TCA Faith for November/December 2012

Augustine and Abortion?

Q. In a doctorate level course, I ran across a timeline on the history of abortion. It indicates that in the fourth century St. Augustine created a Catholic law allowing abortion up to 40 days for a male fetus and 80 days for a female fetus. Several questions come to mind about this timeline, but two are of particular interest. First, is there any truth to this assertion, and, second, were people able to accurately determine the age of the unborn child in the fourth century? 

Anthony P. Montez, via email 

A. The website from which you received this misinformation about St. Augustine is the website of an abortion clinic. Any statement by abortionists about the Church’s teaching on abortion is not to be trusted. 

As a theologian St. Augustine could not and did not “create a Catholic law” about anything. Like other ancient and medieval theologians, he accepted a common theory about ensoulment dating back at least to the time of Aristotle. Aristotle had speculated that the embryo of a male received a soul 40 days after conception, and a female embryo was ensouled 80 days after conception. Down through the Middle Ages various theories of ensoulment were espoused by Catholic moralists.  

But note this: It was always accepted Catholic teaching that abortion, even in the early days after conception, was a grave fault. Now, modern embryology has demonstrated that a new human life begins at the instant the ovum is fertilized. Abortion performed at any stage of a pregnancy is the killing of an innocent human being. 

Consider this tragic irony: Our legal system rightly abhors the possibility that an innocent person should suffer under the law. It’s a fundamental axiom of law that a person is innocent until proved guilty. We spend countless millions of dollars in litigation to protect the innocent. And yet, each day in this country we kill more than 4,000 perfectly innocent persons through abortion. God have mercy on our country! 

Triple Baptism?

Q. In the Presentation Ministries booklet entitled “One Bread, One Body, Lent into Easter 2012,” in the section for Friday, May 25, 2012, there is a reference to triple baptism. This article speaks of baptism into repentance, baptism into Jesus and baptism into the Holy Spirit. As a practicing Catholic, age 77, I have never heard before of more than one baptism. Please comment.

Jerry, via email  

A. You have heard of only one sacrament of baptism because there is only one. These references to other “baptisms” are symbolic references, designating different stages in the spiritual life. Like the sacraments of confirmation and holy orders, the sacrament of baptism cannot be repeated. 

Luther’s Change?

Q. I have heard that Martin Luther changed some of Paul’s writings because he wanted to emphasize his notion of sola fide. Is it true that he changed Scripture? If so, how does that fit with his claim that Scripture alone is enough? 

Patrick, via email  

A. In his translation of Romans 3:28, Luther inserted the word “alone” after the word “faith.” The added word appears neither in the original Greek nor in the traditional Latin translation. Luther was trying to add force to his teaching about justification by faith alone. Scripture alone was enough for Luther — if it were corrected by him. 

Here is a portion of his reply to his Catholic critics. His words give a clear impression of the spirit of Luther. (The following quotation is taken from a staunchly Lutheran website.) Luther advises his followers about how to respond to those who oppose his adding a word to sacred Scripture: “If your papist wishes to make a great fuss about the word sola (alone), say this to him, ‘Dr. Martin Luther will have it so, and he says that a papist and a donkey are the same thing.’” 

He continues: “I will go even further with my boasting. I can expound the psalms and the prophets, and they [his Catholic critics] cannot. I can translate, and they cannot. I can read the holy Scriptures, and they cannot. I can pray, they cannot. Coming down to their level, I can use their rhetoric and philosophy better than all of them put together.” And on and on and on. 

Types of Grace

Q. I have been wondering: What are the differences between actual grace and sanctifying grace? Are there other kinds of grace? If so, how many? 

Name withheld by request, via email  

A. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, “Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life” (No. 1996). There is only one grace, that which makes us sharers in the life of the divine. The various terms we use for grace simply point to differing functions grace plays in our lives. 

“Sanctifying grace,” bestowed in baptism, implants in us a stable orientation to respond to God’s love in living the virtues. It is also referred to as “habitual grace.” On the other hand, the term “actual grace” designates specific helps which God gives us in fulfilling our calling to sanctity and eternal life. We also can speak of “sacramental graces,” which flow from the celebration of the sacraments. “Graces of state” are the helps God gives us in living out our state in life. 

Who Is Metatron?

Q. I have read that there is a legend that the patriarch Enoch in the Old Testament became the angel Metatron. Is that true? Do we know anything about Metatron? 

Ambrose, via email  

A. According to medieval Jewish apocryphal writings, Metatron is an archangel. I would say, he amounts only to a legend. One thing is certain. No human being will ever become an angel. The two natures — human and angelic — are eternal, and will never be interchanged. 

Apostolic Contradiction?

Q. I have long wondered how to interpret what seems like a contradiction between St. Peter and St. Paul with regard to their callings. At the council at Jerusalem, St. Peter reminded the assembly that “from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe” (Acts 15:7). By contrast, in Galatians 2, St. Paul recounts visiting St. Peter and the others in Jerusalem. He tells us they approved his ministry “when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter to the circumcised, for the one who worked in Peter for an apostolate to the circumcised worked also in me also for the Gentiles” (vv. 7-8). Which one is right? 

Puzzled in Ohio, via email  

A. The apparent priority of St. Paul’s commission seems to be strengthened by an event connected with his conversion. In sending Ananias to minister to the blinded St. Paul, the Lord said of him, he “is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles, kings, and Israelites” (Acts 9:15). In a meeting in Jerusalem, indeed, St. Paul tells us, the apostles “saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter to the circumcised, for the one who worked in Peter for an apostolate to the circumcised worked also in me also for the Gentiles” (Gal 2:7-8). Further, in Ephesians 3:8-9, St. Paul rejoices in the fact that, though unworthy, “this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ, and to bring to light [for all] what is the plan of the mystery hidden from ages past in God.” 

However, presumably while St. Paul was 14 years absent from Jerusalem (see Gal 2:1), by divine revelation St. Peter took the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10). When St. Peter related his experience to the other apostles and brethren, they “glorified God, saying, ‘God has then granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too’” (Acts 11:18). The apostolic council ruled in accord with St. Peter’s revelation (Acts 15). 

Despite the seeming contradiction in their perception of their callings, both apostles had a universal calling. As earthly head of the Church, St. Peter was indeed apostle to the whole world. In his capacity as ruler, however, his responsibilities did not allow him the freedom of mobility widely to evangelize, as St. Paul had and used so magnificently. 

Spelling YHWH?

Q. I’m sorry if this has been asked before, but why is “Yahweh” spelled “YHWH”? Are Catholics allowed to spell it out? 

John K., via email  

A. In Hebrew the sacred tetragrammaton is “YHWH.” It is so holy to devout Jews that they never speak it. Modern translations honor their reverence by using the word “Lord.” The Jerusalem Bible is a notable exception in using the term “Yahweh.” Yet because the tetragrammaton contains no vowels, translators who use the term had to insert the “a” and the “e” to make a pronounceable word of it. 

A number of modern hymns coming out of the charismatic movement used the word “Yahweh.” The Church has asked us not to use the word “Yahweh” (or “Jahweh”) so as not to give offense to Jewish sensibilities. The wording of the hymns, therefore, had to be changed. I have not heard of plans to make this correction in the Jerusalem Bible. 

Getting to Heaven

Q. What biblical references can I use to show a Baptist friend that people who, through no fault of their own, have not known Jesus and His salvation, still have a chance to go to heaven, if their lives have been lived uprightly? I’ve searched baptism of desire, and realize I need more, since the Baptists put little importance on baptism. 

Name withheld by request, via email  

A. You could start with 1 Timothy 2:3-4: “God our Savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” Dare we think that this infinitely loving God would condemn to everlasting damnation those who through no fault of their own never had knowledge of Christ? 

Then remind your friend of the Catholic teaching, as you stated in your question. Your friend doubtless will demand scriptural reference to support this Catholic teaching. Ask your friend to prove from Scripture that the Catholic faith has to be proved from Scripture. There is no such proof. The demand for scriptural proof is a totally non-scriptural principle introduced by the Protestant traditions who wrongly assume it to be scriptural. 

Then ask your friend where he or she thinks his or her Bible came from. Who wrote it? Who sorted out the authentic books from the dozens and dozens of writings from the early centuries? Who decided which books are authoritative? You know the answer. It was the Catholic Church. Pray for your friend to ponder these questions. 

Church’s Final Authority?

Q. An Eastern Orthodox friend and I often discuss our beliefs and our differences — always, thank God, in a charitable manner. Recently, our discussion turned to the issue of authority in matters of doctrine. My friend assured me Scripture plainly shows that an ecumenical council of bishops is the Church’s final authority. He referred me to Acts 15. The Church faced a divisive issue, whether Gentiles have equal access with Jews to the Gospel. The council, he said, made the decision in favor of the Gentiles, which proves the Church’s structure by divine intention is conciliar, with final authority vested in a council. How should I have responded? 

Name withheld by request  

A. Ask your friend to consider the scriptural background of the council mentioned in Acts 15. Go back to Acts 10. It was divinely revealed to St. Peter that the Gospel is for the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Turn next to Acts 11, which recounts the astonished joy of the apostles and others when St. Peter told them what God has revealed to him. Now, look again at Acts 15. St. Peter told the council the revealed truth in the matter, and the council accepted it. The initiative clearly lay with Peter and his authority, not with the council. 

Then ask your friend to look at the history of ecumenical councils. Each one was summoned either by the pope or by the emperor with papal approval. [One exception: the second council (Constantinople) was accorded ecumenical status only after the pope approved its decrees.] Each council was convoked to deal with specific doctrinal issues. No council had continuing authority beyond its original agenda. No council ever taught that it was the Church’s final authority. 

Moreover, Eastern Orthodox Christians accept the authority only of the first seven ecumenical councils. To repeat, a council had no continuing authority in doctrinal and moral issues. The fact, therefore, is that the separated Eastern churches have had no operative authority in doctrinal matters for 12 centuries and more. Nor are the totally divided dozen or so ethnic, nationalistic Eastern churches able to convene another council. 

Until the end of time, the Church’s authority remains where Jesus Christ established it: on the Rock which is Peter the head, and on those bishops in communion with him. 

Reward and Punishment?

Q. In the New Oxford Annotated Bible, the introduction to the Book of Proverbs speaks of the “teaching that reward and punishment follow in this life.” Is this still the belief of the Catholic Church: reward and punishment in this life and in the afterlife? Furthermore, does the good Lord use reward and punishment to lead and guide the Christian? For example, if something unpleasant happens when one is starting a new project, is this a sign that the project should be abandoned and something else started, a form of God guiding you? 

David, San Diego, Calif. 

A. Indeed there are rewards and punishments in this life. Loving service to God and our neighbor brings joy and sanctity which find their fulfillment in the life to come. By contrast, sinful behavior and attitudes carry their own punishment, estranging us from God and from our deepest being.  

For most of us who die in a state of grace, our next life will be in purgatory. No matter how spiritually mature we may have become by God’s grace, surely few of us can imagine we will be perfect at the moment of death. The fact that we died in a state of grace will surely mean that we will view the cleansing process of purgatory as a reward. How would we be less than deeply grateful for being cleansed of every trace of selfishness, every single hindrance to perfectly mature love? Each of us whom God takes into purgatory will be perfected at the level of maturity we had achieved by his grace in this life. Obviously, as the Church teaches, there will be degrees of blessedness. But no envy! 

Sin carries its own punishment, both in this life and in the life to come. If we die separated from God, we shall everlastingly suffer from that deprivation and from the knowledge that we alone are responsible for that suffering. 

Can occurrence of something unpleasant when we begin a new undertaking be a warning from God to desist? Perhaps.  

On the other hand, the unpleasantness might be caused by Satan in an effort to divert us from the good we have begun. In either case we should earnestly seek to be guided in prayer. TCA

What is Absolutely Necessary?

Q. What is absolutely necessary for me to be saved? 

Teresa, via email 

A. There is no more basic question in life than what you have posed. In Hebrews 11:6 we read what seems to be a minimal answer: “For anyone who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” After Peter preached the first Christian sermon to assembled crowds, they asked, “What are we to do?’” Peter replied, “‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the holy Spirit” (see Acts 2:37-38). 

The Church teaches that outside the Church there is no salvation. This does not mean that one must be identifiably a Catholic. It does mean, first, that salvation is available only through Jesus Christ. It means further that wherever the grace of Christ operates, it always works in His mystical body, the Church. Just as Christ redeemed the world through His natural body and no other, so He continues to pour His salvation into the world through His supernatural Body and no other. The Church recognizes that non-Catholic communions can be means of salvation. The reason is, the truth they offer is Catholic truth. 

To have access to the full means of grace, the full truth of the Gospel, full access to the guidance of Christ in matters of faith and morals, one must be incorporated into the one true Church, the Catholic Church. The Second Vatican Council fathers issued a warning to anyone who comes to know what the Catholic Church is and refuses either to enter her or to remain in her. That person “could not be saved.”  

Furthermore, even if one is fully incorporated into the Church and accepts all her teachings and her guidance, that does not guarantee salvation. “Even though incorporated into the Church, one who does not however persevere in charity [in love and service of the Lord Jesus Christ] is not saved” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, No. 14). 

The most incisive book known to me on this issue of how one is saved has just been published. Its title is “What Must I Do To Be Saved?” by Marcus Grodi (CHResources, $6.95), head of the Coming Home Network. The small book demonstrates how foreign to the scriptural record is the individualistic “Jesus and I” approach to salvation. He shows how the sweep of the Old Testament record on this subject finds its completion and fulfillment in the Catholic Church. You will find it very rewarding reading.

Who is the Ruler of this World?

Q. The question I have is about the verse John 14:30, where Jesus says: “for the ruler of the world is coming. He has no power over me. . .” Is Jesus referring to the devil as “ruler” of this world? 

Jim Eide, Ocean Springs, Miss. 

A. Indeed, Jesus does speak here of Satan as the ruler of world. You may recall that when Our Lord was tempted in the wilderness, the devil “showed him [Jesus] all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, ‘All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me’” (Mt 4:8-9). In rejecting this temptation Jesus did not refute Satan’s claim that “the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence” belong to Satan.  

Speaking about His impending death, Our Lord again used the phrase, “the ruler of this world.” He told his disciples, “Now is the time of judgment on this world: now the ruler of this world will be driven out” (Jn 12:31). Satan has exercised dominion over the world since the rebellion of Adam and Eve. However, by His passion and death, Our Lord would defeat Satan and ultimately destroy him (see Heb 2:14 and Rv 20:10). For further explanation, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Nos. 550, 2853).

Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D., serves as chaplain for several national Catholic apostolates, an adjunct professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and an assistant pastor at St. Peter’s Church in the same city.