This letter is not for any article in particular. I just wanted to say thank you for your magazine. I am a recently ordained priest (June ‘06) and without your magazine I might not have made it. I know this sounds ridiculous, but it was looking forward to your magazine each month that got me through much of the zaniness that goes on in
seminaries. You address issues that people constantly ask about, and I never had to worry about the orthodoxy of the answers, which is a constant problem in many a theology department these days.
I just gave a talk on priestly celibacy and I used your Web site for almost all of my material. You would think I would have had plenty from my seminary days, but sadly, that was not the case.
I take comfort that there are people like you guys feeding the people the truth and not apologizing for it.
— Fr. John Guzaldo
A Useful Grammar Lesson
Thank you for the article about communicating in secular language ("What Freedom Means in the New Babel," November 2007). I work in a professional setting in which religious discussion and opportunities for evangelism are severely limited, but discussions of philosophical issues like freedom, liberty, and respect for persons are fair game. Sometimes these discussions can plant seeds or segue into opportunities to discuss faith at another time. It is, however, essential to understand how others are using language. The concept of "grammar," as described in the sidebar, is particularly useful as I try to understand the worldview of my colleagues and articulate Christian ideas in a way that they can be accepted. The discussion of the use of the word "freedom" was a good place to start. I would be happy to see more on this topic in This Rock in the future.
Who’s Editing God?
Peggy Frye’s reply in Quick Questions (page 47, November 2007) left the impression that wayward priests were the only problem in editing Sacred Scripture to conform with feminist sensitivities. Not so. If Peggy will check out the Lectionary, she will find various readings in which wifely submission passages from the New Testament may be omitted by opting for the "Shorter Form" of the Scripture reading.
This politically correct editing of Sacred Scripture is the doing of the American bishops, who signed off on it. There’s not much point in going to the bishop to complain if his organization condones it. That the very word of God has been shaped and shaved to suit liberal special interests is appalling. We need a Lectionary that faithfully reflects the Word as the Holy Spirit wrote it, not as some would like it to be.
— F. Douglas Kneibert
Peggy Frye replies: My response focused on how to approach a bishop about problems that occur during Mass. Mr. Kneibert is correct that the original question also asked about whether shortened versions of Gospel readings are appropriate during the liturgy. In the Introduction to the Lectionary for Weekday Mass, Volume II, the following instruction is given:
A pastoral criterion must also guide the choice between the longer and shorter forms of the same text. The main consideration must be the capacity of the hearers to listen profitably either to the longer or the shorter reading; or to listen to a more complete text that will be explained through the homily. (27)
While we might wish that the longer forms of difficult Scripture passages be read and then explained well during the homily, the Church allows for shorter forms to be read. As this is a liturgical choice permitted by properly constituted ecclesial authorities, it seems to be more advisable for laity to presume just motives for such a choice than to speculate on the possibility of unjust motives.
Heresy in the Catechism
Jim Blackburn’s article about hell (By the Book, October 2007) states: "God predestines no one to go to hell; for this a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end." This is from section 1037 of the Catechism, which cites the Council of Orange. Mr. Blackburn also cites section 1035, which states, "The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God . . ."
In the same issue, Mr. Newsome’s very fine article about Limbo, ("Let the Children Come to Me"), quotes from "The Hope of Salvation" the ITC’s recapitulation of the Church’s teaching on original sin: " Original sin implies a state of separation from Christ, and that excludes the possibility of the vision of God for those who die in that state." This follows naturally from Trent’s reaffirmation that, apart from God’s grace, we have nothing of ourselves but sin and deception.
The Church, it would appear, is trying to have it both ways and, in doing so, is making nonsense of the doctrines regarding grace. The Church knows in its collective heart that Augustine is right and, yet, continues to want to speak with the voice of Pelagius (whose teachings have been condemned multiple times).
There is obvious contradiction between the language of the Catechism quoted by Mr. Blackburn and the language of the ITC’s work quoted by Mr. Newsome. Either we are born into this world condemned by the stain of original sin or we are not. We cannot be both and lay claim to truth as defense.
God’s atonement through Christ’s death on the cross made possible the redemption of all men from the stain of original sin, dependent, of course, upon their individual assent to God’s grace. To suggest, as the Catechism does, that the only people who need Christ’s atonement are those who commit actual (mortal) sin is to also imply that Pelagius was right: "man is capable of living a perfect moral life by virtue of his natural reason . . . and is not wounded by orginal sin."
The Catechism (1037) ought to be corrected so that it does not reflect, or even imply, heresy. People need to know (for their own spiritual health) that they were not born into God’s grace from the womb. If they are, Christ’s blood was unnecessary.
Thank you for the high quality and provocative content of your magazine. There was no single instrument as compelling in my conversion to Catholicism. I am eternally grateful!
— Robin W. Vanderwall
Jim Blackburn replies: There is no contradiction here, as the contexts of the quotations from the two cited documents are different. A key word which gives away the context of the Catechism quote is "willful," which implies the use of reason—this quote is concerned with those who are capable of making a choice to turn away from God by committing a mortal sin or by rejecting baptism which is normatively required for salvation. Infants are incapable of making such choices. "The Hope of Salvation For Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized" considers the state of the souls of deceased, unbaptized infants who, having never attained the use of reason, were never capable of committing mortal sins.
Matthew Newsome replies: The part of the Catechism from which Jim Blackburn quotes is found in Article 12 of Part I. The language in this section presupposes that a person has died with his free will intact. "We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him" (1033), and "God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end" (1037). It is clear from this language that a choice must be made, either accept or reject God. There is no middle ground. But that choice is only possible because of grace. This same section of the Catechism tells of the necessity of the Christian uniting "his own death to that of Jesus" (1020), and says heaven is for "those who die in God’s grace and friendship" (1023). No Pelagianism there!
What then are we to make of those who never had the opportunity to receive baptism or lacked the capacity to fundamentally reject God, such as infants who die in the womb? This is the perennial question. Augustine dealt with it. Aquinas dealt with it. And we are dealing with it today. The fact that the Catechism offers no clear answer is reflective of the fact that the Church has no clear answer to give. As the ITC states in its document on Limbo, the answer to this question "has not been revealed to us, and the Church teaches and judges only with regard to what has been revealed" (79).
That same document affirms the reality of original sin, which I took care to point out in my article, and also affirms that "What has been revealed to us is that the ordinary way of salvation is by the sacrament of baptism" (103).
"Ordinary" is the key term. The Catechism instructs us that "God has bound salvation to the sacrament of baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacrament" (1257). It then goes on to speak of baptism of blood and of desire. It is in this context that the Catechism expresses the "hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism" (1261). Since original sin is an affirmed fact, this hope suggests that God may have a means of offering his grace to these little ones in an extraordinary way known only to him. This is certainly not outside of the realm of possibility, and does not necessitate a denial of original sin, any more than does the affirmation of baptism of desire.
Pelagius taught that man is conceived in a state of grace, and can only lose grace through sin. The Church teaches that we are conceived in a state of original sin, and can only overcome that with God’s grace. The question here, however, is not how we are conceived but rather how we die. Is it possible that God, at the instant of death, has a means by which he is able to offer these infants his grace and friendship? The Church, as expressed both in the Catechism, in her funeral rites, and most recently in this ITC document, encourages us to hope for this possibility.
A Truer Picture of Charity
I want to thank you for your article "Catholic Charity: Cold Comfort is Not Enough" (July/August 2007). In this day when even priests and religious present Christian charity as mere social justice, your article presents a corrective to a truncated view of charity.
— Rev. William Scott Daniels, O.P.