Limbo is a theory developed by Medieval theologians as the place where unbaptized persons go when they die. Limbo is not an official doctrine of the Catholic Church, but it has not been officially rejected by the Church. [Read more…]
Initially, it may be confusing to understand how Catholicism relates to Christianity. When you ask Protestants what religion they are, most of them will say, “Christian.” When you ask Catholics the same question, however, nearly all of them will identify as “Catholic.” Yet Catholics believe in Jesus and read the Bible. So how does Catholicism relate to Christianity?
In fact, there are many kinds of Christianity. There are several kinds of Protestants, and these different types of Protestants do not always agree with each other. There are various branches of Eastern Orthodoxy. Generally speaking, Catholics and Orthodox have more in common than Catholics and Protestants do. Finally, there are Catholics. You are probably familiar with Roman Catholics but there are also Eastern Catholics. There are several types of Eastern Catholicism, and they are very similar to Eastern Orthodoxy but they are in communion with the Pope.
So the answer to the question, “What is the difference between Catholics and Christians?” in short is, “There are no differences. Catholics are Christians.” Indeed, Catholics believe that while other Christians are really and truly followers of Christ, the Catholic Church alone possesses (as a gift from Jesus Christ himself) the fullness of the truth Jesus came to reveal.
Even though Catholics are Christians, Catholics may seem very different than other Christians. Let’s look at some of these differences. Because most of the non-Catholic Christians you will meet are probably Protestants, we’ll focus on how Catholic beliefs relate to Protestant beliefs. While there are many differences, we will look here at two of the major ones: the role of Scripture and the role of good works.
Scripture and Tradition
Catholics and Protestants both believe that the Bible is the word of God. Protestants believe that the Bible is the only source of revelation about faith and morals. This is called sola scriptura, meaning “Scripture alone.” Catholics, on the other hand, believe that God’s revelation comes to us in two ways: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Therefore, Catholics believe that the Church has the authority to interpret Scripture and to decide when an interpretation of Scripture is false. For Protestants, on the other hand, what their pastors or Church leaders say is a valuable source of guidance and can be a lens through which to look at Scripture, but these sources do not have the same authority for Protestants that the Catholic Church has for Catholics.
Because Catholics follow Tradition as well as Scripture, it may seem that Catholic Church does not value Scripture as much as Protestants do. On the contrary, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which sums up the beliefs of the Catholic Church, says (quoting a document from Vatican II),
The Church “forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful… to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ,’ by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. ‘Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.’” (CCC 133)
It is true that some Catholics do not know the Bible very well. The Church encourages all Catholics to read and learn more about the Bible. One way she does this is by presenting the Bible to Catholics at every liturgy.
The Bible and the Mass
The Bible is an important part of every Mass. First and foremost, the Scriptures are read at every Mass. Over the course of three years, a Catholic who goes to Roman Catholic Mass every Sunday will hear around 15% of the verses in the Bible, and over 40% of the verses in the New Testament. A Catholic who goes to Mass every day, including Sundays, will hear around one third of the verses in the Bible and almost three quarters of the verses in the New Testament.
Furthermore, the entire Mass has Scripture woven throughout. For example, when he elevates the Eucharist, the priest will say, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” This echoes John the Baptist’s words in the Gospel of John: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). In the book of Revelation, an angel says, “Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9). The people’s response (“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed”) is also Biblical: it is similar to what a centurion tells Jesus when asking Jesus to heal his servant (see Luke 7).
Faith and Works
Another important and significant difference between Catholics and many other Christians is their theology of faith and works. One of the central tenets of the Protestant Reformation was sola fide, meaning “by faith alone.” What this means is that we are saved, or justified, by faith alone and not by works. Catholics, on the other hand, believe that both faith and works are necessary for salvation.
Many people, even many Catholics, misunderstand the Catholic Church’s teaching and believe that according to the Catholic Church, we have to earn our way to heaven. This is not at all what the Church teaches. Our salvation is a work entirely of God’s grace, but God’s saving grace requires a response from us. Faith is essential to that response, but so are actions (works). Actions are not just evidence that we believe. They are a key element in working out our salvation (cf. Philippians 2:12). In fact, the only time the words “faith alone” appear together in the New Testament is in the book of James, which says, “See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (2:24).
Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide are often sources of debate between Catholics and Protestant Christians. Of course, there is far more to these debates than a short essay can convey. Despite these debates, be assured that Catholics are Christians! Like our brothers and sisters who are Protestant, we love the Bible, and we worship Jesus Christ as our Lord and God and trust in his power to save us.
An indulgence is the remission (removal) of temporal punishment for sin in response to certain prayers or spiritual works. In common parlance an indulgence would reduce the time spent in purgatory if one should need to go there on one’s way to heaven. An indulgence does not take the place of a confession; confession and repentance of sin must have already taken place. [Read more…]
A grave misunderstanding about Catholicism is the notion of good works. The term good works seems to have a negative connotation to it in certain other Christian circles.
In order to clarify the Catholic position on what good works are and the role of works in salvation I propose that for the purpose of this article we substitute the term positive actions for good works. This new term will help to clarify misconceptions especially in terms of salvation, grace, and merit.
Positive Actions and Negative Actions
In some anti-Catholic literature the author seems to be trying to get his reader to think that Catholics believe that if they perform many positive actions after being baptized (justified by God) that they will go to heaven.
Well, this statement is partially true, but standing alone it is not the whole truth of what Catholics believe. Let’s contrast two ideas.
To sin means to offend God. It means that we damage or sever our friendship with him. We do this by performing an action that goes against what God has commanded us to do in order to stay in good standing with him. Thoughts as well are considered actions because thinking is doing something just as is breathing, walking or reading. Because thoughts are often involuntary, whether a thought is sinful or not depends on how we react to it. Anger is not necessarily a sin, but feeding resentment is.
Sin is an act or action. God will, one day, judge each of us human beings and decide which ones are worthy enough to spend eternity with God in heaven.
How or by what is God going to judge us? God will judge us by how we respond to the grace he offers. This includes our acts and actions, as well as our faith in him. A full response to God’s grace involves responding in faith and responding in the way we live.
We will be judged by the things we do and what we do not do. We can see this in the parable of the sheep and the goats that Jesus tells his disciples (Matthew 25:31-36). Those who enter heaven are those who have helped Jesus through the good they have done for others.
Good and Evil and Friendship with God
According to Christian theology God is the universal standard by which good and evil (synonyms are positive and negative respectively) are measured and God is 100% good.
God wills for each and every one of us to be good.
The fewer negative actions we perform the more we remain in friendship with God.
Therefore, the more positive actions we perform the more we remain in friendship with God.
Hence the more good works we perform the more we remain in friendship with God.
The bottom line is that God will judge us in the end by our actions done throughout our entire lives. Throughout our lives we can choose to remain in God’s friendship or not. We have free will to choose whether to obey God or not and if we choose to disobey God, which is to sin, then we choose not to remain in God’s friendship.
Yes, we must have faith that our savior is Jesus Christ, but at the same time our actions must reflect that faith.
Faith and Works: Both Necessary
So, in a sense, good works are essential to get to heaven, but not alone. Nor is faith alone sufficient, although faith is also necessary. James 2:26 tells us that faith without works is dead. In Romans 3:22 we see that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ. Catholic theology supports these teachings of the Bible and holds them in balance.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 2008 says that “good works are done to glorify God and are done in honor of him.”
The Catechism goes on further to state in paragraph 2010, “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,” (emphasis my own).
Also important is this quote from the same section saying, “These graces and goods are the objects of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions.”
The Catholic Church does not believe that good works alone will get anyone into heaven nor does it believe that faith alone will get anyone into heaven. However, good works in conjunction with faith do have merit.
Our good works are done not on our own, and they have merit because they are a response to God’s grace.
For example, imagine that a father gives money to his young child, who has no money of her own, to buy Christmas gifts for her family. The child can respond to this gift that her father has given her by spending the money on toys for herself. She might respond to the gift by hoarding the money. Or she might please her father by using the money he gave her to buy gifts, as he intended. Because she has used the gift wisely, she pleases her father, and he is likely to give her money in the future to continue buying gifts for her family. She would not have been able to buy anything if her father had not given her the money, but likewise it is her free choice to respond to that gift.
Likewise, God gives us grace to do good things. We can choose to respond to that grace by performing positive actions through our free will. When we do so, we please God, and he will give us further grace to continue growing in friendship with him through our choices to do good things by his grace.
Purgatory is an intermediate state of purification between death and heaven for those who die with venial sins for an amount of time appropriate to the amount and severity of the sins as deemed by God to remove the temporal effects of sin. It is the final purification so that one’s soul can enter heaven unblemished. [Read more…]
The letters of Paul make mention several times of salvation by faith. There are passages in Romans, Ephesians, Titus, and Galatians just to name a few. To some these passages might appear like a pretty open and shut case in favor of a teaching that says salvation is by faith alone and that “once saved, always saved.” Yet, the bible never says “alone.” [Read more…]
The Bible does not mention the exact word “purgatory,” but instead it makes reference to a place which can be understood as what is referred to as purgatory. To claim that purgatory does not exist because the exact word does not appear in Scripture is a failure to understand Scripture.
The Bible contains references to many Christian doctrines, but fails to call them out by name. One might as well even deny that there is something called the Bible because no such name is found in the Bible. Furthermore, one might as well deny the Trinity, Incarnation, and so forth because these exact words are not found in the Bible.
The name does not make the place; the place must exist first, then we give it a name. We call this place “purgatory” because it means “a cleansing place.” Therein souls are purged from the small stains of sin, which prevent their immediate entrance into Heaven.
In the Old Testament
The first mention of Purgatory in the Bible is in 2 Maccabees 12:46: “Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from sin.”
Some people do not accept Maccabees as book of the Bible. This is unfortunate since it is that their Bibles have been edited and are missing books. (Find out Why Catholic Bibles Are Different) Even if a person does not accept the book of Maccabees, it at least has historical value for we can learn what the pre-Christian community believed.
In Chapter 12 of Second Maccabees we read Scriptural proof for Purgatory and evidence that the Jews had sacrifices offered for those of their brothers who had lost their lives in battle. That the Jews prayed for the dead shows that they believed in a place where they could be helped (which we now call purgatory) and that the prayers of their living brothers and sisters could help them in that place. This is closely related to the Catholic doctrine of the communion of saints.
During the Reformation in the 15th century, when Martin Luther was deciding to remove books from the Bible, these words in the book of Maccabees had so clearly favored Catholic teaching, that the whole book was removed from the Protestant Bible. Unfortunately for Protestants, even if they feel that the book was not inspired, it still tells us of the practice of God’s chosen people.
In the New Testament
In Matthew 5:26 and Luke 12:59 Christ is condemning sin and speaks of liberation only after expiation. “Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.” Now we know that no last penny needs to be paid in Heaven and from Hell there is no liberation at all; hence the reference must apply to a third place.
Matthew 12:32 says, “And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” Here Jesus speaks of sin against the Holy Spirit. The implication is that some sins can be forgiven in the world to come. We know that in Hell there is no liberation and in Heaven nothing imperfect can enter it as we see in the next part. Sin is not forgiven when a soul reaches its final destination because in heaven there is no need for forgiveness of sin and in hell the choice to go there is already made.
Revelation 21:27: “…but nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who does abominable things or tells lies.” The place that is to be entered (the place to which this passage refers) is heaven (read the text around it for context).
The Bible clearly implies a place for an intermediate state of purification after we die in the many passages which tell that God will reward or punish according to a person’s life.
What if purgatory really doesn’t exist?
Ponder the following example. Imagine a Christian man, justified by the Lord, loses his temper and yells at his next door neighbors for letting their dog dig a hole in his yard. We can see that the man treated his neighbors rudely, albeit the neighbor’s behavior was also reprehensible. His actions would be considered a light sin (called venial sins by the Catholic Church). It’s not of the same moral weight as theft or murder, but it’s still a sin.
After shouting at the neighbors, with all the anger and stress in his body the man walks into his house, has a heart attack, and dies having just committed a small sin in the final moments of his life. Remember, this man is Christian and justified by the Lord, yet has committed a sin. Does he go to heaven or does he go to hell? Are all sins created equal? No, all sins are not equal and even justified men of the Lord can make mistakes and sin.
If purgatory didn’t exist, the man would go to hell for his small sin. God’s mercy is so great and our God is a just God that it seems unfathomable that he would condemn a justified man to hell for a small, yet unrepented sin. The man’s soul is dirty. His actions have defiled his soul, but not the point where he has cut himself off from God. Only mortal sins cut off a person from God’s grace. So, the man, having been justified by the Lord, is destined for heaven, yet his soul is defiled by his sin (Matthew 12:36, 15:18). His soul is in need of cleansing because nothing defiled can enter heaven. This is the purpose of purgatory. Out of mercy and love God sends the man through purgatory on his way to heaven so that his soul can be purified to be able to join God in heaven.
Remember, purgatory is not a second chance for conversion; the man is already justified. If there is no place of intermediate state of purification, the man would be damned to hell! Who would be saved? Those who teach against purgatory teach an unreasonable doctrine. Will Catholics go to heaven?
So, why do non-Catholics reject a teaching so full of consolation? My guess is that they want to believe that the merits of Christ applied to the sinner who trusts in Him, will remove all sin past, present, and future abdicating all responsibility for sin after justification. Yet this is also unreasonable. Only Jesus’ death on the cross makes us worthy before God the Father. We cannot stand before him on our own merits. We need Jesus Christ. Yet we also have personal responsibility in our justification before the Lord.
Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.
If we accept Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, confess him as Lord, yet commit bad actions, God judges accordingly.
By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.
Our acceptance of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross does not abdicate our responsibility live the Gospel. Salvation is not assured. Salvation is not by faith alone for the Bible says that we will be held accountable by our words and that much will be entrusted to us! Nowhere in the Bible does it say salvation is by faith alone. This teaching is un-Scriptural. Rather the Scriptures say that faith without works is dead (James 2:26).
While Jesus can be the only acceptable sacrifice to God for our sins, it doesn’t give us a license to sin. Nor does justification by the Lord preserve us from sin. Even a justified man can commit a sin. Therefore, even though Christ’s blood on the cross makes us right before God, God still requires much from us in return. He requires us to die to ourselves each day and to choose him in everything we do. It simply doesn’t fit with God’s justice for a person to be off the hook simply because at some point in the past they became justified. We have a duty to God to obey him for if we do not obey God we will be punished according to his justice. Purgatory is part of God’s justice.
Read Explaining Purgatory.
Have you been saved?
Do you know if you are going to heaven?
I’m sure many people reading this have seen or heard of this before.
A funny thing is this “assurance” of salvation. [Read more…]
The books of Daniel and Revelation are of the apocalyptic genre, a unique literary form peculiar to the age in which they were written. Often described as crisis literature, they clearly were spawned during times of great stress in history when the only solution seemed to call for God’s intervention in the affairs of humankind. [Read more…]
Salvation is, without a doubt, one of the most controversial topics in all of Christendom. Very few seem to have a handle on it. In fact, it has been found that those who struggle with how we are “saved” often fall into two diametricaly opposed extremes. [Read more…]