November 12, 2017




Some of the texts brought forth as evidence of theosis / deification / divinization, or the attainment of a profound oneness with God, are the following (RSV):

Romans 6:5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

1 Corinthians 6:17 But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.

2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Ephesians 3:19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.

Ephesians 4:13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ;

2 Peter 1:4 . . . you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.

From my recent reading of Catholic mystic authors, I came across exposition of another biblical motif in this regard: that of being “in God” / “in him” (as a sort of “flipside” of His being “in” us; in our hearts, in the indwelling). Perhaps this has (at least in some of these passages) a connection with the notion of deification as well. It’s another way to think of the phrase that we casually use, not thinking much about its deeper meanings (I have omitted “in Christ”: which seems to have a much wider latitude of meaning):

John 6:56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.

John 14:20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

John 15:4-7 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. [5] I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. [6] If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. [7] If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you.

John 16:33 . . . in me you may have peace. . . .

John 17:21 that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

Acts 17:18 . . . In him we live and move and have our being . . .

2 Corinthians 5:21 . . . in him we might become the righteousness of

Ephesians 1:10 as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Philippians 4:13 I can do all things in him who strengthens me.

Colossians 2:6-7, 10 As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in him, [7] rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, . . . [10] and you have come to fulness of life in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.

Colossians 3:3 For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.

1 John 2:5-6 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: [6] he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

1 John 2:24, 28 . . . If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father. . . . [28] And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.

1 John 3:6 No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.

1 John 3:24 All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us.

1 John 4:13, 15-16 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit. . . . [15] Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. [16] So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

1 John 5:20 . . . we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. . . .


Photo credit: Image by “geralt” (6-15-15) [Pixabay / CC0 Creative Commons]


August 9, 2016


The Coronation of the Virgin with Six Saints (1504), by Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio (1483-1561) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]




The exaltation of Mary is the supreme example of how highly God sought to raise man. This is part and parcel (as the foremost and most extraordinary instance) of the notion of divinization or deification or theosis — a common motif, particularly in Orthodox thought, Catholic mysticism and spirituality, and the early Eastern Church fathers.

Matthias Scheeben (1835-1888), the extraordinary German Catholic mystic and theologian, explains this concept in the detail necessary to avoid huge misunderstandings:

By grace the first man was deified, but he was not made God or turned into God, if we may so speak. It is only in a figurative sense that the Fathers refer to the deified man as God, that is, as a different God by similarity, not by identity, but only in the sense in which we are accustomed to speak of the so-called parhelion or mock sun as the sun. When man, the original bearer and possessor of a purely human nature, became also the possessor and bearer of a share in the divine nature through grace, he did not become another, but remained the same person. He did not lose himself; he continued to belong to himself. By participation in the divine nature he only acquired a new possession, a new, higher, supernatural character, by which he was transformed into God’s image, was made like to God in a supernatural manner, and in consequence of this resemblance necessarily entered into a most intimate union and unity with the divine Exemplar . . .

(The Mysteries of Christianity, translated by Cyril Vollert, St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1946; originally 1888 in German, 316-317)

Biblical indications for theosis are abundant:

1) The symbolic equation of Christ and His disciples (even all of mankind) is a most biblical concept:

. . . whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. (John 13:20; cf. Luke 9:48, Mark 9:37, Matthew 18:5 — NRSV)

. . . for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink [etc.] . . . just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. (Matthew 25:35, 40)

2) In Scripture there is often taught a mystical (but almost literal) identification of the Body of Christ (the Church: 1 Corinthians 12:27, Ephesians 1:22-23, 5:30, Colossians 1:24) with Christ Himself. Jesus equated Paul’s persecution of the Church with persecution of Him (Acts 9:5; cf. 8:1,3, 9:1-2). This is incarnational theology.

3) 2 Peter 1:3-4 is the all-important verse in this regard:

According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature . . . (KJV; same clause in RSV / NKJV ; cf. John 14:20-23; 17:21-23)

4) Note also the following cross-exegesis (from RSV):

a) For in him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily. (Colossians 2:9)

b) For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell. (Colossians 1:19)

c) And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace. (John 1:16)

d) . . . to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God. (Ephesians 3:19)

e) until we attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:13)

f) But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. (Romans 8:9)

g) If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you. (Romans 8:11)

h) What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will live in them . . . ‘ (2 Corinthians 6:16)

i) and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith . . . (Ephesians 3:17)

j) for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’: as even some of your poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ (Acts 17:28)

k) For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. (Romans 8:29)

l) And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

(cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Timothy 1:14; 1 John 4:12, 15-16)

The Greek word for “fulness” in all instances is pleroma (Strong’s word #4138). These references also suggest the notion of theosis, or deification: a participation in God’s energies and power, through the Holy Spirit.

5) The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes frequent mention of theosis or divinization: see #398, 460, 1129, 1265, 1812, 1988.

Pope John Paul II, in his General Audience of May 27, 1998, spoke about this aspect of theology and spirituality, in his talk entitled, “Spirit Enables Us to Share in Divine Nature”.

To summarize: it is plausible that God could and would bestow an extraordinary place upon Mary in His redemptive plan for the human race. If we are all potentially partakers of the divine nature, as St. Peter informs us, then how much more so the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Immaculate New Eve, the Theotokos? If we all can be potentially God’s fellow workers, urged on by God’s enabling grace to work out our own salvation, then why cannot Mary conceivably have been chosen by God to be a dispenser of His salvific grace and Mediatrix?


Meta Description: Explanation of how theosis, or union of God, quintessentially applies to the Blessed Virgin Mary, especially as Mediatrix of all graces.

Meta Keywords: divine nature, theosis, mysticism, union with God, deification, divinization, Blessed Virgin Mary, Blessed Virgin Mary, Co-Redemptrix, distribution of graces, Marian doctrine, Mariology, Mary mediatrix

October 27, 2015

Original title:  Martin Luther: Strong Elements in His Thinking of Theosis and Sanctification Linked to Justification
[public domain / Pixabay]
[see also a highly related article: “Justification as Healing: The Little-Known Luther” (Ted M Dorman)  ]
St. Thomas Aquinas wrote:

Now the gift of grace surpasses every capability of created nature, since it is nothing short of a partaking of the Divine Nature, which exceeds every other nature. And thus it is impossible that any creature should cause grace. For it is as necessary that God alone should deify, bestowing a partaking of the Divine Nature by a participated likeness, as it is impossible that anything save fire should enkindle.

(Summa Theologica, First Part of the Second Part, Q. 112: The Cause of Grace, Art. 1: Whether God Alone is the Cause of Grace)

* * * * *

The following information was obtained from the fascinating article, “Luther and Theosis,” by Kurt E. Marquart, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana), and was published in Concordia Theological Quarterly, Vol. 64:3, July 200, pp. 182-205.

Many back issues of that excellent scholarly magazine are available online on a great site that I happily ran across. All subsequent words below are from the article, with Luther’s own words in blue. Footnotes appear in brackets immediately after the section that utilizes the sources therein.

* * * * *
The chief New Testament reference to theosis or deification is 2 Peter 1:4: . . . (AV : “partakers of the divine nature”; NEB: “come to share in the very being of God). Certainly John 17:23 is to the point: “The glory which Thou gavest Me I have given to them, that they may be one, as We are one; I in them and Thou in Me, may they be perfectly one” (NEB, upper case added). This at once suggests the divine nuptial mystery (Ephesians 5:25-32; one may compare 2:19-22 and Colossians 1:26-27), with its implied “wondrous exchange.” That the final “transfiguration” of believers into “conformity” . . . with Christ’s glorious body (Philippians 3:21; one may compare 1 Corinthians 15:49) has begun already in the spiritual-sacramental life of faith, is clear from “icon” texts like Romans 8:29, Colossians 3:10, and especially 2 Corinthians 3:18: “thus we are transfigured into His likeness, from splendor to splendor” . . . One may also wish to compare 2 Corinthians 4:16 and Ephesians 3:14-19.

The most celebrated patristic statement on the subject is no doubt that of Athanasius: “For He was made man that we might be made God.” To avoid any pantheistic misunderstandings, it is necessary to see that “deification” applies first of all to the flesh of the incarnate Son of God Himself. It is simply a traditional way of putting what Lutherans now call the second genus, or the genus maiestaticum, of the communication of attributes.

[ . . . ]

In a 1526 sermon Luther said: “God pours out Christ His dear Son over us and pours Himself into us and draws us into Himself, so that He becomes completely humanified (vermzenschetand we become completely deified (gantz und gar vergottet, “Godded-through”) and everything is altogether one thing, God, Christ, and you.”‘

[Martin Luther, D. Martin Luthers Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe, 58 volumes (Weimar, 1883- ), 20:229,30 and following, cited in Werner Elert, The Structure of Lutheranism, volume 1 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1962),175-176. The present author has altered the translation given there in order to make it more literal. All subsequent references to the Weimar edition of Luther’s works will be abbreviated WA.]

[ . . . ]

Sadly, this we] is now unknown in the whole world, and is neither preached nor pursued; indeed, we are even quite ignorant of our own name, why we are Christians and are so-called. Surely we are so-called not from Christ absent, but from Christ dwelling [inhabitante] in us, that is, inasmuch as we believe in Him and are mutually one another’s Christ, doing for neighbors just as Christ does for us.

We conclude therefore that the Christian lives not in himself, but in Christ and in his neighbor, or he is no Christian; in Christ through faith, in the neighbor through love. Through faith he is rapt above himself into God, and by love he in turn flows beneath himself into the neighbor, remaining always in God and in His love.

[The Freedom of the Christian, Latin: WA 7:66,69; German: WA 7:35-36,38; English: Luther’s Works, American Edition, 55 volumes, edited by J. Pelikan and H. T. Lehmann (Saint Louis: Concordia and Philadelphia: Fortress, 1955-1986), 31:368, 371. In “Theosis as a Subject,” the end of the first paragraph has been rendered “mutually in one another, another and different Christ. . .” Subsequent references to the American edition of Luther’s works will be abbreviated LW.]

In an early (1515) Christmas sermon, Luther notes:

As the Word became flesh, so it is certainly necessary that the flesh should also become Word. For just for this reason does the Word become flesh, in order that the flesh might become Word. In other words: God becomes man, in order that man should become God. Thus strength becomes weak in order that weakness might become strong. The Logos puts on our form and figure and image and likeness, in order that He might clothe us with His image, form, likeness. Thus wisdom becomes foolish, in order that foolishness might become wisdom, and so in all other things which are in God and us, in all of which He assumes ours in order to confer upon us
His [things].

We who are flesh are made Word not by being substantially changed into the Word, but by taking it on [assumimus] and uniting it to ourselves by faith, on account of which union we are said not only to have but even to be the Word.”

[WA 1 2825-3239-41. Cited in “Grundlagenforschun,” 192; “Zwei Arten,” 163.]

[ . . . ]

The one who has faith is a completely divine man [plane est divinus homo], a son of God, the inheritor of the universe. . . . Therefore the Abraham who has faith fills heaven and earth; thus every Christian fills heaven and earth by his faith. . .

[WA 40 I:182,390; LW 26:1001 247,248.]

Obviously there are many implications here as well for love, good works, and other important topics . . .

[ . . . ]

. . . Luther . . . knows a God who is not gingerly beaming thoughts and effects at us from afar while taking care to keep His real being (if He has any!) well away from us. With Luther biblical realism is in full cry:

The fanatical spirits today speak about faith in Christ in the manner of the sophists. They imagine that faith is a quality that clings to the heart apart from Christ [excluso Christo]. This is a dangerous error. Christ should be set forth in such a way that apart from Him you see nothing at all and that you believe that nothing is nearer and closer to you than He. For He is not sitting idle in heaven but is completely present [praesentissimus] with us, active and living in us as chapter two says (2:20): “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me,” and here: “You have put on Christ. . . .”

Hence the speculation of the sectarians is vain when they imagine that Christ is present in us “spiritually,” that is, speculatively, but is present really in heaven. Christ and faith must be completely joined. We must simply take our place in heaven; and Christ must be, live, and work in us. But He lives and works in us, not speculatively but really, with presence and with power [realiter, praesentissime et eficacissim].

[WA 40 1:545-546; LW 26:356-357; “In ipsa,” 39-40.]

By faith, finally,

you are so cemented [conglutineristo Christ that He and you are as one person, which cannot be separated but remains attached [perpetuo adhaerescatto Him forever and declares: “I am as Christ.” And Christ, in turn, says: “I am as that sinner who is attached to Me, and I to him. For by faith we are joined together into one flesh and one bone.” Thus Ephesians 5:30 says: “We are members of the body of Christ, of His flesh and of His bones,” in such a way that this faith couples Christ and me more intimately than a husband is coupled to his wife.

[WA 40 1:285-286; LW 26:l68; “In ipsa,” 51.]

[ . . . ]

And that we are so filled with “all the fulness of God,” that is said in the Hebrew manner, meaning that we are filled in every way in which He fills, and become full of God, showered with all gifts and grace and filled with His Spirit, Who is to make us bold, and enlighten us with His light, and live His life in us, that His bliss make us blest, His love awaken love in us. In short, that everything that He is and can do, be fully in us and mightily work, that we be completely deified [vergottet], not that we have a particle or only some pieces of God, but all fulness. Much has been written about how man should be deified; there they made ladders, on which one should climb into heaven, and much of that sort of thing. Yet it is sheer piecemeal effort; but here [in faith] the right and closest way to get there is indicated, that you become full of God, that you lack in no thing, but have everything in one heap, that everything that you speak, think, walk, in sum, your whole life be completely divine [Gottisch].

[Sermon of 1525, WA 17 1:438; “In ipsa,” 54.]

When one ponders the lively, full-blooded realism of Luther’s theology, one can only wonder how such a legacy could have been so tragically squandered in world “Lutheranism” over the centuries. Chesterton complained about the Church of England’s tendency to tolerate “underbelievers” but to persecute “overbelievers.” Why this preference for ever less, for the minimal? Reductionist philosophy alone is hardly the whole story. Sin has a way of defending itself against God’s saving incursions on a broad front.

[ . . . ]

If there is such a thing as a characteristic “structure of Lutheranism” which distinguishes it from other confessions, then it must lie surely in a relentless realism of faith that will not let any of God’s life-bearing gifts be spirited away into significances and abstractions.

[ . . . ]

Very God of very God, a real incarnation, genuine, full, and free forgiveness, life, salvation and communion with the Holy Trinity, imparted in the divinely powerful gospel and sacraments – including the evangelic doctrine as revealed, heavenly truth, not academic guesswork, and the true body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar – all these mysteries to be cherished and handled for the common good by responsible householders in the God-given office, rightly dividing law and gospel (sola fide!): do not these constitute the “structure of Lutheranism”?

[ . . . ]

Luther insists just as rigidly, as does the Formula, on a radical differentiation between imputed and inchoate righteousness, only his terms for this are “passive” and “active” righteousness. Luther devotes a whole introductory section to this topic, under the title, “The Argument of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians.” The distinctively “Christian righteousness,” by which alone we are justified and saved, “is heavenly and passive,” that is, Christ’s. All the various forms of earthly, active righteousness are excluded from this.

[ . . . ]

Luther’s sublime comment on Psalm 5:2-3 provides a suitable conclusion:

By the reign of His humanity or (as the Apostle says) His flesh, which takes place in faith, He conforms us to Himself and crucibles us, making genuine men, that is wretches and sinners, out of unhappy and haughty gods. For because we rose in Adam towards the likeness of God, He came down into our likeness, in order to lead us back to a knowledge of ourselves. And this takes place in the mystery [sacramentumof the Incarnation. This is the reign of faith, in which the Cross of Christ holds sway, throwing down a divinity perversely sought and calling back a humanity [with its] despised weakness of the flesh, which had been perversely abandoned. But by the reign of [His] divinity and glory He will conform [configurabitus to the body of His glory, that we might be like Him, now neither sinners nor weak, neither led nor ruled, but ourselves kings and sons of God like the angels. Then will be said in fact “my God,” which is now said in hope. For it is not unfitting that he says first “my King” and then “my God,” just as Thomas the Apostle, in the last chapter of Saint John, says, “My Lord and my God.” For Christ must be grasped first as Man and then as God, and the Cross of His humanity must be sought before the glory of His divinity. Once we have got Christ the Man, He will bring along Christ the God of His Own accord.

[0perationes in Psalmos (1519-1521), WA 5128-129. I am indebted for this reference to Walter Mostert, “Martin Luther- Wirkung und Deutung,” in Luther im Widerstreit der Geschichte, Veroffentlichungen der Luther-Akademie Ratzeburg, Band 20 (Erlangen: Martin-Luther Verlag, 1993), 78.]


July 11, 2019

[see the Master List of all twelve installments]

Paolo Pasqualucci (signer of three of the endless reactionary-dominated “corrections” of Pope Francis), a Catholic and retired professor of philosophy of the law at the University of Perugia, Italy, wrote “‘Points of Rupture’ of the Second Vatican Council with the Tradition of the Church – A Synopsis” (4-13-18), hosted by the infamous reactionary site, One Peter Five. It’s an adaptation of the introduction to his book Unam Sanctam – A Study on Doctrinal Deviations in the Catholic Church of the 21st Century.

Pope Benedict XVI, writing as Cardinal Ratzinger, stated that the authority of Vatican II was identical to that of the Council of Trent:

It must be stated that Vatican II is upheld by the same authority as Vatican I and the Council of Trent, namely, the Pope and the College of Bishops in communion with him, and that also with regard to its contents, Vatican II is in the strictest continuity with both previous councils and incorporates their texts word for word in decisive points . . .

Whoever accepts Vatican II, as it has clearly expressed and understood itself, at the same time accepts the whole binding tradition of the Catholic Church, particularly also the two previous councils . . . It is likewise impossible to decide in favor of Trent and Vatican I but against Vatican II. Whoever denies Vatican II denies the authority that upholds the other two councils and thereby detaches them from their foundation. And this applies to the so-called ‘traditionalism,’ also in its extreme forms. Every partisan choice destroys the whole (the very history of the Church) which can exist only as an indivisible unity.

To defend the true tradition of the Church today means to defend the Council. It is our fault if we have at times provided a pretext (to the ‘right’ and ‘left’ alike) to view Vatican II as a ‘break’ and an abandonment of the tradition. There is, instead, a continuity that allows neither a return to the past nor a flight forward, neither anachronistic longings nor unjustified impatience. We must remain faithful to the today of the Church, not the yesterday or tomorrow. And this today of the Church is the documents of Vatican II, without reservations that amputate them and without arbitrariness that distorts them . . .

I see no future for a position that, out of principle, stubbornly renounces Vatican II. In fact in itself it is an illogical position. The point of departure for this tendency is, in fact, the strictest fidelity to the teaching particularly of Pius IX and Pius X and, still more fundamentally, of Vatican I and its definition of papal primacy. But why only popes up to Pius XII and not beyond? Is perhaps obedience to the Holy See divisible according to years or according to the nearness of a teaching to one’s own already-established convictions? (The Ratzinger Report, San Francisco: Ignatius, 1985, 28-29, 31)

For further basic information about the sublime authority of ecumenical councils and Vatican II in particular, see:

Conciliar Infallibility: Summary from Church Documents [6-5-98]

Infallibility, Councils, and Levels of Church Authority: Explanation of the Subtleties of Church Teaching [7-30-99]

The Bible on Papal & Church Infallibility [5-16-06]

Authority and Infallibility of Councils (vs. Calvin #26) [8-25-09]

The Analogy of an Infallible Bible to an Infallible Church [11-6-05; rev. 7-25-15; published at National Catholic Register: 6-16-17]

“Reply to Calvin” #2: Infallible Church Authority [3-3-17]

 “On Adhesion to the Second Vatican Council” (Msgr. Fernando Ocariz Braña, the current Prelate of Opus DeiL’Osservatore Romano, 12-2-11; reprinted at Catholic Culture) [includes discussion of VCII supposedly being “only” a “pastoral council”]

Pope Benedict on “the hermeneutic of reform, of renewal within continuity” (12-22-05)

The words of Paolo Pasqualucci, from his article, noted above, will be in blue:


1. It appears that the actual meaning attributed to the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes On the Church In the Modern World (GS) does not conform to the Tradition of the Church; it seems on the whole to be permeated with the spirit of the so-called “new Enlightenment.”

This is too vague and offers no particular argument or critique, so I can’t reply.

2.  GS 22.2 affirms that by His Incarnation the Son of God “has united Himself in some fashion with every man,” an extraordinary affirmation, which seems to extend the Incarnation to each one of us, thereby divinizing man.

Dr. Pasqualucci appears to be unfamiliar with theosis or deification or divinization. What these words (synonyms) mean is summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

460 The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature“:78 “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.”79 “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.”80 “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”81


78 2 Pt 1:4.
79 St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 3, 19, 1: PG 7/1, 939.
80 St. Athanasius, De inc. 54, 3: PG 25, 192B.
81 St. Thomas Aquinas, Opusc. 57, 1-4.

Here are the first three references in the footnotes:

2 Peter 1:4 (RSV) . . . you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.

1. But again, those who assert that He was simply a mere man, begotten by Joseph, remaining in the bondage of the old disobedience, are in a state of death having been not as yet joined to the Word of God the Father, nor receiving liberty through the Son, as He does Himself declare: If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.John 8:36 But, being ignorant of Him who from the Virgin is Emmanuel, they are deprived of His gift, which is eternal life; Romans 6:23 and not receiving the incorruptible Word, they remain in mortal flesh, and are debtors to death, not obtaining the antidote of life. To whom the Word says, mentioning His own gift of grace: I said, You are all the sons of the Highest, and gods; but you shall die like men. He speaks undoubtedly these words to those who have not received the gift of adoption, but who despise the incarnation of the pure generation of the Word of God, defraud human nature of promotion into God, and prove themselves ungrateful to the Word of God, who became flesh for them. For it was for this end that the Word of God was made man, and He who was the Son of God became the Son of man, that man, having been taken into the Word, and receiving the adoption, might become the son of God. For by no other means could we have attained to incorruptibility and immortality, unless we had been united to incorruptibility and immortality. But how could we be joined to incorruptibility and immortality, unless, first, incorruptibility and immortality had become that which we also are, so that the corruptible might be swallowed up by incorruptibility, and the mortal by immortality, that we might receive the adoption of sons? (St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III, 19:1)

For He was made man that we might be made God; and He manifested Himself by a body that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father; and He endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality. (St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation 54:3, PG 25:192B)

St. Thomas Aquinas stated:

Moreover, He has a particular agreement with human nature, since the Word is a concept of the eternal Wisdom, from Whom all man’s wisdom is derived. And hence man is perfected in wisdom (which is his proper perfection, as he is rational) by participating the Word of God, as the disciple is instructed by receiving the word of his master. Hence it is said (Sirach 1:5): “The Word of God on high is the fountain of wisdom.” And hence for the consummate perfection of man it was fitting that the very Word of God should be personally united to human nature. (ST III, q. 3. a. 8)

One of the reasons for the incarnation, according to St. Thomas, is for “the full participation of the Divinity, which is the true bliss of man and end of human life; and this is bestowed upon us by Christ’s humanity; for Augustine says in a sermon (xiii de Temp): God was made man, that man might be made God ” (ST III, q. 1 a. 2). St. Thomas also wrote:

Now the gift of grace surpasses every capability of created nature, since it is nothing short of a partaking of the Divine Nature, which exceeds every other nature. And thus it is impossible that any creature should cause grace. For it is as necessary that God alone should deify, bestowing a partaking of the Divine Nature by a participated likeness, as it is impossible that anything save fire should enkindle. (Summa Theologica, First Part of the Second Part, Q. 112: The Cause of Grace, Art. 1: Whether God Alone is the Cause of Grace)

That can hardly be anti-traditional and a “rupture” can it?: seeing that it is based on the Bible, St. Irenaeus, St. Augustine, St. Athanasius, and St. Thomas Aquinas. What more does one require? For more on the basics of theosis, see my papers:

Theosis and the Exalted Virgin Mary [7-11-04]

“In Him” An Expression of the Oneness of Theosis? [3-13-14]

Here now is the disputed section of Gaudium et Spes:

[section 22, 2nd paragraph] He Who is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), (21) is Himself the perfect man. To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. Since human nature as He assumed it was not annulled, (22) by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice (23) and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin. (24)


21. Cf. 2 Cor. 4:4.

22. Cf. Second Council of Constantinople, canon 7: “The divine Word was not changed into a human nature, nor was a human nature absorbed by the Word.” Denzinger 219 (428); Cf. also Third Council of Constantinople: “For just as His most holy and immaculate human nature, though deified, was not destroyed (theotheisa ouk anerethe), but rather remained in its proper state and mode of being”: Denzinger 291 (556); Cf. Council of Chalcedon:” to be acknowledged in two natures, without confusion change, division, or separation.” Denzinger 148 (302).

23. Cf. Third Council of Constantinople: “and so His human will, though deified, is not destroyed”: Denzinger 291 (556).

24. Cf. Heb. 4:15.

I think it’s quite clear that the intended meaning here is in line with what has been presented above from Holy Tradition and the Bible. If “every man” is the “gripe within a gripe” then that is easily explained as referring to universal atonement. This is made clear in paragraph 5:

For, since Christ died for all men, (32: “Cf. Rom. 8:32.”) and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.

Holy Scripture itself often refers to “all men” or “the world,” etc., with regard to salvation, but we know (all relevant texts considered) that it is referring to universal atonement (i.e., a universal possibility or offer of salvation by His free grace), and not universalism (all people are saved):

Wisdom 16:12 For neither herb nor poultice cured them, but it was thy word, O Lord, which heals all men.

Luke 3:6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

John 3:17 For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (cf. 4:42; 6:33; 6:51; 8:12; 9:5; 12:47; 2 Cor 5:19; 1 Jn 4:14)

John 12:32 and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.

Romans 5:18 Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.

Ephesians 3:9 and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; (cf. 1:9-10)

1 Timothy 2:3-6 . . . God our Savior, [4] who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. [5] For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, [6] who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time.

1 Timothy 4:10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.

Titus 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men,

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

Hence, the objection vanishes.


Photo credit: Edal Anton Lefterov (3-31-06): Jesus Christ – detail from Deesis mosaic (13th c.), Hagia Sophia, Istanbul [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]

May 30, 2019

Infiltration: The Plot to Destroy the Church from Within, by Dr. Taylor Marshall, is currently taking Amazon by storm. I wrote an analysis of it today in which I noted that the bashing of the Second Vatican Council was a prominent motif. Such a “spirit” (pun intended) is a prominent characteristic of radical Catholic reactionary thought. I have found, through the years, that much of the criticism directed towards this ecumenical council of Holy Mother Church falls prey to the good ol’ post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy. The Wikipedia entry on this erroneous and sloppy thinking describes it:

(Latin: “after this, therefore because of this”) is an informal fallacy that states “Since event Y followed event X, event Y must have been caused by event X.” . . . Post hoc is a particularly tempting error because correlation appears to suggest causality. The fallacy lies in a conclusion based solely on the order of events, rather than taking into account other factors potentially responsible for the result that might rule out the connection. A simple example is “the rooster crows immediately before sunrise; therefore the rooster causes the sun to rise.”

I wrote just last month about Vatican II, along these lines, replying to someone who noted (like Taylor Marshall has — very Voris-like — in his book) that U.S. church membership has “been in decline since Vatican II”:

There was also this thing called “the 60s” and the sexual revolution . . . But people prefer to blame an orthodox ecumenical council. . . .

Liturgical abuses: absolutely. Fault of the council: no. And VCII said the Latin should be retained (too). It wasn’t in most places, but obviously that is counter to the wishes of the council, too. . . . Many parishes ignored that. Blame them, not the council. . . .

Yet it seems to get blamed for everything because people can’t figure out causation of complex issues and would rather sink to conspiratorialism. . . .

VCII did not change “no salvation outside the Church” in the least. It was Trent (following Augustine contra the Donatists 1100 years earlier) that declared that non-Catholic trinitarian baptism was a valid sacrament, and that those who received it were truly Christians and members of the Body of Christ.

Dr. Marshall undertook a clever campaign of amassing over 500 people (currently, 533 as I write) to endorse his book in reviews on Amazon. There is nothing wrong with this (it’s pure capitalism). But it does provide an opportunity to see what sort of outlook typifies those who are gung-ho about the book and “pied piper” Taylor Marshall’s recently acquired reactionary conspiratorialism.

I thought it would be instructive to survey these reviews to see what was written about Vatican II (which Cardinal Ratzinger in 1985 said had precisely the same authority as the Council of Trent):


1) Pope Paul VI and those whom he empowered did their best to destroy the traditions of the Catholic Church and thereby the Church itself.

2) Marshall does an excellent job pointing out the infiltrating major players: Freemasonry, the Enlightenment, communism, Jesuits, modernism, false ecumenism, and abandonment of Thomistic theological precision for theological ambiguity (which eventually led to weaponized ambiguity deliberately inserted into Vatican II documents). Satan, of course, is behind it all.

3) I will forever consider Michael Davies’s “Liturgical Time Bombs in Vatican II” to be my go-to “quick read” recommendation for those seeking to understand where this crisis began in terms of liturgy, doctrine, and Vatican II, . . .

4)  Dr. Marshall connects all the dots. From the Freemasons, to Modernism, Vatican II, the Norvos [sic] Ordo, Fatima, Pope Benedict’s resignation, and others, you will see how these dots all connect to show how all of this is the Devil’s work himself to destroy the Church.

5) Being a pre-Vatican II Catholic, I have watched with dismay as the Church I love has disintegrated into the wasteland that it is today. 6

6)  Vatican II was not Modernism’s beginning in our church, but rather its coming out party!7

7) There is a tendency to blame these conditions on Vatican II, and that sense is justified.

8) This book clearly explains the reasons for the convening of Vatican II and the organizations, people and anti Catholic forces behind its destructive and anti Catholic actions.

9) Dr. Marshall connects the ‘infiltration’ clues surrounding the Freemasons; Bella Dodd; warnings of Our Lady at Fatima & La Salette; the Vatican bank scandals; the Sankt Gallen Mafia; secret societies; Communism; Vatican II; the Sicilian Mafia; and more. In different ways, these man-made scandals contributed to the erosion of the Church’s moral authority and led to the dilution of the Liturgy over the past several decades.

10)   Vatican II, for example, did not give rise to Modernism in the Church, but it might be said that Modernism gave rise to many developments at Vatican II. . . . Modernism is now widely accepted among hierarchs, clergy, and laity. It, too, is rationally and theologically incompatible with historic Christianity. Yet, Dr. Marshall sees it on display at Vatican II.

11) This is an excellent overview of the situation within the Church and why the return to order must include the rejection of Vatican II and the rediscovery of the Roman Rite of the Mass.

12) He rightly points out that the current crisis in the Church IS modernism, and while Vatican II may have been a tipping point, the “Infiltration” started a long time ago.

13) Marshall finds that the infiltration of the Freemasons, humanists, and the modernistic “nouvelle” theologians (e.g., Karl Rahner, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Walter Kasper, Joseph Ratzinger, Edward Schillebeeckx, Johann Baptist Metz, etc.; 134-35) who introduced the Novus Ordo Mass and highly influenced the Second Vatican Council, led to the perversion of the “supernatural religion of the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ” of the Church into the “natural religion” that emphasizes the Human over the Divine (i.e., Satanism; 4).

14) Undoubtedly, many effects of Vatican II have been negative and have contributed to the current situation.

15) The poisonous fruits of Vatican II worked to make a religion more pleasing to man, not God, and we are reaping that rotten harvest right now.

16) Plots, intrigue, and evil manipulations are shown to shape the Second Vatican Council . . .

17) . . . changes in Vatican II that I feel weakened the Church.

18) . . . Vatican II where the enemies within the church clearly revealed themselves.

19) Dr. Marshall names, names and shows all of us that Vatican II was only one part of the devil’s plan to destroy the Church from within.

20) I once thought Vatican II was the catalyst for the infiltration of the Church but after reading this book, I know see that it was the victory lap.

21) . . . the Modernist revolution of Vatican II doctrinal confusion . . .

22)  Dr. Marshall explains this apparent reversal of policy towards these heresies as the result of Freemasons, Communists, and other liberal theologians as having infiltrated the Church in the years prior to the Vatican II Council. The Council was their Coming Out Party.

23) I made my first communion just prior to Vatican II and soon after that it seemed that almost everything I had been taught and believed was changing. Now I understand why.

24) Important events (the demise of the Papal States, the infiltration of the Church by Communists and Freemasons, the errors that were introduced at Vatican II by the modernists, . . .

25) Most people wouldn’t know that the freemasons are very active in Italy, reaching into Vatican 2 itself. . . . the bomb that was Vatican II . . .

26) Dr. Marshall provides a short explanation of the Nouvelle Theologie and its impact on the major players of Vatican II, as well as some of the problematic documents of that Council and why they matter.

27) [M]any are waking up and trying to understand how and why their Holy Church is in crisis. Taylor Marshall clears all that up with a concise walk through Catholic Church history displaying the true nature of how events and the rise of Freemasonry 300 years ago lead to the drastic changes of Vatican II.

28) It was shocking that at Vatican II, Protestant clergy were given the right to interfere in the making of those documents, clearly showing that the Catholic church was manipulated, subverted and Protestantized.

29) Chapter 19 is a detailed account of the theological ruin and infiltration of Vatican II . . .

30) Marshall argues that Vatican II was just the coming out party of 100 years of a slow and methodical infiltration of the Church’s ideology.

31) Marshall traces the polluted bloodline of Marxist-Modernist footmen, arrogantly maneuvering from within the Church to cast aside the richness, the beauty, and the Truth of the Tridentine Liturgy. These relentless conspirators in clerical camouflage understood the inherent strength of the Tridentine Liturgy and the downstream impact of concealing it away from the hearts of future generations—thus the poisonous results of Vatican II.

32) I have read numerous books on the current state of the Church, the issues with Vatican Council II, the freemasons, and the communist infiltration of the Church. But this book has put all of these issues together, with a timeline showing the interconnectedness that has led us to the current crisis.

33) This is a very relevant book for anyone who wants to understand the root-cause of the problems facing the Catholic Church today, would highly recommend. Dr. Marshall breaks down chronologically where the source of the problems began, how it manifested in Vatican II all the way through to the current Pontificate.

34)  I found the evidence of Vatican II procuring the decline of the Church and how that was the target goal in losing faithful Christians.

35) The transformation of Catholic doctrine and liturgy had its apotheosis in Vatican II.

36) Dr. Marshall explains why Vatican II ended up being the byproduct of a sophisticated and shrewd plan devised over a hundred and fifty years ago.

37) Dr. Taylor Marshall presents the conspiracy theory that the Roman Catholic Church has been infiltrated with thousands of priests, bishops and even popes with the nafarious [sic] intent of destroying this ancient institution. . . . This story has taken more than 150 years to unravel and has involved Freemasons, the Communist Party, The Italian mafia, Benito Mussilini [sic], Marian apparitions, The Second Vatican Council, Agatha Christie, thousands of priests, bishops and cardinals, some of whom were homosexuals and pedophiles, and 11 Popes.

38) [T]he author succintly [sic] described the ideas and people behind modernism and Nouvelle Theologie. As crucial as both these ideas were to the Second Vatican Council, I have never been able to find such a good and useful “short” summary as Dr. Marshall’s treatment here.

39) I also never thought about how dangerous Vatican II was . . .

40) Marshall sees only Archbishop Lefebvre as the one prophet to fully comprehend the magnitude of the changes brought about by Vatican II. Lefebvre became then the point man for the resistance to the Modernism and the infiltration of the Church — and he is recognized for his role more and more by even conservatives in the Novus Ordo.

41) Vatican II, which the author refers to as “modernism on display” did not make the Catholic Church a friendlier place and was actually harmful to the laity.

42) He shows us how this “Smoke of Satan” entered into Holy Mother Church with everything from Freemasonry, the Illuminati, Socialism, Communism, Homosexuality, and today’s Modernism. All of which left us vulnerable and the door wide open to the many “radical reforms” of Vatican II. His book also demonstrates with in depth detail the key players that shredded the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we’ve had for centuries into what we’re left with today. A Mass that may look similar, but is devoid of the supernatural Divine content of the Ages.

43) The average Catholic will now know . . . that we are not bound to accept/adhere to the documents or the “spirit” which came from that council.

44) Vatican II is the culmination of years of infiltration by men who often presented a facade of obedience to the magisterium, but were working actively behind the scenes to undermine it.

45) The book also makes clear why Vatican II is not the cause of Catholicism’s current crisis, but the result of a carefully worked out plan to take control of the Papacy and Church teachings.

46) One thing is clear: if the Church is going to defeat this satanic infiltration, it must reject all things Vatican II and this book does an excellent job of explaining why that is the case.

47)  My favorite section of Infiltration is the chapter on Vatican II and Novus Ordo Missae because Dr. Marshall provides important historical facts on the inception of Vatican II, the “engineers” of the document, and the challenge of Modernism.

48) He names names, cites sources, and lays out the map of the corruptive and evil influences that led to the confusion of Vatican Council II and its disastrous fall out.

2 Timothy 4:3-4 (RSV) For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, [4] and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.


“I have chills & am in tears doing research for my new book on Infiltration of the Catholic Church. THERE IS SO MUCH EVIL IN SANKT GALLEN. IT WILL ROCK THE CHURCH. Like Natcha Jaitt, I’m not suicidal. If anything happens to me it was a murder. Pray for me. Book due in May 2019.”

— Dr. Taylor Marshall, 3-6-19 on Twitter


Now, for the actual orthodox ecclesiological teaching of Holy Mother Church (over against reactionary, conspiratorial pied pipers), see the following articles on my blog, regarding the full orthodoxy and spiritually rich and more fully developed true content of the Second Vatican Council, the Mind of the Church, and the sublime authority of Holy Spirit-protected ecumenical councils:

Conciliar Infallibility: Summary from Church Documents [6-5-98]

May 14, 2019

In 2005 I wrote the fairly exhaustive article, Luther’s “Snow-Covered Dunghill” (Myth?). I could not find conclusive evidence that Martin Luther had ever used this phrase; although I thought I found all the basic component ideas present in Luther. I was curious to see if anyone else had come up with anything since that time. Apparently not, and it seems that my paper remains the most in-depth treatment of the question online.

It may be that I have found, today, an important clue as to how the common use of this phrase, attributed to Luther (but never documented) may have come about.


I was searching the Internet, trying to find any clues, and happened to run across a fascinating book called Proverbial Language in English Drama Exclusive of Shakespeare, 1495-1616: An Index (Robert William Dent, University of California Press, 1984). On page 307 in Appendix A, we find the entry, “A DUNGHILL covered with snow (etc.).” Some of the listed references come close to the exact notion, but not quite. The first one that is precisely the same idea is the following (my colored emphasis):

1610 Stoneham Treatise First Psalme 153: These their vertues are done by the wicked first, for shew, as Hypocrites, like a dung-hill covered with snowe.

The next one is equally relevant to our search:

1616 T. Adams Soul’s Sickness I,494f.: He [a hypocrite] is . . . a stinking dunghill covered over with snow.

Fascinating, huh? I think we may be onto something here. I managed to find both works in either Internet Archive or Google Books (thank God for both of those magnificent sources of primary material). The first, A Treatise on the First Psalme, by Mathew Stonham (alternate name spelling), was published in 1610 in London. A photocopy of the exact citation can be seen on page 153.

I was unable to find out much about this man, other than that he was born in 1571, lived till at least 1641, was puritanistically “inclined” and was a “Minister and Preacher in the Cittie of Norwich” (found on the title page). The Reformed Books Online site recommended his commentary, accompanied by a quotation from Charles Spurgeon: “Somewhat dry, scholastic and out of date; but still an interesting and instructive piece of old divinity.” This more or less proves that he was a Calvinist; if he was not, this site likely wouldn’t recommend him.

The book,  The Social Structure in Caroline England (David Mathew, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1948), notes on page 63:

After taking Orders he returned to his native city and not later than 1600 opened a private school which for nearly forty years would continue to provide scholars for his own college.

What is interesting is that Stoneham’s reference (like Adams’) is strictly referring to the pretense of hypocrites: not at all to the doctrine of imputed justification (as Luther supposedly used it, and as the reference today is commonly understood). Thus, if these two passages were the origin of the assumption in use today, their original intent and meaning and context have been considerably modified. Consulting the immediate context of Stoneham’s reference on page 153 ff., one can clearly observe Stoneham issuing blistering condemnations of hypocrisy, similar to Jesus’ excoriation of the Pharisees. The olde English is fun to read, too.

I found quite a bit more about the Calvinist Thomas Adams (1583-1652). A Puritan’s Mind website provides a fairly extensive biography of him, written by Joel R. Beeke, of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Here are some key excerpts:

Thomas Adams graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1602, and four years later, with a Master of Arts degree from Clare College. Ordained deacon and priest in the Lincoln diocese in 1604, he served as curate of Northill, Bedfordshire from 1605 to 1611. . . .

In 1614, he became vicar of Wingrave, Buckinghamshire, and then moved to London in 1619, where he was given the rectories of St. Benet Paul’s Wharf and the small church of St. Benet Sherehog. For his first five years in London, he also held the lectureship of St. Gregory’s, a parish of 3,000. Later on, he preached on occasion at St. Paul’s Cross and Whitehall, and served as chaplain to Henry Montagu, First Earl of Manchester and Chief Justice of the king’s bench.

Adams was a powerful preacher, much-quoted writer, and influential divine. Prominent leaders in church and state, such as John Donne and the earl of Pembroke, were among his friends.

Adams was a Calvinist Episcopalian in terms of church polity. He was not opposed to kneeling to receive communion and feared that the abolition of episcopacy advocated by some Puritans would lead to Anabaptism. Nonetheless, Adams embraced Puritan theology, polemics, and lifestyle. . . .

Robert Southey . . . describe[d] him as “the prose Shakespeare of the Puritan theologians.”

Adams shared the Puritan concern to purge the Church of England of remaining vestiges of Roman Catholicism or “popery,” as it was then called. His open expression of this concern and his identification with the Puritans in many areas, offended William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury; doubtless, this hindered his preferment in the church. At the same time, Adams was staunchly loyal to the king, and so found himself in disfavor with Cromwell . . .

Alexander B. Grosart wrote of him: “Thomas Adams stands in the forefront of our great English preachers. He is not as sustained as Jeremy Taylor, nor so continuously sparkling as Thomas Fuller, but he is surpassingly eloquent and brilliant, and much more thought-laden than either.”

The Wikipedia entry on Thomas Adams states about him: “while he was a Calvinist in theology, he is not, however, accurately described as a Puritan.”  We can find his relevant work in a 1909 volume devoted to an edited collection of his sermons. The context of his remark on page 202 (just word-search it) plainly shows that it had to do with hypocrisy, and actually of an empty Christian observance without works. The sermon was about Jesus’ parable of the two sons (see pages 184-185 for the beginning of it). Here is the parable (RSV):

Matthew 21:28-32 “What do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, `Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ [29] And he answered, `I will not’; but afterward he repented and went.  [30] And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, `I go, sir,’ but did not go. [31] Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. [32] For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him.

Accordingly, we see the larger context of the point he was making in his sermon. I provide the entire concluding section (my paragraphs and some quotation marks added):

Words are but vocal interpreters of the mind, actions real; what a man does we may be sure he thinks, not ever more what he says. Of the two, give me him that says little and doth much. Will you examine further who are like this son? They that can say here in the temple, “Lord, hallowed be thy name”; scarce out of the church-doors, the first thing they do is to blaspheme it: that pray, “Thy will be done,” when with all their powers they oppose it: and, “Incline our hearts to keep thy laws”, when they utterly decline themselves.

These are but devils in angels feathers, stinking dunghills covered with white snow, rotten timber shining in the night ; Pharisees cups, ignes fatui, that seem to shine as fixed in the orb, yet are no other than crude substances and falling meteors. You hear how fairly this younger brother promiseth; what shall we find in the event? But he went not. What an excellent son had this been if his heart and tongue had been cut out of one piece! He comes on bravely, but, like an ill actor, he goes halting off. It is not profession, but obedience, that pleaseth God. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into heaven ; but he that doth the will of my Father which is in heaven”, Matt. vii. 21.

There are three things that cozen many, because they are preparatives to obedience, but are not it: Some intend well, as if the blast of a good meaning could blow them into heaven. Others prepare and set themselves in a towardness; but, like the George, booted and spurred, and on horseback, yet they stir not an inch. Others go a degree further, and they begin to think of a course for heaven: for a Sabbath or two you shall have them diligent churchmen; but the devil’s in it, some vanity or other steals into their heart, and farewell devotion.

All these are short, are nothing, may be worse than nothing; and it is only actual obedience that pleaseth God. Beloved, say no longer you will, but do; and the “doer shall be blessed in his deed,” James i. 25. Which blessedness the mercies of God in Christ Jesus vouchsafe us! Amen.

Both Martin Luther and John Calvin taught the supreme importance and necessity of works in the regenerate Christian’s life. Luther strongly opposed antinomianism and closely connected faith and works. But (differing from Catholicism) they categorized the works as part of sanctification only; not justification. In light of all of this, the way this imagined use of an alleged phrase of Luther is used today can only be described — in the final analysis — as a distortion of Luther’s teaching on soteriology and justification, fully understood.

Whether this is the origin of the widespread story about Luther using this illustration, remains conjectural. But I have not found a better explanation thus far (or even any explanation at all, solidly documented). This theory seems possible and even plausible to me. In this scenario, these citations would be the actual origin (at least in the English language). The idea was then superimposed onto Luther’s theology (probably originally by Calvinists, seeing that that was the milieu in which the phrases occurred), because of certain utterances of his that seemed harmonious with it, and over time, folks falsely assumed that Luther was the originator of the word-picture.


Photo credit: WikimediaImages (1-15-06) [Pixabay / Pixabay License]



February 4, 2019

This is an installment of a series of replies (see the Introduction and Master List) to much of Book IV (Of the Holy Catholic Church) of Institutes of the Christian Religion, by early Protestant leader John Calvin (1509-1564). I utilize the public domain translation of Henry Beveridge, dated 1845, from the 1559 edition in Latin; available online. Calvin’s words will be in blue. All biblical citations (in my portions) will be from RSV unless otherwise noted.

Related reading from yours truly:

Biblical Catholic Answers for John Calvin (2010 book: 388 pages)

A Biblical Critique of Calvinism (2012 book: 178 pages)

Biblical Catholic Salvation: “Faith Working Through Love” (2010 book: 187 pages; includes biblical critiques of all five points of “TULIP”)


IV, 17:38-39


Book IV




38. Ends for which the sacrament was instituted.


Thirdly, The Lord intended it to be a kind of exhortation, than which no other could urge or animate us more strongly, both to purity and holiness of life, and also to charity, peace, and concord. For the Lord there communicates his body so that he may become altogether one with us, and we with him. 

But not physically . . . This is so obviously driven by a prior (quite unbiblical) antipathy to matter and sacramentalism in the proper traditional sense of the word. Calvin wants everything about the Eucharist except the physical aspect, which is essential to it.

Moreover, since he has only one body of which he makes us all to be partakers, we must necessarily, by this participation, all become one body. 

In order to do that, there has to be a physical characteristic to it! It’s so clear; how can Calvin miss it? Throughout the Bible is very literal about these things, by equating the Body of Christ with Christ Himself (at Paul’s conversion: Acts 9:5; cf. 8:1, 3, 9:1-2; cf. also 1 Cor 12:27; Eph 1:22-23; 5:30; Col 1:24); by Paul’s language about “in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col 1:24), by His reference to profaning the body and blood of Christ in an irreverent Communion (1 Cor 11:27-30), and particularly in the extraordinary theosis passages:

2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Ephesians 3:17-19 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, [18] may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, [19] and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.

Ephesians 4:13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ;

2 Peter 1:3-4 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, [4] by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature. (cf. Jn 14:20-23, 17:21-23)

1 John 4:9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.

The Greek word for “fulness” in all instances is pleroma (Strong’s word #4138). Theosis and pleroma do not at all imply equality with God, but rather, a participation in His energies and power, through the Holy Spirit. The Church fathers believed in theosis, or divinization. For example:

[T]his is the reason why the Word became flesh and the Son of God became the Son of Man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God. (St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III 19, 1)

When the Word came upon the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Spirit entered her together with he Word; in the Spirit the Word formed a body for himself and adapted it to himself, desiring to unite all creation through himself and lead it to the Father. (St. Athanasius, Ad Serap. 1, 31)

There is no reason to deny the literal sense to the eucharistic passages: to make an arbitrary exception in that case, just because Calvin has a Docetic antipathy to matter used by God to convey grace (just as in the incarnation and crucifixion).

This unity is represented by the bread which is exhibited in the sacrament. 

Holy Communion is not a touchy-feely sentimental affair with bread merely “representing” Christ’s Body. It’s far more profound. It is the Real Thing.

As it is composed of many grains, so mingled together, that one cannot be distinguished from another; so ought our minds to be so cordially united, as not to allow of any dissension or division. 

Denying the biblical, apostolic, patristic, Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist does anything but foster Christian unity. Calvin expresses the right thought, yet the doctrine he is promulgating here mitigates strongly against it, and is a heretical corruption of true doctrine.

This I prefer giving in the words of Paul: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many, are one bread and one body, for we are all partakers of that one bread” (1 Cor. 10:15, 16). We shall have profited admirably in the sacrament, if the thought shall have been impressed and engraven on our minds, that none of our brethren is hurt, despised, rejected, injured, or in any way offended, without our, at the same time, hurting, despising, and injuring Christ; that we cannot have dissension with our brethren, without at the same time dissenting from Christ; that we cannot love Christ without loving our brethren; that the same care we take of our own body we ought to take of that of our brethren, who are members of our body; that as no part of our body suffers pain without extending to the other parts, so every evil which our brother suffers ought to excite our compassion. 

Thus (sadly) Calvin sees a certain form of literalism, but fails to see the whole truth.

Wherefore Augustine not inappropriately often terms this sacrament the bond of charity. What stronger stimulus could be employed to excite mutual charity, than when Christ, presenting himself to us, not only invites us by his example to give and devote ourselves mutually to each other, but inasmuch as he makes himself common to all, also makes us all to be one in him.

But Calvin doesn’t understand biblical theosis. It’s ironic that he comes so close to it but simply can’t grasp it. In the final analysis, Calvin’s view basically comes down to pure Zwinglian symbolism (much as he would protest against this).

The Consensus Tigurinus was written by Calvin in 1549 in order to clarify “Reformed” eucharistic doctrine over against Lutheranism. It was adopted by the Zurich theologians (and remember, Zurich was where Zwingli resided, and also his successor, Heinrich Bullinger (who wrote some of the notes). That they would adopt a document by Calvin is highly significant. Here are some excerpts (translated by Henry Beveridge):

Article 7. The Ends of the Sacraments

The ends of the sacraments are to be marks and badges of Christian profession and fellowship or fraternity, to be incitements to gratitude and exercises of faith and a godly life; in short, to be contracts binding us to this. But among other ends the principal one is, that God may, by means of them, testify, represent, and seal his grace to us. For although they signify nothing else than is announced to us by the Word itself, yet it is a great matter, first, that there is submitted to our eye a kind of living images which make a deeper impression on the senses, by bringing the object in a manner directly before them, while they bring the death of Christ and all his benefits to our remembrance, that faith may be the better exercised; and, secondly, that what the mouth of God had announced is, as it were, confirmed and ratified by seals.

[ . . . ]

Article 9. The Signs and the Things Signified Not Disjoined but Distinct.

Wherefore, though we distinguish, as we ought, between the signs and the things signified, yet we do not disjoin the reality from the signs, but acknowledge that all who in faith embrace the promises there offered receive Christ spiritually, with his spiritual gifts, while those who had long been made partakers of Christ continue and renew that communion.

Article 10. The Promise Principally to Be Looked To in the Sacraments.

And it is proper to look not to the bare signs, but rather to the promise thereto annexed. As far, therefore, as our faith in the promise there offered prevails, so far will that virtue and efficacy of which we speak display itself. Thus the substance of water, bread, and wine, by no means offers Christ to us, nor makes us capable of his spiritual gifts. The promise rather is to be looked to, whose office it is to lead us to Christ by the direct way of faith, faith which makes us partakers of Christ.

[ . . . ]

Article 12. The Sacraments Effect Nothing by Themselves.

Besides, if any good is conferred upon us by the sacraments, it is not owing to any proper virtue in them, even though in this you should include the promise by which they are distinguished. For it is God alone who acts by his Spirit. When he uses the instrumentality of the sacraments, he neither infuses his own virtue into them nor derogates in any respect from the effectual working of his Spirit, but, in adaptation to our weakness, uses them as helps; in such manner, however, that the whole power of acting remains with him alone.

[ . . . ]

Article 15. How the Sacraments Confirm.

Thus the sacraments are sometimes called seals, and are said to nourish, confirm, and advance faith, and yet the Spirit alone is properly the seal, and also the beginner and finisher of faith. For all these attributes of the sacraments sink down to a lower place, so that not even the smallest portion of our salvation is transferred to creatures or elements.

[ . . . ]

Article 17. The Sacraments Do Not Confer Grace.

By this doctrine is overthrown that fiction of the sophists which teaches that the sacraments confer grace on all who do not interpose the obstacle of mortal sin. For besides that in the sacraments nothing is received except by faith, we must also hold that the grace of God is by no means so annexed to them that whoso receives the sign also gains possession of the thing. For the signs are administered alike to reprobate and elect, but the reality reaches the latter only.

[ . . . ]

Article 21. No Local Presence Must Be Imagined.

We must guard particularly against the idea of any local presence. For while the signs are present in this world, are seen by the eyes and handled by the hands, Christ, regarded as man, must be sought nowhere else than in Heaven, and not otherwise than with the mind and eye of faith. Wherefore it is a perverse and impious superstition to inclose him under the elements of this world.

Article 22. Explanation of the Words “This Is My Body.”

Those who insist that the formal words of the Supper, “This is my body; this is my blood,” are to be taken in what they call the precisely literal sense, we repudiate as preposterous interpreters. For we hold it out of controversy that they are to be taken figuratively, the bread and wine receiving the name of that which they signify. Nor should it be thought a new or unwonted thing to transfer the name of things figured by metonomy to the sign, as similar modes of expression occur throughout the Scriptures, and we by so saying assert nothing but what is found in the most ancient and most approved writers of the Church.

Article 23. Of the Eating of the Body.

When it is said that Christ, by our eating of his flesh and drinking of his blood, which are here figured, feeds our souls through faith by the agency of the Holy Spirit, we are not to understand it as if any mingling or transfusion of substance took place, but that we draw life from the flesh once offered in sacrifice and the blood shed in expiation.

Article 24. Transubstantiation and Other Follies.

In this way are refuted not only the fiction of the Papists concerning transubstantiation, but all the gross figments and futile quibbles which either derogate from his celestial glory or are in some degree repugnant to the reality of his human nature. For we deem it no less absurd to place Christ under the bread or couple him with the bread, than to transubstantiate the bread into his body.

Article 25. The Body of Christ Locally in Heaven.

And that no ambiguity may remain when we say that Christ is to be sought in Heaven, the expression implies and is understood by us to intimate distance of place. For though philosophically speaking there is no place above the skies, yet as the body of Christ, bearing the nature and mode of a human body, is finite and is contained in Heaven as its place, it is necessarily as distant from us in point of space as Heaven is from Earth.

Article 26. Christ Not to Be Adored in the Bread.

If it is not lawful to affix Christ in our imagination to the bread and the wine, much less is it lawful to worship him in the bread. For although the bread is held forth to us as a symbol and pledge of the communion which we have with Christ, yet as it is a sign and not the thing itself, and has not the thing either included in it or fixed to it, those who turn their minds towards it, with the view of worshipping Christ, make an idol of it.

Protestant scholar Philip Schaff, in the 1919 sixth revised edition of his Creeds of Christendom (Vol, I, § 59. The Consensus of Zurich. A.D. 1549), comments on the background of this document:

In the sacramental controversy—the most violent, distracting, and unprofitable in the history of the Reformation—Calvin stood midway between Luther and Zwingli, and endeavored to unite the elements of truth on both sides, in his theory of a spiritual real presence and fruition of Christ by faith. This satisfied neither the rigid Lutherans nor the rigid Zwinglians. The former could see no material difference between Calvin and Zwingli, since both denied the literal interpretation of ‘this is my body,’ and a corporeal presence and manducation. The latter suspected Calvin of leaning towards Lutheran consubstantiation . . .

The wound was reopened by Luther’s fierce attack on the Zwinglians (1545), and their sharp reply. Calvin was displeased with both parties, and counselled moderation. It was very desirable to harmonize the teaching of the Swiss Churches. Bullinger, who first advanced beyond the original Zwinglian ground, and appreciated the deeper theology of Calvin, sent him his book on the Sacraments, in manuscript (1546), with the request to express his opinion. Calvin, did this with great frankness, and a degree of censure which at first irritated Bullinger. Then followed a correspondence and personal conference at Zurich, which resulted in a complete union of the Calvinistic and Zwinglian sections of the Swiss Churches on this vexed subject. The negotiations reflect great credit on both parties, and reveal an admirable spirit of frankness, moderation, forbearance, and patience, which triumphed over all personal sensibilities and irritations.

. . . It contains the Calvinistic doctrine, adjusted as nearly as possible to the Zwinglian in its advanced form, but with a disturbing predestinarian restriction of the sacramental grace to the elect.

Calvinist William G. T. Shedd offers his take on the implications of the document:

In this Consensus Tigurinus, he defines his statements more distinctly, and left no doubt in the minds of the Zurichers that he adopted heartily the spiritual and symbolical theory of the Lord’s Supper. The course of events afterwards showed that Calvin’s theory really harmonized with Zuingle’s. (A History of Christian Doctrine , Vol. II, New York: Charles Scribner & Co., 3rd edition, 1865, p. 468)

39. True nature of the sacrament, contrasted with the Popish observance of it.


This most admirably confirms what I elsewhere said—viz. that there cannot be a right administration of the Supper without the word. Any utility which we derive from the Supper requires the word. 

No one disagrees with that. It comes from the Word of Holy Scripture, and so must be accompanied by that same Word.

Whether we are to be confirmed in faith, or exercised in confession, or aroused to duty, there is need of preaching. Nothing, therefore, can be more preposterous than to convert the Supper into a dumb action. This is done under the tyranny of the Pope, the whole effect of consecration being made to depend on the intention of the priest, as if it in no way concerned the people, to whom especially the mystery ought to have been explained. This error has originated from not observing that those promises by which consecration is effected are intended, not for the elements themselves, but for those who receive them. Christ does not address the bread and tell it to become his body, but bids his disciples eat, and promises them the communion of his body and blood. And, according to the arrangement which Paul makes, the promises are to be offered to believers along with the bread and the cup. Thus, indeed, it is. We are not to imagine some magical incantation, and think it sufficient to mutter the words, as if they were heard by the elements; but we are to regard those words as a living sermon, which is to edify the hearers, penetrate their minds, being impressed and seated in their hearts, and exert its efficacy in the fulfilment of that which it promises. 

This is such a ridiculous caricature of what goes on in the Mass that it doesn’t even deserve the dignity of a reply. Granted, there were corruptions in practice in that period of Catholic history, as there are in all periods (it is only a matter of degree), but that gives Calvin no license to extrapolate corruptions to all Masses everywhere, as he is wont to do, in his propagandistic anti-Catholic broad-brush painting. My main purpose is to reply to his reasoning for his own positions, not to correct every caricature and straw man that he constructs. One has only so much patience . . .

For these reasons, it is clear that the setting apart of the sacrament, as some insist, that an extraordinary distribution of it may be made to the sick, is useless. They will either receive it without hearing the words of the institution read, or the minister will conjoin the true explanation of the mystery with the sign. 

The Body and Blood of Christ are never “useless.” Under Catholic presuppositions, this makes perfect sense. Under Calvinist premises, it is senseless because there is no Body and Blood to give in the first place. Calvin makes no attempt to understand the Catholic’s own view. He simply bashes it.

In the silent dispensation, there is abuse and defect. If the promises are narrated, and the mystery is expounded, that those who are to receive may receive with advantage, it cannot be doubted that this is the true consecration. What then becomes of that other consecration, the effect of which reaches even to the sick? But those who do so have the example of the early Church. I confess it; but in so important a matter, where error is so dangerous, nothing is safer than to follow the truth.

It is in the effort to follow truth that one must often disagree with Calvin. He’s not the last word: Holy Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and Holy Mother Church provide that.


(originally 12-3-09)

Photo credit: Historical mixed media figure of John Calvin produced by artist/historian George S. Stuart and photographed by Peter d’Aprix: from the George S. Stuart Gallery of Historical Figures archive [Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]


February 1, 2019

This is an installment of a series of replies (see the Introduction and Master List) to much of Book IV (Of the Holy Catholic Church) of Institutes of the Christian Religion, by early Protestant leader John Calvin (1509-1564). I utilize the public domain translation of Henry Beveridge, dated 1845, from the 1559 edition in Latin; available online. Calvin’s words will be in blue. All biblical citations (in my portions) will be from RSV unless otherwise noted.

Related reading from yours truly:

Biblical Catholic Answers for John Calvin (2010 book: 388 pages)

A Biblical Critique of Calvinism (2012 book: 178 pages)

Biblical Catholic Salvation: “Faith Working Through Love” (2010 book: 187 pages; includes biblical critiques of all five points of “TULIP”)


IV, 17:12-15


Book IV



12. Second part of the chapter, reduced to nine heads. The transubstantiation of the Papists considered and refuted. Its origin and absurdity. Why it should be exploded.

I now come to the hyperbolical mixtures which superstition has introduced. 

It’s quite comical for Calvin to rail against “superstition” — given all the fictional and illogical, incoherent innovations he himself has introduced . . .

Here Satan has employed all his wiles, withdrawing the minds of men from heaven, and imbuing them with the perverse error that Christ is annexed to the element of bread. 

That is, the biblical, apostolic, patristic, and historic Catholic “error” . . . (we must place things in their proper perspective).

And, first, we are not to dream of such a presence of Christ in the sacrament as the artificers of the Romish court have imagined, as if the body of Christ, locally present, were to be taken into the hand, and chewed by the teeth, and swallowed by the throat. 

As the fathers pretty much unanimously believed: so even Protestant historians freely concede. It has nothing particularly to do with “Romish” and everything to do with apostolic and patristic.

This was the form of Palinode, which Pope Nicholas dictated to Berengarius, in token of his repentance, a form expressed in terms so monstrous, that the author of the Gloss exclaims, that there is danger, if the reader is not particularly cautious, that he will be led by it into a worse heresy than was that of Berengarius (Distinct. 2 c. Ego Berengarius). 

Berengarius was one of the few men of any note in the entire patristic and early medieval period who questioned the Real Presence and transubstantiation; hence we see Calvin immediately gravitating to him, even before he engages in his usual pretense that St. Augustine supposedly agrees with his novel position. In the article on Berengarius in the Catholic Encyclopedia, we can see from whence Calvin got some of his heretical notions of the Eucharist:

In the Eucharistic controversy of the ninth century, Radbert Paschasius, afterwards abbot of Corbie, in his De Corpore et Sanguine Domini (831), had maintained the doctrine that in the Holy Eucharist the bread is converted into the real body of Christ, into the very body which was born of Mary and crucified. Ratramnus, a monk of the same abbey, defended the opinion that in the Holy Eucharist there is no conversion of the bread; that the body of Christ is, nevertheless, present, but in a spiritual way; that it is not therefore the same as that born of Mary and crucified. John Scotus Erigena had supported the view that the sacraments of the altar are figures of the body of Christ; that they are a memorial of the true body and blood of Christ. (P. Batiffol, Etudes d’histoire et de théologie positive, 2d series, Paris, 1905.)

Unlike Calvin, who was firm in his error, Berengarius waffled and vacillated, but like Calvin, he went his own way over against Rome:

At the Council of Tours (1055), presided over by the papal legate Hildebrand, Berengarius signed a profession of faith wherein he confessed that after consecration the bread and wine are truly the body and blood of Christ. At another council held in Rome in 1059, Berengarius was present, retracted his opinions, and signed a formula of faith, drawn up by Cardinal Humbert, affirming the real and sensible presence of the true body of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. (Mansi, XIX, 900.) On his return, however, Berengarius attacked this formula. Eusebius Bruno abandoned him, and the Count of Anjou, Geoffrey the Bearded, vigorously opposed him. Berengarius appealed to Pope Alexander II, who, though he intervened in his behalf, asked him to renounce his erroneous opinions. This Berengarius contemptuously refused to do. . . . in 1078, by order of Pope Gregory VII, he came to Rome, and in a council held in St. John Lateran signed a profession of faith affirming the conversion of the bread into the body of Christ, born of the Virgin Mary. The following year, in a council held in the same place Berengarius signed a formula affirming the same doctrine in a more explicit way. Gregory VII then recommended him to the bishops of Tours and Angers, forbidding that any penalty should be inflicted on him or that anyone should call him a heretic. Berengarius, on his return, again attacked the formula he had signed, but as a consequence of the Council of Bordeaux (1080) he made a final retraction. He then retired into solitude on the island of St. Cosme, where he died, in union with the Church.

As the article proceeds in its analysis, we see again the similarities of the false premises of both Berengarius’ and Calvin’s heretical errors: particularly the notion of merely “spiritual presence”:

In order to understand his opinion, we must observe that, in philosophy, Berengarius had rationalistic tendencies and was a nominalist. Even in the study of the question of faith, he held that reason is the best guide. Reason, however, is dependent upon and is limited by sense-perception. Authority, therefore, is not conclusive; we must reason according to the data of our senses. There is no doubt that Berengarius denied transubstantiation (we mean the substantial conversion expressed by the word; the word itself was used for the first time by Hildebert of Lavardin); it is not absolutely certain that he denied the Real Presence, though he certainly held false views regarding it. Is the body of Christ present in the Eucharist, and in what manner? On this question the authorities appealed to by Berengarius are, besides Scotus Erigena, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, and St. Augustine. These fathers taught that the Sacrament of the Altar is the figure, the sign, the token of the body and blood of the Lord. These terms, in their mind, apply directly to what is external and sensible in the Holy Eucharist and do not, in any way, imply the negation of the real presence of the true body of Christ. (St. Aug. Serm. 143, n.3; Gerbert, Libellus De Corp. et Sang. Domini. n. 4, P.L., CXXXIX, 177.) For Berengarius the body and blood of Christ are really present in the Holy Eucharist; but this presence is an intellectual or spiritual presence. The substance of the bread and the substance of the wine remain unchanged in their nature, but by consecration they become spiritually the very body and blood of Christ. This spiritual body and blood of Christ is the res sacramenti; the bread and the wine are the figure, the sign, the token, sacramentum. . . .

He maintained that the bread and wine, without any change in their nature, become by consecration the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, a memorial of the body crucified and of the blood shed on the cross. It is not, however, the body of Christ as it is in heaven; for how could the body of Christ which is now in heaven, necessarily limited by space, be in another place, on several altars, and in numerous hosts? Yet the bread and the wine are the sign of the actual and real presence of the body and blood of Christ.

Calvin, too, had pronounced rationalistic and nominalistic tendencies. And so we see some of the intellectual background of his heresies in this regard.

Peter Lombard, though he labours much to excuse the absurdity, rather inclines to a different opinion. As we cannot at all doubt that it is bounded according to the invariable rule in the human body, and is contained in heaven, where it was once received, and will remain till it return to judgment, so we deem it altogether unlawful to bring it back under these corruptible elements, or to imagine it everywhere present. 

Jesus’ body is not “everywhere present.” It is sacramentally present in the consecrated bread and wine at Mass. In fact, the very notion of consecration proves that transubstantiation does not involve a “bodily omnipresence” since what was once bread and wine miraculously becomes the Body and Blood of Christ. Therefore, if they were not that before consecration, then this proves that Jesus’ body is not omnipresent itself, but becomes present locally during Mass.

Absurdities abound here, but in Calvin’s view, not the Catholic position. Jesus could walk through walls after His Resurrection (Jn 20:26), and even a mere man, Philip, could be “caught away” and transported to another place by God (Acts 8:39-40). So some Protestants think that God “couldn’t” or “wouldn’t” have performed the miracle of the Eucharist? One shouldn’t attempt to “tie” God’s hands by such arguments of alleged implausibility.

The fact remains that God clearly can perform any miracle He so chooses, and this particular one entails no suspension of the principles of the Incarnation, once the doctrine of Two Natures is correctly understood. Jesus can be both incarnate and present in many places in the Eucharist, just as He can be incarnate and be present spiritually everywhere (something which all Protestants believe). Neither scenario is contradictory or impossible for God. They are both miraculous and supernatural.


And, indeed, there is no need of this, in order to our partaking of it, since the Lord by his Spirit bestows upon us the blessing of being one with him in soul, body, and spirit. The bond of that connection, therefore, is the Spirit of Christ, who unites us to him, and is a kind of channel by which everything that Christ has and is, is derived to us. For if we see that the sun, in sending forth its rays upon the earth, to generate, cherish, and invigorate its offspring, in a manner transfuses its substance into it, why should the radiance of the Spirit be less in conveying to us the communion of his flesh and blood? 

Calvin’s scenario is entirely possible, theoretically. The problem is that it denies the clear biblical warrant for eucharistic realism.

Wherefore the Scripture, when it speaks of our participation with Christ, refers its whole efficacy to the Spirit. Instead of many, one passage will suffice. Paul, in the Epistle to the Romans (Rom. 8:9-11), shows that the only way in which Christ dwells in us is by his Spirit. By this, however, he does not take away that communion of flesh and blood of which we now speak, but shows that it is owing to the Spirit alone that we possess Christ wholly, and have him abiding in us.

The indwelling itself is spiritual, and it is said that Jesus dwells inside of us, as well as the Holy Spirit, and indeed God the Father. But the same Scripture uses realistic language in describing the Body of Christ. Calvin himself alluded to this in passing not long before in his book. The clearest, most graphic example of that is in conjunction with St. Paul’s conversion:

Acts 9:3-4 And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” [5] And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting;

Acts 22:7-8 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, `Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ [8] And I answered, `Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, `I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.’

Acts 26:14-15 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, `Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ [15] And I said, `Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, `I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.

Paul wasn’t literally persecuting Jesus in the flesh. He was warring against the Body of Christ. Jesus assumes here that the “Body of Christ” or the Church is literally identified with Him, in some very real sense. It’s the typically pungent, literal, graphic language and categories of the Bible. Paul was persecuting the Church:

Acts 9:1-2 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest [2] and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

Acts 22:4-5 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, [5] as the high priest and the whole council of elders bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brethren, and I journeyed to Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.

Acts 26:10-11 I not only shut up many of the saints in prison, by authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. [11] And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme; and in raging fury against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

1 Corinthians 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

Galatians 1:23 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it; (cf. 1:23)

But Jesus told him that he was persecuting Him. This graphic one-to-one equation is seen elsewhere:

Ephesians 1:22-23 and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, [23] which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all.

Ephesians 5:23 . . . Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.

Ephesians 5:28-32 Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. [29] For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, [30] because we are members of his body. [31] “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” [32] This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church;

Paul also reiterates the equation of persecution of the Church being the same as persecuting Jesus Himself:

1 Timothy 1:12-13 I thank him who has given me strength for this, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful by appointing me to his service, [13] though I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him; but I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief,

Elsewhere we see in the Apostle Paul not only very strong eucharistic realism (1 Cor 10:16; 11:27-30) but also an identification with the very suffering of Christ, in a startlingly realistic manner:

Colossians 1:24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, (cf. 2 Cor 4:10; Gal 6:17; Phil 3:10)

Calvin can’t spiritualize away Paul’s bodily sufferings, as if they weren’t physical in nature. Likewise, he can’t spiritualize away the Holy Eucharist. Scripture is consistently realistic in tone, tenor, and language with regard to all these matters.

13. Transubstantiation as feigned by the Schoolmen. Refutation. The many superstitions introduced by their error.

The Schoolmen, horrified at this barbarous impiety, 

What impiety?

speak more modestly, though they do nothing more than amuse themselves with more subtle delusions. 

Quite an underhanded compliment . . .

They admit that Christ is not contained in the sacrament circumscriptively, or in a bodily manner, but they afterwards devise a method which they themselves do not understand, and cannot explain to others. 

Sounds rather like Calvin’s own discombobulated eucharistic theology.

It, however, comes to this, that Christ may be sought in what they call the species of bread. What? When they say that the substance of bread is converted into Christ, do they not attach him to the white colour, which is all they leave of it? But they say, that though contained in the sacrament, he still remains in heaven, and has no other presence there than that of abode. 

On what grounds can Calvin or his followers argue that this is impossible? I don’t see at all that it is impossible for God or prohibited by the Bible. Colossians 3:11 states that “Christ is all, and in all.” The Bible refers to God being “in” physical things, such as fire and clouds (so why not also under the appearances of bread and wine?). Exodus 33:9-10 even informs us that the ancient Israelites would worship God in the pillar of cloud and 2 Chronicles 7:3 states that they “bowed down with their faces to the earth on the pavement, and worshiped” before God in both the fire and the cloud. Moses and Aaron “fell on their faces” before the Shekinah glory cloud (Num 20:6). All of this is exactly analogous to eucharistic adoration of the host:


Exodus 3:2-6 And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and lo, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. [3] And Moses said, “I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.” [4] When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here am I.” [5] Then he said, “Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” [6] And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. (cf. Acts 7:30-33; Dt. 4:12, 15; 5:4-5; Mk 12:26; Lk 20:37)

Exodus 13:21 And the LORD went before them . . . by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night; (cf. 14:24)

Exodus 19:18 And Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and the smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. (cf. 24:17)

Exodus 40:38 For throughout all their journeys the cloud of the LORD was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel. (cf. Num 14:14; Dt 1:32-33; Neh 9:12, 19)

Deuteronomy 4:12 Then the LORD spoke to you out of the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice. (cf. 4:15)

Deuteronomy 5:22 These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, . . . (cf. 9:10; 10:4)


Exodus 13:21 And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, . . . (cf. 14:24; 16:10; Dt 1:33; 31:15)

Exodus 24:15-16 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. [16] The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days; and on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud.

Exodus 33:9-11 When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the door of the tent, and the LORD would speak with Moses. [10] And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the door of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, every man at his tent door. [11] Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tent. . . . [14] And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (cf. Num 14:10, 14; 16:19, 42)

Exodus 34:5 And the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.

Exodus 40:34-38 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. [35] And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. [36] Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would go onward; [37] but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not go onward till the day that it was taken up. [38] For throughout all their journeys the cloud of the LORD was upon the tabernacle by day, . . . (cf. Lev 9:4-6, 23)

Leviticus 16:2 and the LORD said to Moses, . . . “I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat.” [ark of the covenant]

Numbers 11:25 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him . . .

Numbers 20:6-7 Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the door of the tent of meeting, and fell on their faces. And the glory of the LORD appeared to them, [7] and the LORD said to Moses,

Deuteronomy 5:22 These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of . . . the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice . . .

1 Kings 8:11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD. (cf. 2 Chr 5:14)

2 Chronicles 7:1-3 When Solomon had ended his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. [2] And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD’s house. [3] When all the children of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the LORD upon the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the earth on the pavement, and worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures for ever.”

Psalm 99:7 He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud . . . (cf. Neh 9:12,19)

Ezekiel 10:4, 18 And the glory of the LORD went up from the cherubim to the threshold of the house; and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was full of the brightness of the glory of the LORD. . . . Then the glory of the LORD went forth from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim.

Yet Calvin would have us believe that it is implausible or unbiblical or impossible that God (after the Incarnation) could choose to be physically present in the consecrated elements? He simply cannot do so. It is a mere false tradition of men that would dogmatically assert such a thing without biblical justification. As I’ve just shown, the Bible has many indications of a local presence of God in physical things, even apart from the Incarnation.

Now that God has taken on human flesh, it is not implausible that He can also choose to be present under the appearances of bread and wine, just as He did in pillars of cloud and fire and burning bushes. Why should one thing be actual and the other allegedly not even plausible or possible? Jesus told us “this is My body.” He emphasizes this in very strong terms in the discourse of John 6. St. Paul reiterates it. Why does Calvin, then, doubt it?

Eucharistic presence is scarcely any essentially different than all these manifestations of His special presence. God was so present in the ark of the covenant, that Uzzah was killed instantly simply because he innocently touched it, to keep it from falling over (2 Sam 6:3-7; 1 Chr 13:7-10). Seventy men of Bethshemesh were slain because they (also seemingly innocently) looked into it (1 Sam 6:19).

God was so present in the Holy of Holies (Ex 26:33; 1 Kgs 6:19), that contained the ark of the covenant (Ex 26:34; 40:21; 1 Kgs 8:6; 2 Chr 5:7), that the priests only went in there once a year, on the Day of Atonement, and anyone who did on any other day, or not according to the proper ceremony, might be killed (Lev 16:2, 13). The River Jordan stopped flowing when the ark was carried through it (Josh 3:8-17; 4:1-18).

Joshua even bowed before the ark of the covenant on his face in a worshipful posture (Josh 7:6), and Levite priests thanked and praised God before it (1 Chr 16:4), just as Catholics genuflect and bow before the Holy Eucharist, and adore the Lord therein. King David “offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD” next to the ark (2 Sam 6:17), which is a precursor of the Sacrifice of the Mass. King Solomon did the same (1 Kgs 3:15; 2 Chr 5:6), and so did the Levites (1 Chr 16:1). Catholic practices are essentially nothing that hadn’t been done nearly 3000 years ago. They are made far more meaningful, however, after the incarnation and crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But, whatever be the terms in which they attempt to make a gloss, the sum of all is, that that which was formerly bread, by consecration becomes Christ: so that Christ thereafter lies hid under the colour of bread. 

That’s correct; as the fathers taught.

This they are not ashamed distinctly to express. 

Why should we be, since Jesus and Paul did?

For Lombard’s words are, “The body of Christ, which is visible in itself, lurks and lies covered after the act of consecration under the species of bread” (Lombard. Sent. Lib. 4 Dist. 12). Thus the figure of the bread is nothing but a mask which conceals the view of the flesh from our eye. But there is no need of many conjectures to detect the snare which they intended to lay by these words, since the thing itself speaks clearly. It is easy to see how great is the superstition under which not only the vulgar but the leaders also, have laboured for many ages, and still labour, in Popish Churches. 

If Calvin wishes to condemn the entirety of patristic eucharistic theology (and the explicit biblical rationale behind it), he is free to do so, but this also means that he can’t pretend to be “reforming” the Church back to her former state in this regard, since there never was a time when the Church believed as he does regarding the Eucharist. He can’t have his cake and eat it too (no pun intended).

If he wants to oppose the massive, unarguable historical evidence of early Church beliefs on the Eucharist, then he can’t at the same time maintain a pretense of supposedly going back to it and getting rid of “Popish” accretions and corruptions and inventions. He should honestly admit that his is no reform at all, but a novel revolution of thought.

Little solicitous as to true faith (by which alone we attain to the fellowship of Christ, and become one with him), provided they have his carnal presence, which they have fabricated without authority from the word, they think he is sufficiently present. Hence we see, that all which they have gained by their ingenious subtlety is to make bread to be regarded as God.

Calvin does the latter, as I alluded to above, since he makes the bread remain bread, yet wants to talk as if God is specially, mystically, spiritually present in it. So if anyone is confusing bread and God, it is Calvin. He is mixing the two in an odd, illogical manner. Lutherans, on the other hand, make it clear that both bread and God are present, and distinguish the two, while Catholics explicitly hold to a change in substance from bread to God.

Therefore, neither Lutherans nor Catholics “make bread to be regarded as God.” Calvin is doing that. We have plenty of biblical warrant. Calvin, however, has to change Scripture in order to believe as he does. Scripture isn’t clear enough as it is. So it needs to be changed. Here, then, is the Revised Calvin Version (RCV) of the classic eucharistic texts:

Luke 22:19-20 (RCV) And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is represents my body which is given for you, as a sign and seal. Do this in remembrance of me.” [20] And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you represents the new covenant in my blood, as a sign and seal.”

1 Corinthians 10:16 (RCV) The cup of blessing which we bless, does it not represent and signify in a spiritual manner the blood of Christ, that we mystically participate in? The bread which we break, does it not represent and signify in a spiritual manner the body of Christ, that we mystically participate in?

1 Corinthians 11:27-29 (RCV) Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning what represents and signifies as a spiritual sign the body and blood of the Lord. [28] Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. [29] For any one who eats and drinks without discerning what represents and signifies as a spiritual sign the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.

14. The fiction of transubstantiation why invented contrary to Scripture, and the consent of antiquity. The term of transubstantiation never used in the early Church. Objection. Answer.
Hence proceeded that fictitious transubstantiation for which they fight more fiercely in the present day than for all the other articles of their faith. For the first architects of local presence could not explain, how the body of Christ could be mixed with the substance of bread, without forthwith meeting with many absurdities. Hence it was necessary to have recourse to the fiction, that there is a conversion of the bread into body, not that properly instead of bread it becomes body, but that Christ, in order to conceal himself under the figure, reduces the substance to nothing. 

Well, no; transubstantiation means literally, “change of substance,” so the view is that the substance changes from bread to the Body and Blood of Christ, not that it changes to “nothing.” This makes perfect sense, since Jesus said “this is My body” and referred to eating His flesh and drinking His blood in John 6. Calvin simply lacks faith that God can do this miracles. He wants to limit God and place His actions in arbitrary categories of his own making: certainly not from scriptural indications.

It is strange that they have fallen into such a degree of ignorance, nay, of stupor, as to produce this monstrous fiction not only against Scripture, but also against the consent of the ancient Church. I admit, indeed, that some of the ancients occasionally used the term conversion, not that they meant to do away with the substance in the external signs, but to teach that the bread devoted to the sacrament was widely different from ordinary bread, and was now something else. 

What else does “conversion” or “transformation” or “change” mean? This is just more word games from Calvin. He thinks that if he wishes long enough, that the fathers will magically agree with him, when in fact they do not at all. Calvin would have it that the consent of the ancient Church is on his side, with regard to this question. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s wearisome to have to repeatedly point out historical facts over against Calvin. But I’m happy to set the record straight and reveal once again the surprisingly great weakness of Calvin’s historical arguments (as well as biblical ones).

All clearly and uniformly teach that the sacred Supper consists of two parts, an earthly and a heavenly. The earthly they without dispute interpret to be bread and wine. Certainly, whatever they may pretend, it is plain that antiquity, which they often dare to oppose to the clear word of God, gives no countenance to that dogma. It is not so long since it was devised; indeed, it was unknown not only to the better ages, in which a purer doctrine still flourished, but after that purity was considerably impaired. There is no early Christian writer who does not admit in distinct terms that the sacred symbols of the Supper are bread and wine, although, as has been said, they sometimes distinguish them by various epithets, in order to recommend the dignity of the mystery. 

This is sheer nonsense, and one can prove it by citing prominent Protestant historians of Christian doctrine. For example:

In general, this period, . . . was already very strongly inclined toward the doctrine of transubstantiation, and toward the Greek and Roman sacrifice of the mass, which are inseparable in so far as a real sacrifice requires the real presence of the victim…… (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 3, A. D. 311-600, revised 5th edition, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, reprinted 1974, originally 1910, p. 500)

Theodore [c.350-428] set forth the doctrine of the real presence, and even a theory of sacramental transformation of the elements, in highly explicit language . . . ‘At first it is laid upon the altar as a mere bread and wine mixed with water, but by the coming of the Holy Spirit it is transformed into body and blood, and thus it is changed into the power of a spiritual and immortal nourishment.’ [Hom. catech. 16,36] these and similar passages in Theodore are an indication that the twin ideas of the transformation of the eucharistic elements and the transformation of the communicant were so widely held and so firmly established in the thought and language of the church that everyone had to acknowledge them. (Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971, 236-237)

Since Calvin insists that the fathers agree with him, I will now document that they do not; that transubstantiation in kernel form (not yet fully developed, as in the case of all complex doctrines, such as the Holy Trinity and Christology, that develop over many centuries) was indeed taught by many fathers, just as historian Philip Schaff (no fan of the doctrine at all) verified:

St. Irenaeus

When, therefore, the mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which [flesh] is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him?—even as the blessed Paul declares in his Epistle to the Ephesians, that “we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.” He does not speak these words of some spiritual and invisible man, for a spirit has not bones nor flesh; but [he refers to] that dispensation [by which the Lord became] an actual man, consisting of flesh, and nerves, and bones,—that [flesh] which is nourished by the cup which is His blood, and receives increase from the bread which is His body. (Against Heresies, V, 2, 3; ANF, Vol. I)


You are accustomed to take part in the divine mysteries, so you know how, when you have received the Body of the Lord, you reverently exercise care lest a particle fall, and lest anything of the consecrated gift perish. . . . But if you observe such caution in keeping His Body, and properly so, how is it that you think neglecting the word of God a lesser crime than neglecting His Body? (Homilies on Exodus, 13, 3)

St. Cyprian

And therefore we ask that our bread—that is, Christ—may be given to us daily, that we who abide and live in Christ may not depart from His sanctification and body. (On the Lord’s Prayer / Treatise IV, 18; ANF, Vol. V)

St. Athanasius

You will see the Levites bringing loaves and a cup of wine, and placing them on the table. So long as the prayers and invocations have not yet been made, it is mere bread and a mere cup. But when the great and wondrous prayers have been recited, then the bread becomes the body and the cup the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . When the great prayers and holy supplications are sent up, the Word descends on the bread and the cup, and it becomes His body. (Sermon to the Newly-Baptized)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem

For as the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist before the invocation of the Holy and Adorable Trinity were simple bread and wine, while after the invocation the Bread becomes the Body of Christ, and the Wine the Blood of Christ . . . (Catechetical Lecture XIX, 7; NPNF 2, Vol. VII)

Even of itself the teaching of the Blessed Paul is sufficient to give you a full assurance concerning those Divine Mysteries, of which having been deemed worthy, ye are become of the same body and blood with Christ . . . Since then He Himself declared and said of the Bread, This is My Body, who shall dare to doubt any longer? And since He has Himself affirmed and said, This is My Blood, who shall ever hesitate, saying, that it is not His blood? (Catechetical Lecture XXII, 1; NPNF 2, Vol. VII)

Wherefore with full assurance let us partake as of the Body and Blood of Christ: for in the figure of Bread is given to thee His Body, and in the figure of Wine His Blood; that thou by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, mayest be made of the same body and the same blood with Him. For thus we come to bear Christ in us, because His Body and Blood are distributed through our members; thus it is that, according to the blessed Peter, we become partakers of the divine nature. (Catechetical Lecture XXII, 3; NPNF 2, Vol. VII)

Consider therefore the Bread and the Wine not as bare elements, for they are, according to the Lord’s declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ; for even though sense suggests this to thee, yet let faith establish thee. Judge not the matter from the taste, but from faith be fully assured without misgiving, that the Body and Blood of Christ have been vouchsafed to thee. (Catechetical Lecture XXII, 6; NPNF 2, Vol. VII)

Having learnt these things, and been fully assured that the seeming bread is not bread, though sensible to taste, but the Body of Christ; and that the seeming wine is not wine, though the taste will have it so, but the Blood of Christ . . . (Catechetical Lecture XXII, 9; NPNF 2, Vol. VII)

Then having sanctified ourselves by these spiritual Hymns, we beseech the merciful God to send forth His Holy Spirit upon the gifts lying before Him; that He may make the Bread the Body of Christ, and the Wine the Blood of Christ; for whatsoever the Holy Ghost has touched, is surely sanctified and changed.

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. (Catechetical Lecture XXIII, 7-8; NPNF 2, Vol. VII)

St. Gregory of Nyssa

Rightly, then, do we believe that now also the bread which is consecrated by the Word of God is changed into the Body of God the Word. (The Great Catechism, chapter XXXVII; NPNF 2, Vol. IV)

The footnote in NPNF 2 for this passage states:

by the process of eating . . . If Krabinger’s text is here correct, Gregory distinctly teaches a transmutation of the elements very like the later transubstantiation: he also distinctly teaches that the words of consecration effect the change. There seems no reason to doubt that the text is correct.

St. Ambrose

. . . We observe, then, that grace has more power than nature, and yet so far we have only spoken of the grace of a prophet’s blessing. But if the blessing of man had such power as to change nature, what are we to say of that divine consecration where the very words of the Lord and Saviour operate? For that sacrament which you receive is made what it is by the word of Christ. But if the word of Elijah had such power as to bring down fire from heaven, shall not the word of Christ have power to change the nature of the elements? You read concerning the making of the whole world: “He spake and they were made, He commanded and they were created.” Shall not the word of Christ, which was able to make out of nothing that which was not, be able to change things which already are into what they were not? For it is not less to give a new nature to things than to change them.

But why make use of arguments? Let us use the examples He gives, and by the example of the Incarnation prove the truth of the mystery. Did the course of nature proceed as usual when the Lord Jesus was born of Mary? If we look to the usual course, a woman ordinarily conceives after connection with a man. And this body which we make is that which was born of the Virgin. Why do you seek the order of nature in the Body of Christ, seeing that the Lord Jesus Himself was born of a Virgin, not according to nature? It is the true Flesh of Christ which crucified and buried, this is then truly the Sacrament of His Body.

The Lord Jesus Himself proclaims: “This is My Body.” Before the blessing of the heavenly words another nature is spoken of, after the consecration the Body is signified. He Himself speaks of His Blood. Before the consecration it has another name, after it is called Blood. (On the Mysteries, Chapter IX, 50, 52-55; NPNF 2, Vol. X)

St. John Chrysostom

Christ is present. The One who prepared that [Holy Thursday] table is the very One who now prepares this [altar] 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 grace is of God. “This is My Body,” he says. This statement transforms the gifts. (Homilies on the Treachery of Judas, 1, 6)

St. Augustine

For not all bread, but only that which receives the blessing of Christ, becomes Christ’s body. (Sermons, 234, 2)

St. Cyril of Alexandria

He states demonstratively: “This is My Body,” and “This is My Blood“(Mt. 26:26-28) “lest you might suppose the things that are seen as a figure. Rather, by some secret of the all-powerful God the things seen are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, truly offered in a sacrifice in which we, as participants, receive the life-giving and sanctifying power of Christ. (Commentary on Matthew [Mt. 26:27] )

Moreover, the belief of these same Church fathers, en masse, in the Sacrifice of the Mass, and the adoration of the Body and Blood after consecration, attests to their realism, over against Calvin’s mere mystical symbolism. We shall examine that aspect in the near future, in reply to Calvin’s (absurd, anti-historical, anti-patristic) thoughts on the Mass.

For when they say that a secret conversion takes place at consecration, so that it is now something else than bread and wine, their meaning, as I already observed, is, not that these are annihilated, but that they are to be considered in a different light from common food, which is only intended to feed the body, whereas in the former the spiritual food and drink of the mind are exhibited. This we deny not. But, say our opponents, if there is conversion, one thing must become another. If they mean that something becomes different from what it was before, I assent. If they will wrest it in support of their fiction, let them tell me of what kind of change they are sensible in baptism. For here, also, the Fathers make out a wonderful conversion, when they say that out of the corruptible element is made the spiritual laver of the soul, and yet no one denies that it still remains water. 

This is true, but it is an invalid analogy, because no one is claiming in baptism that waters becomes something else: only that it acquires supernatural powers in conjunction with a baptismal formula. Jesus never said that baptismal water would become His Body and Blood, whereas He did say that with regard to what were formerly bread and wine. It’s an entirely different scenario, so there is no analogy. The information we have in Scripture regarding both cases is entirely different in kind.

But say they, there is no such expression in Baptism as that in the Supper, This is my body; as if we were treating of these words, which have a meaning sufficiently clear, and not rather of that term conversion, which ought not to mean more in the Supper than in Baptism. Have done, then, with those quibbles upon words, which betray nothing but their silliness. 

It’s not silly at all (but it is sophistry and desperate obfuscation to conclude that an obviously relevant point is “silliness”). Catholics are accepting at face value the actual words of Scripture and our Lord. Calvin is not. It’s really as simple and obvious as that. Calvin doesn’t have enough faith to believe our Lord’s words as He spoke them. He would rather hyper-analyze them and apply men’s traditions and non-biblical philosophies, so that he can change their meaning. We believe in faith that the bread and wine are transformed, but Calvin, lacking faith, believes in transforming the clear import and meaning of Jesus’ words: reading into them what clearly isn’t there.

The meaning would have no congruity, unless the truth which is there figured had a living image in the external sign. Christ wished to testify by an external symbol that his flesh was food. 

That’s not what He said! That is Calvin eisegetically reading into what He said. Jesus said “this is my body” not “this represents my Body as a sign and symbol.” St. Paul casually assumed the same eucharistic realism, and even said that those approaching the Eucharist unworthily were guilty of profaning Jesus’ Body and Blood (1 Cor 11:27-30): something that makes no sense whatever if only symbols are present.

If he exhibited merely an empty show of bread, and not true bread, where is the analogy or similitude to conduct us from the visible thing to the invisible? For, in order to make all things consistent, the meaning cannot extend to more than this, that we are fed by the species of Christ’s flesh; just as, in the case of baptism, if the figure of water deceived the eye, it would not be to us a sure pledge of our ablution; nay, the fallacious spectacle would rather throw us into doubt. The nature of the sacrament is therefore overthrown, if in the mode of signifying the earthly sign corresponds not to the heavenly reality; and, accordingly, the truth of the mystery is lost if true bread does not represent the true body of Christ.

No; Calvin just doesn’t go deep enough in his understanding. In the Holy Eucharist Jesus gives us Himself, not just signs and figures of Himself. That is the beauty and profundity of it. It extends the incarnation, just as the various extraordinary manifestations of God’s spiritual presence extended the notion of omnipresence. When God was known as a spirit only, He was specially present spiritually and immaterially, yet directly connected with physical objects, as in the ark of the covenant, or fire, or clouds.

Even then He manifested Himself physically on occasion (as in theophanies). Now, after the incarnation and Sacrifice of the Lamb, and the resurrection, He makes Himself present physically as well, in a miraculous way. Why this should be scandalous to anyone is a bigger mystery than transubstantiation itself. Jesus is our paschal lamb. The lamb was eaten at every Passover. If Calvin wants to talk analogies, the Eucharist shouldn’t be compared to baptism, but to the Passover meal, which is what the Last Supper was.

But Calvin would have it that the Jews ate Lamb, while Christians eat merely “special” bread and wine, representing Jesus’ Body and Blood. This nullifies the entire analogy of the Sacrificial Lamb now being Christ Himself, and forsakes the typical Jewish realism and literalism, substituting for it a Greek abstraction and disembodied ethereal spiritualism. That’s a step backward, not forward.

I again repeat, since the Supper is nothing but a conspicuous attestation to the promise which is contained in the sixth chapter of John—viz. that Christ is the bread of life, who came down from heaven, that visible bread must intervene, in order that that spiritual bread may be figured, unless we would destroy all the benefits with which God here favours us for the purpose of sustaining our infirmity. Then on what ground could Paul infer that we are all one bread, and one body in partaking together of that one bread, if only the semblance of bread, and not the natural reality, remained?

He does so on the grounds that we really receive Jesus. He becomes part of us and we become part of Him, in the eucharistic mystery and miracle, and in line with 2 Peter 1:3-4 and the biblical notion of theosis, or divinization. We are the Body of Christ, which is equated with Jesus own body in a large sense. We don’t deny that there is also a figure of bread and wine involved (just as St. Augustine taught), and Paul still uses that language. But he means it quite literally, whereas Calvin spiritualizes everything away. We don’t deny the symbolism, but Calvin denies the reality. He is (as usual) “either/or”; we are “both/and.”

15. The error of transubstantiation favoured by the consecration, which was a kind of magical incantation. The bread is not a sacrament to itself, but to those who receive it. The changing of the rod of Moses into a serpent gives no countenance to Popish transubstantiation. No resemblance between it and the words of institution in the Supper. Objection. Answer.
They could not have been so shamefully deluded by the impostures of Satan had they not been fascinated by the erroneous idea, that the body of Christ included under the bread is transmitted by the bodily mouth into the belly. The cause of this brutish imagination was, that consecration had the same effect with them as magical incantation. 

“Magic” is something that Calvin has derisively superimposed onto Catholic doctrine. It is not magic by men’s will and power, but mystery and miracle by God’s will and power. He is the one who set up Holy Communion, at the Last Supper, and in the John 6 discourse. All we’re doing is being obedient, in doing what He commanded us to do, and eating His Body and Blood, as He said we should do in order to be saved (John 6). Calvin is foolish enough to apply to Catholics what the pagan Romans applied to all Christians: a notion that Holy Communion was a crude cannibalism. He’d rather think like a pagan than like apostolic Christians (like St. Paul).

They overlooked the principle, that bread is a sacrament to none but those to whom the word is addressed, just as the water of baptism is not changed in itself, but begins to be to us what it formerly was not, as soon as the promise is annexed. 

Baptism exercises its power due to faith and the trinitarian baptismal formula pronounced over it. Likewise, transubstantiation occurs when the priest, exercising faith with the congregants, pronounces for formula of consecration over the bread and wine. Change occurs in both instances, though in a different fashion: baptism causes a regeneration in the baptized (which Calvin denies). The words of consecration cause transubstantiation, and the bread and wine become the Body and Blood (which Calvin denies), just as they did at the Last Supper. Calvin compares the wrong things to each other, and so misses the common elements between both sacraments. Matter conveys grace in both instances.

This will better appear from the example of a similar sacrament. The water gushing from the rock in the desert was to the Israelites a badge and sign of the same thing that is figured to us in the Supper by wine. 

Where does Scripture say that? Nowhere, of course . . .

For Paul declares that they drank the same spiritual drink (1 Cor. 10:4). But the water was common to the herds and flocks of the people. Hence it is easy to infer, that in the earthly elements, when employed for a spiritual use, no other conversion takes place than in respect of men, inasmuch as they are to them seals of promises. 

Again, this ignores the very words of Christ, which are conclusive in determining the very nature of the sacrament. Calvin makes an improper analogy once again, presumably in desperation, since he keeps skirting around the central issue of Jesus’ own words.

Moreover, since it is the purpose of God, as I have repeatedly inculcated, to raise us up to himself by fit vehicles, those who indeed call us to Christ, but to Christ lurking invisibly under bread, impiously, by their perverseness, defeat this object. For it is impossible for the mind of man to disentangle itself from the immensity of space, and ascend to Christ even above the heavens. 

Yes, of course, it is impossible for us under our own power, but that is again beside the point: it is God Who chooses to descend and condescend to us in the Holy Eucharist. Calvin’s “anti-eucharistic realism” arguments are becoming increasingly irrelevant and desperate.

What nature denied them, they attempted to gain by a noxious remedy. 

One proposed by Jesus Christ and verified by St. Paul . . . if that is “noxious,” may we all be filled with it! I’d rather be “noxious” in faith than obnoxious out of lack of faith and pagan-derived skepticism.

Remaining on the earth, they felt no need of a celestial proximity to Christ. Such was the necessity which impelled them to transfigure the body of Christ. In the age of Bernard, though a harsher mode of speech had prevailed, transubstantiation was not yet recognised. And in all previous ages, the similitude in the mouths of all was, that a spiritual reality was conjoined with bread and wine in this sacrament. 

The patristic evidence presented above amply refutes this characterization.

As to the terms, they think they answer acutely, though they adduce nothing relevant to the case in hand. The rod of Moses (they say), when turned into a serpent, though it acquires the name of a serpent, still retains its former name, and is called a rod; and thus, according to them, it is equally probable that though the bread passes into a new substance, it is still called by catachresis, and not inaptly, what it still appears to the eye to be. But what resemblance, real or apparent, do they find between an illustrious miracle and their fictitious illusion, of which no eye on the earth is witness? The magi by their impostures had persuaded the Egyptians, that they had a divine power above the ordinary course of nature to change created beings. Moses comes forth, and after exposing their fallacies, shows that the invincible power of God is on his side, since his rod swallows up all the other rods. But as that conversion was visible to the eye, we have already observed, that it has no reference to the case in hand. Shortly after the rod visibly resumed its form. 

Here Calvin seems to imply that what is not visible to the eye is therefore questionable and unworthy of belief due to that factor alone. And that betrays his undue skepticism and lack of faith in the miracles of God. I wrote in my Jan/Feb 2000 cover story in Envoy Magazine about the Eucharist, in opposing Zwingli’s symbolism, which is not far from Calvin’s view:

The Eucharist was intended by God as a different kind of miracle from the outset, requiring more profound faith, as opposed to the “proof” of tangible, empirical miracles. But in this it was certainly not unique among Christian doctrines and traditional beliefs – many fully shared by our Protestant brethren. The Virgin Birth, for example, cannot be observed or proven, and is the utter opposite of a demonstrable miracle, yet it is indeed a miracle of the most extraordinary sort. Likewise, in the Atonement of Jesus the world sees a wretch of a beaten and tortured man being put to death on a cross. The Christian, on the other hand, sees there the great miracle of Redemption and the means of the salvation of mankind – an unspeakably sublime miracle, yet who but those with the eyes of faith can see or believe it? In fact, the disciples (with the possible exception of St. John, the only one present) didn’t even know what was happening at the time.

Baptism, according to most Christians, imparts real grace of some sort to those who receive it. But this is rarely evident or tangible, especially in infants. Lastly, the Incarnation itself was not able to be perceived as an outward miracle, though it might be considered the most incredible miracle ever. Jesus appeared as a man like any other man. He ate, drank, slept, had to wash, experienced emotion, suffered, etc. He performed miracles and foretold the future, and ultimately raised Himself from the dead, and ascended into heaven in full view, but the Incarnation – strictly viewed in and of itself -, was not visible or manifest in the tangible, concrete way to which Herr Zwingli seems to foolishly think God would or must restrict Himself.

To summarize, Jesus looked, felt, and sounded like a man; no one but those possessing faith would know (from simply observing Him) that He was also God, an uncreated Person who had made everything upon which He stood, who was the Sovereign and Judge of every man with whom He came in contact (and also of those He never met). Therefore, Zwingli’s argument proves too much and must be rejected. If the Eucharist is abolished by this supposed “biblical reasoning,” then the Incarnation (and by implication, the Trinity) must be discarded along with it. . . .

The fact remains that God clearly can perform any miracle He so chooses. Many Christian beliefs require a great deal of faith, even relatively “blind” faith. Protestants manage to believe in a number of such doctrines (such as the Trinity, God’s eternal existence, omnipotence, angels, the power of prayer, instantaneous justification, the Second Coming, etc.). Why should the Real Presence be singled out for excessive skepticism and unchecked rationalism? I contend that it is due to a preconceived bias against both sacramentalism and matter as a conveyor of grace, which hearkens back to the heresies of Docetism and even Gnosticism, which looked down upon matter, and regarded spirit as inherently superior to matter (following Greek philosophy, particularly Platonism).

It may be added, that we know not whether this was an extemporary conversion of substance. For we must attend to the illusion to the rods of the magicians, which the prophet did not choose to term serpents, lest he might seem to insinuate a conversion which had no existence, because those impostors had done nothing more than blind the eyes of the spectators. But what resemblance is there between that expression and the following? “The bread which we break;”—“As often as ye eat this bread;”—“They communicated in the breaking of bread;” and so forth. 

That was phenomenological language; in other words, referring to what looked outwardly like bread. In the same context that Paul said these things, he also described the Eucharist as “a participation in the Body of Christ” (1 Cor 10:16) and said that “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27).

Calvin wants to present the phenomenological language alone because that seems to bolster his case, while omitting the realist language that goes along with it in each case. That won’t do; it is ultimately dishonest and deceptive argumentation: not fair to those of his readers who seek biblical truth.

It is certain that the eye only was deceived by the incantation of the magicians. The matter is more doubtful with regard to Moses, by whose hand it was not more difficult for God to make a serpent out of a rod, and again to make a rod out of a serpent, than to clothe angels with corporeal bodies, and a little after unclothe them. If the case of the sacrament were at all akin to this, there might be some colour for their explanation. 

I don’t make this argument myself, and don’t know how prominent it was. Calvin is not known for fair presentation of opposing views, so we can’t tell for sure how widespread such an argument was.

Let it, therefore, remain fixed that there is no true and fit promise in the Supper, that the flesh of Christ is truly meat, unless there is a correspondence in the true substance of the external symbol. 

And where is such a thing ever stated in Scripture, or even implied?

But as one error gives rise to another, a passage in Jeremiah has been so absurdly wrested, to prove transubstantiation, that it is painful to refer to it. The prophet complains that wood was placed in his bread, intimating that by the cruelty of his enemies his bread was infected with bitterness, as David by a similar figure complains, “They gave me also gall for my meat: and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (Psalm 69:21). These men would allegorise the expression to mean, that the body of Christ was nailed to the wood of the cross. But some of the Fathers thought so! As if we ought not rather to pardon their ignorance and bury the disgrace, than to add impudence, and bring them into hostile conflict with the genuine meaning of the prophet.

Nor have I ever made this argument myself, and I don’t know how prominent it was, either, so I’ll pass over it. I’m much more interested in Calvin’s positive arguments for his view, not his mocking of opposing views that were made by who knows how many people. I’ve brought plenty of Bible to the table in my own defense of Catholic views: most of which seem to be unknown or ignored by Calvin.


(originally 24-25 November 2009)

Photo credit: Historical mixed media figure of John Calvin produced by artist/historian George S. Stuart and photographed by Peter d’Aprix: from the George S. Stuart Gallery of Historical Figures archive [Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]


November 9, 2018

I. The Dilemma of Competing Ecclesiologies: the Visible vs. the Invisible Church

If Anglicans have any sort of notion of “indefectibility” — whereby the true Christian Church (or a valid portion of the universal catholic church, etc.) cannot and will not fall into rank heresy; being protected by the Holy Spirit, then it would be quite difficult for traditionalist Anglicans to square that concept with what is happening in liberal Anglican and Episcopalian circles today.

If one takes a view of the Christian Church that it is a visible, historical institution, then indefectibility would seem to follow as a matter of course. Or one can take an alternate view of the “invisible church,” which is the route of most non-Anglican Protestants, but then (in my opinion) historical continuity, apostolicity, and legitimate apostolic Tradition lose some of their authoritativeness and binding nature.

The presence of heresy and ethical departure from Christian precedent raises troubling questions as to the apostolicity and legitimacy of visible, institutional churches. But the breakaway Anglican communions have to deal with the schismatic principle: i.e., how can they break away and form a new sect without this doing harm to the notion of “one holy catholic and apostolic church” and the apostolic continuity (or, “indefectibility”) of the “mother church”?

In other words, I think (orthodox, traditional) Anglicans have a real dilemma here, since to accept the more institutional, “visible” view of ecclesiology is to be confronted with clear heresy and departure from Christian Tradition, while breaking away, on the other hand, creates the difficulty of a de facto acceptance of the Protestant “invisible church” framework and hence, the actuality or potentiality of yet another schism. So the orthodox Anglican is “betwixt and between” two incompatible forms of ecclesiology, with no easy resolution to either problem.

Anglicanism seems to me to foster an incoherent mixing of low Protestant invisible church beliefs and apostolic succession, which I understand is the mainstream Anglican position. It’s neither “fish nor fowl.” Better (logically speaking) to be either . . .

The Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles of 1571 state:

XIX. The visible Church of Christ is the congregation of faithful men in which the pure Word of God is preached and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all things that of necessity are requisite to the same.

So the Church is visible. If one adopts visibility and “institutionality” as ecclesiological criteria, then the dilemma or difficulty arises, because that is in distinction to the invisible church notion of mainstream Protestantism. But Anglicans (i.e., orthodox ones) seem to be in a catch-22 here, granting the above standard of the nature of the Church.

But then again, I suppose the above might be interpreted in the “invisible” fashion. To me, it is potentially as nebulous and malleable as any Baptist or Reformed Creed or Confession or official denominational statement, etc.

This business of “the congregation of faithful men in which the pure Word of God is preached” is full of interpretational difficulties. It reads great, but it is extremely difficult to consistently apply. If the Church is merely every “faithful” man, then surely this is the invisible church, rather than the visible, since in the institutional Church, the wheat and the tares grow up together, as Christ tells us. There are sinners in the Church. That is abundantly clear in Paul’s letters to the Galatians and Corinthians, and the seven churches in Revelation, among other biblical indications.

And what is the “pure Word of God”? Given the squabbles in Anglicanism, it seems that this is not so simple of a matter to determine. There are no Ecumenical Councils to resolve it, and of course no pope. If it were that simple, then many things in Anglicanism would have long since been determined, and the current civil war would be a lot less serious than it is. But if the “Church” consists of all the faithful, who hear the Pure Word, then I dare say that there isn’t a single congregation in the world, of any trinitarian Christian stripe, which qualifies. So — with all due respect — I contend that the above statement is hopelessly incoherent.

I have faith that my Church is divinely protected, just as most committed, devout, practicing Christians of any stripe have faith that God preserved the Bible from error, and inspired it. One is no more implausible than the other, in my opinion. And just as there are thorny exegetical and hermeneutical and textual difficulties in Scripture to be worked through and mulled over, so there are in Church history. But that need not cause anyone to despair that God is able to protect His Sacred Tradition and His Church and orthodoxy inviolate.

That’s why I’ve always said that Protestants seem to have a lack of faith in what God can and will do. I believe this even has a relationship – however remote – to the Incarnation. God became a Man and so raised humanity to previous untold heights (I’ve actually written about deification and theosis — usually Orthodox emphases — in my second book). Likewise, if God created a Church which is at bottom a divine institution: His institution, is it not plausible to believe in faith that He can protect that institution from doctrinal error? Yet Protestants and (many?) Anglicans want to adopt an “invisible” notion of the Church, which I find to be utterly unbiblical and non-apostolic.

Indefectibility follows from the “self-confidence” of each Church’s Creed and how binding they claim to be; also based on certain statements of Jesus and the Apostles whereby we are led to believe that the true Church would not fall into heresy, as there is a true and false tradition. That is certainly how St. Paul views the matter. For him it is quite cut-and-dried. God is able in fact to maintain pure doctrine. He is not able to maintain pure human beings, because He has allowed free will and the freedom to rebel against Him and righteousness. But doctrinal and ethical truth and orthodoxy – not having free will – are possible for an omnipotent, sovereign Being to uphold, even in a human institution.

Abuse and institutionalization of error are vastly different. Catholic theological and moral doctrine has not changed. Anglican doctrine has: on contraception, on divorce, on abortion, on homosexuality, and any number of other issues. So the traditionalists among them have formed breakaway communions. Their motives are certainly pure, but this doesn’t solve their ecclesiological problem. They’re still applying the Protestant principles of schism and private judgment, and this clashes with the nature of the Church as expressed in the Nicene Creed.

Be that as it may, I see internal inconsistency in how Anglicans are applying the term “church” – an arbitrary switching back and forth between invisible and visible definitions, which I think is improper and illogical. There is a sense in which an invisible or mystical church is properly spoken of, but for those who accept apostolic succession, this can never undermine in the least a visible, institutional church.

II. Anglican “Messiness”: Glory or Tragedy?

More than one Anglican has told me that they “glory” in Anglican “messiness” — i.e., the fact that not all dogmas are infallibly declared, but that the individual can choose among options. They seem to view this as an admirable moderation or restraint, free from the excesses of “Rome.” But where do we find the desirability of “messiness” in Holy Scripture? We find messiness in the early Church, surely (all over the place), but what we never find is commendation for such “messiness,” as if it were a good thing.

What we find, on the contrary, are condemnations of this in the strongest possible terms, from both St. Paul (in places too numerous to mention) and Our Lord Jesus (e.g., John 17). So this approach is somewhat baffling, from a strictly scriptural point of view. Are we to glory in human shortcomings rather than divine ideals and goals and biblical prescriptions? This strikes me — with all due respect — as C. S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity” taken to an extreme.

If I may be so brash as to speculate: the tendency of Anglicanism to perpetually divide itself into parties in many ways mutually exclusive (thus allowing a natural inroads to the modernist with few scruples and little historical sense of orthodoxy), is ultimately doctrinal relativism. It isn’t like Dominicans, Jesuits, and Benedictines in the Catholic Church, since those are primarily differences in spiritual approach and liturgy, rather than fundamental theology and ethics.

Messiness has struck the Catholic Church too, because of the gift of modernism that was born and bred in Protestant ranks and bequeathed to us. But we regard this “messiness” as a bad thing, as a distortion and co-opting of the orthodox Vatican II, whereas so many Anglicans “glory” in it. Strange: traditionalist Anglicans fight the liberals on the one hand, yet revel in theological diversity and relativism on the other. Relativism and a body of truth more than one and indivisible is an absolutely unbiblical concept.

The Church is what it is, because the apostolic deposit was what it was and is. Unity exists insofar as Christians accept this deposit and submit themselves to it. But of course Anglicans and Catholics have arguments as to the nature of the initial Tradition handed down to us by the Apostles. The thing to do is to determine what the Apostles believed and to conform ourselves to those beliefs. But one must necessarily take into account the place of development of doctrine, as well. I think development is the key for understanding the non-essential differences in doctrines from the time of the Apostles to our time, and the key for Protestants to understand the ostensible “growth” of doctrine in Catholicism (what is usually termed “[unbiblical] excess” or “corruption.”

It was even stated by one Anglican with whom I dialogued, that this “messiness” had humility“as its root.” I fail to comprehend this thinking. How is it a lack of humility (as it seems to me this person was perhaps subtly implying) to simply acknowledge that certain things are true, as passed down by an authoritative Christian body, be it Anglican, Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, or Reformed? And how is it “humble” merely to accept the notion that large areas of ethics and doctrine should be left up to choice and a sort of “majority vote” – which I would call a de facto relativism? If I were to choose, I would say that it is arguably far less humble to feel that one can pick and choose Christian truths, rather than submitting in obedience and faith to whatever brand of Christianity they adhere to. This gets into the rather complicated argument about private judgment.

III. The Via Media: the Attempted and Sought-After “Middle Way” of Anglicanism

The Anglican concept of the Via Media is regarded as a “middle way” between Protestantism and (Roman) Catholicism. Cardinal Newman disputed this understanding with great force (I think, compellingly) in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine and Apologia pro vita sua, but the perspective is still very much with us today.

What fascinates me about this Via Media approach is: by what means does one arrive at it? What are its first premises, and where do they come from? Is it in the Bible? If so, where? Is this strain of thought present in the Church Fathers? For my part, I would suspect that it is ultimately (in terms of history of ideas) a product of Renaissance nominalism, sola Scriptura, and the negative influences of post-“Enlightenment” philosophical thought. I could just as easily make a case that certain secular philosophical influences have brought Anglicans to this juncture where they think in these terms in the first place, so that they are just as beholden to philosophy as we are with our Thomistic “baptized” Aristotelianism (as they sometimes criticize us).

Catholics are in no way, shape, or form, reducing mysteries to merely intellectual constructs. We bow before the mysteries; we marvel at them. Are Marian apparitions, e.g., instances of a “dominance of intellect”? Yet some of them (notably, Fatima and Lourdes) are accepted at the very highest levels of the Church, and all of our greatest thinkers (e.g., Aquinas, Augustine, Newman, the present pope) had or have a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin.

It’s not either/or. We value mind and heart, mysticism and systematic theology, orthodoxy and orthopraxis, experience and the pondering of the intricacies of dogma. Our greatest saints are always combinations of these traits and emphases. I say that our “both/and” approach is the truest kind of Via Media: a refusal to create false dichotomies, and to accept all the different aspects of faith, all the while not relegating dogmas to majority vote and “secondary doctrines.” As Chesterton observed:

The Church is from the first a thing holding its own position and point of view, quite apart from the accidents and anarchies of its age. That is why it deals blows impartially right and left, at the pessimism of the Manichean or the optimism of the Pelagian. It was not a Manichean movement because it was not a movement at all. It was not an official fashion because it was not a fashion at all. It was something that could coincide with movements and fashions, could control them and could survive them. (The Everlasting Man, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Image, 1925, 228)

If the Via Media is such an attractive and distinguishing trait, then surely it can be found in the Bible and the Fathers and the early Councils, right? Anglicans also value those sources very highly, so it seems to me that if this notion of Via Media cannot be found there, then Anglicanism has a problem of internal incoherence once again — and a rather serious one at that.

Cardinal Newman, in his criticism of the Via Media in his Apologia, argued that the “middle position” between so-called extremes was also heretical. If one takes a position between 4th-century Catholicism and Arianism, one is not a “Via Media Christian.” That person is a Semi-Arian. By pressing various analogies like this, Newman was led to the realization where he wrote (famously): “I looked in the mirror and I was a Monophysite.”

Again, I ask Anglicans (with perfect sincerity and curiosity): where in the Bible or the Fathers or Councils do you find the scenario of always seeking a “middle way” between two other parties? What was the equivalent in the Ancient Church of the Anglican Via Media? I suppose Anglicans could argue that the ancient Catholic Church was closer to present-day Anglicanism than to present-day Catholicism, but that would take an awful lot of arguing to be persuasive. To offer two quick examples: where are, e.g., the analogies to the Council of Chalcedon and Pope Leo the Great in Anglicanism today? But Catholics have John Paul II and Vatican II.

IV. Anglicanism and the Papacy

One Anglican argued that since the ex cathedra definition of papal infallibility was promulgated in 1870, that no pope prior to that date could fulfill that role. That a particular doctrine was not dogmatically defined before a certain date, however, does not mean that it didn’t exist prior to that date, or was not widely accepted. Papal infallibility and supremacy of jurisdiction certainly did exist, and was – by and large – adhered to, until the Orthodox ditched it, and later the Anglicans and Protestants.

The very fact that all of them made a big deal out of rejecting it (we need look no further than Henry VIII) proves that it was in fact present. It is presupposed in Luther’s contrary statement at the Diet of Worms: “popes and Councils can err.” How can one reject something that is nonexistent? Controversy suggests contrary views. St. Thomas More was martyred in order to uphold papal supremacy, which in turn is closely connected (logically and ecclesiologically) to papal infallibility (of some sort, at any rate).

John Henry Cardinal Newman, in his masterpiece, Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845; rev. 1878), elaborates upon the above analysis:

Whether communion with the Pope was necessary for Catholicity would not and could not be debated till a suspension of that communion had actually occurred. It is not a greater difficulty that St. Ignatius does not write to the Asian Greeks about Popes, than that St. Paul does not write to the Corinthians about Bishops. And it is a less difficulty that the Papal supremacy was not formally acknowledged in the second century, than that there was no formal acknowledgment on the part of the Church of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity till the fourth. No doctrine is defined till it is violated . . . .

Moreover, an international bond and a common authority could not be consolidated . . . while persecutions lasted. If the Imperial Power checked the development of Councils, it availed also for keeping back the power of the Papacy. The Creed, the Canon, in like manner, both remained undefined . . . All began to form, as soon as the Empire relaxed its tyrannous oppression of the Church . . .

Supposing there be otherwise good reason for saying that the Papal Supremacy is part of Christianity, there is nothing in the early history of the Church to contradict it. . .

Doctrine cannot but develop as time proceeds and need arises, and . . . therefore it is lawful, or rather necessary, to interpret the words and deeds of the earlier Church by the determinate teaching of the later.

Details needed to be worked out (e.g., how wide was the latitude for papal infallibility: Vatican I settled on a (relatively speaking) “moderate” position over against the Ultramontanes and the Gallicans, and what was later known as the “Old Catholics” (led by the historian Dollinger), but this is the case with all developments. I could just as well say that no one believed that Christ had Two Natures before Chalcedon in 451, because it wasn’t yet precisely defined dogma, or that no one accepted the Trinity before Nicaea in 325, etc.

Papal infallibility is a straightforward development and logical extension of papal supremacy. The latter can be indisputably shown in hundreds of patristic (and even conciliar) quotes, perhaps most notably from Pope Leo the Great. And the former is not at all inconsistent with it.

Now, lest Anglicans or anyone else dispute the validity of development itself, they would have to demonstrate how Christological or canonical or soteriological development (particularly concerning original sin) differ in essence from development of the office of the papacy. Anglicanism has no pope; Orthodoxy has none; Protestants have none, but the early Church sure seemed to (even if the office is regarded as merely a primacy of honor).

How does one get from a pope to no pope in a straight line of doctrinal development? Therefore, I submit that having no pope is far more a departure from early Christianity than having an infallible pope. The first is a complete reversal of precedent; the latter a deductive development of what came before.

There either was a pope in Church history or there wasn’t. Most (if not all) would grant that there was. Then the dispute becomes the extent of his power and jurisdiction, and infallibility. At that point it becomes (insofar as it is a strictly historical discussion) basically a “war of patristic and conciliar quotes.” Thus far, no matter how (in my opinion) compelling a set of quotes from the Fathers is produced, I have yet to meet an opponent who will deal with them seriously and comprehensively rather than derisively or dismissively. Granted, I may have limited experience, but I have engaged in many dialogues, and I refer only to my own experience, as far as it goes.

Another tack I would take on this is that Anglicans (as far as I can see) acknowledge (early) conciliar and creedal infallibility (or at least a high degree of authoritativeness, notwithstanding disputes of interpretation). Now, I assume that would be based on consensus of the early Church, just as, e.g., the Canon of New Testament Scripture or the Two Natures of Christ was. But many in that early Church (and not a few from the East) acknowledged the papacy in exalted terms not inconsistent with the full development of papal infallibility, brought to fruition in 1870.

So why accept their opinions on one thing and not the other? If we judge the authoritativeness and truthfulness of Church Fathers at every turn based on our own private judgment, then we are in no wise different in our approach than Luther at Worms and thereafter. And that gets me right back to my point about the incoherent mixtures of Protestant and Catholic notions of ecclesiology and authority in Anglicanism. Apostolic succession means something.

Beyond that are the biblical indications of papal supremacy and the logical deduction of infallibility in the same sense that a Council (e.g., the one in Jerusalem: Acts 15) is regarded as infallible in some binding and dogmatic sense.

Development ought not surprise us. It has always been with us, and always will be. It is evident in Scripture itself (e.g., the angelology which had obviously undergone much development amongst the Jews in the inter-Testamental period). The common mistake is to confuse particulars of definition with the essence of a doctrine, and so conclude falsely that the essential or presuppositional elements were never historically present before they were defined in great precision. Such is the case with papal infallibility, as with many other disputed doctrines – e.g., the Catholic Marian ones.

Anglicans like to claim that papal excesses in the exercise of authority fractured the Catholic Church, with the Great Schism (when three men claimed to be pope simultaneously) and the events of the 16th-century so-called “Reformation.” But the papacy was by no means the sole factor in either break. It was much more so in the so-called English “Reformation” since Henry VIII wanted supremacy to reside in himself rather than the trans-national papacy (in the first instance due to sheer lust). St. Thomas More died because of his refusal to accept that travesty of justice and perversion of Christian governance.

Students of Church history may recall that Martin Luther also rejected conciliar infallibility and five previously commonly-accepted sacraments, among many other things. He had to do so in order to establish absolute supremacy of conscience, private judgment, and sola Scriptura, with its corollary perspicuity of Scripture, as the new formal principles of authority. I don’t see that Anglicans are much different, much as they acknowledge and claim to respect primitive Christian Tradition and the Fathers. I believe Anglicans (at least the more traditional and “orthodox” ones) do respect them, but I see many problems of inconsistent application of their teachings, and an incoherent mixture of visible and invisible church notions (and private judgment vs. the obedience entailed in apostolic succession).

Jesus Himself said that His coming would divide households. Was that His fault? Likewise, if the papacy was indeed divinely-instituted, yet people didn’t like it and rejected it, was it God’s fault that division then occurred? We should also expect conflict in larger Church battles and divisions. But we shouldn’t adopt an indifferentist or relativist approach and assume all sides are equally right, or that there is no right side, simply because division exists, or that every man is in effect his own pope, or despair that there is any answer at all.

The grounds for the papacy are in Scripture itself, and in how the Lord and the early Church regarded St. Peter. That’s where the argument succeeds or fails (at least in ecumenical discussion), not in a momentary dispute between Paul and Peter (over behavioral hypocrisy — not doctrine at all), or some alleged arrogant act of Pius IX, or a whoring Renaissance Borgia pope, or historical-political-cultural happenstance, etc.


(originally 11-12-01)

Photo credit: Cathedral Church of Saint Paul on Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Michigan. It is a 1908 Gothic revival church. Photo by Andrew Jameson (5-17-08) at English Wikipedia [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]


November 2, 2018

The following is from the Coming Home Network forum (where I was staff moderator from 2007-2010). The primary person I’m interacting (blue color) with is Orthodox, and seriously considering Catholicism. He may not always accurately reflect what is Orthodox belief. Those colored in green and brown are other Catholics.


Since the Orthodox view has been presented at such length it is important (in this context) that the Catholic view is thoroughly clarified in contrast, since this is a Catholic forum and not an Orthodox one, and we don’t want our members (or indeed anyone who reads the thread) to be confused over such differences or unaware of the Catholic “take” on them. We do differ in some respects with each other, after all. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t still be tragically divided. We’re very close, praise God, but not identical.

A lot of this has already been done in the thread, but I’ll add my $00.02 as well, for what it’s worth, as “network apologist,” one who has debated many Orthodox, attended Orthodox services and talks and Bible studies, invited an Orthodox priest into my home to a group discussion, and who has even written a book about them.

Christ indeed assumed our humanity EXACTLY as we are, except without sin. But what we mean by that is PERSONAL sin. He never committed a sin, He lived a sinless life, etc… Obviously that’s the same as the RCC.

This is true of Mary, but technically, not of Jesus, because He was impeccable, meaning that He not only did not sin, but could not sin, being God, Who is pure holiness. Mary was not impeccable, but only sinless, which is a different thing. Impeccability entails sinlessness, but not all who are sinless are impeccable. Mary and the unfallen angels are sinless. Only God is impeccable.

Adam and Eve committed the original sin, we inherit the consequences of their actions. 

That’s true, but according to Catholic teaching only half of the truth. It is also the case that we were “in” Adam and Eve and partook of original sin along with them. It is a corporate sense of all humanity, not just Adam and Eve, and then we receive the deleterious effects of that as if it were a genetic disease passed down through no fault of the recipient at all. This aspect is discussed in CCC #404:

404 How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam “as one body of one man”.By this “unity of the human race” all men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as all are implicated in Christ’s justice. Still, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state. It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. And that is why original sin is called “sin” only in an analogical sense: it is a sin “contracted” and not “committed” – a state and not an act.

There is fairly explicit biblical indication of this:

Psalm 51:5 (RSV) Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Romans 5:12-18 Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned — sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.

1 Corinthians 15:21-22 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

The dominion of the devil is a result of original sin; it caused a catastrophic cosmic disorder (Gen 3:15, Jn 12:31, 14:30, 2 Cor 4:4, Heb 2:14, 2 Pet 2:19). That’s why the theological liberals who deny original sin (if not sin itself) invariably deny the existence of the devil and evil. For more along these lines, see my paper on it.

the idea that Mary didn’t have original sin, means she was an immortal being.

That’s correct, because without this original sin, there would be no necessary death as a result, as happened to Adam and Eve as individuals when they rebelled.

(remember original sin is something Adam and Eve did, and we simply inherit the CONSEQUENCES of it.) 

Not at all, as just shown from the CCC and the Bible. There is an element of “transmission” but that doesn’t fully capture the essence of it. That’s not just me saying that, but the Bible and the Catholic Church.

And so if Christ is born of an immortal being, then Christ is immortal, and so just how was he like us in every way then?

I understand this section is a presentation of mistaken Orthodox views of the Catholic view, but this has to be addressed. Jesus is not dependent on Mary in any way other than her being an instrument for the Incarnation and His taking on flesh from her as His true mother. None of the essential characteristics of His divine nature are dependent on her. Jesus was immortal (“eternal” is the better term) because He was God before He ever took on flesh, and remained God at all times. That no more depended on Mary’s status than God the Father’s eternality does.

In fact, a lot of Catholic theologians (if not nearly all) hold that the Immaculate Conception was not intrinsically necessary or required for the Virgin Birth. God did this miracle, rather, because it was “fitting” for the Mother of God to be without sin, just as we all possibly could have been. That’s good Catholic theology, though not a dogma, as far as I know. She is the Second Eve: the one who said “yes” to God rather than “no.”

How could he suffer in all things like we do? Including death? 

God can choose to take on human flesh and undergo death (which means the separation of soul and body) if He wants to, since He has all power. It is not a death due to His sin in any sense, but a voluntary sacrifice as the redeemer of mankind. Likewise, the Church has not declared whether Mary died or not, but she certainly could have, since Jesus did. I personally believe she did, so as to be like her Son.

Since without original sin (ie: mortality, sickness, pain, death) Christ isn’t truly one of us, and so the Logos is not cosubstantial with us, and thus not our Savior. 

But Jesus can experience all that without any need for sin, original or actual. The essence of a human being is not sin but being made in the image of God. Sin is a distortion of humans (just as it is in the case of the demons). Overemphasizing the human aspect of Jesus supposedly being tempted in the sense of concupiscence is the Nestorian heresy, which was erroneously presupposed in, e.g., the movie, The Last Temptation of Christ.

Of course immortal beings cannot die on a cross, so how could this have happened?

They certainly can. Jesus did. It is perfectly orthodox to state that “God [i.e., God the Son] died.” Death is not a cessation of “immortality.” It is merely the separation of body and soul. Souls are eternal by nature and can’t cease to exist (unless, of course, God decreed it so, but we know He does not because there is heaven and hell).

So obviously the western view of Original Sin cannot be correct, because it is full of logical problems….

I see none at all, and I don’t think any have been demonstrated.

Obviously I realize you don’t think Mary was immortal, or Jesus was immortal

Jesus was, being God, and could not be other. So was Mary, if indeed she didn’t undergo death. Neither did Elijah nor (we think) Enoch, so that was nothing entirely new if it happened.

it is a misconception that many Orthodox have about the West.

One of many many such.

So to summarize: for us, original sin is mortality, the ability to suffer, and die and get sick, all that makes us human beings. 

Those are all consequences that came from something else, which is original sin. If they are consequences of something, then obviously there must be “something” that caused the consequences and can be discussed in some sense apart from them.

If Mary didn’t have original sin, then neither did Jesus,

This is a confusion of thought, because as I’ve explained, Jesus is not dependent on Mary in that way and He was impeccable in the nature of things. Mary could have theoretically actually sinned or have been subject to original sin and Jesus wouldn’t have been affected in the slightest, being God, Who cannot sin, let alone have original sin (which is a rebellion against God: how could God rebel against Himself?).

So to say Mary didn’t have original sin, sets her apart from us, 

It doesn’t set her totally apart (though she is unique); it merely makes her like the unfallen Adam and Eve and how we all could and should have been, ideally. As you note, Orthodox are allowed to hold the view if they so choose. Kallistos Ware states on p. 264 of The Orthodox Church (Penguin: 1980 version): “the whole question belongs to the realm of theological opinion; and if an individual Orthodox today felt impelled to believe in the Immaculate Conception, he could not be termed a heretic for doing so.”

let me state, that even though I’m EO, I think Chalcedon got it wrong,

According to Kallistos Ware, you are not at liberty as an Orthodox to dispute the teachings of an Ecumenical Council, whose decrees he describes as “infallible” (ibid., 256).

I don’t think St. Leo was a Nestorian at all, but I’m not sure he fully grasped the fine details of what was really going on in the East.

The East at the time accepted his judgment in confirming the teachings of the Council, excepting the disputed matter of the 28th canon, which tried to elevate Constantinople to the level of the Apostolic See of Rome.

For her to give physical birth to a man who is just like the rest of us, she too needs to be just like the rest of us according to the flesh. Because the flesh is inherited from the flesh. 

She was! Mary was human either way. If she had original sin, she was just like the rest of us. If not, as we believe, then she was still human, just in the unfallen sense of Adam and Eve initially. But Jesus could not have taken on any sense of original sin anyway, in the nature of the case. You are tying His qualities too closely to Mary. God is not dependent on human beings. Jesus would never “have” to die, simply because He was a human being. He chose to do so.

But if her flesh is different than our flesh, then His flesh is different than our flesh and so He is not one of us. 

This is the same error again. Jesus was impeccable. He could not have sinned, either actually, so obviously He couldn’t have original sin, either, whatever Mary’s status was. You are the one who is dangerously close to the Nestorian heresy in thinking this, not Chalcedon, since you make even Jesus’ “spiritual” status (if we may so speak of God) dependent on Mary, a human being whom He created.

And the whole enterprise of Christianity is thrown out the window, because He shares in our sufferings, He became like us, even unto death on a cross. He can only SHARE with us, if He is one of us. 

As I wrote in my article, Orthodox Catholic Christology: A Theological Primer:

1) Holy Trinity: God exists eternally in Three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: all eternal and equal in glory, honor, and essence.

2) God (i.e., Jesus, God the Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity) became Man (the incarnation) at a certain identifiable point in space-time history.

3) Jesus is a Divine Person.

4) It is improper to refer to Jesus as a “human person” or to claim that He contains within Himself more than one person (human and divine) or to deny that Mary is Theotokos (Mother of God or, literally, “God-bearer”). That is the heresy of Nestorianism. When we refer to “human” with regard to Jesus, it is with regard to His human nature, that He assumed at the incarnation, not His Person (which is Divine and eternal).

5) Jesus has two natures (the Hypostasis or Hypostatic Union): divine and human (the denial of his human nature is the heresy of Monophysitism; some Monophysites, however, believed in a single divine-human nature in Christ).

6) Jesus has two wills: divine and human (the assertion of a single divine-human will is the heresy of Monotheletism).

For us, to say Mary was not of the same flesh, ie: the same genetic make up, the same DNA as us, is what is heretical to the Orthodox perspective.

Whoever said that her genetics and DNA were affected by being immaculate? That’s a completely separate and irrelevant issue. Sin is a spiritual thing, and if we were to look at a microscopic specimen even of Jesus’ flesh, I don’t think it would look any different, and science couldn’t prove that He was God on this basis.

To us original sin is a genetic defect found somewhere in our DNA (if it could ever be found)….to take away the defect would make the DNA different than ours, and would essentially create a new species of human, ie: not homo sapiens sapiens, but something else. 

I find this very curious. From what Orthodox source do you derive this notion? I’ve never heard this before.

Because the defect is what makes us experience all the passions, the pain and the hardship of being human. 

The greatest pains (e.g., betrayal, despair, loneliness, regret, existential loss of faith) are non-physical and in the soul.

original sin = homo sapiens sapiens
no original sin = super human, immortal, not homo sapiens sapiens

Original sin is not intrinsic to the human race, but only universal, post-Adam and Eve’s fall. If you deny this, then you have to assert the absurd notion that Adam and Eve were not human beings.They certainly were!

As a side note, the more I learn about the Catholic view of original sin, the more I misunderstand the Orthodox view and see it as not making as much sense as I thought it did. 

We agree there . . .

The Orthodox do not, so there is no “dogma” as such because there is no one to proclaim it.

But Kallistos Ware did say that Orthodox hold the Ecumenical Councils to be infallible, so I see little practical difference at least insofar as their teachings are concerned.

Aha! I think here’s where you misunderstand me….for us there is no transmission of sin. Only the consequences of it. Nothing is handed down to us from Adam, except our fallen human nature. Sin itself is not passed on. 

That would appear to directly contradict the three biblical passages I cited above.

We can believe in the IC and that Mary had original sin at the same time because for us the IC is a spiritual preservation from PERSONAL sin. 

That’s completely incoherent, even in the terminology. because “conception” was the very first moment of Mary’s existence, when she obviously was not able to commit personal sin. So if you want to believe this, at least give it another description that isn’t internally contradictory. We simply call that “sinlessness” — referring to actual sin.

Essentially she achieved theosis or divinization at her conception because God preserved her from spiritual fallenness….she was divinized as it were. I guess you could say she was Immaculately conceived spiritually, but not physically. 

This is very similar to Martin Luther’s view (which I have studied in great depth).

We know that Jesus aged and we can assume that he would have continued to do so and eventually died a natural death had it not been that he was put to death. 

Original sin was what caused death and decay in the first place (CCC 400), so arguably Jesus (not being subject to that or any sin) would not have died naturally. You state this yourself: “All life experiences disease and death, whether it be plants, pets, livestock, etc. If it were not for original sin, they also would share an idyllic existence.” Jesus has no original sin; therefore He was not subject to a natural death, and this is why Mary was assumed body and soul without undergoing decay, because she was immaculate and one thing flows from the other.

We certainly do not believe she [Mary] was immortal, 

Without original sin she was restored to the state of the pre-fall Adam and Eve with regard to death, and was not intrinsically subject to death. She still could have died, though, by her choice and God’s, just as Jesus died.

The problem with her being like Eve in every single way from the Eastern POV, is that she would then be immortal! 

Why is this a “problem”? Why cannot God make ONE person the way Adam and Eve were originally? What better, more appropriate person than the All-Holy Theotokos?

Certainly you see the problem with an immortal being, (which makes her not fully human)

This is the fallacy, because you (as Nestorians also habitually do) again equate the essence of being human with fallen humanity, which is the corruption of humanity and human beings. Adam and Eve were human beings. After they rebelled (and the human race “in” them, as Scripture says, we are all fallen, corrupted human beings. But Mary was spared that by a special act of grace.

Remember He took His flesh from HER. 

But that’s basically all He received from Mary. His Divine Nature was completely unaffected by that, just as, by imperfect analogy, our immaterial souls have nothing to do with our parents and come straight from God by special creation.

And yet we know Jesus was not immortal because He died…

You again exhibit the confusion of an intrinsic mortality (which Jesus did not have, being God) and His death, which was voluntary but not necessary simply because He was born of Mary.

You keep getting hung up on this thing of Jesus not being immortal, and supposedly being mortal. But Jesus was God. According to theologian Ludwig Ott, the Church teaches that: “The nature of the Hypostatic Union is such that while on the one hand things pertaining to both the Divine and Human nature can be attributed to the person of Christ, on the other hand things specifically belonging to one nature cannot be predicated of the other nature.” Therefore, it is orthodox Christianity to say that “Jesus is immortal” because Jesus was God and the Bible describes God as immortal:

Romans 1:23 (RSV) and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.

1 Timothy 1:17 To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Timothy 6:16 who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

To the extent that you keep denying that Jesus was immortal, you are being technically heretical, though I know what you mean by it and don’t intend to be.

Human beings attain immortality by means of the Resurrection (Rom 2:7; 1 Cor 15:53-54; 2 Tim 1:10). Mary, by being immaculate, was the “firstfruits” of this, and so she was bodily assumed into heaven.

This sort of touches on what I’m struggling to understand.

In the east, Christ not only becomes Incarnate, but must also do it through His Mother. He had to divinize and conquer the corrupt flesh that was passed on to Him. <–This is what I’m struggling with.

You very well ought to struggle with this, because it is not only heretical (Nestorianism or something akin to it) but blasphemous as well.

YOU GOT IT! That’s basically it! And it’s not really just the Eastern view, but the western view as well.

It’s not at all. From everything I understand about Catholic Christology and trinitarianism it (this particular notion immediately above) is heretical. And it’s certainly my job here to point that out, lest anyone be led astray into non-Catholic theology. Jesus didn’t have to “conquer” anything in Himself. He was completely holy and without struggle (in terms of concupiscence, not any suffering whatever) at all times. He didn’t receive any corrupt flesh because 1) He was God and couldn’t possibly do so, and 2) Mary was preserved from original sin even if #1 weren’t the case.


(originally 9-04-08)

Photo credit: Orthodox icon of Mary and Jesus [ / public domain]


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