Confessing to a Belief in Free Will

I am reading St. Augustine’s Confessions. It’s a great read and I recommend it to anyone interested enough to pick it up and read it. Tonight I ran across this quote, which made me laugh. Speaking of a book he had written when he was younger he says,

“I regarded it admiringly, though no one else joined me in doing so.” [4.14.23]

I love this admission of both the foolishness and pride of his youth.

A little later, he writes, addressing God,

“And what greater pride could there be for me than, with a marvelous madness, to assert myself to be that nature which you are? … I preferred to contend that your immutable substance was involved in error through necessity rather than admit that my own mutable substance had gone astray of its own free will and had fallen into error as its punishment.” [4.15.26]

Calvin claimed that his doctrine, which denied free will, was a reiteration of St. Augustine’s beliefs. Calvinists today make the same claim – that they are more in line with St. Augustine’s teaching than any other branch of Christianity. But St. Augustine very clearly says here that he had gone astray through his own free will.

Did Calvin get his denial of free will from St. Augustine? Emphatically, no.

For those interested in more of what St. Augustine believed and taught on the subject, check out his treatise On Grace and Free Will.


Why I Have “Sympathy” for the Boston Bombers

Last week two young men planted a bomb at the finish line of the Boston marathon and killed several people and hurt many more.  Since then social media has been thick with discussion about them, pictures of them, supportive messages for Boston and runners everywhere, and lots and lots of commentary about the men, terrorism, and related issues. At least twice I’ve seen posts on Facebook (I don’t use Twitter) suggesting that it is inappropriate to show sympathy or understanding toward the bombers. One post labeled the men “evil, subhuman”.

So I want to defend my opinion that these men deserve our pity, not our hate. And that if we hate, we hurt ourselves, not the people who have done such grievous wrong.

I pity these men because they were caught up in a system that taught them hatred and lies. I know what it is like to believe lies, and to hate others. It’s not fun. It’s not fulfilling. Frankly, it sucks. I pity them because they cared more about creating a huge dramatic scene in order to have their message heard than they did about human lives. I know that selfishness. I’ve said things that hurt people, or were just self-centered, because I didn’t know how to communicate effectively and because I cared more about being the center of someone’s attention than about whether they or other people experienced pain at my words. I pity these men because they didn’t have the sense to leave the city immediately, but waited around and stole a car and ran from the police, and shot at the police. I know what it’s like to get caught in a web of my own bad decisions, to feel I have no where to run, no where to turn, and no one to blame but myself. I know what it’s like to not only make evil choices, but stupid ones, too. Evil is stupid, but sometimes it’s compounded by further stupidity. I know that game and it’s not fun. I pity them because of the family members they leave heartbroken. I understand the older man had a wife and at least one young child. Imagine being that young child. Imagine going to school where all the other students know your father was a terrorist bomber. Imagine the young widow. Does she have a support network? Does she have any family near her other than the two men who did this, one dead and the other in prison? How will she feed and clothe herself and her child? How will she tell her child who his/her father was and what he did? Can you imagine having to face this? Can you imagine causing that sort of trouble for someone else? I can. I am a constant difficulty to my family. I’m in awe that I even have friends – they are some of the most patient people on the planet.

I have never bombed a major sporting event. I’ve never stolen a car. I’ve never shot at a police officer. I’ve never gotten involved in a terrorist group. I pray God I never do any of those things. But those offenses are different from mine only in degree, not in kind. I don’t really have sympathy for the bombers. I have empathy. Because I’m not that different from them. There but for the grace of God go I.

Every time we choose to dehumanize those who have dehumanized us, we share in their crime. When we choose to hate those who hate us, we do the same thing they are doing. We cannot overcome the hatred of others by hating them in return. We only overcome hatred by choosing love and compassion.

I have “sympathy” (really, it’s more like empathy) for the bombers because I know I’m not that different from them. And I choose love, compassion, and understanding because I refuse to let hatred tear me apart as it did them.

That Pesky Canon Question

Forget the Roads has just finished a series of posts on the canon of Scripture. It is excellent. It may take a while to read all the way through, but I highly recommend that you do. I can’t find a place over there that lists all the posts in order, so I’ve taken the liberty to do so, with links, here.

Part 1: The Canon Controversy
Part 2: The Apocrypha 
Part 3: Endangering the Souls of Men
Part 4: The Infallible and Undeceivable Word of God
Part 5: Something Very, Very Strange
Part 6: The True Touchstone
Part 7: Outside the Canon and Judged Apocryphal
Part 8: Methinketh
Part 9: May This Bible Please You
“Breather”: Coming Up For Air
Part 10: Shopping Cart
Part 11: At Your Wits’ End
Part 12: Reevaluating the Evidence
Part 13: Somewhat Bulkier and More Comprehensive
Part 14: WWJC?
Part 15: An Almost Total Lack of Evidence
Part 16: Who’s In Charge Here?
Part 17: Unheeded By the Church
Recap: Another One Bites the Dust
Part 18: Information Manipulation
Part 19: Cross-Referencing
Part 20: Let Us See Whether His Words Be True
Part 21: Strange Inconsistencies
Part 22: To Look for Home from God
Part 23: Shots in the Dark
Part 24: A Custom-Made Canon
Part 25: What Has Been Given Through the Apostles
Part 26: The Authentic Tradition Received from the Apostles
Part 27: <>If The Apostles Themselves Had Not Left Us Writings
Part 28: The Power of Judging Scripture
Part 29: Are We To Suppose?
Part 30: In Regard to the Canonical Scriptures
Part 31: Scripture in the Fullest Sense
Part 32: A Very Lumpy Rug
Part 33: Standing Alone
Part 34: A Formal Pronouncement on the Canon
Part 35: God As Their Author
Part 36: That Principle is Tradition
Part 37: Untenable Judgments
Part 38: The Burden of Proof
Final Wrap Up: Pop Quiz

How Can This Be?

Imagine you are a young lady about to get married. You’ve found the love of your life and you look forward to your new life. You can’t wait to be a wife and mother. At your bridal shower an elderly friend from church tells you that you will have the most beautiful children. Do you…

a. Ask how this can be, since you’re a virgin?

b. Give her a pretty smile and say “Thank you! I hope they look like my fiance!”


Now imagine you’re a dedicated nun and you take your vows seriously. The mother superior tells you she has had a vision and knows that you are going to have a very special son. Do you…

a. Ask how this can be, because you are celibate?

b. Give her a pretty smile and say, “Thank you! I hope he looks like my fiance!”


Each response is appropriate in a given situation. Each is completely inappropriate in the opposite situation. Let’s look at Mary’s response when she was told she would have a son.

Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus.He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end. And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man? And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. [Luke 1:31-35, Douay-Rheims]

Mary was already betrothed to Joseph when the angel told her she would have a child. Yet she points to her virginity as an impediment to having children. Either Mary intended to keep her virginity or she was… well, socially awkward at best and insane at worst. If her marriage to Joseph was intended to be a typical marriage, we would expect Mary to assume that her son would be conceived in the natural way and to respond accordingly.

Most Protestants believe that Mary was only a virgin until after Jesus’ birth. Catholics believe Mary was celibate her entire life. The Catholic doctrine is the Biblical doctrine.

The Bodily Resurrection

This post will be directed more to my readers who are still in the Church of Christ (COC) than to Reformed Christians because when it comes to the issue I’m discussing, Reformed Christians and Catholics agree, while many in the COC do not.

One more thing before I jump into the subject. I know that in the COC, there is no formal catechism, and no formal determination of which doctrines are orthodox and which heterodox. I’m sure that there are members of a COC somewhere who agree with the traditional Christian doctrine. If you’re one of them, great! My observations are just my observations. The COC is not entirely homogenous, so I will not be surprised if you tell me you’ve been in the COC your whole life and have never believed the heresy I describe here.

OK. That out of the way, my experience in the COC was that while there is generally a solid understanding of the fact that Jesus rose from the dead bodily, there is great confusion about the nature of our own resurrection, toward which we still look forward.  While still in the COC I heard classes, lectures, and sermons defending the historical, bodily resurrection of Jesus. No stone is unturned.

We would go through all the reasons to believe he really died. He’d been up all night in great emotional agony. He’d been scourged in a way that often killed men. He’d been punched around, forced to carry a heavy timber for several miles and had already proven physically unequal to the task. All of these hardships left him in a weakened state. He’d been nailed to a cross so that he couldn’t breathe. The soldiers who were very familiar with death by crucifixion said he was dead. Etc.

We also dealt with socio-political arguments against the resurrection. The Jewish leaders had a vested interest in proving he didn’t rise, so they might have taken and displayed the body, but would not have taken and hidden the body. Despite Jesus’ claim that he would rise again, the disciples were clueless and didn’t really believe he would, so they were unlikely to try to fake his resurrection.  Etc.

Most importantly, for my current purposes, we discussed the reasons to believe he really rose from the dead. We would talk about how he invited his disciples to touch him, and about how he reassured them by saying, “I”m not a ghost.” We talked about how he ate – even asking for fish at one point.  The interesting thing is that all our reasons focused on the fact that he had a physical body.

At the same time, many of the same people who make these arguments will claim that our final resurrection will be only spiritual, not bodily. Heaven is a spiritual place, they claim, so we will not need bodies there. We will be free from our corrupted bodies. My own beliefs about this while I was in the COC were indistinct, but I tended toward a denial of a bodily resurrection.

What I find interesting is the inconsistency here. We wanted to claim on the one hand that Jesus was really raised from the dead on the basis that he had a body after the crucifixion. Our reasoning was: Jesus had a body, displayed physical characteristics and therefore must have been truly raised from the dead. (I agree with this line of reasoning, by the way, and so do most Trinitarian Christians.) But when we discussed our own resurrection, we lost the sense that without a body there is no resurrection.

So to any COC readers (or other Christians) who do not believe in a bodily resurrection, I have this to say: A non-bodily resurrection is no resurrection, but a seance. If we prove Jesus’ resurrection by his physical post-resurrection nature, then we must also expect to have bodies in our post-resurrection natures.

Will the True “Catholic” Please Stand up?

I was recently involved in a facebook comment thread in which a Reformed Christian said he calls himself “catholic” (small “c”) and when someone else calls himself “Catholic”, meaning Roman Catholic, he corrects the Catholic and tells him he should be calling himself “Roman Catholic”, not “Catholic”. I am posting my response here because I feel this creates a real issue among Christians who try to talk to each other about religion.

Please don’t go around correcting people for using language in the common way everyone uses it. It’s arrogant and condescending. I apologize if I’m overreacting, but I grew up in a church that does that (“The preacher is NOT the pastor! We’re not sitting in a church, we’re sitting in a church BUILDING!”  etc., etc., ad nauseum.) If you know what someone means, respond accordingly. If you don’t, ask for clarification. To do otherwise is just rude.

Besides the rudeness of this, it also assumes the doctrine of the invisible church, which not everyone accepts. Reformed Christians are “catholic” only under a paradigm of an invisible church. Absent that paradigm, we have the necessity of a visible church, and assuming that visible church, the only possible contender is the Catholic Church, which is not just Latin/Roman but also Maronite, Byzantine, etc. So telling someone who calls himself Catholic that he should call himself “Roman Catholic” disrespects his beliefs about his own religion and might even be technically incorrect because he might be Catholic without being Roman at all.

Please consider these points when you are tempted to tell a Catholic that he’s not really catholic, or to insist he call himself “Roman” rather than just “Catholic”. Or if you are a Catholic who has encountered someone who insists on calling you “Roman” rather than just Catholic, maybe this will help you answer your detractor.

It Happened Again, a Rant

Again I am faced with a Catholic friend who is encouraging others to support gay marriage. Specifically, this friend is encouraging others to boycott Chick-Fil-A because the company sponsors organizations that promote traditional marriage. Apparently, in the past Chick-Fil-A has supported Focus on the Family. There are a lot of things I dislike about Focus on the Family, but since I’m Catholic, Dobson’s stance on traditional marriage isn’t one of them. More recently, Chick-Fil-A has sponsored a different group that promotes traditional marriage and traditional values.

I recognize that many non-religious people will not stand for traditional values, and will support the move toward government recognition of homosexual partnerships as marriage.  I expect non-religious people to have a different outlook than I do. We’re coming from different places. We’re aiming at different targets. Of course we’re going to disagree about how things ought to be done, and even about what those things are that ought to be done. Though I think they are mistaken, I don’t respect them less for it.

What I don’t understand is how people can claim to be Catholic while rejecting core teachings of the Catholic Church. The Church’s teaching on homosexuality isn’t a new thing. It’s been the same teaching for 2000 years. Homosexual acts are sinful. They are not to be condoned, accepted, or encouraged in any way. Every Catholic who has been confirmed, which is every adult Catholic, has taken a vow before God and before the Church to accept the Church’s teaching, regardless of his own ability to understand it or accurately represent it. It’s one thing to say, “I don’t understand why my Church teaches that this is a sin, but She does, so I believe it is a sin.” It’s another thing entirely to say, “I don’t understand why my Church teaches that this is a sin – that’s so messed up! Stupid celibate hypocritical old men in Rome! I’ll do what I want. Of course I’m still part of this Church! Why would anyone think otherwise?!”

Thumbing one’s nose at the magisterium of the Catholic Church is a Protestant thing to do. It’s understandable for a Protestant to say, “I don’t care what the pope says!” Of course the Protestant doesn’t care what the pope says! His very self-identity as a Christian hangs on his unwillingness to bend his own will and intellect to what the pope says. But it’s hypocritical, and disingenuous to refuse to consider what the pope says, and claim to be Catholic. If you don’t care what the pope and bishops teach, then don’t tell me you’re a faithful Catholic!

One more thing, even more important than the lie you live is the way you lie when you receive Our Lord in the Eucharist. When you refuse to submit yourself to the Church’s teaching, you profane the Blessed Sacrament every time you receive it. You cheapen the richest thing on earth – Jesus’ body, blood, soul, and divinity made present to us – with your lie every time you present yourself for Communion. Your lips say “Amen” I believe this is Jesus, that He is God in the flesh, that he instituted this Church to teach us, and I believe everything that Church teaches. Your life says you don’t believe all this. Just stop. Stop going to communion until you can honestly say you accept every Church teaching. You don’t have to understand the teachings – just accept them. But you must accept them, or your communion is a lie that will send you to Hell, guilty of nothing less than profaning Our Lord’s body.