The Apostolate of the Laity

Waxing philosophical in communion with one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

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I am just a sinner who holds fast to the notion that every human being on the planet is the result of a thought of God.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

What Exactly Do They Protest?

"Therefore let us embrace Christ, who was delivered for us, and His righteousness; but let us regard our righteousness as dung, so that we, having died to sins, may live to God alone"
- Martin Luther [LW 30:294].

One of the key differences between the Church, which Christ gave to humanity, and Protestant philosophy centers around the notion of justification by faith alone. Legend has it that Martin Luther described man as heaps of dung covered by snow, the snow symbolizing the sanctifying grace of Christ. The idea that man remains corrupt, but the efficacy of Christ's grace makes that corruption hidden from view. While such an analogy might be germane to many of Luther's writings, the actual comparison in point of fact appears to be hearsay even if it serves as a good description of the basis of his heresy.

"Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ more strongly, who triumphed over sin, death, and the world; as long as we live here, we must sin."
- Martin Luther letter to Phillip Melancthon, 1521

Certainly Luther was not encouraging folks to go out and sin with abandon, but his teachings reveal the thinking of many protestant believers that conversion is an event more than a life-long journey. A fatalistic approach to sin dominates this philosophy. Sin becomes as banal as beautiful white teeth. One might wish to have a set of pearly whites to brighten the smile, but if a lifetime of coffee and cola has stained the teeth, not to worry, the teeth still work to chew food. In a similar sense, for the once saved always saved believer, sin is simply the coffee stain on the soul and is inconsequential provided one has at some point in one's life accepted Christ as his Savior.

Most non-Catholic Christian faiths hold to this notion of justification by faith alone to one degree or another. Never mind that the only place in sacred scripture where the reference to being saved by faith alone appears to state quite the opposite:

You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.
James 2:24

This sort of throws a monkey wrench into the whole sola scriptura (scripture alone as the source of knowing God) approach to salvation as it puts sacred scripture into the position of contradicting itself. Why would the Divine do that?

Calvin managed to combine antinomianism with a form of legalism and came up with the notion that sacred tradition or any existence of a deposit of faith was meaningless to his abstract arguments on scripture. For the Calvinist, man is so depraved that he cannot unselfishly love God; that God chooses those who will go to heaven and hell regardless of their work upon the earth or even desire to follow Christ, and thus Christ only died for a select few versus all of humanity; that those who are chosen cannot resist His grace even if they willed to do so; and that we can know those who are chosen as they are the ones who persevere to the end of their lives.

Catholics believe that God is love, and it is a love far beyond the understanding of mere human intellect. Christ did not come down to earth and hand out copies of the New Testament and say,

"Read this. Interpret it as you like, and all who claim me as their personal lord and savior will be saved."

For one thing the term "personal lord" appears no where in the Bible. The word personal only appears twice, both times in the Old Testament book of Judith. The term "Lord and Savior" appears only in Second Peter in the New Testament and in each use our first Pope refers to "our Lord and Savior" as a communal title for The Christ, versus an individualistic instrument.

God so loved every human being He has created and will ever create, that He humbled himself to be with us in a form we could understand. He came into the world as a man, divine in nature, yet human in physicality. He came to offer a way home to Heaven after man lost his way in the fallen world gifted to him by his first parents. And He came to show the way to be one with Him, today, not just after one dies, but in the very here and now, even if our beatific vision is trammeled by sin. And he came to die for those very sins that would block our way. It was a death, a sacrifice for all of humanity, not just a select few.

Our Father who art in Heaven does not look upon His creation as piles of dung needing to be covered up. He looks upon humanity as His beloved children in need of His love. A love so ardent that He entrusted the keys to Kingdom not to an angel, not to a cherubim, not to any other of His creations, but rather to a simple fisherman named Simon Bar-Jona.

He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
Matthew 16:15-19

"I will build my church."

There can be no other credible interpretation other than that Christ intended to establish one Church upon the Earth. And it wasn't something to be built some day. Jesus clearly identifies who the foundation of His earthly church will be. Additionally He summarily imparts authority to this man from Lake Gennes'aret. Later He gives Peter and the Apostles their marching orders not to go hand out New Testaments, but to bring the Gospel, to live the Gospel, to spread the Gospel to the entire Earth and to teach what He taught them and continue the mystery of the Eucharist established at the Last Supper. It is a mystery founded in the love and service to neighbor.

Sacred scripture was assembled by the early Church, for the Church to use in liturgy. The early Church fathers never intended for the Bible to supplant the sacred tradition handed down directly from the Apostles. They never imagined the Bible to be the soul source of inspiration or to supplant the authority of the Church that Christ gave her. And they certainly would not have seen as credible that a disgruntled German monk could suddenly decide that certain books of the Bible were no longer legitimate.

Christ earnestly desires that the Church be one with Him. That's not conjecture. It's directly from scripture. Let all Catholics pray for the conversion of the separated brothers and sisters whom are united with His Church in baptism, but due to a lack of clear understanding or willful misdirection, have chosen a path outside of full communion.


Blogger Sieglinde said...

I find some interesting connections between this post and my own contribution to this week's Catholic Carnival. An enjoyable, meaty read. Thanks.

6:43 AM  

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