After a long furlough due to a crazy school schedule, I am back with the next edition to this series on Roman Catholicism. We have already talked about the first group of sacraments called the “Sacraments of Initiation.” Now we will follow the logical consequences of their views on how we are saved. Through the water of baptism you receive the cleansing from sins in baptismal regeneration. Furthermore, the way we are made righteous is by the “infusing” of grace where we ourselves become righteous. In contrast protestants believe that God’s righteousness is “imputed” to us, meaning God’s righteousness is placed not within us but in our account. Paul says this in Romans 4:5, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” We don’t actually become righteous but we receive all the benefits of Christ’s righteousness as it is given to us. However, in Catholicism righteousness is not imputed but infused into us. Infusion means that God’s righteousness is poured into you making you righteous yourself. After this you must participate in confirmation where you receive the holy spirit. The last is the partaking of the Eucharist, which is the actual sacrifice of Christ being redistributed to you. Each sacrament administers grace to you thereby cleansing you from sin and making you more righteous. It must be emphasized that this is not just a spiritual affair, Rome is very clear that everything spiritual is attached to the physical.
The Sacraments of Healing
Through the sacraments of Christian initiation, man receives the new life of Christ. Now we carry this life “in earthen vessels,” and it remains “hidden with Christ in God.” We are still in our “earthly tent,” subject to suffering, illness, and death. This new life as a child of God can be weakened and even lost by sin.
The Lord Jesus Christ, physician of our souls and bodies, who forgave the sins of the paralytic and restored him to bodily health, has willed that his Church continue, in the power of the Holy Spirit, his work of healing salvation, even among her own members. This is the purpose of the two sacraments of healing: the Sacrament of Penance and the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.
It is necessary to highlight the words “has willed that his Church continue… his work of healing salvation, even among her own members.” In the Roman Catholic system, the church participates in salvation, not by simply delivering the Gospel of salvation, but by using sacraments (certain works). The technical term for this is synergism, but it is a radical form of it based on deeds performed instead of a message received. After explaining the reason behind the names for this sacrament (Conversion and Penance) it explains other names for it which are important to understand.
It is called the sacrament of confession, since the disclosure or confession of sins to a priest is an essential element of this sacrament. In a profound sense it is also a “confession”–acknowledgment and praise– of the holiness of God and of his mercy toward sinful man.
It is called the sacrament of forgiveness, since by the priest’s sacramental absolution God grants the penitent “pardon and peace.”
It is called the sacrament of Reconciliation, because it imparts to the sinner the love of God who reconciles: “Be reconciled to God.” He who lives by God’s merciful love is ready to respond to the Lord’s call: “Go; first be reconciled to your brother.”
The sacramental performance of the priest is essential to this sacrament. That means you cannot receive forgiveness from sins committed unless a priest performs this duty. His act in fact imparts the love of God to the believer and without this action by the priest the love cannot be received. They then give the reason this is even needed still.
Why a Sacrament of Reconciliation After Baptism?
“You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” One must appreciate the magnitude of the gift God has given us in the sacraments of Christian initiation in order to grasp the degree to which sin is excluded for him who has “put on Christ.” But the apostle John also says: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” And the Lord himself taught us to pray: “Forgive us our trespasses,” linking our forgiveness of one another’s offenses to the forgiveness of our sins that God will grant us.
Conversion to Christ, the new birth of Baptism, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the Body and Blood of Christ received as food have made us “holy and without blemish,” just as the Church herself, the Bride of Christ, is “holy and without blemish.” Nevertheless the new life received in Christian initiation has not abolished the frailty and weakness of human nature, nor the inclination to sin that tradition calls concupiscence, which remains in the baptized such that with the help of the grace of Christ they may prove themselves in the struggle of Christian life. This is the struggle of conversion directed toward holiness and eternal life to which the Lord never ceases to call us.
You can see how this is leading to the logical conclusion based on the fact that Righteousness is “infused” into us. If we sin then do we not lose some of this righteousness? After discussing again the first conversion in baptism it then goes on to discuss a second conversion.
Christ’s call to conversion continues to resound in the lives of Christians. This second conversion is an uninterrupted task for the whole Church who, “clasping sinners to her bosom, [is] at once holy and always in need of purification, [and] follows constantly the path of penance and renewal.” This endeavor of conversion is not just a human work. It is the movement of a “contrite heart,” drawn and moved by grace to respond ot the merciful love of God who loved us first.
This shows an interesting distinction between Roman theology and Protestant theology. While they both believe in the “necessity” of grace to move the sinner, Roman Catholicism does not believe in the “sufficiency” of grace. It is indeed a human work, but it also requires the initiation of the grace of God. This repentance is a work we must perform in order to receive forgiveness for it is possible for a sinner not to repent, though given this grace, and fall away completely. They justify this by saying:
St. Peter’s conversion after he had denied his master three times bears witness to this. Jesus’ look of infinite mercy drew tears of repentance from Peter and, after the Lord’s resurrection, a threefold affirmation of love for him. The second conversion also has a communitarian dimension, as is clear in the Lord’s call to a whole Church: “Repent!”
St. Ambrose says of the two conversions that, in the Church, “there are water and tears: the water of Baptism and the tears of repentance.”
They then go on to define what Interior Penance is. I will only take a brief section from the 4 paragraphs due to space issues.
Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart).
Again I will stress that Rome does indeed declare the necessity of grace for these actions. This is why it can be confusing talking to Roman Catholics who insist on grace. We may be under the illusion that we are talking about the same things, however, Rome means defines grace in a different way. This grace only entices us to good deeds but it is not sufficient to save completely. We need it again and again as we experience this second conversion. Protestants believe in only one conversion of grace which is sufficient to save us completely.
They then explain the many avenues of performing this penance, the most important of which are: fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. However, there are many more which you can look up yourself in the sections 1434-1437. Here is one excerpt that makes an important point.
Reading Sacred Scripture, praying the Liturgy of the Hours and the Our Father–every sincere act of worship or devotion revives the spirit of conversion and repentance within us and contributes the forgiveness of our sins.
This is a confirmation that our acts do contribute to our salvation in forgiveness of sins. This is what makes the season of Lent so important, it is a time of gaining forgiveness of sins.
This sacrament shows vividly the connection of the spiritual aspect and the physical aspect of salvation being completely connected.
Sin is before all else an offense against God, a rupture of communion with him. At the same time it damages communion with the Church. For this reason conversion entails both God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with the Church, which are expressed and accomplished liturgically by the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.
While in the next section they affirm that “Only God forgives sins” (the spiritual aspect) they then explain it is a duty the church performs as the ministry of reconciliation (the physical aspect). In section 1445 they say of this “Reconciliation with the Church is inseparable from reconciliation with God.”
Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification. The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as “the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace.”
Here is an open declaration that the justification and grace received in baptism can be lost, and it is only through penance that this grace and justification can be recovered as the “second plank of salvation.” The formula for this second salvation is worked out in paragraphs 1450-1460 comprising: Contrition (sorrow of the soul), Confession (disclosure of sins), and satisfaction (our performance to “make amends” for sin). This last act of satisfaction is very important.
Last half of 1459
Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorder sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must “make satisfaction for” or “expiate” his sins. This satisfaction is also called “penance.”
Sections 1461-1467 explain that it is only the priests through the apostolic succession of bishops and pope are given the power to perform this duty.
The Effects of This Sacrament
“The whole power of the sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God’s grace and joining us with him in intimate friendship.” Reconciliation with God is thus the purpose and effect of this sacrament. For those who recieve the sacrament of Penance with contrite heart and religious disposition, reconciliation “is usually followed by peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation.” Indeed the sacrament of Reconciliation with God brings about a true “spiritual resurrection,” restoration of the dignity and blessings of the life of the children of God, of which the most precious is friendship with God.
In the last part of this section it sums up the nature of conversion and penance.
In this sacrament, the sinner, placing himself before the merciful judgment of God, anticipates in a certain way the judgment to which he will be subjected at the end of his earthly life. For it is now, in this life, that we are offered the choice between life and death, and it is only by the road of conversion that we can enter the Kingdom, from which hone is excluded by grave sin. In converting to Christ through penance and faith, the sinner passes from death to life and “does not come into judgment.”
In the Roman Catholic system conversion isn’t a one time deal, it is something you continue to experience until death. We as Protestants believe that we are once for all justified by grace through faith. After justification we enter sanctification which is the process of leaving our sin and drawing near to God, however, Protestants do not make this a work that contributes to our justification before God. Sanctification is a work done in us by the grace of God we received in conversion and it is impossible for it not to perfect us. Roman Catholics believe that Justification and sanctification are one and the same thing, a continual work until death. This work can be stopped by our own sin, and we can fall away eternally proving that the grace received in conversion is not powerful enough to perfect us completely, without our own additions of penance (works contributed). This is a massive distinction in the definition of grace and conversion which places an infinite gap between Protestants and Catholics. The reformation was not about the necessity of grace, because we have seen here even Roman Catholics believe in that. The reformation was about the sufficiency of grace. Protestants believe that the grace received in our initial conversion is “sufficient” to perfect us until death and glory. Roman Catholics do not believe it is “sufficient” to perfect us alone, instead we need to make satisfaction ourselves for sin, and even then it is possible to cancel out the grace received in initial conversion, and fall away into damnation.
If you thought that was all it is not. The sacrament of healing continues on in the next part of this series I will dedicate to indulgences. Stay tuned for the rest.