Monday, August 31, 2009

Is the Catholic Church Semi-Pelagian?

That's the title of an outstanding blog entry by Tim Troutman at Called to Communion. Here's an excerpt (note omitted):
There are certain charges which are worthy of a defense only on account of their frequent repetition. If someone refers to a Calvinist as a hopeless determinist, the well rounded Calvinist might decline to defend such an uneducated attack after hearing it once or twice, but there is a point at which the accused party, for the benefit of onlookers who might be swept away by the table pounding, is well justified in offering a defense. He might dare to hope that the false accuser will correct his error but he does not expect it. His defense is for the benefit of those undecided....

...[T]he term “semi-Pelagianism” is vague. Generally on the lips of the accuser, what this term means is reducible to “anything which imparts to man a role in salvation greater than what John Calvin does.” If this is the definition, then we end the discussion here, “guilty” as charged. But what else might it mean? If Pelagianism means that salvation does not require grace, then semi-Pelagianism must mean we stand in semi-need of God’s grace, or rather, that grace accomplishes x% of salvation and man accomplishes the rest. But this is a false division of cooperative powers.

This error rests on the denial of the distinction between primary and secondary causes. If we say that a thing is only truly caused by its primary agent, then all actions are reducible to acts of God since God is the Prime Mover and everything that moves at all is moved as a result of His being. Therefore if we deny secondary causes, we cannot, with any intellectual respectability, deny absolute determinism. But if the universe is not absolutely determined, then secondary causes must be in play since, as we have said, all things, without exception, are results of God’s initial act as the Prime Mover.

Since we have admitted the existence of at least some secondary causes, i.e. human free will, in at least some actions, do we have any reason whatsoever to suppose that the secondary causal powers of man are strictly limited to actions which do not move us closer to God? We do not find support for this belief either in Scripture or in Church Tradition so it must be dismissed. If someone disagrees, they need only produce evidence of its existence in either of the two and my point will be refuted.

But what if the accuser agrees with secondary causal powers of man even in case of actions, such as faith,1 which lead us to salvation, but insists that grace is necessary for all of these actions and not just some of them? Then he agrees with the Catholic Church and should end his schism.

You can read the whole thing here.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Jimmy Akin on Indulgences

Published in 1994 under the title "A Primer on Indulgences," it is still one of the best accounts of indulgences. You can find it here.

August 28: Feast of St. Augustine

Because I was traveling on Friday, August 28, I failed to acknowledge the Feast of St. Augustine (AD 354-430). So, I am acknowledging it this evening of August 29 (I am presently in the Pacific Time Zone). Although St. Augustine is admired by many Reformed thinkers, such as R. C. Sproul, the Bishop of Hippo was unambiguously Catholic. In fact, it is clear from St. Augustine's writings that he would be much more at home at the Council of Trent than with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. As I write in Return to Rome:

St. Augustine, whose genius helped rid the Church of the Pelagian and semi-Pelagian heresies,[1] would not be welcomed in [the Evangelical Theological Society] or as a faculty member at virtually any evangelical seminary, because the Bishop of Hippo accepted the deuterocanonical books as part of the Old Testament canon,[2] the deposit of sacred tradition,[3] apostolic succession,[4] the gracious efficacy of the sacraments,[5] the Real Presence of the Eucharist,[6] baptismal regeneration, [7] and the infusion of God’s grace for justification.[8]

Notes
[1] St. Augustine, On the Proceedings of Pelagius (AD 417), available at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1505.htm (20 April 2008)
[2] St. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine (AD 397), 2.8.13, available at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/12022.htm (19 April 2008)
[3] "See, for example, the following: [T]he custom [of not rebaptizing converts] . . . may be supposed to have had its origin in apostolic tradition, just as there are many things which are observed by the whole Church, and therefore are fairly held to have been enjoined by the apostles, which yet are not mentioned in their writings" (St. Augustine, On Baptism, Against the Donatists 5:23[31] [A.D. 400], available at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/14085.htm [19 April 2008]). "As to those other things which we hold on the authority, not of Scripture, but of tradition, and which are observed throughout the whole world, it may be understood that they are held as approved and instituted either by the apostles themselves, or by plenary Councils, whose authority in the Church is most useful, e.g. the annual commemoration, by special solemnities, of the Lord's passion, resurrection, and ascension, and of the descent of the Holy Spirit from heaven, and whatever else is in like manner observed by the whole Church wherever it has been established." (St. Augustine, Letter 54, to Januarius, 1:1 [A.D. 400], available at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1102054.htm [19 April 2008]).
[4]“For if the lineal succession of bishops is to be taken into account, with how much more certainty and benefit to the Church do we reckon back till we reach Peter himself, to whom, as bearing in a figure the whole Church, the Lord said: `Upon this rock will I build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it!’….The successor of Peter was Linus, and his successors in unbroken continuity were these…. In this order of succession no Donatist bishop is found.” (St. Augustine, Letter 53, to Generosus, 1:2 [A.D. 400], available at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1102053.htm [19 April 2008])
[5]On the sacrament of baptism: “So the grace of baptism is not prevented from giving remission of all sins , even if he to whom they are forgiven continues to cherish hatred towards his brother in his heart. For the guilt of yesterday is remitted, and all that was before it, nay, even the guilt of the very hour and moment previous to baptism , and during baptism itself.” (St. Augustine, On Baptism, Against the Donatists 1:12[20] [A.D. 400], available at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/14081.htm [19 April 2008]). On the sacrament of confession and penance: "When you have been baptized, hold fast a good life in the commandments of God, that you may guard your Baptism even unto the end. I do not tell you that you will live here without sin ; but they are venial, without which this life is not. For the sake of all sins was Baptism provided; for the sake of light sins , without which we cannot be, was prayer provided. . . . Only, do not commit those things for which you must needs be separated from Christ's body: which be far from you! For those whom you have seen doing penance, have committed heinous things, either adulteries or some enormous crimes: for these they do penance. Because if theirs had been light sins , to blot out these daily prayer would suffice.. . . . In three ways then are sins remitted in the Church; by Baptism, by prayer, by the greater humility of penance; yet God does not remit sins but to the baptized. The very sins which He remits first, He remits not but to the baptized. When? when they are baptized. The sins which are after remitted upon prayer, upon penance, to whom He remits, it is to the baptized that He remits." (St. Augustine, Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed, 15,16 [A.D. 395], trans. Rev. C. L. Cornish, available at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1307.htm [19 April 2008])
[6] See for example, the following: “For He took upon Him earth from earth; because flesh is from earth, and He received flesh from the flesh of Mary. And because He walked here in very flesh, and gave that very flesh to us to eat for our salvation; and no one eats that flesh, unless he has first worshipped: we have found out in what sense such a footstool of our Lord's may be worshipped, and not only that we sin not in worshipping it, but that we sin in not worshipping..” (St. Augustine, Exposition on Psalm 99 [8], available at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1801099.htm [20 April 2008]). “`And was carried in His Own Hands:’ how `carried in His Own Hands’? Because when He commended His Own Body and Blood, He took into His Hands that which the faithful know ; and in a manner carried Himself, when He said, `This is My Body.’” (St. Augustine, Exposition on Psalm 34 [1], available at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1801034.htm [20 April 2008])
[7] “In three ways then are sins remitted in the Church; by Baptism, by prayer, by the greater humility of penance; yet God does not remit sins but to the baptized.” (St. Augustine, Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed, 15 [A.D. 395], trans. Rev. C. L. Cornish, available at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1307.htm [19 April 2008])
[8] “We run, therefore, whenever we make advance; and our wholeness runs with us in our advance (just as a sore is said to run when the wound is in process of a sound and careful treatment), in order that we may be in every respect perfect, without any infirmity of sin whatever,— a result which God not only wishes, but even causes and helps us to accomplish. And this God's grace does, in co-operation with ourselves, through Jesus Christ our Lord, as well by commandments, sacraments, and examples, as by His Holy Spirit also; through whom there is hiddenly shed abroad in our hearts…that love , “which makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered,” … until wholeness and salvation be perfected in us, and God be manifested to us as He will be seen in His eternal truth.” (St. Augustine, On Man’s Perfection in Righteousness, 20 [43] [A.D. 415], available at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1504.htm [20 April 2008])

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Church Fathers: A Door to Rome

(HT: Mark Shea)

That's the title of a blog post by the Rev. David Cloud on his website, Way of Life Literature. According to the Rev. Cloud, a Baptist minister:
Many people have walked into the Roman Catholic Church through the broad door of the “church fathers,” and this is a loud warning today when there is a widespread attraction to the “church fathers” within evangelicalism.

The Catholic apologetic ministries use the “church fathers” to prove that Rome’s doctrines go back to the earliest centuries. In the book Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic, David Currie continually uses the church fathers to support his position. He says, “The other group of authors whom Evangelicals should read ... is the early Fathers of the Church” (p. 4).

The contemplative prayer movement is built on this same weak foundation. The late Robert Webber, a Wheaton College professor who was one of the chief proponents of this back to the “church fathers” movement, said:

“The early Fathers can bring us back to what is common and help us get behind our various traditions ... Here is where our unity lies. ... evangelicals need to go beyond talk about the unity of the church to experience it through an attitude of acceptance of the whole church and an entrance into dialogue with the Orthodox, Catholic, and other Protestant bodies” (Ancient-Future Faith, 1999, p. 89).

The fact is that the “early Fathers” were mostly heretics!

The only genuine “church fathers” are the apostles and prophets their writings that were given by divine inspiration and recorded in the Holy Scripture. They gave us the “faith ONCE delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). The faith they delivered is able to make us “perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We don’t need anything beyond the Bible. The teaching of the “church fathers” does not contain one jot or tittle of divine revelation.

The term “church fathers” is a misnomer that was derived from the Catholic Church’s false doctrine of hierarchical church polity. These men were not “fathers” of the church in any scriptural sense and did not have any divine authority. They were merely church leaders from various places who have left a record of their faith in writing. But the Roman Catholic Church exalted men to authority beyond the bounds designated by Scripture, making them “fathers” over the churches located within entire regions and over the churches of the whole world.....

A more recent convert to Rome is FRANCIS BECKWITH, former president of the Evangelical Theological Society. In May 2007 he tendered his resignation from this organization after converting to Rome. His journey to Rome was sparked by reading the church fathers. He said, “In January, at the suggestion of a dear friend, I began reading the Early Church Fathers as well as some of the more sophisticated works on justification by Catholic authors. I became convinced that the Early Church is more Catholic than Protestant...” (“Evangelical Theological Society President Converts,” The Berean Call, May 7, 2007).

Again, he is correct in observing that the church fathers were very Catholic-like, but that proves nothing. The truth is not found in the church fathers but in the Bible itself.

This is a loud warning to those who have an ear to hear the truth. We don’t need to study the “church fathers.” We need to make certain that we are born again and have the indwelling Spirit as our Teacher (1 John 2:27), then we need to study the Bible diligently and walk closely with Christ and become so thoroughly grounded in the truth that we will not be led astray by the wiles of the devil and by all of the fierce winds of error that are blowing in our day.

“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Ephesians 4:14).

Read the whole thing here here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

C. S. Lewis Believed in Purgatory

From the Holy Souls Crusade website:

- C.S.Lewis, Letters To Malcom: Chiefly on Prayer, chapter 20, paragraphs 7-10, pages 108-109

"Of course I pray for the dead. The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me. And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden. At our age, the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best were unmentionable to him?

I believe in Purgatory.

Mind you, the Reformers had good reasons for throwing doubt on the 'Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory' as that Romish doctrine had then become.....

The right view returns magnificently in Newman's DREAM. There, if I remember it rightly, the saved soul, at the very foot of the throne, begs to be taken away and cleansed. It cannot bear for a moment longer 'With its darkness to affront that light'. Religion has claimed Purgatory.

Our souls demand Purgatory, don't they? Would in not break the heart if God said to us, 'It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy'? Should we not reply, 'With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I'd rather be cleaned first.' 'It may hurt, you know' - 'Even so, sir.'

I assume that the process of purification will normally involve suffering. Partly from tradition; partly because most real good that has been done me in this life has involved it. But I don't think the suffering is the purpose of the purgation. I can well believe that people neither much worse nor much better than I will suffer less than I or more. . . . The treatment given will be the one required, whether it hurts little or much.

My favorite image on this matter comes from the dentist's chair. I hope that when the tooth of life is drawn and I am 'coming round',' a voice will say, 'Rinse your mouth out with this.' This will be Purgatory. The rinsing may take longer than I can now imagine. The taste of this may be more fiery and astringent than my present sensibility could endure. But . . . it will [not] be disgusting and unhallowed."

St. Peter's Catholic Student Center at Baylor University

On August 23 I attended 9 pm Sunday mass at St. Peter's Catholic Student Center. Serving the Catholic students at Baylor, St. Peter's is adjacent to the university's campus. Because August 24 is the first day of the Fall Semester, I wanted to approach the new school year with an attitude of prayer and thanksgiving. After spending last year at the University of Notre Dame while on sabbatical, it's nice to be back at Baylor. I can't wait to get back into teaching. I will be teaching the courses this semester: Philosophy of Law and Critical Thinking.

During my year at Notre Dame, a Catholic Student Association (CSA) was formed at Baylor. According to the St. Peter's website, the CSA "Is the first non-baptist religious organization to be formed at Baylor University since its establishment in 1845." It even has a Facebook group!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The New Roman Missal

(HT: Ignatius Insight)

This, from the USCCB's website:

The Missale Romanum (the Roman Missal), the ritual text for the celebration of the Mass, was first promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970 as the definitive text of the reformed liturgy of the Second Vatican Council. A second edition followed in 1975.

Pope John Paul II issued a revised version of the Missale Romanum during the Jubilee Year 2000. The English translation of the revised Roman Missal is nearing completion, and the Bishops of the United States will vote on the final sections of the text this November. Among other things, the revised edition of the Missale Romanum contains prayers for the observances of recently canonized saints, additional prefaces for the Eucharistic Prayers, additional Votive Masses and Masses and Prayers for Various Needs and Intentions, and some updated and revised rubrics (instructions) for the celebration of the Mass. The English translation of the Roman Missal will also include updated translations of existing prayers, including some of the well–known responses and acclamations of the people.

This website has been prepared to help you prepare for the transition. As this site continues to be expanded, you will find helpful resources for the faithful, for the clergy, and for parish and diocesan leaders.

May this process of the implementation of the revised Roman Missal be a time of deepening, nurturing, and celebrating our faith through our worship and the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy.


You can access the UCSSB's Roman Missal website here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Exploring Christian Identity: Can You Be Catholic and Evangelical?

(Update: Apparently, not everyone is thrilled about my article. See, for instance, this commentary. File this under: "More Catholic than the Pope.")

Chis Castaldo, Pastor of Outreach and Church Planting at College Church (Wheaton, Illinois), is moderating my public dialogue with Timothy George on September 3 at Wheaton College (Edman Chapel, 7 pm). Below is a video promo of the event. It is produced by Pastor Castaldo. (He plays all the characters).


Speaking of Evangelical Catholicism, I just published an article in the Josephinum Journal of Theology, "Evangelical and Catholic." You can find it on my website here. The article is adapted from portions of Return to Rome. You can find out more about the Wheaton College event here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The new school year and Ex Corde Ecclesiae: On Catholic Universities

Next week the 2009-2010 school year begins for a great many universities and colleges in the United States. For those at Catholic institutions, an appropriate prelude to the year would be to read (or reread) John Paul II's Ex Corde Ecclesiae: On Catholic Universities. Here is an excerpt (citations and notes omitted) :

The primary mission of the Church is to preach the Gospel in such a way that a relationship between faith and life is established in each individual and in the socio-cultural context in which individuals live and act and communicate with one another. Evangelization means "bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new... It is a question not only of preaching the Gospel in ever wider geographic areas or to ever greater numbers of people, but also of affecting and, as it were, upsetting, through the power of the Gospel, humanity's criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life, which are in contrast with the Word of God and the plan of salvation."

By its very nature, each Catholic University makes an important contribution to the Church's work of evangelization. It is a living institutional witness to Christ and his message, so vitally important in cultures marked by secularism, or where Christ and his message are still virtually unknown. Moreover, all the basic academic activities of a Catholic University are connected with and in harmony with the evangelizing mission of the Church: research carried out in the light of the Christian message which puts new human discoveries at the service of individuals and society; education offered in a faith-context that forms men and women capable of rational and critical judgment and conscious of the transcendent dignity of the human person; professional training that incorporates ethical values and a sense of service to individuals and to society; the dialogue with culture that makes the faith better understood, and the theological research that translates the faith into contemporary language. "Precisely because it is more and more conscious of its salvific mission in this world, the Church wants to have these centres closely connected with it; it wants to have them present and operative in spreading the authentic message of Christ."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

St. Francis De Sales (1567-1622) on Purgatory

You can find it here. it is an excerpt from St. Francis' classic, The Catholic Controversy.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Novenas

EWTN has a web page of Novenas. You can find it here. And, what is a "Novena"? The EWTN page answers that question:
A novena is a nine-day period of private or public prayer to obtain special graces, to implore special favors, or to make special petitions. (Novena is derived from the Latin "novem", meaning nine.) As the definition suggests, the novena has always had more of a sense of urgency and neediness.

Nice Newman Resource

The works of John Henry Cardinal Newman can be found online at a website called The Newman Reader.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Must Theology Sit in the Back of the Secular Bus?

That's the title of my most recent academic article. It was just published in the special 25h anniversary issue of the Journal of Law & Religion. You can find my article here.

This is how the article begins (notes omitted):

Imagine that you are watching a hearing of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on television. Each member of the Committee is asking questions of, and in some cases interrogating, the president’s most recent nominee to the United States Supreme Court. She is an accomplished attorney with not only a law degree from an elite institution but also a doctorate in biochemistry and specialization in private practice on issues over which science and law overlap and intersect. For several years she has served on the federal bench on the D.C. circuit and has done so admirably, showing professional competence and jurisprudential insight that has become the envy of her peers, some of whom disagree with her conservative judicial philosophy. Over the years, she has published well-received articles in numerous law reviews and peer-reviewed science publications dealing with issues as wide ranging as the Daubert standard,1 the reliability of DNA testing in capital murder cases, and whether the Supreme Court’s holdings in its reproductive rights cases provide support for a constitutional right to clone oneself.

She is also a devout Roman Catholic and has published several law review articles critical of the Supreme Court’s reproductive rights jurisprudence, and in particular, the Court’s reluctance to make an argument on the question of when human life begins. In fact, in one article in particular, she offers her own argument by which she defends the Catholic view of the human person as a defeater to the right to abortion.

As the hearings proceed, the senators ask her a variety of questions about the most important court cases concerning equal protection, substantive due process, and criminal procedure. Several senators ask her questions about issues overlapping law and science and how some of them may play a part in future cases the Supreme Court may hear. She smartly and prudently declines to offer any answers about specific legal disputes, though in the process of her modest reluctance, she reveals a deep and sophisticated understanding of the sciences in which she was trained and has done research. The senators are impressed.

They now move on to questions about her views on abortion and how they are informed by her religious beliefs. And then the requisite inquiry is posed: Are you going to allow your deeply held personal religious beliefs to influence your judgments on the bench? Such a question, of course, is not asked of the nominee’s beliefs about biochemistry or the issues in which law and science intersect on which she has opined, even though on those beliefs and issues, as in the question of abortion, there are a wide variety of informed and thoughtful perspectives. And yet none of these beliefs and issues are described as “deeply held personal beliefs,” as if they were irreducibly subjective opinions about which rational deliberation is not possible. It seems safe to say that it would never cross a senator’s mind to ask the question of whether the nominee’s background in science would influence her judicial opinions on the Supreme Court. And it would not really matter if she had instead possessed identical expertise in history, political science, psychiatry, or zoology. For a sitting senator would be thought foolish to imply that there was something amiss with a judge who brought the resources of her education, training, and knowledge to bear on her opinions in appropriate cases, whose end we all agree should be on her opinions in appropriate cases, whose end we all agree should be justice.

This sort of thinking—exhibited by the fictional senator in this story—is ubiquitous in federal court opinions that address the nature of religious beliefs as well as those views and beliefs that are informed and shaped by a citizen’s religious tradition. This thinking is also found in the works of legal and political philosophers who argue that political views and policy proposals that have their source in a citizen’s or a government official’s theological tradition should be excluded from political or legal consideration unless the religious believer has a public justification that could in principle be accepted by those whose liberty the policy is intended to limit. They argue that such views and proposals, because of their source, are inconsistent with liberal democracy’s commitment to state neutrality on matters theological. Some, in fact, have maintained that this understanding of liberal democracy serves as the philosophical justification of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Although this understanding is widely embraced, I want to argue in this paper that there are good reasons to call it into question. However, because I cannot adequately present in the space allotted me the full orbed assessment that this point of view deserves, my case is merely suggestive of the conclusion that I believe is correct, namely, that there is no sufficient reason to exclude theologically informed public policy proposals and that the federal courts err in offering a flawed understanding of the epistemological standing of religious belief. To make my case, I first address two questions—(1) What does theological knowledge look like?; (2) What do the federal courts say about theological claims? I then offer a brief analysis of one issue over which the question of theological knowledge has been raised in both the literature and the public square; (3) the permissibility and federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. I also use this issue as a point of departure to briefly discuss what I believe is an unjustified privileging of non-theistic understandings of knowledge.


You can read the whole thing here. It is part of a larger project I was working on during my year at Notre Dame (2008-09) as the Mary Ann Remick Senior Visiting Fellow in the Notre Dame Center for Ethics & Culture. I am still working on this project and hope to have a book manuscript to submit to a publisher in the late Fall.

(Originally posted on What's Wrong With the World)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Two-Year Anniversary of My Wife's Reception into the Catholic Church

Two years ago today--August 16, 2007--my wife, Frankie, was received into the Catholic Church at 5 pm Vigil Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Bellmead, Texas. She, by the way, is a much better Catholic than I am.

Friday, August 14, 2009

InterVarsity's Doctrinal Basis and Justification

The Evangelical campus ministry, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, revised its doctrinal basis in 2000. As a Catholic, I do not see anything in its portion on justification with which I would disagree. Here it is the section in question:

[We believe in] justification by God's grace to all who repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.

[We believe in] the indwelling presence and transforming power of the Holy Spirit, who gives to all believers a new life and a new calling to obedient service.

Thoughts?

(Update: I corrected the ambiguity of the two statements. In the original, the entire doctrinal basis begins with "We believe in" with a series of statements underneath)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"Heart of Catechesis" website


(HT to Mark Shea). You can find it here. According to the site,

HeartOfCatechesis.com has been established to work toward an authentic renewal of the ministry of catechesis as envisioned by the Second Vatican Council and the catechetical documents of the Magisterium. The website exists to offer informational resources for the personal formation of catechetical leaders, catechists, and all others involved in the ministry of handing the faith.

All resources on HeartofCatechesis.org are rooted in an understanding that catechesis can be properly renewed only if it is centered on the Person of Jesus Christ. All catechetical efforts must be oriented toward communion with Jesus Christ and participation in the life of the Most Holy Trinity. The website draws its inspiration in a particular way from these words of Pope John Paul II:

[A]t the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, "the only Son from the Father...full of grace and truth," who suffered and died for us and who now, after rising, is living with us forever.... Accordingly, the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity.

Baylor Professor, Michael P. Foley, on EWTN Live, August 12

Today, my Baylor colleague, Michael P. Foley, is scheduled to be a guest on EWTN Live, hosted by Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S. J. The show starts at 8 pm EDT. Fr. Pacwa and Mike will be discussing "Parenting and St. Augustine's Confessions."

Mike is the author of Why Don't Catholics Eat on Friday?: The Catholic Origin to Just About Everything (Palgrave MacMillan, 2005) as well as the editor of the Hackett edition of St. Augustine's Confessions (2/e 2007).

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

2007 Interview on EWTN's The Journey Home

On September 24, 2007 I was interviewed by Marcus Grodi on EWTN's program, The Journey Home. You can watch the episode here.

I am scheduled to appear again on The Journey Home on September 14, 2009. It will be a special live open-line call-in episode celebrating the 12th anniversary of the program. I am honored and humbled to have the received the invitation.

For more on Marcus Grodi and his work, go to the website of The Coming Home Network International.

Monday, August 10, 2009

"The Catholic Channel" Interview, August 11, 9:40 am EDT

On August 11 I will be a guest on Gus Lloyd's "Seize the Day" on Sirius-XM's "The Catholic Channel" (channel 159). It is scheduled for 9:40 am EDT. I will be talking about Return to Rome.

"The Catholic Channel" is part of the Archdiocese of New York. It is broadcast online to 18.5 million listeners throughout the continental US, Canada and around the world.

Two Book Recommendations: Fr. Crean and Professor Hart

This summer has been one of profitable reading for me. Among the many books I have read are two that are particularly outstanding. Their virtue lies in the skillful, informed, and clear way they dismantle the case for unbelief made by a small cluster of writers that has come to be known as "The New Atheists." (To paraphrase Peter Townsend, "Meet the new atheism, same as the old atheism," except that the old atheism was far more sophisticated and understanding of the gravity of what it was rejecting. When you move from Bertrand Russell to Richard Dawkins, you're not trading up).


I highly recommend God Is No Delusion: A Refutation of Richard Dawkins by Thomas Crean, O. P. (Ignatius Press, 2007) and Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies by David Bentley Hart (Yale University Press, 2009). Fr. Crean does yeoman's work by offering a largely philosophical and theological response to the new atheists, and yet it is fully accessible to non-specialists. Professor Hart takes up the task of dismantling the sophomoric historical narrative of the new atheists. Neither author suffers fools, which makes for some entertaining reading as well. Both authors have been interviewed about their books. You can listen to John J. Miller's NRO interview of Professor Hart here. Ignatius Press has published an interview with Fr. Crean, which you can find here. Enjoy.
(Originally posted on First Thoughts)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Mark Shea on The Journey Home, Monday, August 10, 2009


My friend, Mark Shea, will appear on EWTN's The Journey Home on Monday evening (Aug. 10), 8 pm (EDT). I suspect that he will say a few things about his recently published three-volume set on The Blessed Mother.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The End of Secularism by Hunter Baker


At the end of this month, Crossway Books is set to release The End of Secularism. It is authored by Hunter Baker, who is presently Director of Strategic Planning and Associate Provost at Houston Baptist University (HBU), where he teaches in the Department of Government. Hunter was my graduate assistant for two years (2003-2005) while he was earning his Ph.D. (in religion, politics, and society) at Baylor University. He also worked for then-Baylor President Robert B. Sloan, Jr., who now serves as President of HBU.

This is a terrific book, and comes out of Hunter's doctoral dissertation. (Full disclosure: I served on Hunter's dissertation committee). Here's my endorsement as it appears on the publisher's website:

"Hunter Baker is a gifted writer who knows how to communicate the issue of secularism to an audience that desperately needs to hear a critical though winsome voice on this matter. In many ways, the book is a twenty-first-century sequel to the late Richard John Neuhaus's classic, The Naked Public Square. Baker understands the issues that percolate beneath the culture wars. They are not merely political but theological and philosophical, and they are rarely unpacked in an articulate way so that the ordinary citizen can gain clarity. Baker offers his readers that clarity."

Others endorsing the book include David S. Dockery (President, Union University), Robert A. Sirico (President, Acton Institute), Russell D. Moore (Dean, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), and Jennifer Roback Morse (Founder and President, The Ruth Institute).

I am so proud of Hunter and what he has accomplished. His years at Baylor were some of the most tumultuous in the school's history. And because he was my grad assistant and worked closely with President Sloan, and had the temerity to come to our defense in several online publications, he was at the receiving end of several incredibly unfair, uncharitable, and unChristian attacks. Happily, those days seem like a distant memory. And Hunter has more than survived. He is now thriving at Houston Baptist University, under the leadership of one of the great visionaries in Christian higher education, Robert Sloan.

(Originally posted on First Thoughts) (Link to The End of Secularism on amazon.com is here)

Does N. T. Wright's theology lead to Catholicism?

Taylor Marshall answers this question on his blog here. He writes:
I started reading N.T. Wright at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia) and along the way through my hiatus as an Anglican priest. I believe that he provided the necessary paradigm shift for me to appreciate the nuances of the Council of Trent regarding justification.

N.T. Wright is a good enough biblical theologian to realize that Paul didn’t teach personal salvation by way of an imputation of an alien righteousness. That’s why the Anglican bishop has received so much attention – he’s a Protestant writing like a Catholic.

Some earnest Protestants are now scratching their heads and saying to themselves: “You know, everything we’ve always assumed that Paul taught isn’t actually articulated by Paul. Maybe it’s time to rethink the entire systematic theology that we (Protestants) erected in the 16th-17th century.”

If you buy into Wright’s covenantal realism, then you’ve already taken three steps toward the Catholic Church. Keep following the trail an you’ll be Catholic. Salvation is sacramental, transformational, communal, and eschatological. Sound good? You’ve just assented to the Catholic Council of Trent.

It’s almost as if Wright dug deeply into Paul’s writings until finally he came to a door. When he opened the door, to everyone’s surprise, he found that he was on the other side of Wittenburg’s door.

If you’re ready to see what the Catholic Church truly believes about justification (and not what Michael Horton and R.C. Sproul say that we believe), click here for the Sixth Session of Council of Trent on Justification.

Friday, August 7, 2009

James Allen Show Return to Rome Interview - August 8, 9 pm MST

Following in the footsteps of my What's Wrong With the World blog brethren Ed Feser and Lydia McGrew, I will be a guest on the James Allen Show. It will be broadcast Saturday August 8 at 9 pm MST (that's 9 pm PDT, 11 pm CDT, and 12 am EDT). Mr. Allen will be interviewing me about my book Return to Rome. (On right: if Return to Rome were a comic book).

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

August 4: Feast Day of St. John Vianney (1786-1859)

Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed this A Year for Priests (starting 19 June 2009). One of the greatest priests was St. John Vianney, whose feast day is today, August 4. Here is what catholic.org says about him:
St. John Vianney, Priest (Patron of priests) Feast day - August 4 Universally known as the "Cure of Ars)," St. John Mary Vianney was ordained a priest in 1815. Three years later he was made parish priest of Ars, a remote French hamlet, where his reputation as a confessor and director of souls made him known throughout the Christian world. His life was one of extreme mortification.

Accustomed to the most severe austerities, beleaguered by swarms of penitents, and besieged by the devil, this great mystic manifested a imperturbable patience. He was a wonderworker loved by the crowds, but he retained a childlike simplicity, and he remains to this day the living image of the priest after the heart of Christ.

He heard confessions of people from all over the world for the sixteen hours each day. His life was filled with works of charity and love. It is recorded that even the staunchest of sinners were converted at his mere word. He died August 4, 1859, and was canonized May 31, 1925.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Houston Baptist's The City and "Evangelical Catholicity"

Houston Baptist University publishes this wonderful new periodical called The CIty. (Full disclosure: I am one of its advisory editors).

In the Winter 2008 issue, Matthew Lee Anderson, published an insightful essay, "The New Evangelical Scandal." My good friend, Professor John Mark Reynolds (of Biola University), and I were invited to write responses. They have just been published in the recently released Summer 2009 issue. My article, entitled "Evangelical Catholicity," is accessible online here. (You can find Professor Reynold's piece online here). The following is an excerpt from my article:

I need to make a confession. I am not entirely comfortable offering an assessment of an article with the title, “The New Evangelical Scandal.” It is not that I do not think I am qualified for the task. Rather, as the former president of the Evangelical Theological Society who resigned his post within days after returning to the Catholic Church of his youth, I suspect that some readers will think that I am more adept at scandalizing Evangelicals than providing them with any insights about Matthew Lee Anderson’s well-crafted essay. But that is a false dilemma. I am fully capable of accomplishing both in one sitting.

Nevertheless, I write with deep affection and appreciation for my Evangelical friends and what they have taught me over the years. I am convinced that if not for the Holy Spirit working through the many gifted and devoted Christian scholars and teachers in Evangelical Protestantism, some of whom I have had the privilege to know, love, and study under, my present faith would be significantly diminished. Their tenacious defense and practice of Christian orthodoxy is what has sustained and nourished so many of us who have found our way back to the Church of our youth. Thus, for me, as well as for many other Catholics, a diminished or theologically heterodox Evangelicalism that strikes at the movement’s catholicity is bad for Christianity. For it is that catholicity that kept many of us spiritually afloat when we—in our desire to follow Jesus—drifted from Rome but not from Christ.

What I mean by Evangelicalism’s catholicity is its traditional allegiance to classical Christian orthodoxy and all that it entails about the good, the true, and the beautiful, including its commitment to the authority of Scripture and the veracity and normativity of the Catholic creeds. This is why if Evangelicalism is to survive, it has to grow up and not “emerge.” It needs the wisdom of David Wells’s The Courage to Be Protestant rather than the beatnik aphorisms of Donald Miller’s Oprah-fied narrative, Blue Like Jazz. It needs more Augustine and less Pelagius, and a theological and pastoral leadership that understands that it is not above its pay grade to suggest to its people that a purpose-driven life requires a purpose-driven death....

According to Anderson, the young evangelicals are questioners: “For previous generations of evangelicals, questioning one’s faith was anathema. Now, it is a rite of passage, necessary for maturation and perfectly acceptable to God. It is, after all, part of the journey toward authentic faith.” As a philosophy professor, I love questions and questioners. I encourage my students to think critically about their faith. Jesus himself was the master questioner, always asking just the right question to the right people at just the right time. But the young evangelicals are selective, self-serving, questioners, just like their Baby Boomer grandparents. They have bumper stickers on their car saying “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries” and “Question Authority,” while not realizing that the truth of the first requires that you not question the driver’s authority. So, what the bumper should have is just one sticker that asserts, “Question everyone’s authority except mine.”

You can read the whole thing here. And you can access Professor Reynolds' essay here.

(Originally posted on First Thoughts)

Ignatius Press Super-Sale

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Catholicism, Faith and Works: Excerpts from Return to Rome

On What's Wrong With the World, there's an interesting discussion on faith and works and the parts they play in the theologies of Catholicism and Protestantism. Other than posting the original entry, I have said little in the combox. For this reason, I am posting here my understanding of the issue, as it appeared in sections of Return to Rome (notes and emphases omitted):
What is the Reformed doctrine of forensic justification? It is the view that one is made right, or justified by God, as a consequence of God’s gratuitously imputing to one Jesus’s righteousness. By dying on the cross in our stead and thus for our sins, Jesus paid the price to God for the punishment we deserve, eternal separation from him. One is justified at the moment one accepts Christ at conversion. But this acceptance, an act of faith on the part of the believer, is itself the work of God. Thus, justification is entirely a consequence of God’s grace. Accordingly, at conversion one is assured of salvation, for there is nothing that one can do or not do to lose or gain one’s redemption. [It should be noted that Luther seemed to believe that a Christian may fall from grace and “lose salvation.” How this squares with a forensic view of justification is unclear. This is why I believe that Calvin’s approach is more coherent. See, for example, Luther’s commentary on the fifth chapter of Galatians in Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, trans. Theodore Graebner (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1949; originally published in 1535), 194–216]. But the grace one receives is legal or forensic. This means that grace is not real stuff that changes nature, but merely the name given to God’s graciousness by legally accounting to us Christ’s righteousness. This is why it is called the imputation, rather than an infusion, of God’s grace. Sanctification, or as [Alister] McGrath calls it, regeneration, is a consequence of one’s conversion, the internal work of the Holy Spirit in one’s Christian journey. Good works, the exercise of the Christian virtues, and the change in one’s character over time are the natural outgrowth of one’s justification. But justification and sanctification are different events, though the latter, which extends over the lifetime of the converted sinner, follows from the former in the life of the authentic Christian. Although McGrath maintains that the Reformed distinction between justification and regeneration is only notional, it is the understanding of justification as exclusively forensic that requires this notional distinction. Thus, even if the distinction is merely notional, the idea that required it, “the Reformed understanding of the nature of justification” (i.e., forensic justification), is, according to McGrath, “a genuine theological novum.”

When I got around to reading the Church Fathers, the Reformation doctrine of justification was just not there, as [Norman] Geisler, [Ralph] McKenzie, and McGrath candidly admit. To be sure, salvation by God’s grace was there. To be sure, the necessity of faith was there as well. And to be sure, a believer’s “works” apart from God’s grace was decried. But what was present was a profound understanding of how saving faith was not a singular event that took place “on a Sunday,” to quote a famous Gospel song. Rather, saving faith, entirely the consequence of God’s grace, begins with one’s initial conversion, which incorporates one into the family of God. But at that point the journey is just beginning. For one then exercises one’s faith, itself a gift of God’s grace, in acts of charity, the spiritual disciplines, and prayer as well as in the partaking of the sacraments—all this in order to commune with God to receive his unmerited grace to conform one into the image of Christ. According to this view, justification refers not only to the Christian’s initial entrance into the family of God at baptism—which is administered for the remission of sins—but to the intrinsic work of both the infusion of that grace at baptism and all the subsequent graces that work in concert to transform the Christian from the inside out. It is in and through this ongoing transformation that one is made justified, in the same sense of being made righteous or rightly-ordered, and thus gifted to share in the divine life of Christ. Consequently, justification and sanctification are not different events, one extrinsic and the other intrinsic, as the Reformers taught. Rather, “sanctification” is the ongoing intrinsic work of justifying, or making rightly-ordered, the Christian by means of God’s grace, the same grace that intrinsically changed the believer at the moment of her initial “justification” (i.e., at baptism) into an adopted child of the Father. For the Church Fathers, as it seems to me obvious from Scripture (see chapter 6), justification is not only a matter of you getting into heaven, but also, and more importantly, a matter of getting heaven into you. This, it turns out, is the view of justification taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It seemed to me that the chief distinction between the Protestant view of justification on the one hand, and the Catholic and Church Fathers’ view on the other, rests on whether Christ’s grace is infused or merely imputed at the moment one becomes a Christian at baptism and/or conversion....

The beautiful articulation of God’s grace that one finds in these Fathers... is elegantly tied together in the account of grace and merit that one finds in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man’s free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man’s merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit.

My study of the Fathers led me to reexamine the Canons of the Council of Orange (AD 529), which, with papal sanction, rejected as heretical Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism. Having its origin in the Catholic monk Pelagius (ca. 354–ca. 420/440), the first heresy affirms that human beings do not inherit Adam’s sin (and thus denies the doctrine of original sin) and by their free will may achieve salvation without God’s grace. On the other hand, semi-Pelagianism maintains that a human being, though weakened by original sin, may make the initial act of will toward achieving salvation prior to receiving the necessary assistance of God’s grace. The Council of Orange, in contrast, argued that Adam’s original sin is inherited by his progeny and can be removed only by the sacrament of Baptism.

By the means of Baptism God’s unmerited grace is infused for the remission of sins. Then the Christian’s sanctification continues throughout his lifetime, entirely the work of the infusion of grace with which the Christian cooperates, for the Christian “does nothing good for which God is not responsible, so as to let him do it.” Even though Protestant thinkers sometimes portray the Council of Orange’s canons as a sort of paleo-Reformed document, it is the Reformation notion of imputed righteousness that, ironically, puts the Reformers partially in the Pelagian camp. This is because the Reformers and Pelagians agree that God’s infused grace is not necessary for justification.....

[A] Christian’s good works are performed in order that the grace that God has given us may be lived out so that we may become more like Christ.....The Catholic already believes that he is an adopted child of God wholly by God’s grace. For the practicing Catholic, good works, including participating in the sacraments, works of charity, and prayer, are not for the purpose of earning heaven. For good works are not meant to pay off a debt in the Catholic scheme of things. Rather, good works prepare us for heaven by shaping our character and keeping us in communion with God so that we may be “holy and blameless and irreproachable before him” (Col. 1:22)....

Once I abandoned methodological Protestantism, I could not find the substance of the Reformed view of justification in my reading of the New Testament without artificially forcing the text into Protestant categories. To be sure, I was fully aware how Protestant theologians made their case, and I was capable of following their reasoning. But I no longer found their case convincing. Moreover, the Reformed distinction between justification and sanctification, though seemingly defensible in light of certain biblical texts when isolated and explained by Reformed theologians, just could not be sustained in light of the entirety of the New Testament canon. Add to this the historical novelty of the Reformed doctrine of forensic justification as well as the development of sacraments, practices, and doctrines in both the Eastern and Western Churches that were totally oblivious to the Reformed view, and it seemed to me that Protestantism’s view of justification had an enormous burden that it could not meet.

Robert Wilken writes that “any effort to mount an interpretation of the Bible that ignores its first readers is doomed to end
up with a bouquet of fragments that are neither the book of the church nor the imaginative wellspring of Western literature, art
and music. Uprooted from the soil that feeds them, they are like cut flowers whose vivid colors have faded.” Thus, it did not surprise me that when I read the Catechism of the Catholic Church it seemed to tie together the scriptures and the Church Fathers in a far more elegant, rich, multilayered, and convincing way than could any Protestant account.

This is just a brief account of my understanding of the theological issues. It is not a case for why I came to believe that the Catholic view offers a better account of the Scriptural data. That is something I do in chapter 6 of Return to Rome. If you want to read that, you'll have to buy the book!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Can the Rhine pour into the Tiber 'neath the sweep of the Wittenburg door?

The Rev. Russell E. Saltzman has authored a remarkable essay published on First Things' On the Square (31 July 2009), "An Ecumenical Moment for One."

A Lutheran pastor in Kansas City, the Rev. Saltzman laments his denomination's (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) readiness to bless same-sex unions and to allow those in same-sex unions to be ordained to the pastorate. He anticipates that this will occur at the ELCA's forthcoming meeting in Minneapolis, 17-23 August 2009.

After entertaining several options for recalcitrant Lutheran congregations such as his own, he offers this possibility in his concluding three paragraphs:
Frankly, the creation of one more Lutheran church body in America is a dauntingly depressive possibility. I’m not entirely certain I want anything to do with it . . . unless we’re talking about a ministerium organized to open dialogue on becoming a Roman Catholic affiliate, congregations, pastors, the whole caboodle, eventually seeking full communion with the bishop of Rome. If Rome cooperates, this ought to be pretty easy. Just think of us as inactive members seeking reinstatement. In my congregation, an officially inactive member is welcomed back to full fellowship by making a contribution and receiving Holy Communion, and sometimes we’ve been known to even skip the contribution part. Couldn’t the Church of Rome handle that? There might be a few subsidiary issues to settle, but get us inside first and everything else becomes manageable. What is needed here is a brave archbishop or two, together taking cognizance of what is about to happen to the ELCA, and stepping forward as potential shepherds. Can’t really call it stealing sheep if the previous shepherd has run off, can you?

No, I’m not being facetious. Not altogether. The original intent of the sixteenth century Reformers wasn’t to start a new church but to be a witness for evangelical reform within the one church. Our Lutheran confessional documents—notably the Augsburg Confession of 1530—forcefully argues that nothing Lutherans taught was contrary to the faith of the church catholic, nor even contrary to that faith held by the Church of Rome. As it has happened, much to our Lutheran chagrin, late twentieth century Rome itself become a better witness to an evangelical gospel than early twenty-first century Lutherans have proved capable of being. And for all the radical Lutheran polemic coming after Augsburg—you know, about the pope being the latest anti-Christ sitting on the throne of the whore of Babylon—truth is, these days, I get far less trouble from the bishop of Rome than I get from my own bishop.

Some time in the mid-1980s Richard John Neuhaus told me—with no little optimism, I might add—that fifty Lutheran pastors and their congregations seeking fellowship with Rome would become an ecumenical moment. After he himself became Roman Catholic following formation of the ELCA he lowered the number to a more modest twenty-five. Facing the August convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and its inevitable aftermath, I’m wondering, how about one?

You can read the whole thing here. For Lutherans entertaining the same possibility, let me suggest the 95-page essay authored by my friend, Robert C, Koons, Professor of Philosophy (University of Texas), "A Lutheran's Case for Roman Catholicism."

(Originally published on First Thoughts)

Book Recommendation: Knowing Christ Today by Dallas Willard


About two months ago Harper Collins sent me a gift copy of Dallas Willard's new book, Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge. With so many books to read this summer, I thought I would put off reading it until the Fall. But about two weeks ago I came across Stan Guthrie's review of Willard's book in which Guthrie quotes from a piece I published in First Things' On the Square. It is an essay in which I offer an assessment of Notre Dame's awarding an honorary doctorate to President Barack Obama.

In that piece I make these comments, which Guthrie quotes in his review:
Unless the university does not believe that the Church's understanding of the moral law is true and knowable, it can no more in good conscience award an honorary doctorate of laws to a lawyer who rejects the humanity of the proper subjects of law than it could in good conscience award an honorary doctorate in science to a geocentric astronomer who rejects the deliverances of the discipline he claims to practice.

At some point, a Christian university must recognize that the truth it claims to know matters, even if the truth is unpopular, and even if the propagation and celebration of that truth may put one's community at odds with those persons and centers of influence and power that dispense prestige and authority in our culture.

Willard, a philosophy professor at the University of Southern California, overtly defends what I merely suggest in my piece: the loss of confidence in theological truths in both inside and outside of Christian communities is the result of the academic and popular culture abandoning the idea that theological traditions, and moral notions deeply connected to them, can be real and trustworthy sources of knowledge.

So, when I read Guthrie's review, I thought I should read Willard's book as soon as possible. For it seemed from the review that what Willard is saying is similar to some things I have been thinking about over the past couple of years concerning some of the issues that deeply divide Americans, e.g., abortion, homosexuality, embryonic stem-cell research, etc. (See, for example, my forthcoming article in the Journal of Law and Religion {“Must Theology Always Sit in the Back of the Secular Bus?: The Federal Courts' View of Religion and Its Status As Knowledge'] and my recently published article in Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought & Culture ["Faith, Reason, and the Christian University: What Pope John Paul II Can Teach Christian Academics"]). Although Willard is an ordained Baptist minister, much of what he writes will resonate with Catholics who are familiar with similar ideas found in the writings of John Henry Cardinal Newman (e.g., The Idea of a University) and Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) (e.g., Truth and Tolerance).

Willard also extols the importance of the spiritual disciplines--such as contemplative prayer, solitude and silence, fasting, confession, and works of charity--in the allowing of God's unmerited grace to inwardly transform us into the image of Christ. He writes: "Spiritual disciplines are things we can do to increase our receptivity to grace. Grace is God acting in our lives to accomplish what we cannot do on our own.... These practices are not ways of earning favor from or impressing either God or other people. They are simply wise ways of opening ourselves to the `Presence" ever more fully. They are avenues of knowing Christ now." (p. 159) This is very close to the view of grace presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which in one place states:
The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man's free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man's merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit....

Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God's wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions.

There are two or three places in the book where Catholics will part ways with Willard, but they are so minor one may not even catch them. In any event, I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in knowing what it means to think of theology as knowledge and what it means to apply that understanding to one's walk with Christ.