The Curious Reply of Patriarch John II of Constantinple to the Formula of Hormisas (519 AD)


Emperor Constantine the Great (4th century)

I was in discussion with an Anglo-Catholic recently who, in response to my mentioning the 2500 signatures to the Formula of Hormisdas, stated the the Patriarch of Constantinope, John II, had stated that the See of Elder and New Rome were “one See”, and thereby establishing an equality of authority and being. Below are my responses to this.

(1) If you read the Formula, there is nothing stated therein by which John could find transferable to the Constantinopolitan See. What does Hormisdas claim? That Christ promised an indefectible faith in blessed Peter and that this proved itself by the fact that the Roman See had, from the beginning, been on the right-side of doctrinal disputation. Hormisdas then says that all Christians of the world, if they want to remain united to the true faith, must be united to the Apostolic See wherein is the bedrock of the Church’s solidity.

Constantinople had on numerous occasions by 520, been involved in one heresy or another. Beginning with her Patriarch Acacius in 484, C’ple removed the names of Pope Leo and the following Popes from the list of names, and had scratched Chalcedon off the list of Ecumenical Councils.

Thus, we know that the Papal claims in the FoH (Formula of Hormisdas) could never apply to Constantinople, and it would be quite a stretch to think that John thought so.

The only reasonable alternative, as I see it, would be that John merely wanted to combat the Papal claims by saying the See of C’ple was equal in authority with Rome. Despite this also being quite a stretch, it would just mean that John was a weak and dishonest man (again, I don’t take this position). It would also mean that he willingly entered into communion with the Papalist-heretic Hormisdas, together with the whole East. So it would be as if John, representing the East, left the Eutychian heresy to associate with the Papal heresy. What else could it be?

(2) I noticed your translation of what John II wrote was only part. From what source did you receive it? I have the latin as follows:

“Ecclesias, id est superioris vestrae et novelae istius Romae, unam accipio; illam sedem Apostoli Petri, et istius augustae civitatis unam esse definio

In English:

“For I hold the most holy churches of your elder and of our new Rome to be one Church. I define that the see of the Apostle Peter and this of the Imperial city to be one See” 

The hyperbole is obvious. Seriously speaking, there is only one bishop in the church of God (local). It is not as if John here is saying that 2 bishops, John and Hormisdas, govern one single Church. It is obvious that Rome and C’ple are two different city-churches.

Monsignor Batiffol (a critical Catholic historian, mind you) comments on this:

“This means to say that the Bishop of Rome and the Bishop of Constantinople are in agreement, not that he ‘identified his own see with the Roman see’ – a phrase that has no meaning Compare the letter Quando Deus of the same John to the same Hormisdas which once more uses the same terms — and the reply of Hormisdas to John, consideranti mihi. Coll. Avellan. 161 and 169 (pp. 612, 624)” – A Reply to Bishop Gore in “Catholicism and Papacy: Anglican and Russian Difficulties” page 123.

So here you have an instance where Hormisdas himself says that the See of C’ple and the See of Rome are “one See”. Now, I don’t know a single historian who would tell you that Hormisdas all of the sudden believed that C’ple possessed the Petrine supremacy that both Hormisdas himself claimed, as well as all his predecessors, including Pope St. Gelasius who was quite emphatic about the inferior authority of C’ple.

Similarly, another letter in the 6th century shows that this talk of “one See and one church” does not mean equality of authority is the famous letter of Pope St. Gregory the Great to Patriarch Eulogios of Alexandria. This comes from Book 7, Epistle 40 . This letter is actually quoted by many to undermine the Papal theory since Gregory seems to say that the See of Peter is actually equally in Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. Gregory writes:

“…yet with regard to the principality itself the See of the Prince of the apostles alone has grown strong in authority, which in three places is the SEE OF ONE. For he himself exalted the See in which he deigned even to rest and end the present life. He himself adorned the See to which he sent his disciple as evangelist. He himself established the See in which, though he was to leave it, he sat for seven years. Since then it is the SEE OF ONE, and ONE SEE, over which by Divine authority three bishops now preside, whatever good I hear of you, this I impute to myself.”

So you see here that Pope Gregory uses the very same wording “unam esse” to speak of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. But that Gregory does not mean that they are now equal in authority is clear from many other statements that Gregory made which clearly show that he believed all the churches to be subject to the Apostolic See of Rome. If you are interested in scholarly sources on this, I will gladly give you Jaroslav Pelikan and JND Kelly, both of whom are non-Catholic historians of great respect. For now, I will give you two examples of how Gregory thought Rome was the highest See, thereby implying some sort of inequality with Alexandria and Antioch:

“”If, however it is stated in opposition to this, that he has neither metropolitan nor patriarch, it must also be said that the case must then be heard and settled by the Apostolic See, which is the head of all the churches.” (Book 13, Epistle 50)

In a letter to John of Syracuse, Gregory speaks of a Byzacene primate: “ as to his saying that he is subject to the Apostolic See, if any fault is found in bishops, I know not what bishop is not subject to it.” (Book 9, Letter 59).

In the same Book of epistles, letter 12, Gregory writes: ‘For as to what they say about the Church of Constantinople, who can doubt that it is subject to the Apostolic See, as both the most pious lord the emperor and our brother the bishop of that city continually acknowledge?”.

Even the Oxford historian,  member of the Church of England, J.N.D. Kelly, said that, for St. Gregory, “St. Peter’s commission made all churches, Constantinople included, subject to Rome” (Oxford Dictionary of Pope, p. 67)

And so I think it is best to see John’s statement of Rome and C’ple being “one church” and “one see” as a way of symbolizing the new founded return to unity of faith, and nothing else. I mean, just by saying “See of Peter” and “Imperial city”, he recognizes the difference.

(3) And lastly, there is another interesting text from this controversy surrounding the re-union of East and West via Justinian & Hormisdas which speaks to the East’s acceptance of Papal claims. Anyone who is familiar with the Acacian schism and how the three great Patriarchs of the East capitulated to the rejecting of Chalcedon is aware that much of the movements were political. There was under-clergy, both Bishops and presbyters, as well as monastics, who rebelled. A famous letter written from the Byzantine clergy to the predecessor of Hormisdas, Pope St. Symmachus, in the year 512, states precisely what Catholics believe today. I think this establishes good evidence that the Papal theory was not just the agenda of some prideful Popes whose memory just so happens to be venerated by the universal Church following, but also by the the cream of the Byzantine crop. After describing the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, these clergy write:

“..but for the precious salvation, not only of the East, but of three parts almost of the inhabited world [Cple, Alex, Antioch], redeemed, not with corruptible gold or silver, but with the precious blood of the Lamb of God, according to the doctrine of the blessed Prince of the glorious Apostles, whose See Christ, the Good shepherd, has entrusted to your blessedness. Following his example, most holy father, hasten to help us, just as blessed Paul, your doctor, informed in a vision that the Macedonians were in danger, hastened to help them in deed. O father, full of tenderness for your children, since it is not in vision but in reality that in the eyes of your mind you see us perishing by the prevarication of our Father Acacius, do not delay, or rather, to speak with the prophet, do not slumber, but hasten to help us. You have not only received the power of binding, but also that of loosing, in accordance with the example of the Master, those who long have been in bonds, nor only the power of uprooting and of destroying, but also that of planting and building, as Jeremias, or rather as Jesus Christ, of whom Jeremias was the type; nor only that of delivering to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, but also that of restoring by love those long since rejected, lest (which God forbid) Satan, coming to plunge us into the greatest distress, may appear to gain the advantage over you. You are not ignorant of this malice, you whom Peter, your blessed Doctor, teaches always to shepherd, not by violence but by an authority fully accepted, the sheep of CHrist which are entrusted to you in all the inhabitable world. We earnestly beg you threfore to tear away this new hindrance which weighs on us, as Jesus Christ our savior and our leader destroyed the old one on the cross….If Acacius was excommunicated because of his friendship for the Alexandrians or rather for the Eutychians, who anathemtized Leo and the Council of Chalcedon, why are we accounted as heretics and subject to the anathma, we who cleave solely to the letter of Leo which was read at the Council, who are attacked every day and condemned as heretics by the Eutychians because we preach your orthodox doctrine? Do not disdain to succour us and do not hate us because we are in communion with our enemies. Among those who only had the care of a small number of souls, many have separated from their communion, the others in charge of a numerous flock yielded to the necessity not to abandon, as the hireling, the sheep to the wolf. It is not for love of life, but only for the salvation of souls that a great number of priests act thus… We all, both those who appear to communicate with the adversaries and those who abstain from it, await, after God, the light of your visitation and of your assistance. Hasten then to aid the East, whence the Saviour sent you to great suns to ligthen all the earth; render Him what he sent you, illumine it with the light of the true faith as He enlightened you with the light of knowledge divine….Just as the Lord said to Paul concerning Corinth ‘Speak and keep not silence, for I have a great multitude in this city’, so He says to you today, ‘Hasten an go without delay to the help of the East, for it is not a multitude of a hundred and twenty thousand men as at Ninevah, but a crowd much more numerous which awaits, after God, its healing from you” (Mansi 8.221)

St. John Chrysostom (AD 349-407) -Indictment to Protestant Teaching

John Calvin wrote, “In this area [Biblical exegesis], no one of sound judgment would deny that our Chrysostom excels all the ancient writers currently extant. This is especially true when he deals with the New Testament” {1} and “The chief merit of our Chrysostom is this: he took great pains everywhere not to deviate in the slightest from the genuine plain meaning of Scripture and not to indulge in any licence of twisting the straight-forward sense  of the words. I am only saying what will be acknowledged by those who are both in a position to make a correct assessment and who will not hesitate to state the fact” {2}. Below are a list of citations from St. John Chrysostom wherein he exposits portions of the New Testament in a way that proves Calvin’s statements ironic.

Virginity Superior to Marriage 
“That Virginity is good I do agree. But that it is even better than marriage, this I do confess. And if you wish, I add that it is much better than marriage as heaven is better than earth, as much better as the angels are better than men. And if there were any other way in which I could say it even more emphatically, I would do so” (Treatise on Virginity, 10 – Patrologia Graeca 48.533)

Scripture & Tradition
“‘Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or by our letter’ (1 Thess 2:15). From this it is clear that they did not hand down everything by letter, but there was much also that was not written. Like that which was written, the unwritten too is worthy of belief. So let us regard the tradition of the Church also as worthy of belief. Is it a tradition? Seek no further.” (Homilies on the 2nd Epistle to the Thess)

Justification by Faith Working Through Love
“‘He that believes in the Son has everlasting life’…. ‘Is it enough, then, to believe in the Son?’ someone will say, ‘in order to have everlasting life?’. By no means! Listen to Christ declare this Himself when He says, ‘Not everyone who says to Me ‘Lord! Lord!’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven’; and the blasphemy against the Spirit is alone sufficient to cast him into hell. But why should I speak of a part of our teaching? For if a man not only live rightly, his faith will avail him nothing toward salvation” (Homily on the Gospel of John, 31.1)

The Blood and Body of Jesus Christ sacrificed and partaken
“For when you see the Lord sacrificed, and laid upon the altar, and the priest standing and praying over the victim, and all the worshipers empurpled with that precious blood, can you then think that you are still among men, and standing upon the earth? Are you not, on the contrary, straightway translated to Heaven, and casting out every carnal thought from the soul, do you not with disembodied spirit and pure reason contemplate the things which are in Heaven? Oh! What a marvel! What love of God to man! He who sits on high with the Father is at that hour held in the hands of all, and gives Himself to those who are willing to embrace and grasp Him” (On the Priesthood 3.4)

“Let us then in everything believe God, and gainsay Him in nothing, though what is said seem to be contrary to our thoughts and senses, but let His word be of higher authority than both reasoning and sight. Thus let us do in the mysteries also, not looking at the things set before us, but keeping in mind His sayings.For His word cannot deceive, but our senses are easily beguiled. That has never failed, but this in most things goes wrong. Since then the word says, This is my body, let us both be persuaded and believe, and look at it with the eyes of the mind.For Christ has given nothing sensible, but though in things sensible yet all to be perceived by the mind. So also in baptism, the gift is bestowed by a sensible thing, that is, by water; but that which is done is perceived by the mind, the birth, I mean, and the renewal. For if you had been incorporeal, He would have delivered you the incorporeal gifts bare; but because the soul has been locked up in a body, He delivers you the things that the mind perceives, in things sensible. How many now say, I would wish to see His form, the mark, His clothes, His shoes. Lo! You see Him, Thou touchest Him, you eat Him” (Homily on the Gospel of Matthew 82.4)

“What then? Do not we offer every day? We offer indeed, but making a remembrance of His death, and this [remembrance] is one and not many. How is it one, and not many? Inasmuch as that [Sacrifice] was once for all offered, [and] carried into the Holy of Holies. This is a figure of that [sacrifice] and this remembrance of that. For we always offer the same, not one sheep now and tomorrow another, but always the same thing: so that the sacrifice is one. And yet by this reasoning, since the offering is made in many places, are there many Christs? But Christ is one everywhere, being complete here and complete there also, one Body.  As then while offered in many places, He is one body and not many bodies; so also [He is] one sacrifice. He is our High Priest, who offered the sacrifice that cleanses us. That we offer now also, which was then offered, which cannot be exhausted” (Homily on the Book of Hebrews, 17)

“How shall we receive this with so great insolence? Let us not, I pray you, let us not slay ourselves by our irreverence, but with all awfulness and purity draw near to It; and when you see It set before you, say thou to yourself, Because of this Body am I no longer earth and ashes, no longer a prisoner, but free: because of this I hope for heaven, and to receive the good things therein, immortal life, the portion of angels, converse with Christ; this Body, nailed and scourged, was more than death could stand against; this Body the very sun saw sacrificed, and turned aside his beams; for this both the veil was rent in that moment, and rocks were burst asunder, and all the earth was shaken. This is even that Body, the blood-stained, the pierced, and that out of which gushed the saving fountains, the one of blood, the other of water, for all the world….. This Body has He given to us both to hold and to eat; a thing appropriate to intense love. For those whom we kiss vehemently, we oft-times even bite with our teeth.” (Homily on 1 Corinthians, 24)

“For if any one will consider how great a thing it is for one, being a man, and compassed with flesh and blood, to be enabled to draw near to that blessed and pure nature, he will then clearly see what great honor the grace of the Spirit has vouchsafed to priests; since by their agency these rites are celebrated, and others nowise inferior to these both in respect of our dignity and our salvation. For they who inhabit the earth and make their abode there are entrusted with the administration of things which are in Heaven, and have received an authority which God has not given to angels or archangels. For it has not been said to them, ‘Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven’. They who rule on earth have indeed authority to bind, but only the body: whereas this binding lays hold of the soul and penetrates the heavens; and what priests do here below God ratifies above, and the Master confirms the sentence of his servants. For indeed what is it but all manner of heavenly authority which He has given them when He says, ‘Whose sins ye remit they are remitted, and whose sins ye retain they are retained’? What authority could be greater than this? The Father has committed all judgment to the Son? But I see it all put into the hands of these men by the Son. For they have been conducted to this dignity as if they were already translated to Heaven, and had transcended human nature, and were released from the passions to which we are liable. Moreover, if a king should bestow this honor upon any of his subjects, authorizing him to cast into prison whom he pleased and to release them again, he becomes an object of envy and respect to all men; but he who has received from God an authority as much greater as heaven is more precious than earth, and souls more precious than bodies, seems to some to have received so small an honor that they are actually able to imagine that one of those who have been entrusted with these things will despise the gift. Away with such madness! For transparent madness it is to despise so great a dignity, without which it is not possible to obtain either our own salvation, or the good things which have been promised to us. For if no one can enter into the kingdom of Heaven except he be regenerate through water and the Spirit, and he who does not eat the flesh of the Lord and drink His blood is excluded from eternal life, and if all these things are accomplished only by means of those holy hands, I mean the hands of the priest, how will any one, without these, be able to escape the fire of hell, or to win those crowns which are reserved for the victorious?” (On the Priesthood 3.5)

“The Jewish priests had authority to release the body from leprosy, or, rather, not to release it but only to examine those who were already released, and you know how much the office of priest was contended for at that time. But our priests have received authority to deal, not with bodily leprosy, but spiritual uncleanness— not to pronounce it removed after examination, but actually and absolutely to take it away. Wherefore they who despise these priests would be far more accursed than Dathan and his company, and deserve more severe punishment. For the latter, although they laid claim to the dignity which did not belong to them, nevertheless had an excellent opinion concerning it, and this they evinced by the great eagerness with which they pursued it; but these men, when the office has been better regulated, and has received so great a development, have displayed an audacity which exceeds that of the others, although manifested in a contrary way. For there is not an equal amount of contempt involved in aiming at an honor which does not pertain to one, and in despising such great advantages, but the latter exceeds the former as much as scorn differs from admiration. What soul then is so sordid as to despise such great advantages? None whatever, I should say, unless it were one subject to some demoniacal impulse. For I return once more to the point from which I started: not in the way of chastising only, but also in the way of benefiting, God has bestowed a power on priests greater than that of our natural parents. The two indeed differ as much as the present and the future life. For our natural parents generate us unto this life only, but the others unto that which is to come. And the former would not be able to avert death from their offspring, or to repel the assaults of disease; but these others have often saved a sick soul, or one which was on the point of perishing, procuring for some a milder chastisement, and preventing others from falling altogether, not only by instruction and admonition, but also by the assistance wrought through prayers. For not only at the time of regeneration, but afterwards also, they have authority to forgive sins” (On the Priesthood 3.6)

“Christ is present. The One who prepared that table [on Holy Thursday] is the very One who now prepared this table. For it is not a man who makes the sacrificial gifts become the Body and Blood of Christ, but He that was crucified for us, Christ Himself. The priest stands there carrying out the action, but the power and the grace is of God. ‘This is My Body’, he says. This statement transforms the gifts” (Homilies on the Treacherous Judas 1.6)

“Great is the dignity of Priests. ‘Whose sins you forgive,’ He [Jesus] says, ‘they are forgiven them’, …. The things that are placed in the hands of the Priest, it belongs to God alone to give...Neither Angel or Archangel is able to do anything in respect to what is given by God; rather, Father and Son and Holy Spirit manage it all; but the Priest lends his own tongue and presents his own hand. Nor would it be just, if those who draw near in faith to the symbols of our salvation were to be harmed by the wickedness of another” (Homily on the Gospel of John 86.4)

{1} (Hazlett, ‘Calvins Latin Preface’, 144; Calvini, ‘Praefatio In Chrysostomi’, volume 9, column 834.)

{2} Hazlett, ‘Calvins Latin Preface’, 144; Calvini, ‘Praefatio In Chrysostomi’, volume 9, column 835

{3} Quotes from here

The Limits of Papal Teaching? Are Tradition-holding Catholics Crypto-Protestants?


Fr. Luther in front of Bishop Thomas Cajetan – Painting by Ferdinand Willem Pauwels (1872)

I think one of the problems that many Catholics will have here is the supposition that one could use the remote rule of faith (the past teaching of the Magisterium) as a standard by which to measure a given Pope’s teaching. For, many converts into Catholicism have converted on the precise advertisement that, contrary to their prior experience as Protestants, one would not need to ever exercise private judgement against the Magisterium of holy Church. To this it should be said that Catholicism in no way allows the obliteration of the marriage between faith & reason. I understand that we have some Catholics who have vowed to obey the teaching of the Pope whether it accords with [their] reason or not, but we should be careful. Because of the nature of Revelation and the Decrees of Vatican I on faith, revelation, and reason, there cannot be a doctrine of Christ which is contra-reason, or violates reason. Transcend and exceed reason ? Sure. But not violate such that an internal incoherence could be found. A perfect example would be the law of non-contradiction. We know that Jesus Christ died, buried, and was risen in bodily form. If therefore a Pope were to come along, shimmy his imagination, and teach that it is permissible to believe that Jesus only rose spiritually in some invisible manner, then we would have a contradiction, and anyone should be able to recognize that such a teaching is wrong, and, more importantly, not an authentic reflection of the Church’s magisterium.

But even still, some Catholics, whether from the popular ministries or from ultramontanist apologetics in the 19th/20th centuries, still cannot manage to picture how it can be reconciled – that a Pope’s own orthodoxy could be measured by another, namely, the Sacred Tradition and Holy Scripture. Is this not what Dr. Luther ultimately did? Is it now what the Anglican divines did when they sought to retain the episcopal tradition together with Scripture, and judged the Tridentine Pope’s wrong? If this is allowed, would we not be including the Protestant authority paradigm, i.e. private judgement?

The answer to this is herein (and anyone feel free to correct or add to it) – These Protestants had disavowed, in principle, the immediate authority of the hierarchical Church to pronounce doctrine on faith and morals. Luther did not appeal, as he was asked to by superiors, to the Church fathers for his doctrines, at least in principle, as if they were an agency to be submitted to. I understand that in the Augsburg Confession, and in the later coming Book of Concord, there would be references to Patristic texts, but ultimately, there was no recognition that said Patrimony was to be abided by with divine faith. If, therefore, St. Augustine, along with most of the Fathers, taught clearly contra sola fide, Luther would just cast them out of hand. Calvin even more so. The chief rejection was that even Councils, as well as Popes, could teach dogmatic and infallible doctrine. So Luther/Calvin and company would be ready to disavow the teaching of Popes, Councils, Fathers, and all scholastic theologians if they were to be found disharmonious with Scripture. And this is why Sola Scrpitura was so important, as a bed rock, for the rationale basis of Luther and the coming Protestants. If Scripture say X, and the Church says not-X, we go with Scripture, and that solves the problem.

The problem with this, of course, is that Scripture itself refers to the authority of the Church. So where Scripture itself witnesses to the wedded authority of Oral Tradition and the Sacred Writ, the Protestants thought safe to disregard and hold the inconsistency. Of course, they were not satisfied, and thus, picking up from the spirit of Wycliffe and Hus, who followed the former, they re-defined ἐκκλησία and ecclesia as invisible. At least, the elect, who would be divinely protected from apostacy, were invisible to the human eye, and thus there is no objective criteria with which to judge. Not even Scripture, since against the myriad of debate that would spawn in Protestant dialectic, it was the “few” who were “chosen” that rightly interpreted it.

In any case, Catholics don’t entertain these ideas. We wholeheartedly consent, with divine faith, to the divine establishment of the Church and its potential to deliberately teach dogma infallibly, as well as the indestructibility of its visible elements (at least, until the parousia of Christ). We hold to the Ecumenical Councils, the consensus of the Church fathers, the interpretations of Scripture made by the authentic and perennial teaching of the Magisterium, and the Papal decrees which come by way of “ex Cathedra”. It is to this unchanging Magisterium that we appeal as a standard because, ultimately, Pope_Pius_IX_at_the_First_Vatican_Council*that is the standard to which the Magisterium has vowed itself unto*. At the Vatican Council (1870), it was stated very clearly that, although the Pope, when speaking “ex cathedra” he, by “the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter“, can speak infallibly on fatith and morals, this assistance is never towards a “new doctrine”. It says in Chapter 4 , para. 6, on the authority of the Roman Pontiff: “For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.”. Thus, right there smack dab right in the middle of the Magisterial voice of the Ecumenical Council of Vatican, we have the Church telling us with supreme authority that she cannot assist the Pope in creating new doctrine, but, more importantly, only to *safeguard* the deposit of faith transmitted by the Apostles. Whatever comes out of the Pope, whether it be private statements or even acts of authentic Magisterium, though non-infallible, they are not protected, and thus may be wrong. Pope Francis himself is well aware of his own fallibility.

But one might further ask, who gets to judge what that “deposit of faith” is? Well, it is the Magisterium who gets to judge. And it is precisely to this Magisterium that we appeal to say that a Pope, whether it be Francis or another, cannot introduce novelty. And, because of the invincible wedding between faith/reason, there cannot ever be an authentic teaching of the Pope which contradicts the past. What if a Pope were to come out and say that it is a matter of morals that one should eat sandwiches with mustard instead of mayonaiise? Would we submit? Or if the Pope said it is more righteous to wear red shirts since it represents the blood of Christ? Or, more relevant, what if Pope Francis said the baptized do not need to follow even ex Cathedra teaching? Would we submit? Hans Küng, a known critic of Papal Infallibility,  has achieved the Popes consent to look into the question of infallibility. Who knows where that will go.

Even still, one Catholic might ask what if the Magisterium says a certain doctrine, actually contradictory to past Magisterial teaching, is actually harmonious? Ultimately we do not believe such can be done , at least by an extraordinary exercise.  The Pope does not get to re-define the laws of logic and reality. He can say that gravity actually pulls upward all day, and even say such is a matter of faith, and that it is harmonious all he wants,  but that changes nothing. This is why persons who appeal to the Pope to clarify or even correct himself are actually exercising faith in the Magisterium,  since we have faith that the authentic and irreformable Magisterium cannot violate the deposit of faith. If this were to happen, it would be the falsification-moment for Catholicism. And if this were to ever occur, then I would not be able to be committed to it. But I do not believe this can happen, and thankfully, it never has, and, by faith, I say it never will.

Concludimg remarks – This all might seem so redundant since the authoritative ability of the Magisterium is merely to sustain what is already known. Well, it would only be the same redundancy of the Apostles who were commissioned “to teach all things Christ had commanded” (Matt 28:18). Likewise, it would only be the same redundancy of Sacred Scripture, which forever remains unchangeable. Catholicism is not in the business of change, unless it means better fostering the single-same Gospel to one culture or another. Even then, great care is to be had in the implementation.

St. Cyprian on the Roman See: Ecclesia Principalis Unde Unitas Sacerdotalis Exorta Est


I may have 2 or more articles (here and here) on this blog already about the ecclesiology of St. Cyprian, and so the readers will know of my particular understanding of it. Those who have read also know that I am of the opinion that Cyprian had an internal conflict in his ecclesiology since, on the one hand, he posed the idea of the unity of the Church to be guaranteed by the unity of Bishops,  that the unity of Bishops hinged on the singular chair of Peter (understood as a universal reality unto which all Bishops adhere),  that, in some way, the Episcopate of Rome occupies a special position as the successor and holder of Peter’s chair, and on the other hand, that there is no such thing as a “bishop of Bishops“, or  one holds universal headship and thus governmental jurisdiction over the whole network of Bishops. In fact, the sustaining of this unity, in the mind of Cyprian, was the “glue of concord” or the “agreement between Bishops“. So long as this glue or agreement was sustained, there was the principle of unity and peace. The problem with this, of course, is this glue and agreement were not permanently secured in such a way that no division was possible, at least in some proportion which forces one to have to discriminate between groups, councils, and regions of Bishops versus others. It is to this factor that some of Cyprian’s contemporaries pushed for logical implications which transgressed his own comfort zone, as we shall see.

The 3rd century, in which Cyprian lived, had its number of episcopal divisions; after all, you had the Novatianist episcopate which Cyprian condemned, and even credited the Bishop of Rome with special contribution to its condemnation. But Cyprian surely did not live long enough to see the scale of controversy that would be in store for the coming Donatist schism which would be born in his own native country – Africa. In fact, it was against this Donatistic schism which caused the apologists of the true Church to discrminate down to a single Bishop what constituted the supreme “Cathedra Petri” (chair of Peter) by suggesting that all who remain united to the See of Rome were incorporated into the single reality of ecclesia, and none others. I here think of St. Optatus and St. Augustine, who both wrote extensively in this vein. Still, Cyprian lived far before the onslaught of the 4th century schisms caused by the Arian-speculators,  whose divisive spirit was also supported by the Imperium of the day. It was in this century that we say one Synod after another, competing with each other. The deposition of St. Athanasius by his fellow Eastern hierarchs gathered in Council was overturned by what many anti-Papal Cyprianic fans of the 3rd century call the “tyrannical Bishop”, that prelate of the Roman See. The entourage of Eusebius would have, without a doubt, agreed with such a sentiment. What irony, therefore, is proven when, by the 5th-century Councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451) have both Africans and Byzantinists whole heartedly receiving the Bishop of Rome as (a) successor of St. Peter, (b) sole occupant of his Chair, (c)  head of the Universal Church, and (d) final arbiter on matters of faith and discipline?

In any case, this is not so much about the development of the Papal See as it is Cyprian and his ecclesiology. So every Bishop successor of St. Peter, eh? The Papalists even today admit that Cyprian no doubt had this concept in mind. Even the good old Abbot of Downside Abbey, Patrician Fr. John Chapman, admitted that “St. Peter is commonly said by the Fathers to be the type of monoepiscopacy” and that “Peter was to the ancient the type of centralized power” (Studies in Early Papacy, p. 83). Such is old news to well-versed Papal apologists. But what may not be old news is that a certain non-Catholic has taken note of the Cyprianic problem I described above. Hailing from Russia, former Eastern Orthodox History professor at St. Sergius Institute in Paris, Fr. Nicolas Afanasssieff, describes wonderfully the contradictory egg in Cyprian which hatched in the theologies of others:

“….according to his doctrine there should have really been one single Bishop at the head of the Universal Church. He was unwilling to place the Bishop of Rome outside the concors numerositas of bishops, and yet the place given by him to the Roman Church did raise it above the ‘harmonious multitude’. The ideal ‘Peter’s throne’ occupied by the whole episcopate became confused in Cyprian’s mind with the actual throne occupied by the Bishop of Rome. According to Cyprian, every Bishop occupies Peter’s throne (the Bishop of Rome among others), but the See of Peter is Peter’s throne par excellence. The Bishop of Rome is the direct heir of Peter, whereas the others are heirs only indirectly, and sometimes only by the mediation of Rome. Hence Cyprian’s insistence that the Church of Rome is the root and matrix of the Catholic Church. The subject is treated in so many of Cyprian’s passages that there is no doubt; to him, the See of Rome was ecclesia principalis unde unitas sacerdotalis exorta est. But he does not proceed to draw any conclusions from his doctrine about the See of Rome. Cyprian could not deny that the See of Rome held a preponderant position: but he was intuitively in step with trends in the whole Church which did not allow him to make the Bishop of Rome head of the episcopate. The Bishop of Rome undertook to relive him, and drew the necessary conclusions himself. Logically it was inevitable…No wonder Cyprian’s system turned out to be a historical failure! In his declining years Cyprian was to see his system crash before his own eyes. He saw that the concors numerositas (concord of bishops) was only an ideal; in reali life there is certainly numerositas, but not concord, since a concors numerostias cannot work without a Head.” (from “The Church Which Presides in Love” pp .98-99,  in “Primacy of Peter” edited by Fr. John Meyendorff)

The “Bishop of Rome” who drew the conclusion of Cyprian’s ecclesiology was no less than Pope St. Stephen I. Now, a point of clarification. I don’t believe Stephen learned this from Cyprian. We are speaking conceptually, and not chronologically. It was surely prior to Stephen that the Bishops of Rome had this conclusion.  Anyhow, took much space would be taken to describe the famous controversy between Rome and North Africa during this time, and so I will say briefly that the Pope wrote an Edict on the matter of baptism which required the African churches, and others, to receive heretical converts who had been already baptized in the Trinitarian name without re-baptizing them, and rather to receive them with the laying on of hands. His Edict did claim to carry the authority to command and excommunicate outside of the diocese of Rome and based it on the prerogative of being successor of Peter’s throne.  One of the firs times this occurs in Papal history, Pope St. Callistus I being perhaps an earlier example. What is even more interesting is that the post-3rd century Catholic Church would look back and say Cyprian was, in fact, wrong. St. Vincent Lérins, when giving an example of the Pope abiding by antiquity rather than novelty, described St. Stephen as follows: “Pope Stephen of blessed memory, Prelate of the Apostolic See, in conjunction indeed with his colleagues but yet himself the foremost, withstood it, thinking it right, I doubt not, that as he exceeded all others in the authority of his place, so he should also in the devotion of his faith“. So, much to the contrary of what many might think, it was not tyranny that went down with St. Stephen’s memory.  I leave with a description that Anglican historian J.N.D. Kelly gives of this Pope and how it shows that Stephen certainly came to the conclusion that Cyprian did not:

These incidents throw light on the growing recognition, in the middle of the 3rd cent., of the pre-eminent position of Rome, as a court of appeal at any rate for Gaul and Spain, and as the see with which other sees deemed it appropriate to be in communion. Stephen emerges as an imperious and uncompromising prelate, fully aware of his prerogative; his rival Bishops did not hesitate to put the blame for splitting the Church on him. It is interesting that he was accused of ‘glorying in his standing as Bishop and of claiming to hold succession from Peter, on whom the foundations of the church were laid’. He was in fact the first Pope, so far as is known, to find a formal basis for the Roman primacy in the Lord’s charge to the Apostle Peter cited in Matt 6:18.” (Oxford Dictionary of Popes, p. 21)

Church Fathers on Purgatory


This is a small compilation of citations from the early Fathers on the purgatorial process after death for those whose virtue did not expiate all of their sins. You will notice there is representation from the See of Alexandria, the Catechetical school of Jerusalem, , Thmuis (Egypt), Cyrus (Greece), North Africa, France (Gaul), and Rome. I purposefully chose these selections as they prove the doctrine was universal.

** Most English Translations from William Jurgens “Faith of the Early Fathers” (Vol I-III)

St. Clement of Alexandria (150-+215) – “Accordingly the believer, through great discipline, divesting himself of the passions, passes to the mansion which is better than the former one, viz., to the greatest torment, taking with him the characteristic of repentance from the sins he has committed after baptism. He is tortured then still more— not yet or not quite attaining what he sees others to have acquired. Besides, he is also ashamed of his transgressions. The greatest torments, indeed, are assigned to the believer. For God’s righteousness is good, and His goodness is righteous. And though the punishments cease in the course of the completion of the expiation and purification of each one, yet those have very great and permanent grief who are found worthy of the other fold, on account of not being along with those that have been glorified through righteousness.” (Stromata 6.14)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (315-+386) in his 23rd Catechetical lecture describes the various prayers offered during the sacred liturgy. He comments on that which is for the dead: Then, after the spiritual sacrifice, the bloodless service, is completed, over that sacrifice of propitiation we entreat God for the common peace of the Churches, for the welfare of the world ; for kings; for soldiers and allies; for the sick; for the afflicted; and, in a word, for all who stand in need of succour we all pray and offer this sacrifice.Then we commemorate also those who have fallen asleep before us, first Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, that at their prayers and intercessions God would receive our petition. Then on behalf also of the Holy Fathers and Bishops who have fallen asleep before us, and in a word of all who in past years have fallen asleep among us, believing that it will be a very great benefit to the souls , for whom the supplication is put up, while that holy and most awful sacrifice is set forth. And I wish to persuade you by an illustration. For I know that many say, what is a soul profited, which departs from this world either with sins, or without sins, if it be commemorated in the prayer? For if a king were to banish certain who had given him offense, and then those who belong to them should weave a crown and offer it to him on behalf of those under punishment, would he not grant a remission of their penalties? In the same way we, when we offer to Him our supplications for those who have fallen asleep, though they be sinners, weave no crown, but offer up Christ sacrificed for our sins , propitiating our merciful God for them as well as for ourselves.” (Catechetical Lecture #23)

St. John Chrysostom (349-+407) –  “Not in vain was it decreed by the Apostles that in the awesome mysteries remembrance should be made of the departed. They knew that here there was much gain for them, much benefit. For when the entire people stands with hands uplifted, a priestly assembly, and that awesome sacrificial Victim is laid out, how, when we are calling up God, should we not succeed in their defense? But this is done for those who have departed in the faith, while even the catechumens are not reckoned as worthy of this consolation, but are deprived of every means of assistance except one. And what is that? We may give alms to the poor on their behalf” (Homily #4 Philippians – Patrologia Graeca 66.295 or NewAdvent)

St. Serapion, Bishop of Thmuis, Egypt (+370) – In an 11th century manuscript found in the Mouth Athos Laura by an A. Dimitrijewsky which was determined to be a Euchologion (Missal) and whose authorship is attributed to Serapion of Thmuis. It consists of 30 unique prayers, and dates back to 350 A.D. The Liturgy of Divine Service resembles the so-called Liturgy of St. Mark. F.E. Brightman put the prayers in proper sequence in a published text for the Journal of Theological Studies, Vol. 1 (1900), pp. 880113 and 247-277. The standard text, however, is F.X. Funk’s Didascalia Et Constitutiones Apostolorum, Vol. 2, and can be accessed here in both Greek and Latin. I will quote an English translation found in William Jurgens Vol. II, page 132: “Full also is this Sacrifice, with your strength and your communion; for to You we offer this living sacrifice, this unbloody oblation…we beeseech You also on behalf of all the departed, of whom also this is the commenoration — after the mentioning of their names — Sanctify these souls, for you know them all; sanctify all who have fallen asleep in the Lord and count them all among the ranks of Your saints and give them a place and abode in Your Kingdom.” (Anaphora of the Eucharistic Sacrifice)

St. Epiphanius of Salamis (310-+403) – “Furthermore, as to mentioning the names of the dead, how is there anything useful in that? What is more timely or more excellent than that those who are still here should believe that the departed do live, and that they have not retreated into nothingness, but that they exist and are alive with the Master? And so that this most august proclamation might be told in full, how do they have hope, who are praying for the brethren as if they were but sojourning in a foreign land? Useful too is the prayer fashioned on heir behalf, even if it does not force back the whole of guilty charges laid to them. And it is useful also, because in this world we often stumble either voluntarily or involuntarily, and thus it is a reminder to do better. For we make commenoration of the just and sinners; of sinners , begging God’s mercy for them; of the just and the Fathers and Patriarchs and Prophets and Apostles and Evangelists and martyrs and confessors, and of bishops and solitaries...” (Panarion 75.8)

St. Augustine of Hippo (354-+430) – “There is an ecclesiastical discipline, as the faithful know, when the names of martyrs are read aloud in that place at the Altar of God, where prayer is not offered for them. Prayer, however, is offered for other dead who are remembered. For it is wrong to pray for a martyr, to whose prayers we ought ourselves be commended” (Sermo 159.1)

But by the prayers of the Holy Church, and by the salvific sacrifice, and by the alms which are given for their spirits, there is no doubt that the dead are aided, that the Lord might deal more mercifully with them than their sins would deserve. For the whole Church observes this practice which was handed down by the fathers: that it prays for those who have died in the communion of the body and blood of Christ, when they are commemorated in their own place in the sacrifice itself; and the sacrifice is offered also in memory of them, on their behalf. If, then, works of mercy are celebrated for the sake of those who are being remembered, who would hesitate to recommend them, on whose behalf prayers to God are not offered in vain? It is not at all to be doubted that such prayers are of profit to the dead; but for such of them as lived before their death in a way that makes it possible for these things to be useful to them after death”  (Sermo 172.2)

We read in the book of Maccabees that sacrifice was offered for the dead. But even if it were found nowhere in the Old Testament writings, the authority of the universal Church which is clear on this point is of no small weight, where in the prayers of the priest poured forth to the Lord God at His altar the commendation of the dead has its place” (The Care to be had for the Dead)

Temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by some both here and hereafter; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But not all who suffer temporal punishments after death will come to eternal punishments, which are to follow after that judgement.” (City of God, Book 21-Ch. 13)

For some of the dead, indeed, the prayer of the Church or of pious individuals is heard; but it is for those who, having been regenerated in Christ, did not spend their life so wickedly that they can be judged unworthy of such compassion, nor so well that they can be considered to have no need of it. As also, after the resurrection, there will be some of the dead to whom, after they have endured the pains proper to the spirits of the dead, mercy shall be accorded, and acquittal from the punishment of the eternal fire. For were there not some whose sins, though not remitted in this life, shall be remitted in that which is to come, it could not be truly said, They shall not be forgiven, neither in this world, neither in that which is to come” (City of God, Book 21- Ch. 24/2)

During the time, moreover, which intervenes between a man’s death and the final resurrection, the soul dwells in a hidden retreat, where it enjoys rest or suffers affliction just in proportion to the merit it has earned by the life which it led on earth. Nor can it be denied that the souls of the dead are benefited by the piety of their living friends, who offer the sacrifice of the Mediator, or give alms in the church on their behalf. But these services are of advantage only to those who during their lives have earned such merit, that services of this kind can help them. For there is a manner of life which is neither so good as not to require these services after death, nor so bad that such services are of no avail after death; there is, on the other hand, a kind of life so good as not to require them; and again, one so bad that when life is over they render no help. Therefore, it is in this life that all the merit or demerit is acquired, which can either relieve or aggravate a man’s sufferings after this life. No one, then, need hope that after he is dead he shall obtain merit with God which he has neglected to secure here. And accordingly it is plain that the services which the church celebrates for the dead are in no way opposed to the apostle’s words: “For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad” ; for the merit which renders such services as I speak of profitable to a man, is earned while he lives in the body. It is not to every one that these services are profitable. And why are they not profitable to all, except because of the different kinds of lives that men lead in the body? When, then, sacrifices either of the altar or of alms are offered on behalf of all the baptized dead, they are thank-offerings for the very good, they are propitiatory offerings for the not very bad, and in the case of the very bad, even though they do not assist the dead, they are a species of consolation to the living. And where they are profitable, their benefit consists either in obtaining a full remission of sins, or at least in making the condemnation more tolerable.” (The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love – #109-110)

St. Caesar of Arles (470-+543) – ““Although the Apostle has mentioned many grevious sins, we nevertheless, lest we seem to promote despair, will state briefly what they are. Sacrilege, murder, adultery, false witness, theft, robbery, pride, envy, avarice, and, if it is of long standing, anger, drunkenness, if it persistent, and slander are reckoned in their number. For if anyone knows that any of these sins dominates him, if he does not do penance worthily and for a long time, if such time is given him, and if he does not give abundant alms and abstain from those same sins, he cannot be purged in that transitory fire of which the Apostle spoke [1 Cor 3], but the eternal flames will torture him without any remedy. But since the lesser sins are, of course, known to all, and it would take too long to mention them all, it will be necessary for us only to name some of them. As often as someone takes more than is necessary in food or drink, he knows that this belongs to the lesser sins. As often as he says more than he should or is silent more than is proper; as often as he rudely exasperates a poor beggar; as often as he wills to eat when others are fasting, although he is in good physical health, and rises too late for church because he surrendered himself to sleep; as often as he knows his wife without a desire to have children….without a doubt he commits sin. There is no doubt that these and similar deeds belong to the lesser sins which, as I said before, can scarcely be counted and from which not only all Christian people, but even all the Saints, could not and cannot always be free. We do not, of course, believe that the soul is killed by these sins; but still, they make it ugly by covering it as if with some kind of pustules and, as it were, with horrible scabs, which allow the soul o come only with difficulty to the embrace of the heavenly Spouse, of whom it is written: ‘He prepared for Himself a Church having neither spot nor blemish’…If we neither give thanks to God in tribulations nor redeem our own sins by good works, we shall have to remain in that purgaotrial fire as long as it takes for those above-mentioned lesser sins to be consumed like wood and straw and hay. But someone is saying: ‘It is nothing to me how long I stay there, so long as I go finally to eternal life’. Let no one say that, beloved brethren, because that purgatorial fire itself will be more difficult than any punishments that can be seen or imagined or felt in this life” (Sermon 179)

St. Gregory the Great (+604) – “Peter: ‘Desirous I am to be informed, whether we ought to believe that after death there is any fire of Purgatory‘. Gregory: ‘But yet we must believe that before the day of judgment there is a Purgatory fire for certain small sins: because our Saviour saith, that he which speaketh blasphemy against the holy Ghost, that it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come.66 Out of which sentence we learn, that some sins are forgiven in this world, and some other may be pardoned in the next: for that which is denied concerning one sin, is consequently understood to be granted touching some other. But yet this, as I said, we have not to believe but only concerning little and very small sins, as, for example, daily idle talk, immoderate laughter, negligence in the care of our family (which kind of offences scarce can they avoid, that know in what sort sin is to be shunned), ignorant errors in matters of no great weight: all which sins be punished after death, if men procured not pardon and remission for them in their lifetime: for when St. Paul saith, that Christ is the foundation: and by and by addeth: And if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble: the work of every one, of what kind it is, the fire shall try. If any man’s work abide which he built thereupon, he shall receive reward; if any mans work burn, he shall suffer detriment, but himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.6For although these words may be understood of the fire of tribulation, which men suffer in this world: yet if any will interpret them of the fire of Purgatory, which shall be in the next life: then must he carefully consider, that the Apostle said not that he may be saved by fire, that buildeth upon this foundation iron, brass, or lead, that is, the greater sort of sins, and therefore more hard, and consequently not remissible in that place: but wood, hay, stubble, that is, little and very light sins, which the fire doth easily consume. Yet we have here further to consider, that none can be there purged, no, not for the least sins that be, unless in his lifetime he deserved by virtuous works to find such favour in that place.” (Dialogues – Book 4, Ch 39)



The Epistle to the Romans – A Tridentine Catholic Interpretation (Part 1)



Council of Trent (1545-1563)

I remember when I was a Protestant examining the Catholic doctrine of justification as outlined by the Council and Trent and seeking my best to get past the very clear statements in the Book of Romans, which I had grown so attached to over years and years of reading the Great Protestant commentaries, which stated in such clear terms that a “man is justified by faith apart from works” and that “to the one who works [for justification], the wages are not counted as grace, but as debt” and “to the one who does not work [for justification], but rather has faith in God who justifies the ungodly, [as opposed to working for it], his faith is credited as righteousness“. All of this still seems to indicate that Paul really did have in mind the exclusivity of faith without any works in the attainment of the grace of justification. I also remember growing increasingly doubtful when listening to or reading scholarly works done by Catholics who were interpreting the text of Romans. There was either a reduction of Paul’s “justification” to some purely initiatory grace, where thereafter one is saved by works, or there was a reduction of “Law” or “Works” to that of the external Jewish boundary-markers. Even if emphasis might have been on circumcision or table fellowship with the unclean were to be given, it seems clear to me that even “Works” of the moral kind (properly qualified) Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_The_Crucified_Christ_-_WGA20190are excluded from justification , after all, it is stated by St. Paul that “by the deeds of the Law shall no man be justified, for by the Law comes the knowledge of sin“, and likewise, “if it were not for the Law, I would not have known sin“, and again, “for if the Law had not said ‘You shall not covet’, I would not have known coveting“, and lastly, “But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the Law sin was dead. I was alive once without the Law, but when the commandment came, sin came to life and I died“. I take “by the Law comes the knowledge of sin“, therefore, not as intellectual cognition of a moral prohibition, but “knowledge” as in experiential knowledge. St. Paul came to experience sin through the Law since it was through the Law that sin, personified here as a power which overtakes, seized opportunity to tempt the body to give way to breaking the commandment. Thus, it is for this reason, namely, the weakness of the flesh, that man cannot be justified by Law. And if that is the case, then it is all encompassing. It is on account of the weakness of fallen humanity that the Law could never fulfill its telos (goal), and therefore the content of “Law” must exceed purely external Jewish boundary markers. On the other hand, Paul seems to believe that, upon becoming “justified”, one has the “hope of eternal life”, and rejoices is hope “of the glory of God”. How can a purely initiatory grace secure such a thing if it were not of some permanent application ? For these reasons, and many more, the Catholic who upholds Trent will have to provide better reasoning from the text of Romans on how its decrees and canons are truly Pauline, and thus an accurate reflection of the God-inspired teaching. How then can a Catholic, who is bound by the decrees and definitions of the Council of Trent, avoid the accusation that he or she is contradicting the word of God?

Rather than do a very detailed exposition of the text of Romans, for which I recommend Dr. Levering or Aquinas, I thought I would just summarize the major parts of the epistle which span from the beginning to the marker ending chapter 4, which seems to be the most controversial in the debate between Protestants and Catholics. I’ve added “Part 1” to the title of this post since I want to eventually move into Romans 5-8, and then 9-10 on a future point of time.

Romans 1:18-3:20 – Having opened up his epistle by introducing himself as the divinely appointed Apostle for the mission of God in bringing all nations into the “obedience of faith” in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, who transitioned in Himself the old creation to the new, St. Paul states the crux of the gospel and the reason for which he is dedicated to the mission. The gospel of Christ carries with it the power of God for the salvation of mankind, since in it the “righteousness of God” is revealed for all and everyone who are believing in Jesus Christ. Following this, he goes into the reason why this salvation is so desperately needed. Humanity has plumbed the depths of sin by evil deeds, and are

Öèôðîâàÿ ðåïðîäóêöèÿ íàõîäèòñÿ â èíòåðíåò-ìóçåå

Fr. Martin Luther

consequently standing under the righteous judgment of their God and Creator. A fixed day there is wherein God will reveal the secrets and deeds of men, and each individually will receive his merited destination, whether that is the tortures of eternal damnation via the guilt of sinning, or the happiness of eternal life via the quality of good works. However, both Jews and Gentiles are both alike under the dominion of sin, and therefore the Law and Commandments of God have no utility in providing a way to clean up the situation of man. In fact, it only serves a revelatory purpose, i.e. to expose man as those who have violated the will of God, whether encoded in the Law of Moses or on the conscience by nature. St. Paul concludes that, given the nature of things, mankind is indicted and falls guilty before God, completely disabled from obtaining liberation from the shackles of condemnation. This is precisely what the Synod fathers of Trent saw on January 13th, 1547 when, in the 1st chapter on the “Decree of Justification”. They wrote that humanity is “so far the servants of sin, and under the power of the devil and of death, that not the Gentiles only by the force of nature, but not even the Jews by the very letter itself of the law of Moses, were able to be liberated, or to arise, therefrom; although free will, attenuated as it was in its powers, and bent down, was by no means extinguished in them.

Romans 3:21-26 – After consigning all to sin and, consequently, the condemnation which goes with it, Paul returns to this thematic phrase of the “righteousness of God” and its being “made known” by the revelation of Jesus Christ. Whereas the sin of man would be the cause of self-ruin, it is the righteousness of God that would undo and overturn that ruin. This righteousness is a saving righteousness, meant to deliver man from sin and replant him as a righteous child of God. Luther got it right, borrowing from St. Augustine, when he understood this righteousness is not that by which God is Himself righteous, but that righteousness with which, by bestowing it as a gift to man, God makes human beings righteous. It is then stated by Paul that this righteousness is communicated to man “through faith in Jesus Christ”. Thus far, it is clear that by believing in Jesus Christ, man receives this righteousness from God as a gift. The reception of this righteousness is tantamount to the justification of the recipient. And thus, Paul says we are


St. Augustine of Hippo

“justified freely by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood“. Now, the idea of “redemption” comes into play here, and it fits the context perfectly. For redemption language in the 1st century was that of freeing something from bondage, servitude, or slavery (i.e. from the slave market). Human beings have been described as such slaves, and their destiny in that state was condemnation and death. It stands to reason, therefore, that the path of reversal unto justification and life would be by an act of setting man free, breaking his chains, and purchasing his liberation from that bondage. The redemption which is in Christ is effected by a “propitiation by His blood”. There it is. The cause of redemption is the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. It is the payment, as it were, which buys the human race out of its enslavement to sin, its influential power, and the reign of death which inevitably exists as consequence. By “propitiation“, Paul means that the justice of God which demands retributive punishment against sinners has been averted by Christ’s death. Another way to put it is that the death of Jesus removes from us the guilt we deserve to carry for committing sins, and thus reconciles us to God. In sum, the fallen human race, devoid of the righteousness needed in order to live in a salvific state with God forever, is shown the way of achieving life-giving righteousness by believing in Jesus Christ, whose death secures man’s liberation from the slavery of sin. The Law of God, therefore, is no way for man to become justified before God. Only by this intervention of the Creator in Jesus Christ where a divine Savior takes upon Himself the means to end our dreadful condition. Human works played no role in this. It was, from beginning to end, a work of divine operation. It was He who humbled Himself to become Man, to throw Himself down under the weight of crucifixion while bearing our sins in His own body, and who raised Himself out of the grave and returned to heaven. Kryie Eileson.

Romans 4:1-25 Having described the salvific process of justification from this divine action in the dying and rising Lord, man is left as a recipient of an insurmountable gift which excludes all appeals to human merits for its achievement. It would be by a latter allusion to an Old Testament passage that St. Paul would say something like “Do not say in your heart ‘who will ascend into heaven’, (that is to bring Christ down), or ‘who will descend into the abyss’, *that is to bring Christ up from the dead)”, but rather these divine actions have already been accomplished by the power of almighty God. It was Christ who was sent by God the Father, and was made man, and it was God who raised Him from the dead. No man can ascend into heaven to bring Christ down, nor can any man go into the depths of the tomb and resurrect Christ from the dead. These actions are Christ_on_the_cross_(1631),_by_Rembrandtinfinitely outside the purview of human ability. They are performed and done by God, and we are left as recipients of its bounty, and thus our mouths are sealed shut from boasting any contributory effort on our part in this glorious redemption. This was, after all, God’s intention – “that no flesh would glory in His presence”. It is for this reason that St. Paul compared the justifying activity of God to the birth of Isaac. It was another death-to-life transition outside the purview of human ability. Sarah’s womb being dead, and Abraham’s body being around 100 years old, the birth of a baby is unthinkable. But it was for the purpose of showing by whose hand that child is born that God waited that long. In the same way, St. Paul is showing us that sinful and fallen humanity is so far outside the sphere of righteousness and life that it was God alone, acting supernaturally in Christ-made-man, that could restore him to the purposes of eternal life originally revealed to our first parents, albeit prototypically. The Law comes and demands from the human being that which he cannot give, namely, righteousness. The cross and resurrection of Christ, indeed, set aside the works of man, and opens the treasure chest of God’s grace to be opened and released upon the believing community.

Now, to the text. Paul says “What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited unto him as righteousness’. Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace, but as a debt [owed]. But to him who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (4:1-5)

When he writes “according to the flesh”, I take it as “according to human nature”, or that which is within the boundary of human capacity and ability. Has Abraham, then, performed anything in said capacity which earns his right-standing with God? Paul answers in the negative by stating an “if-then” which would be impossible in light of God’s purposes. If Abraham was justified by works [in the flesh], he would have something to boast about. A perfect unpacking of this concept is in Philippians 3, where Paul describes his fleshly pedigree as fully authentic Benjamin Israelite, a Pharisee of the elite, sworn in compliance with the Law, and circumcised on the proper 8th day. What has Paul found according to the flesh before God? Paul answers –  ζημίαν and σκύβαλα. Tridentinum2That is, loss and dung (i.e. excrement or animal waste).  That last word only comes up once in the New Testament, and squarely to describe what man might be able to surmount as worthy for his salvation before God. That should be informative, to say the least. Needless to say, therefore, that Paul found nothing according to the flesh by which he could be justified, and neither Abraham. And yet, we know that Abraham and Paul were justified before God. On what account?

“Abraham believed God”, and consequently, he was justified. Rather, it says “faith was credited for righteousness”. His believing in the word of promise, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them…so shall your descendants be” (Gen 15:5), was calculated, imputed, reckoned, or credited as righteousness. Again, this reflects the intention of God to Himself come and bring life from the dead. To establish a nation from one man who will be God’s priestly people, and through whom the world would find blessing (Gen 12:1-3) would be, in God’s plan, a supernatural and divine work outside the scope of human ability. Now, Abraham himself may have entertained some natural solutions to that end, i.e. Hagar, but it was soon squashed by the divine will, “In Isaac shall your descendant[s] be called”. God won’t have helpers, in other words. Truly, “not him who runs, but God who calls“. So Abraham’s believing in the divine word is credited as righteousness. Now, is this another way of showcasing the flesh? After all, could not Abraham say “I boast in my faith! I have faith and you don’t. I am righteous”. Not by any means. Faith is a gift from above. Abraham had to renounce his resolve to depend on what is natural, and rather to trust in divine operation. What God promises will come true, and that is that. But this faith which God worked into Abraham’s life is the result of a sanctifying work. It was ordered unto God, and God deemed it as righteousness. Now, this has to be an act of grace, otherwise the whole argument collapses. So what do Catholics do at this point? We first understand that Abraham’s believing in God is itself a gift, and not a work. We would not say that this faith is a mere intellectual recognition, but it is formed by devotion and a heart which seeks the will of God. Now, one might object – “But if faith is anything but a mere open hand of the ungodly to receive an alien righteousness, then we are destroying the argument since faith must be mutually exclusive to works, and by you saying ‘faith formed by devotion and a heat which seeks the will of God’ you are merging faith and works together, and thereby causing collapse of the context“. I am afraid that this objection, though wonderfully welcomed, will not stand up to a consideration of what Paul says elsewhere in Romans. My rebuttal follows.

In Romans 2, Paul says “For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the Law; but if you are a breaker of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the Law, will not his circumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the Law, judge you who, even with your written code and physical circumcision, are a transgressor of the Law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men, but from God” (Rom 2:25-29). In some Protestant circles, this hypothetical man who fulfills the Law is just that, hypothetically. As such, Paul is only entertaining a fiction for the sake of argument. And this commitment to interpret as hypothetical is rooted in the fact that, from a Protestant vantage, a man, even uncircumcised, who fulfills the Law is a man who is justified by his works, and can therefore boast before God. In fact, what Paul describes here about the man who fulfills the Law would be, in some schools of Protestant interpretation of Romans, only realized historically in Jesus Christ. But that certainly would be news to Paul who elsewhere says that we, by the power of the Spirit, can and do fulfill the “righteous requirement of the Law” (8:3-4), when we walk in the power of that Spirit. But even then, some Protestant interpreters have managed to squeeze even into the 8th chapter of Romans the idea that this is merely putative, that Christ’s fulfillment of the Law is imputed to us and thus becomes our fulfilling of the Law Sarpi_Historia(i.e. by an act of transfer from a substitute). But that this is truly manipulative should be seen how in both Romans 8:3-4 and Romans 2:25-29, there is this referring to the Spirit of God who transforms the inner man so that he might serve God in obedience. Another text where this transition from serving by the Letter versus the Spirit is Romans 7:1-5. There we are told that prior to union with Christ, we were enslaved to the passions of the body, and that the Letter of the Law would serve the purpose of increasing our debt to death. But by being united to Christ, we’ve become dead to the Law, alive to God, and now serve in the newness of the Spirit, and not in the oldness of the Letter. And finally, another passage in Paul would be 2 Cor 3:1-18, and there he compares the Letter vs. Spirit dichotomy with the Old Covenant vs. New Covenant reality, and further describes the latter dichotomy with the Old/Letter being the external inscription of the Law on tablets of stone and the New/Spirit being the internal inscription of the Law on the heart [i.e. the inward, a la Rom 2:28-29]. For these reasons, Paul in 2:25-29 envisions Gentiles who have been inwardly sanctified by the Spirit, and not the Letter, and who “fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law”, but nevertheless have no place for boasting (i.e. whose praise is not from men, but from God-v29). This is extremely crucial for understanding those passages of Romans where Paul speaks of the justifying of fallen humanity by faith apart from the Law, and thus by grace apart from works. It does not simply refer to the initiatory moment of justification-at-conversion, but is a more general process beginning with baptism (6:1) and continuing in our struggle against the flesh (8:11-13). The idea that we are “justified by faith and sanctified by struggle” is therefore miles away from Paul.

In addition to all of this, there are widely respected Protestant New Testament scholars who interpret the “uncircumcised Gentile” (v. 25-27) who “fulfills the righteous requirements of the Law” as members of the New Covenant who have had the Spirit of God write the Law on their hearts, and thus, as Jeremiah and Ezekial put it, walk in the commandments and statutes of the Lord. Senior lecturer in New Testament at the Melbourne School of Theology, Dr. Colin Kruse, in his commentary on the epistle to the Romans (The Pillar New Testament Commentary Series edited by D.A. Carson) argues for this view (p. 155); Dr. Thomas Schreiner, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), argues for the same position, contra Moo (p. 171) and Fitzmyer (p. 322), in his commentary on Romans (pgs. 139-41). He also refers readers to Garlington’s “Faith, Obedience, and Perseverance: Aspects of Paul’s Letter to the Romans” (pgs. 58, 62-63, 68). Interestingly enough, Schreiner recently revised his interpretation of an earlier passage (Romans 2:14-15) on Paul’s saying that “when Gentiles, who do not have the Law, by nature do the things in the Law“, now interpreting this as Gentiles who are members of the New Covenant and thus “do the law“. Dr. Michael F. Bird blogs on this, and refers to an interview-podcast (Episode 41) where Schreiner gives account for it. And last but not least, the popular Romans Commentary by Cranfield (p. 174) also argues the same interpretation I am giving here.

Now, going back to the justification of Abraham. His faith in the promise was reckoned as the righteousness by which he is justified before God. I want to focus our attention on the question of why faith was reckoned for righteousness. If you read Protestant commentaries on Romans 4 and Abraham’s justification, the focus is put on how faith has to be wholly dichotomous from works in order for Paul’s gift versus debt dichotomy; and rightly so. But the conclusion they often come to is that faith, in itself, cannot consist of anything in the person possessing it other than an empty-hand by which to receive the merits of Christ. “Not the labors of my hands, Can fulfill thy law’s demands….Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to thy cross I cling” is how the Rock of Ages goes. This is very true so far as it goes. But if we keep our finger on the text of Romans, we have some additional information on how Paul himself understands this transaction of Abraham’s faith and the righteousness which was imputed to him.

In verses 16-22, Paul further describes the rationale for his appeal to Abraham. He is the father of all who believe, an thus, his justification is likewise the pre-eminent example of the justification of all. As the father is justified, so also the sons [of Abraham]. Paul writes: “..Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, ‘I have made you a father of many nations’) in the presence of Him whom he believed — God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the fathers of many nations, according to what was spoken, ‘So shall your descendants be’. And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore, ‘it was accounted to him for righteousness’“. Notice there, at the end, the “therefore”. Righteousness was imputed to Abraham’s faith because of a reason, and the reason he gives here is not a conversion-moment in the life of Abraham where he got on his knees and prayed a prayer for the reception of Christ’s alien righteousness (or even in a way that this might look in the Patriarchal context, to avoid anachronism) , but rather a progressive life-style which, though having a beginning (Gen 12:1-3), continues on and overcomes challenges. This is why Paul goes into detail of mentioning the obstacles that would normally have constituted a blockade in the progressive life of Abraham. Where some might grow weak in unbelief, he was strengthened in faith. Where one might succumb to the lack of evidence, Abraham persevered contrary to hope (i.e. the unlikely exception from a human stand-point). Where one might waver and desist from continuing with God’s plan in obedience to God by suffering unanswered questions, lack of earthly prosperity, wandering in deserts and mountains, dens, and caves of the earth, as the author to Hebrews says (11:38), Abraham continued to follow and trust the divine word of promise. All of this constitutes the reason for why Abraham’s faith was credited for righteousness. So where Protestants might want to work at chopping down the merits of faith, albeit by the power of God, in order to sustain the grace versus works dichotomy, Paul doesn’t see the need to do so. He can, in fact, add great value and merit to Abraham’s faith, and even base this as a reason for its accreditation as righteousness, and still see in there no debt-to-wages consequent. This is because, for Paul, the life of faith in the divine promise hinges off a totally different dynamic than the Letter of the Law. Where the Letter, confronting fallen and unredeemed humanity, commands and threatens death upon all non-compliance (i.e. cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the Law to do them – Gal 3:10) , the New Covenant, standing in front of a redeemed saint who is joined ontologically with the glorified Christ, establishes the gift of eternal life from the get-go, and states that one must co-operate with this possession of life by living out its implications (i.e. give up the old man who was crucified, put on the new man who is renewed in the image of God). This can be well reflected by the indicative-imperative relationship. The grace of Christ in the New Covenant indicates an already present and accomplished reality, namely, that via one’s initial baptism into Christ, one is is en-grafted into the post-death resurrection life (which implies the forgiveness promised by the New Covenant in Jeremiah/Ezekiel), and is imperatively called to live out this practically.  Whereas the former indicative-imperative lacked the indication of being redeemed, and nevertheless imposed Laws which would never be able to be kept.

In this way, Abraham’s justification is the example of all, both Jews and Gentiles. But that hardly means we can reduce the justifying act to a mere moment of conversion whereby a single transaction comes into permanence, such as the imputation of alien righteousness which alone is received by the empty-hand of faith. This sort of concept clashes with Paul’s robust grounding of Abraham’s imputed righteousness in the progressive and persevering journey of faith. And even if one wished to say that all Paul was doing was describing the “type of faith” which proves to be the type which, at origin, received the imputed righteousness, that one is still in conflict with the fact that this momentary justification is nowhere described or stated by Paul. The passage where Moses writes Abraham’s faith was imputed for righteousness is in fact some time of his life after he initially believed in Genesis 12. And neither in Genesis or Romans, nor in any other verse of the New Testament, are we directed to pay any attention to Abraham’s momentary justification in Genesis 12.

One couldn’t escape criticism if they did not comment something on the issue of sola fide. At times, Catholics have responded to Protestant exegesis by saying that Paul does not say “faith alone” , therefore leaving room for “faith plus works”. Well, Paul does sort of exclude works from faith altogether. But here is the key to understanding. When Paul says works, he does not mean all activity and obedience performed from whatever frame of reference. For instance, Paul does not think that our works done “in Christ” and “in the Spirit” are a fruit of human nature and thus something which puts God in strict debt. They are the work of God in and through us. A passage from an ancient Pope of the 6th century, St. Gregory the Great (+604), speak beautifully to this concept:

“If whatever good there is in us is a gift of Almighty God, so that in our virtues there is nothing of our own, why do we seek an eternal reward, as if for our merits? But if such goodness as we have is not the gift of Almighty God, why do we give thanks for it to Almighty God? It must be understood that our wickedness are entirely our own, but our goodnesses pertain both to Almighty God and to ourselves; for He anticipates us with His inspiration so that we may will, and He follows us with His support, so that we do not will in vain, but may be able to carry out what we will. By prevenient grace, therefore, and by subsequent good will, that which is a gift of Almigthy God becomes our merit.” (Homilies on Ezekiel, 1.9.2)

And two from St. Prosper of Aquitaine (390-+455), a disciple of St. Augustine :

Indeed, a man who has been justified, that is, who from impious has been made pious, since he had no antecedent good merit, receives a gift, by which gift he may also acquire merit. Thus, what was begun in him by Christ’s grace can also be augmented by the industry of his free choice; but never in the absence of God’s help, without which no one is able either to progress or to continue in doing good” (Responses to Objections raised in Gaul, Resp. Ad. Obj. 6)

Since there can be no doubt that perseverance in good even to the end is a gift of God, — which , it is clear, some , from the very fact that they have no persevered, never had, — it is in no way a calumniation of God to say that these were not given what was given to others; rather, it is to be confessed both that He gave mercifully what He did give, and He withheld justly what He did not give, so that, although the cause of man’s falling away originates in free choice, the cause of his standing firm does not likewise have its origins in himself. If falling away is done by human effort, standing firm is accomplished b means of a divine gift” (Resp. Ad. Obj. 7)

Therefore, when Paul excludes works, he means works done by the capacity of human nature, wherefrom anything done to merit salvation *would* allow boasting. However,  the working unto eschatological salvation, after having been saved by the Holy Spirit through the cross and resurrection of Christ, is not done by human capacity, it leaves no room for boasting; and that was proven from the Gentile law-fulfiller the Paul described in Romans 2:25-29 which even Protestants scholars have admitted is the case.  This is the logic which undergirds the grace versus works paradigm in Paul.

Finally, I want to point out that Paul has another example of the imputation of righteousness apart from works, and thus the justification (3:24) that comes through Christ, in the cited Pslam of King David. Following Abraham’s justification, Paul continues with the following:

“But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,  just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin'”

Much ink has been put to parchment and paper over the significance of this passage. I want to save many the difficulty by saying that all the King here is describing is a person who has the guilt of their sins forgiven. Some commentators, usually from the Protestant camp, have stressed over the fact that while Paul is seeking to defend the positive imputation of righteousness, he appeals to a negative [non] imputation of sin. The solution is very simple. Where Paul reads that a man has his sins *not* counted against him, that man is being counted as sinless, i.e. righteous.  Now, this passage comes from the Old Testament Pslams, all of which know that the Lord God only forgives those who repent and turn back from their wicked ways. Repentance, therefore, is assumed behind the text. One thinks of the famous 18th chapter of Ezekiel where God says that only “when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness which he committed, and does what is lawful and right, he preserves himself alive. Because he considers and turns away from all the transgressions which he committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die” (v. 27-28) . Not to put the focus on repentance as if that is the justifying righteousness of God, but I mention that here only to show that the inward cleansing is not divorced from the act of forgiveness. In any case, what interests me the most about this passage is that it is strikingly different than the example of Abraham. In Genesis 15:6, Abraham is not confessing his sins to God in order to be pardoned and forgiven, but is rather hearing and believing the promise of God. And yet, from either passage, Paul sees the “imputation of righteousness apart from works”. This may be because the first audience that Paul has in mind is the questioning Israelite who, in the Jew & Gentile relations which constitute the historical background, would have bickered about the fact that male Gentile-converts to Christianity, under Paul and others, were not receiving circumcision, nor were they all, both males and females, being instructed to obey the laws of festivals, sabbaths, and food restrictions. Here is a case where two pre-eminent Saints of the Isralite patrimony who are not only justified by faith and repentance, but one of them is so justified *prior to circumcision*.  But even aside from this, one may continue to wonder, given all the systematic detail on imputation that Reformed scholars have adduced from the Scripture, and particularly this very chapter in Romans, just why it is that an example of forgiveness and faith in a promise would be used as examples of the imputation of righteousness apart from works. I think the answer to this question is best put by drawing on to a more Catholic, and thus historic, understanding of salvation; where emphasis in the Reformed is put on the moment of conversion and the immediate transference of Christ’s once-for-all and fully-completed righteousness (active/passive obedience) to the believers account, in the Catholic tradition the justification of fallen humanity only begins with the initial washing away of sin and the internal renovation of the inward man by the Holy Spirit, but continues on in life, and even is not complete until we are one-day made fully perfect in glory. Perhaps this would make the most sense of another passage where Paul distinctively, and curiously, sets the imputed righteousness in eschatological framework – “ For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.” (Gal 5:5-6).  And, perhaps a following passage in the same epistle [to the Galatians] would be a corresponding analogy which more fully describes justification in its progressive and eschatological reality: “ Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.  For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:7-10). Once again, this “sowing to the Spirit” and “doing good”, i.e. living in obedience and fulfilling the righteous requirements of the Law (Rom 8:3-4), is still a condition for the ultimate and future enjoyment of eternal life, and yet in the previous passage, the whole of life is characterized by “For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith”. 

Concluding Remarks –  The Catholic who wants to be able to joyfully ,and with intellectual rigor, interpret the text of Romans in a way which reflects the canons and decrees of the Holy Council of Trent should, by the above commentary, be given a gloss to start off from. But the Protestant might still be left scratching his head, reviewing texts which further disprove the Catholic interpretive breadth on faith,works, grace, and the Spirit. Only by a one-on-one dialogue can all questions and concerns be answered, but I thought I would add something to wrap up what I’ve said here and tie together the event of the cross and resurrection with the imputation of righteousness. In Romans 3:21-26, we are told that it is the sacrifice of Jesus which effects propitiation (and this was defined as the abrogation of contention between humans and God because of the punishment, in justice, due to sin) which in turn constitutes the redemptive ransom or payment through which we are set free from the bondage of sin. Both Abraham and David are examples used of persons who have been, through their faith and commitment to God, were set free from sin and brought into a Spiritual relationship with God. Of course, this could only be so by a timeless application of the Spirit’s grace before Christ, but which nevertheless is merited by the His death which was to come in the future. Since the example of King David’s Psalm on the forgiveness of sins and that of Abraham’s faith and persevering faithfulness to God were the examples used to describe “imputed righteousness apart from works” (Abraham’s faithfulness not being a product of works done in the flesh, but in the grace of the Spirit, thereby based entirely off a different dynamic which would make Abraham putting God in debt), we can say with confidence that justification, for Paul, is both the washing away of the guilt of sins, the internal renewal of the human person to live in obedience to God, and one’s perseverance in the difficult which comes with the journey of faith. But here’s the kicker. That is precisely the definition of justification given by the Council of Trent. I close with the relevant citation.

“Of this justification the causes are these: the final [cause] indeed is the glory of God and of Christ, and eternal life; while the efficient cause is the merciful God, who gratuitously washes and sanctifies, sealing, and anointing with the holy Spirit of promise, who is the earnest of our inheritance; but the meritorious cause is His most beloved only-begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were enemies, for the great charity wherewith he loved us, merited justification for us by His most holy Passion on the wood of the cross, and for us made satisfaction unto God the Father; the instrumental cause, moreover, is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which justification never befall any man; lastly, the sole formal cause is the justice of God; not that by which He himself is just, but that by which He maketh us just, that, to wit, with which we, being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and we are not only reputed, but are truly called, and are, just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost divides to every man severally as He will, and according to each one’s proper disposition and co-operation. For, although no one can be just, but he to whom the merits of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet is this brought to pass in this justification of the impious, when, by the merit of that same most holy Passion, the charity of God is shed abroad, by the Holy Ghost, in the hearts of those who are justified, and is inherent in them; whence man, in the said justification through Jesus Christ, into whom he is ingrafted, receives, together with the remission of sins, all these things infused at once, faith, hope, and charity. For faith, unless to it be added hope and charity, neither unites [man] perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of His body. For which reason it is most truly said, that Faith without works is dead, and idle; and In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by charity. This faith catechumens beg of the Church, agreeably to a tradition of the apostles, previously to the sacrament of baptism; when they beg for the faith which bestoweth life everlasting, which, without hope and charity, faith cannot bestow. Whence also do they straightway hear that word of Christ: If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. Wherefore, when receiving true and Christian justice, they, immediately on being born again, are commanded to preserve it pure and spotless, as the first rabe, given unto them through Jesus Christ, instead of that which Adam, by his disobedience, lost for himself and for us, that so they may bear it before the tribunal of our Lord Jesus Christ, and may have life everlasting.” (Chapter 7, Decree on Justification)

St. Caesarius of Arles (465-542) – A Western and Eastern Saint Teaches Beautifully on Purgatorial Fire and Penitential Satisfaction


St. Caesarius of Arles (+AD 468-542) , born in Chalon-sur-Saône Eastern France, a very able and well-known Bishop in Merovingian Gaul,a strong proponent of asceticism in the West, having been greatly influenced by St. John Cassian, St. Julius Pomerius, and St. Augustine, and, according to Church historian William Jurgens, was the most influential Bishop in Gaul of his time. As monk of the monastery of Lerins he was a deep contemplative, as well as committed to poverty and distribution to the poor. However, he was also a vigorous opponent of semi-Pelagianism, and even presided over the 2nd Council of Orange in AD 529, which received Papal approval thereafter. His life impacted so many that a 2-volume biography was made of him by 5 close friends. His feast is August 27th, and he is venerated equally by the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

So much could be adduced from his writings to demonstrate the Patristicity of Catholic doctrine, but I wanted to pull from one of his sermons (Sermo 179) which speaks beautifully to the doctrine of  post-mortem purgatorial fire, the need to perform penance, and the danger of hoping for purgatory . He writes:

“Although the Apostle has mentioned many grevious sins, we nevertheless, lest we seem to promote despair, will state briefly what they are. Sacrilege, murder, adultery, false witness, theft, robbery, pride, envy, avarice, and, if it is of long standing, anger, drunkenness, if it persistent, and slander are reckoned in their number. For if anyone knows that any of these sins dominates him, if he does not do penance worthily and for a long time, if such time is given him, and if he does not give abundant alms and abstain from those same sins, he cannot be purged in that transitory fire of which the Apostle spoke [1 Cor 3], but the eternal flames will torture him without any remedy. But since the lesser sins are, of course, known to all, and it would take too long to mention them all, it will be necessary for us only to name some of them. As often as someone takes more than is necessary in food or drink, he knows that this belongs to the lesser sins. As often as he says more than he should or is silent more than is proper; as often as he rudely exasperates a poor beggar; as often as he wills to eat when others are fasting, although he is in good physical health, and rises too late for church because he surrendered himself to sleep; as often as he knows his wife without a desire to have children….without a doubt he commits sin. There is no doubt that these and similar deeds belong to the lesser sins which, as I said before, can scarcely be counted and from which not only all Christian people, but even all the Saints, could not and cannot always be free. We do not, of course, believe that the soul is killed by these sins; but still, they make it ugly by covering it as if with some kind of pustules and, as it were, with horrible scabs, which allow the soul o come only with difficulty to the embrace of the heavenly Spouse, of whom it is written: ‘He prepared for Himself a Church having neither spot nor blemish’…If we neither give thanks to God in tribulations nor redeem our own sins by good works, we shall have to remain in that purgaotrial fire as long as it takes for those above-mentioned lesser sins to be consumed like wood and straw and hay. But someone is saying: ‘It is nothing to me how long I stay there, so long as I go finally to eternal life’. Let no one say that, beloved brethren, because that purgatorial fire itself will be more difficult than any punishments that can be seen or imagined or felt in this life”