Hope alone!: Christ’s roman [catholic] candles (part II of II)

10 Feb

lighthousePart I here.

To counter Andrew, I would say that even if 16th-century Thomas-experts like Cardinal Cajetan (who said the devout are those who doubt whether they are in a state of grace) got the Angelic Doctor wrong (perhaps under the influence of men like William of Ockham and Gabriel Biel?), we still have issues.  The way I understand most all Roman Catholic apologist’s current take on this issue (though interestingly, I cannot find it in the new Catechism), we can only conclude we are in a state of grace in part because of a positive evaluation of our own moral character and conduct – and this relates to what some Catholic theologians have only very recently (as best I can tell) begun to describe as a “moral certainty”.  After all, when it comes to looking at evidences within to determine whether or not one is in a state of grace , St. Thomas said that one could consider, for example, one’s conscious experiences of “delight in the things of God” (strictly speaking, this would be “conjectural knowledge” and hence “imperfect” knowledge, i.e. guesswork based on inconclusive or incomplete evidence).

What would these “things of God” include?  To be sure, it would include what Andrew notes, namely one’s experience of “enjoy[ing] God as an end in himself”.  In addition, I think Andrew’s colleague at the Called to Communion blog, Bryan Cross, can help us here, as he expounds on St. Augustine:

“The New Testament is the ‘ministry of righteousness’ because through the Spirit we work righteousness, and thereby are delivered from the condemnation due to transgression.  Our deliverance is not that Christ fulfills the law in our place and then imputes His obedience to us, but that by His work He merited for us the grace of the Spirit whereby we are empowered through agape to work righteousness and so no longer fear the condemnation of the law.”

This may not sound bad at first (sometimes I do sense God’s grace in me, making me love Him and neighbor) – but what about what Catholics have called the “dark night of the soul”?  What about those times when we sense that, in reality, we are truly sinners who don’t work righteousness through agape – whose perseverance in good works seems to fail miserably?  When all our good actions seem tainted by motivations not from God?  Perhaps due to the failures we sense, we question not the Object of our faith or hope – but rather the genuineness of these things in our own lives.  Maybe we thought we had been in a state of grace but now wonder if we’ve lost it (as the Scriptures say can occur) – or ever really had it to begin with!  Perhaps our faith is not actually alive – “formed in charity”, as Roman Catholics would put it – but dead?*  Perhaps we have only been fooling ourselves that we are enjoying God as an end in Himself?**

Perhaps Andrew might offer such a person hope here.  After all, as he clearly says, God, not the state of one’s own soul, is “the direct object of the assurance of hope” (in his original post ; but also note ***)

An excellent answer – but we still must ask whether one can know this to be true in one’s own case – and if we can know the way it is true as well.  Should we simply avoid reflecting on any troublesome internal matters like those described above – considering ourselves overly scrupulous – and hence suppress such unwelcome thoughts?  Or, as regards being confident of one’s state of grace, perhaps someone with a view akin to Andrew’s might distinguish between one’s delight in receiving the gracious, salvation-giving promises of God on the one hand, and one’s delight in performing the commands of God to love Him and neighbor on the other hand?  Or, given that Andrew, like Luther, certainly wants to focus us outside of ourselves in the act of absolution, perhaps he might suggest putting it like this: are we looking to God for the grace sufficient to give real eternal life/salvation in the present (this would mean that the Roman Catholic, in the midst of the dark night of the soul, could receive real peace with God though “faith/hope alone”) – or are we looking for the grace that we can only activate and preserve via our present and future love of God and neighbor? – in other words, eternal life/salvation wrought only through the loving cooperation of our wills?  (a key?: does grace transform because it forgives sins via words that are Spirit and Life?  Or does grace forgive sins because it transforms via an infusion that does not come via hearing only? See here)

The issue here is that even if Andrew would rightly say the first is the way to go (this would mean that due to our own honest evaluation of our sinful state, the issue of “moral certainty” here would really be about an evaluation of the character of God’s faithfulness in the relationship and not our own), Thomas never seems to consider any thoughts similar to these – and evidently felt no need to do so ***Even Pfurtner, the author of Luther and Aquinas on Salvation, also never takes this route – as he, unlike Andrew, never focuses on absolution as being God’s final judgment of us rendered now, nor uses words like “know” when it comes to one’s “state of grace” (on the contrary, see pages 101, 102, 110, 132, 133, and 157 ; also, again note part V here from Aquinas****).

Recently, I said this to Andrew:

“It seems rather clear to me that in Rome the emphasis is almost always on [the work that remains to be done] and not where you think it should be.  Of course you are right.  From where I sit, that’s why your article stands out like a bright shining light in a sea of darkness.”

I repeat, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary that I have produced which I think clearly demonstrate that Rome teaches differently (see here, here to start and read the whole conversation for more detail), Andrew insists that Roman Catholic teaching must be what he says it is – that knowledge that one is in a state of grace is both desirable and possible.

Well, of course his spiritual instincts are right – this must be so (see here, here and here for how this plays out with Lutherans).

Again, unlike Andrew, I’m quite sure that right now this is not the Roman teaching, of course – but I am also confident that God desires Rome to go this way (strengthening what good remains), and I see persons like Andrew as reasons for having hope.

May those who cannot imagine how their church could mitigate Romans 5:1 (peace with God is attainable) and I John 5 (knowledge of our eternal life is attainable) continue to grow in their conviction of God’s desire to give His children – even His failing children – peace!  May this man and others like him determine and bend the doctrine to their will – for it is God’s will!  Whether this comes about in Rome as a whole as a conscious realization of those within it (accompanied by the necessary repentance for false past teaching) – or more unconsciously – may this come indeed!

Some may consider Andrew naïve, and express concern that he is putting his soul in quite a bit of danger by remaining in a church that actually is at odds with him.  On the other hand, I don’t want to downplay the true power of the actual word of forgiveness that creates and preserves forgiveness, life and salvation!  As Luther says, this word becomes the all-encompassing word that dares to die a thousand deaths!*****

If Andrew really can cling to the promise of absolution that Christ offers penitent sinners and be utterly confident in his salvation – and also forcefully articulate a case for why he believes all Roman Catholics should do the same – it gives me that much more hope than not that one day our Churches might see eye to eye.  For I suspect that when a church freely gives to broken sinners the forgiveness, life, and salvation found in Christ – that is, true peace with God and knowledge of eternal life in His Son – then all the other errant teachings that they might have must be overshadowed with this bright light – as they eventually fade into the background and lose their power to keep sinners from the light which saves (that said, the spirit of antichrist is clearly not without influence, and he will do all that he can to destroy that which gives life – eternal life – to the world… perhaps even trying to use such openness to the Gospel in Rome to his ultimate advantage)

The transformation of the world seen first in Christ’s resurrection is grounded in the individual sinner’s imputation.  Truly, there is nothing more powerful in this world than the simple Gospel of God’s forgiveness of penitent sinners in the simple and humble forms of God’s Word…. through the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ alone.

Note: This message cannot be stopped.


*-I note that in Roman Catholic theology, being a true believer and being one who has “justifying faith” are not necessarily synonymous (see Pfurtner, 132, 133).  Also, Pfurtner says “As long as we remain on this earth, we are never certain of possessing faith and hope in the way that God calls us to possess them…” (p. 135) – of course this is precisely why Luther spoke of the doctrine of justification as he did (see here again) – to take our focus off of ourselves, and put it on Christ.  We do not look to our faith or have faith in it, but to Christ!

**-note that for Thomas, is it imperfect love, or love that intends to obtain possession of something for one’s self, that pertains to hope.  Perfect love pertains to charity, which adheres to God for His own sake (see II.II 17, 8)

*** Thomas does not, as Andrew claims, say we can enjoy the “certainty of eternal life”, but essentially that we can enjoy the certainty of the hope of eternal life.  See part V here from Aquinaswhere he uses Psalm 18:13 (Who can understand sins? From my secret ones cleanse me, O Lord, and from those of others spare Thy servant.”) and Ecclesiastes 9:1 (“Man knoweth not whether he be worthy of love or hatred”) to lead persons into doubt over whether one really has God’s forgiveness, life, and salvation.  On the other hand, note that Luther, in focusing on receiving God’s promise of forgiveness, does not even put our focus on our delight or confidence we feel as a result of the absolving word, but rather the actual absolving word itself (which certainly creates delight and confidence – see here for more).  And yet, Luther, like Thomas, realized that self-evaluation – and hence introspection – on the basis of God’s law (commands about what we are to do) was a critical part of the Christian life.  And for consciences very sensitive to God’s law (and commands given in the church), he insisted that questions similar to the following would arise in many: “How do I know for sure that sins I might convince myself are venial are not really things that I have actually done with ‘full knowledge and consent’”? “Aren’t small sins big sins when they are considered small?” “If I am told that ‘confession of forgotten and unknown sins is beyond human ability’, but that I should confess all sins as lie within my human abilities, how do I know whether I have not forgotten some sins because of more sin and not innocent forgetfulness?” Also key to penance of course: not coming to communion if you’ve committed a mortal sin, fully trusting that the particular works of penance prescribed to you will do the job (in spite of the fact that they are not found in God’s Word!), fully trusting that one was in the right state of mind when doing what was required in the sacrament: i.e. that an accurate description of the circumstances of all mortal sins was given so that the pastor’s evaluation would be accurate…, and finally, trusting that the penitence performed was done in sufficiently pure love for God…

**** – Saying that we can have a “moral certainty” that we are in a state of grace is not something that Thomas ever said. In fact, on the basis of article V regarding “the cause of grace”, I would argue it is quite clear that he would have rejected such language (something Roman Catholics previous to our time would concur with). I would put it this way: for Thomas, although we can’t have knowledge, or certainty, that we are in a state of grace – by divine revelation *or otherwise* – we can have knowledge, or certainty, about the hope we have of eternal life.  This is the contrast that he wishes to bring to our attention.  Thomas specifically says one may *know conjecturally* – that is that is by one’s personal experience and guesswork regarding it – that he has grace, but that this *knowledge* is imperfect (i.e. it is not really knowledge, but “opinion”) – and it seems clear from the verses he quotes in this section that he wishes to discourage one from coming to a positive conclusion (see above note for more).  As best I can tell, Roman Catholics theologians seem to have unanimously realized this up until more recent, “ecumenical” times.  I wonder when it was first claimed that Luther had misunderstood Thomas…

***** – please note that I don’t think Andrew’s teachings would be good for those not already in the Roman Catholic Church.  In other words, a lack of pure doctrine is still a big problem here, and I would be concerned to have him teach my own children, for example (so much of what Rome teaches takes us away from the Biblical emphases, and binds consciences where it ought not ; in addition, I suspect that certain persons with highly sensitive consciences about the sins they know remain will not be helped by Andrews message – Luther’s full theology [with the doctrine of original sin] is still key).  Further, I think the ideal is for churches to have clarity about – and be honest about – the things they believe, teach, and confess (i.e. “pattern of sound words”)


Posted by on February 10, 2013 in Uncategorized


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4 responses to “Hope alone!: Christ’s roman [catholic] candles (part II of II)

  1. John Bugay

    February 10, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    The transformation of the world seen first in Christ’s resurrection is grounded in the individual sinner’s imputation.  Truly, there is nothing more powerful in this world than the simple Gospel of God’s forgiveness of penitent sinners in the simple and humble forms of God’s Word…. through the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ alone.

    Note: This message cannot be stopped.

    Rome has anathematized this message.

    CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

    CANON XI.-If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.

    CANON XII.-If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.
    CANON XXIV.-If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.

    So, for individuals to accept the message of the Gospel that Luther preached, they necessarily have to reject this “infallible” Roman teaching.

  2. infanttheology

    February 11, 2013 at 3:04 pm


    “Rome has anathematized this message.”

    Yes. That’s why I eagerly await further clarification from the magisterium about matters such as “moral certainty” of justifying faith (i.e. that one is in a state of grace).

    As I pointed out to Andrew, this is in the RCC catechism:

    “2005 Since it belongs to the supernatural order, grace escapes our experience and cannot be known except by faith. We cannot therefore rely on our feelings or our works to conclude that we are justified and saved.56 However, according to the Lord’s words “Thus you will know them by their fruits”57 – reflection on God’s blessings in our life and in the lives of the saints offers us a guarantee that grace is at work in us and spurs us on to an ever greater faith and an attitude of trustful poverty.

    A pleasing illustration of this attitude is found in the reply of St. Joan of Arc to a question posed as a trap by her ecclesiastical judges: “Asked if she knew that she was in God’s grace, she replied: ‘If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to keep me there.’”58

    In other words, as far as practical application goes, “the devout doubt”. Are there other places in the Catechism you would recommend I look at – at least to find information about whether “a moral certainty” is even a category the Church officially recognizes?”

    He answered me but this morning I just replied again, telling me why I find his answer lacking. It has not been approved yet ( )

    By the way though, you have a colleague who also does not think it is a big deal whether or not Christians really know they have eternal life and peace with God:


  3. infanttheology

    February 11, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    Here is that comment:

    NathanNo Gravatar February 11th, 2013 10:57 am : Your comment is awaiting moderation.


    Good morning. I hope this latest entry from me finds you doing well. I have been thinking and reflecting and praying on these matters very much, and you’ll be happy to know that I condensed a 6 page response to you down to about two and a half!

    I think I am beginning to understand St. Thomas much better (getting used to the vocabulary he uses, the grooves along which he thinks, and the way his “filing cabinet” is organized). I recently finished reading and re-reading him regarding the theological virtue of hope (II, II, Q 17, and 18), and related articles (primarily presumption, Q 21).

    At one point, Thomas says that when we say “I expect the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come” that future happiness pertains to hope. Hope is fundamentally about the goal of future happiness, which correlates with God Himself as the one who perfects us. Hope is indeed distinct from faith, and in this case “expectation is mentioned in the creed of faith, not as though it were the proper act of faith, but because the act of hope presupposes the act of faith”. “Hence an act of faith is expressed in the act of hope.” (II, II 17, Art. 6)

    It is interesting here to unfold the logical implications of this. As regards not just an act of faith but the act of faith, this means that when we freely choose to assent to God’s words, we begin to have faith and with this, knowledge of revealed truth (logically speaking there is no knowledge before the act of faith, which also need not be justifying faith, or faith “formed by love”). On the other hand, as regards the act of hope, here knowledge of divinely revealed truth is presupposed, and the act of the will is likewise important, but also important is the expectation of future things.

    This expectation is surely something that is certain, even if, since it has to do with future expectation, it is not “the proper act of faith” but instead the act of hope. This is something that hope can be certain of, namely that Christ will resurrect all people and the give “life of the world to come” to the sheep – those with justifying faith. In like manner, we can say with certainty that those who, in love, continually unite their wills (“hope resides in the will”) with God in this earthly life will be partakers of this “life of the world to come”. As Thomas says, “by leaning in His help”, “moral virtues” “are moved to their acts by the reason”, and therefore “hope [which resides in the will] tends to its end with certainty”

    When it comes to the confidence of the believer in his own case (since he cannot have the certainty that he is in a state of grace, either by divine revelation [“the certainty of faith”] or otherwise), the dilemma is the following: is the believer’s hope of eternal life certain as it pertains to the present moment? Or only as it pertains to taking into account “the whole life lived”? Here, we might think of N.T. Wright and his approach to the matter of justification by faith alone. Wright insists that he holds to the doctrine of faith alone as regards the matter of justification in the present. For Wright, the believer can know that he is justified by faith alone in the present as a certain guarantee of his future: God’s final judgment is revealed beforehand. As it regards the actual future justification however, the believer is well aware that the final judgment will be not be simply according to one’s present faith, but will take into account the “the whole life lived”, as Wright puts it (here, many in the Reformation tradition see Wright smuggling in works, thereby undermining the purpose of the doctrine of justification, namely comforting terrified consciences who look to God for mercy). It is clear from Thomas that the believer looks to God – and not himself – for all grace and help. The question is simply whether the believer’s hope of eternal life can be certain as it pertains to the present moment. In other words, for all intensive purposes, can the Roman Catholic, in the midst of the dark night of the soul, say “hope alone!” and gain peace?

    As best I can tell right now, this whole matter is at the very least ambiguous and needs further clarification from the Magisterium. That said, right now, I have read very little of St. Thomas’ corpus. If he did not explicitly address distinctions like those I have laid out above, I wonder if there are things that he has written that would count as very clear evidence pointing in one direction or the other? As it stands now, I must lean with the second option – the certainty of hope pertains to the whole life lived – taking the whole thing into “account”. My reasons and arguments for this are the following:

    • Thomas never says we can have “certainty of eternal life” – rather, wayfarers “apprehend happiness as a future possible thing”
    • hope does not look to the present but the future
    • Thomas is not focusing on a certain word of absolution in the present moment but rather the big picture – a hope that is found in the entire context of man’s nature being brought to ultimate supernatural fulfillment according to God’s arrangement.
    • Thomas saying that the future good hoped for is “arduous but possible to obtain”
    • it is the blessed in heaven, not those with justifying faith on earth, who “do not hope for the continuation of their Happiness”, “eternal life”, “but are in actual possession of it” (Q 18, Art 2)
    • “many who are damned, in this life hoped and never despaired”
    • Thomas’ handling of the matter of certainty of one’s “state of grace” – he leads towards and not away from doubt
    • It seems that with Thomas, we only know there is certain knowledge (“indubitable knowledge”) and there is opinion (“conjectural knowledge”, guesswork) – and nothing in between
    • the Trent passage above uses language pertaining to the emotions and affective aspect of life (i.e. the “sensitive”, “accompanied by passion” for Thomas), not the language of reason and the intellect (“without passion”)
    • further, in that same passage, it the phrase “reconciliation with God” could mean two things: either the partial reconciliation with God given in the absolution (eliminating the eternal consequences of sin) or full reconciliation with God [and neighbor] after performing penitential acts (eliminating the temporal consequences of the sins that were at issue).
    • I am aware of no RC theologian prior to 1900 (or even 1950) who advocated views like the ones you put forth in this post
    • again, the recent catechism, as far as concrete advice regarding this matter is concerned, offers up Joan of Arc’s confession as our model, where doubt is part and parcel of faith

    Andrew, I hope that you do not see this conversation as drawing to a close. Do you think that we can go anywhere else from here? What do you think might be the next productive steps? Do you agree with me regarding what I have said about the importance of some good historical research looking into this area in a more in-depth fashion?

    Here is a bit more along those lines: “…in Mirror of a Christian Man[, on the ‘eve of the Reformation’,] a German priest named Dietrich Kolde lamented: ‘There are three things I know to be true that frequently make my heart heavy. The first troubles my spirit, because I have to die. The second troubles my heart more, because I do not know when. The third troubles me above all. I do not know where I will go.’” (Denis Janz, Three Reformation Catechisms: Catholic, Anabaptist, Lutheran (New York: Mellen, 1982), 127, quoted in Kolb and Arand, The Genius of Luther’s Theology, p. 35)

    How common was this? Were cases like this isolated and simply exploited by the Reformers of the various stripes? If these cases were not isolated, should they have been, on the basis of the kinds of words you speak? (i.e. perhaps there was a widespread misunderstanding among the church’s priests – including among Thomistic experts like Cajetan – of what the church actually taught?) Or perhaps Thomas’ actual teachings really could have contributed to this lack of confidence? Perhaps Luther understood Thomas much better than some have said?

    Again, it seems to me that if we want to really overcome the barriers that divide us, a more in-depth look at the realities on the ground is necessary… showing that the claims of the Reformers about Rome’s promotion of uncertainty as regards the individual’s salvation were false.

    In the meantime, here are some more of my most recent thoughts and reflections on our conversation and what it means…. (these posts are a sort of tribute to you:


  4. infanttheology

    February 18, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    Here is what I said to Andrew last in our conversation (as of mid Feb, 2013). I published it on the blog a couple times but it does not appear there:


    I just can’t see at all what you seem to think is clear and obvious. I agree some of the prayers are excellent – it is the formal theology I have problems with. At this point, it is probably best for me to bow out, for I will simply be repeating what I said in #86 in different ways. Persons can read what you say, what I say there (in particular) and then read Thomas, Trent, and the new catechism to see what matches up best. Maybe in the future we will have new things to discuss, which might shed more light on who is interpreting Thomas more in line with his own thought.

    Best regards,


    I said this in response to this, which again, now appears as the last comment on the Called to Communion post above:


    The words that you claim are “mitigated” by St. Thomas and the new Catholic Catechism are embraced not only by simple Catholics, they are embraced by St. Thomas himself and other learned Catholics, including those who compiled the Catechism. The theology and prayers of the Church, concerning the love and mercy of God, are most helpful precisely for persons with highly sensitive consciences, because those persons tend to be most aware of their own sinfulness, and therefore most aware of their need for the love and mercy of God, which is precisely what is confessed and celebrated in the theology and liturgies of the Catholic Church.


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