“HOLD FAST TO WHAT IS GOOD”
Pastoral statement on Fundamentalist Groups by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines
Dear brothers and Sisters in Christ:
On January 22 to 24, We Catholic Bishops from all over the Philippines gathered in Tagaytay for a Seminar on Fundamentalism.
What brought us together was a serious pastoral concern about the increasing flow into our country of fundamentalist groups, preachers, TV programs, and the HARM they cause to many of our faithful.
Main Characteristics of Fundamentalist Groups
The fundamentalist groups we refer to are the mainline Churches like the Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, and the United Church of Christ in the Philippines . Fundamentalist are people who profess with us that the Bible is the Word of God. But they accept the Bible as the one and only necessary source of teaching for our salvation, and claim that we ought not to believe what is not explicitly taught in the Bible. Further, they cling to a very LITERAL INTERPRETATION of biblical passages, which they often quote in isolation from their contexts and to which they give meaning different from that intended by human and divine authors of biblical books concerned. This is literal interpretation of biblical passages taken out of their context is then used to aggressively attack the Catholic teachings and practices like our teaching on the Blessed Virgin Mary and our veneration or sacred images.
They also understand biblical inerrancy in the sense that everything said in the Bible, even statements expressing an out-moded picture of the world, cannot be mistaken. We Catholics understand biblical inerrancy in the sense that the Bible teaches without error those truths which God intended to teach for our salvation.
Another characteristic of fundamentalist groups is their one-sided assertion that one is saved by faith alone, and that once a person accepts Jesus as his personal Lord and Saviour he is already saved. This leads to a practical neglect of the importance of the Church. Indeed one notices that fundamentalist groups have little room in their teaching for the Church, and take a little or no account of Tradition and the sacraments.
The fundamentalists’ insistence on the Word of God, their emphasis on a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, the warm welcome and fellowship they accord to members and prospective members, and the liveliness of their worship service have proven to be great attractions to Catholics.
Errors of Fundamentalists
While we cannot deny the presence of grace in fundamentalists of good faith we must nevertheless warn against serious fundamentalist errors. We note especially the following errors, which we cannot admit:
1. We cannot admit that God’s revelation can be found only in the Bible. There was already revelation before any single line of the Bible was written. In the case of the New Testament, one need only recall that its earliest book (1Thessalonians) was written about twenty years after Christ’s death and resurrection. And yet the first Christians were not deprived of the Gospel of Christ. It is nowhere written in the Bible that the Bible is the only source of saving truth. Indeed the opposite is implied by St John when he writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in the book…” (John 20:30). And St. Paul explicitly states, “Keep the traditions that we taught you, whether by word of mouth or by letter” (2Thessalonians 2:15 ).
2. We cannot admit that the Bible by itself is a sufficient guide to know God’s truth. For it were so, why there is no agreement among these Churches and sects who profess to be guided by the same Word (Bible) of God? We need an authoritative interpreter of the Word of God, and that interpreter is the Church, which the Lord commissioned to teach and to which he promised the assistance/guidance of the Holy Spirit (cf. Matthew 28:19; John 14:26, 16:13). The truth is, the Bible is not only God’s Word but a book produced by God through the Church, and should never be separated from, and much less used against, the faith of the Church that gave birth.
3. We cannot admit the minimizing of the role of the Church in salvation. It is clear from the Bible, but especially in the writings of St. Paul , that we are called to belong to one body where all do not have the same functions and gifts though all are called children of the same Father. Only Christ saves, yes, but as Saul learned on his way to Damascus , Jesus identifies with the Church (cf. Acts 9:4-5), which is its body (cf. 1Corinthians 12:12 ; Ephesians 5:30 ).
THE ROMAN PONTIFF
Q.: Did Jesus say He would build His Church on Peter?
A.: Catholic says that the Pope, as successor of Peter, is the head and foundation of the visible Church, since Peter was the Rock on which the Church was built by Christ.
The Fundamentalist Objection:
In the Gospel we read: “Jesus answered him: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona!…I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church.”” (Matthew 16:17-18)
Now, the fundamentalist come and remark: The Greek word for “Peter” is “Petros” which means “a little stone.” The word for “rock” is “ petra ” which means “a Rock”. What Jesus said was “I will build on the Rock.” He Himself was the Rock, Peter was only “a little stone” that would be too faulty a foundation.
To this we answer: The Gospel of St. Matthew, where these words are found, was originally written, not in Greek (as the fundamentalist objection supposed), but in Aramaic, towards the years 50-55 A.D. The Greek translation was probably made during the years 80-90 A.D. Aramaic was the language actually spoken by Our Lord and the Jews of Palestine of His day. And in Aramaic, the words used by Jesus for “Peter” and “the Rock in this passage, were not in Greek “Petros” and “petra,” but the Aramaic, single and identical word “KEPHA,” as Jesus Himself had previously announced to “Simon, the son of John: You shall be called “CEPHAS” (which means Peter).” (John 1:42) And thus the words that St. Matthew wrote in his Gospel were: “You are KEPHA (or CEPHAS), and upon KEPHA (or (CEPHAS) I will build my Church.”
All the fundamentalist objections on the difference of “PETROS” and “ PETRA ” of the Greek translation was made 30 years latter cannot simply be applied to the original Gospel written by St. Matthew in Aramaic. “KEPHA” in Aramaic means only “ROCK.” Actually Jesus said, and Matthew wrote: “You are a ROCK, and upon this ROCK I will build My Church.”
The translator of the Gospel from Aramaic to Greek found himself with an option. In Greek, the word KEPHA (ROCK) has two forms, different in gender: a masculine form, PETROS, peter, rock; and a feminine form, PETRA , rock. Among the classics the two forms may each have a slightly different meaning: PETRA , a massive, living rock, and PETROS, a detached but large fragment (not little stone) of a rock. This classic distinction of the two forms was not given any importance in the Hellenistic or Koine Greek used by the translator of the Gospel; in the common, vulgar Greek language, both forms PETROS or PETRA were equivalent to the Aramaic KEPHA, rock. The translator preferred to use the masculine form PETROS, an appellative name for persons, when referring to Simon, son of John; and the feminine PETRA, when referring metaphorically to the material foundation of the Church. But what He meant was simply what the original Aramaic said: You are a ROCK, and upon this ROCK I will build my Church.”
“Rock” Refers to Peter
The adjective this ("taute" in Greek) immediately after calling Peter a ROCK, indicates clearly that the Rock of Peter was no other than the very ROCK upon which Jesus was to build His Church. To suppose- as the fundamentalist do- that Jesus meant to say: “Simon, you are a little stone, and upon this Rock (Myself), I will build my Church,” is to complicate unnecessarily and to distort arbitrarily the straightforward statement of the Gospel.
Distinction of “Cornerstone” and “Foundation Stones”
It is true- we all profess it- that as St. Paul declares: “No other foundation can any one lay than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1Corinthians 3:11 ) But, as in any other building, we find in the Church several foundation stones united and supported by the Cornerstone, as St. Paul said to the Christians: “You are members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the Cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:19-21) And St. John remarks that “the wall of the (holy) city (of Jerusalem ) had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:14) And St. Peter invites all Christians: “Come to Him (the Lord), to that Living Stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stone be yourselves built into a spiritual house… For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a Stone, a Cornerstone chosen and precious…” (1Peter 2:4-6)
Hence, Jesus Christ is indeed the Cornerstone of the whole Church. The twelve Apostles are its foundations stones, and Peter is the main “rock” among them, representing the Cornerstone, Jesus Christ, in the visible Church on earth. That is why we cal him, and his successors, Vicars of Christ.
The Succession of Popes
St. Peter ( -67)
St. Linus (67-76)
St. Anacletus (76-88)
St. Clement (88-97)
St. Evaristus (97-105)
St. Alexander (105-115)
St. Sixtus I (115-125)
St. Telesphorus (125-136)
St. Hyginus (136-140)
St. Pius I (140-155)
St. Anicetus (155-166)
St. Soter (166-175)
St. Eleutherius (175-189)
St. Victor I (189-199)
St. Zephyrinus (199-217)
St. Callistus I (217-222)
St. Urban I (222-230)
St. Pontian (230-235)
St. Anterus (235-236)
St. Fabian (236-250)
St. Cornelius (251-253)
St. Lucius I (253-254)
St. Stephen I (254-257)
St. Sixtus II (257-258)
St. Dionysius (259-268)
St. Felix I (269-274)
St. Eutychian (275-283)
St. Caius (283-296)
St. Marcellinus (296-304)
St. Marcellus I (308-309)
St. Eusebius (309?-310?)
St. Meltiades (311-314)
St. Sylvester I (314-335)
St. Marcus (336-336)
St. Julius I (337-352)
St. Damasus I (366-384)
St. Siricius (384-399)
St. Anastacius I (399-401)
St. Innocent I (401-417)
St. Zozimus (417-418)
St. Boniface I (418-422)
St. Celestine I (422-432)
St. Sixtus III (432-440)
St. Leo I (440-461)
St. Hilary (461-468)
St. Simplicius (468-483)
St. Felix III (II) (483-492)
St. Gelacius I (492-496)
Anastasius II (496-498)
St. Symmachus (498-514)
St. Hormisdas (514-523)
St. John I (523-526)
St. Felix IV (526-530)
Boniface II (530-532)
John II (533-535)
St. Agapitus I (535-536)
St. Silverius (536-537)
Pelagius I (556-561)
John III (561-574)
Benedict I (575-590)
St. Gregory I (590-604)
Boniface III (607-607)
St. Boniface IV (608-615)
St. Deusdedit (Adeodatus) (615-618)
Boniface V (619-625)
Honorius I (625-638)
John IV (640-642)
Theodore I (642-649)
St. Martin I (649-655)
St. Eugene I (654-657)
St. Vitalian (657-672)
Adeodatus II (672-676)
St. Agatho (678-681)
St. Leo II (682-683)
St. Benedict II (684-685)
John V (685-686)
St. Sergius I (687-701)
John VI (701-705)
John VII (705-707)
St. Gregory II (715-731)
St. Gregory III (731-741)
St. Zachary (741-752)
St. Stephen II (752-752)
Stephen II (III) (752-757)
St. Paul I (757-767)
Stephen III (IV) (768-772)
Adrian I (772-795)
St. Leo III (795-816)
Stephen IV (V) (816-817)
St. Paschal (817-824)
Eugene II (824-827)
Gregory IV (827-844)
Sergius II (844-847)
St. Leo IV (847-855)
Benedict III (855-858)
St. Nicholas I (858-967)
Adrian II (867-872)
John VIII (872-882)
Marinus I (882-884)
St. Adrian III (884-885)
Stephen V (VI) (885-891)
Boniface VI (896-896)
Stephen VI (VII) (896-897)
Theodore II (897-897)
John IX (898-900)
Benedict IV (900-903)
Leo V (903-903)
Sergius III (904-911)
Anastasius III (911-913)
John X (914-928)
Leo VI (928-928)
Stephen VI (VIII) (928-931)
John XI (931-935)
Leo VII (936-939)
Stephen VIII (IX) (939-942)
Marinus II (942-946)
Agapitus II (946-955)
John XII (955-964)
Leo VIII (963-965)
Benedict V (964-966)
John VIII (965-972)
Benedict VI (973-974)
Benedict VII (974-983)
John XIV (983-984)
John XV (985-996)
Gregory V (996-999)
Sylvester II (999-1003)
John XVII (1003-1003)
John XVIII (1004-1009)
Sergius IV (1009-1012)
Benedict VIII (1012-1024)
John XIX (1024-1032)
Benedict IX (1032-1044)
Sylvester III (1045-1045)
Benedict IX (1045-1045)
Gregory VI (1045-1046)
Clement II (1046-1047)
Benedict IX (1047-1048)
Damasus II (1048-1048)
St. Leo IX (1049-1054)
Victor II (1055-1057)
Stephen IX (X) (1057-1058)
Gregory XI (1370-1378)
Alexander II (1061-1073)
St. Gregory VII (1073-1085)
Bl. Victor III (1086-1087)
Bl. Urban II (1088-1099)
Paschal II (1099-1118)
Gelasius II (1118-1119)
Callistus II (1119-1124)
Honorius II (1124-1130)
Innocent II (1130-1143)
Celestine II (1143-1144)
Lucius II (1144-1145)
Bl. Eugene III (1145-1153)
Anastasius IV (1153-1154)
Adrian IV (1154-1159)
Alexander III (1159-1181)
Lucius III (1181-1185)
Urban III (1185-1187)
Gregory VIII (1187-1187)
Clement III (1187-1191)
Celestine III (1191-1198)
Innocent III (1198-1216)
Honorius III (1216-1227)
Gregory IX (1227-1241)
Celestine IV (1241-1241)
Innocent IV (1243-1254)
Alexander IV (1254-1261)
Urban IV (1261-1264)
Clement IV (1265-1268)
Bl. Gregory X (1271-1276)
Bl. Innocent V (1276-1276)
Adrian V (1276-1276)
John XXI (1276-1277)
Nicholas III (1277-1280
Martin IV (1281-1285)
Honorius IV (1285-1287)
Nicholas IV (1288-1292)
St. Celistine V (1294-1294)
Boniface VIII (1294-1303)
Bl. Benedict XI (1303-1304)
Clement V (1305-1314)
John XXII (1316-1334)
Benedict VII (1334-1342)
Clement VI (1342-1352)
Innocent VI (1352-1362)
Bl. Urban V (1362-1370)
Urban VI (1378-1389)
Boniface IX (1389-1404)
Innocent VII (1404-1406)
Gregory VII (1406-1415)
Martin V (1417-1431)
Eugene IV (1431-1447)
Nicholas V (1447-1455)
Callistus III (1455-1458)
Pius II (1458-1464)
Paul II (1464-1471)
Sixtus IV (1471-1484)
Innocent VIII (1484-1492)
Alexander VI (1492-1503)
Pius III (1503-1503)
Julius II (1503-1513)
Leo X (1513-1521)
Adrian VI (1522-1523)
Clement VII (1523-1534)
Paul III (1534-1549)
Julius III (1550-1555)
Paul IV (1555-1559)
Pius IV (1559-1565)
St. Pius V (1566-1572)
Gregory VIII (1572-1585)
Sixtus V (1585-1590)
Urban VII (1590-1590)
Gregory XIV (1590-1591)
Nicholas II (1059-1061)
Innocent IX (1591-1591)
Clement VIII (1592-1605)
Leo XI (1605-1605)
Paul V (1605-1621)
Gregory XV (1621-1623)
Urban VIII (1623-1644)
Innocent X (1644-1655)
Alexander VII (1655-1667)
Clement IX (1667-1669)
Clement X (1670-1676)
Bl. Innocent XI (1676-1689)
Alexander VIII (1689-1691)
Innocent XII (1691-1700)
Clement XI (1700-1721)
Innocent XIII (1721-1724)
Benedict VIII (1724-1730)
Clement VII (1730-1740)
Benedict XIV (1740-1758)
Clement VIII (1758-1769)
Clement XIV (1769-1774)
Pius VI (1775-1799)
Pius VII (1800-1823)
Leo VII (1823-1829)
Pius VIII (1829-1830)
Gregory XVI (1831-1846)
Pius IX (1846-1878)
Leo VIII (1878-1903)
St. Pius X (1903-1914)
Benedict XV (1914-1922)
Pius XI (1922-1939)
Pius XII (1939-1958)
John XXIII (1958-1963)
Paul VI (1963-1978)
John Paul I (1978-1978)
John Paul II (1978- 2005)
Benedict XVI (2005 to PRESENT)
Q.: Are Catholics guilty of idolatry?
A.: Catholics are not guilty of idolatry because they do not worship idols. Catholics worship only one true God.
Catholics Venerate Images – They Do Not Worship Idols
“Idolatry” is the worship or adoration of idols. “Idols” are images worshipped as a god, deity, or as having divine power or virtue. Catholics “venerate” (i.e., regard with respect or deference), they do not “adore,” (i.e., to worship, or divine) images of Jesus Christ and of the saints. These images are not idols.
God Forbids Worship of False Gods, but Not the Use of Arts in True Worship
God strictly forbade and sternly condemned the worship of false gods. “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything…you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” (Exodus 20:3-5 But obviously, God did not forbid here the arts of sculpture or painting or photography or television, since the images shown in them are not intended to be worshipped or adored. These arts serve to develop the God-given skills of artist who show in their works the beauty and glory of God’s own works.
God himself commanded Moses that the artist Besalel should make for the Ark of the Covenant two images of cherubim gazing at each other, with their wings above overshadowing the “mercy seat” (Exodus 36:1, 37:6-9, 38:22). This was not to adore or worship them, but to venerate and through them to remind the people of God’s occasional presence at that most holy place.
In the same way our Catholic images are made and kept, especially in our Churches, not to adore or worship the images but to honor the saints, or to worship our incarnate God, Jesus the Crucified Saviour, through the veneration of the images. We “venerate” in them, not the cloth, wood, or metal in which they are engraved, but the proto types which they represent, Our Lord and the saints in heaven. Worship indeed is adoration due to God alone, but veneration is reverential respect given not to God alone, but also, in lesser degree, to anyone or anything we judge to be of great worth, such as a great man, a national hero, our ancestors, a holy person, a sacred object.
The Catholic Church Teaches to Honor and Venerate Images, not to Worship Them
The official doctrine of the Catholic Church on this mater is found in the Decree of 3 December 1563 of the Council of Trent, Session XXV. It says: “Images of Christ, of the Virgin Mother of God and of other saints are to be kept & preserved, especially in our churches, to give them due “honor and veneration,” not as if we believe that there is divinity or virtue in them, or to ask something from them, or to put our trust in them, but so that through them we should adore Christ and venerate the saints whose likeness they bear.” In a similar manner, we venerate (not worship) the statue of Rizal or of other great men, or the pictures of our dear ancestors or of our beloved ones. We even venerate and honor symbol, such as the flag of our country.
Scriptural Texts Against Idolatry Are Not Against the Veneration of Images
We do not “bow down to our images or serve them” (which is what God forbids) as a servant bows down to or serve his master. We just bow before our images, or kneel in prayer to God and the saints through the use of images. The images become sacred objects because of what they represent, and because of the religious use to which they are dedicated.
Therefore all the scriptural texts against idolatry have nothing to do with or to say against our veneration (not worship) of images (which are not idols or objects with divine power).
No Serious Catholic Worships Images As Gods
Among ignorant or not well instructed Catholics, abuses or exaggerations that smack of superstition may creep in at times. But these are not approved; nay, they are condemned by the Church. Yet even in these cases, there is no Catholic who seriously adores or worships images as if these were gods or deities. Hence, there is no real case of idolatry among Catholics.
Q.: Do Catholics worship the Blessed Virgin Mary? Isn’t this against the Bible?
A.: Catholics do not worship or adore Mary because Mary is not God. But Catholics love and venerate her because of her special role in our Redemption. The Bible itself encourages us to honor and venerate her, and her divine Son Jesus Christ is surely pleased at the honor we give to her.
To Honor Mary Because of Her Surpassing Dignity Is Not “Mariolatry”
“Mariolatry” would mean the worship of Mary. Catholics do not worship Mary, but we venerate her. We know quite well – even children still learning their catechism do – that Mary is not God. She is just a woman, although the one “blessed among women” (Luke 1:28 , 42) for she was chosen by God Himself to become the mother of Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, the “Emmanuel,” (Isaiah 7:14 ) “which means, God with us.” (Matthew 1:23) She is truly “Mother of God,” a dignity that surpasses all other dignities of creatures on earth or in heaven, but infinitely below the dignity of God, the Creator of all.
We venerate her more than any other angel or saints because she was “full of grace.” (Luke 1:28) To Mary, more truly than any other person, could the inspired word of God say, “The Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28) But we do not pray to her as we pray to God: “Forgive us our sins…have mercy on us!” Rather we say to her: “Pray for us…turn thine eyes of mercy towards us; we take refuge under the protection of your motherly mercy, O Mother of God!”; “Pray for us that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ!”
Honor to Mary Redounds to God’s Glory
Sometimes it may seem as if we honor and venerate Mary even more than Jesus, our God. But this is not so. If we do not get tired of calling her “blessed are you,” it is just to fulfill the “word of God” in the Bible: “For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48 ); and after calling her “blessed” we add at once, “And blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.” (Luke 1:42) We are not tired of praising Mary because she is the masterpiece of God’s works; and we know that when we praise the masterpiece, we are really praising the artist who did it. So when we praise Mary, she returns at once all our praises to God her Saviour, she “magnifies the Lord… for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” (Luke 1:46-49) So all our praises to Mary are immediately directed to God. We will never be able to honor Mary as much as God Himself did honor her when He chose her to be His own Mother, and when the Incarnate Son of God became “subject to her.” (cf. Luke 2:52) That is why the saints tell us that we can never honor Mary enough (“De Maria, numquam satis”).
Q.: Don’t Catholics exaggerate the “titles” and “privileges” of Mary, especially her “Virginity”?
A.: The titles and privileges of Mary were accorded to Mary by God Himself in order to honor the woman He chose to be His mother. These titles and privileges are based on the Revelation of God as found in the Sacred Scripture and sacred Tradition.
Mary Is the “Mother of God”
The first, and the source of all her extraordinary privileges, is her incomparable dignity of the “Mother of God.” The Council of Ephesus year 431 A.D. declared: “If anyone does not confess that God is truly Emmanuel and that on this account the holy Virgin is the Mother of God (for according to the flesh she gave birth to the Word of God become flesh by birth), let him be anathema (condemned).”
We stress the Council’s words “according to the flesh” to make it clear that Mary was not the mother of Jesus’ divinity. Mary did not give birth to God in the beginning of time. But since Jesus is true God and true Man, united in the one Person of God’s Word, to deny that Mary is the mother of God would be to deny either that Jesus is God or that Mary is truly his mother. Here is a comparison. Our own mother is the mother of our human person composed of body and soul. Our mother did not form our soul, which is created directly by God, but only formed our body,” and yet, we call her truly “our mother,” not “the mother of our body,” but “my mother.” In similar way, Mary is the Mother of Jesus who is not a human person, but the divine person of God the Son; hence she is truly the Mother of God.
Mary is “Ever Virgin”
Due to her dignity as Mother of God, God also granted Mary the privilege of perpetual virginity, i.e., she remained a virgin before, during, and after the birth of Jesus. Before and during the birth of Jesus she was a virgin, according to the word of God in the Bible. (Matthew 1:18-23; Luke 1:35-38)
Explanation of some Scriptural passages on Mary’s Perpetual Virginity
But many Protestants or fundamentalists refuse to believe that she remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus. Their disbelief comes from some scriptural texts they misinterpreted due to ignorance of the original language of the Bible.
They allege the texts where mentioned is made of “brothers and sisters of Jesus,” (Matthew 12:46 ; Mark 3:31 , 6:3; Luke 8:19 ) implying that Mary had other children aside from Jesus. But this is based on a misunderstanding of biblical language. The Bible was not written in English, but in Hebrew or Greek. The words “brothers or sisters” in the language of the Bible means “relatives” in general. To demonstrate this, we see that Abraham and Lot who where uncle and nephew, are called “brothers.” In some versions, the word is translated as “kinsmen.” (cf. Genesis 12:25, 13:8) Similarly, Jacob and Laban, also uncle and nephew, are called again “brothers” in the meaning of “kinsmen.” (Genesis 28:2, 29:15) Of the so called “brothers of Jesus,” (two of them, the Apostles James and Less (Galatians 1:19 ) and his brother Jude or Thaddeus, (Jude 1) were sons of Mary of Clopas and of Alphaeus, Cleopas or Clopas. That Mary of Clopas was a “sister of the Mother of Jesus,” (John 19:25 ; cf. Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40 ; 16:1) and Alpaeus or Clopas was, according to the most ancient historian Hegesippus, a brother of St. Joseph . So Mary of Clopas was probably not a blood sister but sister-in-law of the Blessed Virgin. Hence the two so-called “brothers of Jesus,” and their brother Joseph as well as probably also Simon the Cananean ( the Apostle called “the Zealot”), all of these were not Children of the Blessed Virgin, but of Alpaeus and Mary of Clopas; hence they were simply kinsmen, first cousins, of Jesus.
Another text used is the statement that Joseph did not know (have marital relations with) Mary “until she had borne a son,” as if to say that after that, Joseph did know her. Again this objection comes from ignorance of the original Bible language. The word “until” in Greek and Semitic usage does not imply anything about what happens after the time indicated. So we read in 2 Samuel 6:23: “Michol, the daughter of Saul, had no child until the day of her death.” Evidently she could not have any child after her death!
Another text is that which contains the phrase “firstborn” child of Mary, (Luke 2:7) as if implying that there should at least be a second born. This word “firstborn” among the Jews connoted the possession of certain rights, privileges, and obligations. It did not necessarily imply subsequent births. As an example we may cite the law of redeeming all the “firstborn” of Jewish sons commanded by God in Exodus 13:15 which was to be fulfilled when obviously it could not be known whether other children might come to later. The “firstborn” means simply the one born at the first childbirth, whether other comes later or not. From the Bible itself we know that, before the birth of Christ, Mary had bound herself to a vow of virginity, as she clearly indicated to the angel by her words: “How can this be, since I have no husband (I know no man)?” (Luke 1:34) This text could not be understood except in the sense that, at that time, she had bound herself with solemn promise or vow to remain a virgin all her life. If she married St. Joseph , it could not be without a common agreement of both spouses to abstain forever from marital rights. This is how the faithful from the times of the apostles understood the truth of Mary’s perpetual virginity, and called her always the “ever Virgin” Mary.
Many Truths Are Implicit in the Revelation
In conclusion, the truth of the perpetual virginity of Mary, as well as other privileges we Catholics believe, was granted to her, such as the Immaculate Conception and her Assumption to heaven, cannot indeed be found explicitly either denied or declared in the Gospel. These are truths implicitly contained in the original deposit of the Revelation entrusted by the Lord to His Apostles and to the Church He founded upon them. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the understanding of this deposit of Revelation by the Church was gradually made clearer, well-defined and “explicit” in the course of centuries.
The reason for this development in the understanding of the truths of our faith lies in the hierarchy of importance these truths have. Not all revealed truths are equally important to the basic Gospel message, the good news of salvation. There are primary truths (such as the Blessed Trinity, the Divinity of Jesus, the need of His redemptive death on the cross for our salvation, the reality and power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ intention to establish His Church), which are found explicitly in the Bible, which all true Christians agree to believe. But there are also other truths, only implicitly contained in the Gospel, which are not as basic the Gospel message (such as the truths concerning the Blessed Virgin, the saints, purgatory). Here is where disagreement comes between Catholics and other Christians.
God Encourages Marian Devotions
Our special veneration for Mary is not, nor could ever be, forbidden by God, hence God Himself honored and venerated her, to the point of becoming “subject to her,” “obedient to her.” (Luke 2:51) When a woman who cried out: “Blest is the womb that bore you and the breast that you sucked!” Jesus replied: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” He did not deny the woman’s praise to Mary, which was just a commentary of God-inspired words of the angel and St. Elizabeth: “Blessed are you among all women!”; but He wished to stress that Mary was still more blessed for devoting her life to do the Will of God, as “the handmaid of the Lord.” (Luke 1:38)
It is true that Christians can address themselves directly to God through Jesus Christ, “the one Mediator between God and men.” (1Timothy 2:5) But they are surer to obtain the Mediation of Jesus if, instead of approaching Him directly, sinners as they are, they go to Him through the intercession (not Mediation) of Mary, His sinless and dearest Mother.
About the title “Queen of heaven,” we know it was used by the pagans for a false goddess, (Jer. 44:17-25) just as the titles due to God alone were used by the pagans for their false gods. Is that a reason to forbid Christians to use the titles due to God and due to His Mother for the true God and for the woman who became His Mother?
Finally, to say that God forbids us to consult the spirits of the dead, as if that were against Catholic devotion to Mary, is misunderstanding of Catholic Marian devotion. We venerate Mary and the saints – we do not consult them.
TOO MUCH TRADITION?
Q.: Do Catholics annul the word of God because of their adherence to “Tradition”?
A.: No. Tradition and Scripture form one single source of the word of God revealed to man. Scriptural texts which allege to minimize the value of tradition refer to human traditions of the Old Testament; many other texts stress the value of tradition, referring to Sacred Tradition or Church Tradition.
True Meaning of “Tradition”
By Tradition (which means something handed over, passed on, or transmitted from one person or group to another) we understand all the truths of the entire Divine Revelation entrusted by Christ to the Apostles and, through them, to the Church to be transmitted from generation to generation. The Second Vatican Council explains: “Christ the lord in whom the entire Revelation of the most high God is summed up (cf. 2Corinthians 1:20; 3:16-4:6) commanded the Apostles to preach the Gospel…This was faithfully done…by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching…what they themselves received…and it was done by those…who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation(the New Testament books of the Bible) to writing.” (Dei Verbum, 7) The Bible itself shows that the command of Christ was to preach (not to write the Bible), thereby handing down (this is the meaning of “Tradition”) the spoken word (oral tradition) which some later put into writing (scripture).
Scripture and Tradition Support One Another
“The Church does not draw her certainty about all revealed truths from the Holy Scripture alone.” Bible and Tradition are not two different source of Divine Revelation, but they “form one sacred deposit of the word of God which is committed to the Church.” (Second Vatican Council) Bible and Tradition cannot stand independently, one from another. The bible needs Tradition to interpret correctly and authentically the written word of God, which at times is obscure or open to various meanings. And the Tradition needs the Bible to support and confirm with the inspired written word of God the teachings transmitted by the Church.
The Bible Needs an Authentic Interpretation
The Bible, in its written word of God, need to be explained and interpreted authentically, in order to prevent the confusion that gives rise to the manifold Protestant denominations, each one giving its own “private” interpretation of scriptural texts. The task of authentically interpreting the written word of God belong to the Traditions of the Church, which is assisted by the guidance of the Holy Spirit according to Christ ‘s promise.
Besides, among the truths of the written word of God in the Bible, there are some which are not so central to the basic message of the Gospel. These were orally transmitted by the Apostles and are in the Bible in an implicit manner (e.g., divine inspiration of each of the books of the Bible, the infallibility, indefectibility, or indestructibility of the Church in her doctrine of faith and her fidelity to Christ, the primacy and infallibility of Peter and his successors the Popes or Bishops of Rome, the existence of Purgatory for the purification of those who died in God’s grace but without having satisfied fully the debts of their sins, the divine institution of the seven Sacraments).
As St. John said: “There are many other things which Jesus did; were everyone of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25) And St. Paul advices: “Brethren, stand firm and hold to the Traditions which you were taught by us, either by word or by letter” (2Thessalonians 2:15); “When you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it really is, the word of God.” (1Thessalonians 2:13 ) And St. John adds: “Though I have much more to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink, but I hope to come and see you and talk with you face to face.” (2John 12:3; 3John 13-14)
The Bible Need Tradition
Beside, to reject the Tradition of the Church would be to reject the divine authority of the Bible itself, since it is only through our Catholic Tradition that we know for sure which books that make up the Bible are actually inspired by God. Without the testimony of the Church Tradition, we would not know which books, among many other apocryphal writings claiming also to be inspired, were truly written under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is the contradiction in the position of the fundamentalist, “born-again” Christians who accept blindly the Bible as the “word of God” without any infallible authority to testify on their divine inspiration.
“Tradition” Not the Same As “Traditional Practices”
Objection against Catholic tradition is sometimes based on certain “traditional” practices which are found in use among some ignorant or superstitious Catholic folk without the approval of the Catholic Church, e.g., the custom of “flagelantes” in Holy Week. But this is very far from what is truly meant by Catholic Tradition.
IS CELIBACY FORBIDDEN?
Q.: Does the Roman Catholic Church go against the Bible for requiring celibacy for Her priest?
A.: Apostolic celibacy (for the love of God and the spread of the Gospel) is praised highly in the Bible. The Roman Catholic Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, requires it of Her priest, for them t be totally dedicated to spread the Gospel. The Church regards Marriage as something good and holy for all other Christians.
The Apostles Left Everything for Christ
The Celibacy of Catholic priest of the Latin rites is certainly a Church law that was not yet enacted in the times of the Apostles. Although it was not obligatory in the first centuries, it was introduced by the accepted practice of most priests from the earliest days of the Church. The Apostles themselves (although at least some of them were married) left their homes and families when Christ called them to follow Him. St. Peter said, “Lord. We have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?” Jesus answered: “Truly I say to you. There is no one who has left house, or brothers of sisters, or father or mother, or wife or children or lands for My sake and for the Gospel who will not received a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mother and children and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)
Reasons for the Law of Priestly Celibacy
Encouraged by these promises and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church enacted the law of priestly celibacy for all priest of the Latin rite. It does not imply anything against the holy Sacrament of Marriage, which was also established by Christ. It intends to assure freedom of action to dedicate oneself totally to the love of God and of souls, with a greater availability to devote one’s life to the spread of the Gospel and the pastoral ministry, without any hindrance in the sharing of Christ’s Eternal Supreme Priesthood. Pope Paul VI has recently declared: “Priestly celibacy (that is, perfect and perpetual chastity) has been guarded by the Church for centuries, and that law must continue to be firmly linked to the sacerdotal ministry” in the Latin Church.
Marriage is Good, Celibacy is Better
Jewish priest were married. In the Greek rite, there are also married catholic priests. But for the reasons mentioned above, the Church considers that Marriage (a holy state indeed), due to its family obligations, is a hindrance to the total dedication demanded by the pastoral ministry and apostolate of the Catholic priesthood. Therefore, while marriage is good, apostolic celibacy is even better. But celibacy is not for all Christians.
St. Paul Himself Renounced Marriage
St. Paul says to Timothy (1Timothy 4:3) that those who forbid marriage to all Christians, as if it were something wrong or sinful are “giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.” Marriage is not only something good and holy, instituted by God Himself in the paradise, but has even been raised to the dignity of a “Sacrament” established by Christ to give His sanctifying grace to the Christian spouses. But St. Paul himself renounced marriage to dedicate himself totally to his vocation and mission of bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles. His doctrine explained in 1Corinthians 7:25-39 is summarized in this saying: “He who marries does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.” (1Timothy 7”38)
THE HOLY SACRIFIES OF THE MASS
Q.: Is the Sacrifice of the Mass still necessary?
A.: The Catholic Church teaches – as we find in all our catechisms – that the “Holy Mass is one and the same Sacrifice with that one of the Cross, inasmuch as Christ who offered Himself a bleeding Victim, on the Cross, to His Heavenly Father, continuous to offer Himself in an unbloody manner on the altar, through the ministry of the priest.” (The Explanatory Catechism of Christian Doctrine)
Therefore in our Holy Mass we do not offer a new, different sacrifice from that one of the Cross; nor do we repeat the Sacrifice “for the forgiveness of sins,” (Matthew 26:28) i.e., for the remission of all the sins of mankind. NO. In the Mass, what we do is to “re-enact” the one Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, so that all men, the living and the dead, may share in all generations the fruits of that inexhaustible redeeming act of Jesus. So we believe that the Sacrifice of the Mass is still necessary.
The Fundamentalist Objection
The fundamentalist answers that the Sacrifice of the Mass is not necessary. And he tries to prove it by quoting from the letter of St. Paul to the Hebrews, chapter 10, verses 11-12, 14,18: “And every priest indeed stands daily ministering and offering the same sacrifice which can never take away sins.” (Hebrew 10:11 ) The fundamentalist applies these words to the Catholic priest, and to the sacrifice of the Mass they offer daily.
But this is a distortion of the scriptural text. According to biblical scholars this Letter to the Hebrews was written by St. Paul at Rome about the year 62-63 A.D. before the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. (in the year 70 A.D.). It was addressed to the Christian Jews in Palestine to comfort them in the midst of the harsh persecutions they were suffering then and to prevent the danger of their falling into apostasy. From chapter 4:14 to chapter 10:18 the Apostles speaks of the excellence of Christ’s Priesthood as compared with the former levitical priesthood according to the order of Aaron. He is not talking about the Catholic Priests, but about the levitical priests, as can be noticed from the Greek word he uses in this Epistle for “priest,” which is “iereus,” the appellation proper of the priest of the Old Testament. For Catholic priests the New Testament books use only the words “Presbyterious” (elder) or “episcopous” (overseer).
Beside, the text cited above (Hebrew 10:11-18) as read in the Bible, does not say “the same sacrifice” (in singular) as the fundamentalist quotes it, but rather “the same sacrifices” (in plural), as referring obviously to the various kinds of “sacrifices” of the Old Testament. (cf. Exodus 29:38-42; Numbers 28:3-8)
Evidently, in this passage of the Letter to the Hebrew, St. Paul was talking about the levitical sacrifices of the Old Law “which can never take away sins,” and which were all supplanted by the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, which was to become henceforth the only true sacrifice to God. This was clearly indicated at the time of Christ’s death when “the curtain of the temple was torn from top to bottom.” (Matthew 27:51) “Sacrifices and oblations and holocaust and sin offerings, which are offered according to the Law, God has not had pleasure in them. He annuls the first covenant in order to establish the second.” (Hebrew 10:8-9)
The Sacrifice of Christ
Henceforth “we have been sanctified through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once and for all.” (Hebrew 10:10 ) And thus we understand the following words quoted by the fundamentalist: “But when this one (Christ) had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God…For by a single Offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified… Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” (Hebrew 10:12 , 14, 18)
Indeed, this is exactly what we Catholics believe. After the sacrifice offered by Jesus Christ on the Cross at Calvary , men do not need any other sacrifice for the forgiveness of their sins. That single sacrifice is more than enough for the remission of all the sins of the world.
The Sacrifice of the Mass Is the same sacrifice on the Cross
We Catholics do not offer in the Sacrifice of the Mass another sacrifice different from the single sacrifice Jesus offered on the cross of Calvary . We firmly believe that our sacrifice of the Mass is nothing else than a “re-enactment’ of the one Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary . In the Mass, we believe, the very same sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is “represented” of made present once again before us, so that we may have in it a living “memorial” of what Jesus did for us on the cross; and by uniting ourselves with Him in the Holy Communion, we may fully share in the fruits of His “plenteous redemption.” (Psalm 129)
And Pope Paul VI in the Creed of the People of God, 30 June 1968 , explained more fully. “We believe that the Mass, celebrated by the priest representing the person of Christ by virtue of the power received through the Sacrament of Orders, and offered by him in the name of Christ and the members of His Mystical Body, is the Sacrifice of Calvary rendered sacramentally present on our altars. We believe that as the bread & wine consecrated by the Lord at the Last Supper were changed into His Body and Blood which were to be offered for us on the Cross, Likewise the bread and wine consecrated by the pries are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ enthroned gloriously in heaven, and we believe that the mysterious presence of the Lord under what continuous to appear to our senses as before, is a true and substantial presence.
Christ Commanded This Re-enactment of His Sacrifice
We believe that Our Lord instituted the wonderful re-enactment of His Sacrifice on the Cross at the last Supper when He pronounced the consecratory words: This is My Body which shall be given up for you; do this in remembrance of Me… This cup is the new covenant in My Blood, which shall be shed for you… Do this in remembrance of Me.” (1Corinthians 11:24 -26; Luke 22:19 -20)
In saying “Do this in remembrance of Me” Our Lord gave His Apostles, and their successors, the Catholic priest of all ages, the power of doing what He did at the Last Supper, i.e., of celebrating the Sacrifice of the Mass; and manifested his desire to perpetuate this mystical sacrifice of the Mass throughout the ages to keep alive among all faithful the grateful remembrance of His Sacrifice on the Cross.
Luke 22:18-20; John 6:51; John 6:35; Proverb 9:1-2; 2Peter 1:14; Acts 11:30, 14:22, 16:4, 20:17, 21;18; Titus 1:5-7; Philippians 1:1; 1Timothy 3:2 & 4:14; 1Peter 5:1; James 5:14; etc…
THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE
Q.: Can the priest forgive sins?
A.: By the Sacrament of Holy Orders, priests share in the very Priesthood of Christ, and they have been given by God the power to forgive sins. It is not their own power, as men; it is God’s power entrusted to them, as ministers of God. They do not forgive sins in their own name, but in God’s name.
The Fundamentalist Objection
The Fundamentalist object: God alone can forgive sins. Priest cannot forgive sins, because they are men only. We read in the Gospel that when Jesus said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven,” the scribes were scandalized saying, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” But they should have been scandalized. Truly, God alone can forgive sins. Then, since Jesus also forgave sins, He must be a Man with the authority of God, as indeed He was true Man but also true God, God the Son made Man to save us from our sins.
However, we cannot say the same of priests. Catholic priests are mere men. They may even be sinful men. As such they have no power to forgive sins.
The Power to Forgive Sins was Given by God to the Apostles
Truly, priest may perhaps be sinful men. As sinners they also need to be forgiven by another priest who has received the same power in spite also of his sinfulness. Indeed no man can forgive sins, even if he were a saint, much less if he is a sinner himself. But even a sinful man, if he has been given by God the power to forgive sins, can forgive sins, not by himself, but as a mere instrument by God.
The power to forgive men’s sins was given to the Apostles when Jesus on Easter evening told them: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:23 – N.I.V. Protestant Bible) There is no exception. Whatever sins (even the most grievous) the Apostles forgive, they will be forgiven; but if they do not forgive, the sins will not be forgiven.
This Includes the Need to “Confess” to Them or Their Successor
The Apostles were ordinary men. They could not know others’ sins, unless these were confessed to them. Hence, since all men have sins and are in need of forgiveness, then all who believe in Christ must confess to the Apostles or their successors. Jesus knew that His Apostles were to die one day, hence He intended certainly to entrust the same power to forgive sins to all those who were to succeed them in mission “to preach His Name to all nations the repentance and forgiveness of sins.” (Luke 24:47)
The fundamentalist object that in the above mission (John 20:23 ) the Gospel speaks, not of the Apostles, but of “disciples,” and hence, of all believers, followers of Christ, besides the Twelve chosen to continue His mission. But let us notice that the word “disciples” in the Gospels is sometimes restricted. It mainly refers only to the Twelve Apostles, especially in the last chapters. (c.f. Matthew 26:20-56, 28:16) Hence, although at that time there were with the Eleven some other disciples, as the two from Emmaus, (Luke 24:36) it has been always understood by almost all Christians that the words of Jesus conferring to forgive sins were addressed only to the Apostles. The words of Jesus could not refer to all believers, since no one can say that any Christians forgive other sins by just saying, “Your sins are forgiven if you receive Jesus as your Saviour.” That is not to forgive, but to declare the other forgiven. To forgive is not simply to declare the other acquitted. And when Jesus actually said was, “If you forgive, they are forgiven,” “those whom you forgive, God also forgives.” Hence, if the words of Jesus cannot refer to all believers, they must refer only to the Apostles and their successors, the Catholic Priests.
St. Peter said to Cornelius that “every one who believes in Christ received forgiveness of sins through His Name,” (Acts 10:43) i.e., forgiveness of sins is granted, not only by believing in Him (or receiving Him as Saviour), but “through His Name,’ that is, through the priestly absolution given “in Christ’s Name,” “in the Name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” as the priest absolves in the Sacrament of penance or Reconciliation.
The Priest Is Not Arbitrary
Certainly, the Catholic priest cannot give God’s absolution or forgiveness arbitrarily. The priest is only an instrument of God’s Mercy, and acts, not in his own name, in God’s Name. Hence, a priest cannot forgive a sinner who is not repentant. That is why sometimes in Confession the priest may be bound, not to forgive at once, but to retain the absolution until the sinner truly repents. St. Peter told Simon, the sorcerer, “repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that if possible the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive of sin.” (Acts 8:22-23) St Peter himself, appointed by Christ as visible head of His Church, could not forgive, unless the sinner would first truly repent.
“Confession” Practice Began with the Apostles
Finally, the fundamentalist object: “The Apostles never heard Confessions.” That is a gratuitous assertion. How did they know that the Apostles never heard Confessions? Because the Bible does not say it? Then shall we say also that the Apostles never got sick or died, since the Bible does not say a word about it?
We have already seen that Confession is a necessary part of forgiveness because the Apostles and their successors had to know what they were forgiving. But it is probable that Confessions were seldom heard in the time of the Apostles and so sacramental confession does not appear explicitly in the Bible. Why? In those early days of the Church, Christians were very fervent. (c.f. Acts 2:44 -47) They took seriously what St. Paul taught about becoming a “new creation”: “Be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24); “You have put off the old nature, with its practices, and have put on the new nature which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:9-10) “Therefore if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new one has come.” (2Corinthians 5:17 )
Accordingly those early Christians did not even consider the probability of committing grievous sins. So, for them, confession was not so necessary except for grievous public sins, such as murder, adultery, and apostasy. Aside from these extraordinary cases, Confession was not usual, and then it was accompanied by a long period of public, severe penance, and normally absolution was given only once in a lifetime. It was expected that the baptized had the grace to avoid mortal sin. So, Confession was not ordinarily needed. That is why we do not read of Confessions in the time of the Apostles, for they were rare.
A change in the understanding of the Sacrament of Penance developed in the 6th and 7th centuries among the monks. In connection with spiritual direction, the practice of more frequent confession was introduced; and this eventually became the ordinary form among Catholics. In 1215 A.D., the IV Lateran Ecumenical Council prescribed annual Confessions for all Catholics. Confession was not “invented” – as Protestants say – at that time, but only its minimum frequency was established as a Commandment of the Church.
Matthew 18:18 (cf. Proverbs 5:22 ); John 20:19 -23; 1John 1:9; James 5:16 ; 2Corinthians 5:18 ; Acts 19:18
Q.: Do we go to Purgatory when we die?
A.: Those who die in the state of grace but who need to be purified of venial sins or who have expiate for sins already forgiven, are purified in Purgatory. The existence of Purgatory is based on the Bible, the Sacred Tradition and the teaching authority of the Church.
The Catholic Teaching on Purgatory
The catholic faith teaches that any sinner who, through his repentance and acts of penance, has been forgiven of his sins before dying, but has not fully expiated or satisfied God’s Justice for the penalties due to them, will have to be purified or to expiate for them with the sufferings of Purgatory, before entering heaven. God is infinitely Merciful, but also infinitely Just; otherwise He would not be God, infinitely Perfect. Because He is infinitely Merciful God sent His only Son to pay and expiate for all sins of the world with His Precious Blood: “The Blood of Jesus His Son, cleanses us from all sin.” (1John 1:7) But because God is infinitely Just he cannot forgive equally a repentant sinner just as an unrepentant one, or another who repents but very little; a sinner who tries to atone or expiate for his sin, and another who does nothing or very little to expiate for them. God’s justice demands full satisfaction for sins. This full satisfaction was given or paid by Christ’s Blood. But to receive this cleansing Blood, God puts a very simple condition: we must repent and do penance. Otherwise if we refuse to repent and do penance, it means we are refusing to receive the cleansing Blood of Jesus, and so we are unworthy, nay, incapable of being forgiven. Or if we do repent and make but very little penance, we may be forgiven, but will not receive the full satisfaction or expiation offered by the Blood of Jesus. This is obviously a matter of justice.
Jesus is our only Saviour; but, St. Augustine says, “ who created you, without you, will not save you, with you.” Without your cooperation. We are not saved by our works of repentance and penance but by the merits of the Blood of Jesus. But we cannot receive these merits without fulfilling the condition of repentance and penance. And as any one understands, this repentance and penance means suffering on our part. But we cannot boast that our suffering save us. Our sufferings would have no value without the Blood of Jesus. St. Bernard says: “Your wounds, Lord, are my merits.” It is the Blood of Jesus that cleanses us from our sins. Our repentance and acts of penance are only a necessary condition. But even to put that condition, we need God’s grace, because Jesus says: “Without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Hence, our salvation is entirely the work of our Merciful God!
Therefore, if upon dying the sinner (already forgiven by the Blood of Jesus) has not yet satisfied fully the penalties demanded by God’s Justice, he cannot enter heaven at once since the word of God says: “Nothing unclean shall enter” (Revelation 21:27) heaven. That is why we believe that God, in His Justice tempered with His Mercy, has prepared a place or a state of purification (what we call Purgatory) where souls, through their temporal sufferings or our actions (prayers, works of charity, good works, especially the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass), may satisfy what is still lacking to become totally cleansed and worthy to be admitted in heaven.
Scriptural Basis for This Teaching
And we believe this, based on the word of God we read in the Bible.
(2Maccabees 12:37 -45) In the battle against Gorgias some Jews brought under their tunics some sacred tokens of idols which God’s laws forbade to bear. All of them were killed in the battle. Judas and his soldiers prayed for those good Jews who died in the battle for the People of God, “beseeching that the sin which had been committed be wholly blotted out… He also took up a collection and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin-offering. In doing this he acted very well…For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would not rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sins.” The Catholic Vulgate version adds: “It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins.”
It is not only in this book of Maccabees where the Bible indicates clearly that there is Purgatory. Other texts of the Bible seem to imply it. We have already cited the book of revelation, the Apocalypse, 21:27 : “Nothing unclean shall enter it (heaven).” If Our Lord says: “I tell you, on the day of Judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words, you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned,” (Matthew 12:36-37) then who among us can expect to be so clean at the hour of death as to be able to go straight to heaven? Yes, through God’s Mercy and merits of Christ’s Blood, we must hope to die in the grace of God, repentant and forgiven of our sins; but how can we be sure of having expiated, with our repentance and acts of penance, for all our countless sins, even for our “idle” or “careless” words? God will not condemn us to hell for venial sins or slight faults (as our “idle” or “careless” words), but since “nothing unclean may enter heaven,” there should be a place or a state of “purification” (the Purgatory) before going to heaven.
Finally, the passage of 1Corinthians 3:11-15, although it is not so clear, seem obviously to refer to preachers of the Gospel who preach, either good doctrine, based on Christ (their good doctrine is as “gold, silver, precious stones” that resist the test of fire); or those who preach vain doctrine, based on human wisdom, as if it were “wood, hay, stubble” that is consumed by fire. “The fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any human has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself may be saved, but only as through fire.” (1Corinthians 3:12 -15) Therefore, some can be saved, but suffering first some loss, “as through fire.” These words seem to allude to the doctrine of Purgatory.
In some exceptional cases, the repentance and penance of great sinners, like the sinful woman or the good thief, may be so intense as to obtain at once the forgiveness of all their crimes, and even expiate or satisfy totally the penalty due to them, by the merits of Christ’s Blood: “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.” (Luke 23:43)
Protestants and Fundamentalist Do Not Accept the Book of Maccabees
Protestants and Fundamentalists refuse to admit the divine inspiration of the Book of Maccabees. Why? Mainly because it was not included in the Hebrew Scripture used by the Jews in Jerusalem , while it was included in the Greek version which was used by most Christians (Jew or Gentile converts), from the first centuries. Eventually the Church Councils at Hippo and Carthage (4th-5th centuries), at Nicaea and Constantinople (8th-9th centuries), and finally the Church of Trent (16th century) declared and proclaimed the Maccabees books among the authentically inspired books of the Bible.
Neither the Jews or Jerusalem nor the Protestants can show us that God Himself has told them which ones are the truly inspired books of the Bible. Only the Catholic Church, founded by Christ upon the Apostles with the promise that “the Spirit of Truth will guide them into all the truth” (John 16:13 ) has the guarantee of not falling into error. Hence we Catholics believe that scriptural passages quoted above are truly the “word of God,” because such has been the Teaching of the Catholic Church, definitively proclaimed by the Teaching Authority of that Church with which Jesus promised to be “always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20) so that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
The Term “Purgatory”
But they object, “we cannot find anywhere in the Bible the word “Purgatory.” We answer” “Neither are the words “Eucharist” or “Trinity” or “Bible” found in the Scriptures, and nevertheless we all believe in the Eucharist, the Blessed Trinity, and the Bible. We are not discussing here about words, but about “truths.” The truth of Purgatory is certainly in the Bible, although the word to express that truth was coined later.”
The Following Texts Do Not Go Against Purgatory
The texts alleged by the fundamentalists do not prove anything against the Purgatory. They simply say that “it is better to be with Christ,” (Philippians 1:23 ) “at home with the Lord.” (2Corinthians 5:8) No doubt! That is why the souls in Purgatory are longing ardently to be in heaven, as soon as possible, with the help of our prayers and works of charity. John 5:24 gives us the word of Christ: “He who hears my words and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life.” Precisely, that is why the souls in Purgatory are sure to go to heaven after their purification. And the words “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord…they may rest from their labors: (Revelation 14:13) refer clearly to those who die “in the Lord,” (i.e., in God’s (sanctifying) grace, because they are sure of going to heaven, either immediately if they have no debts to pay to God’s Justice, as the baptized infants of the martyrs, and other holy souls; or after their purification for sometime in Purgatory; and so, in heaven they will surely “rest from their labors.”
A Wonderful Truth: The Communion of the Saints
The Catholic doctrine of Purgatory is entirely based on the “word of God” of the Sacred Scripture and certainly confirmed by the Tradition of the Church, the people of God, who “from the very first ages of the Christian religion has cultivated with great piety the memory of the dead.” (Second Vatican Council) What a consoling truth, to know that by the “communion of the saints” we are united with our dear departed ones: we can help them by praying for their quick deliverance and admission to the bliss of heaven; and once there, we are sure, they will pray for us for the rest of our lives, until the day comes of our eternal “re-union” when we will meet them again in the home of our heavenly Father.
JUSTIFICATION AND SAVATION
The root of practically all the Protestant and fundamentalist objection are to be found in this issue. Actually, we have a number of points in common, but the Catholic position has been misconstrued in some of these questions. We hope that this clarification of the Catholic position that follows may remove some of the obstacles for mutual understanding and that, with God’s grace without which we can do nothing, we al fulfill Christ’s earnest longing “that all may be one.” (John 17:21)
Q.: Is salvation through Christ or the Church? Are we saved by works or by faith?
A.: We are saved by Christ through the Church. Faith is the first step to salvation, but it must be accompanied by good works.
What Is Meant by Salvation?
God’s Plan for Man
God created man “in His image and likeness” (cf. Genesis 1”26); not only “in His image,” reflecting God’s goodness, wisdom, power, love, dominion over all creation; but also “after His likeness,” sharing by supernatural grace God’s of life, and so, bearing in his soul the likeness of God as a child bears the likeness of his father. He was made, not only a creature with a body and soul, but also a true child of God, possessing God’s own life, like the branch of the vine shares the very same life of the vine itself. (cf. John 15:5) As some great apologist said graphically: Man was, in God’s plan, not only body and soul, but body, soul, and Holy Spirit.
This supernatural privilege of becoming a child of God, and consequently an heir of heaven, capable of enjoying the bliss of seeing God “face to face,” (1Corinthians 13:12) was entirely a free gift of God, which was lost by sin. This was the “original” sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, who disobeyed God’s order. As that privilege was a gift, not due to man’s own nature, once it was lost, it could not be regained by anything man could do by himself. It was a gift over and above all human power.
God’s Gift of Salvation
But what is impossible for man, is possible for God. In His infinite Mercy and Love God restored that privilege by sending His Only Begotten Son, the Word of God, Jesus, to become our Saviour. Thus, “as many as received Him, He gave the power of becoming sons of God; to those who believe in His Name; who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)
Hence, men are “saved,” “becoming children of God,” not by any human power, but only by the supernatural power of God. “For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Therefore, for us Catholics (and all Christians should agree in this), “salvation” is a pure gift of God, not obtained by man’s own natural power, but by God’s own supernatural grace.
Jesus Christ Is Our Only Saviour
As all other Christians, Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is our only Saviour. “Neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other Name under heaven given to man, by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12 )
We Catholics believe (as do Protestants) that we are not saved by the Church, not by any minister, priest, or pope, neither by the Virgin Mary nor by any saints, nor by any good works we do, but only by Jesus Christ, through God’s free gift of sanctifying grace given to us by Christ’s merits.
We Are Saved through Faith
But to whom does Jesus gives the sanctifying grace of God that saves?
To all “who receive Him, who believe in His Name, Jesus give the power to become children of God,” i.e., to be saved.” The first step, then, to be saved is “to receive Jesus, to believe in His Name.” This is the first condition that Jesus demands to save us, to give us the sanctifying grace that saves. We are not saved by faith (as it is sometimes said). We are saved only by Jesus (as we agreed above); but Jesus saves us through faith, if we have faith in Him.
Faith is the first step to salvation, because “without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrew 11:6) But faith that is demanded for salvation must be a “faith” alive “with works,” not a dead faith. It is God’s word that tells us” “What does it profit my brethren, if a man says has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?… So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead…Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe… you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder… You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone… For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.” (James 2:14-26)
Faith Must Be Alive with Charity
And St. Paul says: “If I have prophetic powers and understanding all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but have not charity (Divine Love), I am nothing… So faith, hope, charity, these three: abut the greatest of those is Charity.” (1Corinthians 13:2, 13) In the last judgment, Jesus will judge (save or condemn) us not precisely for our faith, but rather for our works of charity. (cf. Matthew 25:35-46) And Jesus Himself said: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the Will of My Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your Name, and cast demons in your Name, and do many mighty works in your Name? And then I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you evil doers.” (Matthew 6:21-23).
Our Protestant brethren will certainly agree with us (rather) with St. James) saying: Indeed, “works follow faith. Faith produces works. If you are saved your life will show it.” Exactly. Not your faith alone will save, but your works, the good works of your life. So when they say, “we are saved by faith,” they mean “by faith attested by the works of your lives; by faith alive with works.” If that is so, then we are saying the same thing, though different in words.
What about the Catholic Church?
However, what about the Church, the pope, the priest, the sacraments, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints?
We have already said, “We are not saved by them, but only by Jesus Christ, through them because Jesus demands them, as the good works that must make our faith alive.” Let us see.
We need to Belong to the Church
Are we saved by the Church? We answer: No; we are saved by Jesus Christ, through the Church He founded and demanded to join for salvation.
When did Jesus demand to join in the Church for salvation? Before going to heaven, Jesus ordered the Apostles: “Go into the whole world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation. He who believes (faith) and is baptized (to join the Church) will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15-16) That is, to be saved, He demands, not only by faith, but also the good work of joining the Church H founded, by receiving Baptism; to be condemned it is enough to refuse believing in Him.
In that same occasion, Jesus said to the Apostles: “Go therefore and make disciples (gather believers to form the Church) of all nations, baptizing them (joining them to the Church),… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (to do the good works of obeying all my Commandments)…” (Matthew 28:19-20)
And in a previous occasion He told the Apostles: “He who hears you, hears Me, and he who rejects you, reject Me, and he who rejects Me rejects the Him who sent Me.” (Luke 10:16)
The Church is the mystical body of Christ (Ephesians 5:23 -27) Christ is the Head of the Church, His Body, and He Himself its Saviour. If we are to be saved, we must be united with Christ, in His Body the Church, whose savior He is. “Christ is made present to us in His Body, which is the Church.” (Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 14)
We must Be United to the Head
Christ is the Head of the Church, but now He is not visible to us. He left on earth, a Vicar or representative, the visible Head of the Church, the Apostle Peter, first Bishop of Rome, and his successors, the Popes. He said: “Upon this Rock (Peter) I will build my Church, and the power of death (gates of hell) shall not prevail against it… Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-20) “I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world.” (Matthew 28:20) That explains why we Catholics follow and obey what the Pope, and the bishops and the priests in communion with him, teach and command us in the Name of Christ. These are also good works demanded by Christ to make our faith in Him alive; a faith that may save us.
The Virgin Mary and the Saints Help Us
The Blessed Virgin Mary, indeed, does not save us. It is Jesus, her Son, who came to us through her, and wants that we should go to Him and be saved, also through Her Who saves us. Jesus saves us through the intercession of His Blessed Mother, and of his closest friends, the saints. So praying (not worshipping or adoring) to Mary and the Saints are also good works that can help keep our faith alive, and so we may be helped for our salvation through their intercession.
A Final Semantic Clarification
Perhaps some would object that, notwithstanding what is said above, many Catholics maintain that we are saved “by” good works, “by” the Church, “by” the ministry of the priest and the Pope, “by” the Virgin Mary and the saints, or at least,” by their intercession.” And that goes against the word of God that affirms that Jesus is the only one “Saviour” of the world, the only one “Mediator” between God and men. That way of speaking is based on the various accepted meanings of the preposition “by.” According to Funk and Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary, “by” may mean “through the agency of” or “by means of,” that is, “by” indicates the agent or doer of some action, or also it may mean, the instrument, or way how an action is done. The agent or doer of an action is indicated only by the single word “by.” The instrument or way used to do an action can be indicated by other more specific words: “through,” “by means of.” So when Catholics say “We are saved by Christ alone” they mean the only agent who does our salvation, who saves us by his own power, is Christ. When they say “We are saved by the Church, or by the sacraments, or by the ministry of our priest, or by the Virgin Mary and the saints, “they mean “We are saved (indeed, by Christ alone), but ‘through’ or by means of the Church, the sacraments, the priests, the Blessed Virgin Mother and the Saints, who become, through God’s Will and Christ’s own teachings, the ‘instruments’ or ‘means and ways’ He likes to use for our salvation, to save us.” To avoid confusion, we prefer to say “we are saved by Christ,” “through the Church, Christ’s own Mystical Body,” or “through the sacraments, the ministry of priest, the intercession of Mary and the Saints.”
THE ABOVE DOCUMENTS/STATEMENTS WERE TAKEN FROM THE MONTHLY PUBLICATION OF THEOLOGICAL CENTRUM“BORN AGAIN? – What Catholics Should Know about the Fundamentalist Movement”