Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Saint Paul - Pillar of the Catholic Church - I

Through envy and jealousy, the greatest and most righteous pillars [of the Church] have been persecuted and put to death. Let us set before our eyes the illustrious apostles. Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labours, and when he had finally suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him. Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned.

- St. Clement to the Corinthians (the 4th Pope) 96 AD
Ok, so why the title? No, I'm not trying to offend anyone although I did choose the title because it was provocative. Just remember, St. Clement said it first not me!

Some of those outside the Catholic Church like to argue against her by quoting almost exclusively from Paul. Over the next X number of posts, I intend to refute those accusations. As I've said before, a case (albeit weak) for sola fide can be made from Paul's writings. But not only would you have to ignore the entire rest of the Bible to do so, you'd also have to ignore quite a bit of what Paul himself wrote also (as we shall see).

I heard someone say the other day: "Catholics always dance around Romans" Well let's go straight through it then. Care to dance?

What message was Paul trying to convey to the Church at Rome when he wrote to it around 58-61AD? Let's all be honest, the topic we're interested in is justification.

First, Catholics understand justification as
"a translation, from that state wherein man is born a child of the first Adam, to the state of grace, and of the adoption of the sons of God, through the second Adam, Jesus Christ, our Savior"
according to the Council of Trent Decree on Justification - chapter 4. And from the
2020 Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ. It is granted us through Baptism. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who justifies us. It has for its goal the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life. It is the most excellent work of God's mercy

2023 Sanctifying grace is the gratuitous gift of his life that God makes to us; it is infused by the Holy Spirit into the soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it.

2027 No one can merit the initial grace which is at the origin of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and for others all the graces needed to attain eternal life, as well as necessary temporal goods.
So now there should be no real question. Catholics teach that we are saved by grace (as our Holy Scriptures said so in the first place) and this salvation is a free gift of God. We do not earn our way in to Heaven apart from God. Are works necessary? Jesus, Paul and the rest of the apostles seemed to think so. So do we.

Ok so how about Romans? Does Paul preach sola fide? Is he intent on showing us that not only do works not justify us but they aren't even necessary? Does he so firmly believe in the Protestant anthem 'faith + nothing'?
Romans 2:13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.
Seems like a pretty strange thing for Paul to say if he's trying to nail down the sola fide heres..doctrine..
Romans 2:25 Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised.

Romans 2:27 The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.

Romans 3:20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin
Here we start running into issues. It seems like he's contradicting himself. First he says "those who obey will be declared righteous" and later "no one will be declared righteous". Put this apparent contradiction on hold I'll come back to it later.
Romans 3:24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Ok very much in line with Catholic teaching as I have clearly shown...
Romans 3:28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

Romans 4:2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God.
Here is where we have some issues. Notice in 3:28 he says 'apart from observing the law'. Some translations have "apart from works" but this is NIV and very Protestant friendly as I usually quote from.

To Catholics, we understand Paul's issue (in general terms) as regarding the Jews who thought that because they were 'sons of Abraham' and followed the law meticulously, they would be saved. John the Baptist first scolded them for this pompous attitude. Now Paul is making it clear (as Christ did) :
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.(1)
But notice, that Paul is certainly not intending to contrast faith with obedience to the gospel. Indeed Paul understands very well that obedience is necessary for salvation. He was not ignorant of the words of our Lord:
You are my friends if you do what I command.(2)
We must assume that Paul is not and would not contradict Christ. Furthermore he wouldn't contradict himself just verses earlier where he said "those who obey the law who will be declared righteous". Paul (not only in Romans but throughout all of his epistles) constantly stresses the necessity of obedience. Faith is very important for him too, Catholics must not deny that (and we dont). But those who preach sola fide must also recognize Paul insistence on obedience to the gospel of our Lord.

I'm a proponent of Occam's Razor, the simplest answer is the best. I will concede, that by reading Romans there are certain verses (like a couple of the ones mentioned so far) that at first reading appear to allude to the idea of sola fide. (Remember, he never actually says it so it cannot be argued that we have an explicit dogma from Paul). However, so far I have shown just as many from Paul himself leaning towards the Catholic standpoint! (Forget the rest of Scripture, even reading Paul alone will make difficult work out of a sola fide argument).

Now both sides, Protestant and Catholic will say "Paul doesn't contradict himself", "Paul doesn't disagree with James" "Paul & Christ taught the same" etc... And those statements always precede some very clever/in depth exegesis. I'm not interested in getting into any of that right now. I'm taking a much more removed approach. If you just take the new testament at face value, you will have apparent contradictions either way. No one can deny that. This is why Martin Luther wanted to remove James. But even within the book of Romans you have apparent contradictions reading it just this far (4 chapters) if you take everything at face value.

So we have to make a choice. Accepting contradiction isn't an option for any Christian who believes the Bible to be inerrant, we have to pick one or the other. Now if you were to read only Paul's writings (taking them at face value), I still insist that sola fide would be a hard sell considering it's implications. Considering that Christianity has historically rejected this doctrine, you'd have a real tough time convincing me.

Now hopefully you are starting to see why the fourth pope called Paul a "pillar" of the Catholic Church.

Stay tuned for Parts 2 through ??


Amber said...

Truthfully, you have to really stretch to say that Paul is teaching faith "alone"... not to mention ignore several passages. Scripture must be read as a whole unit.

If we pick and choose, we can make anything we want of it!

Excellent post! I look forward to the follow up!

Micky said...

About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

Peace Be With You

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Thanks for sharing. Our God is an awesome god.