From p. 15-17 of Eastern Orthodox theologian Vladimir Solovyov’s wonderful work, Russia and the Universal Church:
There is in the Christian Church a materially fixed point, an external and visible center of action, an image and an instrument of the divine power. The apostolic see of Rome, that miraculous ikon of universal Christianity, was directly involved in the Iconoclastic struggle, since all the heresies were in the last resort denials of the reality of that divine incarnation, the permanence of which in the social and political order was represented by Rome. It is indeed historically evident that all the heresies actively supported or passively accepted by the majority of the Greek clergy encountered insuperable opposition from the Roman Church and finally came to grief on this Rock of the Gospel. This is especially true of the Iconoclastic heresy; for in denying all external manifestation of the divine in the world it was making a direct attack on the raison d’être of the Chair of Peter as the real objective center of the visible Church.
The pseudo-Christian Empire of Byzantium was bound to engage in decisive combat with the orthodox Papacy; for the latter was not only the infallible guardian of Christian truth but also the first realization of that truth in the collective life of the human race. To read the moving letters of Pope Gregory II to the barbarous Isaurian Emperor is to realize that the very existence of Christianity was at stake. The outcome of the struggle could not be in doubt; the last of the imperial heresies went the way of its predecessors, and with it the circle of theoretic or dogmatic compromises which Constantine’s successors had attempted between Christian truth and the principle of paganism was finally closed. The era of imperial heresies was followed by the emergence of Byzantine “orthodoxy.” To understand this fresh phase of the anti-Christian spirit we must revert to its origins in the preceding period.
Throughout the history of the great Eastern heresies, extending over five centuries from the time of Arius to that of the last Iconoclasts, we constantly find in the Empire and Church of the East three main parties whose alternating victories and defeats form the framework of this curious evolution. We see in the first place the champions of formal heresy, regularly instigated and supported by the imperial court. From the religious point of view, they represented the reaction of Eastern paganism to Christian truth; politically, they were the declared enemies of that independent ecclesiastical government founded by Jesus Christ and represented by the apostolic see of Rome. They began by conceding to sar [sic], whose protégés they were, unbounded authority not only in the government of the Church but even in matters of doctrine; and when Cæsar, impelled by the orthodox majority of his subjects and by the fear of playing into the hands of the Pope, ended by betraying his own creatures, the leaders of the heretical party sought more solid support elsewhere by exploiting the separatist and semi-pagan tendencies of the various nations which were free, or were aiming at freedom, from the Roman yoke. Thus Arianism, the religion of the Empire under Constantius and Valens, but abandoned by their successors, claimed the allegiance of the Goths and Lombards for centuries; Nestorianism, betrayed by its champion Theodosius II, was for a time welcomed by the Eastern Syrians; and Monophysitism, thrust out from Byzantium in spite of all the efforts of the Emperors, finally became the national religion of Egypt, Abyssinia and Armenia.
At the opposite extreme to this heretical party, trebly anti-Christian — in its religious doctrine, its secularism, and its nationalism — we find the absolutely orthodox Catholic party engaged in defending the purity of the Christian idea against all the pagan compromises and in championing free and worldwide ecclesiastical government against the onslaughts of Cæsaropapism and the aims of national separatism. This party could not count on the favor of earthly powers; of the higher clergy it included only individuals here and there. But it relied on the greatest religious force of those times, the monks, and also on the simple faith of the mass of devout believers, at least in the central parts of the Byzantine Empire. Moreover, these orthodox Catholics found and recognized in the central Chair of St. Peter the mighty palladium [sic] of religious truth and freedom. To indicate the moral weight and ecclesiastical importance of this party, it is enough to say that it was the party of St. Athanasius the Great, of St. John Chrysostom, of St. Flavian, of St. Maximus the Confessor and of St. Theodore of the Studium.
The Church strongly opposes contraception, in keeping with the historical position of Christianity. Openness to procreating life is one of the defining characteristics of marriage, which is primarily what makes homosexual “marriage” impossible. The Church also upholds the life-long commitment that is marriage. Contrast the Church’s beautiful teachings on all of this against the positions of Protestantism — those of Anglicanism, in particular.
Anglicans once agreed with the Church on these subjects, up until the 1930 Lambeth Conference that approved contraception in some cases (which, of course, had a snowball effect). Here’s the 15th resolution from the Conference:
“Where there is clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, the method must be decided on Christian principles. The primary and obvious method is complete abstinence from intercourse (as far as may be necessary) in a life of discipline and self-control lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles. The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.”
There were still some restrictions, obviously, but since then, all practical barriers to contraception have fallen. That decision of that Conference is interesting, especially considering that it stated that “the primary purpose for which marriage exists is the procreation of children” in its 13th resolution and that “the duty of parenthood [is] the glory of married life” in its 14th resolution.
The Episcopal “Church” of the USA (the official American branch of Anglicanism) also now blesses homosexual relationships. (See their liturgy for it here.) The “Church” of England recently announced that it will follow the same route.
But what must be kept in mind is that, in 1991, the ECUSA officially barred homosexual couples from having sexual relations:
“..the 70th General Convention of the Episcopal Church affirms that the teaching of the Episcopal Church is that physical sexual expression is appropriate only within the lifelong monogamous ‘union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind’ ‘intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord’ as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer” [link]
And the 1930 Lambeth Conference addressed the subject, as well:
“[The Conference] reaffirms ‘as our Lord’s principle and standard of marriage a life-long and indissoluble union, for better or worse, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, and calls on all Christian people to maintain and bear witness to this standard.'” [from Resolution 11]
So, if openness to life is not required in marriage (which the acceptance of contraception would seem to indicate), then why are same-sex couples in the ECUSA mandated to practice sexual abstinence? And if it is required, then why are contraception and homosexual relationships now endorsed?
And I must say that I find it laughable (but not at all surprising) that Anglicanism, which was founded by a king that just wanted a few divorces, is so inconsistent on the subject of divorce, too. Its leaders have taught that marriage is to be a “life-long union” (Resolution 114 of the 1958 LC) and “no husband or wife has the right to contemplate even legal separation until every opportunity of reconciliation and forgiveness has been exhausted” (Resolution 116 of the 1958 LC), yet divorce and “remarriage” are now totally accepted.
The Anglican positions on marriage and sexuality are nonsensical. Would not God’s true Church be more consistent? If Anglicans really want to “secure a better education for the clergy in moral theology” (Resolution 12 of the 1930 LC), then they should tell them to become Catholic.
John 3:14-18 doesn’t support the “faith alone” position.
For Protestants, John 3:14-18 might seem like the ultimate “Gotcha!” passage to use against Catholics. But if you look a little deeper, you’ll recognize that the passage does not defend the “faith alone” position and is totally in line with Catholic teaching.
The passage reads as, “‘As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.'”
That might seem a little damning to the Catholic position that good works are necessary, right? Well, in truth, it’s not.
With God, to believe means to obey. God does not desire a lukewarm, vague belief in Him, but a devoted life in His service. This is evidenced later in the chapter. John 3:36 reads as, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
And if one looks at verses 19-21 of the chapter, they will see that Christ said that those who “love darkness” and do “evil deeds” will not reach “the Light” (Heaven).
Sin — which, at its heart, is anything offensive to God — is a heinous, damaging thing that we must cleanse ourselves of. This cleansing is done through Christ, of course, but meriting it requires a little more than a belief in Him. It requires a repentant heart (see Luke 13:3) and, in the case of mortal sin, sacramental confession (see my video about Confession).
On top of all of this, Christ told us in John 13:15 to follow the example that He set and He also told us — in John 15:10 — that we must keep His commandments to “abide in [His] love”.
We can’t just sit back and relax non-stop, counting on our vague “faith” to save us — we have to do things! Like St. Paul wrote in Colossians 1:24, we must help the Church in “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.”
So, when reading the Bible, remember that true belief requires obedience and good works.
(All verses are from the NASB translation.)
A video that examines Genesis 15:6, Romans 4, and James 2 in context to conclude that Abraham was NOT saved by “faith alone,” and neither are we.
I asked famous apologist Dave Armstrong for his opinion on this video, and he said that it “looks great (and orthodox)”.
In the video, I point out…
1. the importance of having an active faith (Abraham had to have sex with Sarah to have Isaac, which was key to God’s covenant with humanity; Abraham also had to be willing to sacrifice Issac)
2. that Abraham seemed to already have some sort of faith in Genesis 12, and what changed between Genesis 12 and Genesis 15:6 was that Abraham had done good works (he had built three altars in honor of God and had done what God told him to do)
3. that people still had to do works at the beginning of God’s covenant (e.g. circumcision), or risk being cut off from Him, and that baptism is, basically, the new circumcision
4. and what Paul meant when he denounced “works.”
A video explaining why Ephesians 2:8-9 does not support the “faith alone” position, and why the passage is completely in line with Catholic teaching.
Protestants claim that Confession (aka the Sacrament of Reconciliation) is unnecessary, but that claim totally contradicts the Word of God.
Kevin M. Tierney wrote at Catholic Lane:
When one repents of their sins in the Bible, it is always done to another individual.
The clearest case of this is with David after he commits adultery and arranges the murder of the woman’s husband. David only repents of his sin once God’s representative Nathan confronts him. (2 Samuel 12:1-13) David knew he had sinned grievously in his adultery, otherwise he would not have had Uriah killed to conceal his crime. Even knowing the extent of his guilt, he refused to repent. This speaks to the human psyche’s ability to rationalize away what they do so that it is no longer a sin. This is a skill humanity has nearly perfected in today’s age.
Another thing worth considering is how professing something vocally changes things. It is very easy to say something silently with no witnesses. It is something altogether different when you have to acknowledge your faults before another. One could say it becomes a far more serious endeavor when you are not only willing to renounce your sins, but renounce them forcefully out loud. The first step on the road to repentance requires you to renounce those sins. While it possible to fake such, it becomes far harder to do so. (It goes without saying that such a faked confession would be a sacrilege, and compound sin upon sin!)
Whenever I hear Protestants say that confessing sins to a priest is wrong, I am reminded of Luke 5:21, in which the Pharisees say that only God can forgive sins, and doubt Christ’s ability to do so. They are so blinded by their ideology that they can not recognize that God (Christ is God in human form, both fully human and fully divine) is before them.
Am I brazen enough to compare priests to Christ? In a way, yes, because priests serve in persona Christi (a Latin phrase, meaning “in the person of Christ”).
In John 20, Christ clearly gives the Apostles the power to forgive sins.
“And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.’” – John 20:22-23 (NASB)
From there, the Apostles passed down their “powers” through apostolic succession (a topic I plan on writing about in the future). Those “powers” are possessed by our bishops and priests today.
So, like Devin Rose asked, would you have confessed your sins to an Apostle? If not, you contradict Christ. And, if you would have confessed your sins to an Apostle, it only makes sense that you would confess your sins to a priest.
My first confession was the week before I entered the Church. I was so nervous, but I tried to be prepared: I had done an examination of my conscience and had printed out a version of the standard Act of Contrition. I was ready, or at least, I thought I was. But there was just something unexplainable about that few minutes. I truly felt like I was speaking with God. Like Laban felt with Jacob in Genesis 30:27, I felt that God blessed me, forgave me, and transformed me through His priest.
That is why the Church teaches that Catholics should confess at least once a year (the saintly Cardinal Arinze commented on that here). The Sacrament of Reconciliation is an amazing gift from God, so we should utilize it.
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ..” – Romans 5:2 (NASB)
“You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” – James 2:24-26 (NASB)
I asked a friend that knows Greek to look at those verses in the original Greek texts, and he said that Paul and James both use the same word for “faith” (Greek: “pistei”). Because Scripture can not contradict itself on matters of faith and morals (and because of the additional evidence presented below), Paul and James must both be correct and must both be advocating the same thing. Paul never advocated sola fide (faith alone). Both Paul and James recognized the importance of works.
But how can that be? Paul talks about faith a lot, while simultaneously denouncing the Law.
“For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” – Romans 3:28 (NASB)
Here is an explanation of the context of that verse from Catholic Answers:
So what about the fact that Paul also said we are “justified by faith apart from works of law?” He was writing to a church in Rome struggling with a very prominent first-century heretical sect known today as the “Judaizers.” These heretics taught that belief in Christ and obedience to the New Covenant was not enough to be saved. A man also had to keep the Mosaic Law (which, according to Hebrews 7:11-12, has been superseded in Christ) and be circumcised in order to be saved (cf. Acts 15:1-2). Paul gave us one clue—among many—that he had this sect in mind when he wrote in Romans 2:28-29, “For he is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal . . . ” Paul told us in Colossians 2:11-12 that this true “circumcision of Christ” is baptism.
It is in this context that Paul says we are “justified by faith apart from works of law.” He did not in any sense say that works are unnecessary. He specified works of law because these were the works without which the Judaizers were claiming one “cannot be saved.”
My problem with the belief that faith alone is sufficient for salvation is that it frequently encourages people to, to quote Martin Luther, “sin boldly.” That is hardly in keeping with the teachings of Christ and His Apostles.
There is plenty of evidence in the Bible that works are important. Here are some verses from Paul’s writings:
“But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.” – Romans 2:5-8 (NASB)
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” – Galatians 6:7-9 (NASB)
“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” – Philippians 2:12-13 (NASB)
“Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.” – 1 Corinthians 7:19 (NASB)
Faith AND good works are necessary for salvation, but always remember that it is because of God’s grace that we are able to have both.
Arguably, the greatest problem that Christianity faces today is the prevalent disbelief in Hell and the seriousness of sin. St. Augustine of Hippo, a Doctor of the Church, put it this way:
“Now eternal punishment seems hard and unjust to human senses for the reason that in this [our] infirmity of dying senses there is lacking that sense of the highest and purest wisdom, [that] whereby it can be felt what a great outrage was committed in that first prevarication.”
St. Robert Bellarmine, another Doctor of the Church, summarized the problem even more succinctly in his Sermon on Hell (delivered at Louvain University, Belgium, in approximately 1574):
“If we truly understood the gravity of the fault, we would scarcely entertain any doubt as to the bitterness of the penalty.”
Hell is mentioned numerous times in the Bible, but people tend to tone down the message of possible condemnation in favor of a wishy-washy assumption that everyone will get to Heaven somehow. Well, that assumption is nonsense.
Here are some Bible verses:
“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels..” – Matthew 25:41 (NASB)
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell..” – Mark 9:42-47 (NASB)
“Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.'” – Luke 16:22-24 (NASB)
“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.” – John 15:5-6 (NASB)
If there is truly no risk of Hell, then why did Christ suffer and die for us? The Crucifixion would have been a totally pointless exercise. Some relativists argue that Christ simply delivered us all from the punishments that come with sin, without any restrictions, and “paid the price.” But that is clearly untrue. He came to offer us a path to salvation, not to just give us salvation (read Matthew 7:13-14). Even most Protestants cede that point through their claim that sola fide (faith alone) is what is needed to reach Heaven and to avoid Hell, which is, though simple, still a restriction.
Tragically, despite the risk of eternal damnation, Christianity in the West seems to be in the process of being displaced by, as Benedict XVI once called it, a “dictatorship of relativism,” in which political correctness and unquestioning acceptance of sin are the primary “virtues.”
Frequently, critics of the Church will accuse it of being extraordinarily wealthy (and with that comes the implication of corruption and moral depravity). But the Church is not that wealthy.
In 2011, the Vatican had a $19 million (15 million euros) budget deficit. The Vatican typically faces a budget deficit every year (the year 2010 being a rare exception).
Dioceses all over the world have also been struggling financially. You can read about an example of that here.
The thing about the Church’s money is that it is typically spent in the following fields: general charity (ex: Catholic Relief Services, etc.), salaries (which, I assure you, are comparatively low next to many jobs), parish upkeep, missionary work, education, and social outreach.
First of all, some of those services are run independent of each other (and some are even managed by lay people, so the Church is not always able to exercise direct control and have more flexibility in those situations).
Second of all, those areas need a certain amount of stability, so when possible, budgets are left largely unchanged. The Church can not abandon its mission just because money is tight. We can not stop building irrigation systems in Ethiopia, providing clean water in the Philippines, putting HIV and AIDS programs in place in the developing world, and other charitable works.
The Church certainly does not waste what money it has, either. Catholic organizations are widely cited as some of the most efficient and productive organizations in the world. When it comes to Catholic Relief Services (a charity governed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops), for example, 94% of the money they spend goes directly to programs that benefit the poor overseas (unlike many other charities that pay their leaders high salaries and provide many perks to them). You can read more about CRS’s efficiency here.
Despite all of that, the Church’s Institute for Works of Religion (most commonly known as the Vatican Bank) has been subjected to controversy. Conspiracy theorists suggest that the Vatican Bank has strong ties to the mafia, trying to link it to events that occurred in the 1980s. However, there is no proof that the Vatican Bank has or ever had any real ties to the mafia.
Many Protestants think the Church is a sort of all-powerful behemoth, capable of getting anything it pleases, but they do not take into account that the Church’s temporal authority has been greatly curtailed in the last few hundred years. Long ago are the times when the Church was able to demand action by governments and was able to bring about social change when it was needed. Now, the Church is lucky to even get represented at all in most debates.
So, the next time someone tries to suggest that the Church is some sort of corrupt organization intent only on making and hoarding money, please correct them.