Indulgences: It’s about healing

Murillo, Penitent Magdalene (1665)

Penitent Magdalene (1665), by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (WikiPaintings)

As always, this turned out to be longer and more involved than I intended. So consider this part 1 in a series on Indulgences. And no, I haven’t forgotten about Baptism.

The other day Pope Francis granted a plenary indulgence to those devoted faithful who would follow his tweets or other coverage of the World Youth Day events in Brazil — to the bemusement of the global media and the consternation and ridicule of many Protestants. It seems, to some, a crass abuse of spiritual authority for the motive of getting more “followers” — authority he doesn’t have anyway, according to Protestants: a sham and a mockery of the Gospel, I have heard. Rather than being embarrassed at a faux pas before the media and the world, I praise God for a Holy Father who humbly offers forth the truth despite ridicule. I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to share a bit about the truth of indulgences, what they really mean, and why they are important today.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis.

Now, indulgences are a rather complicated and confusing doctrine: complicated even more by the negative baggage they carry from the age of the Protestant Reformation. When Protestant ears hear “indulgence,” they automatically think “abuse” and “corruption.” I know; I grew up a Protestant, and thought that even though I was never particularly anti-Catholic. But in truth, the doctrine of indulgences is built upon basic and biblical principles, and has roots as ancient as the Church, sprouting from the seeds of the Apostles.

I made a post almost exactly a year ago trying valiantly to tackle this difficult topic — bless my baby Catholic heart. I am still a baby Catholic, but I have grown so much in the past year and think I could do much better than that, if I had time. I think you can still learn something about what indulgences are and what they are not from that post.

Let me start with those basic building blocks: We all know that we sin (1 John 1:5–10). Everybody, including Protestants, thinks about the eternal punishment due for our sins (Romans 6:23) that we would face if not for the forgiveness of God by the atoning death of Jesus (1 John 2:2). But what Protestants tend not to talk about — but surely recognize — is that our sins have consequences in this life, on us and on those around us, on the ones we hurt by our sin and also the ones who hurt with us because of our sin. Sin is misery (Psalm 25:18, Romans 2:9).

Reni, St. Peter Penitent

St. Peter Penitent (c. 1600), by Guido Reni. (WikiPaintings.org)

We serve a just God, and sin being misery is how He made the world. When we sin, we suffer our just deserts of that misery, even after God forgives us. And suffering through that pain is part of God’s process of healing and teaching: to bring us to true repentance and contrition for our wrong, that we can be healed from the hurt, and purified from the stain, and that we can learn and grow and not fall again. Remember, for the classic example, King David — who, even after he was forgiven by God (2 Samuel 12:13), still had a heavy price to pay in misery (Psalm 51, etc.). This is what the Church calls the temporal punishment due for sin, and it is clearly something separate from the guilt of sin from which Christ redeems for us by His grace. And this is the whole idea of penance: the priests of the Church, having received the authority of the apostles to bind and loose (Matthew 18:18) and to remit and retain sin (John 20:22–23), have the authority to impose penance on us as a means to work through that temporal punishment. Penance is not an actual punishment so much as it is a remedy: Jesus is our spiritual physician, and through the priest, He gives us a prescription for the healing of our souls.

Ingres, Jesus Returning the Keys to Peter

Jesus Returning the Keys to Peter (1820), by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (WikiPaintings.org)

And the basic idea of indulgences is this: Because the Church imposed those penalties, she has the power to remit them. What is bound on earth is bound is heaven, and what is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven — and these penances, designed for our spiritual healing and growth in grace, can be released, if it seems they have served their purpose. By analogy, the penance is a big, unwieldy cast, designed to set our broken bones; and when it seems our bones have healed, the doctor removes the cast. And that’s all, in the most basic sense, an indulgence is. From the Latin indulgentia, it means literally a remission or release. We see in Scripture, for example, the case of a sinner in the Corinthian church, upon whom “punishment by the majority” had been placed — presumably excommunication (1 Corinthians 5:2) or other penitential acts. And, deciding that the sinner had had enough, that he had been restored, Paul remits the punishment:

For such a one this punishment by the majority is enough; so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Any one whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ [ἐν προσώπῳ Χριστοῦ, lit. in the face of Christ — Latin in persona Christi], to keep Satan from gaining the advantage over us; for we are not ignorant of his designs. (2 Corinthians 2:6–11)

The doctrine developed a little bit from this before it came to resemble what we call indulgences today, but this is the start: the Church’s remission of a penance — a rehabilitation for the hurts of sin, for a sin already forgiven — for someone who, in the judgment of the Church, has risen above the sin, by God’s grace. Penance is the Church’s version of spiritual rehab: when you’re broken, you have to endure some painful exercises before you can properly heal. And when the doctor decides you no longer need it, you’re free to go — and that’s an indulgence.

More in Part 2: Indulgences: Gift of the martyrs

35 thoughts on “Indulgences: It’s about healing

      • The trick is to get those at AATWT to come here and read it. I think their minds are pretty well made up though. Not sure anything will help but you’re doing a good job. 🙂

  1. I am a Catholic but I was looking for explanation about indulgences and I found it today. Now, I can relate with it after having reflected on my own spiritual journey of past sins. I was once led to Jer. 30:11 “‘For I am with you,’ declares the LORD, ‘to save you; For I will destroy completely all the nations where I have scattered you, Only I will not destroy you completely. But I will chasten you justly And will by no means leave you unpunished.’ Note the last sentence. Thanks so much for sharing this with the support of Scripture verses. I thank the Lord for blessing us through you. Stay blessed.

  2. Joseph, an interesting piece, but where I depart if when you write, as though it followed naturally: ‘Because the Church imposed those penalties, she has the power to remit them.’. It is not the priests of any church who impose penance on us, it is the Grace of God operating within us which opens our eyes to our uncleanness, and our hearts to the need for repentance. Why do you think we need a priest to do this?

    Yes, in this life we pay a price, and nothing a priest can do can stop that. David’s sins came back to haunt him, and that is true of all of us; no priest can stop that. One can be, and one is, forgiven, but there is a price to be paid – in this life.

    Once we are dead there is no sign we can do anything to change things, nor is there a sign that Tweeting will get us time off a place which the Bible never mentions.

    I’ve a deal of respect for your church, but this is a man-made doctrine derived from an inability to let go of power. We don’t need a priest to forgive us we have a Great High Priest who has made the sacrifice once for all.

    • Thanks for the comment, Geoffrey. I made it a point at that point in the article to distinguish between the temporal punishment which God, cosmic justice itself, imposes, and the penance, the canonical penalty imposed by the Church. It’s the difference between the broken bone and the cast, or the wound and the bandage. The Church doesn’t cause the wound, but she puts on the bandage, and can remove it. The bandage is not the wound: the bandage is to help the wound heal, to help us deal with the pain of it. David hurt like hell after his sin, not only in the actual consequences — the death of his child, the sins and revolt of his children — but he did what can only be described as penance, expressing his misery and grief and contrition in what are called the penitential psalms (e.g. Psalm 51, Psalm 7, Psalm 38). And I imagine you realize that such expressions of contrition are comforting and healing to the soul, even when we know we have been forgiven.

      The whole idea of sacramental confession is that Jesus works through the priest — that when the priest grants absolution, it’s really Jesus who is forgiving the sin; and when the priest offers the penance, it’s really Jesus offering a healing remedy. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:23) This is the power Christ clearly gave the Apostles, and I’ve never heard a convincing Protestant explanation of that. The Church certainly affirms that only God forgives sin, and that sacramental confession isn’t always explicitly necessary for forgiveness. But confession is the ordinary way Christ established for our forgiveness — not originally to a priest in private, but in public before the whole Church! (James 5:16, 1 John 1:9). And we see, as I’ve pointed out above, examples in Scripture of the Church, an Apostle in particular, imposing penance on sinners (see also 2 Corinthians 7:9-11). And there are even more and clearer examples of this in patristic writings. The Church imposes penance because she knows its healing value, and most people take it up gladly. All penance is entirely voluntary.

      Notice I didn’t mention purgatory in the above article. And neither does Pope Francis’s decree of this indulgence. That is largely the media running away with this. The doctrine of indulgences certainly is related to the doctrine of purgatory, but there is a lot more to it than that. The main idea, as I’ll get into in my next post hopefully, is that indulgences are incentives for the faithful to good works and pious habits — things that are sanctifying to their souls anyway, so for pursuing a good, we are rewarded with a good. Rather than an onerous requirement as Protestants seem to suppose, it’s really just another means of the outpouring of God’s grace.

      • Thank Joesph – very useful.

        But I don’t think we should be offering the faithful ‘points mean prizes’ type incentives, especially if it gives the impression that after you are dead anyone other than God can influence what happens to your soul.

        I do think here the medieval world needs leaving behind. God is not like the king who you had best approach via his mother, or a favoured courtier, not does his favour need buying or earning in some way. All of this intercessory and purgatorial theorising is straight out of conditions in the pre-modern world, and designed to explain things to pre-modern people.

        God welcomes us all – direct 🙂 God forgives us all – once and for all. No Church has any business adding yoke to the people – Christ forbade it.

        The Orthodox do not share the purgatory concept, but then the society in which that church flourished was a little different from that in which the CC did.

        • Well see, that hits exactly on some points I hope to get to, either in the next post or maybe one after that. 😉

          And again, this is not a “yoke.” I see it much like — and yes, you will say “points mean prizes” — the proud kindergartener who gets a gold star for good citizenship. We are God’s children. And even if it seems childlike and silly, I think it is a valuable concept. In the Middle Ages in particular, instructing the masses in pious practice wasn’t an easy task.

          And yes, while there are some aspects of this that are vestigal from the Middle Ages, there is still a valuable and ancient concept underlying it, that we shouldn’t “leave behind.”

          And yes, the Orthodox have never formally defined a concept of purgatory. But then, the East has always had an aversion to defining things unnecessarily. There is a lot in Orthodox theology that is implied even if it isn’t defined. The Orthodox do pray for the dead — which implies a belief that God’s mercy extends even beyond the grave. Here are a few quotes from Eastern Fathers that imply very strongly a concept of what we call purgatory:

          “For if on the foundation of Christ you have built not only gold and silver and precious stones (1 Cor. 3), but also wood and hay and stubble, what do you expect when the soul shall be separated from the body? Would you enter into heaven with your wood and hay and stubble and thus defile the kingdom of God; or on account of these hindrances would you remain without and receive no reward for your gold and silver and precious stones; neither is this just. It remains then that you be committed to the fire which will burn the light materials; for our God to those who can comprehend heavenly things is called a cleansing fire. But this fire consumes not the creature, but what the creature has himself built, wood, and hay and stubble. It is manifest that the fire destroys the wood of our transgressions and then returns to us the reward of our great works.” (Origen, Homilies on Jeremias, PG 13:445, 448 ([A.D. 244])

          “Then we commemorate also those who have fallen asleep before us, first Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, that at their prayers and intercessions God would receive our petition. Then on behalf also of the Holy Fathers and Bishops who have fallen asleep before us, and in a word of all who in past years have fallen asleep among us, believing that it will be a very great benefit to the souls, for whom the supplication is put up, while that holy and most awful sacrifice is set forth. And I wish to persuade you by an illustration. For I know that many say, what is a soul profited, which departs from this world either with sins, or without sins, if it be commemorated in the prayer? For if a king were to banish certain who had given him offence, and then those who belong to them should weave a crown and offer it to him on behalf of those under punishment, would he not grant a remission of their penalties? In the same way we, when we offer to Him our supplications for those who have fallen asleep, though they be sinners, weave no crown, but offer up Christ sacrificed for our sins, propitiating our merciful God for them as well as for ourselves.” (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 23:9,10 [c. A.D. 350])

          “I think that the noble athletes of God, who have wrestled all their lives with the invisible enemies, after they have escaped all of their persecutions and have come to the end of life, are examined by the prince of this world; and if they are found to have any wounds from their wrestling, any stains or effects of sin, they are detained. If, however they are found unwounded and without stain, they are, as unconquered, brought by Christ into their rest.” (Basil, Homilies on the Psalms, 7:2 [ante A.D. 370])

          “When he has quitted his body and the difference between virtue and vice is known he cannot approach God till the purging fire shall have cleansed the stains with which his soul was infested. That same fire in others will cancel the corruption of matter, and the propensity to evil.” (Gregory of Nyssa, Sermon on the Dead (PG 46:524, 525) [ante A.D. 394])

          Of course, these are western translations; I think they come straight out of Migne. But I looked it up, and Origen speaks of God being a πῦρ καταναλίσκον (pur katanaliskon, a consuming fire) and Gregory speaks of a πῦρ καθαρσίου (pur katharsiou, a fire of catharsis) and an ἀποκαθάρσις (apokatharsis, a purging, cleansing, expiation).

          But again, purgatory is not the kettle of fish I am frying right now. I’ll get to that later. 😉

          • Thanks Joseph.

            I think there is a difference between the idea (which is what the Capaddocian Fathers are expressing) the refiner’s fire and the vast apparatus of Purgatory and Indulgences. The Orthodox are praying that mercy might be done at judgement, not that the blessed souls awaiting the last are, as Seraphim Rose has argued, going through ‘toll houses’. The Orthodox reaction to Rose’s ideas show that they don’t accept the idea of a separate place of purgation.

  3. A “like” for just trying to talk about indulgences. 🙂 The Protestant problem of many is this idea – Jesus Saves, Look at me, I’m done with Sin. That’s not the only mission of the church to communicate the message that God saved you and whoopee let’s wait until we all die. Sometimes we can give that impression in ye ole evangelical services. Rather than indulgences I like to speak of making amends, because I am in a hurry and need to read your article again – so forgive me if I’m making a mess of things. The 12 Steps did a better job than many churches at making the Message of God concrete. Christians aren’t just forgiven, we are making amends, we are making things right by the grace of God in our own lives and in the lives around us – salt and light. Now I’m probably lost, but let’s speculate – When one goes to the priest, one turns to the icon of Christ (in Orthodox, according to some) and the priest witnesses your confession. The priest is not doing the forgiving, but is witness to it. Similarly, Indulgences (or is this penance? whatever, making amends) is something a priest assist you before Christ as a fellow witness. “You need to apologize and tell your wife you were wrong” as a penance. The problem me thinks is an arbitrary ruling or a ruling that is primarily to get wealth – help me build my cathedral and you can be forgiven. Having said that, we don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel for everyone. So if making amends of my life involves prayer or following the musings of a Godly man (like the pope I hope) then I can see that some remedies can be applied to all the wounded.

    • You have it dead on. 🙂 Definitely, the problem with Protestant theology is leaving out what necessarily follows forgiveness. Protestant theology has us “get saved” and then suddenly that’s all we have to do; we’re “saved” and there’s nothing more to it. Such an idea would have been incomprehensible to New Testament Christians. Just look at the times Paul speaks of “running a race” (1 Corinthians 9:24, 2 Timothy 4:7).

      Another word that’s used for what I’m talking about, this temporal punishment or the penance that helps expiate it, is satisfaction. And it’s completely the idea of making amends, being reconciled to the ones we’ve hurt, to the Church, and especially to God. Because more than anybody else. our sin hurts and offends God. And if there is any other person whom our sin has hurt, part of the penance is usually making amends with them. Another name for the Sacrament of Confession is the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

      Indulgences and penance are very closely related and especially in the Early Church, it’s sometimes hard to draw the draw the line. I hope to explain more about how Indulgences developed, right out of penitential practices, and for a long time in the Church, especially in the Middle Ages, indulgences took the place of steep canonical penances.

      And yes, part of the problem getting close to the Reformation was those sort of indulgences — which, it may not be entirely fair to call the “sale” of indulgences, since even people like Tetzel seem to have been godly if overzealous men — in which an indulgence was offered for the good work of contributing to a worthy and holy project like building the new St. Peter’s Basilica. One thing especially wealthy people did in the Middle Ages in place of penance was build churches or found monasteries, for which they were granted an indulgence.

      As for “all the wounded”: it sounds like you may see where this is going. 😉 Wait for my next post. This is where I think it becomes incredibly powerful and beautiful.

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  5. Joseph,

    You’ve done quite a lot of work here. But there are a few things that don’t seem quite right.

    I know that Catholics hold a special place for the pope, but to refer to him as the “Holy Father” is certainly not biblical. Jesus affirmed all of the Old Testament (Matthew 5:17-21) and the OT was the basis for Paul’s pronouncement in Romans 3:10 that there are none “holy”. Second, Jesus again instructs His followers to not use the title, “Father” specifically (Matthew 23:9).

    The “binding and loosing” referred to in Matthew 18 certainly applies to the Law and not the Gospel. If it doesn’t then Jesus Himself lied in Mark 9 when He instructed those around Him that only God can forgive sins. (Mark 2: 5-10)

    And Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians which you cite (2 Corinthians 2:6-10) is an instance of church discipline which has nothing at all to do with the afterlife. So Paul’s forgiveness is his personal forgiveness, not some spiritual reward.

    Can you please show me where I can find the official, Magisterial interpretations of the verses you use, Joseph? That would be most helpful.

    Blessings,

    • Hi, Paul.

      I know that Catholics hold a special place for the pope, but to refer to him as the “Holy Father” is certainly not biblical. Jesus affirmed all of the Old Testament (Matthew 5:17-21) and the OT was the basis for Paul’s pronouncement in Romans 3:10 that there are none “holy”.

      First of all, you mistake the sense in which we use the word “holy” here. Certainly we don’t mean to say that all popes have been “holy” people in terms of morals or personal righteousness (to which Paul is referring) — some of them, as you know, have been quite dastardly. But the office of the papacy is a “holy” office, one set apart for a sacred purpose, and solemnly undertaken — a “holy” calling. I went over this a bit more in a previous post.

      Second: I won’t get into a lengthy argument about this, but when Paul says, “No one is righteous,” the statements he is understood to be quoting from the Old Testament are statements of hyperbole. In Psalm 14, for example, David says, “There is none that does good” (v. 3), and then but two verses later says that “God is with the generation of the righteous” (v. 5). The context of Paul’s argument in Romans is that “all are under the domination of sin” (Romans 3:9) and that no person can be justified or counted righteous by his own works by the Law. There’s no reason to read Paul’s rhetorical quotation as a legalistic declaration that no person at all can be righteous; for certainly Jesus was. And we all, restored and aided by grace, are capable of living righteously and being made righteous (cf. Romans 6:13, 16) — if we meant to say that about the pope. I happen to think Pope Francis is a good and holy man, in his life and in his deeds — by the grace of God, of course.

      Second, Jesus again instructs His followers to not use the title, “Father” specifically (Matthew 23:9).

      Haven’t we already been around the block a few times on this one? Jesus also says here we should call no man “teacher” or “master,” but we don’t take those statements literally, so why should we regarding “father”? Paul refers to himself as the “father” of the Corinthian Christians (1 Corinthians 4:15), and often calls Timothy his spiritual “son” (Philippians 2:22, 1 Timothy 1.2, 2 Timothy 1:2). And you might be interested to know a bit more about the history of calling priests “father”: many Protestants called their clergy “father” before it even became common for Catholics. So your charge is a recent one, surfacing for the first time in the racial and ethnic anti-Catholicism of the nineteenth century.

      He instructed those around Him that only God can forgive sins. (Mark 2: 5-10)

      The Catholic Church also affirms that only God can forgive sins. I don’t think I’ve ever implied otherwise.

      And Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians which you cite (2 Corinthians 2:6-10) is an instance of church discipline which has nothing at all to do with the afterlife.

      I also don’t think I made any reference at all to the afterlife here. My reference was to the punishment the Church had placed upon the sinner, which the Corinthians lifted at Paul’s urging.

      • And, by the way, the Catholic church definitely doesn’t consider the pope ( our holy father), sinless/holy like our Father God in heaven. If so, the church wouldn’t be asking us to pray for him (the pope) everyday.

  6. So, basically what you are saying is that you have no actual examples from the Bible of indulgences or acts of penance being prescribed by an apostle or a priest. You just have this practice established by the Roman Catholic church and then go back to the Bible looking for verses that might be pulled out of context to support it (for example the reference to David’s misery which is absolutely nothing like acts of penance or indulgences).

    Other than excommunication, where in Scripture do you see examples of the the church imposing penalties? And I fail to see how you can compare excommunication with being assigned to pray the rosary. Being excommunicated is fundamentally different.

    But, the real payoffs were in your last paragraph:

    The doctrine developed a little bit from this before it came to resemble what we call indulgences today, but this is the start: the Church’s remission of a penance — a rehabilitation for the hurts of sin, for a sin already forgiven — for someone who, in the judgment of the Church, has risen above the sin, by God’s grace. Penance is the Church’s version of spiritual rehab: when you’re broken, you have to endure some painful exercises before you can properly heal. And when the doctor decides you no longer need it, you’re free to go.

    To say the doctrine developed “a little bit” is a bit of an understatement. It is a massive change from anything we see in Scripture.

    Then, we see the works righteousness of the Roman Catholic church expressed clearly. By doing the works prescribed, you rise above your sin, your soul is healed and you are now free to go. Oh sure, God’s grace is part of it. But it is still a function of your works.

      • Joseph,

        How about the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2068 as just one simple and relatively modern confirmation of obtaining salvation through faith plus works:

        “The Second Vatican Council confirms: “The bishops, successors of the apostles, receive from the Lord . . . the mission of teaching all peoples, and of preaching the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain salvation through faith, Baptism and the observance of the Commandments” (CCC 2068).

        The flip side is the clear declaration from Rome that justification without works is a heretical teaching:

        “If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema,” (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 14).

        In those 2 quotes we have a positive affirmation of Rome’s position and a negative denial of the contrary position.

        So, I would ask you if my sins are forgiven because I believe in Jesus Christ? I have not been baptized in the Roman Catholic Church. I, unfortunately, continue to break the 10 Commandments. I reject the additional sacraments (beyond baptism and Holy Communion) created by Rome. Either my sins are forgiven (I am justified, saved, and can stand as righteous before God) based upon my faith alone, or there is something I need to do to obtain that justification, salvation, righteousness.

        • Hi Dale,

          So would you say this sentence sums up your definition of “works’ righteousness”?:

          Either my sins are forgiven (I am justified, saved, and can stand as righteous before God) based upon my faith alone, or there is something I need to do to obtain that justification, salvation, righteousness.

          If that’s the case, then I would say again that we have fundamentally different understandings of what “works’ righteousness” means. I thought it was a pretty good comment I left on your blog, so rather than rewriting it, I will quote it here:

          I suspect we have a fundamentally different understanding of what “works’ salvation” means. In particular the Reformed understanding — which, as I have said, the Reformed folks tend to be the only ones who are still so virulently opposed to the Church — “works” are anything at all that we do, whether it’s entirely an act of God (i.e. the Sacraments) or something we do only by His grace (cf. Philippians 2:12–13, John 15:5); and in that understanding, the supposition that any “works” (whether action, effort, or assent) are necessary for salvation on our part amounts to “works’ salvation.” Salvation is only by the work and grace of God, and we have no role in it at all — what’s described as monergism, only one party (God) working. Does that sound fair and accurate to describe your position?

          Whereas in my understanding, and in the historical understanding of the Church, “works’ salvation” is synonymous with Pelagianism, the idea that we as humans are somehow capable of attaining or meriting our salvation by our own works or actions or effort. And the Catholic Church has always strictly and explicitly rejected that. We are incapable of doing anything at all salutory (contributing to our salvation) apart from grace. Without grace, we are dead in sin; we are not even capable of accepting grace except by grace. But with grace, in the Catholic (and Lutheran, and Arminian, and Wesleyan, and pretty much all Protestant theology except hardcore Calvinist) some cooperation is necessary — we have to assent to it, most importantly. As Augustine says, “God created you without you, but God doesn’t save you without you.” And in that understanding, no, the Catholic Church does not teach “works’ salvation.”

          As I said in my other comment, I think we are talking past each other. We are getting hung up fruitlessly on terms. I will attempt to below to lay out the Catholic understanding of justification and hopefully cut through some of the misunderstanding.

          I will reply to your comment from the bottom up:

          EDIT: It’s been brought to my attention that this is a really good explanation of the Catholic understanding of justification and salvation, much better than I could give even with all the words below. It would probably be more profitable for you to read this than my response. And it could only be given by Jimmy Akin, my hero, a convert from Reformed Protestantism, who is the clearest (and also kindest) apologist I know. [I believe this is an excerpt from his The Salvation Controversy, which is excellent, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who would like to understand the Catholic position on salvation better. Jimmy is the kindest, fairest, most patient, and least polemic apologist I’ve ever come across. I only wish I could be more like him.]:
          Justification: By Faith Alone?

          So, I would ask you if my sins are forgiven because I believe in Jesus Christ?

          Yes, your sins were forgiven when you believed in Jesus Christ, and He regenerated you, burying you into his death and raising you to a new life in Him. We believe He accomplishes that regeneration is by Baptism (as Scripture attests repeatedly: John 3:5, Romans 6:3–5, Titus 3:5–7, Colossians 2:12–13, 1 Peter 3:21) — but we believe He has mercy on whom He wills to have mercy, including, I believe, many Protestants who love Him but have been misled into not understanding the necessity of Baptism. “God has bound salvation to the Sacrament of Baptism, but He Himself is not bound by His Sacraments” (CCC 1257).

          But we reject the idea that at the moment you believed in Christ, all your sins, past, present, and future, were forgiven — i.e. that sins you might commit in the future are forgiven before you commit them; that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to you as something external to you, such that you are no longer responsible for your own sins. We will disagree here. This idea is poorly supported by Scripture, based only in taking a few verses out of their proper context and ignoring all the many Scriptures that say otherwise; and it certainly has no historical or patristic foundation. No other writer of the Church prior to Luther espoused a doctrine sounding even vaguely similar (as Anglican historian Alister McGrath attests, who knows his stuff much better than I do). In other words: in order to accuse the Catholic Church of “heresy” or “apostasy” with regard to the doctrine of justification by imputation of an alien righteousness, you would have to first demonstrate that anybody in the Church — outside of a skewed reading of a few phrases of Paul — ever held such a doctrine; and there’s no evidence that anyone did.

          I have not been baptized in the Roman Catholic Church.

          Good news! If you’ve been baptized at all, in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19) — we believe your Baptism is valid, and you are a part of the Body of Christ, and you have been justified, and you are our brother. (Cf. CCC 1271.) My Baptism in the Assemblies of God was good enough for the Catholic Church, and I didn’t have to be re-baptized.

          I, unfortunately, continue to break the 10 Commandments.

          As do I. As does the pope. As does everybody. Thankfully, we serve a merciful Lord who is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

          I reject the additional sacraments (beyond baptism and Holy Communion) created by Rome.

          Well, first of all, history is pretty clear that “Rome” didn’t create “additional” sacraments. If anybody did, Jesus and the Apostles did. They can all be attested to historically as early as the second century (we just don’t have many documents from the first century apart from Scripture itself), and not just in Rome, but all around the Christian world.

          Second of all, why do you reject them? Because we consider them sacraments (things that were made sacred by Christ, through which He blesses us with His grace), or because (you think) we think they’re necessary for salvation? Because they’re not necessarily.

          Either my sins are forgiven (I am justified, saved, and can stand as righteous before God) based upon my faith alone, or there is something I need to do to obtain that justification, salvation, righteousness.

          This is what it comes down to, isn’t it? Doing something. Yes, we believe you have to do something to be justified — but that something really amounts only to accepting His grace. Baptism, the Eucharist, all the Sacraments — these are not “works” of man, done by human effort, but gifts of God’s grace, by the cross of Christ. Paul is explicitly clear that no man can do anything by his own works to save himself:

          He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:5–7)

          These verses are probably the best single summary of the doctrine of justification: We are not justified by anything we do in our own effort or righteousness, but solely by His mercy and grace. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have to do anything. Paul, and Jesus, and Peter, and James, and everybody, are also explicitly clear that we do, by the grace He gives us — not by our own effort:

          Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out [bring about, produce, effect] your own salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12)

          Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor [κόπος, labor, work, toil] is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

          Train yourself in godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. … For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:7b–8, 10)

          Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12)

          Strive (σπουδάζω, spoudazo) to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” (Luke 13:24)

          And behold, one came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” (Matthew 19:16–17)

          He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)

          Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)

          Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (John 15:4–11)

          For this very reason make every effort [σπουδή, spoude, toil, effort] to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. … For whoever lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins [i.e. not all sins for all time, FWIW]. Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous [σπουδάζω, same word as strive above] to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall. (2 Peter 1:5–10)

          Therefore, beloved, since you wait for these, be zealous [σπουδάζω] to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. (2 Peter 3:14)

          What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (James 2:14–17)

          Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, that no one fall by the same sort of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:11)

          And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2)

          For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6)

          — A lengthy and random bunch of Scriptures, I realize, but it was hard to pick just a few. These all, and I could keep going, demonstrate pretty plainly that we have to do something to be saved. It is very hard to read all of this and suppose for even a minute that we have to don’t have to do anything. Even having faith is something we have to do. Now, many Calvinists, I guess, will read this and argue that it is only God, by His grace, motivating us to do these things through which He saves us, such that we in our own works are not responsible for any of it. And well, this is one of those semantic points I’m talking about. Because we would completely agree with that.

          Now, are we saved by our own works, then? No, of course not. It is God working in us, that gives us both the will and the capacity to work (Philippians 2:12-13). Apart from Christ we can do nothing; it is only in Him that we can bear fruit (John 15:5). I quoted the last two verses from Paul last, because this sums up the understanding of the Catholic Church, which we received from St. Augustine: Neither circumcision (“works of the Law”) nor uncircumcision (faith, cf. Galatians 2:15–16) avails anything, but only our faith working in love. It is only this that can make sense of Paul’s elsewhere arguments that justification by faith (he never says “faith alone”), and Jesus’s commands to abide in Him and in His love, and James’ argument that “faith without works is dead,” and all the rest: Faith by itself is dead, and works by themselves, in our human effort, are dead, but only faith working in love.

          Regarding that Tridentine canon: I’m surprised you would quote the fourteenth canon. It’s usually the ninth canon that gets quoted in this discussion. I would encourage you to slow down and read this carefully:

          If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema,” (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 14)

          Breaking that down:

          If anyone says…

          1. that man is … justified … because he believed himself absolved and justified [or]
          2. no one is justified but he who believes himself justified [and]
          3. by faith in this alone, absolution and justification are effected [A.S.]

          Now, I don’t think this is condemning what you think it is condemning. This is condemning specifically people who boast that they are justified and believe they are justified by faith in justification, even apart from a true and saving faith in Christ and apart from any love — in effect, the kind of person who “prays the sinner’s prayer” but makes no effort at all to change his life, to turn from sin, to give his life to God. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe you would say that such a person is truly saved either.

          The Decree on Justification expands on this above, in Chapter IX in the edition I have:

          But, although it be necessary to believe that sins neither are remitted, nor ever have been remitted, save freely, by the divine mercy for Christ’s sake; yet is it not to be said, that sins are forgiven, or have been forgiven, to any one who boasts of his confidence and certainty of the remission of his sins, and rests on that alone; since it may exist, yea, does in our time exist, among heretics and schismatics; and with great earnestness is this confidence, vain, and remote from all piety, preached up in opposition to the Catholic Church.

          But supposing it did mean what you are taking it to mean — in any case, no we don’t believe that faith alone justifies us or absolves us of our sins, since Scripture is clear that that is not the case.

          To your other quote:

          “The Second Vatican Council confirms: “The bishops, successors of the apostles, receive from the Lord . . . the mission of teaching all peoples, and of preaching the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain salvation through faith, Baptism and the observance of the Commandments” (CCC 2068).

          FWIW, this is highlighted in red in my copy of the Catechism, meaning very very important and very very good. It is very very good because all men may attain salvation. “Through faith, Baptism, and observance of the Commandments” is literally just going through and taking all the Scriptures where someone (Jesus, Peter, or Paul, or John) says “you must do this to be saved.” Jesus Himself says, several times, that we must obey the Commandments and that we must be baptized. Paul and Peter both stress Baptism; Paul and John stress that we must obey the commandments, but that the commandments are summed up in the sentence, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Romans 13:9, 1 John 4:7–5:3). So no, I don’t think this passage teaches “works’ salvation”: it teaches Scripture. So unless you’re prepared to argue that Scripture teaches “works’ salvation,” that is an empty charge.

        • FWIW, too: All Seven Sacraments taught by the Catholic Church are well attested to in Scripture — not spelled out in as clear terms as Protestants would like, but they are plainly there.

  7. Joseph,

    I can’t seem to reply directly to our dialogue above, so I will start a new thread. You stated:

    “Yes, your sins were forgiven when you believed in Jesus Christ, and He regenerated you, burying you into his death and raising you to a new life in Him. We believe He accomplishes that regeneration is by Baptism … but we believe He has mercy on whom He wills to have mercy, including, I believe, many Protestants who love Him but have been misled into not understanding the necessity of Baptism. “God has bound salvation to the Sacrament of Baptism, but He Himself is not bound by His Sacraments” (CCC 1257).”

    In your statement above, you use the term “necessity” in connection with baptism. Online dictionaries define “necessity” as “the fact of being required or indispensable” or “the condition or quality of being necessary.” Do you agree with these definitions of necessity or do you have something different in mind?

    Dale

    • Necessity and requirement do not mean (necessarily) that there can’t be exceptions. It is necessary that I pass the bar exam before I’m able to practice law, unless the bar decides to grant me a license on other grounds. Then I would be an exception. Christ Himself made Baptism necessary — saying things like “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16), and “Truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). That tends to imply a requirement. But that says nothing about exceptions. A post I made recently is apropos.

      God can break His own rules. He saves whom He will. So we believe, we hope, that for those who truly love Him and have faith in Him, who would otherwise seek Baptism if they understood its necessity, He will have mercy.

      • But this is implying several nonsense statements:
        1) God breaks his own rules. This goes against the nature of God. You are essentially implying that God lies. Effectively, you are stating “God has told us in the Scripture that baptism is necessary for salvation, but we believe that he may have lied about the necessity.”
        2) That necessary means not necessary. That is a logical contradiction. If there are “exceptions”, then it is not “necessary.”

        Using your own example, it is not necessary to pass the bar exam. Passing the bar is just one of the avenues available to you to get a license to practice law.

        If it is not necessary, then don’t call it necessary. Unfortunately, I think you are just parroting the current party line of the increasingly post-modern Roman Catholic church and the deconstruction of the meaning of words. You are certainly not the first Roman Catholic who I have heard say baptism “is necessary” for salvation, but then immediately follow up with “is not necessary.”

        • This “post-modern” “nonsense” is only “parroting” Scripture itself. Jesus said that Baptism was necessary for salvation. He also told the good thief on the cross that “today he would be with Him in paradise.” What is your answer to that one? That since Baptism wasn’t necessary for the thief on the cross, Baptism isn’t necessary? That would mean, then, that Jesus spoke falsely when He said that Baptism was necessary.

          For 99.999% of lawyers, passing the bar exam is necessary. One exception out of millions does not negate the otherwise absolute necessity of passing the bar exam. In a strict, legalistic, logical sense, yes, you are correct, that means that passing the bar exam isn’t absolutely necessary. In that sense, I would agree that yes, Baptism isn’t absolutely necessary, since there will be many people in Heaven who did not receive water Baptism in life. Protestants seem to favor reading Scripture this way — that, for example, when Paul says, “All have sinned,” then it must mean that literally, absolutely all (which would include Jesus) have sinned. Fortunately, none of the authors of Scripture were lawyers and neither is our God.

        • Also, it is you who are looking up the meanings of words in dictionaries and arguing about meanings, not any Catholic. For what it’s worth, Jesus never used the word “necessary” in speaking of Baptism. (He wasn’t even speaking English!) He did say, that we must be baptized, in Aramaic, or whatever other language he spoke. That does imply necessity. But again, there seem to be cases even in Scripture in which Baptism wasn’t strictly necessary. Was Jesus lying, or is God just not as dogmatic as you would like Him to be?

          To your charge that this “deconstruction” of the word “necessary” is “postmodern,” a quick perusal through my books recalls:

          This doctrine that Baptism of Desire may suffice for salvation when the true Sacrament is unattainable, may be illustrated from the discourse delivered in the year 392 by St. Ambrose at Milan, on occasion of the funeral of the Emperor Valentinian II. This unfortunate victim of the prevailing practice of deferring Baptism (n. 691) was actually on his way from Gaul for the purpose of receiving the sacred rite at the hands of his friend and teacher, St. Ambrose, when he was murdered while passing through Vienne. The body was brought to Milan, and the Saint preached a beautiful discourse, to console the family of the victim. (P.L. 16, 1367, seq.) He took occasion to point out that the catechumen had certainly desired that grace of which the Sacrament is the appointed channel, and had prayed for it, nor was it to be doubted that he received what he prayed for. Piety and good-will, he says, gained for this catechumen what the martyrs gain by shedding their blood. [Sylvester Joseph Hunter, Outlines of Dogmatic Theology, 3rd ed., vol. 3, 225 (New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1896)].

          And there is quite a bit more where this came from, including a quotation and example from Augustine and one from Pope St. Pius V.

        • Also, it may simply be my own clumsiness with words that you are struggling with. The distinction that many of my dogmatic works make is that yes, Baptism is absolutely necessary — but there is more than one mode of Baptism. In a commentary on Mark 16:16:

          Baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation, as we can see from these words of the Lord. But physical impossibility of receiving the rite of Baptism can be replaced either by martyrdom (called, therefore, “baptism of blood”) or by a perfect act of love of God and of contrition, together with an at least implicit desire to be baptized: this is called “baptism of desire.” [Saint Mark’s Gospel, The Navarre Bible, 152 (Dublin; New York: Four Courts Press; Scepter Publishers, 2005)].

  8. Joseph,

    So, you can now bring in more non-Biblical teachings like “baptism by blood” and “baptism by desire.” You are demonstrating your ultimate reliance on the Roman Catholic church and its centuries-long addition of new teachings. “Baptism by blood” and “baptism by desire” are nowhere described in relation to the baptism we are discussing. The thief on the cross (among many other Biblical texts) presents a problem for the Roman Catholic church’s theology, thus the creation of the idea of “baptism of desire.” Nonsense. The New Testament context is always baptism by water.

    A simple examination of Mark 16:16 in context shows that this verse does not imply a necessity for baptism.

    And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned (Mark 16:15-16).

    There is no condemnation by Jesus for those who are not baptized. The passage does not say, “whoever does not believe or is not baptized will be condemned.” It is certainly normative for a believer to be baptized, but not necessary for salvation. Just as it is normative for a believer to worship at church, but not necessary for salvation.

    We have gotten far afield from your original post, but we end up in the same territory. You support the non-Biblical, man made traditions of the Roman Catholic church (such as indulgences and penance and the necessity of baptism for salvation) while I reject them as false, works-based religion. Saying that you do these things by the grace of God does not change the fact that you are requiring actions by people for their salvation. This is no different than the rite of circumcision which is rejected by Paul in Galatians 5. How much work does a person do in being circumcised? A whole lot less than the activities espoused by the Roman Catholic church! Yet Paul condemns the work of circumcision with the strongest language possible. Those Galatians were severed from Christ and had fallen from grace. Likewise, those who accept penance, indulgences, baptism, etc. are severed from Christ and have fallen from grace.

    Dale

    • So, you can now bring in more non-Biblical teachings like “baptism by blood” and “baptism by desire.” You are demonstrating your ultimate reliance on the Roman Catholic church and its centuries-long addition of new teachings.

      Now, sir, you must play fair. I only mentioned these because you challenged the Catholic view as “postmodern.” In fact, these teachings are “centuries old” by your own admission. You cannot argue out of both sides of your mouth.

      A simple examination of Mark 16:16 in context shows that this verse does not imply a necessity for baptism.

      In fact, it does. Only in English grammar does your argument work; applying English grammatical rules to an ancient language does not. The two clauses of Christ’s phrase in Greek are directly and strongly opposed to each other: “will be saved” / “will be condemned.” Two different verbs are used in these clauses for what is translated “believes” and “does not believe,” not a simple negation: ὁ πιστεύσας (“he believing”) καὶ βαπτισθεὶς (“being baptized”) [referring to the same person, since they share the same definite article] σωθήσεται (“will be saved”), ὁ δὲ ἀπιστήσας (“but he disbelieving; i.e. refusing to believe”) κατακριθήσεται (“will be condemned). “Believing and being baptized” are parts of the same action; the idea of believing and not being baptized is not even suggested here. Only the one “believing and being baptized” will be saved; the one “disbelieving” (and not being baptized — who will not be saved) will be condemned. The necessity of baptism is implied here very strongly, much more strongly than the English translation is able to convey. And again, this is not the only time Christ states that Baptism is necessary: see John 3:5: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” There, he says quite clearly, Baptism is necessary for salvation. Baptism is not just “normative” for a believer; it is commanded. And again, you are correct: per your own words, “The New Testament context is always baptism by water.” In every single account of conversion given in the New Testament (save the thief on the cross, as we have mentioned), Baptism follows immediately, as if part of the same action.

      You entirely mistake the point of this, sir, with your continued charges against a supposed “works-based religion.” Baptism isn’t required because it’s a “work” one has to do; it’s required because it’s how one is saved. Baptism is not one of those things we do “by the grace of God”; it is one of those things that by the grace of God God does to us. One doesn’t get clean unless he is washed (cf. Titus 3:5); one doesn’t get to Albuquerque unless he gets on a train, or bus, or plane, or drives a car. One doesn’t get a haircut just because he has faith in his barber; he has to have scissors applied to his hair — just as we have grace applied to our souls through baptism. The whole point of what we have been discussing about alternate modes of Baptism is that it is not a “work” one has to do. You cannot simultaneously accuse Catholic doctrine (that God has mercy even on those who had faith in Him but were not able to be baptized) of being “man-made” (because it contradicts, against what you are admitting by implication, the necessity of Baptism declared in Scripture) and “works-based” (because it requires Baptism by water, as declared by Scripture). You are arguing out of both sides of your mouth, sir.

      How much work does a person do in being circumcised? A whole lot less than the activities espoused by the Roman Catholic church!

      As we have been discussing, these “activities” are not “works” one “has to do.” But speaking of circumcision: Paul calls Baptism, you know, the “circumcision of Christ,” by and through which we are reborn in Him and grafted into His Body.

  9. Joseph,

    My post-modern comment was in regard to something being both “necessary” and “not necessary.” Your reply continues to demonstrate that you have no problems saying that something is both necessary and not necessary.

    The Roman Catholic church has a centuries long tradition (pun intended) of adding new teaching to the Scriptures. Post-modernism just makes it easier to stomach the contradictions. I am not talking out of both sides of my mouth.

    You quoted John 3:5 to infer that this supports the necessity of baptism. However, this is before Jesus’ death and the institution of New Testament baptism. In this context, if Jesus meant baptism then he would only have been referring to the type of baptism performed by John. It would have made no sense to talk to the Nicodemus about a type of baptism that no one was familiar with at the time. More likely is that the water birth referred to by Jesus is our natural birth (as opposed to our spiritual rebirth also referred to in this passage). So, no it is not clear that Jesus is teaching that baptism is necessary for salvation in John 3:5.

    And, of course, you still have the problem of being able to balance the other Scriptures that clearly state that we are saved only by faith with no mention of baptism. For example:

    Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

    Romans 5:1: Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Finally, in appealing to Colossians chapter 2 you just run aground of other false teachings of the Roman Church. If we look at the key verses:

    In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead (Colossians 2:11-12).

    In your Roman Catholic theology, you can now die again…and again…and again because of your sins and then be raised again…and again…and again by your works/actions. But, then our connection with Christ’s single death and single resurrection falls apart. You have been taken captive by human tradition as warned about earlier in Colossians 2:8.

    Now, I will let you have the last word, because I need to do other things this week. Take care.

    Dale

    • Hi Dale,

      My post-modern comment was in regard to something being both “necessary” and “not necessary.” Your reply continues to demonstrate that you have no problems saying that something is both necessary and not necessary.

      I have no problems accepting the written word of Scripture. I have no problems accepting a God who is merciful beyond human imagination.

      The Roman Catholic church has a centuries long tradition (pun intended) of adding new teaching to the Scriptures. Post-modernism just makes it easier to stomach the contradictions. I am not talking out of both sides of my mouth.

      Well, that’s a basic problem, isn’t it? There’s no indication that the Early Church or anyone until many centuries after the Apostles demanded that all doctrine be spelled out explicitly in Scripture. No one spelled out such a notion explicitly until the time of the Protestant Reformation. So your position has several difficulties. If anyone in the Early Church had held a doctrine of sola scriptura, don’t you think there would have been some resistance to “extrabiblical” doctrines dating from that time? The Early Christians were strictly traditional people, naturally opposed to any change or novelty. If anyone had tried to introduce new doctrines contrary to what the Christian Church had tradition, don’t you think there would have been protest? And if it were the Roman Church introducing such novelties, why are the same doctrines recorded simultaneously in both the East and West, in Africa and Asia and Europe?

      Postmodernism, you know, is post-modern. And it’s very interesting to me that you would apply that term to the Catholic Church. As somebody who’s been up to my neck in liberal academia, I know about postmodernism — and trust me, the Catholic Church isn’t it. If there are “contradictions” in Catholic doctrine, then Catholics have been living with them quite comfortably for a couple of millennia.

      You quoted John 3:5 to infer that this supports the necessity of baptism. However, this is before Jesus’ death and the institution of New Testament baptism. In this context, if Jesus meant baptism then he would only have been referring to the type of baptism performed by John. It would have made no sense to talk to the Nicodemus about a type of baptism that no one was familiar with at the time. More likely is that the water birth referred to by Jesus is our natural birth (as opposed to our spiritual rebirth also referred to in this passage). So, no it is not clear that Jesus is teaching that baptism is necessary for salvation in John 3:5.

      Huh. I’ve never heard anything like that before. And I’m afraid you’re mistaken. The context of John 3 is quite clear that Jesus is referring to Christian Baptism. The first four chapters of the Gospel of John are positively dripping with Baptism imagery, leading up to Christ’s declaration of Baptism. John plainly means to draw our attention to it. He opens in Chapter 1 with John’s Baptism of Christ and the epiphany of God revealing His Son. It would not have been lost on John’s audience at all that John then presents Jesus’s first miracle — making wine from water, poured from the vessels of the ritual washings of the Old Covenant. John then leads immediately into Jesus’s discussion of Baptism in Chapter 3.

      Now note this. The immediate context — in the very next verse after Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus! — Jesus baptizes:

      “After this Jesus and his disciples went into the land of Judea; there he remained with them and baptized.” (John 3:22)

      And this leads to John having a discussion with a Jew:

      “John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people came and were baptized. Now a discussion arose between John’s disciples and a Jew over purifying. And they came to John, and said to him, ‘Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you bore witness, here he is, baptizing, and all are going to him.’ ” (John 3:23,25-26)

      John’s Baptism was seen, by this Jew and by his disciples, as an extension of the Jewish rites of purification. And John then declares the superiority of Jesus’s Baptism, that Jesus’s was something new, the coming of the Bridegroom: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him.” (John 3:36)

      In the beginning of chapter 4, John clarifies:

      “Now when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again to Galilee.”

      So it seems that Christ baptized His own disciples, and they then baptized others. But the context of Chapter 3 is unmistakably linked to Christ’s Baptism. To deny this is to deny the universal interpretation of the Church from the earliest times up to and beyond the Reformers.

      And yes, clearly this was something unfamiliar to Nicodemus: he didn’t know what Jesus was talking about. But Jesus explains himself, and then proceeds to put into practice what he was talking about. It’s entirely likely that Nicodemus was among the first believers baptized.

      And, of course, you still have the problem of being able to balance the other Scriptures that clearly state that we are saved only by faith with no mention of baptism.

      Sure, when you take verses out of context there’s no mention of Baptism. In the context of both verses you cite, Paul does refer to Baptism only a few verses later:

      “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:1–5)

      “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” (Ephesians 5:25–28)

      How do you balance them?

      In your Roman Catholic theology, you can now die again…and again…and again because of your sins and then be raised again…and again…and again by your works/actions. But, then our connection with Christ’s single death and single resurrection falls apart. You have been taken captive by human tradition as warned about earlier in Colossians 2:8.

      Huh? I’m not sure what you’re talking about. There is only one Baptism (Ephesians 4:5). Through Baptism we are born again into Christ’s new life. We die to sin (Romans 6:6–7) — after that, we don’t die again. We are regenerated and renewed (Titus 3:5) — and that is permanent. Nothing can undo the grace of Baptism. If we fall into sin again, Christ is there to catch us (1 John 1:9).

      You continue to make assertions against “false teachings,” but you haven’t done anything to demonstrate how they are false. Calling something false without any evidence doesn’t make it false. Scripture seems to be on my side.

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