Calvinism: The Gospel is Found Even in the Reformed Doctrines of Grace (TULIP)

The one true Gospel of the universal salvation of all souls and the entire cosmos can be found hidden in every philosophy, every theology, every doctrinal framework and every system of religious law. Even something as utterly Satanic as Calvinism. As a case in point, I will examine the reformed doctrines of Grace and show how even they reflect the Gospel.

Total Depravity

whos-a-good-bo-triggered-im-not-good-total-depravity-23456098-300x260[1].pngThis doctrine of Calvinism, as I understand it, claims that all people are sinners and are incapable of coming to God of their own power and will. If anyone is getting saved, it’s because God rescues them, and NOT because they rescue themselves. Not even our “freedom” can make a choice for God. We are not free in the relevant sense; we are enslaved to sin. We cannot be saved until God liberates us by his love, mercy and grace.

So far, no real issues. Arminians, Orthodox and Catholics can debate with Calvinists over the little details of just how “free” we are and what “freedom” even means, but for the purpose of this discussion let’s just assume that the above is true.

Unconditional Election

Election.004[1].jpgThis Calvinist doctrine claims that before we choose God, God chooses us. And God’s choice of us is not based on anything that we will do or have done. It is a free gift, given entirely by grace, and there is absolutely nothing we could possibly do to earn it. As such, it can only be received by faith, not by works. Election is the unconditional promise of predestination, and being an unconditional promise, the only possible response is to trust it, or not to trust it: Sola Fide.

It is important to emphasise that election does not even depend on our faith. Any evangelical who claims that “You must believe in Jesus if you want to be saved” has entirely missed the point. They should instead be proclaiming “You are saved, so believe in Jesus!” To do otherwise is to reduce faith to a work; a condition that we must strive to fulfil, and in doing so to throw spiritual angst and scrupulosity onto the souls who we speak to.

This Calvinist doctrine is brilliant, gospel, good news. God chooses us! And his choice cannot fail, and there is nothing we can do to screw it up.

Limited Atonement

Limited-Atonement[1].jpgThe Calvinist doctrine of Limited Atonement simply claims that whoever Jesus died for, will infallibly be brought to salvation. No one that Jesus died for will be lost.

This doctrine is usually quite controversial outside Calvinism. But the conviction that drives it is valid. If Jesus died for someone, and that someone failed to achieve the eschaton, it would reveal God to be a weak and pathetic failure. If God says “I will save you” and we say “No! Fuck off! I want to go to Hell!”, that wouldn’t be a very powerful God would it?

The real offense caused by this doctrine is the unspoken implication that Jesus did not die for everyone. But this is clearly shown to be nonsense after a five minute consultation of almost any page in the new testament. The truth of the matter is that Jesus died for the entire world; sinners, saints, animals, trees, rocks; the entire cosmos. As such, yes his atonement is limited to the entire world. Not one drop of his blood was spilt in vain. His atonement is effective, successfully achieving what it set out to achieve; the salvation of the entire cosmos.

If you haven’t managed to put 2 and 2 together yet, let me spell it out: the entire world has been atoned for, therefore the entire world is elect and predestined, and therefore the entire world – and everything in it – will be saved.

Irresistible Grace

IrresistibleGracefragrancecalvinklein_zpseb5c49dc[1].jpgThis doctrine of Calvinism does not claim that we are robots, and God’s grace just forcibly marches us into heaven. It simply claims that if God decides to choose you for his child, there is nothing you can ultimately do to escape. In the meantime, you are completely free to renounce God, curse him, hurl blasphemies at his face and run away into the outer darkness. But at the end of the day, God’s love is inescapable; he will follow you wherever you run to, and woo you with his romantic overtures. No one can hold out against such beautiful grace and love forever. Whoever God chooses (and as we have established, this is everyone) will infallibly come to salvation.

Perseverance of the Saints

perseverance2[1].jpgOtherwise known as “Once Saved Always Saved”. A classic Calvinist conviction. This point claims that true believers always persevere to the end, without committing apostasy of the heart or renouncing their trust in the promise.

Again, Catholics, Orthodox and Arminians can quibble with Calvinists about the implications of “Freedom”, but it seems clear to me that yes, once you have experienced true, saving faith, nothing can ultimately snatch you from the hand of God. Someone might have true faith, but unless they fully trust the fullness of the Gospel (which includes universal salvation), they never attained to saving faith, and therefore the possibility of apostasy remains. However someone who trusts the fullness of the Gospel will never renounce their faith. They will persevere to the end (“the end” being defined as “death” in this case).

Important side point: death is not the end. Even if someone dies without trusting the promise, there is still hope, and God’s grace is still irresistible and sovereign, and therefore all souls will be saved, regardless of whether they persevere or not.

Conclusion

Calvinism contains hints of the gospel, and it’s doctrines of grace do a great job of encapsulating the good news. However it doesn’t go far enough, and as a result Satan has infiltrated the Calvinist community (just as he infiltrates every community) and caused them to water down the Gospel and preach that most people will be damned forever with no possibility of escape.

But Calvinism is beautiful when put back in it’s right place, and the glorious gospel is allowed to shine through.

Praise God that one day all will trust his promise, and so enter into the eschaton.

The First Epistle to Dominican Brother Reginald OP (Order of Preachers)

52984124_117642846042761_8701216142372372480_n[1]I’m totes mega-devs that you’re about to be whisked away back to Melbourne within the next two months or so. You’re the first Dominican that I’ve really gelled with and there’s a special place for you in my heart. Previously my only exposure was Father Manes, and his accusations of heresy came across as being drenched in anger and dripping with poison. Whereas you and me are able to just have a laugh about it all, as is charitable and loving to do. I hope we will be able to stay in touch once you disappear back down south. You’ll definitely be in my prayers. If I get rich again with both time and money, I will try to visit Melbourne regularly to catch up with you! You strike me as someone with a soft heart who is willing to listen, and so I find myself spontaneously writing this message and exhortation to you.

As your friend I want to do whatever I can to help you be a good and faithful Dominican, Catholic and Christian. But I also want to help you to understand and trust the Gospel promise, which transcends all religious categorisations and labellings. Because nothing else matters. Catholic law and tradition is true and good and beautiful, and both you and I should do our best to follow it, praying the divine office, saying the rosary, serving mass, getting baptised, going to confession and all the rest of it. But without trusting that divine promise this is all just dead works and empty piety; without faith in the gospel we end up just burning rubber at 300kph and not actually moving anywhere.

The promise is that salvation is well and truly unconditional; you literally don’t have to do anything whatsoever and God just gives heaven to you for nothing; Trust that promise and enter into heavenly joy right damn now, skipping death and purgatory. And once you realise that you don’t have to be Dominican, Catholic, and Christian, all of a sudden these three things come alive with colour and symphony and you do them purely out of love and without a trace of fearful obedience. You also become freed to become all things to all people, knowing that nothing can snatch your salvation away from you.

For there is only one mortal sin, which is to fail to trust the gospel promise that I am now speaking to you. Not because failing to trust it will send you to Hell, but because in failing to have faith you are already there; lost and wandering in the outer darkness, and burning in the lake of fire. The Catholic moral law is merely commentary on this fact: there is only one “sin that leads to death”, and it is the failure to understand and trust my promise. This is not a retributive punishment, it is merely a sad brute fact of reality. But God is sovereign, and his promise cannot fail, even though he refuses to force it on us. God’s word achieves what it sets out to achieve, and he promises that his love will hunt you down wherever you may run to, and woo you until you can’t help but say “I love you” back to him.

So I have total and absolute certainty that one day you will be saved (“anathema! anathema!” scream the Fathers of Trent), but why wait? Why not just do it right now? Now is the only moment that matters: We shouldn’t be concerned with trying to “get to heaven” and “avoid Hell” in the future; for these two things are present realities and so we should strive to enter Heaven right now. The eschaton is infinitely distant into the future, and we will never get there, as the eastern church fathers confess; but the eschaton can also explode in our hearts today, at this very hour, if only we would trust that good news and promise. By faith in the promise, our souls cross the uncrossable chasm from Hell to Heaven, and the infinite distance between now and that final victory which lies at the end of the age.

When you truly trust the promise, you realise that not only are you already in heaven, but everyone else is too, and yet they do not realise it. And so evangelism becomes painfully easy for the missionary; all they need do is articulate the promise and proclaim it to the people around them, trusting that God is sovereign, and his promise is effective, and that the Holy Spirit is sowing seeds in the heart of the listener that will infallibly blossom into faith and love at some point in the future. There is no need to thrust 2000 years of Catholic tradition onto the poor neophyte; that comes later. Start with the simple Gospel promise, finish with the sacraments. To do it in reverse is utterly disastrous, as the billions of scrupulous and indifferent Catholics attest.

And lest there be some confusion about the content of this promise, here it is: “I, Alex, in the name of the resurrected Christ, Love you with the divine love, and we promise you that God is with you, even as you wander in Hell. We promise you that God will rescue you from the darkness, and he will use us as his instruments in this battle. We promise you that if you should somehow find yourself trapped in the eschatalogical, everlasting, eternal Hell-fire that lies beyond death, not even this will stop us from saving you. God is eternally more eternal than eternity, and infinitely more infinite than infinity. and so not even the everlasting Hell can prevent us from rescuing you. Christ and the church – the army of God – are with me as I proclaim this promise to you: We are prepared to make the charge against the fortress of Hell. And as Christ promised; the gates of Hell shall not prevail against us. We will rescue you, and no rebellion, death, sin, “freedom”, demons nor devils can ultimately separate you from our love.” This promise will not fail: trust it! And if you doubt the promise, do not ignore your questions and objections; instead confront them and crush them with prayer and meditation. You will not truly appreciate the power of God until you see him face to face, but we do not have to wait till we die to do that. Do it right now, by faith in the Gospel.

Forgive my long and presumptuous ramblings. I tend to get doxological and theological after my morning coffee. And in any case I myself am constantly enthralled by the beautiful Gospel promise in every hour of my existence; whether sleeping or waking. I can’t help but gush about it to you, as the divine love and Joy can’t help but bubble up and overflow out of my heart and attempt to penetrate yours. I want nothing more than to share this love with you. It is a love that explodes all theological and philosophical language, transcending all of our precious dogmas and anathemas. For it is God himself, and both I and he want nothing more than to explode out of my soul and save the world.

But even after all of this has been said, in truth we are trying to pursue a holy silence. I cannot speak this silence to you, but I can direct you to it. And when you trust the promise, we will both be dwelling in that divine silence, where words become unnecessary and impossible, communion is complete, the bliss never ends, and the joy can never again be snatched from us. And so the bottom line is truly as simple as this, I love you, and on the basis of the resurrection, I promise to save you. Please, trust me!

Through, with and in the divine love of Christ,

Alex

(Go to The Second Epistle to Brother Reginald)

Baptism at an Ancient Eastern Roman Catholic Orthodox Easter Vigil – A Rite Of Passage

xir244981_1024x1024[1].jpegby Aidan Kavanagh, OSB

I have always rather liked the gruff robustness of the first rubric for baptism found in a late fourth-century church order which directs that the bishop enter the vestibule of the baptistery and say to the catechumens without commentary or apology only four words: “Take off your clothes.” There is no evidence that the assistants fainted or the catechumens asked what he meant.

Catechesis and much prayer and fasting had led them to understand that the language of their passage this night in Christ from death to life would be the language of the bathhouse and the tomb — not that of the forum and the drawing room.

So they stripped and stood there, probably, faint from fasting, shivering from the cold of early Easter morning and with awe at what was about to transpire. Years of formation were about to be consummated; years of having their motives and lives scrutinised;  years of hearing the word of God read and expounded at worship; years of being dismissed with prayer before the Faithful went on to celebrate the Eucharist; years of  having the doors to the assembly hall closed to them; years of seeing the tomb-like baptistery building only from without; years of hearing the old folks of the community tell hair-raising tales of what being a Christian had cost their own grandparents when the emperors were still pagan; years of running into a reticent and reverent vagueness concerning what was actually done by the Faithful at the breaking of bread and in that closed baptistery …

Tonight all this was about to end as they stood here naked on a cold floor in the gloom
of this eerie room.

Abruptly the bishop demands that they face westward, toward where the sun dies swallowed up in darkness, and denounce the King of shadows and death and things that go bump in the night. Each one of them comes forward to do this loudly under the hooded gaze of the bishop (who is tired from presiding all night at the vigil continuing next door in the church), as deacons shield the nudity of the male catechumens from the women, and deaconesses screen the women in the same manner. This is when each of them finally lets go of the world and of life as they have known it: the umbilical cord is cut, but they have not yet begun to breathe.

Then they must each turn eastwards toward where the sun surges up bathed in a light which just now can be seen stealing into the alabaster windows of the room. They must voice their acceptance of the King of light and life who has trampled down death by his own death. As each one finishes this he or she is fallen upon by a deacon or a deaconess who vigorously rubs olive oil into his or her body, as the bishop perhaps dozes off briefly, leaning on his cane. (He is like an old surgeon waiting for the operation to begin.)

When all the catechumens have been thoroughly oiled, they and the bishop are suddenly startled by the crash of the baptistery doors being thrown open. Brilliant golden light spills out into the shadowy vestibule, and following the bishop (who has now regained his composure) the catechumens and the assistant presbyters, deacons, deaconesses, and sponsors move into the most glorious room most of them have ever seen. It is a high, arbor-like pavilion of green, gold, purple, and white mosaic from marble floor to domed ceiling sparkling like jewels in the light of innumerable oil lamps that fill the room with a heady warmth. The windows are beginning to blaze with the light of Easter dawn. The walls curl with vines and tendrils that thrust up from the floor, and at their tops apostles gaze down robed in snow-white togas, holding crowns. They stand around a golden chair draped with purple upon which rests only an open book. And above all these, in the highest point of the ballooning dome, a naked Jesus (very much in the flesh) stands up to his waist in the Jordan as an unkempt John pours water on him and God’s disembodied hand points the Holy Spirit at Jesus’ head in the form of a white bird.

Suddenly the catechumens realise that they have unconsciously formed themselves into a mirror-image of this lofty icon on the floor directly beneath it. They are standing around a pool let into the middle of the floor, into which gushes water pouring noisily from the mouth of a stone lion crouching atop a pillar at poolside. The bishop stands beside this, his presbyters on each side: a deacon has entered the pool, and the other assistants are trying to maintain a modicum of decorum among the catechumens who forget their nakedness as they crowd close to see. The room is warm, humid, and it glows. It is a golden paradise in a bathhouse in a mausoleum: an oasis, Eden restored: the navel of the world, where death and life meet, copulate, and become undistinguishable from each other. Jonah peers out from a niche, Noah from another, Moses from a third, and the paralytic carrying his stretcher from a fourth. The windows begin to sweat.

The bishop rumbles a massive prayer — something about the Spirit and the waters of life and death — and then pokes the water a few times with his cane. The catechumens recall Moses doing something like that to a rock from which water flowed, and they are mightily impressed. Then a young male catechumen of about ten, the son of pious parents, is led down into the pool by the deacon. The water is warm (it has been heated in a furnace), and the oil on his body spreads out on the surface in iridescent swirls. The deacon positions the child near the cascade from the lion’s mouth. The bishop leans over on his cane, and in a voice that sounds like something out of the Apocalypse, says:

“Euphemius! Do you believe in God the Father, who created all of heaven and earth?”

After a nudge from the deacon beside him, the boy murmurs that he does. And just in time, for the deacon, who has been doing this for fifty years and is the boy’s grandfather, wraps him in his arms, lifts him backwards into the rushing water and forces him under the surface. The old deacon smiles through his beard at the wide brown eyes that look up at him is shock and fear from beneath the water (the boy has purposely not been told what to expect).

Then he raises him up coughing and sputtering. The bishop waits until he can speak again, and leaning over a second time, tapping the boy on the shoulder with his cane, says:

“Euphemius! Do you believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, who was conceived of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, and was crucified, died, and was buried? Who rose on the third day and ascended into heaven, from whence he will come again to judge the living and the dead?”

This time he replies like a shot, “I do,” and then holds his nose…

“Euphemius! Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the master and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who is to be honoured and glorified equally with the Father and the Son, who spoke by the Prophets? And in one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church which is the communion of God’s holy ones? And in the life that is coming?”

“I do.”

When he comes up the third time, his vast grandfather gathers him in his arms and carries him up the steps leading out of the pool. There another deacon roughly dries Euphemius with a warm towel, and a senior presbyter, who is almost ninety and is regarded by all as a “confessor” because he was imprisoned for the faith as a young man, tremulously pours perfumed oil from a glass pitcher over the boy’s damp head until it soaks his hair and runs down over his upper body. The fragrance of this enormously expensive oil fills the room as the old man mutters: “God’s servant, Euphemius, is anointed in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Euphemius is then wrapped in a new linen tunic; the fragrant chrism seeps into it, and he is given a burning terracotta oil lamp and gold to go stand by the door and keep quiet. Meanwhile, the other baptisms have continued.

When all have been done in this same manner (an old deaconess, a widow, replaced Euphemius’s grandfather when it came the women’s time), the clergy strike up the Easter hymn, “Christ is risen from the dead, he has crushed death by his death and bestowed life on those who lay in the tomb.”

To this constantly repeated melody interspersed with the Psalm verse, “Let God arise and smite his enemies,” the whole baptismal party — tired, damp, thrilled, and oily — walk out into the blaze of Easter morning and go next door to the church led by the bishop. There he bangs on the closed doors with his cane: they are flung open, the endless vigil is halted, and the baptismal party enters as all take up the hymn, “Christ is risen…,” which is all but drowned out by the ovations that greet Christ truly risen in his newly-born ones. As they enter, the fragrance of chrism fills the church: it is the Easter-smell, God’s grace olfactorally incarnate. The pious struggle to get near the newly baptised to touch their chrismed hair and rub its fragrance on their own faces. All is chaos until the baptismal party manages to reach the towering ambo that stands in the middle of the pewless hall. The bishop ascends its lower front steps, turns to face the white-clad neophytes grouped at the bottom with their burning lamps and the boisterous faithful now held back by a phalanx of well -built acolytes and doorkeepers. Euphemius’s mother has fainted and been carried outside for some air.

The bishop opens his arms to the neophytes and once again all burst into “Christ is risen,” Christos aneste …. He then affirms and seals their baptism after prayer, for all the Faithful to see, with an authoritative gesture of paternity — laying his hand on each head, signing each oily forehead once again in the form of a cross, while booming out: “The servant of God is sealed with the Holy Spirit.” To which all reply in a thunderous “Amen.” and for the first time the former catechumens receive and give the kiss of peace. Everyone is in tears. While this continues, bread and wine are laid out on the holy table; the bishop then prays at great length over them after things quiet down, and the neophytes lead all to communion with Euphemius out in front.

While his grandfather holds his lamp, Euphemius dines on the precious Body whose true and undoubted member he has become; drinks the precious Blood of him in whom he himself has now died; and just this once drinks from two other special cups — one containing baptismal water, the other containing milk and honey mixed as a gustatory icon of the promised land into which he and his colleagues have finally entered out of the desert through Jordan’s waters. Then his mother (now recovered and somewhat pale, still insisting she had only stumbled) took him home and put him, fragrantly, to bed.

Euphemius had come a long way. He had passed from death unto a life he lives still.

    • +

Delivered at Holy Cross Abbey, Canon City, Colorado,
Theology Institute, August, 1977
Copyright © 2003 St. Nicholas Orthodox Church. All rights reserved.

Aiden Kavanagh, one of the great liturgical scholars and sacramental theologians of
the twentieth century, delivered this lecture at Holy Cross Abbey, Canon City,
Colorado, Theology Institute, August, 1977. He departed this life in June, 2006.

Beautiful Heresy 101 – Jesus Was a Heretic

heretic_happy_hour[1].png

Remember, Jesus himself was considered a Heretic by the religious authorities of the day.

Heretics are the ones we should listen to most closely, for they are prophets that have seen God in ways that explode our dogmatic categories.

Do you really expect that saying “Agree with me or go to Hell!” will convert your opponents heart? No! This is why every anathema is always just another schism.

If the church ever says “anathema sit“, you know that it is Satan speaking, not God. In God everything is affirmation, and nothing is denial. When the church condemns, it is always just Satan trying to crush the prophets of the age by ecclesiastical fiat.

So listen closely to the Origens, Ariuses, Pelagiuses, Nestoriuses, Luthers, Calvins and Robertses of the day: They have discovered something important and profound, and it is only by listening to them that we will avoid further schism and maintain the unity of the church.

Hermeneutics 101: You must interpret Hell in light of the Gospel, rather than interpreting the Gospel in light of Hell.

hell_vs_heaven_by_i_r_s[1].jpgYou must interpret Hell in light of the Gospel, rather than interpreting the Gospel in light of Hell.

Yes, Hell is eternal, but not even an eternal Hell can prevent God from saving us. Yes, We are truly free, but not even our freedom can thwart God’s sovereign salvific plans.

This stubborn Catholic insistence that we are “Free” and Hell is inescapable only serves to keep all these poor Catholics chained in the black prison of the outer darkness, and crushed in the lake of fire under the towering flames of their own guilt. This attitude that God cannot, or will not save those in Hell comes from none other than the great deceiver; the Devil. It basically amounts to saying that God is not good, loving, sovereign and powerful. These are the most satanic blasphemies possible, and they are uttered by faithful Catholics. They think that in doing so they are defending the truth; how tragic that in reality they are it’s mortal enemies.

And this is the truth God loves everyone who is in Hell, and he promises us that he will not rest until he has rescued every single soul who is stuck there. But don’t be presumptuous: at no point will he force himself on anyone. He will continuously attract us with his beauty, seduce us with his love and eventually win us over. He will not stop until we freely crumble and confess “I love you” back to him. He will pursue us for as long as it takes, and never give up on us.

If God chooses you (And I promise you: he has), It is predestined that you will eventually choose him, so stop resisting. You don’t have to do anything. This promise will come true regardless of how you respond to it. You don’t have to become a Christian, you don’t have to get baptised, you don’t have to “believe in Jesus”, technically you don’t even have to believe in God (but that’s a discussion for another time). However if you DO trust that the promise is true, heaven will explode into your life right now. You, your friends, and your family are all guaranteed to be saved. Believe that promise and rejoice!

Catholic Sacrament Validity Under the Lutheran Sola Fide and According to the Gospel Promise

The Singular Divine Sacrament

promise[1].jpgIn this post I will examine what makes a Catholic sacrament “valid”, under the assumptions of the Lutheran Sola Fide.

Firstly, according to the Lutheran Sola Fide, there is in actual fact only one single sacrament: The preaching of the Gospel promise. This sacramental promise is effective ex opere operato in the sense that the promise is unconditional, and therefore God himself guarantees the fulfilment of the promise, and our response to that promise in the meantime cannot thwart his sovereign will in doing so. However in order for the promise to take effect at the present time and be successfully applied, it needs to be fully trusted by the person to whom the promise is spoken.

But what is the promise? The promise is God himself, the final glorious moment of history, the eschaton. From a Christian perspective, the promise is the resurrected Jesus Christ himself, revealed to the world as a pledge of things to come, and as the gateway through which we may access those good things right now in this present moment. When someone speaks the promise to another, they are bestowing God himself through their speaking, and it depends on the freedom of the listener as to whether or not the divine promise (God himself) will penetrate into their mind, heart and soul.

The Islamic principle of Tahwid and it’s manifestation as the classical theistic principle of divine simplicity apply to the promise just as much as they apply to God, due to this equivalence between the promise and God himself. So in a certain mystical sense, God is the promiser, God is the one to whom the promise is spoken, and God is the promise itself, and these three are all equivalent. Whenever one person proclaims the promise to another person, God is promising God to God. This is in fact a way of framing the Trinitarian relationship: The Father is the one who promises, The son is the promise itself, and the Spirit is the sacramental act of proclaiming the promise. (Notice the similarities to the classical/Nicaean “Father, Word/λογος, divine generation” Trinitarian construal). According to divine simplicity, God speaks his promise corporately to the entire creation, however he personalises this promise for individuals through the preaching and proclamation of the Gospel promise by those individuals.

But what IS the Gospel promise?

54c1321e40688_150124PreachingCAB.jpgThis is all very mystical however. So what does this singular sacrament look like in day to day preaching and evangelism? Well, it is different every time, but essentially always looks something like this:

“I am really with you, I love you, I will never leave you, I will always forgive you, I will save you, I will help you to forever escape the darkness and enter into the light, I will not be saved without you.”

A believer has the power to speak this fundamental sacramental promise with authority and conviction, on behalf of God, to someone who remains wandering in the outer darkness. As already mentioned, the promise is unconditional, guaranteed, and ex opere operato. However in order for the promise to actually bear fruit in the life of the person who hears it, that person must respond in faith. And so we come to the “Requirements for validity” with respect to the sacrament.

In order for the sacrament to be administered with validity, all that is required is

  1. The minister must actively intend to proclaim the divine promise to a sinner.
  2. The sinner must understand the promise and it’s full implications with their mind and intellect.
  3. The recipient must freely trust the promise with their heart and will.

These three points together are the absolute minimum that is required for the sacrament to be valid and efficacious.

Relevant questions may be raised at this point: Who is a valid minister of the sacrament? The minimum answer is “Anyone”. Literally anyone can proclaim the promise to anyone else. However it is “more perfect” (Or sunnah, as Muslims would say) firstly for the minister himself to be a believer in the promise (although this is not strictly necessary), and also for the sacrament to be administered by whoever possesses the highest degree of ordination in any given situation. So for example, in an emergency where a Hindu and Muslim are stuck in a desert and by some miracle both of them come to believe the promise, they have permission and power to speak the promise to each other with divine authority. In another situation, where there are many bishops available, the bishops should perform the sacrament. If there are no bishops, priests will suffice, and so on.

Roughly speaking, the preferential hierarchy which should be followed in the administration of the sacrament is

  1. Pope
  2. Archbishop
  3. Bishop
  4. Priest
  5. Deacon
  6. Subdeacon
  7. One who is confirmed
  8. One who is baptised
  9. One who himself believes the promise
  10. Anyone else

A Gospel Fiqr

keep-calm-and-follow-the-sunnah-2[1].pngIn Islamic terminology, what has been described so far falls under the category of Fard (ie. Obligatory). However there is also the category of Sunnah (ie. Preferred but not essential), which represents conditions which make the sacrament “more perfect”. Sunnah requirements should always be followed if possible. They are not optional, in the sense that you cannot just dispense with them at your whim and pleasure, however they are not strictly necessary, in the sense that during an emergency they may be dispensed with.

This is the point where the traditional seven sacraments come into play, as well as other unique sacramental economies such as the Later Day Saint system of ordinances. Each of these “traditional” sacraments and ordinances are in actual fact merely concrete manifestations of the one single sacrament already described. I will elaborate on how this is the case shortly.

The Sunnah requirements for all of these sacraments and ordinances are described in the various apostolic Christian traditions that are to be found throughout the world: Coptic, Byzantine, Latin, West Syrian, East Syrian, Armenian, Mormon, Lutheran, Anglican etc. And even within these apostolic traditions there are variations in the rulings and laws that are followed, for example in the Byzantine churches there are many major and minor variations in how the sacraments are performed. A broad example would be how Western Christians consider it Sunnah to use unleavened bread during the Eucharist, whereas Eastern Christians consider it Sunnah to use leavened bread. Another example would be how Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran Christians consider it to be Sunnah to baptise by merely sprinkling water on the head of the catechumen or baby in the shape of a cross, whereas many other Christians consider it to be Sunnah and essential to baptise by full immersion. The Latter Day Saints, in their interpretation of Christian law, take this particular requirement so seriously that they actually consider a baptism to be invalid if even a single hair remains above the water.

Let’s examine how the singular sacramental promise manifests under the form of the traditional seven sacraments

The Catholic Sacraments

The Catholic Sacrament of Baptism

502016177_univ_lsr_xl[1].jpgBaptism manifests the promise and intends to convey “Spiritual cleanliness”, “Justification”, “Forgiveness”, “Entry into the New Creation (Eschaton)”. The symbolism is that of dying as one goes under the water, and resurrecting as they come out of the water. (Clearly the symbolism gets a bit muddied in the Christian traditions which don’t practice baptism by immersion)

Requirements for this Catholic Sacrament to be valid:

As long as the minister intends to convey the promise (ie, to forgive, clean and justify), it doesn’t actually matter whether you use water or the Trinitarian formula (“I baptise you in the name of the father and the son and the Holy Spirit”). So baptisms which don’t involve water and don’t use the correct formula are in actual fact still valid. However remember the Sunnah requirements. If you want to perform the sacrament in accord with the rules of sacramental perfection, you should follow an apostolic tradition, and use water and the Trinitarian formula. However in a pinch, any liquid or substance that can be sprinkled will do; the exact words used don’t matter, and the only requirements for validity are those that were spelt out earlier in this article for the singular sacrament of promise.

The Catholic Sacrament of Confession

Confession3-258x258[1].jpgConfession is a sacramental reminder of the promise that was spoken during baptism. It is referred to as the promise of absolution, because in this sacrament the promise is applied specifically to wash away guilt. When we confess our sins and receive the promise of absolution, it is a reminder of the one, single promise that we are loved by God, and he will never abandon us, and generally speaking trusting in this promise leads to an absolution of guilt. After confession, you simply don’t feel guilty any more, you feel free, because you trust the promise that was spoken. Unfortunately many scrupulous Catholics don’t realise that this promise is eternal, and they end up sinning the moment they leave the confessional, forgetting the promise, and thus returning to the state of feeling horrible, soul crushing guilt.

Requirements for this Catholic Sacrament to be valid:

Traditionally, Catholics and Orthodox have understood this sacrament to require a validly ordained priest. However according to the generic rules of validity outlined earlier, this is not strictly necessary, and anyone can validly absolve anyone else in an emergency. However, when striving to follow the Christian tradition perfectly and observe the Sunnah, it is important to leave the administration of this sacrament up to the highest ranked ordained ministers who are present. So if there are priests available, leave this sacrament to them.

As long as the minister intends to speak the promise of absolution and forgiveness, it doesn’t actually matter what formula is used. But if striving to follow Sunnah, it is appropriate to use the Trinitarian formula (“I absolve you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”)

The Catholic Sacrament of Confirmation

index.jpegConfirmation is the sacrament where election and predestination are promised, via the promise of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Someone who is confirmed has received the promise that God will never abandon them until they successfully arrive in the eschaton.

Requirements for this Catholic Sacrament to be valid:

As with Confession, as long as the minister intends to promise election and predestination, the sacrament is valid; and so long as the one being confirmed trusts the promise, the sacrament is efficacious. There is no specified minimum form and matter. So it doesn’t matter what substance is used (traditionally holy chrism) and it doesn’t matter what sacramental words are spoken, so long as the promise is conveyed and understood correctly. However again, it is more appropriate to use an apostolic verbal formula and holy oil during the administration of this sacrament. In accordance with the apostolic Christian Sunnah.

Again, it does not ultimately matter who performs this sacrament. A Hindu can confirm a Muslim. However it is more appropriate for the highest ranking cleric present to do it. So in the absence of a bishop, leave it to a priest. In the absence of a priest, leave it to a deacon, and so on.

The Catholic Sacrament of Last Rites and Extreme Unction

index (1).jpegLast rites serves as a reminder of the promise at the most crucial moment of a persons life: right before they are about to die. The process of dying is a final battle, where Satan and all his demons swoop in and do battle with Michael and all his angels. The Devil accuses the person who is dying of all of their sins, and so it is helpful for a person to have the gospel promise fresh in their memory as armour and a weapon against this onslaught of evil and temptation.

Requirements for this Catholic Sacrament to be valid:

So long as the minister intends to remind the dying sinner of the gospel promise, the general rules of validity outlined earlier are all that matter: There must be intent, understanding, and faith. And anyone is a valid minister. But to perform the sacrament perfectly it should be done according to the rubrics of a valid apostolic tradition.

The Catholic Sacrament of the Eucharist and the Sacrifice of the Mass

eucharist[1].jpgThe Eucharist manifests the promise for the purpose of giving us a tangible direction of worship, and symbolising our unity with the divine via eating. The particular aspect of the promise that is emphasised is “I am truly with you. And I am uniting myself to you”.

Whenever a consecrated host is eaten by a believer, the heavenly sacrifice and heavenly liturgy are made present. However this sacrifice and liturgy is made more perfectly present by the observation of a rich and symbolic liturgical rite. Such liturgical rites can indeed be invented out of thin air (As Vatican II demonstrated), but respect for tradition is key, and it is preferable to observe a traditional liturgy.

Requirements for this Catholic Sacrament to be valid:

As long as the minister intends to really, truly, tangibly make God present under a manifest/mundane form, this sacrament is valid. Importantly, there is no necessary prescription for form and matter: so it is possible to consecrate literally any object. Rice, wine, bread, whiskey, icecream. Even a rock or a painting could be validly consecrated. However if the consecration is occurring in the context of the mass, the matter should be something edible. Of course there are prudential considerations, such as choosing a substance that doesn’t crumble and won’t be abused. So even though it is possible to consecrate icecream, this is a bad idea as it will lead to Eucharistic desecration as the icecream melts. As before, the exact minister of the sacrament does not matter: it could be a priest or a lay person. Ordination is not necessary. And the words of institution are not necessary either, just so long as the promise and message is accurately conveyed. (There is actually already an apostolic precedent for this view in the Assyrian Church of the East. They do not include the words of institution in their liturgy, and yet it is still recognised as valid by the Catholic magisterium)

These flexible requirements allow a more permanent object to be consecrated for the purpose of extended adoration, such as a crystal or golden statue. At the same time they allow for a wide variety of edible substances to be consecrated, to cater to different allergies and dietary restrictions that recipients of the sacrament may be subject to.

Of course, to follow the requirements of Sunnah, the classical sacramental words of institution should be employed (“This is my body, this is my blood”), and bread and wine should be chosen for the elements. And as per usual, the highest ranking ordained minister should perform the rite. Furthermore, the rubrics of the liturgical rite should be followed as closely as possible, with the correct vestments, hymns, readings and so on chosen. But none of this is necessary, merely preferred.

The Catholic Sacrament of Marriage

married-by-mom-and-dad-arranged-marriage.jpegMarriage is when two spouses speak the promise to each other as individuals. Firstly the groom acts as God in promising salvation and fidelity to his wife, and then the bride acts as God in doing the same back to her new husband. Mystically speaking, this sacrament is the most perfect manifestation of the fact that “God promises salvation to God”.

Requirements for this Catholic Sacrament to be valid:

The husband must intend to promise “I love you and will never leave you until you are saved” to his wife, and vice versa. Gay marriage becomes possible, as well as polygamy and polyamory. No special words are mandated, just so long as the promise is accurately conveyed and trusted by both partners.

Of course to perform the sacrament according to the Sunnah of apostolic Christianity, the groom and bride should both use the “I marry you” sacramental formula and follow whatever other rules are specified by the Christian tradition in question. For example, according to most traditional strands of Christianity, marriage is Sunnah when it is between a man and a woman, but not when it is between two people of the same sex.

Note that under these flexible requirements, it is technically possible for children to validly get married. But obviously there are Sunnah restrictions on this practice, as there are lots of ethical concerns and issues.

The Catholic Sacrament of Holy orders

ordination[1].jpgHoly Orders is actually very similar to the Eucharist, however instead of an inanimate object being consecrated and transubstantiated, a human person becomes consecrated and transubstantiated, in such a way that they manifest God and divine authority for the benefit of some community.

Requirements for this Catholic Sacrament to be valid:

The minister performing the ordination must intend to promise to some third party that they possess the divine authority, and the community must trust that promise. This bestowal of authority more perfectly makes present God to a community. The promise in this case is similar to the Eucharistic promise: “This is (or represents) God; trust him!”

Again, it doesn’t matter who ordains who for validity. So an isolated community can validly raise up an ordained leader from amongst themselves in an emergency. However to follow the Sunnah of the apostolic traditions, the person performing the ordination should be in the line of apostolic succession and higher in authority than the person being ordained.

Interestingly, the validity of the ordination depends on the recognition of that authority by a community. If a priest were to travel to a foreign country and try to exercise his priestly authority in a community other than the one in which he was ordained, he may very well be laughed at. Authority demands recognition, or it is no authority at all.

Interestingly, it becomes possible for someone to be ordained directly by God, apart from apostolic succession. Allegedly this happened in the case of Saint Paul and Joseph Smith. And it becomes possible for an isolated community to raise up a bishop (or perhaps even a pope) ex nihilo.

This principle lends validity to religious hierarchies that naturally develop all around the world. Muslims tend to raise up imams and sheiks from amongst their own ranks, and this is a form of sacramental ordination apart from the Christian traditions. It is the same with Hinduism and Buddhism. Wherever strong, religious leadership emerges, there is usually a valid expression of sacramental ordination in play. Mormon Apostles and Prophets are therefore just as validly ordained as Catholic bishops and priests, and there can technically be more than one Pope, as the authority of the Pope depends on the recognition of the people. However at the top of every hierarchy, whether religious or secular, there is only one God. So above the Pope, and above the Ayatollah, and above the Queen, and above the American President, there is God. Democracy is a form of secular ordination that may or may not have a certain sacramental character, as leaders are chosen by the people and raised up from the people.

How Does Forgiveness Work Anyway? – Accusation, Confession, Contrition, Absolution, Penance, Repentance and Reconciliation

Gods-forgiveness[1]Evangelicals like to simplify the whole “forgiveness” equation. “Just believe in Jesus and all of your sins will be forgiven” they say. Whereas for Catholics it’s a bit of a tangled mess, involving penance, absolution, reconciliation, contrition and so on. So how does forgiveness actually work? There are a couple of key terms to consider:

  1. Forgiveness
  2. Confession
  3. Contrition
  4. Absolution
  5. Penance
  6. Repentance
  7. Reconciliation

Generally speaking, forgiveness follows that sequence. Lets see if we can shed some light on the “forgiveness equation” simply by clearly defining the terms involved.

An Interpersonal Forgiveness Ordo Salutis

Forgiveness

Firstly, with regards to God’s attitude to us, forgiveness is unconditional and always and everywhere given. We should also strive to adopt such an attitude of being always and everywhere forgiving towards those who hurt us.

But what exactly is forgiveness? A good working definition would be “adopting an attitude of willingness to reconcile towards someone who has wronged you”. Now, it’s possible to adopt such an attitude towards someone without that someone even realising that they’ve wronged you, and without that person apologising or asking for forgiveness. According to this definition, forgiveness is compatible with anger. You can forgive someone and still be angry at them. This is how God feels towards us: he is constantly forgiving us and he never withdraws his forgiveness, even if we don’t seek it or express contrition. However he also feels angry that we do not come to him in sorrow and repentance.

So forgiveness is what you have to do as the person who has been wronged, but in order for the situation between two people to be fully repaired, the person who wronged you has responsibilities to attend to as well. Namely, they must experience and express contrition.

Confession

Confession goes hand in hand with contrition. You have to actually know what it is that you’ve done wrong, and then verbalise this to your victim. This way everyone is on the same page; everyone acknowledges that what happened was a problem.

Once you’ve named what you’ve done wrong, felt and expressed contrition, and received absolution of your guilt, you can get on with trying to actually fix the situation and return the relationship to a better state.

Contrition

If forgiveness is when the person who has been wronged seeks reconciliation and begs for their oppressor to be contrite, then Contrition is when the person who commit the crime seeks reconciliation and begs for their victim to be forgiving.

Contrition is where someone fully understands the wrong that they have done and feels the pain of sorrow and regret as they consider the sinful/harmful action. Such contrition needs to be felt, but also verbalised. This is why during the sacrament of confession, prior to the formula of absolution the penitent is required to say some prayer of contrition.

When someone has wronged you, the shortest act of contrition they could deliver would simply be the word “Sorry”. Other variations are possible too, such as “I apologise”, or “Please forgive me”. When someone comes up to you and says these words, they are expressing contrition, seeking your forgiveness.

Absolution

Absolution pertains to the sensation of guilt. Absolution is a promise. When God says (through the priest), “I absolve you of your sins”, this is a sacramental promise which is a shorthand way of saying something like “Don’t worry, remember that I forgive you, remember that I always forgive you. You don’t need to feel guilty about anything, so stop feeling guilty!” It’s not so much the sins that are absolved, it’s the guilt that is associated with those sins in our mind. Absolution washes away whatever guilt we might be feeling.

We can absolve each other of sin. Whenever someone feels guilty, a supreme act of mercy on the part of the victim is to say “I absolve you of your guilt, go and sin no more” to their oppressor. God delights in saying this to us, and we should delight in saying the same to each other.

Absolution rides on the back of forgiveness. It is a manifestation of forgiveness. As mentioned, it’s possible to have an attitude of forgiveness towards someone without ever telling them about it. However absolution is when you express your attitude of forgiveness to the person in question. It is only appropriate to do this after they have expressed contrition however. Forgiveness and contrition may go unexpressed, but it is only once these attitudes are verbalised and communicated that reconciliation can occur.

Penance

Penance is the third element of Reconciliation. After both contrition and forgiveness have been expressed by the criminal and the victim, there remains the fact that the actual situation has not yet been rectified. For example if the criminal stole a large sum of money from a victim, then it would make sense for the criminal to give that money back to the victim.

However discernment is necessary. Perhaps the criminal is not able to repay the debt to his victim. For example if the criminal is stealing bread to feed their children from some massive faceless corporation. In this case, it depends entirely on the mercy of the victim. If the victim is charitable enough, they might completely waive the requirement of penance, or reduce it to some token action. This often happens in Catholic penances, where a couple of prayers are proscribed, rather than some massive action.

So penance is essentially optional and depends on the mood of the victim. The victim may have already forgiven the criminal, but may still demand some sort of show of penance in order to rectify the situation as best as is possible. Then again, they may just let it go; forgive and forget.

Repentance

Also known as “A firm purpose of amendment”. This is where you sincerely adopt the attitude and disposition that you will do your best not to repeat whatever fault it was that you had commit. It’s where you “turn away” and “renounce” your crimes, whatever they may be, and vow never to do them again.

This is crucial in the whole forgiveness equation, because it would be somewhat silly if you went to all the trouble of expressing contrition, seeking forgiveness, doing penance, and then immediately repeating the crime with no qualms.

Reconciliation

The final step. The return to the original blissful state of relationship that existed prior to the fault. Once the victim and penitent have both gone through the previous 6 steps successfully, reconciliation has been achieved and all is well again. The friendship is restored.

Summary

forgive-fight-anger-stubborn-1598x900[1].jpg

This “sequence of forgiveness” applies both with regards to our relationship with God and our relationships with each other.

Basically, in order for reconciliation to occur,

  1. The victim has to adopt an attitude of forgiveness while the criminal has to simultaneously adopt an attitude of contrition.
  2. The criminal has to verbally confess what they’ve done and the contrition they feel.
  3. The victim has to verbally express their attitude of forgiveness, and thus absolve the criminal of their guilt.
  4. Depending on the situation, some sort of penance may be expected of the criminal by the victim. For example returning stolen goods. This may not always be possible however and therefore the victim should adopt a stance of mercy and waive this requirement as appropriate.
  5. The criminal makes a solemn vow of repentance, sincerely promising not to repeat the crime.
  6. Viola! Reconciliation has been achieved. The relationship has been restored.

Interestingly, God is never really a “victim” in the sense that he is invincible and nothing we do can really harm or offend him. For this reason, sacramental penances are more for our benefit than for his benefit, because our sins primarily harm our own souls: we are simultaneously the criminal and the victim; the one harming and the one being harmed. As such we need to be able to reconcile with our selves, we need to express contrition to our selves, and we need to forgive ourselves.

Applying this, perhaps you have commit the sin of gluttony and found yourself drastically overweight. In this case you are both the victim and the criminal. What you need to do is forgive yourself, express contrition and confess all the bad choices that led you to your obesity, and then give yourself the penance of hard exercise, to be continued until you are back in shape. Then vow never to repeat these bad decisions, and there you go: you have reconciled with yourself and restored yourself to the more perfect state from which you fell.

Here’s a summary matrix of reconciliation:

ReconciliationMatrix.PNG

 

St Maximus the Confessor and Apokatastasis

St Maximus the confessor draws a distinction between the “wanting” of God and the “willing” of God. Importantly, this maps directly onto the “wanting” of the soul and the “willing” of the soul. This is very important for understanding how universal Salvation is compatible with the popular understanding of free will.

The Willing and Wanting of God

God wants to save everyone: According to Catholics this is indisputable and fundamental. Because God is love, how could he ever want to damn someone? However, just because God wants something doesn’t mean he wills it. Wanting is a desire, whereas willing is an active manifestation of an intention, aimed at the satisfaction of a desire.

So on the one hand, God loves us all and wants to save us all. However, we abuse our freedom, and therefore God wills to punish us. The analogy of the father and the child helps to make sense of this.

A good father never wants to punish his child. So too, God never wants to punish us. However, the father sometimes feels compelled to punish his child, so as to “teach the child a lesson”. This should be both a corrective and a retributive punishment – which is to say, the punishment should be fitting and in proportion to the crime, but the punishment should also be aimed at educating and correcting the child and encouraging him to return to the right path.

Now, all of us have sinned, and therefore even though God wants to save us all, his will is compelled by his perfection of justice to condemn all mankind to damnation in Hell (Samsara). So there’s two things happening here: there is the Apokatastasis (Universal Salvation), in which both God’s willing and God’s wanting are in perfect harmony, and then there is the Massa Damnata, in which God’s willing is out of sync with God’s wanting: In the Apokatastasis, God both wants and wills all to be saved, and so all are saved. Whereas in the Massa Damnata, God wants to save everyone, and he does not want to punish anyone, but his will is compelled by his perfect justice to punish us all.

The summary with respect to God is that God always wants to save us all, however because all of us sin, he wills to damn us all.

The Willing and Wanting of The Soul

The analysis of willing and wanting with respect to God maps directly onto the willing and wanting of the Soul.

Every soul wants and desires God, and every action that a soul undertakes is aimed at trying to move that soul towards God. However due to our limited perspective, we often make mistakes, due to lack of prayer and mindfulness of what is right and wrong in any given situation. With our will we make choices which we think will satisfy our wanting, but often we are mistaken and our choice has the opposite effect.

In this way, with our wanting, we always seek after God, but with our willing we often fall short of God and find ourselves deeper in the darkness.

Synergism and Predestination

Now, the doctrine of synergism states that there is a perfect harmony between the wanting of the soul and the wanting of God, as well as – startlingly – perfect accord between the willing of the soul and the willing of God. That is to say, the soul always wants God, and God always wants the soul.

However when the willing of the soul is not directed towards that which will truly satisfy it’s wanting, then so too the willing of God will not be in accord with that which truly satisfies his wanting. Both God and the soul always want the soul to move towards God, but sometimes the soul wills to move away from God, and whenever it does this, God accordingly wills to move away from the soul.

In this way when someone sins they have failed to act correctly and have chosen wrongly. The result is an explosion of justice from God in the form of an increase of retributive punishment. And so when we reject God, we are punished, but the key thing is that this is not the punishment of a king towards a slave; it is instead the punishment of a father towards a son.

As such, God’s justice is a merciful justice: it aims at the salvation of the sinner. But God’s justice is also a retributive justice: his punishment always fits the crime.

Lets take things to the extremes: When the soul definitively rejects God (and St Maximus firmly maintains – along with popular catholic tradition – that this is possible), God’s justice responds with definitive rejection of the soul.

According to Paul in his letter to the Romans, all of us have definitively rejected God and we all continue and persist in this rejection. And so all of us have tasted Hell. In a sense, St Augustine was right about the massa damnata: all of us will be damned forever.

But there’s a rubber band effect in play here. It is just because all of us are damned, that all of us will be saved; the punishment of Hell (Samsara) is the very means by which God educates us to be able to make the right choices. Sometimes it takes total damnation of a soul; it requires a soul to hit rock bottom, in order for that soul to finally realise the truth of his situation and repent.

So even if a soul ends up in Hell by means of it’s own mistaken willing, that soul still desires to be in heaven by it’s infallible wanting. Everlasting damnation is the educative means by which God will bring that soul back to heaven.

If a soul ends up in Hell, that soul’s wanting and willing are out of sync. They are willing the wrong things in an attempt to satisfy their wanting. Similarly with God; when a soul ends up in Hell, God does not want the soul to be in hell, but he does will that the soul be in Hell.

In summary, the willing of the soul is directed towards the satisfaction of the wanting of the soul. So too, the willing of God is directed towards the satisfaction of the wanting of God.

The implication of this is that everything God wills, ultimately has the purpose of satisfying his wanting. So if God wills that someone be everlastingly and eternally damned forever and ever, then in a most mysterious way this act of will has the purpose of satisfying God’s want to save that soul. In other words, everlasting and eternal damnation is sometimes exactly what it takes in order for the soul to ultimately get what it wants, and also for God to ultimately get what he wants.

Conclusion – God or Hell: Which is More Eternal?

St Gregory of Nyssa – who was a firm universalist – pondered these ideas, and speculated that for most souls the stay in Hell would be a temporary one, but for some souls (for example perhaps Satan and/or Judas) their damnation will be so complete that their purification will “extend into infinity”.

But he also remembered that “God is infinitely more infinite than infinity and eternally more eternal than eternity”, and so he had the wisdom to ask “What happens after forever?” and his answer was αποκαταστασις; the final and universal rest of all souls in paradise . Those who find themselves stuck in Hell forever will finally begin to repent after a forever has elapsed. For the forever of Hell cannot compare to the forever of God. Hell may very well feel like forever to a soul who is stuck there, but to God, the punishments of Hell do not last even as long as the blink of an eye.

In this way, we have both the massa damnata and the Universal Salvation shown to be compatible with each other. Everyone will be damned for all eternity, and everyone will be saved for all eternity, and the key to understanding how this can be, is St Maximus’ distinction between willing and wanting.

Footnote

Just as the Catholics are correct to insist that “God loves everyone and desires to save all without exception”, so too, the Calvinists are correct to insist that “God is just and actively wills to send sinners to Hell”: When a soul finds itself stuck in the torments of Hell, this is because God wills it, but not because he wants it.

The COVID Sessions – Online Interfaith Exchange #1

A Hindu, a Buddhist and a Christian discuss politics, coronavirus, and comparative theology.

Notes on a Mitch Pacwa Debate Concerning Justification

Initial Thoughts

I’m uncomfortable with the way he frames the catholic position. The way he talks, it sounds as if God does 99% of the work of our salvation and then leaves the final 1% up to us. He says something like “we have to say ‘yes’ to God”, as if the saying yes is spontaneously produced by an individual and God just steps back and has nothing to do with it. This can’t be right. The understanding that I’ve inherited over the years is articulated by British Orthodox Metropolitan Bishop Kalistos Ware as “The work of our salvation is completely and entirely an act of Grace, but in that act of grace we remain completely and entirely free”.

This would probably sit will with Aquinas, who had a strong and robust doctrine of efficacious grace. A summary of my understanding of efficacious grace is “God can guarantee that a sinner will be saved without in anyway violating that sinners freedom”. Compare this with the current popular catholic understanding of “sufficient” grace, which I understand to be something more like “God gives us everything we need to be saved, but then steps back and leaves it up to us”. In my opinion this popular understanding has fatal implications for Christian Hope, Faith and Joy; it turns the work of salvation back on the sinners own efforts, which of course will never be enough. This leads to despair and angst of the sort that Luther experienced.

What makes most sense to me is that all of the following propositions are true, even if at face value they may appear to some to be irreconcilable:

Salvation is an offer that we may or may not accept: We have free will and no one can coerce us to do anything – not even God. (The standard Catholic understanding)
Salvation is also an unconditional promise: God is able to guarantee that we will be saved (ie, that we will at some point accept his offer), without in any way violating our freedom (The Catholic doctrine of predestination and election and the Thomistic doctrine of efficacious grace)

The idea of unconditional promise is interesting, because it raises the question “To whom is the promise spoken and how/when/where?” According to Lutheran sacramental theology, the promise is primarily spoken via the seven sacraments, with particular emphasis on Baptism and Confession. At the moment when you are baptised, God has sacramentally spoken his promise of salvation to you and you are counted among the elect; you have passed from death to life and there is no possibility of going back. The sacrament of Confession and words of absolution are simply a reminder of this new reality and basically are a shorthand way of saying “Remember that you have been baptised and are not guilty, so stop feeling like it and stop acting like it!”

This is incidentally where the idea of “Sola Fide” actually makes sense. It’s not possible to respond to an unconditional promise with works, but only with either trust or apathy. If salvation is an unconditional promise, you either trust that promise or you don’t, but regardless of whether you trust it or not it’s going to come true because God is the one making the promise and God’s promises do not fail. However if you do trust the promise, life comes alive in ways that you never thought possible before, and the lyrics of the popular protestant hymn “Amazing Grace” cease to seem so heretical. “I once was lost but now am found; was blind but now I see”.

Most Catholics in my experience tend to disagree with this whole understanding by completely denying that salvation is a promise and doubling down on it’s nature as an offer instead, thus rendering the “unconditional” dimension of salvation null. Such people tend to be hyper-attached to a particular understanding of libertarian human free will and get triggered by anything that even slightly appears to contradict it. The fact that we humans have the power and right to deny God becomes the most crucial issue of our day and if anyone dares to question this they are dismissed and ignored as a heretic. And so “Freedom” becomes the central and decisive dogma of the faith, rather than the love of Christ for sinners and his glorious and total defeat of sin, suffering, Hell and death. I don’t find the supposed fact that I have the ‘freedom’ to damn myself inspires much faith, hope and love in my life; instead it tends to just produce scrupulosity and a judgemental pharisee/tribal attitude in which I’m trying super hard to save myself but it’s never enough and I look down on others who aren’t trying as hard as me. Whereas the idea that Christ has already saved me and everyone who I love, and that I need not fear being ultimately lost, is incredibly inspiring. Rather than being crippled with fear of hell and focusing on saving myself, I’m empowered to carry the light of christ out into the world and focus on saving everyone else.

This is arguably why Justification is the doctrine on which the church stands or falls. A church that sees salvation as a mere offer, to be responded to primarily with effort, is going to be completely crippled as it’s members turn inwards and focus on trying to save themselves. Whereas a church that sees salvation as the unconditional promise which can only be responded to with faith (which is exactly what it is), has been liberated to get out there and announce to the world its own salvation, which is the original meaning of evangelism: to announce the good news of Christ’s victory over all the pains and problems that confront us in our lives.

Around the 10 Minute Mark

Pacwa gives a great and passionate description of the catholic position on assurance and perseverance. He seems to be saying that you can be sure that you are in the state of grace in any given moment, but you cannot be sure that you will persevere in this state of grace all the way until the end of your life.

I think it really depends whether you take “state of Grace” and “justification” in a subjective or objective sense (which is another popular Lutheran distinction). In an objective sense, the entire world was justified by the cross and resurrection. The job is done; The entire world is objectively saved and in the state of grace and will be forever. However subjectively speaking not all of us experience this salvation that has been won for us. In a subjective sense, many of us remain in our sins and feel guilty and scrupulous. So in the subjective sense, Pacwa is completely correct to follow Trent and say that no one can know that they will persevere to the end of their life in the (subjective) state of grace. However in an objective sense (which is what most protestants are more concerned with), you can definitely be assured of your ultimate salvation: this is the essence of the gospel and exactly what makes it “good news” for me, for you, and for all of our relatives who are currently dying from coronavirus. “Christ died for you: You have been saved” is the kerygma that we must announce. Mitch Pacwa and the council of Trent didn’t get any of it’s theology wrong, but it simply is missing the evangelical point of the whole affair.

“Declaration of Righteousness” and “Reality of Righteousness”.

Justification is indeed a declaration, as per Luther, but this does not make it a “legal fiction”, as Catholics commonly caricature the protestant understanding.

Consider: If I look at a desk and see a book, but Jesus looks at the same desk and doesn’t see the book, Then is the book really there? Are you delusional or is Jesus delusional? Who’s perspective has epistemological primacy in this situation? Who should you trust?

In case the answer isn’t obvious: God’s perspective always trumps the sinners perspective.

With this in mind, consider what it means for God to “declare” that a certain state of affairs holds. If God declares that I am righteous, then despite all evidence to the contrary I am righteous. Because if that is how God sees me then that is how it is, even if I can’t understand how this may be.

The idea is somewhat platonic. God has a perspective of reality “with all the lights on” as it were, whereas we are wandering through reality as a child wanders in the dark. In other words, we are not omniscient and don’t have access to all the data, whereas God is omniscient and therefore his perspective is fully informed in a way that ours isn’t. The implication of this is that when God declares you to be righteous, you are really righteous, even despite all evidence to the contrary.

This is again where faith comes in. Do you trust your own perspective, under which you are condemned as a dirty filthy sinner? Or do you trust God’s perspective, which he reveals to you via his unconditional promise and declaration that in the reality which he is perceiving, you are ok and he accepts you? It’s a question of where you place your faith: in yourself or in God? In your own perspective, or in the divine perspective of God which he reveals to you through the announcing of the gospel and the proclamation of the promise in word and sacrament?

Faith and Works

The inevitable faith versus works debate pops up in the video towards the end. The conflict isn’t so hard to resolve in my view. The protestant fella is insistent that the fact of our election (which he refers to as “salvation”) does not depend in any way on the works and efforts that we perform, and he is completely correct to insist on this. Whereas Pacwa is insisting that works of love and a purified, perfected soul are necessary components of salvation, not optional, and he is also correct to dig his heels in and insist on this.

The resolution comes by recognising that salvation is both an event and a journey: The entire cosmos and everyone and everything in it was justified/elected/saved/predestined at the cross and resurrection. For this reason we as Christians should sing praises and rejoice. However there’s also a journey involved: we still remain here in this life, and our mission is to be little Christs and announce the Gospel to the world, as well as stamp out any sins and imperfections that appear to remain in the world. We’re all on this journey together and until we are all fully saved and made perfect, none of us are.

In this way you do justice to the Catholic insistence that works of love are essential to the process towards and state of salvation, but you also do justice to the deep protestant conviction that there is literally nothing we can do to secure our election.

A helpful thing to remember is that when a protestant says “I am saved”, often what they really mean (even if they don’t realise it) is “I am elect and chosen”. They are fully confident that in the end, they are going to make it, because they know that Jesus died for their sins and rose again for their salvation.

In this way, works are an essential part of salvation, but they have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with predestination or election.

A helpful point to drive this home is the fact that under both a lutheran and calvinist analysis, not even faith contributes anything to our election. We are chosen because God loves us, not because we have faith or try really hard to fulfill the commandment to love; not even if we succeed at fufilling the commandment to love (but who does?). The reason for this is that this simply turns faith into a work. If election depends on our faith, then no one can be saved, because no one has perfect faith, no matter how hard they try. Whereas if election depends on God’s love and what he did for us on the cross, then it doesn’t depend on us at all, not even on our faith, and therefore we can have peace and assurance knowing that everything is going to be ok, which frees our wills and liberates us to go and do the good works that are necessary to make the journey to heaven. But without this faith and assurance, we will be utterly paralyzed,

In summary, the cross unconditionally secured election for the whole world and everyone in it, but our love and good works are how we “make the journey” to heaven both individually and as a church community.

Pacwa also raises the issue of mortal sin, and how it is possible to lose justification. Again, understanding the difference between election/predestination and salvation/justification is helpful. Of course it is possible to lose your salvation and justification by apostasy and mortal sin, however your election is still secure and there is nothing you can do to escape your election; ultimately no matter how far the lost sheep runs into the outer darkness, Christ the good shepherd will leave his Church, descend to Hell and rescue that sinner.

In other words, not even Hell and everlasting damnation can or will prevent Christ from saving us, which is incidentally what the whole point of Holy Saturday and the harrowing of Hades is about.

So yes, you can compromise your current salvation by mortal sin, but there is nothing you can do to jeopardize your election