Sunday, June 1, 2008

Theology of St. Thomas - No sola fide

"It would seem that the New Law should not prescribe or prohibit any external acts." That's the first issue St. Thomas addresses on the topic of the contents of the New Law (ST I-II Q108). He rejects this idea:
Through the New Law, men are made "children of light": wherefore it is written (John 12:36): "Believe in the light that you may be the children of light." Now it is becoming that children of the light should do deeds of light and cast aside deeds of darkness, according to Eph. 5:8: "You were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord. Walk . . . as children of the light." Therefore the New Law had to forbid certain external acts and prescribe others.
That seems pretty obvious: Christ would have us be children of light; St. Paul commands us to walk as children of light; ergo there must be some rule by which we know what it means to walk as children of light.
...the New Law consists chiefly in the grace of the Holy Ghost, which is shown forth by faith that worketh through love. Now men become receivers of this grace through God's Son made man, Whose humanity grace filled first, and thence flowed forth to us. Hence it is written (John 1:14): "The Word was made flesh," and afterwards: "full of grace and truth"; and further on: "Of His fulness we all have received, and grace for grace." Hence it is added that "grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." Consequently it was becoming that the grace flows from the incarnate Word should be given to us by means of certain external sensible objects; and that from this inward grace, whereby the flesh is subjected to the Spirit, certain external works should ensue.

Accordingly external acts may have a twofold connection with grace. In the first place, as leading in some way to grace. Such are the sacramental acts which are instituted in the New Law, e.g. Baptism, the Eucharist, and the like.

In the second place there are those external acts which ensue from the promptings of grace: and herein we must observe a difference. For there are some which are necessarily in keeping with, or in opposition to inward grace consisting in faith that worketh through love. Such external works are prescribed or forbidden in the New Law; thus confession of faith is prescribed, and denial of faith is forbidden; for it is written (Matthew 10:32,33) "(Every one) that shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father . . . But he that shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father."

This is not to say that the New Law is as extensive as the old one.
On the other hand, there are works which are not necessarily opposed to, or in keeping with faith that worketh through love. Such works are not prescribed or forbidden in the New Law, by virtue of its primitive institution; but have been left by the Lawgiver, i.e. Christ, to the discretion of each individual. And so to each one it is free to decide what he should do or avoid; and to each superior, to direct his subjects in such matters as regards what they must do or avoid. Wherefore also in this respect the Gospel is called the "law of liberty."
Nevertheless, we cannot expect to see the Lord's face if we ignore what he commands: "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). It is not enough simply to believe.

11 comments:

Interlocutor said...

Hello RdP,
"This is not to say that the New Law is as extensive as the old one."
"Nevertheless, we cannot expect to see the Lord's face if we ignore what he commands: 'If you love me, keep my commandments'"

How are people doing keeping the 1000 commands of the NT - http://shalach.org/BibleSearch/NTCommandments.htm. You have to be careful not to commit the Rich Young Ruler's error - do you think anyone is obeying the Lord's 2 Great Commandments (which are just implications of the 1st Commandment) perfectly? This is one reason why I don't particularly care for the mortal/venial sin distinction (I've actually read in RC forums people asking if they really need to go to confession since they can't think of any mortal sins - people are violating the 1st Commandment constantly and people making such posts are just deluding themselves if they think they are actually being perfect in obeying the New Law).

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Interlocutor,

The very fact that God has given us the sacrament of reconciliation demonstrates that we may indeed stumble while seeking to live lives of holiness. The fact that we may be reconciled to him doesn't mean that he has commanded what is impossible with his gracious help.

But this is of course a long-standing point of conflict between Catholics and Protestants, and I doubt that it will be settled in this combox :-)

The fact that Christ washes us from sin doesn't mean that we ought to presume upon his grace.

I'm sorry that you don't care for the distinction between mortal and venial sins. Nobody's perfect :-)

I suspect that you may be aware of what St. Thomas has to say about human acts and how they are constituted. I suppose that much of the uncertainty that some wrestle with in regard to the question of whether they have committed mortal sin has a lot to do with misunderstanding consent to an action. For example, if I eat meat on a Friday during Lent it is only a mortal sin if I did so while knowing that the Church has forbidden it, that I as a Catholic am obliged to obey the Church in this matter, and that I intended to do it anyway, knowing that I shouldn't. It may not be if a) I forget that it's Friday, or b) I forget that it's Lent, or c) I am so poorly catechized that I am unaware of my duty to obey the Church or of the fact that the Church makes this requirement.

Personally, I doubt that you have "constantly" violated the 1st Commandment, though I don't know you. I do know that I haven't "constantly" violated it, though I certainly make no claims to perfectly obeying God. Of course, I also don't pretend that my failures in this respect (and others) don't matter: they do. That's why I go to Confession.

Peace,

RdP

Interlocutor said...

Hi RdP,
Wasn't trying to be snarky with the mortal/venial sin distinction comment :) but was trying to say that since matters of grave sin are generally categorized as violations of the 10 commandments along with the precepts/laws of the church (at least that's how examination of consciences seem to frame it), and that the first commandment is one from which every other command extends, such as the 2 Great Commandments of the Lord in the NT (which pretty much encapsulate all the commands in the NT), then every sin, even being of "venial" nature, could be thought of as a violation of the 1st commandment/2 Great Commandments and thus mortal yes?

Right, I'm aware of the 3 conditions for a sin to be mortal - the main one I'm focusing on here is grave matter. Btw, with your fasting example, this is kind of a tangent, but do you have any difficulties with the precepts of the church being of grave matter? The requirement to attend Mass does have a basis in the 10 commandments, but the others such as the fasting/abstinence guidelines and holy days of obligation and such are subject to revision and change at any time (or in any nation by the conference of bishops). Not to mention the fact that non-RC Christians are not bound to follow them, but RCs must under pain of grave sin.

Back to the subject, what I mean by constantly, is simply this: sin is not just by commission, but also omission which I'm sure you agree with - so are you always performing the 7 corporal/spiritual works of mercy 24/7 or did you buy some frivolous items this week? Maybe you donate money to a charity, great, but you should also be giving everything else you own. Are you always making an effort to seek out the less fortunate to give to them to improve on truly loving your neighbor? What else about your time - are you praying ceaselessly as the NT commands, or do you sometimes watch TV? Did you sleep in last weekend when you could have been spreading the gospel to some homeless people? Maybe you did do that, did you then invite them to your house for a meal? I mean, you have a list of 1000 commands that elaborate on how to obey the 2 Great commandments which the Lord confirmed the lawyer to do in order to live - better start getting busy! (not trying to be rude here, but just making a point). I would daresay most are *not* obeying the 2 Great Commandments more than they actually do obey it on a daily basis. People do not measure up to what is required with the law; "Christ is the end of the law". So certainly I don't claim RCs think they are perfectly obeying God by loving and serving Him and their neighbor, but they are not even *close*, which is why I'm not sure an RC really gives up all their mortal sins in confession, as it would be a nearly endless session. Protestants see the law hammering them of sin in both the OT and Christ's words in the NT, and thus flee to the cross. One just needs to be careful not to think what he's doing is good enough (applies to Protestants too) or remember the rich young ruler and ol' tax collector/pharisee examples.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Interlocutor,

since matters of grave sin are generally categorized as violations of the 10 commandments along with the precepts/laws of the church (at least that's how examination of consciences seem to frame it)

Here and in the following paragraph your phrasing suggests a misunderstanding concerning the precepts of the Church. With respect to the precepts, the grave or mortal sin enters in when we disobey the Church. There may be certain precepts about which one might argue whether they are intrinsically grave matter, but as precepts of the Church the grave matter has to do with the fact that we are obliged to obey the Church. Fasting during Lent is itself a matter of indifference; but as a precept of the Church it is not. The grave matter in such cases has to do with the thing as a precept, not as it is itself.

Perhaps you understood this already...in which case, please excuse the tangent :-)

then every sin, even being of "venial" nature, could be thought of as a violation of the 1st commandment/2 Great Commandments and thus mortal yes?

No. And Yes.

No: not every sin is intrinsically or equally grave, though I know this is what at least some Protestants (I have some folks in the Reformed camp in mind here, where such a view may be found) assert.

Yes: any sin could be mortal if it is committed deliberately, knowing that God has forbidden it. But the gravity in such a case is not in the matter, but in the intent of the sinner: he is deliberately breaking with God.

do you have any difficulties with the precepts of the church being of grave matter?

This is that second instance where it seems that you misunderstand why disobeying the Church is a grave matter. It's because that disobedience itself is grave, and not necessarily because the precepts are themselves grave. This is why non-Catholics aren't bound by them: they aren't bound to obey the Church. So I don't think that you, for example, have done something wrong if you don't observe Lent after the Catholic fashion (presuming here that you are not a former Catholic who understood that this was his duty).

But to answer the question: no, I don't have a problem with the fact that I'm obliged to obey the Church.

sin is not just by commission, but also omission which I'm sure you agree with - so are you always performing the 7 corporal/spiritual works of mercy 24/7 or did you buy some frivolous items this week?

But I'm not obliged to be doing everything 24/7. The very fact that the nature that God gave us requires sleep emphatically demonstrates that we're not. The fact that we are neither omnipotent nor omniscient just as clearly demonstrates the same thing: we can't be everywhere doing everything that someone says the Law "requires" of us at all times. And God doesn't expect that from us. It's not a sin of omission for me to eat breakfast rather than go to help widows and orphans.

By way of a counter-example to what I just said, though, that would be a sin of omission: if I insist on eating breakfast when a widow or orphan is in danger of imminent death next door, and I know about it, and I'm not in danger of death myself by not eating breakfast, then that sort of thing would be a grave sin of omission.

Maybe your appeal to doing things 24/7 was a rhetorical device, but the point still stands: we are finite, God knows it, and doesn't require more than we are capable of doing with his help. I don't believe that you and I are guilty of sins of omission spending time on this discussion rather than going downtown and helping in the soup kitchens. If you think otherwise, then perhaps you need to stop visiting my blog and get down to that soup kitchen :-) (Note: of course I'm not trying to tell you to go away!)

One just needs to be careful not to think what he's doing is good enough

Good enough for what?

I agree on two scores that I can think of. "Even so you also, when you have done everything that was commanded you, say, 'We are unprofitable servants; we have done what it was our duty to do'" (Lk 17:10). And of course we cannot save ourselves.

But on another count I disagree with what it seems you are suggesting. If you mean to say that the things we do can in no way merit the Father's words, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant," then I do disagree.

Peace,

RdP

Interlocutor said...

"we are obliged to obey the Church."
Right, hand-in-hand with the whole binding and loosing. It seems then that the preaching of the gospel cannot therefore be devoid of the RC view of ecclesiology as it is integral to salvation.

"The grave matter in such cases has to do with the thing as a precept, not as it is itself."
Hmm, do you believe the Church could be in error on prescribing something to be obeyed/submitted to (that's non-infallible), just that she won't be in error to such an extent that it would be hurtful to the soul, and thus you should give her the benefit of the doubt? It seems such a view like this can get awfully close to adding to one's yoke/legalism.

"not every sin is intrinsically or equally grave"
But isn't a goal of the Law to break us, as James said, failing in one commandment makes you guilty of all of them?

"any sin could be mortal if it is committed deliberately, knowing that God has forbidden it. But the gravity in such a case is not in the matter, but in the intent of the sinner: he is deliberately breaking with God."
Right, so every time you know that you could be loving your neighbor more, or serving God more fully, but you instead choose to go watch a movie or something, why is that not deliberately violating Christ's commandment? Hasn't God forbidden sloth/laziness/selfishness and not just external actions, but also the interior feelings/motives that are the root of sin?

"It's because that disobedience itself is grave, and not necessarily because the precepts are themselves grave. This is why non-Catholics aren't bound by them: they aren't bound to obey the Church. So I don't think that you, for example, have done something wrong if you don't observe Lent after the Catholic fashion (presuming here that you are not a former Catholic who understood that this was his duty)."
So only non-RC Christians who are ignorant of the church's teaching in this matter are okay? Lapsed catholics, knowledgeable Protestants, or ones who have left the Church for another denomination are still under mortal sin? Same thing with priestly absolution for mortal sin - applies to RCs, but not non-RC christians? Or does the RCC just hold out that non-RC christians can have perfect contrition somehow for their violations of the 10 commandments and such? This view of the salvation of non-RC Christians given mortal sin and their lack of the sacrament of penance seems to be supported here - see question 121 from "An Explanation Of The Baltimore Catechism of Christian Doctrine" at http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/1/4/5/5/14554/14554.txt, summing up with "There are so few such persons [non-RC Christians that never committed mortal sin or have perfect contrition] that we can practically say for all those who are not visibly members of the Catholic Church, believing its doctrines, receiving its Sacraments, and being governed by its visible head, our Holy Father, the Pope, salvation is an extremely difficult matter." Do you agree with the sentiments he writes for question 121?

"And God doesn't expect that from us."
For those in Christ, yes, we are free. But if you start adding works to justification, then things get trickier. For now you are starting to mix law and gospel together.

"It's not a sin of omission for me to eat breakfast rather than go to help widows and orphans."
I'm not sure why not - you are putting your needs ahead of others. Obviously we need to survive to serve so I'm not saying you would avoid eating entirely, but you get my point (substitute any non-essential activity for eating breakfast).

"By way of a counter-example to what I just said, though, that would be a sin of omission: if I insist on eating breakfast when a widow or orphan is in danger of imminent death next door, and I know about it, and I'm not in danger of death myself by not eating breakfast, then that sort of thing would be a grave sin of omission."
Ok, presumably because your lack of action would directly be leading to their deaths and you would be complicit in the sin of murder (of course we are also guilty of murder in our thoughts and words of envy, hatred, anger, etc.). But if you know there are lost panhandlers on the streets around your city or a nursing home with neglected people, yet do your own thing, you still seem to be violating the commandments of the Lord, right?

"One just needs to be careful not to think what he's doing is good enough
Good enough for what?"
If one believes in justification by faith and works, works therefore become essential. But how many works are "good enough" to maintain justification? Are you comparing yourself to the law for a standard of righteousness? Christ says "Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect" and "if you love Me, keep My commandments" not "try your best to be perfect" and "try your best to keep my commandments". Our best efforts don’t count for anything, and will usually be tainted with impure motives anyways. I would bet you (and me!) hardly comply with any of his commandments. When works are introduced into the equation, it can easily introduce ladders of righteousness for people who start becoming legalistic. As said earlier, the perspective on the precepts of the church seems that it could very easily lead people into such a legalistic view and if one wants to be a law keeper, "then they sever themselves from Christ." Do you think life with God is created or sustained by "performing" the law, or believe in sola gratia but also that "I still have to do this, this, and that." I guess this boils down to what is your view of the New Law in the NT - are the commandments meant to spur you to improvement? Or are they meant to show the wide chasm between us and God's standard? Or something else? Do you agree with Tim Staples (I read this on James White's blog but assume he's not misrepresenting him) that you can keep the 10 commandments? Note, I'm not saying Protestantism is immune to this at all - witness all the "application of biblical principles" and "purpose driven life" stuff that just enshrines law as a motivator for the believer, rather than the Cross.

"I agree on two scores that I can think of. "Even so you also, when you have done everything that was commanded you, say, 'We are unprofitable servants; we have done what it was our duty to do'" (Lk 17:10). And of course we cannot save ourselves."
Right, but again giving credit to God for our works is not a sure sign of grace, as the Pharisee did that.

Reginald de Piperno said...

"we are obliged to obey the Church."
Right, hand-in-hand with the whole binding and loosing.


I'm not sure I understand the remark, but insofar as I do: No. We don't obey the Church out of fear, but out of love for Christ, whose Body the Church is. But that, of course, is the subject of the post: no sola fide. :-)

(Of course, to obey out of fear is certainly better than not to obey at all).

It seems then that the preaching of the gospel cannot therefore be devoid of the RC view of ecclesiology as it is integral to salvation.

Well, he doesn't need a graduate level theology course, if that's the sort of thing you're talking about, but a man ought to understand his duties before he assumes them, yes. Like the post title says: 'No sola fide.' :-)

"The grave matter in such cases has to do with the thing as a precept, not as it is itself."
Hmm, do you believe the Church could be in error on prescribing something to be obeyed/submitted to (that's non-infallible), just that she won't be in error to such an extent that it would be hurtful to the soul, and thus you should give her the benefit of the doubt? It seems such a view like this can get awfully close to adding to one's yoke/legalism.


The Church will not establish as a precept that which is sinful, if that's what you mean. I'm not sure what you mean by "in error". But there's nothing intrinsically legalistic about having duties to observe.

"not every sin is intrinsically or equally grave"
But isn't a goal of the Law to break us, as James said, failing in one commandment makes you guilty of all of them?


I'm afraid I can't recall seeing "breaking us" expressed as a goal of the Law in James, and I didn't come across it in a quick search either. Can you be more specific?

On another level though, it doesn't make sense to me to say that because someone murders another man, he is likewise literally guilty of having committed adultery with his wife. He might not have even met her, if (for example) his crime was a random one of opportunity without having known or hated him in the past.

So there has to be some other sense in which this can be said of us. It seems to me that these comments from the Navarre Bible's exposition of James 2:10-11 makes sense:

"Each and every commandment of the Law of God is an expression of his will. Therefore, any sin - even if it is against only one precept - is always an offence against God. And if the sin is a grave sin, it destroys the virtue of charity and the supernatural life of grace.

"When explaining this point, St Augustine reminds us that charity is the fullness of the law (cf. Rom 13:9f); the Law and the Prophets are grounded on charity in its two dimensions of love of God and love of neighbour...

"'And no one loves his neighbour,' he goes on, 'unless he loves God and tries his best to get that neighbour (whom he loves as himself) to love God too. If he does not love God, then he does not love himself, nor does he love his neighbour. That is why whoever would keep the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it, for he has acted against charity, on which the whole law depends. One becomes guilty of all the commandments when one sins against that (virtue) from which they all derive' (Letter, 167, 5, 16)" (p. 288f; italics added).

But only mortal sin constitutes an act against charity: venial sins do not break our fellowship with God. Therefore only mortal sins have the effect of which St. James speaks.

"any sin could be mortal if it is committed deliberately, knowing that God has forbidden it. But the gravity in such a case is not in the matter, but in the intent of the sinner: he is deliberately breaking with God."
Right, so every time you know that you could be loving your neighbor more, or serving God more fully, but you instead choose to go watch a movie or something, why is that not deliberately violating Christ's commandment?



It might be. But then I'd have to know these things are so, just for starters. And furthermore rest and recreation are perfectly legitimate things in principle: we need them. It's not the case that resting implies ipso facto that I am sinning by omission, as I've already said in a previous comment.

"It's because that disobedience itself is grave, and not necessarily because the precepts are themselves grave. This is why non-Catholics aren't bound by them: they aren't bound to obey the Church. So I don't think that you, for example, have done something wrong if you don't observe Lent after the Catholic fashion (presuming here that you are not a former Catholic who understood that this was his duty)."
So only non-RC Christians who are ignorant of the church's teaching in this matter are okay? Lapsed catholics, knowledgeable Protestants, or ones who have left the Church for another denomination are still under mortal sin?


This is going a bit far afield from the subject of the post, but my previous comments (as well as what you have already acknowledged knowing) about the conditions that must be met for sin to be mortal ought to suffice for an answer.

"It's not a sin of omission for me to eat breakfast rather than go to help widows and orphans."
I'm not sure why not - you are putting your needs ahead of others. Obviously we need to survive to serve so I'm not saying you would avoid eating entirely, but you get my point (substitute any non-essential activity for eating breakfast).


Food is not non-essential. And my own counter-example already acknowledged a case in which eating breakfast could certainly be counted a grave sin, so I really don't understand this, unless you're just agreeing with me :-) But with respect to "non-essential activity," see my comments above about the necessity of rest and recreation. Thirdly, "putting my needs ahead of others" is only a relevant issue if the needs of others are more pressing than my own (as suggested by my aforementioned counter-example). Fourthly, you have transitioned here from putting my needs ahead of others' needs to non-essential activities. But even appropriate rest and recreation cannot credibly be described as non-essential, so that the simple fact that I might read a book doesn't mean I'm doing something that I shouldn't be.

But if you know there are lost panhandlers on the streets around your city or a nursing home with neglected people, yet do your own thing, you still seem to be violating the commandments of the Lord, right?

Not necessarily, no. Because my first responsibility is to the people God has already entrusted to my personal care: my family. Secondly, as I already said, by our very nature we are not capable ourselves of fulfilling every conceivable need that might be felt by literally anyone literally anywhere. We have limits. It's absurd to suggest otherwise. We must always make choices. Now of course we may choose wisely, foolishly, or wickedly - but choices we must make.

"One just needs to be careful not to think what he's doing is good enough
Good enough for what?"
If one believes in justification by faith and works, works therefore become essential.


Uhh...yes. Hence the post to which you are replying. We cannot live just however want as Christians. "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are immorality, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, jealousies, anger, quarrels, factions, parties, envies, murders, drunkenness, carousings, and suchlike. And concerning these I warn you, as I have warned you, that they who do such things will not attain the kingdom of God."

Works are essential: you cannot do these things if you hope to attain the kingom of God. But works are not sufficient, either: we cannot save ourselves.

Peace,

RdP

Interlocutor said...

Hi RdP,

"I'm not sure I understand the remark, but insofar as I do: No. We don't obey the Church out of fear, but out of love for Christ, whose Body the Church is. But that, of course, is the subject of the post: no sola fide. :-)"

No, wasn't trying to imply you obey out of fear - just that obeying the church goes hand-in-hand with the RC view of authority/ecclesiology (which stems from binding and loosing power given by Christ). That's all.

"It seems then that the preaching of the gospel cannot therefore be devoid of the RC view of ecclesiology as it is integral to salvation.
Well, he doesn't need a graduate level theology course, if that's the sort of thing you're talking about, but a man ought to understand his duties before he assumes them, yes. Like the post title says: 'No sola fide.' :-)"

Right, what I meant was that the Apostles preached the gospel right, but did they preach the RC view of ecclesiology within that same purview - did Peter's preaching in acts touch that at all? I know, development, but what I was getting at is one can't simply preach "repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ", but instead would also need to preach "repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and the power of the leaders of His Church to forgive your sins and establish laws and sins of grave matter that you are to obey". I think a lot of ecumenical efforts seem to whitewash the importance of RC ecclesiology in salvation and try to make it more akin to Protestantism's view of the gospel.

"The Church will not establish as a precept that which is sinful, if that's what you mean. I'm not sure what you mean by "in error". "

What I meant was that RCs are to submit mind/will even to non-infallible, non-definitive teachings (Donum Veritatis, art. 23; Lumen Gentium, art. 25; Canon 752, other documents as well no doubt) that could be revised and "in error" - my thinking was that an RC would think in these cases that yes, the church might have been incorrect or altered course, but not in such a way such that what was prescribed previously was actually hurtful to the soul or salvation.

"But isn't a goal of the Law to break us, as James said, failing in one commandment makes you guilty of all of them?
I'm afraid I can't recall seeing "breaking us" expressed as a goal of the Law in James, and I didn't come across it in a quick search either. Can you be more specific?"

Sorry, poor punctuation on my part, should have said "break us; as James said," - didn't mean to imply James actually said "break us" but was using his statement as support.

"'And no one loves his neighbour,' he goes on, 'unless he loves God and tries his best to get that neighbour (whom he loves as himself) to love God too. If he does not love God, then he does not love himself, nor does he love his neighbour. That is why whoever would keep the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it, for he has acted against charity, on which the whole law depends. One becomes guilty of all the commandments when one sins against that (virtue) from which they all derive' (Letter, 167, 5, 16)" (p. 288f; italics added)."

Yes, as I was saying earlier, loving God and your neighbor, which Christ summed up as the whole Law, is where all other commandments stem from so Augustine sums up quite eloquently (naturally) what I've been trying to express in much of this thread :)

"But only mortal sin constitutes an act against charity: venial sins do not break our fellowship with God. Therefore only mortal sins have the effect of which St. James speaks."

This seems like just an assertion - our whole exchange so far has been touching on whether venial/mortal sin can really be distinguished when you take into account the 1st commandment/2 great commandments.

"any sin could be mortal if it is committed deliberately, knowing that God has forbidden it. But the gravity in such a case is not in the matter, but in the intent of the sinner: he is deliberately breaking with God."
Right, so every time you know that you could be loving your neighbor more, or serving God more fully, but you instead choose to go watch a movie or something, why is that not deliberately violating Christ's commandment?
It might be. But then I'd have to know these things are so, just for starters. And furthermore rest and recreation are perfectly legitimate things in principle: we need them. It's not the case that resting implies ipso facto that I am sinning by omission, as I've already said in a previous comment."

I will grant this - Christ rested of course. But rest/recreation can easily turn into sloth/selfishness (so I do like the qualifer "in principle"). You say "I'd have to know" but I think most Christians know the 1st commandment/2 great commandments and so I don't think that's much of an angle there. Ignorance is not bliss either - Uzza wasn't trying to offend God with his treatment of the Ark.

"So only non-RC Christians who are ignorant of the church's teaching in this matter are okay? Lapsed catholics, knowledgeable Protestants, or ones who have left the Church for another denomination are still under mortal sin?
This is going a bit far afield from the subject of the post, but my previous comments (as well as what you have already acknowledged knowing) about the conditions that must be met for sin to be mortal ought to suffice for an answer."

I agree this was a bit of a tangent. I guess it's just my perception of ecumenical efforts - shouldn't Protestants (especially the ones on the net who engage in debates and fully understand the RC teaching on mortal sin) really be getting more "you are almost definitely in mortal sin and your salvation is in serious jeopardy as you lack the sacrament of penance." as the book I linked to seemed to say rather than the general "well I'm sure there are plenty of saved Christians in Protestant churches, even those who understand our theology but disagree with it". I guess I'll ask again, would you agree with the author's viewpoint in the book I cited - I don't see why you wouldn't.

"Food is not non-essential. And my own counter-example already acknowledged a case in which eating breakfast could certainly be counted a grave sin, so I really don't understand this, unless you're just agreeing with me :-) But with respect to "non-essential activity," see my comments above about the necessity of rest and recreation. Thirdly, "putting my needs ahead of others" is only a relevant issue if the needs of others are more pressing than my own (as suggested by my aforementioned counter-example). Fourthly, you have transitioned here from putting my needs ahead of others' needs to non-essential activities. But even appropriate rest and recreation cannot credibly be described as non-essential, so that the simple fact that I might read a book doesn't mean I'm doing something that I shouldn't be.

I think we might have misunderstood each other here, but I don't want to belabor this.

"But if you know there are lost panhandlers on the streets around your city or a nursing home with neglected people, yet do your own thing, you still seem to be violating the commandments of the Lord, right?
Not necessarily, no. Because my first responsibility is to the people God has already entrusted to my personal care: my family. Secondly, as I already said, by our very nature we are not capable ourselves of fulfilling every conceivable need that might be felt by literally anyone literally anywhere. We have limits. It's absurd to suggest otherwise. We must always make choices. Now of course we may choose wisely, foolishly, or wickedly - but choices we must make."

Agreed about familial commitments. No of course not we're not omniscient or omnipresent as you said - I see what point you were making now - but what I meant was it is almost certain that in any city one lives in there are more than enough opportunities for you to love your neighbor and serve God within 20 miles of you that you could never exhaust even if you just stayed in that radius working 24/7. So if one was to put themselves first (not counting essential activities done in moderation), there really is no justification for it given the communities we live in today in which case many are deliberately sinning by their lack of action.

"One just needs to be careful not to think what he's doing is good enough
Good enough for what?
If one believes in justification by faith and works, works therefore become essential.
Uhh...yes. Hence the post to which you are replying. We cannot live just however want as Christians. "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are immorality, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, jealousies, anger, quarrels, factions, parties, envies, murders, drunkenness, carousings, and suchlike. And concerning these I warn you, as I have warned you, that they who do such things will not attain the kingdom of God."
Works are essential: you cannot do these things if you hope to attain the kingom of God. But works are not sufficient, either: we cannot save ourselves."

No, we cannot save ourselves, but as I said before, when works are added to justification, things get tricky - how many/which works are "good enough" to maintain justification? Christ doesn't command us to "do our best", He offers no qualifiers. Thoughts are just as important as deeds, and almost everyone of us is guilty of at least committing those acts cited in our hearts if not our bodies daily. “Whoever does not give up everything he owns cannot be my disciple” - so have you given up everything you own? If not, then you must not be a disciple of Christ who can hope to attain the kingdom of God right?

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Interlocutor,

Finally I have a bit of time to come back to this. :-)

Right, what I meant was that the Apostles preached the gospel right, but did they preach the RC view of ecclesiology within that same purview - did Peter's preaching in acts touch that at all? I know, development, but what I was getting at is one can't simply preach "repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ", but instead would also need to preach "repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and the power of the leaders of His Church to forgive your sins and establish laws and sins of grave matter that you are to obey". I think a lot of ecumenical efforts seem to whitewash the importance of RC ecclesiology in salvation and try to make it more akin to Protestantism's view of the gospel.

No offense, but here you sound like George Salmon, proposing (and "refuting") doctrines of infallibility that the Church doesn't hold. Peter's sermons don't need to fit your conditions in order for him and them to be Catholic.

In the first place, you have but the tiniest sampling of those sermons, and there's no way that it's fair to try and judge the whole of some 30 years' worth of preaching from the tiny few examples of it (all largely from one period of the preacher's life) that we have.

In the second place, there's no way of knowing the full content of what Peter taught when the sermon was over. No arguments from silence in either direction will work.

Lastly, this has nothing to do with the topic of the post, which is "No sola fide."

Sorry, poor punctuation on my part, should have said "break us; as James said," - didn't mean to imply James actually said "break us" but was using his statement as support.

James condemns legalism, not the duty of obedience which belongs to all Christians. We cannot shirk that duty and expect to hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Yes, as I was saying earlier, loving God and your neighbor, which Christ summed up as the whole Law, is where all other commandments stem from so Augustine sums up quite eloquently (naturally) what I've been trying to express in much of this thread :)

St. Augustine sums it up by saying that we cannot sin against charity without being guilty of all: but, as I said (and as he clearly agrees), to sin against charity towards God is the essence of mortal sin. If that is what you've been trying to say, then obviously I've misunderstood you :-)

This seems like just an assertion - our whole exchange so far has been touching on whether venial/mortal sin can really be distinguished when you take into account the 1st commandment/2 great commandments.

Well yes, it is an assertion. This is what Catholics believe, and it's what St. Augustine was saying in the quotation I presented: "That is why whoever would keep the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it, for he has acted against charity, on which the whole law depends. One becomes guilty of all the commandments when one sins against that (virtue) from which they all derive" (emphasis added). But St. Augustine clearly believed in the distinction between venial and mortal sin: "there are certain venial sins which do not hinder the righteous man from the attainment of eternal life, and which are unavoidable in this life" (On the Spirit and the Letter, chapter 48).

I guess it's just my perception of ecumenical efforts - shouldn't Protestants (especially the ones on the net who engage in debates and fully understand the RC teaching on mortal sin) really be getting more "you are almost definitely in mortal sin and your salvation is in serious jeopardy as you lack the sacrament of penance."

Not from me. I don't know your heart, so I'm in no position to judge. I suspect that most Catholics online would say the same thing. And part of thinking the best of others - which is an obligation of charity - is to not assume in ignorance that they are probably pretty bad people who are going to hell, as the author of the book snippet you quoted unfortunately seems to do.

Peace,

RdP

Interlocutor said...

Hi RdP,

"Peter's sermons don't need to fit your conditions in order for him and them to be Catholic.
In the first place, you have but the tiniest sampling of those sermons, and there's no way that it's fair to try and judge the whole of some 30 years' worth of preaching from the tiny few examples of it (all largely from one period of the preacher's life) that we have."

True, but of course when one views what's been preserved in Scripture, one needs to remember God providentially guided that preservation.

"In the second place, there's no way of knowing the full content of what Peter taught when the sermon was over. No arguments from silence in either direction will work."

Hmm, well as I said, what was preserved in Scripture was preserved for a reason. Now, perhaps Peter did preach about the Church's power to establish laws and sins of grave matter to be obeyed, but the historical record does not necessarily indicate that's the case. I believe the earliest forms of the precepts are from the 9th century if I recall correctly. But that's why I mentioned development, because I doubt you think that Peter really preached about the nature of the precepts as they stand today, just as he didn't preach about indulgences or eucharistic adoration or the like.

"Lastly, this has nothing to do with the topic of the post, which is "No sola fide.""

Hmm, well it seems to me to be directly tied. Mortal/venial sin distinction and priestly absolution directly touches on sola fide. The ability of the church to bind certain acts as grave sin (precepts) due to its ecclesiological claims directly touches on mortal sin. So I don't think that issue should be glossed over in justification talks (with RCs; with EOs, it would be different as they don't share the same view on these issues).


"James condemns legalism, not the duty of obedience which belongs to all Christians. We cannot shirk that duty and expect to hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant.""

Interesting - what is your distinction between legalism and duty? I assume you are not a Neonomian. And what is the purpose of the Law (both OT/NT) in your view? When Christ said if you love me, you will do my commandments, do you think this means we should just do our best? I will say that 1 Cor 3:10-15 does indicate that some of the elect's acts/works will be accepted by God and hence not stained by sin (as Augustine said, crowning His own gifts, and of course your citation above indicating approval of those acts); I might have been giving the impression that we could NEVER do this, rather I just think it is much more difficult than what is commonly assumed (much more will be burned up than one expects) and that it is foolish to think one is keeping the commandments perfectly in thought/word/deed. I am also not trying to downplay the necessary role of sanctification in the believer of course as any Lutheran or Reformed would ascribe to, but sanctification as a result of justification and sanctification as part of justification is where the tensions come into play. Believers *want* to keep the commandments, but are unable to do so (by keep, I mean keep perfectly). Do you believe the holy spirit enables you to keep the law as Christ kept the law?

"St. Augustine sums it up by saying that we cannot sin against charity without being guilty of all: but, as I said (and as he clearly agrees), to sin against charity towards God is the essence of mortal sin. If that is what you've been trying to say, then obviously I've misunderstood you :-)"

Hmm, can you help me understand the difference between "sin against charity" and "sin against charity towards God" which is how you seem to be distinguishing grave violations of the law versus "minor"/venial violations of the law (although all of the law stems from charity/1st commandment/2 great commandments so any violation of any of the NT Law/any command of God thus violates those commandments and would seem to therefore be of grave matter). And right, Augustine did hold to the mortal/venial distinction of course so I'm sure I'm just missing something obvious here.

"Not from me. I don't know your heart, so I'm in no position to judge. I suspect that most Catholics online would say the same thing. And part of thinking the best of others - which is an obligation of charity - is to not assume in ignorance that they are probably pretty bad people who are going to hell, as the author of the book snippet you quoted unfortunately seems to do."

Interesting. I'm very perplexed by this. I can appreciate the charity you afford others, but the lack of the sacrament of penance to absolve mortal sins for non-RCs is a huge issue is it not? I would agree that many non-RCs (probably RCs too given the state of catechesis) could be ignorant of the church's teachings and thus not meet all 3 criteria for committing mortal sin, but why would this not apply to the more educated Protestants quite familiar with RC theology but reject it? One doesn't have to a "pretty bad" person to commit a mortal sin - any RC examination of conscience shows how easy it is to break a commandment and commit mortal sin.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Interolocutor,

True, but of course when one views what's been preserved in Scripture, one needs to remember God providentially guided that preservation.

Yes, just as he guided the preservation of Sacred Tradition, and just as he preserves the Catholic Church from error in regard to faith and morals, so that we ought not to suppose that the Bible is our sole source of divine revelation (because we have Sacred Tradition as well), and we ought not to suppose that we can contradict the Church when it comes to interpreting either one.

Interesting - what is your distinction between legalism and duty?

"My" distinction is, I pray, the Catholic Church's: we cannot save ourselves. But we must still live holy lives.

Do you believe the holy spirit enables you to keep the law as Christ kept the law?

I believe what Trent said: God doesn't command us to do anything that we are incapable of doing with his help. If I fail to do so, the fault is mine, but it is possible with God's grace to live without committing mortal sin.

Hmm, can you help me understand the difference between "sin against charity" and "sin against charity towards God" which is how you seem to be distinguishing grave violations of the law versus "minor"/venial violations of the law (although all of the law stems from charity/1st commandment/2 great commandments so any violation of any of the NT Law/any command of God thus violates those commandments and would seem to therefore be of grave matter). And right, Augustine did hold to the mortal/venial distinction of course so I'm sure I'm just missing something obvious here.

By the two expressions I meant the same thing. Mortal sin is a sin against charity, and the primary focus of that is with respect towards God: it breaks our relationship with him. Venial sins do not do this. This may be because they were not committed with full consent (e.g., we might be compelled in some way - as by a bad habit or addiction, or we might act without thinking), or because they were committed in ignorance (not knowing a thing is sinful), or because the matter was not really grave (e.g., gossiping about trivial things that don't really destroy a person's reputation). But I think you already said you knew this, and I think I'm repeating myself, so I don't think I've understood the question.

the lack of the sacrament of penance to absolve mortal sins for non-RCs is a huge issue is it not?

No. You can't be held responsible for that which you don't know is obligatory.

why would this not apply to the more educated Protestants quite familiar with RC theology but reject it?

For some it might; I don't know their hearts. But merely knowing what the Church teaches isn't sufficient to make a Protestant liable for it. A Protestant measures the truth of a proposition according to different rules than the Catholic. If he hasn't realized that there are problems with his rules, he can't reasonably be held culpable for reaching bad conclusions.

-- RdP

Interlocutor said...

Hi RdP,
"By the two expressions I meant the same thing. Mortal sin is a sin against charity, and the primary focus of that is with respect towards God: it breaks our relationship with him. Venial sins do not do this. This may be because they were not committed with full consent (e.g., we might be compelled in some way - as by a bad habit or addiction, or we might act without thinking), or because they were committed in ignorance (not knowing a thing is sinful), or because the matter was not really grave (e.g., gossiping about trivial things that don't really destroy a person's reputation). But I think you already said you knew this, and I think I'm repeating myself, so I don't think I've understood the question."

Right, probably partly my fault - I understand the 3 conditions for mortal sin (so if any of those 3 conditions are not met, the sin is venial) but the heart of my questions have been about the nature of grave sin. Given Augustine's words, why is not all sin of grave matter? So I'll reiterate what I asked - You agree that all of the law stems from charity/1st commandment/2 great commandments right? And any violation of the 1st commandment (and by extension the 2 great commandments) is of grave matter yes? So any violation of any of the NT Law/any command of God thus violates those commandments and would seem to therefore be of grave matter correct? That's why I was asking how the distinction could therefore be made, and since Augustine himself made it even in light of the citation we've been discussing about charity, I'm sure I'm missing something.

""My" distinction is, I pray, the Catholic Church's: we cannot save ourselves. But we must still live holy lives."

The benchmark for holiness is the law; "Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect" - that is certainly a tall order. How much holiness is "sufficient" if justification is based in part on keeping the law for salvation? (note this equally applies to Protestants of course who don't have a law/gospel hermeneutic - how much sanctification is "sufficient" to prove your justification - is it just that you're "better" than you were last year). If God's attitude to you is "I know you are not perfect, so your best is good enough I understand", then what need for Jesus to come and the Cross? The fact that Jesus came is a testimony that your best will not be good enough. There’s a fine line between "I must obey the Law to be like Christ" and trying to please Him to be saved versus submitting to the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work in us so that over time one more accurately reflects Christ.

"God doesn't command us to do anything that we are incapable of doing with his help."
So I take it you do not agree that the purpose of the Law is to reveal you are a sinner, not that you can do it? Or that there is none who can even come close to keeping the law (again keeping meaning perfectly), as Gal 3 indicates? As I implied above, the commands of the law should drive you back to the Cross.