Sunday, November 22, 2009

That's Not Cricket: Does Wisdom 11:17(11:18) Contradict the Teaching of the Catholic Church?

[Preface: Jamie Donald and Matt's comments on this subject in the comment section to my prior article were on spot in responding to the remarks made by Constantine. However, I was working on this detailed response and did not want it to go to waste.]

A Protestant gentleman who on occasion I have been blessed to dialogue with on matters of the Catholic faith and goes by the sobriquet of Constantine, raised some very worthwhile and thought-provoking issues to my last posting pertaining to Saint Augustine and the Catholic doctrine on Grace and Merit. As I originally sought to respond to them, my preliminary researches got so involved that in fairness I decided to respond in separate posting rather than short-shrift Constantine’s issues in a comment box. Without further adieu, here is the first posting.

This post will deal with the issue of whether the deuterocanonical Book of Wisdom sets forth doctrine that is contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Specifically, does Wisdom 11:17 sets forth the principle that God created the earth and the heavens out of pre-existing matters as opposed to a creation of Creation ex nihilo (out of nothing)? Constantine’s words:

While you are quite correct (and document studiously) that Augustine used the Apocrypha (especially, as you note, the Book of Wisdom) we must note that, contrary to affirming his place in the Roman camp, this actually displaces him. For example, the Book of Wisdom contains egregious theological errors that are today contradicted by the Catechism (CCC). Wisdom teaches that God created the world out of pre-existent matter (11:17) whereas the CCC teaches the opposite (see para 290). Which leads us to a sticky wicket. If Augustine is to be seen as correct in his selection of the canon and his use of Wisdom, then he must be seen as a contradiction to modern Rome. If you uphold the CCC, then you must deny the efficacy of Augustine’s apocryphal selections, which undercuts your first point. Interestingly, too, Augustine’s position in this regard removes him from agreement with the eastern Fathers: Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nazianzus and Epiphanius. They all held that the “deuterocanonical books should be relegated to a subordinate position outside the canon proper.” (Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, Continuum. 2003. p. 54 f.) So in addition to the theological quandary of your position, Paul, it denies to Augustine the “catholicity” which you claim on his behalf.
While this matter may portend to be a sticky wicket for some, an experienced bowler will often find that such pitches offer special opportunities to dismiss a batsman. In other words, this issue poses no difficulty for Catholic apologists because Wisdom 11:17 (11:18) properly understood does not teach that God created the world out of pre-existent matter in a way that contradicts Catholic teaching.

Before I set before you, the reader, what I have learned on this topic, I thought I would share how I deal with the rare occasion where it may appear that a Scripture passage could be understood in such way that it is at odds with what the Catholic Church teaches.

I start with the premise articulated best by John Henry Cardinal Newman:

It is, then, perfectly true, that the Church does not allow her children to entertain any doubt of her teaching; and that, first of all, simply for this reason, because they are Catholics only while they have faith, and faith is incompatible with doubt. No one can be a Catholic without a simple faith, that what the Church declares in God's name, is God's word, and therefore true. (Discourses to Mixed Congregations p. 215)
Since the Church declares the Book of Wisdom to be Scripture, by definition then, the contents of that book of the Bible are true. Thus, before I even open the Scriptures, I know as a matter of faith that there is nothing in them that contradict what the Church teaches-nothing at all.

Second, anytime anyone reads the Scriptures, they should do so only after praying. It is necessary to open one’s heart to the truth in the Word of God before one attempts to understand it. If one does not approach the Scriptures prayerfully, if one does not approach them with an open heart, if one does not approach them with an attitude of faith, that is with a believing spirit, then one does not approach the Scriptures correctly. To do so otherwise, is to doubt the truth of the Scriptures before one even opens the Bible. If one opens a Bible in an unbelieving spirit, and for an unbelieving purpose, does one not (to paraphrase Cardinal Newman) anticipate or rather hope to find things there inconsistent with Catholic teaching? (Ibid. at page 217.)

For me then, the question is not whether the Wisdom 11:17 (11:18 in Douay-Rheims) contradicts Church teaching, but rather how does one reconcile what may appear to be an inconsistency with Church teaching to yield a proper understanding of the Scriptures, that is an understanding that is consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church? Perhaps this is not how a Protestant would approach the Scriptures, but it is the way that the Scriptures should be studied if one believes that the transmission of God's revelation did not end with the writing of the individual books of the Bible, but continues in the activity of the Church, first in collecting and determining the collections of Scriptures through the process of canonization, and by the passing on of the teaching, interpretation, and application of God's revelation in the life of the Church and its members. The Bible is much more than a mere collection of proof-texts that one wields as weapons to use in attacking doctrines and teachings that one disagrees with.

Third, let us hypothesize and suppose that I did apprehend in the Scriptures a meaning that appears to contradict Church teaching, Saint Augustine’s advice is instructive:
In matters that are obscure and far beyond our vision, even in such as we may find treated in Holy Scripture, different Interpretations are sometimes possible without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such a case, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search of truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it. That would be to battle not for the teaching of Holy Scripture but for our own, wishing its teaching to conform to ours, whereas we ought to wish ours to conform to that of Sacred Scripture.


When we read the inspired books in the light of this wide variety of true doctrines which are drawn from a few words and founded on the firm basis of Catholic belief, let us choose that one which appears as certainly the meaning intended by the author. But if this is not clear, then at least we should choose an interpretation in keeping with the context of Scripture AND in harmony with our faith. But if the meaning cannot be studied and judged by the context of Scripture, at least we should choose only that which our faith demands. For it is one thing to fail to recognize the primary meaning of the writer, and another to depart from the norms of religious belief. If both these difficulties are avoided, the reader gets full profit from his reading. Failing that, even though the writer’s intention is uncertain, one will find it useful to extract an interpretation in harmony with our faith. [Emphasis added]
Commentary on the Biblical Book of Genesis: the Work of the First Day, Chapters 18:38; 21:41
As Augustine teaches, we Christians have an obligation to try to understand read the Scriptures in such a way that our understanding does not contradict what the Church teaches. The very few times in my life that I have ever come across a passage where my understanding has varied with what the Church teaches, I assume that my understanding is wrong and that the Church is right. I then go to learn why my understanding was wrong rather than trying to prove that it is the Church that got it wrong This is the fulcrum upon which the Protestant notion of private judgment is broken.

What does it profit us to learn ancient Greek, Hebrew and Latin if such knowledge is going to be used to try to disprove what the Church teaches as true? After all, as Saint Paul says, the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth. (1 Tim. 3:15) And if I debate a thousand opponents and win a thousand times, what good does it do if the doctrine I defend denies the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as transmitted by His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church? For a Catholic, understanding comes from faith, hope and love, not the other way around. O Lord, please grant me the grace of faith so that I can understand Your truths as taught by the Church rather than mere human knowledge that could be used to promote my own self-will and disobedience!

Now that I shared with you how I believe that the Scriptures should be studied, let us deal with Constantine’s assertion that the Book of Wisdom can not be Scripture because it teaches an error that is contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church. Specifically, does Wisdom 11:17 (11:18 Douay-Rheims and Latin Vulgate) teach that God created the world out of pre-existing matter? I humbly submit that it does not and thus does not teach anything that is inconsistent with what the Church teaches.

Now Constantine notes that the Catechism of the Catholic Church correctly states that God created Creation ex nihilo. While he refers to paragraph 290, it is actually paragraphs 296-298 that are most instructive:

296 We believe that God needs no pre-existent thing or any help in order to create, nor is creation any sort of necessary emanation from the divine substance.[fn 144] God creates freely "out of nothing":[fn 145]
If God had drawn the world from pre-existent matter, what would be so extraordinary in that? A human artisan makes from a given material whatever he wants, while God shows his power by starting from nothing to make all he wants. [fn 146]
297 Scripture bears witness to faith in creation "out of nothing" as a truth full of promise and hope. Thus the mother of seven sons encourages them for martyrdom:
I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws. . . Look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed. Thus also mankind comes into being. [fn 147]
298 Since God could create everything out of nothing, he can also, through the Holy Spirit, give spiritual life to sinners by creating a pure heart in them,[fn 148] and bodily life to the dead through the Resurrection. God "gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist."[fn 149] And since God was able to make light shine in darkness by his Word, he can also give the light of faith to those who do not yet know him.[fn 150].

145 Lateran Council IV (1215): DS 800; cf. DS 3025.

146 St. Theophilus of Antioch, Ad Autolycum II, 4: PG 6,1052.

147 2 Macc. 7:22-21,28.

148 Cf. Ps. 51:12.

149 Rom. 4:17.

150 Cf. Gen. 1:3; 2 Cor. 4:6.
Interestingly enough, in reading various Scripture passages that are frequently used to establish the doctrinal truth that God created Creation ex nihilo, the passage from 2nd Maccabees quoted in the Catechism is perhaps the clearest expression of that truth in the Bible. It certainly leaves no wiggle room for doubt.

Ludwig Ott in his great opus, The Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, [St. Louis, Mo.: B. Herder Book Co. (1955)] offers the following on pages 79-80:
All that exists outside God was, in its whole substance, produced out of nothing by God. (De fide.)

The Vatican Council declared against the ancient pagan and gnostic-manichaean dualism, as well as against modern monism (materialism, pantheism): Si quis non confiteatur mundum resque omnes, quae in eo continentur, et spirituales et materiales, secondum totam suam substantiam a Deo ex nihilo esse productas anathema sit. D 1805. Cf. The Symbols of Faith and “Caput Firmiter” (D 428).

In philosophical and theological parlance, by Creation is understood: The production of a thing out of nothing (productio rei ex nihilo, i.e. non ex aliquo), and indeed, ex nihilo sui et subiecti (not ex nihilo causae), that is, before the act of Creation, neither the thing as such, nor any material substratum, from which it was produced, existed. St. Thomas defines Creation as: Productio alicuius rei secundum suam totam substantiam nullo praesupposito, quod sit vel increatum vel ab aliquo creatum (S. th. I 65. 3). From Creation in the proper and strict sense (creatio prima) is to be distinguished the so-called creatio secunda, by which is understood the modelling of formless material and the bestowal of life upon it.

The creation of the world out of nothing may be proved indirectly by the fact that the name Jahweh, and with it, necessary self-existence (Aseity), is attributed to God alone, while all other things in comparison with God are called nothing. From this follows the conclusion that everything outside God must attribute its existence to God. Cf. Is. 42, 8; 40, 17. The Divine name Adonai (κύριος) represents God as the Lord and Proprietor of Heaven and Earth by virtue of the Creation. unlimited rights attributed to a lord and proprietor signify that the property has its origin solely in the proprietor himself Cf. Ps. 88, 12 ; Est. 13, 10 et seq.; Mt. 11, 25.

The creation of the world out of nothing, according to general Jewish and Christian conviction, is directly expressed in Gn. 1, 1 : "In the beginning God created Heaven and earth." It must be noted that in this basic text no substratum of creation (materia ex qua) is named. "In the beginning," without a more detailed definition, means the absolute beginning, that is, that point in time, before which there was nothing side by side with God, and in which the things external to God began to exist. “Heaven and Earth” is the whole universe, that is, all extra-Divine things, the world. The verb bara (=create) can, indeed, also mean produce in the wider sense, but it is used almost exclusively of the Divine Activity; apart from Gn. 1, 27, it is never associated with the presence of a material, out of which God produces some¬thing. According to the usage of the biblical narrative in Gn. 1,1, it expresses creation out of nothing only. Cf. Ps. 123, 8; 145, 6; 32, 9.


Wis. 11, 18 : "For thy almighty hand which made the world of matter without form (ἐξ ἀμὀρφου ὔλης)" is, according to the context, to be understood as referring to the creatio secunda, as is also Hebr. 11, 3: "By faith we understand that the world was framed by the word of God; that from invisible things, the visible things would be made." Cf. Gn. 1,2, according to G: "And the earth was invisible (ἀὀρατος) and unformed."
Creation ex nihilo is something that Saint Augustine also adhered to as well. For example we find his position most frequently stated in his disputations against the Manichaeans:
But if you ask whence God made the soul, remember that you and I agree in confessing that God is almighty. But he is not almighty who seeks the assistance of any material whence he may make what he will. From which it follows, that according to our faith, all things that God made through His Word and Wisdom, He made out of nothing. For so we read: "He ordered and they were made; He commanded and they were created."
Acts or Disputation Against Fortunatus, the Manichæan. Disputation of the First Day. 13 (392 AD).
“For He is so omnipotent, that even out of nothing, that is out of what is absolutely non-existent, He is able to make good things both great and small, both celestial and terrestrial, both spiritual and corporeal. But because He is also just, He has not put those things that He has made out of nothing on an equality with that which He begat out of Himself."

From Concerning the Nature of Good, Against the Manichaeans.
"O Lord, who are not one thing in one place, and otherwise in another, but the selfsame, and the selfsame, and the selfsame? Holy, holy, holy, Lord God almighty, did in the beginning, which is of you, in your wisdom, which was born of your substance, create something, and that out of nothing. For you did create heaven and earth, not out of thyself, for then they would be equal to your only-begotten [Son], and thereby even to you; and in no wise would it be right that anything should be equal to you which was not of you. And nothing else except you there was not whence you might create these things, O God, one Trinity, and triune unity; and, therefore, out of nothing did you create heaven and earth."

Confessions 12:7 (400 AD)
"[T]hough God formed man of the dust of the earth, yet the earth itself, and every earthly material, is absolutely created out of nothing; and man’s soul, too, God created out of nothing, and joined to the body, when he made man."

The City of God 14:11 (419 AD).
I believe that the above passages demonstrate the learned Bishop of Hippo’s opinion on the matter. Given his view on creation ex nihilo and (as Constantine would concede) his view that the Book of Wisdom is Scripture, it would be fair to state that Saint Augustine might have understood the inspired text at Wisdom 11:17 (11:18) a bit differently than how Constantine suggests that one should understand it. Let us proceed then.

Wisdom 11:17 (11:18) states:

{11:18} Non enim impossibilis erat omnipotens manus tua, quæ creavit orbem terrarum ex materia invisa, immittere illis multitudinem ursorum, aut audaces leones[.] (Latin Vulgate)

{11:18} For it was not impossible for your all-powerful hand, which created the world from unknown [or invisible or secret]* material, to send forth upon them a multitude of bears, or fierce lions[.] English translation of the above. * Invisa can be translated as unknown, invisible or secret.

{11:18} For thy almighty hand, which made the world of matter without form, was not unable to send upon them a multitude of bears, or fierce lions[.] (DRB)

{11:17} For not without means was your almighty hand, that had fashioned the universe from formless matter, to send upon them a drove of bears or fierce lions[.] (NAB)

{11:17} For thy all-powerful hand, which created the world out of formless matter, did not lack the means to send upon them a multitude of bears, or bold lions[.] (RSV 2nd CE)

{11:17-18} And indeed your all-powerful hand did not lack means-the hand that from formless matter created the world-to unleash a horde of bears or savage lions on them[.] (Jerusalem Bible)
Going through some commentaries on this passage one might find:
Therefore, he says: For your almighty hand, which made the world of matter without form, was not unable to send upon them a multitude of bears, or fierce lions. I have said well, that you have punished them by those things in which they sinned, and this because the punishment fits the sin, not because of a lack of power. For your hand, ‘that is, your Son’,[51] was not unable, that is, quite powerless, according to Psalm 143:7: ‘Put forth your hand from on high’; almighty; so below in Wisdom 18:15: Lord, your almighty word leapt down from heaven. Which created, that is, formed the world; for to create is to make something from nothing, but to form is to use pre-existing matter. The world came from pre-existing material but it was first created without form; so he adds: of matter without form, that is, from prime matter which is unseen, invisible. From the point of view of the world, it was then without a distinct form, and from the view of the one acting, it lacked light which is necessary for bringing the sense of sight from potency to act; so Genesis 1:2: ‘The earth was void and empty’, as regards the first defect, ‘and darkness was upon the face of the deep’, as regards the second defect.

St. Bonaventure. Commentary on the Book of Wisdom.
Certain Solifidian commentators (at least the ones they tell me I should read) offer a similar view of Wisdom 11:17:
(Genesis 1:2-5)

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

The First Day. - Though treating of the creation of the heaven and the earth, the writer, both here and in what follows, describes with minuteness the original condition and progressive formation of the earth alone, and says nothing more respecting the heaven than is actually requisite in order to show its connection with the earth. He is writing for inhabitants of the earth, and for religious ends; not to gratify curiosity, but to strengthen faith in God, the Creator of the universe. What is said in v. 2 of the chaotic condition of the earth, is equally applicable to the heaven, "for the heaven proceeds from the same chaos as the earth."

"And the earth was (not became) waste and void." The alliterative nouns tohu vabohu , the etymology of which is lost, signify waste and empty (barren), but not laying waste and desolating. Whenever they are used together in other places (Isa 34:11; Jer 4:23), they are taken from this passage; but tohu alone is frequently employed as synonymous with 'ayin (OT:369), non-existence, and hebel (OT:1893), nothingness (Isa 40:17,23; 49:4). The coming earth was at first waste and desolate, a formless, lifeless mass, rudis indigestaque moles , hu'lee a'morfos (Wisdom 11:17) or cha'os .

"And darkness was upon the face of the deep." tªhowm (OT:8415), from huwm (OT:1949), to roar, to rage, denotes the raging waters, the roaring waves (Ps 42:7) or flood (Ex 15:5; Deut 8:7); and hence the depths of the sea (Job 28:14; 38:16), and even the abyss of the earth (Ps 71:20). As an old traditional word, it is construed like a proper name without an article ( Ewald , Gramm.). The chaotic mass in which the earth and the firmament were still undistinguished, unformed, and as it were unborn, was a heaving deep, an abyss of waters ( a'bussos (NT:12), LXX), and this deep was wrapped in darkness. But it was in process of formation, for the Spirit of God moved upon the waters, ruwach (OT:7307) (breath) denotes wind and spirit, like pneu'ma (NT:4151) from pne'oo (NT:4154). Ruach Elohim is not a breath of wind caused by God (Theodoret, etc.), for the verb does not suit this meaning, but the creative Spirit of God, the principle of all life (Ps 33:6; 104:30), which worked upon the formless, lifeless mass, separating, quickening, and preparing the living forms, which were called into being by the creative words that followed. rchp in the Piel is applied to the hovering and brooding of a bird over its young, to warm them, and develop their vital powers (Deut 32:11). In such a way as this the Spirit of God moved upon the deep, which had received at its creation the germs of all life, to fill them with vital energy by His breath of life. The three statements in our verse are parallel; the substantive and participial construction of the second and third clauses rests upon the whyth of the first. All three describe the condition of the earth immediately after the creation of the universe. This suffices to prove that the theosophic speculation of those who "make a gap between the first two verses, and fill it with a wild horde of evil spirits and their demoniacal works, is an arbitrary interpolation" ( Ziegler ).

Verse 3. The word of God then went forth to the primary material of the world, now filled with creative powers of vitality, to call into being, out of the germs of organization and life which it contained, and in the order pre-ordained by His wisdom, those creatures of the world, which proclaim, as they live and move, the glory of their Creator (Ps 8). The work of creation commences with the words, "and God said." The words which God speaks are existing things. "He speaks, and it is done; He commands, and it stands fast." These words are deeds of the essential Word, the lo'gos (NT:3056), by which "all things were made." Speaking is the revelation of thought; the creation, the realization of the thoughts of God, a freely accomplished act of the absolute Spirit, and not an emanation of creatures from the divine essence. The first thing created by the divine Word was "light," the elementary light, or light-material, in distinction from the "lights," or light-bearers, bodies of light, as the sun, moon, and stars, created on the fourth day, are called. It is now a generally accepted truth of natural science, that the light does not spring from the sun and stars, but that the sun itself is a dark body, and the light proceeds from an atmosphere which surrounds it. Light was the first thing called forth, and separated from the dark chaos by the creative mandate, "Let there be," - the first radiation of the life breathed into it by the Spirit of God, inasmuch as it is the fundamental condition of all organic life in the world, and without light and the warmth which flows from it no plant or animal could thrive.

From Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament., (Genesis 1:2-5)
Simply put, properly understood, Wisdom 11:17 in no way asserts the eternity of "matter." Rather, the passage merely references Genesis 1:2 and God’s creatio secundo, that is His modeling of formless material that He first created out of nothing. While Constantine commented on the difficulty for Catholics to bowl a game of cricket on Saint Augustine's wicket, it is the Protestant batsman in this instance who scored a duck.

God bless!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Augustine vs. Geneva: A Reply to an Article Written by Turretinfan Pertaining the Doctrine of Merit in the Catholic Church

“[F]or all goods must be referred to their Author, whence they come.” Pope Zosimus in the lost work Epistola Tractoria, the papal bull that condemned the errors of Pelagius (418 AD), from a fragment preserved in the writings of Saint Augustine of Hippo.

"[G]race is preceded by no merits. A reward is due to good works, if they are performed, but grace, which is not due, precedes [good works], that they may be done." Local Council of Orange, Canons on Grace 19 (A.D. 529), solemnly approved by Pope Boniface II.

I. Exordium.

Recently, Turretinfan has posted a little hit-skip type article titled, "Augustine vs. Rome - Definition of Grace" on his own blog, The Thoughts of Francis Turretin, wherein he seeks to make a distinction between the Calvinist and Catholic positions on grace and merit. Mr. Fan states, “Grace is unmerited favor from God, with the absence of merit being absolutely definitional to the term grace. While this is well recognized in Reformed theology, it is disputed by the theology of Rome.”

Mr. Fan offers as proof for his assertion a quote out of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, described in its introduction as “a faithful and sure synthesis of the Catechism of the Catholic Church” containing “in concise form, all the essential and fundamental elements of the Church’s faith” the purpose of which is to serve as “a kind of vademecum [n.b. ~ready pocket reference or enchiridion] which allows believers and non-believers alike to behold the entire panorama of the Catholic faith.” Mr. Fan then offers a number of quotations from Saint Augustine of Hippo, a Catholic priest, bishop, saint and doctor of the Church in an apparent effort to show that present day Catholic doctrine is somehow at variance with what the venerable saint from Tagaste taught. I humbly submit that nothing could be further from the truth and offer this article in rebuttal.

II. Narratio.

Before I address Mr. Fan’s use of the Compendium as a source document for Catholic doctrine, I wanted to discuss some of the overriding issues that are suggested by Mr. Fan's article.

From time to time, Calvinist apologists will attempt to claim that Aurelius Augustine of Hippo is in reality the progenitor of Protestantism teaching doctrines more in line with Reformed theology than with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Mr. Fan’s claim that Augustine teaches the Reformed notion of grace is just another repetition of the Calvinist claim of Augustinian paternity. While Augustine did sire a bastard child, his name was Adeodatus and not John Calvin. Seriously, Mr. Fan’s intimation that Augustine’s teachings are more akin to Reformed theology than Catholic is as illegitimate as other claims previously made by controversialists who trace their religious pedigree from Calvin, Turretin and Zwingli.

In contrast, I contend that there is a good reason why the Catholic Church considers Augustine to be one of its early fathers and one of its doctors of the faith. It is not the Reformed distinctives that can trace their lineage to Augustine, rather it is the Catholic doctrines which can. As I hope to show, the Catholic Church’s teaching on grace and merit is one such example of a doctrine that can trace its ancestry from Saint Augustine.

Now before I get into the meat of this paper, I wanted to applaud Mr. Fan’s effort of actually reading a document composed by the teaching magisterium of the Catholic Church before offering his opinions on the validity of a particular doctrine held by the Church. It is truly laudable that on this occasion he does not disgorge the sort of emesis many of the his more polemically-minded companions often spew against the Catholic doctrines usually without mentioning a single magisterial or authoritative document composed by the Church. That said, given the effort Mr. Fan put into actually reading a Catholic doctrinal statement, it is truly unfortunate that Mr. Fan gives an incomplete and consequently, an inaccurate portrayal of the Catholic doctrine in regards to grace and merit.

Accordingly, I offer this paper as a corrective. I beg the reader’s indulgence in this making this lengthy response and hope, my usual verbosity notwithstanding, that the reader will be satisfied at the end of the day that the teachings of Augustine and the Catholic Church on whether merit does play a role in God’s distribution of grace do not differ.

Now let’s examine Mr. Fan’s case in chief.

III. Informatio:

In rhetoric, the purpose in starting a persuasive paper with a quote is to influence or encourage the reader from the get-go to engage in a specific way of thinking or acting. As noted by the famous speech coach, Dale Carnegie, “The words of a prominent man always have attention power; so a suitable quotation is one the very best ways of launching a harangue.” While the use of quotes is a popular weapon of choice in the rhetorician’s arsenal, the key to the effective use of a quotation is to make sure that the quote is suitable with and corroborates the argument.

Mr. Fan introduces his article with this quote from St. Augustine’s Enchiridion:

"Mercy and judgment I will sing to thee, O Lord, for it is only through unmerited mercy that anyone is freed, and only through deserved judgment that anyone is condemned." (Augustine, On Faith, Hope, & Charity, as provided in Fathers of the Church, Volume 2, p. 447).

Mr. Fan then links the quote with this statement, “Grace is unmerited favor from God, with the absence of merit being absolutely definitional to the term grace.” Mr. Fan’s use of a quote from Saint Augustine is apparently done to suggest that Saint Augustine of Hippo shares Turretinfan’s view.

While it is true that the above quote from Chapter 94 of Saint Augustine’s Enchiridion does gives a sense of his theology pertaining to grace, it says nothing about his theology on merit which is the point of Turretinfan’s article. If Mr. Fan had solicited my advice, I would have suggested that he use this more accurate and more importantly, to-the-point, quote pertaining to Augustine’s view on merit which can be found in the same work in Chapter 107:

“So the apostle gives the name of a free gift of God to eternal life itself, which is certainly a reward for good works, when he says For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. ... But grace is not grace unless it is free. So it should be understood that even a person’s meritorious good deeds are gifts from God, and when eternal life is given in payment for them, what is that but grace given in return for grace?” [Emphasis Added]

Thus, from its inception, Mr. Fan’s argument is flawed. Saint Augustine does not agree with Mr. Fan’s assessment that the absence of merit is absolutely definitional to the term grace as Augustine does not absent merit from his definition of grace at all. The above quote from Chapter 107 of the Enchiridion makes it clear that Augustine adhered to the notion that merit is a gift from God Himself and indicates that the reward for doing meritorious good works is eternal life itself. Thus, Mr. Fan’s definition of grace truly does lack merit; Saint Augustine of Hippo's definition of grace does not!

IV. Divisio.

Having demonstrated that the premise of Mr. Fan's article is defective from its inception, I could call it a day but Mr. Fan's presents a number of other points that are equally flawed. I feel it important to address them as well. Let us begin.

Mr. Fan starts out with the following:

“The Reformed doctrine of grace, because it is drawn from Scripture, finds resonance in the voice of Augustine, whose love of Scripture lead him to continually study it throughout his life and rely on it as his authority in all matters of doctrine and morals.”

My reply:

I acknowledge that Calvinists often represent that the Reformed doctrine of grace is drawn from Bible, but it is my view that their claim can be true only if the editors of the Calvinist Bible have redacted a few passages from it, for starters: Nehemiah 13:14; Psalms 11:7, 28:4; Isaiah 3:10, 59:18; Jeremiah 25:14, 50:29; Ezekiel 9:10, 11:21, 36:19; Hosea 4:9, 9:15, 12:2; Sirach 16:12-14, 35:19 (which Protestants have indeed redacted); Matthew 5:16; 7:1-3; 10:22, 16:27, 24:13, 25:31-46; Mark 10:21, 13:13; Luke 12:43-48, 14:14, 23:41; John 3:19-21, 3:27; Acts 6:8, 14:3; Romans 2:6-13, 8:13, 12:6; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, 12:9, 12:30, 15:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10, 9:6, 9:8, 11:15; Galatians 5:6, 6:6-10; Ephesians 6:8; Colossians 3:24-25; 1 Timothy 6:18-19; 2 Timothy 4:14; Titus 3:8, 3:14; Hebrews 6:10, 12:14; James 2:14-20; 1 Peter 1:17; 1 John 3:7; and Revelation 2:5; 2:10; 2:19; 2:23; 2:26; 3:2-5; 3:8; 3:15; 14:13; 20:12; 22:12. However, it is not the wearisome Reformed braggadocio in regards to grace that struck me as odd (perhaps because it is repeated ad nauseam by Calvinists of all stripes). Rather, it is the implicit claim that Augustine placed his reliance on the Scriptures as his singular source of authority on morals and doctrine.

Now it is quite true that Augustine considered the Scriptures to be important and authoritative. The Saint of Hippo loved studying and expounding on them. Even on his death-bed, Saint Augustine had his favorite Psalms written on the walls and ceiling of the chamber so he could reflect on them. However, the claim of Turretinfan in regards to Saint Augustine’s reliance on the Scriptures resonates with Reformed Protestantism is problematic for a number of reasons.

For starters, Saint Augustine’s understanding of what constituted the canon of Scripture is far different than Mr. Fan’s understanding. Saint Augustine forcefully argued in his writings that the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament as found in the Septuagint were Scripture (City of God, Book XVII, Chapter 20) and he regularly quoted them as such, particularly the Book of Wisdom. See, e.g., On the Predestination of the Saints, Book I, Chapters 26-29. Would that Mr. Fan emulate Augustine’s love for all of Scripture and not just the CliffsNotes ™ version of Luther, Calvin and Turretin!

Second, Saint Augustine’s study of the Scriptures operated from the premise that the Scriptures did not define the rule of faith; rather they were interpreted and subject to it. Here are only a few examples from Augustine’s writings on the matter:

Among the parables spoken by the Lord, what is said concerning the ten virgins habitually occupies serious investigators. Indeed many investigators have observed here many things which are not contrary to faith; but what needs to be worked out is an explanation of the parable which will fit together all of its parts. I have also read in a certain apocryphal text something which is not contrary to Catholic faith, but it seemed to me to be an interpretation poorly matched to this passage, if one considers all the pieces of the parable. Nevertheless, I dare make no rash judgments about this explanation lest perhaps my difficulty be caused, not by its disagreement [with the passage], but by my slowness to find in the explanation its agreement. However, what seems to me, and not absurdly, to be taught by this passage I shall set forth briefly and carefully to the best of my ability.


But the present ability to see in the Scriptures obscurely and partially something which, nonetheless, is in accord with Catholic faith is the work of the pledge which was received at her bridegroom's lowly coming by the virgin Church, who will be wed at his final coming when he will come in glory, and when she will then behold face to face; for he has given to us a pledge which is the Holy Spirit, as the Apostle says. And therefore this explanation views nothing as certain except that it is in accord with faith, nor does it pass judgment on other explanations which are possibly no less in accord with faith. From Eighty-three Different Questions: Question 59. On the Ten Virgins. (397 AD?)

The gospel mysteries signified by the words and deeds of our Lord Jesus Christ are not open to all, and some through interpreting them less attentively and less circumspectly, very often occasion destruction in place of salvation and error in place of knowledge of the truth. ... In regard to such an enterprise, this above all must be kept in mind, that in all Scripture it is necessary for one to maintain the highest vigilance so that the exposition of the divine mystery be according to the faith. Ibid.: Question 64. On the Samaritan Woman.

No one should rashly affirm any one of these four views about the soul: 1) souls come into existence by generation; 2) souls are newly created for each one who is born; 3) souls already existing elsewhere are sent by God into bodies; 4) souls descend into bodies of their own accord. Either this question has not yet been explained and clarified by Catholic commentators of the Sacred Scriptures, as the obscurity and perplexity of the matter warrant, or, if this has been done, such writings have not yet come into my hands. The Free Choice of the Will, Book III, Chapter 21:59 (395 AD).
Finally, one must wonder where Mr. Fan gets his notion that Augustine relied upon the scriptures as “his authority in all matters of doctrine and morals” particularly when Augustine, himself, an orthodox Catholic bishop, adhered to all that the Catholic Church held. If he had not, then the Catholic Church would not have recognized him as a father, a venerated saint, or a doctor of the Church. But I will allow Augustine speak for himself as to what he regarded as his authority in “all matters of doctrine and morals”:
We must hold to the Christian religion and to communication in her Church, which is Catholic and which is called Catholic not only by her own members but even by all her enemies. For when heretics or the adherents of schisms talk about her, not among themselves but with strangers, willy-nilly they call her nothing else but Catholic. For they will not be understood unless they distinguish her by this name which the whole world employs in her regard." The True Religion 7:12 (A.D. 390).

"[T]here are many other things which most properly can keep me in [the Catholic Church's] bosom. The unanimity of peoples and nations keeps me here. Her authority, inaugurated in miracles, nourished by hope, augmented by love, and confirmed by her age, keeps me here. The succession of priests, from the very see of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after his resurrection, gave the charge of feeding his sheep [John 21:15-17], up to the present episcopate, keeps me here. And last, the very name Catholic, which, not without reason, belongs to this Church alone, in the face of so many heretics, so much so that, although all heretics want to be called 'Catholic,' when a stranger inquires where the Catholic Church meets, none of the heretics would dare to point out his own basilica or house" Against the Letter of Mani Called 'The Foundation' 4:5 (A.D. 397).

"If you should find someone who does not yet believe in the gospel, what would you [Mani] answer him when he says, 'I do not believe'? Indeed, I would not believe in the gospel myself if the authority of the Catholic Church did not move me to do so." (Ibid. 5:6).

“Now certain people who read the Scriptures with a good and devout intention inquire what answer they can give in this case to the authors of abuse and calumny. But as for us who to our advantage cling to apostolic authority, and who think that the books preserved in Catholic teaching have been in no way falsified, let us perceive the truth: those to whom the divine secrets are closed are unworthy of and incapable of understanding them.” Eighty-three Questions: Question 68. On the Scripture: “O man, who are you to answer back to God?” (397 AD?)

"[T]he custom [of not rebaptizing converts] . . . may be supposed to have had its origin in Apostolic Tradition, just as there are many things which are observed by the whole Church, and therefore are fairly held to have been enjoined by the Apostles, which yet are not mentioned in their writings" On Baptism, Against the Donatists 5:23 (A.D. 400).

"But the admonition that he [Cyprian] gives us, 'that we should go back to the fountain, that is, to Apostolic Tradition, and thence turn the channel of truth to our times,' is most excellent, and should be followed without hesitation." (Ibid., 5:26).

"But in regard to those observances which we carefully attend and which the whole world keeps, and which derive not from Scripture but from Tradition, we are given to understand that they are recommended and ordained to be kept, either by the Apostles themselves or by plenary [ecumenical] councils, the authority of which is quite vital in the Church." Letter to Januarius (A.D. 400).

According [to] Apostolic Tradition . . . the Churches of Christ hold inherently that without baptism and participation at the table of the Lord it is impossible for any man to attain either to the kingdom of God or to salvation and life eternal. This is the witness of Scripture too." Forgiveness and the Just Deserts of Sin, and the Baptism of Infants 1:24:34 (A.D. 412).

"If the very order of episcopal succession is to be considered, how much more surely, truly, and safely do we number them [the bishops of Rome] from Peter himself, to whom, as to one representing the whole Church, the Lord said, 'Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not conquer it.' Peter was succeeded by Linus, Linus by Clement . . . In this order of succession a Donatist bishop is not to be found" Letters 53:1:2 (A.D. 412).

"We read in the books of the Maccabees [2 Macc. 12:43] that sacrifice was offered for the dead. But even if it were found nowhere in the Old Testament writings, the authority of the Catholic Church which is clear on this point is of no small weight, where in the prayers of the priest poured forth to the Lord God at his altar the commendation of the dead has its place." The Care to be Had for the Dead 1:3 (A.D. 421). [Emphasis Added]
At this point, Mr. Fan would be hard-pressed to argue that Augustine is distant cousin of Reformed theology, let alone a sort of progenitor of its doctrines and we have not yet even addressed the merits of the central thesis of his article.

V. Confirmatio: Reddite cuique suum.

Since Mr. Fan can not establish Augustinian paternity based on family resemblance, let’s see if Mr. Fan can offer any religious DNA evidence to support his claim:

Augustine, in the epigraphic quote, does not mention the word "grace" but instead "unmerited mercy." That is simply an equivalent expression. Grace is unmerited favor from God, with the absence of merit being absolutely definitional to the term grace. While this is well recognized in Reformed theology, it is disputed by the theology of Rome.

“The following is "Rome's position" regarding merit: 427. What are the goods that we can merit? Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods, suitable for us, can be merited in accordance with the plan of God. No one, however, can merit the initial grace which is at the origin of conversion and justification. - Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Question 427 (associated with items 2010-11 and 2027 of the CCC)
Indeed, the above-quoted paragraph is from the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the paragraph quoted by Mr. Fan does discuss that Catholics believe that man can merit from his works. However, to gain a full understanding of what the Compendium is talking about the answer to Question 427 must be read in para materia with the preceding Question 426:

426. What is merit?


In general merit refers to the right to recompense for a good deed. With regard to God, we of ourselves are not able to merit anything, having received everything freely from him. However, God gives us the possibility of acquiring merit through union with the love of Christ, who is the source of our merits before God. The merits for good works, therefore must be attributed in the first place to the grace of God and then to the free will of man. [Emphasis added]
Now after reading Question 426 in para materia with Question 427, one can readily see that the Catholic Church views merit as an aspect of God’s grace and that the Catholic Church does not teach a form of works-salvation. I realize that I am not a theologian, religious scholar or a even a graduate from a divinity school, not even a non-accredited diploma mill like some Protestants who call themselves apologists and theologians, but for the life of me, I fail to see any substantive difference between what the Catholic Church teaches in the answer to Questions 426 and 427 and what is written in Chapter XVI of the Second Helvetic Confession (aside from a polemic gloss) which purports to be a primary creedal statement of Reformed Protestantism. See, The Constitution of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America: Part I: Book of Confessions. The General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (1967), paragraph 5.122 and 5.123:

GOD GIVES A REWARD FOR GOOD WORKS. For we teach that God gives a rich reward to those who do good works, according to that saying of the prophet: "keep your voice from weeping,...for your work shall be rewarded" (Jer. 31:16; Isa., ch. 4). The Lord also said in the Gospel: "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven" (Matt. 5:12), and, "Whoever gives to one of these my little ones a cup of cold water, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward" (ch. 10:42). However, we do not ascribe this reward, which the Lord gives, to the merit of the man who receives it, but to the goodness, generosity and truthfulness of God who promises and gives it, and who, although he owes nothing to anyone, nevertheless promises that he will give a reward to his faithful worshippers; meanwhile he also gives them that they may honor him. Moreover, in the works even of the saints there is much that is unworthy of God and very much that is imperfect. But because God receives into favor and embraces those who do works for Christ's sake, he grants to them the promised reward. For in other respects our righteousnesses are compared to a filthy wrap (Isa. 64:6). And the Lord says in the Gospel: "When you have done all that is commanded you, say, "We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty" (Luke 17:10).

THERE ARE NO MERITS OF MEN. Therefore, although we teach that God rewards our good deeds, yet at the same time we teach, with Augustine, that God does not crown in us our merits but his gifts. Accordingly we say that whatever reward we receive is also grace, and is more grace than reward, because the good we do, we do more through God than through ourselves, and because Paul says: "What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" (I Cor. 4:7). And this is what the blessed martyr Cyprian concluded from this verse: We are not to glory in anything in us, since nothing is our own. We therefore condemn those who defend the merits of men in such a way that they invalidate the grace of God.
Now lest the reader think that I am somehow guilty of over- simplification or that I am guilty of distortion in making the contention that the answer to Question 427 must be read in pari materia with the answer to Question 426 in order to obtain an accurate sense of what the Catholic Church teaches, let us look at the sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church pertaining to merit referenced in those sections of the Compendium.

To begin with, here is the introduction:

III. Merit

You are glorified in the assembly of your Holy Ones, for in crowning their merits you are crowning your own gifts. Fn. 59.

[Footnote 59 states: Roman Missal, Prefatio I de sanctis; Qui in Sanctorum conciliocelebraris, et eorum coronando merita tua dona coronas, citing the "Doctor of grace," St. Augustine, En. in Ps. 102, 7: PL 37, 1321-1322.]
One sees that the Catholic Church’s official teaching document on its articles of faith starts off with a quote from St. Augustine, the Catholic Doctor of Grace, indicating that when God does reward merit, He is merely crowning His own gifts. In other words, merit itself constitutes a gift of grace. To claim that this is works-salvation is a piffle.

Continuing on ...

2006. The term "merit" refers in general to the recompense owed by a community or a society for the action of one of its members, experienced either as beneficial or harmful, deserving reward or punishment. Merit is relative to the virtue of justice, in conformity with the principle of equality which governs it.

2007. With regard to God, there is no strict right to any
merit on the part of man. Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from Him, our Creator.

2008. The merit of man before God in the Christian life
arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of His grace. The fatherly action of God is first on His own initiative, and then follows man's free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man's merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit.

2009. Filial adoption, in making us partakers by grace in
the divine nature, can bestow true merit on us as a result of God's gratuitous justice. This is our right by grace, the full right of love, making us "co-heirs" with Christ and worthy of obtaining "the promised inheritance of eternal life." Fn. 60. [Footnote 60 cites to Council of Trent (1547): DS 1546.] The merits of our good works are gifts of the divine goodness. Fn. 61. [Footnote 61 states: Cf. Council of Trent (1547): DS 1548.] "Grace has gone before us; now we are given what is due.... Our merits are God's gifts." Fn. 62. [Footnote 62 quotes from St. Augustine, Sermo 298, 4-5: PL 38, 1367. In the Latin, “Dona Ipsius sunt merita tua.” ] [Emphasis added]
Here again is another quote from St. Augustine’s writings pertaining to what the Catholic understanding of merit is. What Catholic doctrine is today pertaining to grace and merit is the same as was taught by Augustine-no more, no less. Merit is not something earned; it is an aspect of grace that God has freely chosen of His own accord to give us according to His own promise. Any meriting that we would receive from doing such works is not because we have earned it, but because God has adopted us as His children and graciously rewards us thereafter. The most merit for which man could be rewarded is condign. After receiving God’s grace that creates in us the will to do a work and we then perform an act which pleases Him, God will provide a reward (more grace) as He promised in His Scripture He would give us.

2010. Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God's wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions.

2011. The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our
before God. Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men. The saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace.
After earth's exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for Your love alone.... In the evening of this life, I shall appear before You with empty hands, for I do not ask You, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in Your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in Your own justice and to receive from Your love the eternal possession of Yourself. Fn. 63. [Footnote 63 references another Doctor of the Church, “the Doctor of Confidence and Missionaries,” St. Therese of Lisieux, "Act of Offering" in Story of a Soul, tr. John Clarke (Washington Dc: ICS, 1981), 277.]
The concluding two sections put an exclamation point on the matter. For Catholics, merit is nothing more than the continuation of God’s charity and grace, another kind of gift from God Himself. As seen above, Catholicism holds that we would not be able to merit anything at all unless God first willed it. Catholicism holds that it is by God’s will and His grace given to us by the Holy Spirit that creates in us the ability to move to do any works that God in His justice reward us. In the Catholic system, given the curse placed on man because of Adam’s original sin, we would not be able to move our wills but for God’s previously given grace. Our ability to ‘work’ comes from grace. If God’s grace is given according to our merits, it is only because whatever merits we do receive are due to God’s grace. As noted by the Catholic Doctor of Grace in his great work, Confessions, Book IX, Chapter 13:34, “Whoever enumerates his true merits, what is he enumerating except Your gifts?”

But lest the reader believe that the Catholic understanding of grace and merit is but an innovation of Vatican II or the present-day Church, here is what Orestes Brownson, the 19th century Catholic apologist wrote:

“In the natural order we are nothing but what God makes us; yet we are something, because He makes us something – an actor in the order of second causes, because He makes us such. In the order of grace – the regeneration, or the new creation, as Saint Paul calls it – and we are nothing but what grace, or Christ, our Redeemer and Savior, makes us; yet we are, as in the natural order, something – an actor – because He makes us so. The new creation is not merited, nor was the first; each is the free act, the gratuitous gift, of God; and in neither is our freedom as secondary cause impaired, but really sustained and confirmed by the very fact that on the part of God the act is free and the gift gratuitous. We are what we are by the grace of God, but we are, none the less, for that; we are able to merit only by virtue of His gratuitous gifts, but that does not deprive us of the ability to merit, because those gifts are precisely what give us that ability.” [Emphasis added] From Saint Worship an article that appeared in Ave Maria magazine.
In Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott gives the following as a defined article of faith: "For every salutary act internal supernatural grace of God (gratia elevans) is absolutely necessary" (pg. 229). The Second Council of Orange states that "as often as we do good God operates in us and with us, so that we may operate" (Canon 9) and that "man does no good except that which God brings about" (Canon 20). The Council of Trent which Protestants falsely denounce regularly as teaching works-salvation states unequivocally that "without the predisposing inspiration of the Holy Ghost and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be repentant as he ought, so that the grace of justification may be bestowed upon him" (Decree on Justification, Canon 3). The Council of Trent further holds that meritorious works, as "fruits of the justification", are nothing but merits due to grace, and not merits due to nature (Sess. VI, cap. xvi).

In other words, the Church teaches that a Catholic must rely on the merits of Christ, and, far from boasting of his own self-righteousness as Protestants like Turretinfan claim, must acknowledge in all humility that any merits which are acquired with the help of grace, are full of imperfections, and that his justification is uncertain. The Council of Trent further declares: "Thus, man has not wherein to glory, but all our glorying is in Christ, in whom we live, move, and make satisfaction, bringing forth fruits worthy of penance, which from Him have their efficacy, are by Him offered to the Father, and through Him find with the Father acceptance" (Sess. XIV, cap. viii).

Thus, the Church teaches nothing less than this: God's grace is necessary both to justify man and to give man the means to sanctify him. Efficacious grace is not only necessary for one to act righteously, but in truth and in fact we would not be able to will to act without it! Moreover, the Compendium (which Turretinfan imperfectly quotes from) makes it clear that we do not earn grace as a result of our merits, but that any merit that we do receive is first due to the grace of God and only in a secondary sense, to ourselves to the extent that God’s grace frees us to do works. It is beyond cavil to claim that Catholic doctrine teaches a notion of works-salvation is simply false.

Now at this point, if I wished to emulate Mr, Fan’s master, James White, or one of his ilk, I would accuse Mr. Fan of dishonesty or engaging in slash and burn tactics that is the norm of Protestant apologetics these days or that Reformed Protestant apologists share with the Muslims their own form of taqiyya. As long as slander and falsehood is uttered against Roman Catholicism, all is well. It is OK.

But I am not Professor White or one of his ilk so I will not be accusatory. Rather than speculate as to the reasons for Mr. Fan's inept handling of the Catholic teaching on grace and merit, I will assume that he simply does not understand what he had read particularly when such in all candor directly conflicts with what his Calvinist school masters probably have told him about Catholic doctrine.

Now that we have corrected Mr. Fan's misstatements as to what the Catholic Church teaches pertaining to the relationship between grace and merit, let us now compare what Augustine wrote on the matter with what I have shown to be the Catholic Church position to be. Let us see which religious tradition his views resonates with.

VI. Confutio: There Is a Reason that the Catholic Church Named Saint Augustine, the Doctor of Grace ...

Now it is time to see if Saint Augustine’s position regarding the relationship between grace and merit is adverse with what the Catholic Church holds as Turretinfan claims:

11. For that the Apostle Paul, when speaking outwardly of the sex of male and female, figured the mystery of some more hidden truth, may be understood from this, that when he says in another place that she is a widow indeed who is desolate, without children and nephews, and yet that she ought to trust in God, and to continue in prayers night and day, he here indicates, that the woman having been brought into the transgression by being deceived, is brought to salvation by child-bearing; and then he has added, If they continue in faith, and charity, and holiness, with sobriety. As if it could possibly hurt a good widow, if either she had not sons, or if those whom she had did not choose to continue in good works. But because those things which are called good works are, as it were, the sons of our life, according to that sense of life in which it answers to the question, What is a man's life? That is, How does he act in these temporal things? Which life the Greeks do not call  ξωή but βίος; and because these good works are chiefly performed in the way of offices of mercy, while works of mercy are of no profit, either to Pagans, or to Jews who do not believe in Christ, or to any heretics or schismatics whatsoever in whom faith and charity and sober holiness are not found: what the apostle meant to signify is plain, and in so far figuratively and mystically, because he was speaking of covering the head of the woman, which will remain mere empty words, unless referred to some hidden sacrament. On the Trinity. Book XII, Chapter 7:11 (400-416AD).
This passage affirms Augustine’s thought that Christians can obtain internal grace through a sacramental including something as innocuous as covering one’s head at Mass. Of course, it is the Catholic Church, and not Reformed Protestantism, that believes in such things as sacramentals.
14. Since those also which are called our deserts (Me: another word for merits), are His gifts. For, that faith may work by love, the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. And He was then given, when Jesus was glorified by the resurrection. For then He promised that He Himself would send Him, and He sent Him; because then, as it was written and foretold of Him, He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. These gifts constitute our deserts, by which we arrive at the chief good of an immortal blessedness.. But God, says the apostle, commends His love towards as, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more, then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. To this he goes on to add, For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son; much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. On the Trinity. Book XIII, Chapter 10:11. [Emphasis Added]
Here we see Augustine explain that the deserts of faith (merit) working through love are graces by which we arrive at the chief good of an immortal blessedness, a point which Turretinfan explicitly denies, but which the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms at CCC 2010-2011.
21. And of this certainly it [the soul] feels no doubt, that it is wretched, and longs to be blessed nor can it hope for the possibility of this on any other ground than its own changeableness for if it were not changeable, then, as it could not become wretched after being blessed, so neither could it become blessed after being wretched. And what will make it blessed, unless its own merit, and its Lord's reward? But its merit, too, is His grace, whose reward will be its blessedness; for it cannot give itself the righteousness it has lost, and so has not. For this it received when man was created, and assuredly lost it by sinning. Therefore it receives righteousness, that on account of this it may deserve to receive blessedness; and hence the apostle truly says to it, when beginning to be proud as it were of its own good, For what have you that you did not receive? Now if you received it, why do you glory as if you had not received it? On the Trinity. Book XIV, Chapter 15:21. [Emphasis Added]
Ditto. Since Mr. Fan had no problem citing to On the Trinity to support his claim in his article, we must wonder why he did not list the above passage as well. Oh well, we shall again assume his copy of the work left this book out.
We must notice in this enigma also another likeness of the word of God; viz. that, as it is said of that Word, All things were made by Him, where God is declared to have made the universe by His only-begotten Son, so there are no works of man that are not first spoken in his heart: whence it is written, A word is the beginning of every work. But here also, it is when the word is true, that then it is the beginning of a good work. And a word is true when it is begotten from the knowledge of working good works, so that there too may be preserved the yea yea, nay nay; in order that whatever is in that knowledge by which we are to live, may be also in the word by which we are to work, and whatever is not in the one may not be in the other. Otherwise such a word will be a lie, not truth; and what comes thence will be a sin, and not a good work. There is yet this other likeness of the Word of God in this likeness of our word, that there can be a word of ours with no work following it, but there cannot be any work unless a word precedes; just as the Word of God could have existed though no creature existed, but no creature could exist unless by that Word by which all things are made. And therefore not God the Father, not the Holy Spirit, not the Trinity itself, but the Son only, which is the Word of God, was made flesh; although the Trinity was the maker: in order that we might live rightly through our word following and imitating His example, i.e. by having no lie in either the thought or the work of our word. But this perfection of this image is one to be at some time hereafter. In order to attain this it is that the good master teaches us by Christian faith, and by pious doctrine, that with face unveiled from the veil of the law, which is the shadow of things to come, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, i.e. gazing at it through a glass, we may be transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord; as we explained above. On the Trinity. Book XV, Chapter 11:20
This passage reveals an absolute concurrence between Augustine’s teachings and Catholic doctrine as expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that merits are God’s own gifts. (CCC 2009) Contrary to Mr. Fan’s interjections into the quotes he gleaned from Augustine, Catholicism does not teach that we receive grace because we merit; rather we merit because we first received grace and continue to receive grace.
32. There is no gift of God more excellent than this. It alone distinguishes the sons of the eternal kingdom and the sons of eternal perdition. Other gifts, too, are given by the Holy Spirit; but without love they profit nothing. Unless, therefore, the Holy Spirit is so far imparted to each, as to make him one who loves God and his neighbor, he is not removed from the left hand to the right. Nor is the Spirit specially called the Gift, unless on account of love. And he who has not this love, though he speak with the tongues of men and angels, is sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal; and though he have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and though he have all faith, so that he can remove mountains, he is nothing; and though he bestow all his goods to feed the poor, and though he give his body to be burned, it profits him nothing. How great a good, then, is that without which goods so great bring no one to eternal life! But love or charity itself—for they are two names for one thing—if he have it that does not speak with tongues, nor has the gift of prophecy, nor knows all mysteries and all knowledge, nor gives all his goods to the poor, either because he has none to give or because some necessity hinders, nor delivers his body to be burned, if no trial of such a suffering overtakes him, brings that man to the kingdom, so that faith itself is only rendered profitable by love, since faith without love can indeed exist, but cannot profit. And therefore also the Apostle Paul says, In Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith that works by love: so distinguishing it from that faith by which even the devils believe and tremble. On the Trinity. Book XV, Chapter 18:32
Note how Augustine explicitly denies the Protestant innovation of sola fide here and affirms the Catholic position that a Christian is saved by faith working through love. It is truly amazing that Turretinfan quotes St. Augustine from this very treatise in his article and yet somehow misses these passages!

Wherefore, even eternal life itself, which is surely the reward
of good works, the apostle calls the gift of God. "For the wages of sin," he says, "is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."(1) Wages. (stipendium) is paid as a recompense for military service; it is not a gift: wherefore he says, "the wages of sin is death," to show that death was not inflicted undeservedly, but as the due recompense of sin. But a gift, unless it is wholly unearned, is not a gift at all.(2) We are to understand, then, that man's good deserts are themselves the gift of God, so that when these obtain the recompense of eternal life, it is simply grace given for grace. Man, therefore, was thus made upright that, though unable to remain in his uprightness without divine help, he could of his own mere will depart from it. And whichever of these courses he had chosen, God's will would have been done, either by him, or concerning him. Therefore, as he chose to do his own will rather than God's, the will of God is fulfilled concerning him; for God, out of one and the same heap of perdition which constitutes the race of man, makes one vessel to honor, another to dishonor; to honor in mercy, to dishonor in judgment;(3) that no one may glory in man, and consequently not in himself. Enchiridion on Faith, Hope & Love (to Laurentius) (420 AD)
Aside from Augustine’s commentary how merit merits, we also see a hint of how man’s free will operates in Augustine’s system of grace. But that is a paper for another day.

Thus far, we have already seen quotations from St. Augustine’s Confessions, Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Charity, Enarrations in Psalmos 102; Sermo 298, and On the Trinity. Lest any detractors wish to accuse me of cherry-picking from Saint Augustine, here a few more quotes:
We are commanded to live righteously, and the reward is set before us that we shall merit to live happily for ever. But who can live righteously and do good works unless he has been justified by faith? We are commanded to believe that we may receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and become able to do good works by love. But who can believe unless he is reached by some calling, by some testimony borne to the truth? Who has it in his power to have such a motive present to his mind that his will shall be influenced to believe? Who can welcome in his mind something which does not give him delight? But who has it in his power to ensure that something that will delight him will turn up, or that he will take delight in what turns up? If those things delight us which serve our advancement towards God, that is due not to our own whim or industry or meritorious works, but to the inspiration of God and to the grace which he bestows. He freely bestows upon us voluntary assent, earnest effort, and the power to perform works of fervent charity. We are bidden to ask that we may receive, to seek that we may find, and to knock that it may be opened unto us. Is not our prayer sometimes tepid or rather cold? Does it not sometimes cease altogether, so that we are not even grieved to notice this condition in us? For if we are grieved that it should be so, that is already a prayer. What does this prove except that he who commands us to ask, seek and knock, himself gives us the will to obey? “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy.” We could neither will nor run unless he stirred us and put the motive-power in us. De Diversis Quaestionibus Ad Simplicianum (396-397) Found in: Augustine: Earlier Writings, Volume VI of the Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1953.)
And woe even unto the praiseworthy life of man, if, putting away mercy, You should investigate it. But because Thou dost not narrowly inquire after sins, we hope with confidence to find some place of indulgence with You. But whosoever recounts his true merits to You, what is it that he recounts to You but Your own gifts? Oh, if men would know themselves to be men; and that he that glories would glory in the Lord! Confessions, Book IX, 13:34 (397 AD) [Emphasis Added]
16. Wherefore did he choose?...“Because God loves mercy and truth” (Psalm 83:12). The Lord loves mercy, by which He first came to my help: He loves truth, so as to give to him that believes what He has promised. (Romans 11:29) Hear in the case of the Apostle Paul, His mercy and truth, Paul who was first Saul the persecutor. He needed mercy, and he has said that it was shown towards him: “I who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, that in me Christ Jesus might show forth all longsuffering towards those who shall believe in Him unto life eternal.” So that, when Paul received pardon of such great crimes, no one should despair of any sins whatever being forgiven him. Lo! You have Mercy....Lo, we see that Paul holds Him a debtor, having received mercy, demanding truth. The Lord, he says, shall give back in that day. What shall He give you back, but that which He owes you? How owes He unto you? What have you given Him? “Who has first given unto Him, and it shall be restored to him again.” (Romans 11:29) The Lord Himself has made Himself a debtor, not by receiving, but by promising: it is not said unto Him, Restore what You have received: but, Restore what You have promised. He has shown mercy unto me, he says, that He might make me innocent: for before I was a blasphemer and injurious: but by His grace I have been made innocent. But He who first showed mercy, can He deny His debt? “He loves mercy and truth. He will give grace and glory.” What grace, but that of which the same one said: “By the grace of God I am what I am”? (1 Corinthians 15:10) What glory, but that of which he said, “There is laid up for me a crown of glory”? (2 Timothy 4:8) Enarrations on the Psalms 83:16 (405 AD) [Emphasis Added]
17. Therefore “the Lord will not withhold good from those who walk in innocence” (Psalm 83:12). Why then, O men, are you unwilling to keep innocence, except in order that you may have good things?...You see wealth in the hands of robbers, of the impious, the wicked, the base; in the hands of scandalous and criminal men you see wealth: God gives them these things on account of their fellowship in the human race, for the abundant overflowing of His goodness: who also “makes His sun to rise upon the good and the evil, and causes it to rain upon the righteous and upon the sinners.” (Matthew 5:45) Gives He so much to the wicked, and keeps nothing for you? He keeps something: be at ease, He who had mercy on you when you were impious, does He desert you when you have become pious? He who gave to the sinner the free gift of His Son's death, what keeps He for the saved through that death? Therefore be at ease. Hold Him a debtor, for you have believed in Him promising. What then remains for us here, in the winepress, in affliction, in hardship, in our present dangerous life? What remains for us, that we may arrive there? “O Lord God of virtues, blessed is the man that puts his hope in You.” Ibid. [Emphasis Added]
Because for a righteous man the law was not made; [1 Timothy 1:8] and yet the law is good, if a man use it lawfully. [1 Timothy 1:9] Now by connecting together these two seemingly contrary statements, the apostle warns and urges his reader to sift the question and solve it too. For how can it be that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully, if what follows is also true: Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man? [1 Timothy 1:9] For who but a righteous man lawfully uses the law? Yet it is not for him that it is made, but for the unrighteous. Must then the unrighteous man, in order that he may be justified,— that is, become a righteous man—lawfully use the law, to lead him, as by the schoolmaster's hand, [Galatians 3:24] to that grace by which alone he can fulfil what the law commands? Now it is freely that he is justified thereby—that is, on account of no antecedent merits of his own works; otherwise grace is no more grace, [Romans 11:6] since it is bestowed on us, not because we have done good works, but that we may be able to do them—in other words, not because we have fulfilled the law, but in order that we may be able to fulfil the law. On the Spirit and the Letter 34:60 (412 AD). [Emphasis Added]
What merit, then, has man before grace which could make it possible for him to receive grace, when nothing but grace produces good merit in us; and what else but His gifts does God crown when He crowns our merits? For, just as in the beginning we obtained the mercy of faith, not because we were faithful but that we might become so, in like manner He will crown us at the end with eternal life, as it says, “with mercy and compassion.’ Not in vain, therefore, do we sing to God: ‘His mercy shall prevent me,’ and ‘His mercy shall follow me.’ Consequently, eternal life itself, which will certainly be possessed at the end without end, is in a sense awarded to antecedent merits, yet, because the same merits for which it is awarded are not effected by us through our sufficiency, but are effected in us by grace, even this very grace is so called for no other reason than that it is given freely; not, indeed, that it is not given for merit, but because the merits themselves are given for which it is given. And when we find eternal life itself called grace, we have in the same Apostle Paul a magnificent defender of grace: ‘The wages of sin,’ he says, ‘is death. But the grace of God life everlasting in Christ Jesus our Lord.Letter 194 (To St. Sixtus) (418 AD) [Emphasis Added]
Can you say, ‘We will first walk in His righteousness, and will observe His judgments, and will act in a worthy way, so that He will give His grace to us'? But what good would you evil people do? And how would you do those good things, unless you were yourselves good? But Who causes people to be good? Only He Who said, ‘And I will visit them to make them good,' and, ‘I will put my Spirit within you, and will cause you to walk in my righteousness, and to observe my judgments, and do them' (Ezek.36:27). Are you asleep? Can't you hear Him saying, ‘I will cause you to walk, I will make you to observe,' lastly, ‘I will make you to do'? Really, are you still puffing yourselves up? We walk, true enough, and we observe, and we do; but it is God Who He makes us to walk, to observe, to do. This is the grace of God making us good; this is His mercy going before us. Against Two Letters of the Pelagians. Book 4, Chapter 15 (420 AD) [Emphasis Added]
The truth is, we see that it is given not only where there are no good, but even where there are many evil merits preceding: and we see it so given daily. But it is plain that when it has been given, also our good merits begin to be—yet only by means of it; for, were that only to withdraw itself, man falls, not raised up, but precipitated by free will. Wherefore no man ought, even when he begins to possess good merits, to attribute them to himself, but to God, who is thus addressed by the Psalmist: Be Thou my helper, forsake me not. By saying, Forsake me not, he shows that if he were to be forsaken, he is unable of himself to do any good thing. On Grace and Free Will, Chapter 13 (426-427 AD)
If, then, your good merits are God's gifts, God does not crown your merits as your merits, but as His own gifts. Ibid.., Chapter 15.
Unintelligent persons, however, with regard to the apostle's statement: We conclude that a man is justified by faith without the works of the law, [Romans 3:28] have thought him to mean that faith suffices to a man, even if he lead a bad life, and has no good works. Impossible is it that such a character should be deemed a vessel of election by the apostle, who, after declaring that in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, [Galatians 5:6] adds at once, but faith which works by love. It is such faith which severs God's faithful from unclean demons—for even these believe and tremble, [James 2:19] as the Apostle James says; but they do not do well. Therefore they possess not the faith by which the just man lives—the faith which works by love in such wise, that God recompenses it according to its works with eternal life. But inasmuch as we have even our good works from God, from whom likewise comes our faith and our love, therefore the selfsame great teacher of the Gentiles has designated eternal life itself as His gracious gift. [Romans 6:23] Ibid, Chapter 18.
Shortly after Saint Augustine's death, St. Prosper of Aquitaine, one of his disciples, wrote a fervent defense of the venerable bishop’s doctrines. His writings often demonstrate how Augustine’s teachings came to be understood by the faithful. Here is one concerning grace and merit:
"Indeed, a man who has been justified, that is, who from impious has been made pious, since he had no antecedent good merit, receives a gift, by which gift he may also acquire merit. Thus, what was begun in him by Christ's grace can also be augmented by the industry of his free choice, but never in the absence of God's help, without which no one is able either to progress or to continue in doing good" Responses on Behalf of Augustine to the Articles of Objections Raised by his Calumniators in Gaul, Chapter 6 (431-432 AD).
In the words of Stan Lee, “‘Nuff said!”

VII. Peroratio.

In his Retractions, Saint Augustine teaches that faith merits justification provided that faith itself is recognized as a gift from God. Ibid. 23:4.  Coupled with the above cited references, Mr. Fan can claim that “Augustine places essentially the Roman view in the mouth of Pelagius: "God’s grace is given according to our merits" all he wants but the bare suppositions of a Reformed apologist cum controversialist is no match for the truth. Reformed apologists, who have no real understanding as to what Pelagians adhered, usually opine upon this ancient heresy only in the context of belittling Catholic or Arminian Protestant doctrines. Ask a Reformed Protestant apologist what Pelagius taught and invariably by the end of his soliloquy (as short as it probably will be) he will be going on and on about how Catholicism promotes a works-salvation system like Pelagius did or if the apologist is a bit more irenic will “concede” that Catholicism is merely Semi-Pelagianism repackaged. Interestingly, these same fine fellows never mention the fact that the Catholic Church has repeatedly condemned Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism as heretical and excommunicated their adherents throughout its history! Never mind the fact that Calvinism has more in common with Pelagianism than anything that Catholicism teaches.

Seriously, anyone who has actually read any of the few genuinely Pelagian works that have survived would not make this fundamental mistake as the Pelagian understanding of grace and merit is far different than that preached by the Catholic Church. In fine, Pelagianism denies infused supernatural grace; Catholicism does not. Pelagians denied the doctrine of original sin; Catholicism does not. Pelagians taught a version of fiducial faith akin to what Reformed Protestants profess; Catholicism does not. Pelagians promoted Naturalism over than supernatural grace; Catholicism does not. Pelagians have a significantly different take from the Catholic position about how one “merits,” not to mention how “merit” is even defined. Like Reformed Protestants, Pelagians deny the distinctions between mortal vs. venial sin; Catholicism does not. Like Reformed Protestants, Pelagians denied the existence of purgatory; like Augustine, the Catholic Church does not. Like some Reformed Protestants, Pelagians denied the efficacy of infant baptism; Catholicism does not. Like some Reformed Protestants, Pelagians insist that Christ’ passion and death on the cross did not redeem all of mankind. Pelagianism made God a spectator to history; Reformed Protestantism makes man one. Moreover, Pelagians practiced a form of rigorism that only a true five-point TULIP tip-toeing Calvinist would appreciate.

In short, Mr. Fan’s article reaffirms my thoughts that Calvinism itself is just a curious bouillabaisse of Christianity, Docetism, Pelagianism and Manicheism with a pinch of Antidicomarianism thrown in for flavor. Given that, I truly am amazed whenever Reformed apologists accuse Catholicism of heresy. Perhaps they should have paid more attention to the child’s proverb, “When you point a finger, there are three pointing back at you.”

In closing, it is admirable that Turretinfan has started to read the Compendium to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is a step up from the work-product that is generated by most of his Reformed cohorts. It would have been even more admirable if he had understood it so he could have presented Catholic doctrine fairly and objectively. I pray that Our Lord give him that grace in the future so that his Catholic readers will not get the impression from his writings that the primary criterion to be a Protestant apologist is an adroitness at cherry-picking quotes from the Fathers of the Church.

God bless!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Catholic Answer to James Swan’s Criticism of Catholic Answers.

Over at the Alpha & Omega Ministries’s website, James Swan wrote an article titled We Have Apostolic Tradition"- The Unofficial Catholic Apologist Commentary #12. I would have much rather commented on the article directly, but being the benevolent censor that it is, Alpha & Omega Ministries does not permit commentary on its website. Thus, I modestly offer this rebuttal in my own website.

Please note: I do not work for Catholic Answers although I would not necessarily be opposed to doing so. Furthermore, while I am sure that those folks are more than capable of responding to Mr. Swan’s claims directly, I see no reason why this lay apologist can not put in his two cents. Additionally, I want the reader to clearly understand this as well: while I do not always agree with Mr. Swan’s conclusions, I do respect his opinions. This time, however, it is he and not Catholic Answers, that has erred.

Mr. Swan’s opening salvo:

“Catholic apologists often let us know how crucial it is to have an infallible magisterium and church Tradition in order to interpret the Bible correctly. With so many Catholic apologists now commenting on sacred scripture, I thought it would be interesting to provide their commentary on the Bible. Let's see how they've been able to rightly divide the word of truth.”

My return volley:

To my knowledge, I am not aware of Catholic Answers ever claiming that it was a part of the “infallible magisterium” of the Catholic Church. Be that as it may, let’s see if Mr. Swan able “rightly divide truth the word of truth” from error, fact from fancy, or right doctrine from heresy.

Returning to Mr. Swan’s commentary:

In this installment, let's take a look at John 6 according to Catholic Answers and contrast it with St. Augustine on the same text. "

[Extraneous jibber-jabber redacted]

John 6:53: So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves."

My interjection: “Truly, truly” is another way of saying “Amen, amen.” When someone doubled the “amen” up like this, the speaker was placing special emphasis on what was going to be said. In other words, Jesus was telling the hearers they had better ‘listen up’ because what He was going to say next was really important.

Let us continue with Mr. Swan’s analysis:

I recently read an article from Catholic Answers about John 6 and the Eucharist. Of this text, they state,

"His listeners were stupefied because now they understood Jesus literally and correctly. He again repeated his words, but with even greater emphasis, and introduced the statement about drinking his blood: 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him' (John 6:53-56)."

"Notice that Jesus made no attempt to soften what he said, no attempt to correct 'misunderstandings,' for there were none. Our Lord's listeners understood him perfectly well. They no longer thought he was speaking metaphorically."

"As Fr. John A. O'Brien explains, 'The phrase to eat the flesh and drink the blood, when used figuratively among the Jews, as among the Arabs of today, meant to inflict upon a person some serious injury, especially by calumny or by false accusation. To interpret the phrase figuratively then would be to make our Lord promise life everlasting to the culprit for slandering and hating him, which would reduce the whole passage to utter nonsense' (O'Brien, The Faith of Millions, 215)."

"Whatever else might be said, the early Church took John 6 literally. In fact, there is no record from the early centuries that implies Christians doubted the constant Catholic interpretation. There exists no document in which the literal interpretation is opposed and only the metaphorical accepted."

Me again: Based on my knowledge of the early Church Fathers, I would have to agree with the last paragraph. Mr. Swan does not.

“The last comment was substantiated by quotes from Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Theodore of Mopsuestia. Interestingly, this quote from St. Augustine on interpreting John 6 didn't make the collective team:

If the sentence is one of command, either forbidding a crime or vice, or enjoining an act of prudence or benevolence, it is not figurative. If, however, it seems to enjoin a crime or vice, or to forbid an act of prudence or benevolence, it is figurative. "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man," says Christ, "and drink His blood, ye have no life in you." This seems to enjoin a crime or a vice; it is therefore a figure, enjoining that we should have a share in the sufferings of our Lord, and that we should retain a sweet and profitable memory of the fact that His flesh was wounded and crucified for us. Scripture says: "If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink;" and this is beyond doubt a command to do a kindness. But in what follows, "for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head," one would think a deed of malevolence was enjoined. Do not doubt, then, that the expression is figurative; and, while it is possible to interpret it in two ways, one pointing to the doing of an injury, the other to a display of superiority, let charity on the contrary call you back to benevolence, and interpret the coals of fire as the burning groans of penitence by which a man's pride is cured who bewails that he has been the enemy of one who came to his assistance in distress. In the same way, when our Lord says, "He who loveth his life shall lose it," we are not to think that He forbids the prudence with which it is a man's duty to care for his life, but that He says in a figurative sense, "Let him lose his life" that is, let him destroy and lose that perverted and unnatural use which he now makes of his life, and through which his desires are fixed on temporal things so that he gives no heed to eternal. It is written: "Give to the godly man, and help not a sinner." The latter clause of this sentence seems to forbid benevolence; for it says, "help not a sinner." Understand, therefore, that "sinner" is put figuratively for sin, so that it is his sin you are not to help. [Source]”

My rejoinder: I do not find it interesting that Catholic Answers did not cite this quotation in support of their commentary. However, I do find Mr. Swan’s quoting of this particular passage from the saintly Catholic Bishop of Hippo interesting as innumerable Protestant apologists before him have quoted this passage (as well as texts from Enarrationes in Psalmos 98:9 and In Joannis Evangelium tractatus XXVI and XXVII) in their attacks on the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist and the related doctrine of transubstantiation and Catholic theologians have supplied a ready answer–St. Augustine was not saying that we are to understand that Jesus Christ is only figuratively present in the Eucharist; rather we are not to understand the eating of the Eucharist as a carnal eating.

Before I endeavor to put my explanation of the passage before the reader, let us allow Mr. Swan to sing his last song here:

“Let's not miss the point. I'm not discussing Augustine's view of the Eucharist or whether or not he believed in some form of transubstantiation. I'm pointing out that Augustine says John 6 is not literal, and Catholic Answers says it is. They also are in error when they state "there is no record from the early centuries that implies Christians doubted the constant Catholic interpretation" of this passage. Who decides who's right, the man whose ideas dominated Western theological and philosophical thought for a thousand years or the nation's largest lay-run apostolates of Catholic apologetics and evangelization.... or neither? Unless the magisterium decides, I guess it's up to the personal preferences of each individual Roman Catholic to understand John 6 as desired, the very thing they criticize non-Catholics of doing.”

My turn:

Catholic and Protestant theologians, scholars and apologists all unanimously recognize that St. Augustine of Hippo taught that the Holy Eucharist was a sacrament. Further, Mr. Swan, himself, acknowledges that it is open question as to whether the venerable Bishop adhered to some form of transubstantiation (N.B.: I happen to believe that he did) . Even though Mr. Swan acknowledges the possibility that St. Augustine adhered to the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence, his bias against Catholicism unfortunately prevents him from truly understanding the point St. Augustine, the Catholic bishop of Hippo, was actually making in the above-referenced passage from De doctrina christiania, III, 16:24 written in 397 AD for if one reads the passage objectively one would readily see that Augustine was not talking about Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, but how we are to ‘eat’ Him.

In John 6, we see from the Capharnaites’ reaction to Jesus’ words that they thought that Jesus was going to cut Himself into pieces and serve Himself to them. In the passage that Mr. Swan takes from De doctrina christiana, a treatise the Augustine wrote to explain how the Scriptures should be interpreted, Augustine explained that when Our Lord and Savior spoke of eating his Flesh and drinking his Blood, He was not encouraging cannibalism, which is the crime being enjoined. Rather for Augustine, it is the eating being referred to as the “figure” and not the Body and Blood of Christ as contained in the Eucharist.

This is a theme one sees repeated throughout Augustine’s writings:

“ Why do you make ready your teeth and stomach? Believe, and you have eaten “ (In Joann., Tract 25, n. 12).

“This is the bread coming down from heaven, so that if anyone eat of it, he may not die. Yes, he who eats what belongs to the virtue of the Sacrament, not to the visible sacrament; he who eats within, not without; he who eats in the heart, not he who presses (the Sacrament) with his teeth” (Ibid. Tract 26, n. 12,).

“Do you think that I [Christ] am about to divide into parts this body which you see, that I am about to cut up My body and give it to you?” (Sermo. 131, 1:1)

Since Mr. Swan thought it proper to quote Augustine to confute Catholic Answers, let’s return the favor and cite the Doctor of Grace to confute Mr. Swan:

“Yet here it says, fall down before His footstool: and, explaining to us what His footstool is, it says, The earth is My footstool. I am in doubt; I fear to worship the earth, lest He who made the heaven and the earth condemn me; again, I fear not to worship the footstool of my Lord, because the Psalm bids me, fall down before His footstool. I ask, what is His footstool? And the Scripture tells me, the earth is My footstool. In hesitation I turn unto Christ, since I am herein seeking Himself: and I discover how the earth may be worshiped without impiety, how His footstool may be worshiped without impiety. For He took upon Him earth from earth; because flesh is from earth, and He received flesh from the flesh of Mary. And because He walked here in very flesh, and gave that very flesh to us to eat for our salvation; and no one eats that flesh, unless he has first worshiped: we have found out in what sense such a footstool of our Lord's may be worshiped, and not only that we sin not in worshiping it, but that we sin in not worshiping. But does the flesh give life? Our Lord Himself, when He was speaking in praise of this same earth, said, It is the Spirit that quickens, the flesh profits nothing ... . But when our Lord praised it, He was speaking of His own flesh, and He had said, Except a man eat My flesh, he shall have no life in him. [John 6:54] Some disciples of His, about seventy, were offended, and said, This is an hard saying, who can hear it? And they went back, and walked no more with Him. It seemed unto them hard that He said, Except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, you have no life in you: they received it foolishly, they thought of it carnally, and imagined that the Lord would cut off parts from His body, and give unto them; and they said, This is a hard saying. It was they who were hard, not the saying; for unless they had been hard, and not meek, they would have said unto themselves, He says not this without reason, but there must be some latent mystery (another word for sacrament) herein. They would have remained with Him, softened, not hard: and would have learned that from Him which they who remained, when the others departed, learned. For when twelve disciples had remained with Him, on their departure, these remaining followers suggested to Him, as if in grief for the death of the former, that they were offended by His words, and turned back. But He instructed them, and says unto them, It is the Spirit that quickens, but the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. [John 6:63] Understand spiritually what I have said; you are not to eat this body which you see; nor to drink that blood which they who will crucify Me shall pour forth. I have commended unto you a certain mystery; spiritually understood, it will quicken. Although it is needful that this be visibly celebrated, yet it must be spiritually understood.” Enarrationes in Psalmos 99:8. [EMPHASIS ADDED]

In conclusion, contrary to Mr. Swan’s claim, there is nothing in the passage that he quoted which suggests that St. Augustine was opining that Chapter 6 of John should be understood only in a figurative sense, only that one should not think that the reception of Our Lord is through a carnal eating of Him. The Eucharist is not to be treated like one is eating ‘Jesus burgers.’ In fact, given that Augustine wrote in his Enarration of Psalm 99, “But when our Lord praised it, He was speaking of His own flesh, and He had said, Except a man eat My flesh, he shall have no life in him [John 6:54], ” I would humbly submit that Augustine’s views on John 6 are a mite bit more realistic than what Mr. Swan suggests they are.

Simply put, the reason that Catholic Answers probably did not cite the passage from Augustine’s writings that Mr. Swan has brought to our attention is because the point that Augustine was making in the above-referenced passage from De doctrina christiania did not have anything to do with confirming or denying the doctrine of the Real Presence.

God bless!