Friday, October 30, 2015

On the Condemnation of Error and the Grace of God

When asked to comment on the paragraphs of the Relatio Finalis which treat the matter of the so-called "divorced and re-married" and permission to Holy Communion, Cardinal George Pell remarked:
There's nothing in the paragraphs as they stand that is heretical or false doctrine or advocating a false practice.
Do you feel comforted? Me neither.

The Chinese have a saying:

(bù jìn zé tuì)
To fail to advance is to retreat.

That is to say, if you are not advancing into enemy territory, if you are not capturing his troops, cutting off his supply lines and destroying his infrastructure, if you are not in some way compromising his ability to conduct war, you are losing.

Granted, the heretics and apostates attending the 2015 Synod were held in check insofar as they were prevented from injecting outright heresy into the Relatio Finalis. A great catastrophe was averted, and for that we should be thankful. But merely defending the truth, while absolutely necessary, is not enough to win this battle. The opposing error must be ruthlessly and relentlessly condemned, and those who proffer it obstinately must be excommunicated, anathematized, cursed and damned. Upholding truth and condemning error are two sides of the same coin; to attempt the one without committing equally to the other is to fail in both.

"But," I hear someone whine, "we can't do that, as it will drive people away from the Church. After all, as St. Francis de Sales said, 'You catch more flies with honey than vinegar'."

With all due respect to that great Saint: Offering honey to flies has brought us little more than an infestation of maggots.

Snark aside: If you are genuinely concerned that the condemnation of error could drive people away from the Church, I would like to familiarize you with a Catholic doctrine which has received far too little attention over the last 50 years: the Universality of Grace.

(As it seems full disclosure is all the rage these days: I do not possess a Ph.D. in theology. I'm just a Catholic blogger, and the following is my opinion.)

The doctrine of the Universality of Grace can be summarized in four short statements (all of which can be found, with ample source material, in Ludwig Ott's classic Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pp. 238-242):
  • Despite men's sins, God truly and earnestly desires the salvation of all men.
  • God gives all the just sufficient grace for the observation of the Divine Commandments.
  • God gives all the faithful who are sinners sufficient grace for conversion.
  • God gives all innocent unbelievers sufficient grace to achieve eternal salvation.

We hear much these days regarding God's desire to see all men saved from sin and the damnation it rightly deserves. Pope Francis, for example, brings it up at nearly every opportunity - something which is, in itself, perfectly laudable. But we hear virtually nothing of the corollary of this truth, i.e. that God always and everywhere gives everyone the sufficient grace they require in order to observe His Commandments, repent of their sins and seek out the means for achieving eternal salvation. This means that everything a person needs in the way of grace to eventually attain heaven is given to him in precisely that measure which he requires, and no one on the Day of Judgment will be able to say that God did not provide him with the sufficient grace to attain sainthood. In other words, if people fail to observe God's Commandments, repent of their sins and seek out the means for achieving salvation, they ultimately have no one to blame but themselves. Not me, not you, and certainly not God. (Which casts an entirely different light on the dogma extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, but that's another conversation for another day.)

But, what if someone takes offence at the words or actions of a Catholic?

Well, what of it? Are we to suppose that a layman or prelate who strongly condemns sodomy, adultery, pedophilia or any such sins, and thereby offends the sensibilities of another, could possibly thwart the will of almighty God in ensuring that such a person receives sufficient grace to effect his conversion? Not even the devil himself can accomplish such a feat. How, then, could any effort on our part bring about the same? If God always gives sufficient grace - and He does - then, regardless of whatever circumstances a person may find himself in, failure to attain heaven falls to him and his unwillingness to cooperate with that grace. Having an abusive father, an alcoholic mother, or a perverted uncle - or even, heaven forbid, a pedophile priest - does not grant you a Get Out of Jail Free card. It's on you and you alone to respond to God's gratuitous gift of grace.

But what of scandal? If, by speaking plainly regarding sin and forcefully in the condemnation of error, we drive people away from the Church, are we not effecting evil by our actions and thus guilty of giving scandal?

Hardly. Scandal is an action which is evil in itself and performed with the intent to bring about another's spiritual ruin. If your condemnation of sin occasions another person's either leaving the Church or refusing to enter her, the evil resides not in your having condemned the sin - which is always and everywhere good - but in the person's inordinate love of the same.

So, for heaven's sake, stop worrying about "offending" people by speaking plainly and emphatically in the condemnation of sin and error. To do so is to doubt both the sufficiency of God's grace as well as man's freedom and the moral culpability which results from it.

St. Anthony of Padua, Hammer of Heretics
proving that love of Christ requires hatred of error
since AD 1195


  1. Thoughtful post, thanks.

    Oh, how I wish I could speak out more. The opportunity doesn't seem to present itself much. Most of the people I'm exposed to, neighbours, and acquaintances, would fall over backwards were I to speak my mind on important topics. The conversation in general is "what I bought yesterday" or "what I watched yesterday" or what the kids did yesterday."

    Husband writes very clear letters to our local fish wrapper but most don't make it into the paper. Our voices are silenced.

    But you, my dear man, keep up your wonderful work. Your posts from older books have such value!!!! And your personal observations are always thoughtful, charitable, and well written.


  2. Why thank you, dear Barbara! You've always been my most loyal reader, you know. And your comments are always greatly appreciated.

    Speaking of older books: I'm currently on the lookout for a new series, as the last one on Catholic Marriage and Parenting just finished. And suggestions as to general direction? Theology? Spirituality? Morality? Modernism?

  3. Excellent piece. For half a century Catholics have been hamstrung by those who suggest, no, SCREAM that to confront evil with clarity is to endanger the soul of the confronted. In the culture of tolerance, Catholics have backed down. This whole paradigm needs to be dismantled.

  4. Thanks for another reminder about our duty to speak out against evil especially in the Catholic Church and more especially since the advent of Pope Francis who seems to modeling himself in the best Democrat tradition of giving out free stuff, in this case, grace without repentance. This is precisely the opposite of Christ's message and it is a scandal. "Woe to those who scandalize one of these little ones...."

    Keep up your very good work and let us pray to St Michael the Archangel.

  5. Here are some book suggestions. Each one a marvel.

    1) Guidance in Spiritual Direction, Charles Hugo Doyle, Roman Catholic Books, Imprimatur 1956
    This is kind of like "what to do until a holy spiritual director shows up." Written for priests, it has great value too for the layman as it really goes into the actual direction with lots and lots of concrete advice. Goes into the three ways of the spiritual life, discernment of spirits, and how to deal with the four temperaments.

    2) In The Likeness of Christ, Rev. Fr. Edward Leen, Sarto House. In order to love Our Lord Jesus, we must know Him, and this book helps us do that. Wonderful writer, deep yet accessible. Can be read over and over with fruit. Divided into three sections: The Foreshadowings of Conflict; The Victory of the Vanquished; The Harvest of Victory. (originally by Sheed And Ward, 1936)

    3) Why The Cross, also by Father Leen. This book is so good I can't describe it. It could be a bed-side book to be read over a life-time - each reading comes to the reader as fresh as the first time. Out of Sceptor Press, imprimatur 1938.

    4) The True Vine and Its Branches, by Father Leen, P.J. Kenedy & Sons, imprimatur 1938. The title says it all.

    5) Self-Knowledge and Self-Discipline by Father B.W. Maturin, Classic Reprint Series (Forgotten Books) imprimatur 1905

    These are all 'desert island' books. Even if they are not suitable for serializing here I highly recommend them for you and your readers personally.

  6. Thank you so much for the suggestions, dear Barbara! I'll add them to my wishlist.

  7. Thanks Daughter of Mary.

    Other worthwhile books are:
    The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
    The Spiritual Combat by Lorenzo Scupoli
    Divine Intimacy by Father Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, O.C.D.


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