Yesterday a friend of mine posted an article on Facebook written by Jesse Johnson for 'Reformation Day'. You can visit the original piece here. It's really more of a summary than an argument, rehashing the same points that Protestants generally hit. This, of course, will not stop be from going all Freddy Kruger on its assertions.
Really, if it had simply been titled "5 Differences Between Protestant and Catholic Theology", I probably would have let it slide. However, it wasn't.
Here I must give credit where credit is due. Not only does Jesse not take any cheap pot-shots at the Catholic faith, he even does a half-way decent job in explaining it. He even quotes from the council of Trent, twice. I only have two critics and the first one I'll grant him pass on. I cannot be too upset with him for oversimplifying the Catholic position seeing as this is a summary and not a treatise. In fact, he gives an explanation that I would not be surprised to hear a Catholic giving.
The problem is that he is not comparing equivalent doctrines. For Protestants faith alone is the beginning of the salvation process. For Catholics faith and works serve as the middle of the salvation process. I feel, and you should feel dumb if you disagree, that we should compare beginning to beginning.
"[Protestants] teach that sinners are justified on the basis of faith alone" while Catholics teach that sinners are justified on the basis of grace alone.
CCC 1996 Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.For Catholics "everything is grace" (St. Teresa of Lisieux). We contribute nothing to this process except out own weakness and brokenness for this is all that we have that is truly of us. We do participate in the process of salvation through faith and works, but even these are in fact graces received from God and not of ourselves.
CCC 2001 The preparation of man for the reception of grace is already a work of grace. This latter is needed to arouse and sustain our collaboration in justification through faith, and in sanctification through charity[i.e. works]. God brings to completion in us what he has begun, "since he who completes his work by cooperating with our will began by working so that we might will it:"Truly, everything is grace. Works are not the cause of justification, but rather a cause and even then only a secondary cause for they are themselves caused by grace.
As for justification as a single event vs a process. Catholics believe that a person cannot be fully justified until he is also fully sanctified. That is, we cannot be fully forgiven for sin until we are fully repentant and once we are fully repentant we will stop committing it. In one sense our justification is complete because Christ has fully atoned for all of our sins. However, we sinners are only able to receive so much of it at a time. So, in another sense, we are in constant need of receiving more. Thus, it is lucky for us that Christ has provided an infinite supply.
As I am pressed for space, please see Jimmy Akin's article, "Salvation Past, Present, and Future" for more on this topic.
2) The Pope as head of the church
Here is where Jesse starts going down hill.
First, we have a straw-man. "For evangelicals ... Jesus Christ is the head of the church" but "In the Roman Catholic teaching ... The head of the church is the Pope". NO! Again with the misplaced comparisons. Jesus Christ, for Catholics and Protestants alike, is the head of the Church. The head of the Church is Jesus Christ. Got it? Good!
In the Catholic Church we believe that God, recognizing our weakness and fallibility, gave us the Holy Spirit to guide us to all truth (John 16:13). And in order that we might know where the Holy Spirit is guiding us he gave us the magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church, which is the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim. 3:15). This teaching authority is wielded, primarily, by the bishops.
The Pope is the prime-minister of Christ. He serves as the head of the bishops. Generally, infallible statements issued by the magisterium are put forth by the congregation of bishops acting in a council. At times the Pope can speak infallible but this is extremely rare.
The Church is made up of everyone who has accepted the grace offered by God; those on earth or in purgatory who are in the process and those in Heaven who have finished the race. The Church is made up of both laity and cleric although it is lead by the Holy Spirit acting through those who have received holy orders (clerics: deacons, priests and bishops).
Everyone who is in the process of salvation is under the authority of the Pope for he has been given the authority to bind and loose on earth that which has been bound or loosed in heaven. (Matt. 16:19)
When you consider that Catholics and Orthodox have been separated for almost a thousand years and yet our theology is almost identical, the effectiveness of the magisterium becomes apparent.
3) Mass vs. communion
I really like this line, "The bread is symbolic of the body, and wine symbolic of the blood. There is nothing mystical or meritorious about it, but it is a means of grace and of provoking growth in godliness."
If it is a means of grace than it is mystical, that is kinda what mystical means. (I would argue that all mystical experiences are means of grace and it is a requirement of grace that all means of it are mystical.) So, Jesse is blatantly contradicting himself here. Secondly, if it is a means of grace that we have to cooperate in, than it is meritorious. We are earning grace like pagans, we are not placing God in our debts, but if we can do something that brings about grace, than that's merit. So, he is contradicting himself again. That's twice in a single sentence. I am impressed. He is also being repetitive when he says that it is both "a means of grace and of provoking growth in godliness." You could easily define grace as a mystical provoking of growth in godliness. It would be a limited definition, but it would not be a wrong one.
Basically, Mr. Johnson is using three words here without understanding what they mean: mystical, merit and grace.
For the next paragraph, lets just take it one sentence at a time.
"The Catholic Church teaches transubstantiation, that the bread and wine are transformed literally into the body and blood of Jesus." We're good so far, this is indeed the Church's position. Moving on.
"Thus in the mass, the priest calls Jesus down from heaven, and in the breaking of the bread Jesus is re-sacrificed." This is just wrong. The idea of Jesus being called down from heaven was expressed at times in Church history but never as a teaching of the Church. A far more accurate way of saying this is that in the mass the entire congregation is lifted up to heaven and we receive a glimpse of the beatific vision. It is not that the priest calls Jesus down, but rather that Jesus lifts us up.
The expression of Jesus being re-sacrificed can work in some languages, but not in English because it implies that this is a new sacrifice whereas we do not see it as such. Rater, this is a re-presentation of Christ's singular sacrifice. Christ dies once but in the mass we are able to witness it as if we were standing at the foot of Calvary and the priest takes that sacrifice and he offers it up once more for our sake.
"The mass is meritorious, as one of the seven sacraments, and it is a 'true and proper sacrifice.'” This is mostly true, it is a mystical means of grace provoking growth is godliness. The only mistake here is more of a technicality. The mass is not the sacrament, although it is sacramental, the Eucharist is the true sacrament.
-As a side note, many of the Catholics made martyrs by the Protestants, communist and even going back to the Romans, went to their deaths over this issue. They considered participation in the Mass to be essential to the Christian life and often were put to death for their participation.
Seeing as this was written for "Reformation Day" I think it is fitting that I let someone else take central stage for a moment.
In the words of Martin Luther,
-"The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart."
- ". . . she is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin. . . . God's grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil. . . . God is with her, meaning that all she did or left undone is divine and the action of God in her. Moreover, God guarded and protected her from all that might be hurtful to her."
-"Christ . . . was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him . . . I am inclined to agree with those who declare that 'brothers' really mean 'cousins' here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers."
Or I could point you to Huldreich Zwingli,
-"I have never thought, still less taught, or declared publicly, anything concerning the subject of the ever Virgin Mary, Mother of our salvation, which could be considered dishonourable, impious, unworthy or evil . . . I believe with all my heart according to the word of holy gospel that this pure virgin bore for us the Son of God and that she remained, in the birth and after it, a pure and unsullied virgin, for eternity."
Or how about John Wesley,
-"The Blessed Virgin Mary, who, as well after as when she brought him forth, continued a pure and unspotted virgin."
Seeing as I have given the opinion of all these Protestants, i should give a summary of the Catholic position, but I again feel that Martin Luther says it best,
"One should honor Mary as she herself wished and as she expressed it in the Magnificat. She praised God for his deeds. How then can we praise her? The true honor of Mary is the honor of God, the praise of God's grace . . . Mary is nothing for the sake of herself, but for the sake of Christ . . . Mary does not wish that we come to her, but through her to God."
For more of these quote, this is the place to go.
For a more detailed look at why we revere Mary, look here.
I wish I had time to go over all the problems here, but I have a life and I would like to get back to it.
Plus, I'm already 900 words over my standard 1000, so please return tomorrow for Part 2 in our discussion.
To be Continued!
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