Definition of terms, lack of (part 1)

I stumbled across this article earlier today, and I haven’t been able to stop prodding it. It bugs me, because 1) the guy is making claims based on incorrect information, and 2) he doesn’t CITE anything, so I can’t even tell where he’s getting said mistaken information. (Also, he doesn’t have any contact info, so I can’t even ask for clarification.)

As Jimmy Akin often says, one of the primary difficulties for Catholics and Protestants attempting to discuss their theological differences is that they often use the same term for different things, or different terms for the same things. So they can both walk away convinced that the other person is a resounding heretic, not realizing that they are in more agreement than disagreement.

It’s frustrating, but I can’t be too hard on the guy, because at one point I was the Protestant who was roundly ignorant of the Catholic Church, condemning a straw man, because I had never seen what the Catholic Church really teaches. Even so, it is painful to watch such a schism over what reduces to confusion over terms. (Not to say that there are no significant differences between the two, but that they are fewer than originally appear.)

He starts off talking about how good it is that the Catholic Church has stood firm on many Christian doctrines and moral teachings, unlike several mainline Protestant denominations. However, he ultimately condemns the Church for defining the Marian doctrines, papal infallibility, and affirming the Council of Trent‘s teaching on justification in the Catechism.

Then he (rightly) states:

The question, “what must I do to be saved?” is still a critical question for any person who is exposed to the wrath of God.

And that’s where he starts to get confused:

In the final analysis, the Roman Catholic Church affirmed at Trent and continues to affirm now that the basis by which God will declare a person just or unjust is found in one’s “inherent righteousness.”

Question #1: You use quotes around “inherent righteousness,” but you don’t cite any sources. What are you quoting?

Question #2: What do you mean by “inherent”? Do you mean something that we have in and of ourselves before the Holy Spirit works in our lives, that we can merit justification by our own efforts? Because that’s Pelagianism, and the Church condemned that at the Council of Carthage in the 400s.

His confusion continues as he mistakingly describes Purgatory as taking time:

If righteousness does not inhere in the person, that person at worst goes to hell and at best (if any impurities remain in his life) goes to purgatory for a time that may extend to millions of years.

Then he sets up the Protestant position, which he describes as contrast to the Catholic teaching:

In bold contrast to that, the biblical and Protestant view of justification is that the sole grounds of our justification is the righteousness of Christ, which righteousness is imputed to the believer, so that the moment a person has authentic faith in Christ, all that is necessary for salvation becomes theirs by virtue of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

Shall we contrast it to the Catechism of the Catholic Church on justification?

1987 The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us…

1989 The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion, effecting justification … Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high.

1990 Justification detaches man from sin which contradicts the love of God, and purifies his heart of sin. Justification follows upon God’s merciful initiative of offering forgiveness

1991 Justification is at the same time the acceptance of God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ…

1992 Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ…

1994 Justification is the most excellent work of God’s love made manifest in Christ Jesus and granted by the Holy Spirit.

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

1998 … It depends entirely on God’s gratuitous initiative, for he alone can reveal and give himself.

1999 The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it.

2003 Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us.

2007 With regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man.

2010 Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification

2011 The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. 

And how about quoting from the Council of Trent itself? (The language is a little archaic; I’ll try to make it comprehensible. How about a modern translation, somebody?)

…if [men] were not born again in Christ, they never would be justified; seeing that, in that new birth, there is bestowed upon them, through the merit of His passion, the grace whereby they are made just.

Of this Justification the causes are these: the final cause indeed is the glory of God and of Jesus Christ, and life everlasting; while the efficient cause is a merciful God who washes and sanctifies gratuitously, signing, and anointing with the holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance; but the meritorious cause is His most beloved only-begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were enemies, for the exceeding charity wherewith he loved us, merited Justification for us by His most holy Passion on the wood of the cross, and made satisfaction for us unto God the Father…

…no one can be just, but he to whom the merits of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated…

…when by the merit of that same most holy Passion, the charity of God is poured forth, by the Holy Spirit, in the hearts of those that are justified, and is inherent therein: whence, man, through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives, in the said justification, together with the remission of sins, all these (gifts) infused at once, faith, hope, and charity.

…we are therefore said to be justified freely, because that none of those things which precede justificationwhether faith or works-merit the grace itself of justification.

Thus, neither is our own justice established as our own as from ourselves; nor is the justice of God ignored or repudiated: for that justice which is called ours, because that we are justified from its being inherent in us, that same is (the justice) of God, because that it is infused into us of God, through the merit of Christ.

CANON I.- If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema.

CANON II.-If any one saith, that the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, is given only for this, that man may be able more easily to live justly, and to merit eternal life, as if, by free will without grace, he were able to do both, though hardly indeed and with difficulty; let him be anathema.

CANON III.-If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema.

This turned into a lot more quotes that I had counted on, but I just kept finding more and clearer teachings, from the Catholic Church, in the very documents that the author condemns, that we can merit nothing on our own, and that everything comes from the free gift of God.

I’ll save a comparison of various terms for the next post.






Categories: Uncategorized

The First Rosary

the first rosary


(attributed to this artist, but I can’t find it on his site)

Categories: Uncategorized

Sola scriptura and authority

I’m pretty sure I’ve touched on these topics before, but I’ve been doing more reading and thinking, so I’m going to address them again.

I was listening to an archive of Catholic Answers Live this morning, and a caller asked about the Genesis 6 reference to the Nephilim. Jimmy Akin came right out and said that this was one of the most mysterious passages in the Bible — and THAT is exactly what I appreciate about the Catholic Church’s understanding of Scripture, tradition, doctrine, and authority.

As a Protestant, when (according to sola scriptura) the only sources of truth you have is 1) the Bible 2) according to how you, personally, understand it, it’s very hard to admit that you’re stumped by anything in the Bible.

Basically, if your first premise is 1) God has revealed Himself only through the Bible, and your second is 2) everything that God has revealed can be easily understood by anyone (which it would have to be, otherwise God wouldn’t be revealing Himself equally to everyone), then admitting that you don’t understand something is basically saying that you’re not a real Christian, because a real Christian would have the Holy Spirit enlightening him about the meaning of obscure Scripture passage “x”. (I’m not even going to touch on how many different interpretations the Holy Spirit gives to different Christians right now.) And since you are your own authority, you can’t just take someone else’s argument and say, “Well, wise theologian Christian McGoodGuy said it means this, and I’m going to take his word for it,” because he could be totally wrong. You have to figger it out yourself (if you even can; for a comprehensive critique of this idea see Jimmy’s article “Practical Problems of Sola Scriptura“).

But the Catholic Church! The Catholic Church says, simultaneously,

  1. We believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God, without error in the original manuscripts.
  2. We believe that Christ gave His Church the role of final judge in interpreting what the Bible means.
  3. We believe that doctrine develops; that we don’t know 100% of everything right at the beginning; some of the stuff we have to work out, sometimes over millennia.
  4. And, we believe that the Bible can have multiple meanings! The same passage can treat a literal event, which is also a prophetic reference, which has application in the universal moral realm… There’s so much room for investigation and conjecture, which the Church is completely fine with — as long as you don’t go past the limits of what it has defined!

As many other Protestant converts have said, this method of approaching Scripture is much more freeing than, as someone said, “Having the truth, but being unable to grasp it.” When you’re relying only on yourself (which, if you have any common sense, you’ll realize is ridiculous), you can never be sure that you’re interpreting Scripture correctly, and every new opinion you hear will throw you off balance. But the security of knowing where the fence is (the teaching of the Church) means that you can explore and hypothesize as much as you want, without having to worry that you’re going to end up going to hell because you misunderstood something in the Bible.

Now, as soon as I can figure out how to read the Bible again without triggering panic attacks about total depravity and God’s judgment, I’ll be good to go.


Categories: Uncategorized

December 6: St. Nicholas


I suppose if you have to lose your temper and punch someone in the face, then heresy is, at least, an understandable motivation.

St. Nicholas, pray for us!

Categories: Uncategorized

Some unorganized thoughts on marriage

This is something that I just threw together to get it out of my head, because I have other stuff I need to think about, and I couldn’t as long as all this was taking up space in there! I really want to think all this through and give it a decent treatment, but I just don’t have time right now.

So it’s really messy and unorganized, but it gives a rough gist of what’s been going through my head recently. Forgive the sloppiness!


Greg Popcak has made several posts in the last several days that really resonated with me, and gave me a new direction to go in my attempts to understand Catholicism and marriage, and all the other stuff that been flying around the blogosphere recently.

One thing that has been niggling at the back of my logic for a long time, but that I could never put into words, is the assumption of validity: basically, that the Church assumes that all marriage are valid unless expressly proven otherwise in an ecclesiastical court. (Please forgive any errors I make in my understanding of the technical details of the annulment process.)

For me, and I’m sure for a lot of others, the knowledge that we have to ASSUME that our marriages are valid is a huge stumbling block; as a person on my way into the Catholic church, it is a huge hurdle to overcome when I consider that if I become Catholic, I have to (potentially) accept that I am bound until death to the man who abused me. I absolutely understand the resistance to this idea; I see why many people leave or don’t enter the Church, given this understanding.

But at the same time, I would read what the requirement are for a valid marriage, and it seemed crazy that ANY marriage would be valid under those expectations. Maybe for people who were born and raised devout, thoroughly-instructed Catholics, but even for people like me, who were raised very conservative, biblical Protestants, our understanding of marriage was NOTHING like the Catholic position. We didn’t believe in sacraments, we didn’t believe in graces, very often we believed that marriage was dissolvable (usually in cases on abuse or adultery); in other words, most Protestant marriage, as I understand them, by definition wouldn’t be considered valid by the Catholic Church!

And that’s devout religious Christians! What about the millions of baptized-but-not-religious, atheists, pagans, what-have-you, who don’t acknowledge God at all, much less specific goals HE has for marriage? If the requirements for a valid marriage are truly what the Catholic Church says, then how can any of those marriage be sacramental?

Why, then, do we throw this huge metaphysical obstacle in the way of people who want to join the Church? How can we tell them, “There are very specific things that we require for institution to be valid, but you had no idea that they existed when you contracted it. However, we are going to hold you to something that you either didn’t know existed, or explicitly rejected.”

My belief is that the current understanding of ASSUMING that all marriage are valid is gravely flawed, given our culture. At one point in time, our society viewed marriage very differently, so even non-Catholics had a better understanding of the true requirement of a sacramental marriage. But now that society’s understanding of marriage fundamentally rejects the necessity of procreation and permanence, much less things like divine grace, how can we expect people to contract true marriages when they had no idea what that means?

I fully agree with what Dr. Popcak says about the lack of consent/formation criteria for annulment: it is impossible to hold people responsible for something that they not only didn’t know, but could not even conceive of as a Protestant, or an atheist, or a pagan. At this point in our culture, the common understanding of marriage is an unfathomable distance away from the Catholic requirements; thus, people not explicitly formed in Catholic teaching are incredibly unlikely to stumble into the correct understanding of it.

Ultimately, none of this contradicts Church teaching: the requirements for valid marriage stay the same, as do the consequences of deliberately violating them. What changes is the assumption about the state of most marriages contracted in the West: lacking any understanding of the true nature of marriage, the vast majority of marriages ought to be assumed invalid from the beginning.

In fact, one could argue that even when a happily-married couple joins the Church, they should still have to undergo an extensive catechesis and have their marriage convalidated, because the chances that their prior views of marriage match Church teaching are tiny.

Categories: Uncategorized

Catholics in culture

I was reading a conversion story a while ago, I can’t remember where, but the convert said that when she was growing up Protestant, she always wanted to be a Catholic. It had to do with the culture, and the tradition, and that sense that there’s something going on where you’re on the outside of a great big club and they all know something you don’t know…

I know what she means. Even when I was a Protestant and believed that the Catholic Church was one step away from (or possible a full-fledged) cult, I was wished that it wasn’t. I wished that they were right, because they had all this cool stuff: a world-wide organization, traditions that went back centuries, whole cultures where everybody did and believed the same things,  more holidays than I could ever figure out, and, again, that nagging feeling that all that stuff was significant in a way that I couldn’t understand.

And this wasn’t because I knew any Catholics, because the circles we travelled in were not overrun with them. It was from passing references in popular culture: not explicitly Catholic things, just authors who happened to be Catholic, and so populated their books with characters who just happened to be Catholic.

These are some of the authors and books that tweaked my interest in Catholicism long before I could ever have seriously considered it:

Mary Higgins Clark: A very popular author of mystery books, her characters talked about going to Mass instead of church, visited old Catholic churches in New York City as a matter of course, and were otherwise perfectly normal people. Some of my pre-conceptions that Catholics were all ignorant, poverty-stricken denizens of Third World countries who just didn’t know any better were shaken.

Dean Koontz: Kinda same things as above: without being explicit or preachy, his characters have priests for friends and go to Mass and Catholic school and are just normal people. Well, Dean Koontz’s characters are rarely normal, but you know what I mean.

Judge Benjamin, Superdog by Judith Whitlock McInerney: When I was a kid, I really loved dogs and animals and read every kids’ book about them I could find. I read most of the Judge Benjamin books, which are about a St. Bernard and his family, who happen to be Catholic. Judge Benjamin mentioning it in passing was probably the first time I had heard of the rosary. And when a new baby was born, they had her baptized, and it didn’t seem like anything crazy, it was just what they did.

I guess it’s just funny, the stuff that you notice in passing growing up, not realizing how significant all those little things are going to seem later… Was it Chesterton who said that it was all a giant conspiracy?

Categories: Uncategorized

A prayer in adversity

Yesterday I was talking to an old acquaintance who’s going through some stuff that makes my piddly little problems seem, well, piddly and little.

I felt really bad for him and wanted to do something to help, and since there’s nothing I can actually do to help, I looked up prayers for comfort in suffering in an old Catholic prayer book I found at the used bookstore.

It reminded me that Catholics have a different view of suffering than the rest of the world; something that I haven’t quite been able to get a handle on. Some Catholic doctrines are like the English constitution: it exists, and everybody lives by it, but it’s not actually written down anywhere, so it’s hard for an outsider to figure it out. But it is reflected in their prayers about suffering.

In adversity:

Merciful master of life, to Thee I lift up my heart, to Thee I raise my eyes in childlike confidence, for from Thee come consolation and salvation. O giver of every good gift, Lord of all, Thou does send sorrows or joys, poverty or wealth, humiliations or honors, sickness or health, life or death, just as Thy goodness and justice and wisdom demand. Certainly Thou wouldst withhold the thorns of this life if I could attain my eternal life without them. Unalloyed bliss is the portion of the blessed in heaven. While a pilgrim on this earth, I may not have complete happiness until I merit by the trials of a long probation to enjoy it in eternity.

How many are the gifts Thous hast given me in the past! Should I not bear adverse days with patience and drink the bitter chalice if Thy hand offers it to me? O infinite Wisdom, Thou canst judge beyond my understanding what will bring me safe to Thee.

Or can I entertain the thought that I deserve a better lot, that sufferings are not my due? God gave me everything that I own. If He reclaims what is His, can I complain?

Let me be consoled, O God, when Thou dost refuse my requests which might, if they were granted, do me harm. Thou knowest we are not made for this earth, and that temporal welfare is not our highest goal. And Thou alone dost know the hour when we must part from earth.

Though my life should be fraught with sorrow, what is its length beside the unending reaches of eternity? The time will come when sorrow will be turned to joy. Now, indeed, I tread a path that is obscured by darkness. Yet with Thee, O divine Leader of mankind, I know that I am safe. Shouldest Thou keep back Thy favors for a time, I will not be dismayed. I will wait in patience as long as it pleases Thee.

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” From this I know Thou wilt hear me and wilt not try me beyond my strength. Thou art my Savior, whose love ever watches over me.

O Lord, take everything from me except the confidence I have in Thee and the lesson Thou didst teach by Thy choice of innumerable pains of body and soul in preference to the royal state that could have been Thine. Let me follow Thee most constantly, even on the bloody path to Golgotha.


Categories: Uncategorized

Babies at Mass

Personally, I find babies at Mass to be very distracting.

Sorry, Father, but your homily will always lose out to a three-month-old Filipino baby with spiky hair, huge black eyes, and a grin that’s all gums.


Categories: Uncategorized

Feast day: St. Alphonsus Liguori

Today is the feast day of St. Alphonsus Maria de’Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church. He lived in Italy in the 1800s, was a scholar and prolific author (still in print in English!), and founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. He is the patron saint of confessors, those suffering from arthritis, and, slightly less well known, those suffering from scrupulosity.

I think I mentioned previously that a significant part of my decision to leave Protestant Christianity several years ago was a severe case of scrupulosity (although I didn’t know it at the time). I was continually obsessed with my sins, despaired that I would ever be able to do anything right, and lost all perspective and understanding of God’s love and grace (which is something I STILL struggle with).

Eventually, the constant, crushing guilt was too much, and I finally decided that enough was enough. I became a Deist, and experienced instant relief at the idea that God wasn’t hovering over me every minute, waiting to smite me to hell because of a minor mistake. It was the first time in years that I could consider the idea that God didn’t hate me and wanted to punish me.

When I first started looking into the Catholic Church, I knew that the only way I was going to be able to stay in Christianity was if I was able to control my scrupulosity. I did some research, and happened upon St. Alphonsus, who suffered from scrupulosity himself. I was already excited by the idea that I could ask “Hall of Fame” Christians to pray for me, and St. Alphonsus was the first one whom I petitioned early and often for help. I have a St. Alphonsus medal on my rosary, and every time I say it, I include a prayer to him for aid.

I have to say that in the last 16 months or so that I’ve been on my way into the Catholic Church, scrupulosity is one thing that has really not bothered me. Yay for intercessors in heaven!

St. Alphonsus Liguori, pray for us!

Resource: A Redemptorist community in Missouri publishes a “Scrupulous Anonymous” newsletter, and has some other articles and things about scrupulosity.

Categories: Uncategorized

Baby steps

I’ve been going back and forth between posting this here, or posting it on my running blog. I’ve recently started running again, after years of being overweight, and out-of-shape, and still experiencing pain from running injuries that happened years ago.

It has been frustrating to say the least, not so much because I can’t run as well as I remember being able to, but because I have to force myself not to run too much, too soon. Most of my running injuries happened because I ran when I wanted, as far as I wanted, as fast as I wanted, not resting or recovering, and ignoring the ever-increasing pain. Ultimately, the result wasn’t a better runner, but someone who couldn’t even walk without pain.

What has been running (ha!) through my head, as I struggle both with returning to running, and with problems in my personal life, is this blog post from Calah Alexander.

Go ahead, read it. I’ll wait (and elevate my shins for a few minutes).

Calah tells a story that would have been that, in my formative years, would have been unwelcome, to say the least. I wasn’t raised Catholic, but every single religion/sect/denomination has its own version of the Pharisees, the people who value the rules themselves over the people the rules are supposed to help. Since I was a “good kid,” and my temperament generally bent toward obeying the rules anyway, I was always fairly strict about things like that. I had a hard time understanding that anyone could ever have that much trouble obeying a simple rule.

And then, I grew up. I found myself in a situation where, despite my best efforts, the rules were causing more harm than good. One flaw in focusing on the rules is the expectation that if you always follow them, then good things will happen; and when that fails, you’re at a loss.

It took a major paradigm shift for me to realize that continuing to follow the rules was destroying me emotionally, psychologically, and relationally. I suddenly learned that following the rules is easy: just do what they say! Don’t think about the consequences, or take your own health and safety into account! That’s BAAAAAAAD!!!!

And yet, there are the people who continue to tell me to follow the rules, because “they’re there for a reason! God knows what’s best for us! [Insert name of saint] was in this same situation, and she stuck it out, and got canonized and converted [number of zillions] of people! Redemptive suffering! Christian witness! Holiness! Sainthood! Pleasing God!”

And these people are right … to an extent.

Time for the metaphor!

In competitive racing, there is a small group of people called “elites.” While thousands can run a particular marathon, for example, there is a small handful that actually competes to win. Through a combination of good genes, training, hard work, professional assistance, and sheer force of will, elites can run faster, farther and longer than most other people.

So my question was: why is the spiritual race we run different from a physical race?

In an ideal world, we all have similar capabilities: virtually everybody could potentially run a race, and everybody has the potential to be a saint. But it is well understood that not everyone can leap off the couch one morning and spontaneously run twenty miles, and it seems like some people don’t realize that the same principle applies, spiritually.

Often, in the lives of the saints, we see that their heroic virtue was preceded by years of spiritual training, practice, endurance, and assistance and examples from others. (Have you ever noticed how much more likely someone is to become a saint if someone else in their immediate family was one?) In the same way, elite runners spend years reaching the point where they can run faster than everyone else.

And it’s not like “elite/saints” and “normal people” are the only two categories: there’s also the category of “severely wounded, out-of-shape people who have never even heard of running a race / being holy.”

How fair is it to require broken, weak people to suddenly perform at the standards of a world-class athlete? Actually, let’s not even talk about fairness, let’s talk about reality!

If you told a middle-aged, overweight, never-exercised-before-in-his-life diabetic that he needed to run to be healthier, but the only options you gave him were to 1) go run a marathon RIGHT NOW or 2) don’t even try, which one do you think he’ll be capable of doing? Not which one does he WANT to do, or is even MOTIVATED to do, but actually, physically capable of doing? No matter how much we may want to be the best, and perform to a higher standard, we have to take into account our current condition: the farther we are away from where we want to be, the slower we have to take it at first. Doing too much, too soon is infamous for causing even more injury and damage than the person had in the first place.

After a certain amount of damage, ANY running is harmful to the body: in order to be able to run in the future, one have to STOP completely, now. Completely giving up is not the answer: lazing around, doing nothing but watching TV, living off of junk food. But sometimes one has to take a step way, way back, and completely re-evaluate, looking not at what one wants to do, but what one is capable of right now, in this body, at this moment. It means one may not run for a while, maybe years. It means looking at other forms of exercise to keep one’s body in condition while it heals. It means thinking outside the box: not giving up the ultimate dream, but taking a detour until one is capable of again pursuing it.

In my personal case, I know the “right thing” to do, I know what the saints did, and I know what has the most potential to make me holy. But all of that is moot if I am so wounded that I cannot do those things. Continuing to live with my husband may be the “right thing” according to someone’s interpretation of a rule. But if I am still living in fear of him, not only am I not capable of behaving in a saintly manner to him, but also I am continuing to sustain damage that will just make it harder and harder every day. I can’t heal if I stay in the situation that causes the wounds.

Notice that I’m not saying, “Because I was hurt in the past, I’m going to give up the whole thing! Stop being moral, stop going to Mass, start living a degenerate life, etc!” I actually tried that in the past, because that’s what my moral training had led me to believe: that if I couldn’t be perfect, then there was no point in doing any of it. (Seriously, that is literally what I thought: that there was no difference between being a serial killer and not praying every day. Not a good place to be.)

Life is messy, especially with all that sin and gunk floating around. Blindly following the rules, and judging others based solely on that, is easy. What is hard is looking at real people, in real situations, with real issues, problems, wounds, weaknesses and strengths.

Giving up, because you reason that you’ll never be able to meet the standard anyway, is easy. Baby steps, slowing down, acknowledging that you’re weak and broken, is hard.

Categories: Uncategorized

Create a free website or blog at