformed or Evangelical and I feel like the only way to describe it is Chesterton's line in his book on Conversion and the Catholic Church where he says that when you walk into the Church you realize that it's much bigger on the inside, that it's gigantic. I had to face the fact that I might not actually ever fully comprehend my religion. Anyway, I figured since Merit is a topic I knew almost nothing about, I'd try to understand it.

Here are the sources I stole my info from:

Nothing I write is 'magesterial' or anything, I'm just a lay Catholic trying to understand this.

Catholic Teaching on Justification and Merit
Catholic Theology has always taught and always will teach what it has since the Augustine-Pelagian controversy, that man is freely justified by God's grace which is unmeritted and that without this grace it is impossible to do good works which either merit eternal rewards or one's salvation. Merit comes after the application of Justification (baptism in infants, faith and/or baptism in adults, priestly absolution for those in a state of mortal sin). But the tricky thing one must remember when studying Catholic theology is that they believe everything is by grace, but it's resistible grace (think Wesley and everyone Calvin was against) meaning that theoretically God could be beaming down grace to me in every decision I make, but I could still reject it 100 times before I accept it once. The thing to remember also is that much of Catholic theology does not constantly repeat the premiss that grace comes first and is unmeritted. It's kind of a given in Western Christendom.

Types of Merit
I'll use myself as an example. So for me, a recently absolved, baptized, and faithful Catholic who has definately committed venial sins this week, but is still in a state of grace, there are two kinds of merit I could achieve.

1) Congruent Merit
Congruent Merit would be like if I was really hungry and wanted all the perogies in the fridge but then presumably God gave me the grace to tell my cousin she could have some and her then consuming said perogies and thanking me. Now I've done a virtuous thing not out of obligation and not of absolutely pure motive, but because it was prompted by grace and was an act of Christian charity, presumably God would consider it meritous, pleasing, and if he is feeling merciful on judgment day, he will give me a gold star or remove a day from my millenia in Purgatory. Congruent merit isn't as certain, it's more just the hope that God will look on all the good things I did by his grace and because of his graciousness and mercy he will reward me.

2) Condign Merit
Condign Merit would be a much bigger thing. Imagine while my cousin was enjoying the perogies a robber burst in and was going to kill my cousin, and I suddenly was zapped by God's grace and was filled with absolute compassion and sacrificial love and I died protecting my cousin from this evil murderous robber. That would be an act that kind of earns a real reward from God. To use a biblical example, St. James states that those who persevere under temptation will recieve from God a crown of life, or in Revelation when the Martyrs are given crowns, etc.

This is my basic understanding.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

300th Post

I can't believe I made it to 300 blog posts and never actually had an original thought. By the grace of God I will be able to continue stealing other people's ideas and passing them off as my own.

speaking of other people's ideas, this is a really funny site: