November 16, 2008

Can Catholics Enjoy Assurance of Salvation? -Recap

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On the occasion of our seventh meeting, eight brave souls disregarded nasty weather in order to obtain the good of intellectual fellowship. The facilitator argued that Catholics can indeed enjoy assurance of personal salvation. Others took umbrage at this affirmation.

A lively discussion ensued. We considered the question of whether the Council of Trent (cf., Session VI, "On Justification") ruled out assurance of personal salvation absolutely, or whether the Council merely ruled that, apart from a special revelation, it is impossible to have the absolute assurance of faith ("in which there can be no possibility of error") that one is in a state of grace or has been predestined to eternal salvation. We also considered the question of whether an assurance (certainty) that is not thus absolute is even deserving of the name.

It was suggested that there is indeed an authentic kind of assurance/certainty that is distinct from indubitable knowledge and that the propositions promulgated at Trent with respect to assurance were carefully qualified such that the Council did not reject assurance of salvation per se.

The facilitator went on to argue that (1) St. Thomas Aquinas provides us with a biblically and theologically compelling account of how one may enjoy certainty with respect to the good of eternal life, and (2) that Aquinas' teaching on this matter is completely consistent with Trent.

In his treatise on the theological virtue of hope (Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 17, 18, "Of Hope"; cf., q. 18, a. 4), Aquinas clearly affirms that "the hope of the wayfarer [for the good of eternal life] is certain." He does say, in language echoed by Trent, that one cannot know (with indubitable knowledge) that he is either in a state of grace or among those predestined to glory, that we should fear the possibility of falling away from God, and that many a hopeful wayfarer does indeed fall away. He goes on to argue, however, that certain kinds of fear are not intrinsically evil, that the fear of losing God's friendship is in fact a good kind of fear, and that this fear is completely consistent with the assurance of hope (cf., ST, II-II, q. 19, "Of Fear").

Hope, according to Aquinas, proceeds from faith in the mercy and omnipotence of God, while fear is based upon an awareness of the possibility that we, being endowed with free will, might reject God's friendship. However, the certainty of hope is not opposed to fear, but to despair. Therefore, unless we despair of our own salvation (and to do so is a mortal sin), we can and should live in hope. In hope, we enjoy the assurance that we will receive all the help necessary to attain final salvation.

Thus, hope does not only look to the end to be obtained, in which case it would be indistinguishable from fortitude, but also to the divine help (e.g., the sacraments) by which we are enabled to obtain that end. In other words, there is both an "immediate" as well as a "teleological" aspect to hope. Therefore we are to rejoice in the assurance of eternal life as a work that God has already begun in us and which he will bring to completion upon the Day of Judgment (Philippians 1.6; 2 Timothy 1.12).

November 12, 2008

First Meeting- Recap

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Tim Troutman founded Liturgy & Lager in May of 2008, although he must have conceived of it somewhat earlier. Originally, this thing did not have a name. So the first meeting is only the first meeting of "Liturgy & Lager" in the sense that Pentecost was the first meeting of the "Catholic" Church; which is to say, in the real and true sense. Now, do not think that by selecting that analogy I am implying that our group has a very high opinion of itself. It is just the first thing that came to mind.

Eight or nine men showed up, and we talked about whatever we felt like talking about. Three or four of us spent a lot of time discussing theories of biological evolution and how these might relate to Catholic dogma. The text of Genesis and the relation between body and mind figured prominently in the conversation. We concluded by adopting a broad agenda and an intentionally flexible template for future sessions. Thus, we hoped to ensure that L&L, while remaining quite informal, would not degenerate into a few guys getting together to talk about football and drink beer. Not that we have anything against those fine institutions.

November 11, 2008

The Atonement- Recap

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Sid Cundiff facilitated this session of L&L, which turned out to be one of our finest, at least, if one is judging by how long the participants lingered to talk over the matter at hand. We looked at various theories of the Atonement, that is, the ways in which the Church has understood the meaning of the Passion.

Several views were discussed, in particular those of St. Anselm (satisfaction) and John Calvin (penal substitution). The latter was the subject of much scrutiny and criticism. Calvin's theology of Atonement seems to involve a series of noxious opinions which are incompatible with core Christian dogmas. Calvin drives a wedge between the Father and the Son in claiming that (1) the Father sees his Son as a filthy sinner rather than a pure and spotless Victim and (2) Christ descended into Hell not to proclaim the victory of God but to suffer the punishment of the damned.

Calvin does seem to provide a model of the Atonement which serves as a basis for assurance of salvation, while at the same time making a certain sense of some biblical passages concerning the suffering of Our Lord (cf., the Servant Songs in Isaiah). However, Sid pointed out that to suffer for the sins of another need not imply penal substitution, or suffering "in the place of," since the Greek preposition ὑπέρ is better rendered "on behalf of," which invites a more Anselmian construal (while not logically excluding the Calvinist opinion). No one at this meeting felt inclined to simply plunk for Anselm, though. This writer, for one, prefers Irenaeus and the author of Hebrews (cf., 2.9-18, which passage was discussed).

In any event, Sid suggests that the Catholic Church has throughout the ages, with some notable exceptions, not felt the need to provide an explanation of the Passion because she has been busy participating in the Passion, mystically represented in the Sacrament of the Altar. However, the Church has not completely ignored the speculative question (cf., Irenaeus, Anselm). Catholic theologians, moreover, have not failed to address the intrusion of "penal substitution."

A preference for legal and nominalist paradigms over mystical and ontological (i.e., sacramental) categories has led some theologians to significantly overlook the participatory dimension of the Atonement. Calvin does make much of "union with Christ," particularly in relation to his Protestant communion service. But his repudiation of the Mass, and especially the sacrifice of the Mass, makes it impossible for him to take full account of the Eucharist vis-a-vis the Atonement.

We concluded by talking about the "wrath" of God, which led to deep theological waters.