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Posts Tagged ‘penance’

A Catholic Reading of 2 Corinthians

Posted by Tony Listi on December 17, 2010

Often in theological debates, Christians start throwing Scripture verses around from all parts of the Bible. While all Scripture is the Word of God and thus must be consistent in such a way that a coherent, non-contradictory message is present, I think this haphazard cafeteria/smorgasbord style of using Scripture can be very unhelpful, even dangerous at times. This practice also makes it easier for Christians to cherry-pick the verses that they like (often out of context) and that support their denominational beliefs and to avoid verses that they don’t like and that contradict their denominational beliefs.

We Christians cannot forget or deny that human beings, with their own human stylistic traits, emphases, and paradigms, did indeed write the Bible. Thus it seems certain that Christians can more fully understand the written Word by digesting it book by book, carefully examining and taking into account the unique context, tradition, and perspective contained within and historically surrounding each book and author. This method also seems to me an eminently, though perhaps not distinctly, Catholic approach to Scripture and its interpretation. None of the books were written by their authors with the Bible’s compilation in mind.

Thus I’d like to present how a traditional, conservative Catholic reads and interprets Scripture on a book by book basis. In this way, a Protestant may come to know what exactly a Catholic sees, thinks, and feels when he reads the Bible. Perhaps in this way and on this basis of what is our common ground, our common tradition, namely certain books of Scripture, the Body may be made one and whole again as Jesus prayed it would be and intended it to be…. Plus I’m tired of Protestants telling me that I’ve never read the Bible (when I have) and that they are the “champions” of Scripture (when they aren’t).

St. Paul’s  Second Letter to the Corinthians

This is a short and a bit of an odd letter. It primarily focuses upon the relationship between Paul and the Corinthians, not doctrinal teachings. This fact should give pause to Protestants who claim exclusive authority for Scripture, which includes such letters by Paul, rather than the writings of the Church fathers which claim apostolic authority for their teachings. The specifics of the relationship between Paul and the Corinthians are of limited relevance today, but the general character is of great importance.

There are two overarching Catholic doctrinal themes in this letter: apostolic authority and the necessity and ministry of reconciliation. In the face of doubters and false apostles, Paul is forced to reassert his apostolic authority. In dealing with a repentant sinner, Paul exercises his apostolic authority to forgive sins in the person of Christ and to indulge the repentant sinner in comfort rather than require more penance of him, demonstrating the ministry of reconciliation he mentions in the letter.

Paul’s letter does the following things with regard to the Protestant-Catholic divide:

  • Contradicts the heresy of sola Scriptura and upholds the authority of oral apostolic preaching and discipline in person (1:19, 23-24; 2:1, 3-4, 17; 3:2-6; 4:5-7; 5:5; 10:5, 9-11, 16; 12:19; 13:10-11)
  • Affirms apostolic/Church authority over lay believers (1:1, 21-24; 2:1; 6:11-13; 7:15; 10:8; 11:17; 12:14, 19; 13:2-4, 10-11)
  • Contradicts the fallibilism of Protestantism (2:17; 3:4-6, 12; 4:5-7; 5:5, 18-20; 10:5; 11:5-6, 10; 13:3)
  • Affirms the Catholic sacrament of reconciliation (2:5-11; 5:17-20; 13:2)
  • Affirms the necessity of perseverance in obedience and repentance for salvation/to obtain heaven (1:24; 2:11, 15-16; 5:20; 6:1; 7:8-13; 11:3-4; 12:21; 13:2-5)
  • Contradicts certainty of knowledge of others’ or one’s own salvation (1:6-7; 5:20; 6:1; 7:13; 11:3-4; 12:20-21; 13:5)
  • Contradicts sola fide (5:10-11, 15; 7:1, 15; 10:15)
  • Affirms the necessity of the institutional and doctrinal unity of the Church (1:1; 11:2-4, 12-15)
  • Affirms the Catholic view of suffering (1:5-7; 4:9-11; 12:7-9)
  • Affirms the Catholic custom of referring to priests as father (6:13; 12:14)
  • Supports the Catholic doctrine of praying to dead saints (1:11)
  • Supports the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory (12:2-4)

I’m not going to comment on every single verse but rather on the ones relevant to the Protestant-Catholic divide or general conservative Christian doctrine. Very often, I will supplement my commentary with that of St. John Chrysostom (347-407). His was the earliest publicly available complete commentary on this letter that I could find. All emphases are mine. All verses are taken from the Revised Standard Version.

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Posted in Biblical Exegesis, Catholicism vs. Protestantism, Religion and Theology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Pope Siricius, Papal Authority, and Catholic Doctrines (4th c. AD)

Posted by Tony Listi on April 10, 2010

In 385 Pope Siricius responded back to a letter from Bishop Himerius of Tarragona (Spain) with regard to clerical discipline (Directa decretal). He clearly exercises papal authority according to Catholic doctrine. This is just one of several ecclesiastical letters that popes sent to bishops, exercising their Petrine authority.

The account which you, brother, directed to our predecessor of holy memory Damasus, found me now installed in his see because the Lord thus ordained.

Papal authority is passed down in a line of succession.

When we read that [account] more carefully in an assembly of brethren, we found to the degree we had hoped to recognize things which ought to be praised and much which was worthy of reprimand and correction.

The Church of Rome gives “reprimand and correction” to this other church.

And since it is necessary for us to succeed to the labors and responsibilities of him whom, through the grace of God, we succeeded in honor, having first given notice, as was necessary, of my promotion, we do not refuse, as the Lord deigns to inspire, a proper response to your inquiry in every point.

Again, there is a succession. One of  the “labors and responsibilities” of the Church of Rome is to give a “proper response” to all doctrinal questions. The very fact that another bishop wrote to the bishop of Rome for guidance is significant. Notice it is the office that is important here. Pope Siricius felt obliged to respond back, even though it was addressed to his predecessor.

For in view of our office there is no freedom for us, on whom a zeal for the Christian religion is incumbent greater than on all others, to dissimulate or to be silent.

Again, the Church of Rome cannot “dissimulate” or “be silent” on doctrinal issues important “for the Christian religion.” In fact, it has a “greater” responsibility “than…all others,” all other churches.

We bear the burdens of all who are oppressed, or rather the blessed apostle Peter, who in all things protects and preserves us, the heirs, as we trust, of his administration, bears them in us.

The responsibilities and “burdens” of the Church of Rome, including response to doctrinal questions, is attributed to St. Peter, of whom Pope Siricius and his ministers claim to be the “heirs.” Moreover, it is St. Peter himself and “his administration” which “protects and preserves” the Church of Rome. He continues to bear the burdens of the Church even after death.

On the first page of your letter, therefore, you indicated that multitudes who were baptized by the impious Arians were hastening to the catholic faith, and that certain of our brothers wished to baptize these same people again.

Notice “catholic faith.” There was only one universal faith, not several, despite the presence of heresies like Arianism.

This is not allowed, since both the Apostle forbids and the canons oppose doing it; and after the Council of Rimini was annulled, the general decrees sent to the provinces by my predecessor of venerable memory Liberius prohibit it.

The Apostle? I believe this to be a title for St. Paul. The canons are Church law. Notice that the previous pope sent “general decrees…to the provinces” prohibiting a certain practice. Seems demonstrate that the bishop of Rome had authority over other churches in the Roman Empire. Pope Siricius appeals to past tradition to justify his judgment, not Scripture or any arbitrary, egocentric whims.

We unite these people, and the Novatianists and other heretics, to the assembly of catholics, just as it was constituted in the synod, solely through invocation of the sevenfold Spirit by imposition of the bishop’s hand. Indeed all the East and the West preserves this practice, and it is also inappropriate henceforth for you to deviate from that path, if you do not wish to be separated from our company by synodal sentence.

Notice that true Christian are called “catholics,” those who adhere to the catholic (universal) faith throughout the Church. Also, Pope Siricius threatens this church of Tarragona with excommunication if they do not adhere to this universal practice for readmitting certain heretics into the Church.

Then follows objectionable confusion, in need of correction, about those who are about to be baptized just as it pleases each and every one of them.

Pope Siricius goes on to discuss more “objectionable confusion, in need of correction” with regard to when new members of the Church should be baptized.

Our fellow priests–we speak in indignation–not by reason of any authority but by temerity alone presume this, so that throngs of people, as you report, attain the mystery of baptism randomly and freely at Christmas, or Epiphany, and also on the feasts of the apostles or martyrs, although both with us and in all churches the Lord’s Resurrection and Pentecost claim this privilege specially for themselves. On these days alone through the year is it proper for the complete rites of baptism to be bestowed on those coming to the faith, but only on those select people who applied forty or more days earlier, and were cleansed by exorcisms, daily prayers, and fasts, so that the precept of the Apostle is fulfilled that with old leaven having been driven out, new dough comes into being.

Notice that “priests” perform the baptism. Notice that the Church of Rome speaks “in indignation” against these priests who, without “any authority” but rather with defiant “temerity,” perform baptisms “randomly and freely” at different times of the year. Pope Siricius informs the bishop that “with us and in all churches the Lord’s Resurrection and Pentecost” are the only “proper” days for this sacrament.

But just as we say that sacred Paschal reverence in no way ought to be diminished, so we wish for the waters of sacred baptism to be of assistance with all speed to infants, who because of age are not yet able to speak, and to those for whom in any emergency it is needed, lest the destruction of our souls be at stake if, the salutary font being denied to those seeking it, someone departing from the world loses both the kingdom and life….

Infant baptism is clearly upheld as sound doctrine. Also, the “waters” are necessary for the sacrament. Baptism is not merely mental acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Enough error on this matter! All priests who do not wish to be torn from the solidity of the apostolic rock, upon which Christ built the universal Church, should now hold the aforementioned rule.

This is quite a strong passage! Pope Siricius declares what is in error and demands that it stop. Otherwise, those deviant priests and churches will be removed from the steadfast Rock of the Apostle Peter “upon which Christ built the universal Church” (Mt 16:18). Lacking the “solidity of the apostolic rock,” their souls will then be in danger to the floods of evil and sin. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Fictional Dialogue on Penance

Posted by Tony Listi on May 16, 2008

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2005/11/fictional-dialogue-on-penance.html

By David Armstrong

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

[written in 1995]

Calvin: You know, Joe, you Catholics ought to get rid of penance – punishing yourself to please God. Don’t you know God has already forgiven you?

Joe: We would, Calvin, if the Bible allowed us to, but it teaches that there is a penalty to pay for sin in this life, too. For instance, David had to suffer terribly even though God had forgiven his sin (2 Sam 12:13-14).

Calvin: That’s in the Old Testament, so it doesn’t apply anymore. God is only merciful now.

Joe: That’s just wishful thinking. In Malachi 3:3 God purifies His people “as gold and silver” to make them righteous. He hasn’t changed His mind. In Hebrews 12:6-8 He still “chastens” and “scourges” his “sons.” Jesus commands us to “take up a cross” if we want to follow Him (Mt 10:38, 16:24), and St. Paul wants us to compassionately suffer with fellow Christians (1 Cor 12:26).

Calvin: Well, God can discipline us since that is His prerogative, but the Catholic Church acts like it can give out penalties. Isn’t that an abuse of love and Scripture?

Joe: No, not at all, since the Lord Himself gave St. Peter and the disciples the power and authority to “bind and loose” (Mt 16:19, 18:17-18). St. Paul imposes a penance for the well-being of a straying Christian (1 Cor 5:3-5). Later on, he issues an indulgence by lessening the temporal penance for sin of this same brother (2 Cor 2:6-11). This is all that the word “indulgence” means, despite all the rhetoric against it from Luther and Protestants ever since, absurdly implying that it winks at, or “indulges” sin!

Calvin: But Jesus suffered for us so we wouldn’t have to, as it says in Isaiah 53:4-5.

Joe: He took away the penalty of eternal hellfire for those who obey His will and accept His work as our Redeemer, but not all suffering. That’s a candy-coated gospel. In fact, in a sense, we even
participate in this Redemption, by our intercessory prayers and penitential acts and suffering. St. Paul repeatedly speaks of suffering with Christ, almost in a literal fashion (Rom 8:17, 2 Cor 4:10, Phil 3:10, and especially Col 1:24; cf. 1 Pet 4:1,13). He even considers himself an “offering” (2 Tim 4:6; cf. Ex 32:30-32).

Calvin: Man, you sure quote Scripture like a “Bible-thumping” Protestant! I’ve never seen a Catholic do that! I thought that all your doctrines were gullibly accepted on unquestioned authority and blind faith alone, from the nuns!

Joe: Well, I’ve gotten to know the biblical evidences for my beliefs because I’ve studied the Bible, Catholic catechisms and Catholic apologetic works, which give a biblical defense of Catholic doctrine, along with logical reasons and the history of Christian teaching on any given doctrine. Unfortunately, many Catholics settle for their childhood instruction in the faith and never progress or grow any further by reading and pursuing theological truth on their own.

Calvin: That’s for sure, and many Protestants do the same. But on our subject, I still don’t understand the purpose of penance. Why can’t God just forgive and be done with it?

Joe: He could, but penance is for our benefit, due to our stubbornness and rebelliousness. Sin causes a disorder in the universe, and Justice requires that it be punished. You know, Calvin, even your own life is an illustration of this spiritual principle. You’re in this jail, and have a broken arm and suspended driver’s license due to the sin of drunk driving. This is your “penance,” in a legal, secular sense.

Calvin: But I’m very sorry and the judge believes I’m sincere and will reform my behavior.

Joe: That’s the whole point. You have “repented,” but still a penalty must be paid for your own good and society’s. Even though the judge likes you, he is bound by law to jail you for a time. That’s how it is with God and sin, since He is perfectly holy. Purgatory continues the process after death, until finally we enter into Heaven, for which all our sufferings have prepared us (Rom 8:18, Heb 12:14, Rev 21:4).

Calvin: I still have trouble with this whole idea because it seems to me to be perverting the grace of God and making us do works in order to be saved (Eph 2:8-9). That’s a losing battle because none of us can be good enough (Ps 53:3).

Joe: You’re constructing a false dichotomy: Because God is perfectly good, therefore we cannot be good at all. But the Bible teaches that we can cooperate with God in our salvation, even though all grace and good always comes from Him (Eph 2:10, 1 Cor 3:9, Phil 2:13). Grace is entirely God’s work, but that doesn’t make us mere puppets or robots. The Council of Trent declared that:

“Neither is this satisfaction so our own as not to be through Jesus Christ. For we can do nothing of ourselves; He cooperating strengthens us (Phil 4:13) . . . No Catholic ever thought that, by this kind of satisfactions on our parts, the efficacy of the merit and of the satisfaction of our Lord Jesus Christ is either obscured or in any way lessened.”
(On the Sacrament of Penance, chap. 8, session 14, November 25, 1551)

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