Plurality of Persons (Brief Post)

Throughout history there have been many attempts made to understand the Trinity. Some of these attempts were good and helped us advance our knowledge of the divine, but some fell to heresy in an effort to explain. Yes, the Trinity is a plurality of persons, but this does not contradict divine Oneness. The three persons of the Trinity have different operations as it is the Father who creates, the Son redeems, and the Holy Spirit sanctifies (CCC 235). Some try to explain this away with the heresy of Modalism which states that God operates under different modes, or manifestations, throughout history.

We can look into the pages of sacred scripture to show the plurality and Oneness on full display. At the baptism of Christ, we read of the newly baptized Christ, the voice of the Father speaking from heaven, and the Holy Spirit descending like a dove (Matthew 3:13-17). Neither is the Trinity three gods, but tradition from the earliest days of Christianity, and scripture, teach Oneness. These heresies popped up to understand, and in some cases, to undermine divine revelation regarding the Trinity. As previously stated, the persons of the Trinity are united in purpose, have functions, and the ultimate goal of our redemption. They are the same substance, and as such each is wholly and truly God.

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Mary the Mother of God?

On my journey into the Catholic church there were three things that had the potential to derail me.  Mary, Mary, and Mary.  One of the objections I had, which sprang from my Baptist days, was the title of Mother of God for Mary.

After all God is eternal and has always existed.  That title, at least in my mind back then, meant that somehow Mary was exalted to a deified state in which she surely didn’t belong. and one she would surely object to herself.  How can a mere mortal be the Mother of God?  Thsi objection is one that is till quite prominent.  If you don’t believe me feel free to visit a Protestant/Catholic discussion forum on Facebook.  Simply ask if Mary is the Mother of God and watch the sparks fly.

This issue was settled by the church in the 400’s at the Council of Ephesus.  Nestorius, the Bishop of Constantinople, objected to the long revered title of Mary known as Theotokos.  This is a Greek term that simply means “God-bearer”.  Nestorius decided to use a different term known as Christokos, or “Christ-bearer”.  This term is problematic for a couple reasons.  First and foremost Nestorius used this term in an attempt to maintain the two natures of Christ, but he failed, because by using this term, he separated the human and divine nature of Christ from the person of Christ.  His attempt to be Orthodox led him into heresy because Jesus had a human and divine nature while in the womb of Mary.

To say that Mary only gave birth the to human Jesus would deny the teaching of scripture that states he is human and divine.  Secondly, if Mary only gave birth to the human Jesus when did his divine nature arrive?  Do you see the Christological dilemma?  Either Jesus had both natures since conception or he did not.  To say he did not is to fall into error.  Adoptionism is one result that can come from this line of thinking, the other is one that denies the hypostatic union.  The latter is what would become known as Nestorianism.

The fact of Jesus having a human and divine nature coexisting in the one person of Jesus was upheld by the Council of Ephesus in 431.  As a result the Greek term for Mary known as Theotokos was upheld.  In short calling Mary the Mother of God has everything to do with understanding Jesus properly, and even less to do with Mary.  Regarding this para 495 of the Catechis states, “Called in the Gospels ‘the mother of Jesus, Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as “the mother of my Lord”. In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father’s eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly “Mother of God” (Theotokos)”.

As stated a few sentences ago, Jesus was fully God and fully man from the time of his conception.  Mary gave birth to the second person of the Trinity, not a boy who would latter take on a divine nature.  The divine nature was already there.  Since Mary gave birth to Jesus, who we affirm to be God incarnate, she gave birth to God.  Yes my friends, it really is that simple.  Nestorianism is the logical consequence for those who deny the Theotokos.

Works Cited

Catechism of the Catholic Church, http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p122a3p2.htm

Doctrine Matters

Imagine someone saying that they love Jesus, but they abhor sacred doctrine and theology. As unfortunate as this sounds, it is something that happens on a daily basis within Christendom. There are also those, some through no fault of their own, that do not understand the importance of sacred doctrine. Understanding of sacred doctrine is important in many facets of our lives, not just the spiritual.

Sacred doctrine is important because we are oriented toward God, and this orientation exceeds that which we can describe. These truths are given to us by divine revelation. Some of these may have become known by some, but over time error would creep in (ST 1, Q1, A1). Sacred doctrine is important because it is taught by divine revelation. Furthermore, it is important because it is the study of our creator, and if we truly love him, we would strive to know everything possible to build a stronger relationship.

Sacred doctrine and the use of reason are not at odds. Quite the contrary, reason can lead to some truths of sacred doctrine (ST I, Q1, A1). However, reason can only get us so far and we eventually need to be enlightened by God to other truths. Sacred doctrine includes the philosophical and natural sciences. This is because both have their origins in God, and sacred doctrine is the study of God. As St Thomas Aquinas states, “But in sacred science, all things are treated of under the aspect of God: either because they are God Himself or because they refer to God as their beginning and end” (STI, Q1, A7).

Works Cited

Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica. Trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province. London: Burns Oates & Washbourne. Print.

Varying Views of Grace

As a convert from Protestantism, one of the challenges was the concept of grace. It was taught, and still is, that justification and sanctification were an instantaneous barrage of grace that instantly transformed. Granted, this is more of a Baptist, view and can change based on denomination. This differs widely from the Catholic view that grace more of a renovation for the soul.

Protestant theology looks at grace as a forensic, or declarative, justification. The reformers saw the concept of concupiscence and took it a step further and said that man is totally depraved. This total depravity prevents man from doing anything good, and all good things done are done by God. Therefore, man is unable to do good even with the help of sanctifying grace. The work of Christ on the cross is therefore imputed to the sinners account when a faith in Christ is declared. Fr. John Hardon writes that in the Protestant view a sinner is “righteous by reason of the imputed merits of Christ and a sinner because his inherited guilt remains” (Hardon Ch.4). Justification is now a matter of declaration whereby the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the sinner making the Father see the sinner as righteous.

The is in stark contrast to the Catholic view that sees sanctifying grace as a transformative force that changes the sinner into a saint. The journey takes a lifetime and is fills with highs and lows. Through the sacrament of baptism all sin is washed away, and we have a clean slate. Through the voluntary of grace on a daily basis and is ours. Regarding this John Hardon states, “what we obtain is truly ours and no mere judicial attribution” (Hardon Ch.4). It is given to us to transform us, not merely to make a once time declaration and not change our nature. In the Protestant system we are not changed, and in the Catholic system Christ transforms us.

Works Cited

Hardon, John.  History and Theology of Grace.  Ann Arbor, MI:  Sapientia Press, 2005.

Divine Providence

When we speak of divine providence it can be hard to understand how free will, efficacious grace, and perseverative grace can exist can fully exist within its context. If God knows how everything will turn out, then how can we truly exercise free will? These topics can be confusing to those who are just beginning their journey in faith, but they do have an explanation.

We must remember that God is not limited to time. In fact, he is outside time. Imagine that you had the ability to travel back in time to your childhood. You have the strange opportunity of observing how you interact with others. Though you know the outcome as an adult, you are observing your childhood self-using the gift of free will to make decisions. You know how those decisions will turn out, but you as a child still used your gift of reason to decide. This analogy is, of course, a hypothetical one.   Within the context of divine providence, we use our free will to cooperate with efficacious grace. Efficacious grace is grace given when we consent to it and always leads to good actions (Journet 2.10).

So, what of perseverative grace? Does God not grant us the power to persevere in grace? Regarding perseverance St. Thomas Aquinas writes that man “needs the Divine assistance guiding and guarding him against the attacks of the passions” (ST II, Q 109, A 10). This relates to free will and efficacious grace because, though it is freely given, it is still something that must be asked for. God will not deny this special help or deny his grace because of his divine providence (Hardon Ch. 3). Free will, efficacious grace, and perseverative grace can exist really and truly within the mystery of Divine Providence because they require an accent of the will and must be asked for.

Works Cited

Aquinas, Thomas.  Summa Theologia. Trans. Thomas Gornall.  Blackfriars, St. Joseph, IN:  Ave Maria Press, 1981. Accessed August 10, 2018.

Hardon, John.  History and Theology of Grace.  Ann Arbor, MI:  Sapientia Press, 2005.

Journet, Charles.  The Meaning of Grace.   Princeton: Scepter Publishers, 1997.

Instruments of Grace

Within the theology of grace, we see a connection between the sacraments as instruments of grace, and Christ who is the instrument of grace. Opponents of the church argue that Christ is the sole mediator and cite 1 Timothy 2:5 as a prooftext. Regarding Christ being the only mediator between God and man the church agrees and has also taught it to be so. However, Christ can mediate in any way he desires since he is the second person of the blessed Trinity. Christ chose to mediate through the sacraments. Charles Journet describes this as, “Christ was to come as Mediator, to teach, to give his grace through the sacraments” (Journet 6.6).

It is important to make the distinction instruments of grace, and the instrument of grace. The two are quite different and the distinction is vital. The sacraments are instruments of grace because they were established by Christ to convey grace. He is the instrument through which the sacraments convey grace. St. Thomas Aquinas sums it up quite nicely when he writes, “The principal cause works by the power of its form, to which form the effect is likened; just as fire by its own heat makes something hot. In this way none but God can cause grace” (STIII, Q62, A1).

This is seen in all sacraments and in a profound way in the sacrament of reconciliation. In John 20:23 Jesus tells the disciples, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (NRSV). We go to the priest to confess our sins. We are not confessing our sins to a man, but a man who is acting in the person of Christ. It is not a man that is forgiving our sin, but Jesus is working through the priest to do so.

Reconciliation is a part of repentance, and the sinner shows his intention by word and deed. The absolving of sin done by the priest is the work of God who forgives sin (STIII, Q84, A1). This shows that the sacraments are instruments of grace, and that Christ is the cause. Christ is the instrument as he instituted the sacraments.

 

Works Cited

Aquinas, Thomas.  Summa Theologia. Trans. Thomas Gornall.  Blackfriars, St. Joseph, IN:  Ave Maria Press, 1981. Accessed September 15, 2018.

Stevens, P.G. The Life of Grace. New York: Prentice Hall, 1963.

A Blessed Lent

It is that time of year again.  A time where millions of Christians the world over observe the season of Lent.  Lent is a time of reflection and abstinence and teaches us that there are things more important than our carnal desires.  Lent has been observed since the beginnings of the church and looks to the time that our Lord spend fasting in the desert before the start of his public ministry.  St. Ignatius of Antioch in 110 AD said “Despise not the fast period of forty days, for it comprises an imitation of the conduct of the Lord”.

It is during this time of year that we hear of people giving up things.  Some give up chocolate, social media, and coffee.  Others give up something totally different.  We give up these things to offer it up to God in prayer.  Fasting without prayer is just dieting.  If we are not praying and reading scripture then what are we doing?  Chances are we are missing the point of what Lent is all about.  A time of reflection, realigning priorities so God is in the forefront, and growing in love for Christ an our neighbor.

I urge you to not look at it as giving something up, but as taking something up.  Use this forty day period to make a habit of a spiritual practice.  If you are not currently praying on a daily basis you can give up 15 minutes of sleep or 15 minutes of your lunch break to pray.   The same if you are not reading scripture.  Adding these two practices to your day to day life will help you grow in your walk with Christ and remind you of what is important on a daily basis.  Have a blessed Lent my friends.

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