Monday, October 19, 2009

New blog at First Things, Evangel

Just discovered a new blog at First Things, Evangel. Some of my favorite people are blogging there, including John Mark Reynolds, Russell Moore, Justin Taylor, and my former student Hunter Baker (who recently published the outstanding book, The End of Secularism). I was, however, surprised to find that rabid anti-Catholic blogger Frank Turk is among the cadre of Evangel's bloggers. Soon after I became Catholic, Mr. Turk opined that my return to Catholicism at age 46 was as hollow as when I became a Protestant as a teenager. Read it here.

I had no idea that Mr. Turk was so gifted in the clairvoyant arts, able to not only jump the space-time continuum to observe my teenage years but to pierce the veil of cognitive and spiritual privacy in order to extract from my soul the reflections, contemplations, and judgments that were instrumental in my journey back to Catholicism. Given his unusual interest in comic book aesthetics, perhaps he possesses powers not unlike the mutants that populate the imaginary world to which he seems so drawn (pardon the pun). Or perhaps he is just ill-mannered and presumptuous.


Frank Turk said...

I see. So what does my enjoyment of comic book at have to do with session 6 of Trent, Dr. Beckwith?

And for the claim of my status as a 'rabid anti-catholic', what would you offer as credible evidence? That I think that Trent actually anathematized someone, and that those anathemas are in full force today?

I am interested. And I'd be willing to have the discussion in any forum under any terms of moderation you'd establish -- as long as there's a basis for give and take.

William Dicks said...

Frank (Turk, that is),

People find it difficult to separate other's disagreements with their ideas from themselves.

Just because you are anti the false doctrine of Roman Catholicism, doesn't make you anti the people in the Roman Catholic Institution.

In this case Mr. Beckwith threw a stone in the water with no evidence that you truly are 'rabid anti-catholic,' however, those ripples will continue.

This is a case of irresponsibility with words on the part of Mr. Beckwith.ingunder

Chuck said...

Dr. Beckwith, in all seriousness it is hard not to view this statement as ingenuous special pleading. Isn't it a little to far into the enterprise to be crying foul and invasion of privacy.

Either this is in fact a private, contemplative, somehow quasi-mystical spiritual pilgrimmage, or it is a carefully crafted publicity and marketing campaign for your book, for your benefit, for the Benefice of the Bishop of Rome, and for your evangelical "friends" whom you fulsomely incorporate into your paradigm as implicit seperated brethren by describing your return, not JUST to Rome, nor merely to Roman Catholicism, but to THE CHURCH.

I'm reminded of a time recently when studying of an eveningin the lovely jazzy ambience of a full, happily buzzing Starbucks, that the fellow at the next table, apparently having an ESL lesson with a student, instructed the manager to turn off the music so he could "hear himself".

Peter Sean Bradley said...

"And for the claim of my status as a 'rabid anti-catholic', what would you offer as credible evidence?"

Perhaps this statement is part of the reason for the description:

"I respect them for admitting that they do not believe in a God who saves through Christ but a god who saves by rites...."

Because, certainly, that is any reasonable person without an anti-Catholic bias would obviously leap to that conclusion. < /sarc >

Also, given the admission in the heading of the post, i.e., "Why I'm OK with being called an Anti-Catholic", it seems that the status has already been stipulated to.

Or is this like the old joke with the punchline, "we've already determined your status, now we're just arguing over price."

Too funny.

threegirldad said...


What is "too funny" is that you apparently have no clue that Frank Turk was raised as a Catholic. Stop and think about that for a moment.

Michael Bauman said...

I do not see why Frank Turk insists on characterizing Dr Beckwith's conversion to or from Protestantism as "hollow." Perhaps he remains unmoved by the account rendered concerning that conversion, but "hollow" is not the word to use in such a case. That is, someone might disagree with me on an important issue without their views -- much less themselves, their convictions, or their conversion to a different commitment -- being hollow.

Perhaps Mr. Turk draws his insulting conclusion from misreading Dr. Beckwith's book. I do not know. If that book is a travelogue and not ecclesiastical apologetics, then it ought not be read as a defense but as an account -- a journey not a case. When Dr. Beckwith writes a fully orbed defense of Roman Catholicism, if ever he does, then we might know better whether or not the word "hollow" is appropriate. But, judging from the many books and articles Dr. Beckwith has written on all sorts of important and difficult subjects, I suspect that other words might be far more accurately employed.

But if Mr. Turk is actually talking about Dr Beckwith's conversion itself, and not about his theological case for it, then Becwkith's acid rejoinder is spot on. For Turk to know the depth, sincerity, or authenticity of Beckwith's move, both now and decades ago, does, indeed, require the sort of clairvoyance to which Beckwith alludes. You'll notice that Dr. Beckwith did not stop to characterize either the depth or the reality of Turk's conversion to Protestantism -- just as he has not done regarding mine.

Nor can we say that a conversion is hollow if it is gone back on later. For example, I have a good friend (a man with a PhD in American religious history), who became a Catholic after studying to write a chapter about John Henry Newman. He has since returned to his Protestantism. His return does not tell us anything about the quality or nature his initial departure. Nor does it mean his earlier Protestantism was in any way hollow. Indeed, one might remain a resolute convert and be shockingly shallow. One might return to an earlier position and be heroically deep. Neither change nor constancy prove shallowness or depth. Both are compatible with both.

Francis J. Beckwith said...


The answer is, of course, "no." My friend, Jimmy Akin, does a nice job of explaining the complexities of Catholic theology on this matter:


Matt Gumm said...

Dr. Beckwith: setting aside Frank's remark about your history to which you've taken offense, I wonder if you'd be willing to discuss his larger point, referred to in the blog post to which your post linked, and also in the post to which Peter Sean Bradley linked?

For example:

CANON XI.-If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.

I know for a fact that Frank Turk, (who was once in communion with the Roman Catholic Church, by the way), now saith on a regular basis that men are justified by the sole remission of sins on the basis of the sole imputation of the justice of Christ.

Frank would (and did) say "Yes, I am anathema," and he is OK with that, because that is an important distinction between Roman Catholics and Protestants. And in that sense, he could be considered anti-Catholic. As he pointed out, he could just as easily be considered anti-Mormon, because those differences matter.

And so I would ask: is Frank Turk anathema?

(p.s. sorry - my editing cut out the reference to him being anathema, so I was trying to put it back, and then cross-posted with you)

Matt Gumm said...

Dr. Beckwith: from the way Mr. Akin puts it, it looks like Frank Turk is not anathema, because there is no such thing as anathema, but he is guilty of heresy (CIC751), because what the councils decided is still a "doctrinal definition" which has been "infallibly settled."

Have I understood it correctly?

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Peter Sean Bradley: "Also, given the admission in the heading of the post, i.e., "Why I'm OK with being called an Anti-Catholic", it seems that the status has already been stipulated to. ...

Too funny."

Before you laugh too hard Mr. Bradley, let's look at what Mr. Turk *actually* wrote in terms of what he really "stipulated to" as far as being considered an anti-Catholic:

"So am I "anti-catholic" in the sense that I am actually a Protestant? Why yes: I am."

Many, many Protestants do not think that they are "anti-Catholic" by mere virtue of them being Protestants. I would also surmise that many, many Catholics do not think that Protestants are "anti-Catholic" just because they simply happen to be Protestants.

Mr. Bradley, would you agree that one can be a Protestant without being anti-Catholic? Or do you think that if a person is a Protestant, then by definition, they are anti-Catholic? If so, then that is what Mr. Turk is stipulating to.

Furthermore, this hardly merits Mr. Turk being mislabeled as being "rabid" as in "rabid anti-Catholic blogger."

With all due respect Professor Beckwith, this kind of rhetoric is not helpful.

P.S. Of course I did note Professor Bauman's objection to the use of Mr. Turk's adjective of "hollow" to describe Professor Beckwith's conversion. If I were a judge, I'd say, "Objection sustained."

And to be equally fair, if someone raised objections to Professor Beckwith's use of the adjective "rabid" to describe Mr. Turk as being a "rabid anti-Catholic", then I'd have to also say, "Objection sustained."

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

As the referees in the NFL occasionally say:

"Offsetting penalties. Replay the down."


Rabid and hollow.

How would you like to meet someone who is both rabid and hollow? Then look in the mirror!


Francis J. Beckwith said...

Believe it or not, I've actually addressed this issue in an article I wrote about Mormonism four years ago: "Sects in the City: Mormonisn and the Philosophical Perils of Being a Missionary Faith." The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 9.2 (Summer 2005): 14-30. You can find it here:

It seems to me that what distinguishes an anti-Catholic from a run of the mill Protestant who believes that Catholicism is not the fullness of Christianity is the reluctance to concede that one could be perfectly rational, deeply Christian, and epistemically above board and still reject Protestantism and embrace Catholicism in all its splendor. This is why Mr. Turk's quick move to a sub-rational account of my conversion--based on one interview two years ago--seems to show that he believes that no rational person, fully informed of the facts, could in principle accept Catholicism.

Even though I believe that Protestantism is mistaken, I can see why someone would want to remain a Protestant and not entertain the Catholic faith. I don't think, in other words, that a fully informed Protestant is irrational for not becoming Catholic.

David Waltz said...

Matt Gunn posted:

>>I know for a fact that Frank Turk, (who was once in communion with the Roman Catholic Church, by the way), now saith on a regular basis that men are justified by the sole remission of sins on the basis of the sole imputation of the justice of Christ.>>


>>Dr. Beckwith: from the way Mr. Akin puts it, it looks like Frank Turk is not anathema, because there is no such thing as anathema, but he is guilty of heresy (CIC751), because what the councils decided is still a "doctrinal definition" which has been "infallibly settled.">>

IMHO, Matt’s understanding of Canon XI is flawed. Note what one highly qualified and respected Protestant theologian has written on this matter:

“It is clear that this condemnation [in Canon XI] is aimed against a purely extrinsic conception of justification (in the Catholic sense of the term) — in other words, the view that the Christian life may begin and continue without any transformation or inner renewal of the sinner. In fact, the canon does not censure any magisterial Protestant account of iustificatio hominis, in that the initial (extrinsic) justification of humans is either understood (as with Melanchthon) to be inextricably linked with their subsequent (intrinsic) sanctification, so that the concepts are notionally distinct, but nothing more; or else both the extrinsic justification and intrinsic sanctification of humanity are understood (as with Calvin) to be contiguous dimensions of the union of the believer with Christ.” (Alister E. McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, 3rd ed., p. 343.)

So, the only way Mr. Turk would be “guilty of heresy” is if his view of justification is at odds with both Melanchthon’s and Calvin’s. (I suspect that it is not.)

Grace and peace,


Francis J. Beckwith said...


Thank you for your post. I had forgotten about McGrath's carefully crafted analysis.

Without digressing too much into theological anthropology, it seemed to me, when I was considering Catholicism, that it was not possible to be extrinsically justified without undergoing any change. Take, for example, two persons: X and Y. If Y forgives X of a wrong, then X acquires the property "forgiven." But if he does, then X has changed. But if one claims that X has not changed, then the forgiveness is a fiction, that is, there is no effect on X of Y's forgiveness. This means that Y does not have the causal power to forgive X in such a way that X is literally forgiven. But that doesn't seem right. Since in real life forgiveness does have the causal power to change someone's soul. So, even forensic justification can't be exclusively extrinsic without it being entirely a fiction. And in that case, something like the Catholic view of infused righteousness must be true.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

Given Dave's analysis, it seems that Turk is not damned if he does and not damned if he don't. :-)

TAR said...

The wheat will grow with the tares until the harvest, because they can so resemble each other that damage might be done to the wheat in the process.

When I see one that claimed salvation by faith in Christ alone, by faith alone return to Rome I am always grateful that the tare is gone before the harvest (judgement ) so that there are no more of its corrupt seeds to spread among the wheat.

Your decision just shows the truth of the observation of Paul that they went out from us because they were never of us... false salvation is always sad.

I pray that one day the Spirit of God gives you a new heart so you know from where your salvation comes.

David Waltz said...

TAR wrote:

>>When I see one that claimed salvation by faith in Christ alone, by faith alone return to Rome I am always grateful that the tare is gone before the harvest (judgement ) so that there are no more of its corrupt seeds to spread among the wheat.>>

Seems that McGrath’s reflections have been completely ignored by TAR—guess he believes Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, et al. were tares too.

TAR must think that nothing but tares existed between the apostolic age and the 16th century…(see THIS POST for selections from an Evangelical essay which critiques such silliness).

Grace and peace,


lojahw said...

Dr. Beckwith,

You offer some interesting comments at First Things about faith alone, but of course, good Protestants are quick to affirm that saving faith is never alone.

Rather the question is what must accompany faith for one to be justified? Specifically, does Romans 4 affirm forensic justification by faith? "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to baost about; but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'And Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.'" Trent's insistence that a penitent sinner cannot be restored to "justice" apart from the "sacrament of Penance" (work) seems to contradict the teaching of Scripture.

Lover of Jesus and His Word

lojahw said...

Jimmy Akins' article on the word anathema reminds me of Roman Catholic apologias concerning the definitions of other words which Rome has altered for its peculiar purposes. For example, Trent proudly appealed to the “unanimous consent of the fathers” to support a number of its dogmatic claims, including those concerning the “sacrament of penance” (requiring secret sacramental confession to a priest, contra James 5:16; cf. 1 John 1:9). Such appeals are unable to survive historical scrutiny unless, of course, one redefines the generally accepted meaning of the “unanimous consent of the fathers.”

With respect to anathema, is it not splitting hairs to label someone a heretic but to magnanimously withhold judicial proceedings against that person because he is outside of the “fold of Rome”?

Food for thought...

Anonymous said...


Your interpretation of scripture is off, in Romans, St. Paul is clearly referring to circumcision when he speaks about Abraham. He's telling the Judaizers who believe that one must be circumcised in order to be justified. Circumcision is a "work of the Law," a ceremonial action that was no longer applicable under the new dispensation of Christianity. The Jews, who believed circumcision was necessary also held up Abraham as their spiritual forefather, the way some might hold up Luther or Calvin, but St. Paul is pointing out to them that Abraham was justified by God before he was ever circumcised--look in your bible. Does the chapter regarding Abraham's circumcision come before the chapter regarding his justification, or before? It comes after. Likewise a misreading of the texts you cite from James and 1 John lead you to believe that sacramental confession is unnecessary. St. James is writing to the presbyteroi, or the Priests of that church and he's telling them to confess their sins to one another, which fits perfectly in with our Lord's command in John 20:23 "If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

He's saying this to the Apostles, the first bishops or Presbyters of the Church. Even in the Old Testament we see that only the Priests could offer expiation for the sins of the people. Obviously, the forgiveness comes from God as we see in the 1 John passage you cite, likewise in the Catholic Church the priests stands in the Person of Christ, St. Paul mentions this when referring to himself in other letters. I see some protestants come very close to this idea, that when they confess their sins to their friends, their friends are standing "in the person of Christ." However, only an ordained Roman Catholic Priest can validly forgive sins as their power comes through Apostolic Succession from Christ Himself.

lojahw said...


I'm disappointed that you didn’t address the issue of anathemas, which prompted my response.

While it is true that Paul speaks of circumcision later in Romans 4, verse 2 is not limited to circumcision. Unlike other places where Paul specifically refers to “works of the Law” (e.g. in Galatians), Romans 4:2-3, as Paul goes on to explain in vv. 4-6 applies more broadly to all works: “Now to one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justified the ungodly, is faith is reckoned as righteousness.” Paul goes on to quote David regarding the grace of God toward the ungodly “apart from works” – “Blessed is the man whose win the Lord will not take into account.” Paul introduces circumcision as an example, indeed, a proof that Abraham was justified by faith apart from works, even those of the Law (works commanded by God).

As for James 5, please note that the subject of vv. 13-16 is clearly identified as “anyone.” Presbyteroi are called by “anyone” to pray and anoint “anyone” with oil, but the subject remains “anyone” in v. 16, “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.”

Lover of Jesus and His Word

lojahw said...

Please excuse the typo: “Blessed is the man whose *sin* the Lord will not take into account.”

Francis J. Beckwith said...


What do you think the Romans understood Paul to mean? Do you think they would have understood Paul as denying that faith meant faith working through love. especially given premium that Jesus puts on that understanding throughout the Gospels? If you were 1st Century Roman Christian, even if before the Gospels were composed, you would be immersed in the life and teachings of Jesus. So, given that context and that understanding, it seems to make sense why the interpretation you offer for Romans is absent from the ancient Christian world, a world that quickly developed a sacramental life. But such a sacramental life--one that requires that grace be a divine quality--makes little sense under a Reformed reading of Paul.

At the Last Judgment, for example, the difference between the sheep and the goats is between what they did and did not do (Matt. 25:31–46). There is no indication that Jesus is thinking of the sheep’s “works” as “evidence of justification.” But rather, these works serve in some way as the basis on which his judgment of their eternal fate is made. It would be absurd, for example, for a judge in a court of law to tell a guilty defendant that his guilt was not based on the defendant’s actual deeds for which he was being prosecuted, but rather, because the deeds are evidence of the guilt he had before he had actually engaged in the deeds.

Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 16:27, “For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done” (emphasis added). In Revelation 22:11–12, John quotes Jesus as saying, “Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy. Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done” (emphasis added). In Matthew 19, Jesus connects the possession of eternal life (or salvation) with keeping the commandments, selling everything one owns (as he applied it to his questioner), and leaving everything including one’s family if necessary.

Couple these with Matthew 5, and the richness of Jesus’s teachings on salvation comes out even clearer:

In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.” Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall! (Matt. 7:17–27)

(continued in next combox entry)

Francis J. Beckwith said...

(continued from previous entry)

It is the bearing of fruit, the hearing and acting on Christ’s words, the doing the will of his Father that constitute the life of faith, a life likened by Jesus to a house that could fall if not adequately constructed to withstand severe adversity. In John 14, Jesus tells his followers a bit of what it will mean when he says, “because I live, you will live also” (v. 19). He states, “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (vv. 20–21). The Gospel of Mark recounts these words of Christ, “If any man would come after him, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34b–35—). In Mark 4, Jesus explains the parable of the seeds in which he tells his listeners of those who receive the word “with joy,” but it does “not take root” and thus “they fall away” immediately “when trouble or persecution arises.” (vv. 16–17). He also tells of “the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” (v. 20).

Mere imputed righteousness seems like the furthest idea from what one finds in these and other sayings of Jesus. What one finds is an active faith by which God’s grace gives us new life (not just new status), though there is a responsibility of obedience on our part to remain faithful, bear fruit, practice charity, and persevere. It is only later in the Pauline and non-Pauline Epistles—as the Church’s doctrines begin to develop—that the People of God receive clarification on the role of God’s grace in the life of Christian obedience.

So, then, the real question is whether St. Paul and the other non-Gospel New Testament authors teach that the entirety of justification is mere imputed righteousness that occurs once and for all. The answer at which I arrived was “no.” The following is a brief encapsulation of my reasoning, which unfolded and crystallized over a several-month period of reading and reflection.

In Romans 5:19, St. Paul writes, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” If Adam’s sin had real ontological consequences for human nature—“many were made sinners”--as this passage clearly indicates, then Jesus’s death and resurrection has real ontological consequences as well—“many will be made righteous.” It seems, then, that original sin and infused grace are a package deal. This is why it seems to me that St. Paul can sternly reject the value of works for justification apart from one becoming a “new creation”: “[F]or in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:26–27). “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail; but faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (6:15).

Although St. Paul certainly refers to justification as a past event (Rom. 5:1–2; 5:9; 8:24; 1 Cor. 6:11), he also presents it as a continuing process (1 Cor. 1:18; 15:2; 2 Cor. 2:15), as well as one that has not been fully achieved (Rom. 2:13; Gal. 5:5; 1 Cor. 3:15; 5:5; 1 Tim. 2:15; 2 Tim. 4:8,18)

(continued in next combox entry)

Francis J. Beckwith said...

(continued from prior combox entry)

Moreover, works done in faith by God’s grace contribute to our inward transformation and eventual justification. St. Paul writes in Romans 2:

[God] will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, for the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, for the Jew first and also the Greek. . . . For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. (Rom. 2:6–9, 13)

St. Paul writes to the Colossians that Christ “has now reconciled” them “in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present [them] holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that [they] continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which [they] heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister” (Col. 1:22–23). St. Paul tells the Philippians to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12–13). He teaches the Galatians that “for he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Gal. 6:8). In his second letter to Timothy, St. Paul writes that “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” and consequently, “there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7–8). In this passage final justification is awarded for keeping the faith and persevering, but these are connected to a certain sort of inward change, the love for Christ’s appearing.

Thus, one does not find in St. Paul the sharp distinction between justification and sanctification that one finds among Reformed writers. In fact, the passages we have covered seem to indicate that justification includes sanctification.

There is much more that I can write this, and have done so in Return to Rome. My point is that the Protestant view of justification is not the knock-down drag-out obvious reading of the NT on this matter. In fact, I came to the conclusion--all things being equal--that the Catholic view has far more explanatory power in accounting for all the texts that address this topic. That's not to say that the Protestant view is irrational. I can see why someone would believe it, and I have great respect for many scholars who in fact hold this view. But for me, I could no longer embrace in good conscience.

Couple that with the fact that the theology and practices of the Church developed in such a way as to make the Reformed view even more improbable (e.g., sacramentalism, penance, Real Presence of the Eucharist, etc.), becoming Catholic made sense to me.

So, given all these textual and historical considerations (as well as others I have not cited)--not to mention the corresponding and simultaneous development of theological beliefs embraced by both Protestants and Catholics, i.e, Trinity, Deity of Christ, canon of the New Testament, etc--I could not think of a good reason to cherry pick the tradition while maintaining intellectual integrity. I'm obviously not saying others can't do it. There are people, a lot smarter than me, who have done so. So, I don't doubt it. I'm just sharing with you how I worked it out in my own mind, flawed and fallen as it is.

lojahw said...

Dr. Beckwith, Your response is interesting, but it does not address my original point: good Protestants are quick to affirm that saving faith is never alone. Rather the question is what must accompany faith for one to be justified? There are indeed many facets to justification, but Paul clearly teaches in Romans 4:1-6 and elsewhere that “faith apart from works” is reckoned as righteousness by God.

The first question I raised from Trent is the *necessity* of the sacrament of Penance to restore a penitent sinner to “justice.”

The second question I raised with respect to the “anathemas” of Trent: Is it not splitting hairs to label someone a heretic but to magnanimously withhold judicial proceedings against that person because he is outside of the “fold of Rome”?

Regarding the first question, the church fathers affirmed the reality of justification by faith long before the Reformation. Here is a small sample of their writings:

1 Clement 32:4. We who through his will have been called in Christ Jesus are justified, not by ourselves, or through our wisdom or understanding or godliness, or the works that we have done in holiness of heart, but by faith.

Homilies on Ephesians, 4. God’s mission was not to save people in order that they may remain barren or inert. For Scripture says that faith has saved us. Put better: Since God willed it, faith has saved us. Now in what case, tell me, does faith save without itself doing anything at all? Faith’s workings themselves are a gift of God, lest anyone should boast. What then is Paul saying? Not that God has forbidden works but that he has forbidden us to be justified by works. No one, Paul says, is justified by works, precisely in order that the grace and benevolence of God may become apparent.

Homilies on Romans, 7, But since after this grace, whereby we were justified, there is need also of a life suited to it, let us show an earnestness worthy the gift. And show it we shall, if we keep with earnestness charity, the mother of good deeds. … “That He might be just, and the justifier of him which believes in Jesus.” Doubt not then: for it is not of works, but of faith: and shun not the righteousness of God, for it is a blessing in two ways; because it is easy, and also open to all men.

Homilies on Romans, 8, For when a man is once a believer, he is straightway justified…. Having said then, that he was justified by faith, he shows that he glorified God by that faith.


Francis J. Beckwith said...

There is no possible way in this venue to address the Church Fathers issue in the sort of detail that it deserves.

Nevertheless, there are two things you have to remember. First, the Fathers have to be read in light of the Church's liturgical practices. So, if Clement says something that sounds like Calvin, but he is in communion with a church that practices penance, the Eucharist, etc., then you're reading the Father anachronistically. Second, look to the Fathers' other writings that address other issues.

In fact, in Return to Rome, I juxtapose quotes from the fathers that sound "Protestant," and cited by people like Geisler, and with other quotes that show that the character of their thought is clearly Catholic.

So, let's take for example, John Chrysostom. Here are two quotes from his holimies:

In order then that the greatness of the benefits bestowed may not raise you too high, observe how he brings you down: “by grace you have been saved,” says he, “Through faith;” Then, that, on the other hand, our free-will be not impaired, he adds also our part in the work, and yet again cancels it, and adds, “And that not of ourselves.”

But this he calls God’s righteousness, that from faith, because it comes entirely from the grace from above, and because men are justified in this case, not by labors, but by the gift of God.

He sounds almost like Calvin. But now consider these quotes, from Chrysostom (from his homilies on I Cor. and Philippians):

Let us then give them aid and perform commemoration for them. For if the children of Job were purged by the sacrifice of their father, why do you doubt that when we too offer for the departed, some consolation arises to them? [For] God is wont to grant the petitions of those who ask for others. And this Paul signified saying, that in a manifold Person your gift towards us bestowed by many may be acknowledged with thanksgiving on your behalf (2 Cor. i. 11.). Let us not then be weary in giving aid to the departed, both by offering on their behalf and obtaining prayers for them: for the common Expiation of the world is even before us.

Mourn for those who have died in wealth, and did not from their wealth think of any solace for their soul, who had power to wash away their sins and would not. Let us all weep for these in private and in public, but with propriety, with gravity, not so as to make exhibitions of ourselves; let us weep for these, not one day, or two, but all our life. Such tears spring not from senseless passion, but from true affection. The other sort are of senseless passion. For this cause they are quickly quenched, whereas if they spring from the fear of God, they always abide with us. Let us weep for these; let us assist them according to our power; let us think of some assistance for them, small though it be, yet still let us assist them. How and in what way? By praying and entreating others to make prayers for them, by continually giving to the poor on their behalf.

Chrysostom writes of praying for the dead so that the living through their prayers and charity may affect the dead’s purification in the afterlife. (This is what the Church calls the “doctrine of purgatory,” which is merely an extension of the biblical doctrine of sanctification.)

In order to understand Catholic soteriology, you have to not think of "works" as "stuff you do to earn heaven." That's not the Catholic view. It is the view that the grace we receive changes us so that we may live by faith working through love. And it's purpose is to get heaven into us so that we be transformed to be prepared for heaven. And the mystery is that none of the merit is mine. It is entirely Christ's. This is what the Church teaches, and has always taught. You can read about it here:

lojahw said...

Dr. Beckwith, John Chrysostom’s fourth century support for prayers for the dead is interesting, but it is irrelevant to the “sacrament of Penance,” which the Council of Trent declared necessary to restore a penitent sinner to “justice.”

Have you considered the possibility that your reading of the Fathers “in light of the Church’s liturgical practices” is anachronistic? The first mention of church practice suggestive of the “sacrament of Penance” comes from the third century. Hence, your assertion that the ancient Christian world “quickly developed a sacramental life” must be qualified. Baptism and the Eucharist are the only church practices described in sacramental terms since apostolic times.

Likewise, there is no evidence that praying for the dead was part of the deposit of faith handed down by the apostles. Documentation of the practice among Christians first appears in the third century (the apocryphal [Jewish] 2 Maccabees notwithstanding). At that time, praying *to the dead* was rebuked by the church fathers, but, like other syncretistic practices, was later accepted by the Church.

Can you refute my understanding that the “sacrament of Penance” as necessary to restore a penitent sinner to “justice” was not part of the deposit of faith handed down by the apostles? If I’m right, the anathemas (by whatever definition you choose) declared by the Council of Trent on the subject should be null and void.

"Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 1:3)


Francis J. Beckwith said...

"Justice" means "rightly ordered." So, all you need need to do to show the sacrament of penance was a Christian requirement for an outward sign of repentance to the church so that God's grace may absolve one of post-baptismal sin.

It's clear from Paul's condemnation of the man having sex with his step mom that Paul presupposed a view of justice conceptually consistent with Trent's: The man's flesh had to die if he had a remote chance to see heaven and refused to repent in the here and now. And it was church's responsibility to pray on these matters and to carry out the justice if the man chose to repent. There's no indication that it's just between the man and his "personal Savior."

From Ignatius of Antioch (from the book I just recommended on this blog):

"For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. And as many as shall, in the exercise of penance, return into the unity of the Church, these, too, shall belong to God, that they may live according to Jesus Christ"

"For where there is division and wrath, God does not dwell. To all them that repent, the Lord grants forgiveness, if they turn in penitence to the unity of God, and to communion with the bishop"

(Letter to the Philadelphians 3, 10 [A.D. 110]). Remember, Ignatius was a disciple of the Apostle John. Unless you believe that the deposit of faith was bumbled that early, you have to take Ignatius seriously.

I suspect that the bumper on Corinthian horse and chariot did not have on it the sticker, "Christians aren't perfect; just forgiven." :-)

In any event, it seems reasonable to believe, as Catholics believe, that penance was there from the beginning. Now, if you maintain that because the penance found early on is not the more developed form one finds today, then turn about is fair play. In the early church there is no developed view of the Trinity, the Incarnation, or even the canon of Scripture. Ironically, in one sense, penance is earlier than the Trinity!.

I would love to go on dialoging with you on these matters. You're a bright guy who I enjoy writing to. However, I do have this full time job--being a professor--and have to get back to grading midterms and teaching! So, this will be my last reply on this thread.

I should say that the questions you raise are answered in several places on the website

lojahw said...

Dr. Beckwith,
Thank you for your kind comments. The problem with Trent’s anathemas regarding the sacrament of Penance is its insistence that a particular (formal and institutionalized) outward sign of repentance is asserted to be an absolute condition for the promise of Christ in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

I’ve shown that both Paul in Romans 4:1-6 and the early church fathers taught justification (i.e., being reckoned righteous by God) by faith apart from works. Ignatius of Antioch's letters and the early practices of the church are consistent with this teaching. Communion with leaders in the church is another, though related, topic. Regarding restoring a penitent sinner, Paul wrote in Galatians 6:1, “Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.” This is not addressed to the presbyteroi or episcopoi, but to all brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Council of Trent and Rome, by insisting on a particular outward sign of repentance, contradicts the Scriptural teaching and early church practice regarding repentance, confession, and absolution apart from a particular sacrament administered by a priest or bishop.

Blessings in Christ,
Lover of Jesus and His Word

AQuinault said...

Turkey Frank does this a lot. He takes mean spirited pleasure in trying to hurt people by 'psychoanalyzing' them (though as far as I know, he's a book store clerk and not a licensed psychiatrist), rather than interacting substantively with what they say. Kind of a mirror image of the Christian liberal, who often relies on ad hominem rather than substantive argumentation. Maybe he should change his name to Jerky Frank.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

What is "too funny" is that you apparently have no clue that Frank Turk was raised as a Catholic. Stop and think about that for a moment.

This is even funnier.

What a classic trope used by bigots throughout history, e.g., "I can't be anti-semitic, my best friend was Jewish" and "I can't be prejudiced against Catholics, I was raised a Catholic."

Obviously, nothing prevents a person from having a conversion experience and reviling the things he previously loved. In fact, often the convert has an incentive to be, how we say, "more Catholic than the Pope," or in a Calvinist's case, "more anti-Catholic than Calvin."

Finally, my experience is that the phrase "I know about Catholic doctrine because I was raised Catholic" is usually followed by the most muddle-headed caricature of Catholic doctrine.

Bigots are funny because they don't know how much of a self-caricature they are.

threegirldad said...


Feel free to head on over to Frank Turk's Debate Blog -- that is, if you're prepared to do more than simply toss out bald assertions about his understanding of Catholic doctrine.

Bigots are funny because they don't know how much of a self-caricature they are.

Yeah, the irony is just too thick.