A Catholic answer to an important question
Well, I got no takers again. No defense of Catholic doctrine in light of the inconceivably unjust scenario I presented in my previous post. That may say more about the paucity of my readership than it does the strength of my argument. Either way, it’s what I expected. I’ve never heard nor read any Catholic follow through to its logical yet absurd conclusion their doctrine of salvation that condemns one to Hell for a single, unconfessed mortal sin.
What I have heard and read is a lot of fine-sounding doublespeak apparently designed to so discombobulate the Catholic listener that they determine not to ask any more questions but simply trust in the magisterium.
Case in point: Catholic Answers Live, June 6 of this year. The apologist for this “Open Forum” is Colin Donovan, Vice-President for Theology at EWTN, a Catholic cable network. In response to a question asking what separates Catholic belief on salvation from Protestant beliefs, Mr. Donovan proceeds to give a lengthy and self-contradictory comparison purporting to show that the Catholic doctrine is scriptural and the Protestant not. By the time he’s done the listener is wondering what he just said, but many if not most Catholics will defer to him as an expert who understands better than they the complex doctrine of the church they have been “indoctrinated” to believe is the one true church instituted by Jesus Christ. And will simply accept his conclusion that what looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck is in fact an exquisitely appointed, 75-foot, luxury yacht.
I’ve transcribed his response so that I can demonstrate its incoherence and deception, and will address his argument one section at a time. Since as I mentioned it’s quite lengthy and there’s so much to say about it, this post will be a two-parter. I hope you’ll stay with me…this is a good example of the inherent difficulties in defending the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine on salvation. If you’d like to listen to the podcast, you can find it here. The question is posed at 16:51; the bulk of the answer and that which I’m addressing begins at 18:55.
It is often said the Catholic Church teaches a works righteousness, which is simply not true. If anything the Protestant belief is actually closer to a works righteousness because it is the faith, the believer’s prayer, the faith of the believer, uh, that this is the thing which initiates justice, that God calls this righteousness and gives justice. He gives faith, he gives justice. There seems an element that lacks the free giving or gratuity in there.
He probably simply misspoke when he said, “He gives faith” because the distinction he is making, as we’ll see in a bit, is regarding who gets the credit for the faith. Here he is apparently identifying faith as a work and the one who merely puts his faith in Christ as consequently meriting his salvation. This is actually the perspective of some Protestants as well who believe that faith itself must be simply received as a gift. But throughout his epistles the apostle Paul contrasts faith with works, and clearly and repeatedly establishes that faith is the singular and determining factor, on our part, which saves us. Read Romans 3 and 4, Romans 10, Galatians 3, Ephesians 2…for starters.
Mr. Donovan continues…
The Catholic belief is a little bit different…that God actually does give faith rather gratuitously because if you look at what the apostles say in the Acts of the Apostles, you know, repent and believe and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins…baptized for the forgiveness of your sins…that’s justice. The Church says that the human acts up until the moment of baptism, acts of credibility in Christ…in the gospel, in the teaching of Christ, are acts of human nature, human reason assisted by grace given by God but are not supernatural. Because it is in the gratuity of baptism in which the Holy Spirit is operating and which comes through the Church, the mystical body of Christ, and therefore through the Son….the merit of the redemption…that faith, charity, and hope are infused into the soul.
So he begins his defense of Catholic doctrine with the teaching that faith, as well as hope and charity, is “infused into the soul” at baptism, thereby allowing them to say they are saved by faith but that faith cannot be construed a work.
So in baptism the Catholic, and even we would say those who do not believe this but who are properly baptized receive the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Not before baptism, even though they may have a natural faith in Christ and in all the promises Christ made… the Church is the instrument of Christ on earth and the Holy Spirit operating through the sacrament of baptism that actually gives supernatural faith. And that’s real gratuity. So I think the Catholic Church is actually stronger on this point, that it is not a human work, than is the Protestant faith alone position.
Here he is presenting the Catholic teaching that baptism is necessary for salvation. Now, I think the obvious question to be raised at this is, if faith is a work, how is it that baptism is not? One who has a “natural faith in Christ” but does not take the step (sounds like something we do…like a work) of getting baptized cannot be saved. The distinguishing factor is the physical deed, done in time, of getting wet…in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
I think it’s already clear that this lay Catholic with a Licentiate in Sacred Theology is not persuading anyone who is really paying attention that “the Protestant belief is actually closer to a works righteousness” than is the Catholic belief regarding salvation. But he’s only half done. Tomorrow I’ll review the remainder of his argument.