Monday, August 4, 2014

Comments on an Evangelical View of The Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Recliner Commentaries: On the Catechism of the Catholic Church

The above link is an insightful commentary on The Catechism of the Catholic Church from the Evangelical perspective.  Below are my comments on this thought-provoking commentary:

Thank you, Dr. Ingolfsland, for this thought-provoking post.  The following are a few personal meditations on your commentary.  I took the liberty of quoting passages from your blog posting and commenting directly on them.  

"Evangelicals argue that “service of and witness to the faith” are the fruit of salvation, not the means to salvation. We would insist that conversion is evidenced by concern for the poor, the exercise of justice, etc. not the result of such good works."

Works are a necessary fruit of sanctification and holiness but not a required step to justification.  Our justification is entirely the loving work of God through Christ's atonement on the cross, and the magisterium agrees (CCC 1996), as you point out.  But we cannot in any way attribute our salvation to works; it is all over Paul's epistles and pastoral letters (i.e. 2 Tim 1: 9). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), however, later states that works effect our eternal life as we are "... 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"(CCC 2010).  This statement seems to change the direction of Scripture in what Paul teaches, and is something, as a Catholic, for which I have wrestled.  The qualification of "moved by the Holy Spirit," however, points to God as the grace behind the works.  Many Catholics, lay and ecclesial, as well as non-Catholics can twist this to mean something it is not.  It is only through God's grace via "moved by the Holy Spirit" that we are saved and moved to do good works.  Either way, dogmatic interpretation should not trump our loving God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves.  

"In his letter to the Galatians, Paul strongly condemned the teaching that circumcision and good works were necessary for salvation. So when the Catechism teaches that the sacraments and the “service and witness to the faith” are necessary to salvation, this sounds very similar to the Galatian heresy."

In Galatians, Paul was addressing the Judaisers who insisted on circumcision and adherence to the Mosaic Law as a means of being part of the New Covenant in Christ.  In Acts 15, Peter solved this after his dream and the clarity and rule he sets forth during the Jerusalem Council. Paul, moreover, was addressing the false teaching that the Mosaic Law could earn one's salvation. Although I see the parallel Evangelicals draw between the works of the Law and the grace found in the Sacraments, Catholics believe the Sacraments contain in "inward grace" that transforms us to a life in Christ; whereas, the Law is only an external observance. The Sacraments, moreover, were instituted by Christ and are found throughout Scripture and confirmed in the writings of the early Church fathers.

"First, it seems a bit odd that the Catechism should criticize the perpetual nature of Old Testament sacrifice while teaching the perpetual nature of the sacrifice of Jesus in the Eucharist. Second, the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist seems to downplay the “once for all” nature of Jesus’ sacrifice (Hebrews 7:27, 9:12, 10:1-10). Finally, to take Jesus literally when he said, “this is my body,” and “this is my blood,” appears to Evangelicals like insisting that when Jesus said, “I am the vine” he was affirming that he was vegetation."

Although Reformed theology teaches the figurative rather than literal when it comes to the Eucharist, if you look closely at John 6:54, the evangelist uses the Greek word "traga," which means "chew" or "gnaw," and it is used four times exclusively in this section of the New Testament, emphasizing the actual act of eating Christ's flesh.  Immediately following in verses 60-69, many leave Jesus because of the intensity of this teaching, but Simon Peter is the one, much like what he says in Matthew 16:16, who declares that Jesus is the Son of God and that there is no where else to go.  No matter how much reformers turn this section of John's gospel around, they cannot effectively explain this away as "figurative." Even Martin Luther at the Marburg Colloquy insisted that the Eucharist was the Real Presence of Christ, and Luther was the original reformer.  It was Ulrich Zwingli who argued and denied over 1500 years of this truth.  The Real Presence is scripturally based and rooted in the earliest traditions of the Church.

"Yet another reason to question Church infallibility is the Catechism teaching that man “must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters” (#1782). In times past, however, the Church regularly sought to force people like Martin Luther, for example, to act or profess contrary to their conscience."

The Church has undeniably flip-flopped on issues declared infallible, pre-post Vatican II. There are actually many conservative orthodox Catholics who reject the teachings of Vatican II.  At the same time, the Church has refused to budge on certain hot-ticket issues in order to defend the doctrine of infallibility. In 1968, for instance, Pope Paul VI published Humanae Vitae that declared contraception as “intrinsically evil” after the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control (1963-66) published a majority report that recommended the Church allow contraception.  The reference that man “must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters” (CCC 1782) is directly contrasted later with ". . . rejection of the Church's authority and her teaching . . . can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct" (CCC 1792).  In this passage, the Church, then, closes the possibility of man's conscience justly going against doctrine and authority on certain issues, namely being in opposition to the magisterium.  In other words, if doctrine of the Catholic Church goes against man's conscience, man's judgement is in error and CCC 1782 longer applies. This dogma is self defeating in teaching that man cannot, in good conscience, object to anything the Church teaches; if so, he is in grave error.  It is a moral trap that can lead to legalism, spiritual depression, and encourage a sense of questioning one's salvation. We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice, not by a demand for strict adherence to man-made rules.  Jesus says in Matthew 15:6-9 that we are to follow Him, not the Law and man-made doctrines of the Pharisees and scribes.  It may seem small to many Catholics, and I would argue most Catholics do not even know or concern themselves with this teaching, but it is significant and a dividing line for many faithful Catholics, both lay and ecclesial, starting in the late 1960's and continuing until the present.

"First, in this section the words “worship,” “adoration,” and “veneration” are seemingly used synonymously, so when Catholics say that they venerate Mary and icons, but adore or worship Christ, Evangelicals hope Catholics will understand our skepticism, especially in light of the impression we have that many average Catholics don’t really seem to make much distinction between veneration and worship."

To a non-Catholic, veneration can look like idolatry in some cases.  In the strict sense, Catholics believe the Eucharist is truly Christ Himself, body, blood, soul, and divinity. Although it is a mental leap for Evangelicals, in faith they should understand that Eucharistic adoration is not idolatry, for Catholics the Eucharist is Jesus truly present in the species.  

Veneration of Mary is simple; she is the mother of Jesus.  We all agree that Jesus is God the Son.  Therefore Mary is the mother of God. Catholics believe that Mary is our mother, too, since we are adopted sons of God. We ask Mary for her prayers, as we would ask any family member or friend. Many Catholics can get carried away and take Marian devotion way too far. Therefore, in some cases, it looks like worship. But that is not truly what Catholic tradition intends.

"Some of the disagreements . . .  are extremely significant and could be matters of spiritual life and death."

That some Catholic traditions are a matter of spiritual death is a strong statement.  In some cases, people get carried away with veneration, the Church can wrongly condemn those who conscientiously object to doctrine, and infallibility can be taken to the extreme. Although the doctrine of works and faith is cloudy, its essential elements are the same for all believers. If a Catholic makes mistakes in their beliefs but offer them up in love and devotion to God, then there is faith and hope that our loving God will have mercy and welcome us to eternal life. God is perfect love; people are sinful and full of imperfection.  No matter what church you find, there is a room full of sinners who get it wrong.  We all are the Body of Christ, love God through faith in Jesus, and trust in His mercy and forgiveness.

Thank you for this in-depth look at The Catechism of the Catholic Church from an Evangelical perspective. I truly love and respect my Evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ and am elated to learn from your insight.

Grace and peace to you,